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
11:13 am
Thu April 10, 2014

There could be bad news for Michigan fruit crops; grapevines might have suffered the most

The long, cold winter may have damaged Michigan grapevines.
Credit user: Phil Roeder / Flickr

Listen to today's Environment report above. The story about winter damage to crops starts about a minute and a half in.

Farmers are finally able to head out into their fields, orchards and vineyards to see how everything fared over the winter. 

Ken Nye is a commodities specialist with the Michigan Farm Bureau. 

He's expecting a lot of damage to Michigan fruits. 

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The Environment Report
12:40 pm
Thu April 3, 2014

The extensive ice cover could delay fish migrations in the Great Lakes

Male and female steelhead trout.
NOAA

 

The prolonged winter and the ice cover on the Great Lakes could lead to some lasting effects on wildlife.

For one thing, scientists expect that a lot of the fish that people like to catch will be showing up late to the places they usually spawn.

Solomon David is a research scientist at Shedd Aquarium in Chicago.

David basically chases fish around for a living.

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The Environment Report
8:50 am
Thu April 3, 2014

Flu season hangs on in northern and central Michigan

A graphic representation of a generic influenza virus.
Credit CDC

Flu season is usually wrapping up at this time of year, but experts say it’s not quite over yet.

The H1N1 flu virus reared its nasty little head again this year, and made some people very sick.

Dr. Matthew Davis is the Chief Medical Executive with the Michigan Department of Community Health.

“We saw back in December and early January that some relatively healthy younger patients were getting very severe cases of flu which in some cases were requiring life-saving treatment and in some cases caused death,” he says.

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The Environment Report
11:43 am
Tue March 25, 2014

Environmental groups split over proposed tax break for oil recovery

morguefile

Jake Neher talks about the proposed tax break for oil recovery.

The Michigan Legislature recently approved a package of bills that’s causing a split between environmental groups.

The legislation would lower a tax on a certain kind of oil recovery.

Jake Neher is the capitol reporter for the Michigan Public Radio Network and he’s been following this story. I spoke with him about these bills for today's Environment Report.

“The main bill in the package would cut the state severance tax from 6.6% to 4% for companies using what’s called enhanced production or enhanced recovery methods to essentially clean out low-producing oil wells. So basically, they pump a bunch of carbon dioxide into the wells to help get relatively little amounts of oil out of them. In other words, companies would pay a lower tax rate on the oil they take out of the ground using that process.”

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The Environment Report
8:50 am
Tue March 11, 2014

Neighbors express concerns about proposed sand and gravel mine near Chelsea

Mary Mandeville (L) and Tim and Mary Jane Eder on Island Lake. The proposed mine site is west of the lake.
Rebecca Williams Michigan Radio

You can listen to today's Environment Report above.

A Ready-Mix concrete company, McCoig Materials, wants to open up a mine on a site north of Chelsea. The two parcels of land they want to mine are in between the Waterloo and Pinckney Recreation areas. This part of southeast Michigan has a lot of little lakes and unique natural areas.

McCoig Materials wants to operate the mine for 22 to 30 years and remove 11 million tons of sand and gravel.

People who live on the lakes nearby have been raising concerns about that.

Mary Mandeville spends summers in her cottage at Island Lake.

“Just to the west of us is where the proposed gravel mine would be putting in their operations. We’re very concerned about the impact on the environment, on the water table level. We’re concerned about air quality with all the dust from the dumping of the gravel into the trucks.”

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The Environment Report
8:55 am
Thu March 6, 2014

President's budget cuts Great Lakes programs

The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative provides money for habitat restoration, keeping invasive species out of the Lakes, and cleaning up polluted areas.
Rebecca Williams Michigan Radio

You can listen to today's Environment Report above.

President Obama’s 2015 budget includes some cuts to Great Lakes programs.

Obama is asking for $275 million for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. That would be $25 million less than the current funding level.

Todd Ambs is the campaign director of the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition. He says if the cuts go through, you'd see projects slow down.

“Whether it’s a contaminated cleanup project that’s underway but not completed, or a habitat restoration effort or dealing with the problems of keeping aquatic invasive species out of the Great Lakes.”

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The Environment Report
8:55 am
Tue March 4, 2014

Invasive lampreys getting too comfortable in Michigan's Inland Waterway?

