The Environment Report

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The Environment Report hosted by Rebecca Williams explores the relationship between the natural world and the everyday lives of people in Michigan. Send us your story ideas by following the link above!

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The Environment Report
12:50 pm
Tue June 3, 2014

Michigan gets ready for EPA's proposed carbon rules

Credit Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

On Monday morning, the Environmental Protection Agency released the federal government’s plan to cut carbon dioxide emissions from power plants. The agency's calling it the "Clean Power Plan."

The EPA says carbon dioxide emissions are the main driver of climate change. The agency is proposing a 30% reduction in CO2 from power plants by 2030. Here's what EPA says about the proposed regulations:

Climate change is not just a problem for the future. We are facing its impacts today:

Average temperatures have risen in most states since 1901, with seven of the top 10 warmest years on record occurring since 1998.  Climate and weather disasters in 2012 cost the American economy more than $100 billion. Nationwide, by 2030, the Clean Power Plan will help cut carbon pollution from the power sector by approximately 30 per cent from 2005 levels. It will also reduce pollutants that contribute to the soot and smog that make people sick by over 25 percent.

Policymakers at the state level and the state’s major power companies don’t seem surprised by the news. 

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The Environment Report
8:50 am
Thu May 29, 2014

What would you do if killer lampreys invaded your town?

Lamprey wrestling.
Credit Animal Planet

Would you:

A) run away screaming

B) attack them with golf clubs, weed whackers and curling irons, or

C) haplessly fall victim to them as you enjoy a quiet afternoon of fishing with your dog?

The residents of a fictional Michigan town do all of the above in "Blood Lake: Attack of the Killer Lampreys" airing this week on Animal Planet. It's by the same people who brought us "Sharknado."

Watch the trailer below:

Really, it was only a matter of time. With its toothy suction cup for a face and razor sharp tongue, the sea lamprey was a horror movie villain just waiting to shine.

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The Environment Report
8:50 am
Tue May 27, 2014

Army Corps tries to lure common terns back to the nest

Common tern
Tiia Monto Wikimedia Commons

The common tern used to nest in great numbers in the lower Great Lakes region, including Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Ohio. But in recent decades, common tern nests and their brown speckled eggs have largely disappeared from the region. 

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The Environment Report
5:07 pm
Thu May 22, 2014

Beekeepers report honey bee losses down, but problem remains

Honey bee flying to cuphea flower.
Photo by Jim Eklund ARS/USDA

You can thank a bee for about one of every three bites of food we eat.

Jeff Pettis is the research leader for the Bee Research Lab with the Agricultural Research Service at the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“Most of the nutritious stuff in our diet is probably pollinated by some kind of animal, and most likely a bee,” he says.

Pettis just wrapped up a survey of beekeepers around the country, and he found they lost just over 23% of their bee colonies this past winter.

“The previous about seven-year average has been just over 30%, so this number is a little bit better, but by no means is it a great number for numbers of colonies lost through the winter. Before we got the parasitic mite varroa, we used to lose 5-10% of the colonies in the winter. We got two parasitic mites in the 80s; the numbers jumped between 15-20% losses," he says.

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The Environment Report
8:50 am
Tue May 20, 2014

Piping plovers making slow, steady comeback

Sarah Saunders (r) and her research team.
Linda Stephan Interlochen Public Radio

It’s piping plover nesting season along the dunes of the Great Lakes. The tiny birds were labeled endangered back in the mid-80s.

Since then, they’ve steadily been making a comeback. But it takes a whole lot of effort.

One of this year’s nests is in Ludington State Park. There's a female who’s chosen to rear her young in this park before.

But this time she picked an odd spot to do it. She’s right in the middle of a beach-side parking lot.

It’s hard to spot the tiny nest, which is surrounded by pavement.

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The Environment Report
2:56 pm
Thu May 15, 2014

New permits loosen standards for two of state's biggest polluters

The playground at the Salina Elementary school in Dearborn with the Severstal steel plant in the background.
Credit Rebecca Williams/Michigan Radio

This week, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality issued updated permits for two of Michigan’s biggest polluters.

The Severstal steel plant in Dearborn and the Marathon oil refinery in southwest Detroit are some of the biggest industrial facilities in the state.

Both have failed to comply with their state air quality permits. Marathon has had a handful of past environmental violations. Severstal's record is worse—they’ve been cited 38 times in five years for violating their state permit.

