Rebecca Williams

Reporter/Producer - The Environment Report

Rebecca has a natural science degree from the University of Michigan's School of Natural Resources & Environment, where she had close encounters with escaped boars and poison sumac. Before getting into radio, Rebecca snapped photos of Mongolian diatoms and published a few papers in obscure scientific journals.

Now she spends her days reporting on everything from hungry watersnakes to heritage turkeys to people who live in 300 square foot houses.

She’s won several national awards for her work including a first place National Headliner Award at the network level for her stories on the uber-destructive emerald ash borer.

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The Environment Report
9:00 am
Tue August 20, 2013

Helping Michigan cities plan for a warmer future

Screenshot of the interactive climate change map.
Great Lakes Adaptation Assessment for Cities

Cities in the Great Lakes region are trying to adapt to our changing climate.

Megan Hunter is the chief planning officer for the City of Flint.

“You know, we have to sort of think about how we can make ourselves more resilient for storms and unusual weather occurrences,” she says.

“We’re a city that is really stretched thin, we have very limited resources, so when we have an extreme weather event, it’s really hard for us to adapt with our limited finances.”

She says one of the things they have to think about is how to support vulnerable people in the city. That means things like creating more cooling centers during heat waves.

People like Megan Hunter are getting help from a project based at the Graham Sustainability Institute at the University of Michigan. It’s called the Great Lakes Adaptation Assessment for Cities (GLAA-C).

That group teamed up with Headwaters Economics to create an interactive map. It shows how 225 counties in the Great Lakes region are being impacted by changes in the climate that have already happened. It draws on data about economics, infrastructure and vulnerable populations.

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The Environment Report
8:55 am
Thu August 15, 2013

Wolf pups a good sign for struggling population on Isle Royale

John Vucetich/Rolf Peterson Michigan Tech

An interview with Superintendent Phyllis Green.

The wolves of Michigan’s Isle Royale National Park have not been doing well, but there’s some unexpected good news.

Earlier this year, researchers from Michigan Technological University who study the wolves reported there were just eight wolves left - and they reported they were unable to find any evidence of pups born to those wolves.

But now, that has changed. Michigan Tech researcher Rolf Peterson heard two or three wolf pups in July.

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The Environment Report
8:55 am
Thu August 8, 2013

Fracking and the environment: what do scientists know so far?

Eusko Jaurlaritza Flickr

You can hear the interview with Abrahm Lustgarten two minutes into today's Environment Report.

As the national debate around horizontal hydraulic fracturing continues, one of the central questions is: what does the practice do to our environment?

Abrahm Lustgarten is an energy reporter with ProPublica. He's covered fracking extensively, and he recently wrote a piece investigating the Environmental Protection Agency's decision to back away from several studies on fracking.

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The Environment Report
8:55 am
Thu August 8, 2013

Michigan Chamber of Commerce steps into fracking debate

A natural gas well.
World Resources Institute

You can listen to this story on today's Environment Report.

The Michigan Chamber of Commerce is getting into the debate over horizontal hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

Fracking pumps a mixture of water, sand and chemicals into a well under high pressure to force open shale rock formations and extract natural gas. Vertical fracking has been done in Michigan for decades. But horizontal fracking is much newer, and it uses a larger amount of chemicals and millions of gallons of water per well. (For more information, check out Lester Graham's article, "Fracking for natural gas, the benefits and the risks.")

The Chamber of Commerce has launched a campaign they’re calling “Protect Michigan’s Energy Future.”

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The Environment Report
4:19 pm
Tue August 6, 2013

The high cost of cleaner vehicles

A demo of the Hyundai Sonata plug-in hybrid drive train at the North American International Auto Show.
Mark Brush Michigan Radio

You can listen to today's Environment Report above.

The Center for Automotive Research (yeah, the acronym is CAR) is holding its Management Briefing Seminars this week in Traverse City. A big part of the conference focuses on how to make the auto industry more sustainable.

Brett Smith is the Co-Director of the Manufacturing, Engineering & Technology Group with CAR.

Sustainability can be such a squishy term - it's hard to define. I asked him what it means for the auto industry.

"I think it is really difficult, and if you look at sustainability, you can think about it for literally the viability, the sustainability of the company. 'Is the company going to be able to keep the factories open, keep the products moving?' - that simplistic," Smith says.

"It also obviously has much bigger connotations to most folks, being long term, the viability of the planet. I think the challenge for the auto industry is combining that sustainable short period with a sustainable long term view and it historically has been a great challenge for the auto industry and one I think is worth talking a lot about."

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The Environment Report
2:32 pm
Thu August 1, 2013

An overhaul for the nation's chemical safety law?

Environmental groups have raised concerns about chemicals such as flame retardants in furniture.
user kahle MorgueFile.com

You can listen to today's Environment Report above.

The main law that regulates chemicals in products we use every day is called the Toxic Substances Control Act.

Pretty much everyone says this law is outdated - including the chemical industry and environmental groups.

Rebecca Meuninck is the Environmental Health Campaign Director with the Ecology Center in Ann Arbor.