A face only its mother could love.
Photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

You can listen to today's Environment Report here.

We spend about $21 million a year keeping invasive sea lampreys in check in the Great Lakes.

But they’re resilient creatures. Even after we spend all that money, we still can’t get rid of them.

Scientists now suspect lampreys are getting a little too comfortable up north.

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The Environment Report
2:52 pm
Thu February 27, 2014

What all the snow and ice will mean for Great Lakes water levels

Icy Lake Michigan channel at Grand Haven in 2011.
R. Greaves NOAA GLERL

Listen to Drew Gronewold talking about what our snowy winter means for our summer beach and boating trips.

It might seem a little counterintuitive, but right now, a bunch of scientists are thinking about how high the water at Great Lakes beaches will be this summer.

Early last year, the Lake Michigan-Lake Huron system hit record low water levels.

It made life tougher for the shipping industry, and it’s hard on people who run Great Lakes ports.

Russell Dzuba is the harbor master in Leland.

“For us, it’s shallow. When we went to dredge this year we had to go a foot deeper and the world was a foot shorter, if you will,” he says.

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The Environment Report
12:43 pm
Thu February 20, 2014

Enbridge has a new plan for dredging parts of the Kalamazoo River

The Benteler site (green) is where Enbridge will set up for their dredging project.
Enbridge

Enbridge Energy is still cleaning up oil left over from its pipeline spill in the Kalamazoo River.  

The company has already recovered most of the oil, but it's still working to comply with an order from the federal regulators, who say they need to clean up another 180,000 gallons. 

According to Enbridge's new plan, they can start that cleanup March 15. But that's all dependent on this crazy weather. Right now, everything is frozen. But, if spring warms things up and there's flooding, that can also be problematic for the dredging process. 

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The Environment Report
11:10 am
Tue February 18, 2014

New farm bill shakes up the way we pay for land conservation

user acrylicartist MorgueFile.com

You can listen to today's Environment Report above.

The farm bill has about $57 billion for conservation.

Director of the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition Todd Ambs says a lot of people don't realize the farm bill is where we find the largest source of conservation money from the federal government.

"That’s because there are so many activities that happen on the land that bring us our food, that if done improperly can have a very adverse impact on the soil and also to surrounding waterways," he says.

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Offbeat
2:46 pm
Fri February 14, 2014

Ira Glass wishes you a happy Valentine's Day

Public radio takes over Google today

If you haven't seen it yet, the Google Doodle is all about love today. This American Life's Ira Glass narrates a candy heart collection of bite-size love stories.

Middle school love. Married love. Love and loss.

The stories are short and sweet and might make you have a little Story Corps moment right at your desk.

And if you haven't gotten a Valentine's card yet, there's always the NPR valentine option:

The Environment Report
10:52 am
Thu February 13, 2014

Backyard farmers to lose Right to Farm protection?

Wendy Banka and one of her salmon faverolle chickens.
Rebecca Williams Michigan Radio

Take a listen to Wendy Banka and her chickens, and MPRN's Jake Neher describing why some state officials say backyard farms should not be covered by the Right to Farm Act.

Life could soon get a little harder for backyard farmers.

A law passed in 1981 protects Michigan farmers from nuisance lawsuits. It’s called the Right to Farm Act.  It was created to protect farmers from angry neighbors who were moving out into rural areas from cities.

At the moment, the law also protects people who raise chickens and other animals in their backyards.

Wendy Banka lives in Ann Arbor.  She has seven chickens with orange feathers living in a coop in her backyard.

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The Environment Report
3:33 pm
Tue February 11, 2014

Study finds liver tumors in mice exposed to low levels of BPA

Bisphenol A lines the inside of most metal food and drink cans.
(Photo courtesy of Sun Ladder at Wikimedia Commons)

We’re all regularly exposed to the chemical Bisphenol A or BPA. Companies have taken it out of baby bottles, and many kinds of those hard plastic water bottles no longer have BPA in them.

But it’s still used on paper receipts and to line most food and drink cans.

Dana Dolinoy is a Searle Assistant Professor of Environmental Health Sciences at the University of Michigan School of Public Health.

“There is mounting evidence that BPA has negative health effects in both animal models and humans,” says Dolinoy.

