wildlife

The site of the former Velsicol Chemical Corporation in St. Louis is going to take a long time to clean up.
Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

The city of St. Louis, Michigan would much rather be talked about as the geographic center of the Lower Peninsula.

Instead, there's a lot of focus on the legacy of pollution here.

The story of Velsicol Chemical in St. Louis, Michigan is quite complicated. 

Tawni Grosman Lambroff

Not much happens in the tiny Detroit suburb of Pleasant Ridge, Michigan -- I would know, because I grew up there. 

But last spring, an unlikely visitor came to town: a mother deer who was pregnant with a fawn.

People were surprised that the mother deer would choose Pleasant Ridge, because the town is wedged between Woodward Avenue and 10 Mile Road, both busy streets.

After giving birth, fears for the safety of the deer were realized. The mother deer was killed by a car on Woodward, leaving behind her fawn, now known as "Baby."

People in Pleasant Ridge wanted to be sure that the same cruel fate wouldn't befall Baby, so they began taking care of her.

Jack will be the mayor of citizens such as this Green Tree Frog.
User e_monk / flickr.com

An 8-year-old boy from Milford has been sworn in as the new boss of the Detroit Zoo's amphibian population.

Jack Salvati this week began his two-year term as the mayor of Amphibiville, a 2-acre wetland village that's home to the National Amphibian Conservation Center.

Jack sought the office because of his love for amphibians. The mayor called his swearing-in "the happiest day" of his life.

A plaque bearing Jack's name and photo will be displayed in the National Amphibian Conservation Center throughout his term. He also receives a plush frog and a one-year family membership to the zoo.

The zoo invited candidates ages 7-12 who live in Michigan to enter the mayor's race by submitting a 100-word essay.

The outgoing mayor is 13-year-old Gabriel P.J. Graydon of Southfield.

This trail camera photo of a cougar was taken on public land in western Mackinac County in early November.
MDNR

Cougars were wiped out in Michigan more than 100 years ago, but a few of the big cats have been returning.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources recently confirmed two new cougar sightings in Michigan's Upper Peninsula.

MDNR officials say the two photographs were taken this fall – one was taken on a camera phone 30 miles south-southeast of Sault Ste. Marie in late October – another was taken with a trail camera on public land near Mackinac County’s Garfield Township.

A diamondback terrapin hatchling.
C.A. Chicoine / TurtleZone News

The Detroit Zoo is caring for more than 1,000 turtles authorities say are tied to an international smuggling ring.

According to a news release Friday from the zoo, a number of the turtles were found stuffed into rubber snow boots and cereal boxes inside a Canadian man's luggage at Detroit Metropolitan Airport last week. The man was attempting to board a plane for Shanghai, China. 

Where's the tracker? This Kirtland's warbler has a tracker attached to its back that is incredibly tiny, weighing just 0.65 g.
Dan Elbert / USFWS

October is a time of falling leaves, eager trick-or-treaters, and the southward migration of the exceptionally rare Kirtland's warbler.

The Kirtland's warbler is found almost exclusively in the jack pine forest of northern Michigan. To counteract the devastating impact of habitat loss on the bird's population, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources initiated the Kirtland's Warbler Management Plan in 1981.

Larry McGahey / Flickr

A petition that would allow future wolf hunts in the Upper Peninsula is headed to the state Legislature.

The initiative would allow the hunts regardless of how two anti-wolf hunting referendums turn out.

A state elections board approved almost 300,000 petition signatures for the proposal today.

State lawmakers have 40 days to pass the measure. Otherwise, it will go on the statewide ballot in November.

Bob LaBrant is with the group that gathered the signatures. He says it’s clear the Legislature supports wolf hunting and will approve the measure.

“We think the Legislature, who’s already dealt with this subject twice only to be frustrated by referendums, will prevail in the end.”

The petition could still be challenged in court. Opponents of wolf hunting say it deals with too many issues unrelated to wolf hunting.

*This post has been updated.

Wikimedia Commons

Fish populations native to Michigan such as lake sturgeon, walleye, and lake whitefish have been declining in recent years.

As a result, the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative has built spawning reefs in rivers around Michigan, including the St. Clair River.

A spawning reef is a crevice-filled rock bed designed to mimic the natural limestone reefs that previously existed.

Humane Society of Huron Valley / Facebook

Why did the turtle cross the road? The answer is that it is just that time of the year again. Michigan's turtles are hitting the roads to go and lay their eggs on the other side.

The Humane Society of Huron Valley is urging drivers to keep on the look out for these little guys making their way across our roads, and to avoid them as safely as possible. If the mood strikes you, get out and nudge them in the direction that they are headed. 

