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.

Pages

The Environment Report
9:58 am
Thu February 21, 2013

Michigan inventors compete in college clean tech venture challenge

Two of the guys behind SkySpecs, Tom Brady (l) and Ryan Moore (r), explain their autonomous flying robot.
Joseph Xu, Michigan Engineering Communications & Marketing

You can listen to today's Environment Report above or read the story below.

I recently got a chance to hang out with Tom Brady.  

Nope, not the football star. 

But this Tom Brady is working on making a name for himself. Brady just wrapped up his Masters degree. He’s an aerospace engineer, and now he's also the chief financial officer of SkySpecs LLC.

He holds up something that looks half-insect/half-helicopter. It’s an autonomous flying robot. In other words... it has a mind of its own. Brady says it finds its way around with cameras and computer vision.

“Basically, what these things are: they carry sensors to places that an inspector would otherwise have to,” he says.

Say, down into a sewer or up to the top of a wind turbine.

Read more
The Environment Report
11:51 am
Tue February 12, 2013

Gov. Snyder proposes big changes to hunting, fishing license system

Patrick Streit with a 10 pound male steelhead on the Pere Marquette River.
Courtesy of Patrick Streit

You can listen to today's Environment Report here or read an expanded version of the story below.

If you like to hunt and fish, depending on what license you buy, you might have to pay more.

Governor Rick Snyder wants to make some big changes to the hunting, fishing and trapping license system in Michigan. He talked about these changes when he unveiled his proposed 2014 budget. Right now, there are 227 different license categories. Those would shrink to just 31.

Ed Golder is a spokesman for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. He says some licenses will cost more, but others will cost less (for example: there would be a base resident hunting license fee of $10. If you wanted two deer tags, that'd cost you $20 apiece, for a total of $50, compared to $30 for the same license package now). Bridge Magazine took a look at how our current hunting and fishing fees compare to other states.

Read more
The Environment Report
10:55 am
Thu February 7, 2013

Bill aims to restrict state's ability to manage for biodiversity

Rabbit Bay
Michigan.gov

You can listen to today's Environment Report or read an expanded version of the story below.

If you're feeling like you've heard this story before... you're right.

Senator Tom Casperson-R (Escanaba) has introduced a bill, Senate Bill 78, that would prohibit the DNR from setting aside an area of land specifically for the purpose of maintaining biological diversity (basically, to protect the variety of plants and animals that live in an area).  The DNR could not make or enforce a rule to do that.

This bill is similar to one Senator Casperson introduced last fall, SB 1276.

Casperson says he’s concerned the DNR wants to set aside too much land, and that people won’t have access to it.

Read more
The Environment Report
3:04 pm
Tue February 5, 2013

Record low lake levels spark dredging debate

Water levels have hit record lows on Lakes Michigan and Huron. Northport Bay on November 4, 2012.
Clare Brush

You can listen to today's Environment Report here, or read the story below.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been recording water levels for almost 100 years. In January, the levels in the Lake Michigan and Huron system dipped to the lowest levels ever recorded.

That’s causing problems for commercial shipping and recreational boaters.

Peter Payette has been covering this story for Interlochen Public Radio and I spoke with him for today's Environment Report.

Payette said the issue that is front and center is the need for more dredging in the smaller harbors and marinas. He says they have not been getting help from the federal government - help that used to be there.

"Traditionally, it’s been the federal government through the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that has dredged these channels to keep them open, and that has not been happening, and so now with the lake levels lower that problem is really being exacerbated," said Payette.

Read more
The Environment Report
5:00 pm
Thu January 31, 2013

Tweeting the flu: Scientists tracking epidemic with social media

A map the team made with their Twitter method shows a high flu rate during the first week of January 2013.
Michael Paul Johns Hopkins University

You can listen to today's Environment Report or read the story below.

Flu season started early and came in swinging. Health officials say it’s been a moderate to severe flu season for most of the country.

Curtis Allen is a spokesman with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"In Michigan, it’s still at a high level of activity. Hopefully you’ll see less and less as we go on. But influenza is notoriously unpredictable and there could also be another peak," Allen says.

Read more
The Environment Report
12:02 pm
Tue January 29, 2013

State officials want your input on Michigan's energy future

The Holland coal plant
Lindsey Smith Michigan Radio

You can listen to today's Environment Report segment here or read the story below.

In Michigan, we get more than half of our electricity from coal.  All of that coal is imported from other states.

In a couple weeks, you’ll get a chance to weigh in on how we’ll use energy in the future.

When Governor Rick Snyder gave his Special Message on Energy and the Environment last fall, he said he wanted to hold forums around the state to talk about energy.

