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.

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.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

People in Kalamazoo are rallying to get rid of a major dump site that contains cancer causing waste.

Imagine decades’ worth of wood pulp and grey clay waste from the paper mill industry. There are 1.5 million cubic yards of it and it’s laced with polychlorinated biphenyls or PCBs.

Now, plop it in the middle of a neighborhood.

Sarah Hill lives a little more than a mile away from what neighbors have dubbed "Mount PCB."

Al Warren

This week, the Michigan Natural Resources Commission is expected to vote on whether to authorize a wolf hunt.

The hunt would take place in three separate zones in the Upper Peninsula

I traveled to the U.P. to talk with people who live near wolves to get their thoughts on the proposed hunt.

For many years, gray wolves were listed as an endangered species in Michigan. That ended last year.  But the battle between the wolves and locals in the Upper Peninsula has been going on for some time.   

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.

Jonathan Hoard

If you’ve heard about Belle Isle in the news lately, it was probably a story about people fighting over who should control Detroit’s famous island park. Those political fights tend to overshadow the island’s unique ecosystem. It’s a tiny fragment of what southeast Michigan looked like before industrialization.

Recently, some Detroit schoolkids got to take a look at this natural heart of Belle Isle. I had the chance to tag along.

It wasn’t a great day to be out on Belle Isle. In fact, it was pretty miserable.  It was rainy and cold, and a lot of these ninth-graders from Detroit’s Western International High School didn’t exactly dress for the weather. But too bad.

cford3 / Wikipedia

Burning coal in a power plant creates byproducts called fly ash and bottom ash.  That ash contains a lot of bad stuff - mercury, lead, arsenic, to name a few.

While some plants ship the dry ash to landfills that accept hazardous materials, others mix the ash with water to make a slurry, which is moved into holding ponds.

Eventually, the water in those ponds is released into the nearest waterway.

Anderson Eye Care / Facebook.com

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.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

For the first time in nearly a half century, people will be encouraged to fish along a portion of the Red Cedar River as it winds its way through the Michigan State University campus in East Lansing.

At a ceremony Monday near the campus’s western edge, MSU dignitaries, including Sparty, took turns dumping buckets of Steelhead trout into the meandering Red Cedar River.

Organizers want anglers to start casting their lines into the Red Ceder in hopes of reeling in the sportfish.

That’s a big change.

A surprising comeback for Lake Huron's native fish

Apr 11, 2013
Photo courtesy of Michigan Sea Grant

For years now, we’ve heard bad news about the Great Lakes. Most of it has to do with invasive species getting into the lakes and wrecking the food web.

One writer called it a slow-moving underwater wildfire.

So it might surprise you to hear that native fish are doing very well in one of the lakes. The changes are so dramatic scientists are a bit puzzled and can’t explain what’s happening.

Photo courtesy of Michigan Wines

Michigan winemakers are exploring a variety of options to get the most out of their crops. They’re experimenting with growing hardier grapes to handle whatever curve balls Mother Nature throws.

Michigan is now the eighth largest wine grape growing state. The grapes we grow really have to like Michigan weather, no matter what happens. Right now we’ve got room to improve.

Mark Savage / Entergy Corporation

This week Nuclear Regulatory Commissioner William Magwood came to South Haven to tour the Palisades nuclear power plant in nearby Covert Township.

Magwood did not respond to requests to comment on how his tour went or why he chose to come.

He’s the second commissioner to visit the plant in less than a year. NRC spokeswoman Viktoria Mitlyng says that many high-level visits in such a short time is “not necessarily” uncommon.

“You can draw your own conclusions about that because I cannot do that for you,”Mitlyng said.

Kevin Kamps is with the anti-nuclear watchdog group Beyond Nuclear. Unlike the media, he and several others got a chance to sit down with Commissioner Magwood.

“There were some hints around the edges that it’s because of the problem plagued nature of Palisades and he even used the word disappointment for continued problems out there,” Kamps said.

2012 was a crazy year for the Palisades. Get a feel for it in our timeline on Palisades here.

