environment

Michigan's archery season began this morning.
Charles Dawley / flickr

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Michigan's new hunting program for children will start this year, with licenses on sale starting March 1.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources announced Friday that the Michigan Natural Resources Commission approved the program aimed at introducing children under the age of 10 to hunting and fishing.

It's called the Mentored Youth Hunting program.

A recent law eliminated the minimum hunting age, allowing kids under 10 to hunt with an adult who's at least 21 years old. Under the rules for the new youth program, the adult must have previous hunting experience and possess a valid Michigan hunting license.

A Mentored Youth Hunting license will cost $7.50. Details about hunting rules are posted on the DNR's website.

Watershed Monotype 05 / Leslie Sobel

Today's Artpod features a story where science and art intersect. 

At a lot of colleges and universities, the sciences are housed on one part of campus, the arts on another. But the two sides will have a chance to meet this week when the School of Natural Resources and Environment (SNRE) at the University of Michigan opens its first art gallery.

Sara Adlerstein is a research scientist at SNRE, artist, and curator for the new Art & Environment gallery.  When it comes to environmental issues, she says scientists need to be able to communicate with people outside their field.

"If you’re not able to communicate to the general public, then your work is not all that relevant," explains Adlerstein. "So I’ve been exploring to do that through art; I think art speaks to the heart. With an image you can communicate directly to the heart and make people think about how to educate themselves if they’re interested in the issues."

She hopes the new gallery will show scientists and students that charts and pie graphs aren’t the only way to share their research.

Leslie Sobel will be the first artist featured in the new gallery. She'll be displaying her "Watershed Moment" series, which Sobel says was inspired by vintage survey maps of the Mississippi River and current satellite images of the River from when it flooded last spring.

Rhiannon Tomtishen and Madison Vorva

Sixteen year-olds Rhiannon Tomtishen and Madison Vorva could teach us a thing or two about dedication.

They are two of three people in North America nominated for a United Nation's "Forest Heroes" award.

Since they were 11, the girls have been working to raise awareness about endangered orangutans and the diminishing Indonesian rain forests.

They began to get attention when, as Girl Scouts, they formed a petition drive to get the Girl Scouts of America to remove palm oil as an ingredient in their cookies.

Rain forests in Indonesia have been slashed and burned to make way for palm oil plantations. Palm oil is used in all kinds of products, including Girl Scout cookies.

Palm oil plantations are bad for orangutan habitat, and they're bad for global warming too.

In 2009, the Environment Report's Ann Dornfeld visited one of these forests months after is was burned:

Greenpeace Indonesia campaigner Bustar Maitar looks out on a charred landscape. You'd never know a forest stood here just a few months ago.

“Is the no more ecosystem here. No more forest here.”

Only a few burnt tree trunks are standing. Sour smoke curls up from the blackened ground. Maitar says this fire has been burning for a month.

You can listen to that report here:

After Tomtishen and Vorva learned about this type of devastation, they started a website to teach others about it.

In an interview with Michigan Radio's Lindsey Smith last March, spoke with Tomtishen:

“We felt motivated to continue this project and I think we also felt that because we were girl scouts and because this was an issue in Girl Scout cookies, we thought we were going to be able to make a change.”

At that time, the Girl Scouts of America hadn't removed palm oil from the cookies. But this past October, they did budge a little, as MLive.com reports:

...in October Girl Scouts USA agreed to revise its policy on palm oil use to include the purchase of GreenPalm certificates as offsets and use sustainable oil when possible...

The girls say purchasing offsets is a good first step, but they would like to see the organization do more to make sure harm to rainforests is minimized and human-rights concerns related to palm oil farming are addressed....

“(Offset certificates) are better than nothing, but we’re not done talking about it,” Vorva said.

Winners of the United Nation's Forest Heroes Award will be announced tomorrow in New York City.

Nell Gable

Long ago, before iPads and Wifi, it wasn’t “cool” or trendy to know how to do things such as mend your own clothes, can fruit or turn old food into compost—it was imperative. And just as valuable as the skills themselves, were the people from whom you learned them.

Now, face-to-face social interaction is often limited to the times when we look up from whatever screen we’re lost in while we wait for the next text message or email to arrive.

Some people in Ann Arbor are hoping to break this cycle by regaining valuable yet forgotten skills and reclaiming community bonds.

The movement takes shape in the form of the Ann Arbor ReSkilling Festival. According to the festival website, "reskilling" is all about sharing often abandoned skills for “resilient, low-energy living,” in a face-to-face community setting.