“TSCA or the Toxic Substances Control Act, was passed in 1976 and it’s never been reformed and unfortunately it’s sort of been broken from the start," she says. “This is a bill that didn’t actually have enough teeth for the EPA to ban asbestos for example. We have many thousands of chemicals; up to 80,000 have been approved at one point or another for use in consumer products or in the marketplace. Unfortunately there’s a lot of data EPA doesn’t have and that companies actually aren’t required to give EPA.”

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The Environment Report
11:55 am
Tue July 23, 2013

Renewable energy use continues to rise

The 2012 energy flow chart released by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory details the sources of energy production, how Americans are using energy and how much waste exists.
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

You can listen to this story on today's Environment Report (it starts about a minute in).

In the United States, we’re using more renewable energy than we were a few years ago.

A.J. Simon is the group leader for energy with the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. The lab just released a chart outlining the nation’s energy use for the year 2012.

“We are significantly expanding our use of wind energy, the technology for wind turbines has come a long way in the past decade or so, and both federal and state policy in terms of renewable portfolio standards as well as financial incentives have encouraged a lot of utilities to install a lot of wind power so we’re seeing huge growth in the generation of electricity from wind," he says.

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The Environment Report
12:26 pm
Thu July 18, 2013

UM researcher studies melting glaciers to learn about climate change

U of M Assistant Professor Sarah Aciego
University of Michigan/S. Pipes

You can listen to today's Environment Report above (the interview with Sarah Aciego starts about a minute in).

With all the heat and humidity we've been having, ice sounds pretty good right about now.

Sarah Aciego is going a long way for some ice this summer: she’s heading to Greenland to study glaciers. She’s an assistant professor in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University of Michigan.

She pioneered a new way to determine the age of dust trapped in glacial ice.

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The Environment Report
4:39 pm
Tue July 16, 2013

Scientists diagnose streams in trouble

How well a stream supports algal, macroinvertebrate, and fish communities tells scientists how healthy that stream is.
USGS

Federal scientists just wrapped up a look at the health of the nation’s streams and rivers. It was a big effort, looking at 20 years of data.

Daren Carlisle is an ecologist with the U.S. Geological Survey and the lead author of the study.

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The Environment Report
11:21 am
Thu July 11, 2013

Unlocking the secrets of sea lamprey love

MSU researcher Yu-Wen Chung-Davidson with a sea lamprey.
Rebecca Williams Michigan Radio

You can listen to today's Environment Report above.

The sea lamprey is an invasive fish with a round mouth like a suction cup.  It latches onto big fish like lake trout and salmon, drills its razor sharp tongue into them, and gets fat drinking their blood and body fluids. A single lamprey can kill up to 40 pounds of fish in its lifetime.

Scientists spend a lot of time trying to outsmart them, and they’ve just made a new discovery.

When you’re a male sea lamprey, with that slimy skin, and a suction cup full of teeth for a face: you’ve got to compensate for that somehow.

Hey baby, is it hot in here? Or is it just me?

It turns out male sea lampreys are hot. They grow a swollen ridge on their back when they’re sexually mature. Scientists at Michigan State University have discovered that ridge heats up when males get around a lady lamprey.

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The Environment Report
3:24 pm
Tue July 9, 2013

6 things to know to stop invaders from hitchhiking on your boat

Eurasian watermilfoil is an invasive plant that can easily get tangled up in your boat.
Wisconsin DNR

You can listen to the interview with Jo Latimore here (starts about two minutes in) or read the story below.

There are more than 11,000 inland lakes in Michigan, and a lot of us love to take boats out on them. But invasive species also like to catch a ride on boats, and that’s a major way they get from one lake to another.

You might see people wearing blue t-shirts when you go to a boat launch this summer. They’re with the program Clean Boats Clean Waters, and they want to show you a few things about where invasive species like to hide out.

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The Environment Report
10:49 am
Tue July 9, 2013

Developer wants to build homes on reclaimed sand mining site

Plans for a housing development around the South Lake site in Norton Shores.
Castle Dunes LLC

You can listen to today's Environment Report here or read the first story in the segment below.

Castle Dunes LLC is proposing to develop more than 200 acres of reclaimed sand mining land in Norton Shores near Muskegon. The company has a purchase agreement to buy the land from the Nugent Sand Company.

A public hearing is being held today to begin the zoning process at the Norton Shores Planning Commission meeting (tonight at 5:30pm in the community room of the Norton Shores Branch Library at 705 Seminole).

The company wants to build single family properties and condominiums around a man-made lake.

That lake was created by mining the sand from the dunes. It turned out to be a major problem for a previous developer when the water levels in the lake rose.

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The Environment Report
3:57 pm
Tue June 25, 2013

How much do urban trees help with particle pollution?

Grand Rapids is trying to take better care of its city trees.
Photo courtesy of Fellowship of the Rich, Flickr

It’s no secret that trees do some good things for us. But scientists are putting numbers on just how good trees are at removing certain kinds of pollution from the air.