Ryan Von Linden / New York Department of Environmental Conservation

Bats with white-nose syndrome have been found in Mackinac and Dickinson counties in the Upper Peninsula and Alpena County in northern lower Michigan.

The fungal disease has killed more than six million bats in 27 states and five Canadian provinces since 2006.

Allen Kurta is a biology professor at Eastern Michigan University. He’s one of the researchers who found the infected bats. I spoke with him for today's Environment Report (you can hear him talk about white-nose syndrome above).

Kurta compares the discovery of white-nose syndrome in Michigan bats to "every member of your extended family receiving a terminal diagnosis."

“I think that this is one of the worst wildlife calamities ever in the history of North America. You’re looking at potential extinction of multiple species of bats.”

MODIS / NASA

The last time I checked, the ice bridge to Isle Royale had not fully formed, but there's an ice bridge now.

Michigan Technological University's Rolf Peterson confirmed it in an e-mail to me last night.

"There's been a good ice bridge for the past 10 days."

MODIS / NASA

Update: Friday, February 7, 2014

The ice bridge to Isle Royale has formed. See our post here.

Original post: January 9, 2014

Wolves first came to Isle Royale in Lake Superior by crossing an ice bridge in the late 1940s, but these ice bridges have not been forming as often in recent years and the wolf population on Isle Royale has been suffering as a result.

Hundreds of snowy owls have descended on the Great Lakes and Northeast as part of this year's "irruption." / toddraden

Every year, some snowy owls make their way south from their Arctic homeland in search of food, and some of us here in the Great Lakes region have been lucky enough to spot these magnificent birds on tree branches, or poles, or … near airports.

Airports have wide open treeless spaces, and can look a lot like home to snowy owls. And for wildlife specialists who work at airports from the Great Lakes to the Northeast, this has been a busy winter.

Eight owls trapped in one week at DTW

Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

Wolves are doing fine in many parts of the Upper Midwest, so much so that people are hunting them now.

But a protected population of wolves on Isle Royale National Park in Lake Superior has plummeted.

Department of Natural Resources

The season will run from Nov. 15 until Dec. 31 — unless 43 of the state’s estimated 658 wolves are killed before the end of December. That’s the limit set by Michigan’s Department of Natural Resources.

But MDNR officials suggest that the odds will not be in the hunters’ favor.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

For some people it’s not geese flying south… or robins… but another much bigger bird that signals winter is on its way.

This past weekend a couple dozen or so people gathered in a remote area near Jackson to watch cranes, the Greater Sandhill Crane to be specific.

“Yeah! I thought it would be beautiful to see several hundred of them coming in at the same time. I think they’re gorgeous,” said Beth King from Durand.

Allen Chartier / Great Lakes Hummernet

With the chill in the air now, you might guess that most hummingbirds would have ditched Michigan for a more tropical place.

The Ruby-throated hummingbird is the bird you’re most likely to see in Michigan, and it has flown south, for the most part.

But Allen Chartier still wants you to keep an eye out on your backyard feeders.

He studies hummingbirds and he’s the project director for Great Lakes Hummernet.

“The chances that what you’re looking at is a Ruby-throat is about 50/50, because there are western species that start showing up.”

He says you might get a chance to see a Rufous hummingbird.

“I kind of think of these little birds as each one has certain superpowers, and the Ruby-throat’s superpower is that it’s the smallest bird that can fly across the Gulf of Mexico nonstop. Now the Rufous hummingbird’s superpower is that it’s very cold tolerant. So there are many of these birds that have stayed around in Michigan and Ohio until January and then they move on.”

He says the males are a reddish-brown color with a glowing orange throat and a white breast. But the females look a lot like Ruby-throats.

So if you see one, take a picture of it and e-mail to Chartier. He says he’ll identify the bird and use your sighting in his research.

Here’s his e-mail address: amazilia3 at gmail.com

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.

Courtesy Washtenaw County Sheriff's Department

The Mancelona Middle School had a surprise visitor on Monday.

According to Michael Walton of the Traverse City Record-Eagle, around 9 a.m. a black bear lumbered onto school grounds.

The school’s principal, Chad Culver, was meeting with a teacher when he first spotted the bear.

"Literally out by the bike rack, which is about 20 feet from my window, was a black bear," Culver said

The bear prompted a 10-minute stay-in-place lockdown. Students were not allowed to leave the building. Shortly after the lockdown went into effect, the bear was spotted crossing U.S. 131 west of town.

Gray wolves.
USFWS / Flickr

The Natural Resources Commission has approved a wolf hunt for the Upper Peninsula. The panel heard from supporters and opponents before the vote.

State wildlife officials counted 658 wolves this winter. Officials hope to kill 43 wolves in the hunt.  