The American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene

Lyme disease is spread through blacklegged tick bites, and its prevalence has most notably been in the eastern U.S. and southeastern Canada.

The CDC reports that if the disease is left untreated, the "infection can spread to joints, the heart, and the nervous system."

Researchers say incidence rates of the disease have steadily increased as the ticks, and the bacterium they can carry which causes the disease, expand their range.

Now researchers from Michigan State University, the Yale School of Public Health, and many other institutions have mapped the risk areas for Lyme disease.

The researchers say their map provides a baseline for tracking the spread of Lyme disease:

This risk map can assist in surveillance and control programs by identifying regions where human cases are expected and may assist treatment decisions such as the use of antimicrobial prophylaxis following a tick bite.

The map show high risk areas in the northeast, and Wisconsin and Minnesota - and a potential emerging risk spot in southwest Michigan.

More from the Associated Press:

Researchers who dragged sheets of fabric through the woods to snag ticks have created a detailed map pinpointing the highest-risk areas for Lyme disease.

The map shows a clear risk across much of the Northeast, from Maine to northern Virginia. Researchers at Yale University also identified a high-risk region across most of Wisconsin, northern Minnesota and a sliver of northern Illinois. Areas highlighted as "emerging risk" regions include the Illinois-Indiana border, the New York-Vermont border, southwestern Michigan and eastern North Dakota.

The map was published this week based on data from 2004-2007. Researchers say the picture might have changed since then in the emerging areas, but the map is still useful because it highlights areas where tick surveillance should be increased and can serve as a baseline for future research.

Photo by Shawn Allee

The Environmental Protection Agency has missed its own deadline to release a major report on the health effects of dioxins. Dioxins are a class of toxic chemicals.

The EPA says dioxins are likely to cause cancer in humans. Since the mid-1980’s, the EPA has been working to define just how toxic dioxins are. Over the years, the agency has released drafts of the report. These drafts have been picked apart by scientists and industry. Then, the EPA goes back to working on it.

Last year, the EPA decided to split its dioxin assessment into two parts. One part will look at cancer risks; the other part will look at non-cancer health risks. The agency had promised to release the report on non-cancer effects by the end of January. But they missed that deadline.

The EPA did not want to be recorded for this story. They would only say they’re “working to finalize the non-cancer health assessment for dioxin as expeditiously as possible.”

Living with dioxin pollution

People in central Michigan have lived with dioxin pollution for more than three decades. The pollution is largely from a Dow Chemical plant in Midland. We’ve previously reported that EPA’s dioxin assessment could affect how much dioxin Dow might have to clean up.

Michelle Hurd Riddick is with the Lone Tree Council. It’s an environmental advocacy group based in Saginaw.

“We need our government to issue a clear scientific statement and report on the toxicity of this chemical. But unfortunately, it appears it’s probably politics as usual. And the monied interests, the lobbyists, they have the access, they have the influence and you know, public health be damned.”

The EPA has been under pressure from industry groups.

USFS

In 2010, a man successfully sued the U.S. Forest Service saying the agency did not incorporate enough land for quiet recreation in the Huron-Manistee National Forest.

He said more land for these activities should have been set aside in the USFS' 2006 forest management plan.

Here's how the plaintiff, Kurt Meister, explained it in a story by Michigan Radio back in 2010:

“This case isn’t about hunting. It’s not about gun hunting. It’s not about stopping gun hunting. It’s simply saying it shouldn’t be everywhere. And if you make it everywhere, you’re affecting other people’s rights.”

In that report, Interlochen Public Radio's Bob Allen explained that "what Kurt Meister is asking the court to do is set aside areas designated as non-motorized for quiet recreation.

Those are places where, on paper, the forest plan says a person can expect to be isolated from the sights and sounds of other humans.

But on the ground, Meister says, what happens is that snowmobile trails and cross country ski trails run side by side."

Today, the U.S. Forest Service released its revised plan in response to the 2010 decision by the federal court.

The Forest Service says it will:

  • Continue to allow gun hunting in the previously designated Semiprimitive Nonmotorized and Primitive areas of the Huron-Manistee National Forests in accordance with regulations of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.
  • Continue to allow snowmobiling on designated trails within the Huron-Manistee National Forests.

 

Ken Arbogast of the U.S. Forest Service says for the public visiting the national forest, very little will change.

