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
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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The Environment Report
12:00 pm
Tue September 17, 2013

Salmon's favorite food dwindling in Lake Michigan

Alewives washed up on shore.
Lester Graham Michigan Radio

An interview with Peter Payette.

It looks like food for salmon will continue to be scarce in Lake Michigan. Researchers say it appears not many alewives were born in the lake this year - and salmon eat almost nothing else.

Neither salmon nor alewives are native to the Great Lakes, but it's bad news for people trying to keep the billion-dollar sport fishery alive in Lake Michigan.

Peter Payette is with our partners at Interlochen Public Radio and he's been covering this story. He explains that every year researchers go out on the lakes to see what’s happening.

"One of the important surveys is of prey fish, the little feeder fish that big fish like salmon like to eat, and in Lake Michigan this year they found very few newborn alewives. There are alewives in the lake, ones that were born in years past. But the young of the year, the new class of alewives; they found very few," he says.

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The Environment Report
9:24 am
Thu September 12, 2013

To prepare for invasive Asian carp, DNR tests its carp-catching skills

DNR fishery technician Vince Balcer holds up one of the "common carp" they're catching, tagging and releasing for the drill.
Lindsey Smith Michigan Radio

You can listen to today's Environment Report above.

This week, the Department of Natural Resources went through a big training drill that’s a first of its kind in Michigan. The drill is supposed to prepare the agency for what to do if the Asian carp makes its way into Michigan’s rivers.

A dozen boats stamped with the DNR logo line the shores of the St. Joseph River. Some of them are normal fishing boats.

But a few have these metal poles sticking out about three feet in front of the boat. At the end of each pole are these long pieces of metal cable that hang down in the water.

The DNR’s Todd Somers is the foreman of one of these homemade boats. He points out a 240-volt generator near the back of the boat. It can deliver up to 16 amps through the metal poles at the front of the boat; sending electric shocks through the cables into the river. That’ll stun any fish nearby.

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The Environment Report
8:55 am
Tue September 10, 2013

U-M researchers unravel mysteries about mercury in fish

Opah, also called moonfish, at a fish auction in Hawaii. Opah were one of nine fish species analyzed in a new study that looked at how mercury gets into open-ocean fish and why the levels vary with depth.
C. Anela Choy

An interview with U-M professor Joel Blum.

There are a lot of health benefits from eating fish. But some kinds of fish contain high levels of mercury. A form of mercury called methylmercury is toxic to people, and the main way that gets into our bodies is from eating fish. It can cause damage to the nervous system, the heart, kidneys, lungs and immune system.

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The Environment Report
9:00 am
Thu August 22, 2013

Finding Michigan's most remote spot

Ryan and Rebecca Means with their daughter, Skyla.
Robin Adams Photography

You can listen to the interview with Rebecca and Ryan Means above.

When was the last time you were someplace so remote, you didn’t see another person, or even a road for miles?

Getting that far away from civilization can be hard to do in the U.S. But a husband and wife team from Florida is setting out to do that. Rebecca and Ryan Means are both wildlife ecologists, and they started Project Remote. They’re mapping and visiting the most remote spots in all 50 states. They're preparing to go remote along the Canadian border in a few weeks, visiting Minnesota, North Dakota, Montana and Idaho.

Ryan Means says they got started on their mission a few years ago.

“We’ve always been interested in remote areas and as biologists and outdoor enthusiasts in general. Then about three years ago, we realized that with the advent of GIS computer software capabilities, coupled with Rebecca’s, my wife’s, great proficiency using this kind of technology, we could actually calculate remote areas,” he says.

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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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