Radio panel shows challenge of talking about water issues

As Lake Erie water issues escalated this summer, strident environmental activists made it increasingly difficult to have a rational discussion about the issue and science-based solutions.

Ann Arbor’s public radio station invited Ohio Farm Bureau to participate in a panel discussion about the causes of and solutions for Lake Erie’s ongoing toxic algal blooms. Yvonne Lesicko, vice president of public policy, represented OFBF. She was joined by (Toledo) Blade environmental reporter Tom Henry, Ohio EPA official Karl Gebhart and Lake Erie activist Sandy Bihn. Radio host Lester Graham was the moderator.

That the crowd of about 100 was unfriendly to agriculture’s ideas was no surprise. Most attendees had little interest as Lesicko calmly and patiently explained how farmers view the challenges and responded to inaccurate statements from her fellow panelists. A small group of farmers in the audience witnessed both the animosity of the Toledo activists and Lesicko’s professionalism under fire.

Fortunately, the gathering in Toledo does not represent the majority of Ohioans who are concerned about water quality. There are many conservationists, lawmakers, farmers and agency officials who prefer a deliberative, participatory approach to resolving the algae issue. While reasoned thinking will eventually fix the lake’s challenges, the Toledo event provided an important reminder: Many in the activist community have no interest in hearing agriculture’s views.

A podcast of the event can be heard here.

CAPTION: Critics of Farm Bureau and agriculture protest outside before the Lake Erie panel began in Toledo. During the show, critics were also a vocal part of the audience.