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.

John Vucetich/Rolf Peterson / Michigan Tech

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.

Eusko Jaurlaritza / Flickr

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.

World Resources Institute

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.”

Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

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."

user kahle /

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.”

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

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.

University of Michigan/S. Pipes

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.


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.

Rebecca Williams / Michigan Radio

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.

Wisconsin DNR

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.

Castle Dunes LLC

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.

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.


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.

Allen Chartier

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.

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.

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.

user jsome1 / Flickr

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.


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.

Scott Bauer / USDA Agricultural Research Service,

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.”

As long as the rain keeps coming, we're going to see more mosquitos
flickr user trebol-a /

The worst mosquito swarms I’ve ever experienced are at my dad’s house in the country.

I’ll let my stepmom, Patty, explain:

“We actually run from the house to the car and when you open the door you get many in there, probably 30-40 mosquitoes, so you start swatting and you have to roll down your window and drive, as you’re getting eaten, to try to get the mosquitoes out.”

She says this spring is the worst she’s ever seen. It’s so bad, they attack you the minute you walk out the door and bite you through your clothes.  

So I decided to turn to a mosquito expert to find out what’s going on.

Rebecca Williams / Michigan Radio

If you’ve always thought of birding as a quiet, relaxing hobby… you haven’t been to a Birdathon.

During the recent West Michigan Birdathon, I met up with Team Fallout (as in migratory fallout) at the Blandford Nature Center. Shortly after I arrived, we were scrambling to the top of an overlook.

A group of scientists from 13 Michigan universities is urging Governor Rick Snyder to veto a bill (SB 78) if it reaches his desk. 

The bill prohibits the Michigan Department of Natural Resources from setting aside land specifically for maintaining biodiversity. The state Senate has passed the bill. It’s now being considered by the state House.

Bradley Cardinale is an associate professor in the School of Natural Resources and Environment at the University of Michigan. He wrote a letter to Governor Snyder and so far, more than 100 of his fellow academics from the state’s universities have signed it.

“There are a number of items in this particular bill that seem anti-science and run counter to the best available knowledge we currently have about how to manage natural resources sustainably.”

The state of Michigan owns 4.6 million acres of land. But for now, the state can’t buy any more land. That’s because the Michigan Legislature capped the amount of land the state can own.

But there’s a release valve built into the law. Last fall, Governor Rick Snyder asked the Michigan Department of Natural Resources to make a strategic land management plan. If the Legislature likes it, then the land cap will be lifted.


The piping plover is a tiny bird. They’re endangered. Last year there were just 58 breeding pairs in the Great Lakes region. One third of the population nests in the Sleeping Bear Dunes area.

“The chicks, they look like they’re little cotton balls running up and down the beach. They’ve got these gangly legs, and ... a very endearing bird.”

Sue Jennings is the wildlife program manager at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. She says because of the federal sequester, they’ve had to cut back on their seasonal staff. They set up fences to keep people and predators away from the plovers when they’re nesting.

Anderson Eye Care /

The Grand River hit a record high level in Grand Rapids over the weekend.  Volunteers spent hours filling sandbags to protect homes and city buildings.

City managers are still dealing with the flood waters. But they’re also planning for future storms.

Haris Alibasic directs Grand Rapids’ Office of Energy and Sustainability.

“Given the more intense and more frequent, intense rain events we’re probably going to be experiencing, as climate change is anticipated to really have a serious impact in the Midwest," he says.

Isle Royale wolves
Rolf Peterson, John Vucetich / Michigan Tech

Wolves and moose fight for survival on Michigan's Isle Royale National Park. For more than 50 years, researchers have been closely watching them in the world’s longest-running study of predators and prey.

The number of predators on the island has been sinking fast.

The Park is a dedicated wilderness area, so managers do their best to keep it as untouched by humans as possible. But people might need to step in.

Phyllis Green is the park's superintendent.  “At this point we’re concerned about the low levels of wolves on the island, but we’re also concerned about making sure the next steps we take are well-thought-out,” she says.

There are just eight wolves left on Isle Royale. This is the first year that Michigan Technological University researchers were unable to document any pups born to the wolves.

Rebecca Williams / Michigan Radio

President Obama is asking for $300 million for the Great Lakes in his 2014 budget. That money would go to the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

It’s a huge project to clean up pollution, fight invasive species and restore habitat.

Chad Lord is the policy director for the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition. He says there’s been a lot of progress over the last four years.

“All of these results are coming from the investments in new wetlands, buffer strips along rivers, cleaning up toxic sediments in areas around Detroit,” he says.

Jake Neher / MPRN

Update 11:45 a.m:

An Ingham County judge says a lawsuit aimed at repealing the state’s new right-to-work law can proceed. This morning, Judge William Collette rejected a motion by the state to have the lawsuit immediately dismissed.

The lawsuit says the Legislature violated the state’s Open Meetings Act when it shut members of the public out of the Capitol as right-to-work bills were debated and passed.

ACLU of Michigan Attorney Michael Pitt says the ruling means they can now gather more information to build a case.

"So that the public will understand once and for all what happened, and how the Legislature conducted itself in a highly inappropriate way on December 6."

State Attorney General Bill Schuette says hundreds of citizens were in the House and Senate chambers as lawmakers took up the bills.

Joy Yearout is a spokesperson for Schuette. She says the judge’s decision is not a major setback.

"He has every right to lay out the parameters as to what evidence he needs before he can make a decision. That being said, we’re fully confident that after he reviews the evidence, which at this point we don’t expect there is much evidence to suggest violation, that he’ll uphold the law."

Judge Collette did dismiss from the case the Michigan State Police Captain who ordered the doors of the Capitol closed.

There are at least two other lawsuits seeking to repeal the new law in state and federal court.

10:50 a.m.

An Ingham County Circuit Court judge has denied the state attorney general's request to immediately dismiss a lawsuit to repeal the state's new right-to-work law.

The ACLU of Michigan says the new state law should be tossed out because it was passed in violation of the Open Meetings Act. The suit says lawmakers deliberately locked members of the public out of the state Capitol as the legislation was introduced and passed in December.

State Attorney General Bill Schuette says police stopped letting more people into the building due to safety concerns.

Jake Neher will have more on this story soon.

Today at 3 p.m., Michigan Radio's Jenn White will host a State of Opportunity call-in show.

We're focusing on the structures and policies that make it hard for Michigan's children to get ahead. 

How does having certain privileges shape our attitudes about poverty? What experiences have you had where you lacked the privilege required to get ahead? 

We'd love to talk to you!

U.S. Coast Guard

The Soo Locks will open with the official start of the main shipping season on the Great Lakes.

But somebody’s got to break the ice first.

Mike Davanzo is the Commanding Officer of the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Mackinaw. We caught up with him on the icebreaking ship.

“I am on the bridge of the Mackinaw and we’re breaking the ice on the upper approaches of the Soo Locks in preparation for lock opening.”