Read more
The Environment Report
1:38 pm
Thu January 24, 2013

Study: Chemical in anti-bacterial soap turning up in freshwater lakes

Professor Bill Arnold takes sediment samples with a student.
University of Minnesota

You can listen to today's Environment Report above or read an expanded version below.

When you use anti-bacterial soap, there’s a good chance there’s an ingredient called triclosan in it. It’s also added to things like body washes, some toothpastes, and dishwashing soap. You can find it listed as an ingredient on the label for many of those products.

But the Food and Drug Administration says there’s no evidence that using soap with triclosan in your home or office is any better at keeping you from getting sick than regular soap and water.  (Health experts say a good rule of thumb is to wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds: the length of time it takes to sing the "happy birthday" song twice.)

The FDA says triclosan is not known to be hazardous to humans. But the agency is re-evaluating the safety of triclosan in light of animal studies showing the chemical alters hormone regulation... and also because of studies suggesting that triclosan contributes to making bacteria resistant to antibiotics.

Read more
The Environment Report
4:11 pm
Tue January 22, 2013

New report assesses current and future climate change

Tart cherries, the main cherry crop in Michigan.
Emily Fox Michigan Radio

You can listen to today's Environment Report here or read an expanded version of the National Climate Assessment story below.

You probably remember that extreme weather was not kind to Michigan crops last year.

Frank Szollosi is with the National Wildlife Federation.

“We lost more than 80 percent of our apples and peaches, we lost grapes and cherries. Our cherry farmers saw 90 percent of its crop destroyed because of the unusually warm winter last year followed by hard freezes,” he says.

The federal government has put out a new draft report on how our climate is changing. More than 240 scientists wrote the report.  It’s called the National Climate Assessment.

Agriculture is one of the key messages of their chapter on the Midwest.

Read more
The Environment Report
10:19 am
Tue January 22, 2013

U.S., Canadian leaders seek more action on Great Lakes

Lake Michigan, as seen from the Empire Bluff hike.
Rebecca Williams Michigan Radio

U.S. and Canadian leaders are getting together in Chicago tomorrow to talk about water.

There’s a pact between the two countries. It’s called the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement.  It takes on all sorts of threats to water in our region, from toxic chemicals to runoff from farms and sewer overflows from cities.

Lyman Welch is with the Alliance for the Great Lakes. He says when the agreement was first signed 40 years ago, it was promising.

Read more
The Environment Report
4:08 pm
Thu January 17, 2013

Sturgeon season to open on Michigan lake

DNR Fisheries Biologist Tim Cwalinski holds a sturgeon with Michigan State University students.
MSU

Lake sturgeon are amazing fish. They can weigh several hundred pounds and they can live to be 100 years old.

Sturgeon used to be abundant throughout the Great Lakes region. But they were overfished, and construction of dams on rivers where they spawn hurt their reproduction. They’re now a state threatened species.

Tim Cwalinski is a fisheries biologist with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. He says these days, sturgeon are carefully managed.  There are a few fishing seasons for sturgeon in different parts of the state.

The season for sturgeon in Black Lake in Cheboygan County opens February 2nd. Tim Cwalinski says there are about 1,200 adult sturgeon in the lake.  The quota this year is just six fish total for all the fishermen combined.

Read more
The Environment Report
1:50 pm
Tue January 15, 2013

The future of "green cars"

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 or read a version of the story below.

It used to be that fuel-efficient cars were not taken all that seriously. But that has changed.

Jim Motavalli is the author of High Voltage and a blogger for the New York Times and Car Talk. He spoke with me for today's Environment Report from the North American International Auto Show. 

Motavalli points out that there's no special section for "green cars" at the auto show.

"I think what we’re seeing is green technology has been incorporated into pretty much all of the cars on display here, so the green cars aren’t in a little special penned-in area. That’s inherently a good thing. And maybe at this auto show 2013, we’re not seeing a lot of electric car introductions or plug-in hybrid introductions; what we’re seeing is 'eco' incorporated into every model that’s introduced here, including the Corvette Stingray and the Grand Cherokee Jeep SRT, both of which have eco modes or eco buttons, because every automaker is being driven towards the 2025 goal of 54.5 mpg fleet average, which the federal government is demanding."

Read more
The Environment Report
4:20 pm
Thu January 10, 2013

Trying to predict the future of the Great Lakes

Lake Michigan, as seen from the Empire Bluff hike.
Rebecca Williams Michigan Radio

You can listen to today's Environment Report above or read the story below.

The Great Lakes are incredibly complex. There are just a lot of moving parts.