What's changed, he said, is the description of these areas. The plan now describes the areas in contention as areas that are "more secluded" and "less roaded" - but it does not leave the impression that noise from human activity will be absent.

The Huron-Manistee forest covers about 1 million acres of land. The land in contention covers about 70,000 acres.

Great Lakes Commission

Asian carp have been making their way up the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers toward the Great Lakes for decades.

A coalition of U.S. and Canadian mayors says the solution is to physically separate the Great Lakes basin from the Mississippi River system forever. In other words... they want to completely stop the flow of water between the two systems to permanently block carp from swimming up into Lake Michigan... and stop any kind of invaders from moving between the basins.

A new report out today outlines how that massive separation might happen.

Tim Eder is the executive director of the Great Lakes Commission. His group put out the report, along with the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative. The report identifies three different places on the Chicago waterway system where a physical separation could be put in place.

“It’s just putting some sheet piling, some metal and earth and concrete in the river to make a dam, basically.”

But the manmade system of canals in the Chicago area has been in place for a century (it was originally put in place to reverse the flow of the Chicago River away from Lake Michigan because untreated sewage was being dumped in the lake and making people sick - and even killing them).

Eder says there are a lot of people who depend on the waterway system as it is now.

“The river in Chicago now serves some really important purposes for managing floodwaters, for dealing with wastewater, and for transportation. Commercial transportation depends on that waterway, so our options propose solutions to maintain and even enhance all of those existing important uses of the waterway.”

There’s a fight brewing about whether Michigan’s Upper Peninsula needs two new power lines. The high voltage lines would cut through northern woodlands to bring electricity from Wisconsin to the U.P. Energy companies say the single existing line is maxed out.

An announcement by WE Energies of Milwaukee sparked this debate last fall. The company said it would phase out an old coal burning power plant in Marquette over the next five years. To keep the plant going would mean investing millions in new pollution controls.

People in the U.P. were worried about where their power would come from, and they were upset about the prospect of losing 170 jobs at the Presque Isle power plant.

WE Energies favors building new power lines to send electricity from Wisconsin to the U.P. That plan was put on a fast track for regulatory approval.

But then a couple of weeks ago, WE Energies and Wolverine Power based in northern lower Michigan announced a joint venture.

They’re now looking at upgrading the plant in Marquette to meet stricter pollution rules.

When President Obama talked to the nation this week, he pointed out a guy from Michigan in the audience.

“When Bryan Ritterby was laid off from his job making furniture, he said he worried at 55, no one would give him a second chance. But he found work at Energetx a wind turbine manufacturer in Michigan. Before the recession the factory only made luxury yachts. Today it’s hiring workers like Bryan who said I’m proud to be working in the industry of the future.”

Last spring, Energetx Composites expected to increase its workforce from 40 employees to 300 sometime in 2012. We wanted to check in to see how things are going.

Chris Idema works in business development for the Holland-based company.

“You know, I can’t really comment on a specific number but we are definitely in growth mode right now, we are hiring and we expect to do so over the next several months.”

He says the biggest obstacle to his company’s growth is uncertainty in the market. Idema points to a federal tax credit that he says gives the wind industry some stability. That credit expires at the end of this year. It’s not clear what Congress will do about it.

NASA

Here's some amazing footage of what NASA is calling the largest solar storm in the last eight years. NASA says the storm began at 10:38 p.m. ET on Jan. 22, peaked at 10:59 p.m. and ended at 11:34 p.m.

After the flare, the solar particles hit the Earth this morning. From NASA:

The coronal mass ejection CME collided with Earth's magnetic field a little after 10 AM ET on January 24, 2012. The influx of particles from the CME amplified the solar radiation storm such that it is now considered the largest since October 2003. NOAA's Space Weather Prediction Center has categorized it as a "strong" -- or S3 (with S5 being the highest) – storm. Solar radiation storms can affect satellite operations and short wave radio propagation, but cannot harm humans on Earth. Auroras may well be visible tonight at higher latitudes such as Michigan and Maine in the U.S., and perhaps even lower.

How a solar storm turns into northern lights (or southern lights) was always a mystery to me until I saw this video explaining how it works. 

Photo courtesy USFWS

Anthony Leiserowitz directs the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication. He says the vast majority of scientists agree that climate change is real. It’s mostly caused by people. And it’s serious.

“We know through multiple studies that over 95% of scientists agree about this.”

But... he says his studies and others show the number of Americans who believe climate change is happening has declined. 

Leiserowitz says there are a lot of reasons for that. A tough economy... declining media coverage...