Michigan chefs experiment with Asian carp

Mar 26, 2013
Sarah Payette

One of the strategies to keep Asian carp out of the Great Lakes is to eat the fish now living in the Mississippi River. But finding a market for millions of pounds of carp is not easy. Peter Payette wondered if people could get excited about Asian carp as a seafood delicacy. So he put some in the hands of chefs in Traverse City:

Asian Carp doesn’t taste like much. In fact, you might describe its taste as neutral.

Aerial photo of Talmadge Creek after Enbridge oil spill
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

We’re rounding the corner on the three year anniversary of the Enbridge oil spill near Marshall.

The cleanup isn’t over yet and so far, more than a million gallons of thick tar sands oil have been cleaned up from the Kalamazoo River and Talmadge Creek.

State officials have been looking at possible health risks from the spill.

This week, the Michigan Department of Community Health released a report on drinking water wells along the spill zone.

Friends of the Porkies

Some state lawmakers think there’s too much public land in Michigan.

They don’t like how conservation decisions are made and think the state favors environmental goals over uses like logging and ORV trails.

In November, Governor Snyder announced townships and counties would need to approve projects before the state could buy land with the Natural Resources Trust Fund.

The trust fund has been used to preserve beaches and forests all over the state.

But townships in particular have complained about property being taken off the tax rolls, and the state has not always made the payments it promises in place of some tax revenue.

Daniel Schwen / Wikimedia Commons

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say even low levels of lead in blood can affect a child’s IQ, their ability to pay attention and their performance in school. Kids are most often exposed to lead in paint in homes built before 1978.

Robert Scott is with the Michigan Department of Community Health. He says over the past several years, there’s been great progress in cleaning up lead contamination in old homes in the state. He says lead poisoning in kids in Detroit has dropped more than 70 percent since 2004.

“I do want to emphasize though, that with this steady decrease over the years, there are still pockets in Detroit and other places where the rates are still much higher,” says Scott.

NWF

I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but folks in Washington aren’t exactly getting along these days.

They couldn’t agree on how to cut the deficit, and now we’re facing automatic, across-the-board spending cuts from the federal government.

The cuts are scheduled to start March 1.

$85 billion will have to be stripped out of the federal budget this year alone.

The White House sent a press release detailing how these cuts might affect environmental programs in Michigan.

Here's what they wrote:

Michigan would lose about $5.9 million in environmental funding to ensure clean water and air quality, as well as prevent pollution from pesticides and hazardous waste. In addition, Michigan could lose another $1.5 million in grants for fish and wildlife protection.

We heard a lot about about how the sequester might affect things like airports, school funding, and Medicare, but we wanted to know more about the numbers above.

How might environmental programs in the region be affected?

Photo by USFWS; Joel Trick

The Kirtland’s warbler is a songbird with an enviable travel schedule. The birds spend the winter in the Bahamas, and in the spring, they come home to the Great Lakes region – mostly to Michigan’s northern Lower Peninsula.

The warbler has been on the endangered species list for 40 years. But it’s been doing well lately. Federal officials say the birds have met their recovery goal.

But it’ll take a lot of work to manage the birds even after they’re taken off the endangered species list.

katmystiry, Morguefile

Every spring, instinct tells the ruby-throated hummingbird to head from Mexico to northern states, including Michigan. But experts say it’s making that trip earlier than ever.  That early migration could be a sign of trouble for the tiny powerhouse of the avian world. 

Joseph Xu, Michigan Engineering Communications & Marketing

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.

Michigan.gov

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.

Great Lakes Commission

by Adam Allington for the Environment Report

Earlier this spring, the Obama administration ordered the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to speed up a five-year study of options to block invasive Asian carp from entering the Great Lakes.  Many biologists say the best solution would be complete separation of the Great Lakes from the Mississippi River watershed.  But basin separation comes with its own multi-billion dollar price tag... and it would require re-plumbing the entire City of Chicago.

This story begins with a nice round number, and that number is 1900… the year the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal was complete. 

Back then, the canal’s opening was touted as one of the biggest civil engineering feats of the industrial age—significant, for completely reversing the flow of the Chicago River away from Lake Michigan and taking all the sewage from the city of Chicago with it.

Over 100 years later, that canal is still doing the same job.

“On any given day, depending on the time of year, approximately 60-80 percent of the volume of the Chicago River is treated municipal wastewater.”

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