Yet the state has let both Severstal and Marathon “revise” those permits, and agreed to loosen restrictions on some types of emissions.

That process has raised some concerns about how the state regulates polluters.

Michigan Radio’s Sarah Cwiek has looked into some of those concerns, and I spoke with her for today's Environment Report.

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The Environment Report
3:46 pm
Tue May 13, 2014

Lessons from a tiny, extremely destructive pest

Look at this cute little face! How bad could it be? BAD. Really bad.
Credit USDA Forest Service

The emerald ash borer is a little shiny green beetle that loves to feast on ash trees. The adult beetles only nibble on the leaves. It's the larvae you've got to watch out for. They munch on the inner bark of the ash tree, and mess with the tree's ability to transport water and nutrients.

The pest has killed tens of millions of ash trees in Michigan alone and tens of millions more in the states and provinces around our region.

Now researchers know a little bit more about how the emerald ash borer ate its way through the state.

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The Environment Report
8:50 am
Tue May 6, 2014

Watchdog groups wary of proposed fracking rules

Credit Eusko Jaurlaritza / Flickr

This story has been updated. 5/9/2014

New rules proposed for oil and gas drilling in Michigan are getting a mixed response, at best, from watchdog groups. The rules would apply to a type of drilling often referred to as “fracking.” Critics say the proposed changes continue to favor the oil and gas industry over neighbors and the public.

The official line in Michigan has long been that drilling for oil and gas is well-regulated and done safely. But many people are not convinced.

Hal Fitch is the head of the Office of Oil, Gas and Minerals. He says they are responding to those concerns.

"We saw some need to make some changes, some improvements, partly because of changing technology, partly because of public concern out there over hydraulic fracturing," he says.

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The Environment Report
8:50 am
Thu May 1, 2014

Michigan cities graded on air pollution

Credit Joe Gratz / Flickr

The American Lung Association just released its annual report card on air quality, State of the Air.

Detroit and Grand Rapids made the list of most polluted cities for their ozone levels (Detroit ranks 34th worst out of 220 cities; Grand Rapids ranks 30th).

But others made the cleanest cities list: Kalamazoo and East Lansing scored well for particle pollution. Those are very tiny specks found in smoke and exhaust.

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The Environment Report
4:27 pm
Tue April 29, 2014

Pushing to expand the ban on a lawn care ingredient

Fertilizer without phosphorus, indicated by the 0 on the bag.
Credit Julie Grant

Cyanobacteria blooms continue to plague Lake Erie. Farms and wastewater have gotten a lot of attention for contributing nutrients that create these harmful blooms.

More recently, the spotlight has focused on lawn care. Grass fertilizers can also contain phosphorus that winds up in waterways. Michigan and other states around the Great Lakes have already banned lawn fertilizers that contain phosphorus. Now international regulators and others are pushing Ohio and Pennsylvania to do the same.

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The Environment Report
9:33 am
Thu April 24, 2014

Why do some trout that dine on small invasive fish die? Researchers gaining clues

NOAA's Great Lakes Environmental Research Labratory scientists examining a catch of alewives in Lake Michigan near Muskegon.
Credit R/V Laurentian NOAA / Creative Commons

You’ve probably heard about the big bad invasive silver or bighead carp, also known as Asian carp.

But there’s another invasive fish that’s roughly a third the size of the carp that’s already done a lot of damage to Great Lakes fisheries. Alewives have been a particular menace in Lakes Michigan and Huron. The invasive fish cause all kinds of problems for native lake trout.

Alewives scarf down lake trout eggs and very young fish. But even once lake trout grow big enough to turn the tables and eat the alewives, the invasive fish still cause problems.

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The Environment Report
2:16 pm
Tue April 22, 2014

Students celebrate Earth Day by planting sequoia clones

Thousands of cuttings from ancient redwoods grow in a mist chamber at Archangel Ancient Tree Archive in Copemish, Michigan.
Sara Hoover Interlochen Public Radio

Students in northern Michigan are planting clones of ancient sequoias today.

There's a grove of sequoias along the shores of Lake Michigan on the site of a former Morton Salt factory.

Sequoia trees are not native to Michigan, but this grove has grown in Manistee for more than 65 years when they were brought here from the West Coast. Now, those trees are going to take another trip, or their clones will.

Students who attend Interlochen Arts Academy are planting them on campus along Green Lake. The clones are from Archangel Ancient Tree Archive.

David Milarch is the group's co-founder. He says they’re planting clones of redwoods around the world today.