The hunt will take place in three separate zones in the Upper Peninsula beginning November 15, 2013.

The Gray Wolf until recently was listed as an endangered species by the federal government. The wolf population has grown dramatically in the last decade.

Some have complained that the increasing wolf population has led to an increase in attacks on livestock and pets in Michigan's Upper Peninsula.

Opponents of the wolf hunt claim it is not needed and that a hunt will not address problem wolves.

endangeredspecieslawandpolicy.com

Governor Rick Snyder has signed Senate Bill 288. That could clear the way for a wolf hunt in the Upper Peninsula.

His signature clears the way for the state's Natural Resources Commission to vote on a recommendation to hold a limited wolf hunt this fall in three parts of the UP.

The Governor told Michigan Radio's Lindsey Smith that he believes the NRC will base its decision on what he called "sound scientific principles."

"If you think about it, I think sound scientific principals are how we should decide these things, to make sure we are doing the proper environmental functions that protect whatever species we're talking about, so it's sustainable for the long term," said Snyder.

More than quarter of a million Michiganders  signed a petition asking to put a wolf hunt proposal on the November 2014 ballot. And the coalition called Keep Michigan Wolves Protected says Senate Bill 288 is a deliberate attempt by lawmakers to circumvent their petition effort.

The Governor's response?

Jeff Ford

We've got the nickname "The Wolverine State," and of course, the University of Michigan and the Wolverines are forever linked.

But the wolverine never called Michigan home.

The wolverine population in the United States is anything but big. An estimated 250-300 wolverines live in the lower 48 states.

One of the experts who devotes herself to protecting the wolverine is, in fact, a "Wolverine."

Bridget Fahey is a 1997 graduate of U-M's School of Natural Resources and Environment.

These days, Fahey is the Endangered Species Chief with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for the mountain prairie region.

She joined us today to talk about wolverines.

Listen to the full interview above.

University of Michigan

The Great Lakes are under a lot of stress. 

34 different kinds of stress, to be exact.

That’s according to a research team that has produced a comprehensive map showing many of the things that stress the Great Lakes.  Think: pollution, invasive species, development and climate change... just to name a few. 

user metassus / Flickr

Legislation that could allow a limited wolf hunt in the Upper Peninsula cleared the state House Wednesday, and is on its way to Governor Rick Snyder.

The grey wolf was recently removed from the federal endangered species list.

State Representative Jeff Irwin is a Democrat from Ann Arbor. He was one of the “no” votes.

“This is an animal that just came off the endangered species list. The populations are not even healthy or even abundant, and I don’t think it’s the right time to talk about shooting wolves in northern Michigan,” Irwin said.

DNR confirms three recent cougar sightings in Upper Peninsula

Nov 28, 2012
Michigan Department of Natural Resources

The Department of Natural Resources has confirmed three recent cougar sightings in the Upper Peninsula.

Two photos of a cougar with a radio collar were taken in October in Menominee County, while a third photo was taken of a collarless cougar in November in Marquette County.

The DNR does not employ radio collars to track cougars, making the origin of the cat something of a mystery.

North Dakota and South Dakota are the nearest states that make use of collars to track cougars, and the animals are known to travel hundreds of miles in search of new territory.

Robert Sanders / Courtesy of Jill Witt

by Bob Allen for the Environment Report

Nearly a hundred years ago a small animal that most people have never heard of was wiped out of the northern forest. In the mid-1980’s, wildlife biologists reintroduced the pine marten in two locations in the Lower Peninsula. They thought the population would take off and spread but it hasn’t. And now researchers are trying to find out why.

The pine marten is the smallest predator in the northern forest. It’s a member of the weasel family… related to otters and ferrets. It weighs roughly two to two-and-a half pounds, has big furry ears, a pointed nose, a bright orange patch on its chest and a bit of a temper.

“I don’t know how big of an animal they would take on but they do have a reputation for being quite fierce.”

Jill Witt is a wildlife biologist with the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians. She has a marten caught in a wire cage tucked next to a fallen log, half buried in twigs and leaf litter.

Candy Peterson's song sheet
Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

We've been posting radio pieces, videos, and blog posts all week as part of our series Lessons from Isle Royale's Wolves and Moose.

Researchers like Durwood Allen, and Michigan Tech's John Vucetich and Rolf Peterson have been keeping a close eye on the animals on the island for more than five decades.

Peterson has been doing it the longest. He's been watching and documenting things on Isle Royale for 42 years.

Moosewatch volunteers mark an antler
Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

Wolves and moose are at the heart of the world’s longest running study of a predator and its prey.  The drama unfolds on Isle Royale National Park in Lake Superior.

