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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Environment
2:48 pm
Tue July 19, 2011

Giving policymakers a bird's eye view

LightHawk volunteer Bob Keller donates his Cessna and flight time for environmental causes.
Photo by David Sommerstein

Environmental issues can be tough to convey to the public – and to policymakers – because they’re landscape-scale. Flying high above, say, a forest, a factory, or a wetlands complex can give better perspective. But few environmental groups can afford to pay for private flights. For 30 years, the not-for-profit group LightHawk has been bringing together volunteer pilots and environmental causes. David Sommerstein took to the skies and sent us this report:

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Environment
2:51 pm
Thu July 14, 2011

Illegal wolf kills spiking in Michigan's Upper Peninsula

In 1992, biologists counted 20 wolves in Michigan. The population has gone up since then and in 2010, 557 wolves were confirmed in the U.P.
www.isleroyalewolf.org

No other wildlife species, it seems, causes such extremes of emotion as the wolf.

Some people want to protect it at any cost.

Others want to shoot the animal on sight.

And in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula illegal wolf kills are spiking.

Wildlife officials say they can defuse the situation if they can just get gray wolves removed from the endangered species list.

Interlochen Public Radio's Bob Allen filed a report with The Environment Report on the controversy in Michigan's Upper Peninsula.

Allen reported that the return of the gray wolf in the U.P. more than 20 years ago didn't cause concern, but that's changed in the last few years as some hunters are convinced wolves are decimating the white tail deer population.

Here's Allen's report:

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Environment
3:01 pm
Tue July 12, 2011

Coyotes make themselves at home in Michigan cities

Bill Dodge is a PhD student at Wayne State University. He's leading a team of researchers looking into the behavior of urban coyotes in Oakland County.
Rebecca Williams Michigan Radio

Coyotes have been moving into a lot of American cities. Here in Michigan, you could potentially see coyotes almost anywhere. But researchers don't know a whole lot about the state’s urban coyotes.

A small research team from Wayne State University hopes to change that. They're trying to figure the animals out. They want to find out how many coyotes are living in cities. And they want to know what they’re eating, and how they survive.

A few weeks ago, one day just after dawn, I met up with the research team at the side of a road in Oakland County. We crossed the road to get to a grassy, undeveloped piece of land. The group fanned out to look for evidence of coyotes... that is: tracks, and scat.

After just a few steps, we found tracks.

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Environment
9:29 am
Tue July 5, 2011

Finding out how Michigan residents feel about wind power

Residents in Manistee and Benzie counties are receiving surveys in the mail this week. The survey will ask questions about wind energy.

Christie Manning is a visiting professor at Macalester College in Minnesota. She’s supervising the survey.

“To understand what it is about wind energy development that creates a sense of pro or anti in individuals; what are the various factors that tip a person to feel one way or the other?”

Township officials will use the survey results to help them with future zoning decisions.

There’s also an online version of the survey that’s available to anyone who lives in Michigan.

Environment
10:56 am
Fri July 1, 2011

Swimming Upstream: Toxins in Great Lakes fish (part 7)

Advice on cleaning fish to cut away fat and remove certain contaminants.
Image courtesy of Wisconsin Sea Grant

Today, we wrap up our series, Swimming Upstream. Dustin Dwyer traveled all around the Lower Peninsula to gather stories for this series. And today we have a story we wish we didn't have to do. It's the story of toxins in our fish. 

Here's Dustin's story:

A few weeks ago, Joe Bohr got a surprise. He's a researcher for the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. He was looking at some numbers for PCB contamination in carp caught in canals in St. Clair Shores.

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Environment
3:17 pm
Thu June 30, 2011

Swimming Upstream: Fishing for Science (Part 6)

A DNR researcher working on the annual fish survey on Lake St. Clair.
Dustin Dwyer Michigan Radio
  • An error occurred ingesting this audio file to NPR

This week, we've been hearing stories about fish, for our series "Swimming Upstream." For today's story, Dustin Dwyer paid a visit to some researchers with the Department of Natural Resources. The DNR tracks fish populations at sites around the state. Dustin went aboard with the team on Lake St. Clair, and sent us this report.

