The Environment Report

Tuesdays & Thursdays at 8:50 a.m. and 5:45 p.m.

The Environment Report hosted by Rebecca Williams explores the relationship between the natural world and the everyday lives of people in Michigan.

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.”

Gas prices from the past at the shuttered Logan's Gas and Deli near Battle Creek.
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.

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. 

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.

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.

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.

Fifty years ago, Congress set out to guarantee future generations would always have access to America’s great outdoors in its most natural state. But several recent requests for wilderness protections have been languishing on Capitol Hill.  

In the past five years, just one new wilderness bill made it to law. This new law guarantees 35 miles of northern Lake Michigan shoreline will be forever left wild.

Good Harbor Bay

morguefile

The Michigan Legislature recently approved a package of bills that’s causing a split between environmental groups.

The legislation would lower a tax on a certain kind of oil recovery.

Jake Neher is the capitol reporter for the Michigan Public Radio Network and he’s been following this story. I spoke with him about these bills for today's Environment Report.

“The main bill in the package would cut the state severance tax from 6.6% to 4% for companies using what’s called enhanced production or enhanced recovery methods to essentially clean out low-producing oil wells. So basically, they pump a bunch of carbon dioxide into the wells to help get relatively little amounts of oil out of them. In other words, companies would pay a lower tax rate on the oil they take out of the ground using that process.”

Rebecca Williams / Michigan Radio

A Ready-Mix concrete company, McCoig Materials, wants to open up a mine on a site north of Chelsea. The two parcels of land they want to mine are in between the Waterloo and Pinckney Recreation areas. This part of southeast Michigan has a lot of little lakes and unique natural areas.

McCoig Materials wants to operate the mine for 22 to 30 years and remove 11 million tons of sand and gravel.

People who live on the lakes nearby have been raising concerns about that.

Mary Mandeville spends summers in her cottage at Island Lake.

“Just to the west of us is where the proposed gravel mine would be putting in their operations. We’re very concerned about the impact on the environment, on the water table level. We’re concerned about air quality with all the dust from the dumping of the gravel into the trucks.”

Rebecca Williams / Michigan Radio

President Obama’s 2015 budget includes some cuts to Great Lakes programs.

Obama is asking for $275 million for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. That would be $25 million less than the current funding level.

Todd Ambs is the campaign director of the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition. He says if the cuts go through, you'd see projects slow down.

“Whether it’s a contaminated cleanup project that’s underway but not completed, or a habitat restoration effort or dealing with the problems of keeping aquatic invasive species out of the Great Lakes.”

Photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

We spend about $21 million a year keeping invasive sea lampreys in check in the Great Lakes.

But they’re resilient creatures. Even after we spend all that money, we still can’t get rid of them.

Scientists now suspect lampreys are getting a little too comfortable up north.

R. Greaves / NOAA GLERL

It might seem a little counterintuitive, but right now, a bunch of scientists are thinking about how high the water at Great Lakes beaches will be this summer.

Early last year, the Lake Michigan-Lake Huron system hit record low water levels.

It made life tougher for the shipping industry, and it’s hard on people who run Great Lakes ports.

Russell Dzuba is the harbor master in Leland.

“For us, it’s shallow. When we went to dredge this year we had to go a foot deeper and the world was a foot shorter, if you will,” he says.

Archeologists studying a wooden beam pulled from northern Lake Michigan this summer can't say whether it is a piece of the first European ship to sail the upper Great Lakes or a post from an old fishing net. The group managing the project is close to issuing a report to the state archeologist, but it won’t reach any firm conclusion.

Read on to discover the evidence that points to each conclusion.

Enbridge

Enbridge Energy is still cleaning up oil left over from its pipeline spill in the Kalamazoo River.  

The company has already recovered most of the oil, but it's still working to comply with an order from the federal regulators, who say they need to clean up another 180,000 gallons. 

According to Enbridge's new plan, they can start that cleanup March 15. But that's all dependent on this crazy weather. Right now, everything is frozen. But, if spring warms things up and there's flooding, that can also be problematic for the dredging process. 

Farm in rural Michigan
user acrylicartist / MorgueFile.com

The farm bill has about $57 billion for conservation.

Director of the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition Todd Ambs says a lot of people don't realize the farm bill is where we find the largest source of conservation money from the federal government.

"That’s because there are so many activities that happen on the land that bring us our food, that if done improperly can have a very adverse impact on the soil and also to surrounding waterways," he says.

Rebecca Williams / Michigan Radio

Life could soon get a little harder for backyard farmers.

A law passed in 1981 protects Michigan farmers from nuisance lawsuits. It’s called the Right to Farm Act.  It was created to protect farmers from angry neighbors who were moving out into rural areas from cities.

At the moment, the law also protects people who raise chickens and other animals in their backyards.

Wendy Banka lives in Ann Arbor.  She has seven chickens with orange feathers living in a coop in her backyard.

Most metal food cans are lined with a chemical called bisphenol-A.
(Photo courtesy of Sun Ladder at Wikimedia Commons)

We’re all regularly exposed to the chemical Bisphenol A or BPA. Companies have taken it out of baby bottles, and many kinds of those hard plastic water bottles no longer have BPA in them.

But it’s still used on paper receipts and to line most food and drink cans.

Dana Dolinoy is a Searle Assistant Professor of Environmental Health Sciences at the University of Michigan School of Public Health.

“There is mounting evidence that BPA has negative health effects in both animal models and humans,” says Dolinoy.