But it’s a big island, almost entirely wilderness.

The researchers from Michigan Tech say they can’t cover all that ground alone. 

So they have a program called Moosewatch.  It’s a backcountry expedition where you pay to help out with the wolf-moose study.  But be warned: it’s no easy little walk in the woods.

"We’re going to trash through the understory here for a third to half of a mile and see if we can find some dead moose."

That’s Jeff Holden. He’s a Moosewatch group leader, in charge of a group of six (himself plus five volunteers).  We’re going to push our way into the thick forest.

Rolf Peterson driving boat
Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

It's not as gross as it sounds. And if you heard yesterday's report from Rebecca Williams, it really does sound gross.

The wolf-moose research project on Michigan's Isle Royale National Park is in its 54th year.

A big chunk of their research goes into tracking down dead moose - bones and carcasses - around the island.

From these remains the researchers can pick apart the status and overall health of the moose population. And understanding moose is important to wolf research, since the wolves eat the moose.

It's like understanding the overall quality and quantity of food available at the grocery store. If there's good, abundant food available, you'd expect things to be good. If not, well - you get the picture.

When Rebecca Williams and I arrived at the Daisy Farm campground on Isle Royale, we were met by Rolf Peterson in his boat.

He said he'd just heard of a dead moose on Caribou Island and asked whether we would like to go see it with him.

A stroke of luck. We'd traveled by plane, car, and boat to get here, and here was our chance to see Peterson in action.

Here's a video of our trip with him. Is ripping the skull off a dead moose gross? I didn't think so, but you can be the judge.

So, what did you think? Vote by typing "gross" or "not gross" in the comment section below.

The Isle Royale Queen IV
Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

For some, the magic of Isle Royale doesn't necessarily reside in the boat trip to the island.

Two days before Rebecca Williams and I left on our reporting trip, a friend and I were having lunch together.

"You're not riding on the 'Barf Barge' are you?!"

"The boat from Copper Harbor?"

"Yeah, I took that trip. We were on Isle Royale for a week. The first half of the week, all we could talk about was the boat trip over. And the second half of the week, all we could talk about was the boat trip back!"

On her trip, as the ship pulled out of Copper Harbor, the captain came on the loudspeaker.

"O.k., folks," the captain started. "We have the forecast for our crossing. And I just want to say... we're all in this together. We can get through this."

The snack bar was not open on that crossing.

But the snack bar was open for our trip.

The seas got a little rough (I saw a few eight footers roll by). And a trip to the restroom wasn't a straight walk to the door. You had to ping-pong yourself from table, to wall, to other passenger (excuse me), to the door.

Emergency cups and plastic grocery bags were deployed by some, but their "green-around-the-gills" condition didn't spread throughout the cabin.

The owners of the Isle Royale Line from Copper Harbor tell me the round-bottomed "Barf Barge" was retired in 2004. Their new boat, the Isle Royale Queen IV, rolls a lot less in heavy seas, and the new boat cut an hour off the trip.

What once took around four hours, now takes around three.

To get a sense of the crossing, I mounted a time lapse camera near the bridge. So here's the 54 mile crossing in less than two minutes.

Cell phones don't work on the island. Senses that can be overwhelmed by a connected, electric lifestyle are freed to look up, and take in the wind, waves, rock, and soil.

What makes the Isle Royale so special? We asked the Isle Royale Line's retired Captain Donald Kilpela that question:

Kilpela first made the trip to Isle Royale in 1945. And he and his family have been running the ferry service in Copper Harbor since 1971. His sons Ben and Don Jr. now run the boat. The family has been crossing Lake Superior to Isle Royale every summer since they started the business.

Two other people who know the island well have spent a good part of their lives here.

Rolf Peterson has been studying the interactions of wolves and moose on Isle Royale for more than 40 years. He and his wife Candy spend around eight months of each year on the island, and they raised their two kids on Isle Royale while living in the tiny Bangsund Cabin.

Isle Royale became a National Park in 1940, and was designated as a wilderness area in 1976. Humans are not in control here. It's an ideal laboratory for Peterson and the other researchers studying wolves and moose here.

Much of what scientists around the globe know about wolves and their behavior comes from Michigan's Isle Royale. The research project here is the longest running continuous study of any predator-prey system in the world.

All this week, we'll bring you stories about this research and about the people who make it happen - online and on-air.

You can find all the stories we produce on our series page Lessons from Isle Royale's Wolves and Moose.

Isle Royale is the least visited National Park, but as Captain Kilpela pointed out, it's the most re-visited one.

Many of you have had your own personal experiences with the island. We invite you to share your experiences about Isle Royale in the comment section below. In six words or less - tell us - what's so special about Isle Royale?

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