“Then there’s actually been a very active campaign to discredit the science, to put out disinformation about the science. And that really kicked into gear in 2008 and 2009 because Congress was about to pass climate legislation. Forces that are perfectly happy with the status quo worked very, very hard to stop that effort and they were successful.”

So as a result of these factors and others... he says many Americans are confused about what to believe... or downright skeptical.

This was the topic of a conference put on by the Erb Institute for Global Sustainable Enterprise and the Union of Concerned Scientists at the University of Michigan last week. There were social scientists and climate scientists, religious leaders and members of the business community. They were here to talk about how the public climate change debate has become more about personal values and how you see the world than about the science.

Patrick Feller / Flickr

The arrival of winter in Michigan is not supposed to last long.

The cold snap earlier this week is expected to give way early next week to temperatures back in the forties.

The lack of snow is taking a toll on some parts of the state’s tourism economy.

Forecaster Mike Boguth says northern Michigan might set a record this year for the least amount of snowfall ever. Boguth works at the National Weather Service office in Gaylord.

He says what little snow there is now could melt next week when temperatures rise.

“We don’t see any signs of cold weather coming back after we get by this week.”

Most ski resorts up north opened in December. That’s because nighttime temperatures have been cold enough to make snow.

But for businesses that depend on snowmobile traffic this time of year, things couldn’t be much worse. They’ve had just one weekend of business all winter. That was this past weekend which included the Martin Luther King holiday.

Dave Ramsey owns Beaver Creek Resort near Gaylord. He says just enough snow fell late last week to open the trails.

Still, more than half his cabins were empty this weekend when he would usually have a waiting list.

“Every hotel in Gaylord every motel and little cabin cluster will just about fill to capacity on every major holiday if we have good snow.”

The weather could also create problems for the North America Vasa. The cross-country ski race near Traverse City could draw 1,000 racers the second weekend in February.

The VASA trail has three inches of base but no snow-making capacity.

-Peter Payette for The Environment Report

So what's up with this weather? Wunderground.com's Dr. Jeff Masters explains.

Rebecca Williams / Michigan Radio

Asian carp have been making their way up the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers toward the Great Lakes for decades. Bighead and silver carp are the species people are the most concerned about.

There’s been a lot of focus on keeping carp out of Lake Michigan.

But a new study finds carp might do well in Lake Erie and some of the rivers that feed the lake.

Patrick Kocovsky is a research fishery biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey. He says it’s believed Asian carp need specific conditions to make babies.

“What’s currently believed is Asian carp require some kind of flood event in a tributary.”

He says the carp need just the right temperature... a river that’s flowing fast enough and a stretch of river long enough to reproduce.

Kocovsky and his team studied the major tributaries of Lake Erie. They found that the Maumee River is highly suitable for Asian carp to lay eggs.

The researchers found the Sandusky and Grand Rivers to be moderately suitable for carp.

Patrick Kocovsky says if carp can get into Lake Erie, the western side of the lake is likely to be the most hospitable.

Photo by Shawn Allee

The Dow Chemical Company is the second-largest producer of toxic chemical waste in the nation. That’s according to a new report by the Environmental Protection Agency.

The report shows that Dow produced more than 600 million pounds of toxic chemical waste in the reporting year 2010.

Ben Morlock is a spokesperson for Dow.

Morlock says 97% of that toxic chemical waste was treated, recycled or reused.

“We have on-site wastewater treatment plants, we have air pollution control equipment that incinerates contaminants so they’re not released into the air, we have equipment used in our manufacturing processes that captures chemicals and recycles them back into the process for reuse.”

He says the rest of that waste – the remaining three percent – was disposed of in accordance with the company’s state and federal permits.

“It is safe to say that most of that three percent is handled through land disposal, so for instance, it might go to a licensed secured landfill that is equipped to properly handle certain types of waste. So, I can tell you we audit the facilities we use for disposal and we make sure our waste is being handled properly if it leaves the site.”

He says Dow’s ranking on the EPA list reflects the size of the company. Dow is the nation’s largest chemical manufacturer.

The EPA’s report analyzes data from the Toxics Release Inventory. Industries in certain sectors are required by federal law to report their toxic chemical releases each year. This includes chemical manufacturers, metal mining, electric power companies and hazardous waste treatment.

wikimedia commons

COVERT TOWNSHIP, Mich. (AP) - The Palisades nuclear power plant in southwestern Michigan is being shut down temporarily for maintenance.

