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
9:22 am
Thu October 31, 2013

Scientists pushed to engage the public through social media

NCI

Environmental Health Sciences professor Andrew Maynard teaches one of the University of Michigan's only classes focused on blogging.

Here you can listen in on an exchange he has with his students:

Maynard says learning how to communicating online is a skill crucial to his students' professional success.

“I would say very strongly scientists should blog, and they should blog because it forces them to become very familiar with the state of the science in specific areas,” says Maynard.

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The Environment Report
5:27 pm
Thu October 24, 2013

Tracking Asian carp by what they leave behind

Asian carp at the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago
flickr Kate Gardiner

Audio for The Environment Report for Oct. 24th

There’s a lot of time, money and effort being spent to keep Asian carp out of the Great Lakes.

To keep them out, we first have to know where the carp are.

Biologists often go out and sample water from rivers and lakes to look for carp. They test the water for genetic material, and some of those tests have turned up positive for Asian carp.

Last year, 20 samples turned up positive hits in Lake Erie. The positive DNA hits raise alarm bells that an invasive carp species might be establishing a population in the Great Lakes.

But the presence of carp DNA does not mean an actual fish was swimming in that area.

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Environment & Science
9:02 am
Thu October 24, 2013

It's getting colder, but hummingbirds haven't left the state yet

An adult male Rufous hummingbird.
Allen Chartier Great Lakes Hummernet

With the chill in the air now, you might guess that most hummingbirds would have ditched Michigan for a more tropical place.

The Ruby-throated hummingbird is the bird you’re most likely to see in Michigan, and it has flown south, for the most part.

But Allen Chartier still wants you to keep an eye out on your backyard feeders.

He studies hummingbirds and he’s the project director for Great Lakes Hummernet.

“The chances that what you’re looking at is a Ruby-throat is about 50/50, because there are western species that start showing up.”

He says you might get a chance to see a Rufous hummingbird.

“I kind of think of these little birds as each one has certain superpowers, and the Ruby-throat’s superpower is that it’s the smallest bird that can fly across the Gulf of Mexico nonstop. Now the Rufous hummingbird’s superpower is that it’s very cold tolerant. So there are many of these birds that have stayed around in Michigan and Ohio until January and then they move on.”

He says the males are a reddish-brown color with a glowing orange throat and a white breast. But the females look a lot like Ruby-throats.

So if you see one, take a picture of it and e-mail to Chartier. He says he’ll identify the bird and use your sighting in his research.

Here’s his e-mail address: amazilia3 at gmail.com

The Environment Report
9:43 am
Tue October 22, 2013

Endangered mussel delaying Grand River whitewater project

A freshly dead snuffbox mussel Dunn's crew found near Riverside Park in Grand Rapids.
Lindsey Smith Michigan Radio

You can listen to today's Environment Report above.

North America has the most diverse population of freshwater mussels in the world. There are roughly 300 species. But almost 40 have gone extinct in recent history. The presence of one kind of endangered freshwater mussel is delaying projects to restore parts of the Grand River in West Michigan.

To find out more, I meet up with Heidi Dunn and her two-man crew at Riverside Park in Grand Rapids. They’re hunting for a beloved endangered animal - well, an endangered mussel – that Dunn loves.

“They’re not the charismatic megafauna. You know, like eagles and bears and other things like that. These are not warm cuddly fuzzies. They’re biological rocks,” Dunn said.

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The Environment Report
9:00 am
Thu October 17, 2013

Michigan town looks forward to cleaning up mess left behind by chemical company

A granite marker was placed on the site of the former Vesicol Chemical Corp. plant site in St. Louis, Michigan warning people to stay away.
Mark Brush Michigan Radio

You can listen to today's Environment Report above.

Forty years ago a chemical mix-up led to one of Michigan’s worst environmental tragedies, and it’s not over yet.

The mix-up occurred in early 1973 at the former Michigan Chemical Corporation plant (which later became the Vesicol Chemical Corporation) in St. Louis, Mich. The company accidentally shipped flame-retardant chemicals to livestock farms around the state.

Farmers thought they were getting a feed supplement. Instead, they were dosing their animals with the toxic chemical PBB.

The problem wasn’t discovered for another year -- and the chemicals were passed up the food chain to humans.

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The Environment Report
9:05 am
Tue October 8, 2013

Algal blooms causing concern in northern lakes

Hamlin Lake on Ludington State Park.
Flickr

For years Lake Erie has been the poster child in the Great Lakes for the problem of toxic algae.

More recently, though, the problem has been showing up farther north around Lake Michigan.

Figuring out the causes of the algal blooms can be tough since watersheds are complex systems but some environmentalists are pointing the finger at corn. It’s a valuable cash crop today and could be a growing part of the farm landscape in the Great Lakes in the years ahead.

Algal bloom hits Mason County

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The Environment Report
9:03 am
Fri October 4, 2013

Warmer waters fuel toxic algal blooms in the Great Lakes

Algae scooped out of Maumee Bay in Lake Erie.
Mark Brush Michigan Radio

Big, ugly algal blooms are reappearing in the western basin (and sometimes the central basin) of Lake Erie.

The blooms happen when excess nutrients – mostly phosphorus – run off into the lake from farms and sewage treatment plants.

Some of these kinds of algae produce toxins that are among the most powerful natural poisons on Earth.