Working on the broken oil pipeline near Marshall, Michigan
EPA

There are close to 70,000 miles of underground pipelines in Michigan carrying all kinds of materials around the state – things like natural gas, refined petroleum, and crude oil.

And for the most part, we really don’t notice these pipelines. That was true in Michigan until one summer day three and half years ago when this happened:

Brian Murphy

Let's call today Throwback Tuesday, and go way, way back to the 1920s.

That's when Sir Alexander Fleming stumbled on a mold that stopped bacteria from growing in a petri dish. He called it penicillin.

Ever since that huge discovery, people have been looking all over the Earth for more organisms that can fight disease.

Brian Murphy has been searching at the bottom of the Great Lakes.

Farm bill likely to help preserve N. Michigan farms

Feb 4, 2014
Farm in rural Michigan
user acrylicartist / MorgueFile.com

The new farm bill should help farmland preservation efforts in northern Michigan.

The way farmland preservation works is farmers sell the right to develop their land, so it can never be divided up for houses or strip malls. The federal government spends hundreds of millions of dollars every year to protect farmland, and that will continue under the new farm bill.

But the federal dollars need to be matched locally, which can be a challenge in a region where land is so valuable.

Courtesy Photo

First up, a Michigan man who’s trying to win millions of dollars with solar power.

He’s trying to put solar panels on as many Michigan homes and businesses as he possibly can.

Prasad Gullapalli’s Novi-based Srinergy wants you to invest in solar panels – for your home, for your business – doesn’t matter. He’s looking for anybody in Michigan to go solar.

He’s making the offer with no upfront costs.

micropterus_dolomieu / Wikimedia commons

So you know the saying, right? Stuff flows downhill? Myron Erickson knows a lot about that "stuff."

He heads up the sewage treatment plant that sits along the Grand River in Wyoming, Michigan (right next to Grand Rapids).

The screening room is where they take out the "grit." Erickson calls them "knick knacks."

"It's a small particle like sand, and also all things that come to us in sewage, like peas, and corn, and peanuts," says Erickson.

user william_warby / Flickr

Before I talk about the small bits of chemicals often found in drinking water, I want to direct some attention to the national water contamination story going on now because I think it reveals something.

The water is bad in West Virginia

The nation has its eyes on a nine-county area in West Virginia that’s under a state of emergency. A coal-processing chemical leaked into a river and poisoned the drinking water there. Cleanup is ongoing. As they attempt to flush the chemical out of their drinking water systems, officials are trying to determine what level of the chemical is safe.

Ken Ward Jr. of the West Virgina Gazette reports that local and federal officials are saying that "1 part per million" of  crude 4-methylcyclohexanemethanol (the coal processing chemical) is safe for people to drink.

But Ward is having a tough time finding out what they based that number on:

Dan O'Keefe / Michigan Sea Grant

This week, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issued a study about what might be done to keep those invasive Asian carp out of the Great Lakes.

It took seven years and that was a rush job after some members of Congress accused the Corps of dragging its feet.

The study outlines eight scenarios.

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The food industry wants the government to give the okay for calling products using genetically engineered ingredients “natural” foods.

I went to my local grocery store looking for the term “natural” or “naturally” and I didn’t have to go very far.

In the cereal aisle I found products labeled “naturally flavored,” “100% natural,” and an “all natural pancake mix.” A couple aisles over, looking at the chips there were “all natural” pretzels, “naturally sweet” popcorn, and then there was a drink with a label that read “naturally flavored beverage with other natural flavors blended with vitamins.”

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Michigan could deregulate the electricity market, allowing people to choose where they buy electricity.

In downtown Frankenmuth there are two very popular restaurants: the Frankenmuth Bavarian Inn and right across the street, Zehnder’s of Frankenmuth. Both are famous for their chicken dinners. And the owners are cousins -- both of them are Zehnders.

Hundreds of snowy owls have descended on the Great Lakes and Northeast as part of this year's "irruption." / toddraden

Every year, some snowy owls make their way south from their Arctic homeland in search of food, and some of us here in the Great Lakes region have been lucky enough to spot these magnificent birds on tree branches, or poles, or … near airports.

Airports have wide open treeless spaces, and can look a lot like home to snowy owls. And for wildlife specialists who work at airports from the Great Lakes to the Northeast, this has been a busy winter.

Eight owls trapped in one week at DTW

Kyle Norris/Michigan Radio

Meet the Gold family. They're modern day homesteaders. 

Their goal is to live as self-sufficiently as possible on their three-acre farm in Ypsilanti. (They often say they use yesterday's knowledge combined with today's technology.)

Two years ago they started the Michigan Folk School. The school promotes traditional folk arts and the preservation of forest and farmland.

To find out why the family started the school, and why they became homesteaders in the first place, listen to this week's Environment Report, right here.

Nathan Sharkey / Creative Commons

Michigan has lost millions of acres of wetlands over the last century. But the state’s still got roughly five million acres left. 

“Wetlands are really, really important to clean water. They’ve been called nature’s nurseries and nature’s kidneys,” said Grenetta Thomassey, who heads Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council in Petoskey.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Hydrogen fuel cells, compressed natural gas, all-electric… what kind of cars are we going to be driving in a few years?

The LA Auto Show wrapped up… and the next big show is the North American International Auto Show at Cobo Hall in Detroit in January.

There, of course, is a lot of well-orchestrated hype at these big auto shows. If you’re looking for a clear direction on what we’ll be driving in the future, it’s still a mixed bag. But, new advances are dominated by efficiency improvements in the internal combustion engine.

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