Spokesman Mark Savage said in a statement that control room operators removed the plant from service Thursday night. The plant is near Lake Michigan in Van Buren County's Covert Township.

Savage says the plant was being cooled down Friday morning.

The maintenance work involves the system that controls the nuclear reactor's power level.

There are 45 seals that form a boundary between the cooling system and the atmosphere inside the building that houses the reactor. Officials say one of the seals is showing signs of wear and will be replaced.

Savage says the plant will return to service when the job is finished. Palisades is owned by New Orleans-based Entergy Corp.

nrc.org

The Palisades nuclear power plant is six miles south of South Haven on the shore of Lake Michigan.

The plant had five unplanned shutdowns last year. Four of those were unplanned reactor shutdowns. The fifth was a problem with the plant’s water pumps that did not affect the reactor.

Viktoria Mitlyng is a spokesperson with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.  She says the Palisades plant is under scrutiny.

“There are so many issues in one year that have come up, you know, there’s certainly a concern. And we recognize that as a regulatory agency and are keeping a very close eye at what’s happening at the plant.”

The NRC has just issued a violation notice to the company that owns the Palisades plant - Entergy Nuclear Operations, Inc. -  for a separate incident that happened in May.  A water pump at the plant failed - and regulators concluded that’s because one of the components was lubricated when it shouldn’t have been.

NRC says violation is of "low to moderate significance"

The NRC says this violation falls into a risk category of "low to moderate significance." But there’s a regulatory hearing expected next week to address two additional safety issues – one of which is what the NRC calls substantial safety significance.

That’s a much bigger deal than the water pump investigation finalized this week. In the more serious situation, the plant was offline for about a week last September because of a power outage. An electrical circuit at the plant broke when a worker was doing routine maintenance. The worker did not follow procedures for doing the work. When Lindsey Smith talked to NRC spokeswoman Viktoria Mitlyng in November, she said the worker had actually gotten permission from his managers not to follow procedures.

“Nobody stopped in their tracks and said 'hey, what are we doing here? We need to rethink this.'”

Photo by Meg Cramer

by Tanya Ott for The Environment Report

It’s cold outside… and maybe inside, if your house isn’t properly insulated. Home energy efficiency is a big issue and a new study gives Michigan kudos for making it a priority.

Randy Rice has lived in his Southgate, Michigan house for 13 years. He’s lived there – and often shivers there…

“Certainly believe that the air was leaking upstairs. We could feel some breezes. I just saw dollars flying out the window.”

Rice replaced the windows five years ago and it helped… but he still worries about leaks around the windows. So he called in...

“Amanda Godward, with Ecotelligent Homes. I’m the owner and energy auditor.”

Godward’s first step is to interview customers like Randy Rice. She takes house measurements, checks out insulations in the attic and windows. Then…. she goes all high tech with the “thermal infrared scan.”

“We use this to find flaws in the insulation, in the walls, without having to do any destructive testing.”

She turns on a fan that pulls all of the air out of the room. It creates a vacuum so cold air from the outside is pulled inside. She can see, on a scanner, all the little cracks and holes where air is sneaking in.

Pat Gaines / wikimedia commons

Snowy owls typically live in the northern reaches of the arctic tundra.

Living year round in the arctic shows how tough these birds are.

But this year they've been traveling south in search of food.

The owls have been spotted in states such as Massachusetts, Kansas, Illinois, Michigan, and Minnesota, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

To see where they've been spotted in Michigan, click on the slides above for a Google Map.

So why are they flying down here?

Biologists think the growth in Snowy owl sightings around the U.S. is due to a drop in the owl's main prey in the Arctic - lemmings. Lemmings go through boom and bust periods, and right now, lemming numbers are probably down, so the owls are scrounging around here for rodents, rabbits, fish, or any other suitable food source.

Similar cycles occur with other birds of prey.

The Great Gray owl, which normally keeps to northern Canada forests, has been known to fly south when its food is in short supply.

Reporter David Sommerstein produced a story on Great Gray sightings in a piece he did for the Environment Report back in 2005.

It was a year the owls were flying south and was one of the biggest Great Gray owl migrations on record.

Take a listen to a "Rare Visit from a Northern Neighbor" - the audio file below.

I love hearing ornithologist Gerry Smith's reaction when he spots the "first Great Gray owl that's made it across the border."

"I'll be a son-of-a-gun. That is so... bler... I am now VERY enthusiastic! Hey! .... I'm going to get my scope..."