Environment
11:02 am
Wed June 29, 2011

Swimming Upstream: The mind of a fish (part 5)

Captain Ed Patnode knows a thing or two about fish.
Photo by Dustin Dwyer
  • An error occurred ingesting this audio file to NPR

All this week, Dustin Dwyer has been bringing us fish stories from around the state for our series, Swimming Upstream. And for today's story, Dustin wanted to get into the mind of a fish. So, he met up with a charter boat captain on Saginaw Bay.  Here's his story:

There's no evidence that fish understand irony. But if they did, they might find irony in the fact that the people who best understand them are the people who get paid to kill them - or at least injure their lips slightly.

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Environment
10:18 am
Tue June 28, 2011

Swimming Upstream: Fending off sturgeon poachers (part 4)

A juvenile lake sturgeon.
Photo courtesy of USFS, Rob Elliott

This week, we're focusing on fish for our series Swimming Upstream. And today, Dustin Dwyer has a story about one of the most fascinating fish in the Great Lakes. Sturgeon have been around for more than 100 million years.  Each fish can live more than a hundred years, weigh more than a hundred pounds and stretch eight or nine feet long. But sturgeon have also been the target of overfishing and poaching. Dustin caught up with one group in northern Michigan that's trying to save them.  Here's his story:

So about a month or two ago, I was sitting along the bank of the Black River, way up near Onaway. And I was next to Jesse Hide, who has lived in this area all his life, and watched sturgeon all his life. We were keeping an eye out for sturgeon heading up the river to spawn.

“There's one coming up right there ... he's coming back down now.”

The long, spear-like fish occasionally poke their heads out of the water, like a submarine coming to the surface.

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Environment
4:43 pm
Mon June 27, 2011

Report: Michigan's old coal plants costing residents $1.5 billion

A new report from the Michigan Environmental Council says Michigan’s oldest coal-burning power plants are costing state residents $1.5 billion dollars in health care costs each year. 

The report focuses on the state’s nine oldest coal-burning power plants.  It highlights particle pollution.  This type of pollution comes from power plants and factories as well as car and trucks.

James Clift is the policy director for the MEC.

“If you think of smog, kind of the black cloudy stuff, the really tiny particles, they lodge deep in your lungs and those are the ones they’re seeing causing the most impacts.”

He says these tiny particles are linked to a variety of heart and lung problems, including asthma.

He says on average, a family of four spends more than 500 dollars a year on health care expenses that can be attributed to the particle pollution from the power plants.

DTE Energy owns four of the power plants targeted in the report. 

John Austerberry is a spokesperson with DTE.

“All Detroit Edison power plants meet or exceed federal standards for sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions.  And it’s those constituents that can contribute to the formation of fine particles under certain atmospheric conditions.”

The report calls on DTE and Consumers Energy to gradually phase out the oldest coal-burning power plants.

Environment
1:23 pm
Mon June 27, 2011

Swimming Upstream: A dam problem (part 3)

Chris Pierce painstakingly removing part of a dam on the Manistee River.
Photo by Dustin Dwyer

All this week, we're focusing on stories about fish for our series, Swimming Upstream. Dustin Dwyer traveled all around the Lower Peninsula for the series, and for today's story, he went to the site of a former trout farm along the headwaters of the Manistee River, near Grayling. Dustin went to learn about the complex world of dam removal.  Here's his story:

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Environment
10:47 am
Fri June 24, 2011

Swimming Upstream: The Fish Monger's Wife (part 2)

The Petersens sell fresh whitefish filets at the Muskegon Farmer's Market.
Photo by Dustin Dwyer

Today we continue our series, Swimming Upstream. Dustin Dwyer took a road trip around the Lower Peninsula to bring us stories about fish. Yesterday we heard about the Petersens. They’re one of the few remaining non-tribal commercial fishing families in the state.