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The Environment Report
8:55 am
Tue February 11, 2014

How bad (or wonderful) is this winter?

It might be cold, but it sure is pretty.
Mark Brush

Barbara Mayes Boustead on the "misery index" - or "index of greatness" for you winter lovers. (Story starts about a minute in)

Maybe you think this is the best winter ever.  Or maybe you’ve had some choice words for Punxsatawney Phil.

So, just how bad - or how fabulous - is this winter? There’s a scientist in Nebraska who has put a number on it.

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The Environment Report
1:42 pm
Tue February 4, 2014

Researcher hunts for new medicines in the Great Lakes

Brian T. Murphy, left, and Mark Sadek, just before boarding the RV Lake Guardian for a week-long sampling mission.
Brian Murphy

Brian Murphy talks about his hunt for bacteria at the bottom of the Great Lakes that could lead to new medicines.

Let's call today Throwback Tuesday, and go way, way back to the 1920s.

That's when Sir Alexander Fleming stumbled on a mold that stopped bacteria from growing in a petri dish. He called it penicillin.

Ever since that huge discovery, people have been looking all over the Earth for more organisms that can fight disease.

Brian Murphy has been searching at the bottom of the Great Lakes.

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The Environment Report
5:27 pm
Thu October 24, 2013

Tracking Asian carp by what they leave behind

Asian carp at the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago
flickr Kate Gardiner

Audio for The Environment Report for Oct. 24th

There’s a lot of time, money and effort being spent to keep Asian carp out of the Great Lakes.

To keep them out, we first have to know where the carp are.

Biologists often go out and sample water from rivers and lakes to look for carp. They test the water for genetic material, and some of those tests have turned up positive for Asian carp.

Last year, 20 samples turned up positive hits in Lake Erie. The positive DNA hits raise alarm bells that an invasive carp species might be establishing a population in the Great Lakes.

But the presence of carp DNA does not mean an actual fish was swimming in that area.

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Environment & Science
9:02 am
Thu October 24, 2013

It's getting colder, but hummingbirds haven't left the state yet

An adult male Rufous hummingbird.
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

The Environment Report
9:03 am
Fri October 4, 2013

Warmer waters fuel toxic algal blooms in the Great Lakes

Algae scooped out of Maumee Bay in Lake Erie.
Mark Brush Michigan Radio

Big, ugly algal blooms are reappearing in the western basin (and sometimes the central basin) of Lake Erie.

The blooms happen when excess nutrients – mostly phosphorus – run off into the lake from farms and sewage treatment plants.

Some of these kinds of algae produce toxins that are among the most powerful natural poisons on Earth.

Over the past decade, these algal blooms have been common in Lake Erie. And scientists predict climate change could make the problem worse.

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The Environment Report
5:16 pm
Tue September 24, 2013

Study finds PCBs can change the songs birds sing

Sara DeLeon, PhD studied birdsong as an indicator of effects of exposure to sublethal levels of PCBs for her doctoral thesis.
Sara DeLeon, PhD / Cornell Lab of Ornithology

An interview with Sara DeLeon, PhD.

Chemicals called PCBs - or polychlorinated biphenyls - are toxic to people and wildlife. The Environmental Protection Agency says they can cause cancer and other adverse health effects on the immune, reproductive, nervous, and endocrine systems. PCBs were banned in the 1970s, but they’re still in the environment.

Researchers at Cornell University have previously found that PCBs can change the song centers in the brains of songbirds.

Now – a new study suggests that PCBs could be altering the songs some birds sing.

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The Environment Report
9:00 am
Thu September 19, 2013

Experts trying to get leg up on walnut tree disease before it hits Michigan

Carpathian walnuts (left) and black walnuts (right).
Michael Dority

An interview with Michael Dority.

Anyone who had to pay a lot of money to cut down dead ash trees in their yard remembers a pest called the emerald ash borer.  In our region we’ve had a lot of pests and diseases that kill trees, and now experts have their eye on a disease that kills black walnut trees. This disease is called Thousand Cankers Disease and it’s caused by a fungus. The fungus is carted around by a bug called the walnut twig beetle.

You might have a black walnut tree in your yard. The lumber is beautiful and the trees are also important to people who grow them for the nut.

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