And while you're out, keep your eye's peeled for rare visit from another northern neighbor - the Snowy owl.

Here's one spotted in 2005 in Wisconsin:

We all should be so lucky.

Mark Grant / wikimedia commons

Today is the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year.

The BBC reports that "more than 1,000 people" gathered at Stonehenge in Wiltshire County, England to mark the occasion.

And Arch druid Rollo Maughfling remarked  "the solstice celebration had been 'a very jolly occasion.'"

So in Ann Arbor, the sunset tonight is at 5:05 p.m... tomorrow night it will come at 5:06 p.m.

But weirdly, the winter solstice does not coincide with earliest sunset times.

Justin Grieser explains why in the Washington Post. Grieser says it has to do with the sun's declination and the shifting time of solar noon:

In late November, the effect of a later-shifting solar noon begins to counteract the effect that the sun’s lowering declination has on pushing sunset earlier. Eventually, sunset reaches a minimum during the first week of December. While we would expect the earliest sunset to occur closer to the winter solstice, the rapid forward shift in solar noon causes sunset to creep later more than a week before then.

Photo by Jennifer Guerra

There’s a long-running debate about which kind of Christmas tree is greener: real or artificial.  We wanted to try to settle that debate... or at least add to the discussion:

Lauren Northrop and her husband Tom are big fans of Christmas.

“We love celebrating it, I love decorating, but we always have this dilemma: what do we do about a tree?”

They didn’t want a plastic tree because it’s, well, plastic. And they didn’t like the idea of bringing a live tree into their house, only to have it die and then drag it out to the curb to be recycled.

So they skipped the Christmas tree thing altogether for the last four years. But then, their son was born.

They bought a live, baby Christmas tree with its roots still intact. That way, when Christmas is done and the ground thaws, they can plant it in their backyard.

“I was planning to keep the tree inside until December 25th so that we could decorate it and put lights on it. When we went to buy it they said if you do that, it probably won’t survive.”

That’s probably way too much hassle for most people.

People who are working on cleaning up the Great Lakes got some good news this week. After months of negotiations, the 2012 federal budget contains $300 million for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

That money will be used to clean up pollution, deal with invasive species and restore wildlife habitat. A lot of these projects are already underway.

Jeff Skelding is the campaign director for the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition. He says in a time when many budgets are getting slashed, funding for Great Lakes cleanup will remain steady.

“We have pretty much full support from both Republicans and Democrats in the Great Lakes Congressional delegation. I mean, they see the wisdom of infusing federal funding into the region, not only to clean up the Lakes which of course is very important, but the ancillary benefit we get from that is the economic benefits of investing these funds.”

The budget also includes more than $500 million to help Great Lakes states upgrade their aging sewer systems. When it rains, the sewers often get overloaded, and raw sewage can wash up on beaches.

USFWS Midwest

Update 4:19 p.m.

The U.S. Interior Department announced today gray wolf populations in the Great Lakes region have recovered and no longer require the protection of the Endangered Species Act.

They will lose their federal protection as of January 27, 2012.

From a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service press release:

"Gray wolves are thriving in the Great Lakes region, and their successful recovery is a testament to the hard work of the Service and our state and local partners," said Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe. "We are confident state and tribal wildlife managers in Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin will effectively manage healthy wolf populations now that federal protection is no longer needed."

The Associated Press reports that Michigan Department of Natural Resources Director Rodney Stokes says "the change will give state officials more flexibility to deal with problem wolves and make people more supportive of having the predators in their midst."

Wisconsin officials will issue permits allowing landowners to control "problem wolves" on their property.

11:25 a.m.

The wolf population in Michigan has been growing. Michigan DNR estimates put it at more than 650 animals for 2010-2011. The number was around 430 wolves in 2004-2005.

Wolves in the western Great Lakes region have been taken off the Endangered Species List before, and conservation groups have successfully sued the federal government to put them back on the list.

Now, the Associated Press reports western Great Lakes wolves will be delisted again.

From the AP:

The Obama administration is taking gray wolves in the western Great Lakes region off the federal endangered species list.

The Associated Press obtained a Wednesday statement in which Interior Secretary Ken Salazar says the more than 4,000 wolves in Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin have exceeded recovery goals and
no longer need federal protection.

Responsibility for managing and protecting those wolves will be turned over to state wildlife agencies. The populations will be monitored for at least five years to make sure they remain at sustainable levels.