Today Dustin tells the story of the Fish Mongers Wife:


It's a grey day at the Muskegon Farmer's Market, but Amber Mae Petersen is selling the heck out of some fresh Michigan whitefish.

“We're based here in Muskegon, my husband's family has been commercial fishing here for 75 years. So we sell what we catch.”

The vacuum-sealed bags of whitefish filets, and packages of smoked whitefish are disappearing quickly. Petersen's husband Eric stands next to her, packing the fish in ice and wrapping it in old copies of The Muskegon Chronicle.

“It's the only way to do it.”

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Environment
10:11 am
Thu June 23, 2011

Swimming Upstream: The shrinking commercial fishing industry (part 1)

Left to right: Walleye, Dustin Dwyer.
Image by Josh Leo/Rick Treur

Today we begin a series called Swimming Upstream. It's about one of Michigan's most valuable natural resources: fish. These slimy, scaly water dwellers contribute to the ecology of the Great Lakes, our economy, and, of course, our dinner plate.

Reporter Dustin Dwyer has traveled all over the lower peninsula to gather these fish stories for us, and he starts with a simple question: why can it sometimes be so difficult to buy fresh fish caught in Michigan? 

Here's Dustin's story:

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Environment
10:55 am
Thu June 16, 2011

Lawmakers wrestling with wild hogs

Wild hogs in a breeding facility.
Photo by Peter Payette

Wild hogs have been the talk of the state legislature this week. Hunting ranches call the hogs Russian boars. They’re brown and hairy and the males have little tusks. The hogs are bred and raised to be hunted. Wild hog hunts typically go for around 500 or 600 bucks.

The Department of Natural Resources says wild hogs have gotten out of hand. The DNR says the hogs have gotten loose and are running around... doing things like tearing up the soil, destroying crops and competing with other animals for food.

The agency points out that wild hog breeding and hunting within these fenced facilities is currently unregulated. Last year, the DNR director signed an order. It will make it illegal to possess a wild hog in Michigan. The order goes into effect July 8th... unless a law is passed to regulate wild hogs on hunting ranches.

Ted Nugent is possibly the most outspoken critic of a ban on wild hogs. He owns a hunting ranch near Jackson.

“There’s this voodoo subculture out there that is misrepresenting that there are pigs loose and there are pigs out there destroying the environment and destroying family farms, when none of that is true.”

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Environment
10:42 am
Thu June 16, 2011

Climate change & Great Lakes restoration

Photo by Rebecca Williams

There’s an enormous project underway to clean up and protect the Great Lakes. It’s called the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. People are doing things like cleaning up toxic hot spots... restoring wetlands... and trying to keep Asian Carp out of Lake Michigan.

Melinda Koslow is with the National Wildlife Federation. She’s an author of a new report on how climate change might affect these projects. She says scientists are finding the climate in the Great Lakes region is already changing.

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Environment
11:29 am
Tue June 14, 2011

Lake trout on life support in Lake Michigan

Lake trout were once the big game fish in all of the Great Lakes. Some people still love catching and eating them.
Photo courtesy of Michigan Sea Grant

For twenty years now the federal government has been trying to restore wild lake trout in Lake Michigan. Lake trout are native to the Great Lakes and were once the big game fish in all the lakes. The species is doing well in Lakes Superior and Huron these days. But recovery efforts in Lake Michigan have been almost a total failure.

Lake trout don’t have a big fan club. Anglers would prefer to land a salmon. And retail markets for lake trout are weak.

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Environment
12:27 pm
Thu June 2, 2011

DNR to hold wolf forum in Marquette

The federal government says gray wolves in the Great Lakes states are no longer endangered, and they can come off the endangered species list. If that happens, the state would be in charge of managing the wolves.

The Department of Natural Resources is holding a forum in Marquette tomorrow. The DNR’s inviting everyone from the farm bureau to conservation and hunting groups. The agency wants these groups to weigh in on the state’s wolf management plan.

Christopher Hoving is with the DNR. He says the plan would allow officials to shoot problem wolves. For example... if a wolf kills a cow or a sheep.