“Ninety-six percent of all of our redwoods have been cut down, butchered and sold,” Milarch says.

Here's a look at how the group collects genetic material from these old growth trees:

Both the Interlochen Center for the Arts and nearby Interlochen State Park have lost many trees recently due to disease and bug infestation.

Head park ranger Chris Stark has mixed feelings about the planting. He'd prefer to plant native varieties, such as the white pine.

The Environment Report
8:50 am
Tue April 22, 2014

Explore a century-old freighter, "dive" on a shipwreck at new Great Lakes museum

The National Museum of the Great Lakes. It cost $12 million to build, with the vast majority of the money coming from public sources.
Rebecca Williams Michigan Radio

I thought I knew a lot about the Great Lakes, until I met Chris Gillcrist. He’s the kind of guy you want on your Trivial Pursuit team.

This is the kind of fact I learned from him every few minutes:

“The first millionaire in American history is John Jacob Astor. It’s a guy trading beaver pelts from the Great Lakes and sending them to Europe.”

Gillcrist is the executive director of the new National Museum of the Great Lakes. It opens this Saturday, April 26, in Toledo.

There are a lot about shipwrecks here, sure,  but Gillcrist wants you to know it’s much more than that.

“We look at it as retrofitting American history to more accurately depict how the Great Lakes impacted the nation as a whole over the past 300 years,” he says.

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The Environment Report
12:19 pm
Thu April 17, 2014

Restaurants and markets running low on a popular Great Lakes fish

Bernie Fritzsch gets ready for the lunch rush at Monahan's Seafood Market.
Credit Rebecca Williams / Michigan Radio

Monahan’s Seafood Market in Ann Arbor carries soft-shell crabs from Maryland, Alaskan salmon, and Florida red snapper.

But at the moment, they’re fresh out of Great Lakes whitefish.

Bernie Fritzsch manages the fish market.

“We’re hoping to see it today, but we haven’t seen it for the last week,” he says.

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The Environment Report
5:05 pm
Tue April 15, 2014

Biologists expect the worst for Michigan's bat population

Credit Ryan Von Linden / New York Department of Environmental Conservation

Bats with white-nose syndrome have been found in Mackinac and Dickinson counties in the Upper Peninsula and Alpena County in northern lower Michigan.

The fungal disease has killed more than six million bats in 27 states and five Canadian provinces since 2006.

Allen Kurta is a biology professor at Eastern Michigan University. He’s one of the researchers who found the infected bats. I spoke with him for today's Environment Report (you can hear him talk about white-nose syndrome above).

Kurta compares the discovery of white-nose syndrome in Michigan bats to "every member of your extended family receiving a terminal diagnosis."

“I think that this is one of the worst wildlife calamities ever in the history of North America. You’re looking at potential extinction of multiple species of bats.”

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The Environment Report
2:57 pm
Thu April 10, 2014

You pay about a penny per gallon of gas to clean up pollution, but is that money spent well?

There are thousands of old gas station sites across the state.
Mark Brush Michigan Radio

Every time you fill up, you pay seven-eighths of a cent per gallon of gas for a “regulatory fee” that was originally set up to help clean up the thousands of old underground storage tanks in Michigan.

Those pennies you pay at the pump add up to a $50 million pot of money each year.

It’s called the Refined Petroleum Fund. The fund worked initially. The money helped remove tens of thousands of old underground storage tanks in Michigan. When those old tanks leak, they can pollute the soil and ruin nearby water sources.

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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

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
8:50 am
Tue April 8, 2014

Michigan beekeepers breeding hardier "survivor bees"

Greg Griswold with some of his bee boxes in Beulah, Michigan in March.
Sara Hoover Interlochen Public Radio

It’s been a tough winter for honeybees. Bees already face several obstacles, including parasitic mites, habitat loss, and pesticides.

Those factors and others are believed to contribute to Colony Collapse Disorder, a phenomenon where bees disappear from the hive in large numbers. 

In the face of all these things, beekeepers in Michigan are trying to breed a hardier bee.

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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
11:04 am
Tue April 1, 2014

Zebra mussel-killing bacteria could help native species in the Great Lakes

Zebra mussels on a Higgins eye mussel
Credit USFWS

A treatment that kills zebra and quagga mussels could soon be available for use in lakes and rivers. It’s very effective and safe.

But it is not likely to undo much of the ecological damage done to Michigan waters by invasive mussels.

It could be good news, though, if you’re a clam.

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