A new project is taking on a giant task... to try to predict the future of the Great Lakes and what we might want the region to look like.

21 research institutions from the U.S. and Canada are collaborating on the Great Lakes Futures Project

It’s not just a classroom exercise.  Along with researchers and grad students, government officials from the U.S. and Canada are involved, and so are industry and environmental groups.

Read more
The Environment Report
10:14 am
Tue January 8, 2013

Congress extends production tax credit for wind

There's a lot of debate about how close wind turbines should be built to homes.
Callum Black Flickr

With all the buzz around the fiscal cliff in Congress, something happened that you might’ve missed.

There’s a federal tax credit. It’s called the wind energy Production Tax Credit, and it was about to expire at the end of last year.

At the final hour, Congress extended that tax credit, and President Obama signed the bill.

It now covers wind projects that start construction in 2013.

Peter Kelley, a spokesman for the American Wind Energy Association, says the credit gives tax relief for the first ten years of a wind farm.

Read more
The Environment Report
11:40 am
Thu January 3, 2013

2012 shaping up to be warmest on record

The redder the area... the higher the difference from average temperature, June-August 2012.
NOAA

You can listen to today's Environment Report above or read the story below.

The experts are still finalizing the data, but it looks like 2012 will go on the books as the warmest year in the U.S. in recorded history (ever since 1895).

I spoke with state climatologist Jeff Andresen for today's Environment Report. He's also a professor of geography at Michigan State University. He says in Michigan, we also came close to setting a record last year.

Read more
Environment & Science
9:45 am
Mon December 31, 2012

Cleaning Michigan's rivers

(file photo)
Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

State officials have opened up a competitive grant program for river cleanup projects.

People can buy a special fundraising license plate in Michigan. It’s called the water quality protection plate and it funds small grants to local governments for river cleanup projects.

Bill Dimond is with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. He says the DEQ collects the fees from those license plates. Then an agency called the Great Lakes Commission decides who receives the grants. The cities and towns have to provide 25%.

Read more
The Environment Report
10:52 am
Tue December 18, 2012

Researchers map 34 threats to the Great Lakes

The research team used the combined influence of 34 different threats to map environmental stress on the Great Lakes.
University of Michigan

You can listen to the interview with David Allan on today's Environment Report.

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. 

Read more
The Environment Report
12:03 pm
Thu December 13, 2012

Palisades: a year in review

NRC officials Jack Giessner, Tom Taylor, April Scarbeary, Robert Orlikowski, and Chuck Castro answer questions from the public.
Lindsey Smith Michigan Radio

The Palisades Nuclear Power Plant near South Haven has been going through some significant challenges over the past couple of years. It’s been shut down eight times in two years, and federal regulators downgraded its safety rating to one of the worst in the country.

Michigan Radio's Lindsey Smith has been writing about the plant through the turmoil. She joined me on today's Environment Report to take a look back at the events of the past year.

Read more
The Environment Report
8:55 am
Tue December 11, 2012

Scientists track potential Great Lakes invaders with searchable watchlist

Killer shrimp
S. Giesen NOAA GLERL

More than 180 non-native species have already made a home in the Great Lakes basin, and more could make their way in.

Scientists and government officials have their eyes on a watchlist of 53 species that are most likely to become established in the Great Lakes region if they get in.

Take for example: killer shrimp.

Rochelle Sturtevant is a Regional Sea Grant Specialist for Outreach at NOAA's Great Lakes Environmental Research Lab in Ann Arbor.

Read more
The Environment Report
11:33 am
Thu December 6, 2012

DEQ reviewing final permit application for new U.P. copper mine

Lake of the Clouds, in Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park. The proposed Copperwood Mine would be near the edge of the park.
michigan.gov

You can listen to today's Environment Report above or read an expanded version below.

The company Orvana Resources is one step closer to getting the approval it needs to build a new mine. The Copperwood Mine is proposed for a site north of the town of Wakefield in the western U.P. The state is reviewing the company’s final environmental permit.

The Department of Environmental Quality has already given the company mining, wastewater and air permits.

Read more
The Environment Report
9:00 am
Thu November 29, 2012

Gov. Snyder gives energy and environment address

You can listen to today's Environment Report above or read the story below.

Governor Rick Snyder gave what his office calls a "special message" on the environment yesterday: Ensuring our Future: Energy and the Environment. He touched on all sorts of topics: renewable energy, brownfields, land and water, timber and mining and many others.

But his main point: you can’t separate economics from energy or the environment.

“There’s not two separate worlds. There’s not a world of just environment, nor a world of energy or economics. It’s a symbiotic relationship and they tie together,” he said.

Read more

Pages