“It’s not something we like to do or want to do, but we can’t have that behavior of killing sheep be spread throughout the population.”

He says under the state plan, Michigan residents can also kill a wolf that’s attacking their livestock or pets.

Environment
10:34 am
Tue May 31, 2011

Bears and people getting too close?

Photo by Alan Vernon

Black bears are doing well across northern Michigan.  In fact, they're doing so well, people are complaining more about bears getting into bird feeders and bee hives and damaging orchards.

It’s still rare to encounter a bear in the woods. But last year a hunter was attacked near Petoskey. And state wildlife officials say bears become aggressive when people forget they are wild animals.

Sometimes bears just out of hibernation wander into town or into someone’s back yard to rummage for food.

Last spring, hundreds of people in Traverse City flocked to a tree with a bear in it near the airport. State wildlife officials captured the young male and moved it to a distant swamp.

But an incident from last fall near the Bear River in Emmet County continues to raise concerns.

On an October evening, three yearling bears and their mother attacked a bow hunter up a tree in his stand.

DNR wildlife chief Russ Mason says the problem likely had been brewing over the summer.

“There were reports of a sow with three cubs showing up in people’s yards and on their porches and people feeding the bears. They liked looking at them and thought they were amusing. People do things like that. They ought not to.”

In this case, the deer hunter says he kicked and hit a couple of the cubs when they climbed up his stand.

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Environment
11:09 am
Thu May 26, 2011

Transporting tar sands oil (Part 2)

The Kalamazoo River on July 30, 2010, after the Enbridge pipeline broke.
Photo courtesy of the State of Michigan

The Enbridge pipeline that broke and spilled into the Kalamazoo River last summer was carrying raw tar sands oil.

Enbridge spokesperson Lorraine Grymala says the company ships both conventional crude, and tar sands oil through its pipelines. She says in recent years they’ve been getting an increasing amount of tar sands oil.

“Because there’s being more produced (sic), and there’s more of a demand for it in the United States.”

This increase in tar sands oil transport worries environmentalists and pipeline safety advocates.

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Environment
10:39 am
Tue May 24, 2011

Who's inspecting pipelines in Michigan? (Part 1)

Dick Denuyl and his neighbor, Tom Philp, live along the St. Clair River. Philp is a pipeline inspector.
Photo by Suzy Vuljevic

The pipeline break that spilled more than 840,000 gallons of oil into the Kalamazoo River last summer is still being cleaned up. It has left some Michigan residents with questions about the safety of sending heavy crude oil through those lines.

Dick Denuyl is a retired school teacher in Marysville. When he bought his home along the St. Clair River, he loved the beautiful setting. And he wasn’t worried about the pipelines running under the water.

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Environment
11:03 am
Tue May 17, 2011

Congress to remove Michigan's gray wolves from endangered species list?

Michigan's gray wolf population is estimated to be 687 animals. The recovery goal for the population is between 250-300 wolves.
Tracy Brooks/Mission Wolf/USFWS

At the moment, the federal government manages the gray wolf populations in Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin. But federal officials say the wolves in these states are doing great, and they want to hand management over to the states.

This isn’t the first time federal officials have tried to take wolves off the endangered species list. Wolves were delisted in 2007... but that delisting was challenged in court by some environmental groups. And wolves were put back on the list.

Some members of Congress are trying to make sure these kinds of lawsuits don’t happen again.

Candice Miller represents Michigan’s 10th district. It’s in the Thumb. She just introduced a bill that would amend the Endangered Species Act... and remove wolves from the list. Her bill would make it more difficult for anybody to sue over that decision.

“You have a number of anti-hunting groups and they constantly tie these decisions up in court. I think this legislation is a huge tool to be used so the courts don’t have these things happening.”

She says her office has been approached by sportsmen and farmers worried about wolves preying on deer, moose and livestock.

Michigan’s wolf management plan does not call for a hunting season for wolves. The state legislature would have to decide that.

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