The Interior Department also says it's reconsidering a previously announced plan to remove endangered species protections for wolves in 29 Eastern states, even though they aren't believed
to have any established wolf populations. Officials say they'll decide on the status of Eastern wolves later.

State officials say they're prepared for federal delisting. The state of Michigan has a wolf management plan.

Once management is turned over to the state, people would have more flexibility in killing "problem wolves." From Bob Allen's report on The Environment Report:

The plan would give people the authority to defend against attacks on their pets and livestock, and it would allow them to cull wolves in places where they’re putting a lot of pressure on deer.

The current state management plan does not call for a hunting season on wolves. It would take an act of the state legislature to make a hunt a reality.

greatlakesrestoration.us

One item that has escaped the budget tie-ups in Congress is funding for Great Lakes cleanup.

Congress approved $300 million in funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative for fiscal year 2012.

From the Associated Press:

The money was included in a larger spending bill that cleared the House and Senate last week and is awaiting President Barack Obama's signature...

Jeff Skelding of the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition says next year's federal budget is a victory for people who depend on the Great Lakes for drinking water and jobs.

The approved funding keeps the ball rolling for the historic levels of federal investment in Great Lakes cleanup through the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

The Initiative was kicked off in 2010 with $475 million in restoration funds aimed at cleaning up toxic hot spots, curbing runoff pollution, fighting invasive species, and restoring habitat.

2011 saw a decrease in funding from Congress to just under $300 million.

Jeff Skelding, the campaign director of the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition, told Rebecca Williams of the Environment Report earlier this year that debate about funding for Great Lakes cleanup cuts across party lines:

"...one thing about the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative is because of the nature of the program, federal funding to clean up the Great Lakes, and to help the economy, it's really a bi-partisan issue. We have really received great support from both Republicans and Democrats in the Great Lakes Congressional delegation. So that gives us hope as we stare down the significant cuts that are happening across the federal budget."

The AP reports the Great Lakes region is also "expected to get $533 million in loans for sewer upgrades."

Twelve Days of Aquatic Invasive Species Christmas

And for those who want to mix holiday cheer with aquatic invasive species (who can resist, really?)...

Photo by Laura White

Mercury is a neurotoxin. The Environmental Protection Agency says mercury can be especially harmful for babies and kids. Mercury can affect their developing brains and harm their memory, attention, language and motor skills.

Mercury is naturally-occurring. Volcanoes emit mercury and so do hot springs, like the ones in Yellowstone National Park.

But the EPA points out... the largest manmade source of mercury emissions in the U.S. comes from coal-burning power plants.

Joel Blum is a professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University of Michigan. Blum says when power plants burn coal, mercury is emitted as a gas.

“In order to become toxic, it has to be transformed into a particular form known as methylmercury which is something that happens in the environment.”

So... mercury falls from the atmosphere, and is converted to methylmercury in the water. That toxic form builds up in fish... and it can build up in us when we eat fish.

But for years... there’s been a big debate about where that mercury goes when it’s released from a power plant smokestack.

“How much is deposited nearby, close to the plant, and how much goes into what we call global pool of mercury - basically goes into the atmosphere and stays there for a long period of time and mixes with mercury from other sources.”

Joel Blum and his colleagues have started to crack that puzzle with some careful detective work. They were able to track mercury emissions from a power plant in Florida... and they found that a high proportion of the mercury ended up nearby.

They did this by looking at chemical fingerprints.

Detroit Green Garage / via Facebook

People everywhere are trying to get a grasp on what “sustainability” and “green jobs” really look like.

That’s an especially urgent quest in a struggling industrial city like Detroit.

Some folks there have developed a building—and a community—that’s trying to find out. It’s called the Detroit Green Garage.                                                      

The Detroit Green Garage was a sort of garage at one point. It started off in 1920 as a Model T showroom just north of downtown Detroit.

DTE's St. Clair Power Plant in East China, Michigan.
user cgord / wikimedia commons

A new report from the group Environment Michigan says 115 inland lakes and rivers in the state have advisories for mercury pollution. Eating contaminated fish is the main way people are exposed to mercury.

Jessica Surma is with Environment Michigan. She says children are especially at risk for adverse health effects from mercury exposure.

“These can include lowered IQs, developmental disabilities and problems with motor control.”

The Environmental Protection Agency says electric utilities are by far the largest manmade sources of mercury emissions in the U.S. The EPA is planning to regulate mercury from power plants – for the first time ever.