Over the past decade, these algal blooms have been common in Lake Erie. And scientists predict climate change could make the problem worse.

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The Environment Report
6:00 am
Thu October 3, 2013

Too warm for your fried perch dinner?

Researchers pulling in a trawl net on the USGS Muskie.
Jennifer Szweda Jordan

The fourth story in our week-long series, In Warm Water.

Yellow perch are a staple of firehouse and church fish fries, and the delicate fish on that dish might once have lived in the Great Lakes. But warmer lake waters in a changing climate threaten the yellow perch population as well as other popular cool water fish, like walleye.

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The Environment Report
6:00 am
Wed October 2, 2013

A mystery at the bottom of the Great Lakes food web

Michael Twiss is a professor of biology at Clarkson University, Potsdam, NY.
David Sommerstein

The third story in our series, "In Warm Water."

Phytoplankton – the algae that are food for plankton which in turn feed fish – are behaving strangely. They’re surrounded by a nutrient they need to grow. But for some reason, they’re not using it.

The puzzle has big implications for how scientists think about the Great Lakes’ future in a warming world.

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The Environment Report
6:00 am
Tue October 1, 2013

Great Lakes fish on a diet

University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Professor John Janssen
Chuck Quirmbach

The second story in our series, "In Warm Water: Fish & the Changing Great Lakes."

Scientists say one way climate change is harming the Great Lakes is by warming the water too quickly in the spring.

That warm-up can decrease food for tiny creatures in the lakes--the creatures that game fish like trout and salmon eat.

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The Environment Report
6:00 am
Mon September 30, 2013

A chilly Lake Superior warms up

Herring fisherman and president of the North Shore Commercial Fishing Association, Steve Dahl, says the commercial fishing industry on Lake Superior is doing better than ever, but experts predict fish populations will shift due to warming waters.
Photo by Doug Fairchild, courtesy of the Minnesota Sea Grant Institute.

You can listen to the first piece in our series above.

We kick off our week-long series In Warm Water: Fish and the Changing Great Lakes with a look at Lake Superior.

It has long been the coldest and most pristine Great Lake. Its frigid waters have helped defend it from some invasive species that have plagued the other Great Lakes.  But Lake Superior’s future could look radically different. Warming water and decreasing ice are threatening the habitat of some of the lake’s most iconic fish.

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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
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
8:55 am
Tue September 3, 2013

Making Michigan wine with cheaper solar energy

Installing the solar panels on the vineyard.
Interlochen Public Radio

Crain Hill Vineyards in Leelanau County is touted as the first in Michigan to run 100% on solar power, and a start-up energy business sees an opportunity for homes and farms because of the steep price drops to install solar in the last year.

Robert Brengman owns Crain Hill Vineyards with his two brothers. He says it’s been a goal from the beginning to tread lightly in this place.

“We’re looking at having a zero carbon footprint on this vineyard, in this winery. I mean that to me is exciting,” Bregnman said. “I think it’s a little part. And we’re trying to do our part of keeping this beautiful area the way it is.”

They won’t be buying electricity generated by burning fossil fuels. There are three new solar arrays mounted on steel poles on a south facing slope that are within sight of the winery’s tasting room.

Tom Gallery designed the system for Crain Hill and says the arrays are built to gather as much sunlight as possible.

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The Environment Report
9:00 am
Thu August 29, 2013

Hunting for plastic pollution in the Great Lakes

Rios-Mendoza on the deck of the Sea Dragon, preparing to go out to test Lake Michigan's waters for plastics.
Lewis Wallace

You can listen to today's Environment Report above.

A research expedition recently set sail from Chicago to search for a Great Lakes garbage patch.

So-called "garbage patches" or islands are actually collections of tiny plastic particles that are choking up regions of the world’s oceans. The expedition has been testing the waters of Lakes Huron and Michigan for a similar phenomenon.

I met up with expedition organizer Asta Mail at a marina in downtown Chicago. It’s a hot day, and a street vendor immediately offers us bottled water.

Mail points down at a plastic bottle in Lake Michigan. It’s pretty easy plastic hunting.

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The Environment Report
11:52 am
Tue August 27, 2013

Will Enbridge Energy's new pipeline in Michigan be safer?

The new pipeline will run right behind David Gallagher's home.
Mark Brush Michigan Radio

A new oil pipeline is going underground in Michigan.

Enbridge Energy says this new pipeline will be bigger (36 inches vs. 30 inches) - it will pump more oil to the Marathon refinery in Detroit - and they say the pipeline will be safer. (The map in the slideshow above shows where the new line is going in.)

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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
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
8:55 am
Thu July 25, 2013

3 years and nearly $1 billion later, cleanup of Kalamazoo River oil spill continues

Paul Makowski points out ‘milky sheen’ floating on the river. The light blue wisps of sheen disappear within seconds of surfacing.
Lindsey Smith Michigan Radio

Three years ago today, an underground pipeline carrying tar sands oil to refineries near Detroit ruptured near Marshall, Michigan. The break went undetected overnight, allowing hundreds of thousands of gallons of thick oil to seep into the Kalamazoo River.

On July 26, 2010, a call came into Jay Wesley’s office in Plainwell that there’d been an oil spill.

“We expected to see an overturned truck or something like that. That’s typically what our spills are like here, very minor,” he says.

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