David Nowak is a project leader with the U.S. Forest Service.  He and his team looked at the overall impact urban trees have on fine particle pollution (their study is published in the journal Environmental Pollution). Those are very tiny particles found in smoke and haze.

“These particles tend to stay in the atmosphere longer and tend to go deeper into your lung system and have greater human health impacts,” says Nowak.

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The Environment Report
8:57 am
Tue June 25, 2013

There are 7 places in Michigan where you can text data to scientists

A CrowdHydrology site in Michigan. Each site includes a giant measuring staff and a sign explaining how passersby can contribute to the project by texting water levels to scientists.
CrowdHydrology

You can listen to this story on today's Environment Report (the interview with Chris Lowry starts about a minute in).

If you’ve ever wanted to get involved in science but thought it sounded like a lot of work, now all you have to do is send a text.

Chris Lowry is an assistant professor of geology at the University at Buffalo. He’s the co-creator of CrowdHydrology. You can think of it as crowdsourcing information about water.

“So basically how this works is we have some giant rulers that are set up in streams and there’s a little sign on the top of the ruler that says ‘please text us the water level’ and people who are walking by these signs with their mobile phones can look at the ruler and make a measurement off that ruler of what the water level would be at that particular time of the day and send us a text message," he says.

Then, the data you enter goes into an online database.

"And about five minutes after they send in that text message there’s a point on the plot that appears on our CrowdHydrology web page,” Lowry says.

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The Environment Report
8:55 am
Thu June 20, 2013

Meet the only three Michiganders who band hummingbirds

A male ruby-throated hummingbird
Allen Chartier

You can listen to the story above or read an expanded version below.

Researchers are trying to learn more about the ruby-throated hummingbird.

There are just three people in the entire state who catch hummingbirds and put teeny little bands on their legs so they can track them. You have to get special training and a federal permit to handle hummingbirds.

Allen Chartier is the first person to ever band hummingbirds in Michigan. He started in 2001.

“You have to have a very gentle touch, and you have to have a lot of patience, and you have to be able to work with small things and have really good eyesight. To become a hummingbird bander it takes a little bit of the right stuff. We’re not quite astronauts, but…” he says.

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The Environment Report
8:55 am
Thu June 13, 2013

Safety info now part of Great Lakes beach app

The myBeachCast app shows weather and water conditions, and whether there are any safety or water quality alerts.
Great Lakes Commission

Before you head to the beach this summer, you might want to check on the conditions.

There’s a free beach app you can get for your Android phone.  It’s called myBeachCast.

You can bookmark your favorite Great Lakes beaches, find out the wind and water conditions, and check to see if there are any beach closings for a particular day.

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The Environment Report
4:34 pm
Tue June 11, 2013

Biking or walking to work can put pressure on your peers

Winter cyclists in Ottawa brave the weather on their daily commutes.
Photo © Richard Guy Briggs. Used with permission.

A new study in the American Journal of Health Behavior found if you walk or bike to work, you might be putting some subtle peer pressure on people around you.

Melissa Bopp is an assistant professor at Penn State University. She recently surveyed more than 1,200 people about their commuting habits.

“We discovered that people who had a spouse who actively traveled to work and had a coworker who actively travels to work were much more likely to actively travel to work themselves,” she says.

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The Environment Report
9:03 am
Tue June 11, 2013

Most of us are slackers when it comes to hand washing

Gotta use soap and water kitty.
user jsome1 Flickr

You can listen to today's Environment Report above.

New research finds men are dirtier than women, but not by much.

Health officials say that washing your hands is the best thing you can do to avoid getting sick.

When it comes to putting that into practice, studies have found that a lot of us say we do a good job, but researchers found most of us don’t do anywhere near as good a job as we should.

Carl Borchgrevink is an associate professor in the School of Hospitality Business at Michigan State University.

“We found that people do not wash their hands as much as they should… or to be blunt… there’s a lot of dirty hands out there,” he says.

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Environment & Science
4:54 pm
Tue June 4, 2013

There's a tick boom in Michigan - Here are 5 things you should know

A blacklegged tick identification guide
CDC

On today's Environment Report, we talked about ticks.

Michigan State University entomologist Howard Russell told me that tick season is booming in Michigan this year.

And the boom is happening in areas where ticks were relatively rare a few years ago.

Specifically, Russell says the blacklegged tick population is expanding in Michigan. Those are the bad ones. The suckers that can carry Lyme disease.

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The Environment Report
8:55 am
Tue June 4, 2013

Tick populations continue to rise in Michigan

An adult female blacklegged tick or deer tick.
Scott Bauer USDA Agricultural Research Service, Bugwood.org

You can listen to the full interview above.

There’s a guy at Michigan State University who people call when they find a tick on their child or their pet. Lately, he’s been getting a lot of calls.

Howard Russell is an entomologist at MSU.

“There are certain parts of the state that have had lots of ticks for a long time, the Upper Peninsula in particular. But I’m getting calls from people from areas that haven’t seen a lot of ticks, particularly the central Lower Peninsula, southeastern Lower Peninsula and the central part of the state.”

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