John Austerberry is with DTE Energy.

“We agree with the goal of those regulations, but we are concerned that the federal rules will not provide sufficient time for the utilities to plan and install control systems.”

He says the company doesn’t know yet how much any new mercury control systems might cost or how much of that cost they might pass on to customers.

Researchers at Indiana University have discovered two new kinds of flame retardant chemicals showing up in the air around the Great Lakes. These chemicals are added to polyurethane foam to help keep furniture and baby products from catching on fire.

They’re replacing other flame retardants called PBDEs that have been linked to neurological and developmental defects, and fertility and reproductive problems.

These newer chemicals are called brominated benzylates and brominated phthalates.

Ron Hites is an author of the study. His team found the chemicals in air samples from six sites around the Great Lakes... from Chicago to the remote Eagle Harbor in the Upper Peninsula. But he says it’s not clear yet what this might mean.

“We have very limited toxicology and virtually no information on ecological effects.”

Hites says one study suggests these chemicals can cause DNA damage in fish.

He says the concentrations of the chemicals in the atmosphere appear to be doubling every year or two in the Great Lakes region.

So how do you know if a product has flame retardants in it?

Experts say there's no way to know just by looking at a couch or car seat or baby changing pad whether it has flame retardant chemicals in it, but they say generally, if it has polyurethane foam and a label indicating it meets CA TB 117 (a California flammability standard that companies often meet by adding flame retardant chemicals), there's a very high probability the product contains flame retardants.

In a publication from the National Institutes of Health, Heather Stapleton, PhD says:

"I don't think we know much at all about the potential human health effects from exposure to these chemicals. What we do know is that infants are likely receiving more exposure to these chemicals than adults. Therefore, more research is warranted to determine if this exposure is leading to any adverse health effects."

The American Chemistry Council stands by the use of flame retardants.

But some scientists say these chemicals pose unnecessary risks.  The Green Science Policy Institute says many types of halogenated flame retardant chemicals are "persistent, bio-accumulative and toxic." The group has put out some guidelines for consumers.

You can learn more from The Environment Report's five part series on flame retardants.

 

Kennecott Eagle Minerals

Four groups are planning to appeal a recent court ruling that cleared the way for Kennecott Eagle Minerals Co. to go ahead with mining operations in the U.P., the Associated Press reports:

The opposition coalition was filing paperwork Monday asking the Michigan Court of Appeals to overturn a decision last month by Circuit Judge Paula Manderfield. She ruled that the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality acted properly by issuing Kennecott a permit for the project in northwestern Marquette County.

Last month, Michigan Radio's Rebecca Williams explored some of the possible environmental effects the mine could create and spoke with  opponents and representatives of the mining company:

Michelle Halley is an attorney for the National Wildlife Federation. It’s one of the groups that challenged (the initial) permit. She says they’re concerned about the type of mining that will happen in the Eagle Mine. It’s sometimes called sulfide mining.

“The rock at Eagle is extremely acid producing, very high in sulfides and so once that rock is exposed to air and water, there’s really no debate it will begin producing acid.”

That acid is sulfuric acid. According to the Environmental Protection Agency... that acid can cause heavy metals to leach from rocks. The resulting fluid can be highly toxic to people and wildlife.

This is called acid mine drainage. On its website, Kennecott Eagle Minerals Company says there is a risk that it can happen. But the company says it’s taking a number of steps to reduce that risk.

Matt Johnson is with Kennecott. He says the company will use a state of the art water treatment plant to purify the mine water using reverse osmosis.

“The entire mine site is designed to control water with water protection in mind. Which is why it’s the company’s commitment not to discharge any water back into the environment until it meets safe drinking quality water (sic) standards.”

And he says the state is also requiring them to do that.

Michigan Radio's Mark Brush followed up with an examination of what the state might gain financially from the project.

-John Klein Wilson, Michigan Radio Newsroom

USDA.gov

Officials from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources say the harvest from the 2011 firearm deer season "appears to have increased slightly compared to the 2010 season."

From a Michigan DNR press release:

Experiences can differ widely even within regions, but DNR biologists estimate the harvest compared to 2010 was unchanged to up perhaps 10 percent across the Upper Peninsula, likely increased in the Northern Lower Peninsula by as much as 10 percent, and the southern Lower Peninsula appeared down 5 to 10 percent.

The statement said deer populations in the Upper Peninsula and the Northern Lower Peninsula are not as abundant as they were in the 1990's, but they seem to be increasing.

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