Environment & Science

The eastern massasauga rattlesnake.

The eastern massasauga rattlesnake is now listed as a threatened species.

Scott Hicks is a field supervisor in Michigan with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. He says the massasauga’s new status is due to the loss of its wetland habitats.

Terry Kreeger / Wyoming Game and Fish Department/CWD Alliance

Archery season for deer started over the weekend, and that means state officials are gearing up to test more deer for chronic wasting disease

The disease is contagious, and it’s always fatal for the animals. It creates tiny holes in their brains, and deer get very skinny and start acting strange.

Since it was first found in wild deer in Michigan last year, seven deer have tested positive, with an 8th case suspected.

Lindsey Scullen / Michigan Radio

If there’s an unwanted thicket in your backyard, you know getting rid of it isn’t easy.

Bushes, shrubs and invasive species can be in hard-to-reach places. And beating down the weeds once, with bobcats or brushcutters, doesn’t mean they won’t sprout up again later.

That’s why father-son duo Mike and Doug Mourer of Twin Willow Ranch have been working their way around southeast Michigan with goats in tow.

They call their service “all-natural brush clearing.”

Enbridge Line 5 runs from Superior, Wisconsin to Sarnia, Ontario.

UPDATED 10/4/16 at 12:50 pm

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality says Enbridge Energy can install four additional anchor supports on the Line 5 pipeline that runs beneath the Straits of Mackinac.

The MDEQ issued a permit for the four supports to maintain the integrity and safety of the pipeline.

Enbridge still needs a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

People drop off recycling at Recycle Here! in Detroit.
screen grab from YouTube / Model D TV

A couple weeks ago, Jay from Detroit submitted this question to our MI Curious project:

Why doesn’t Detroit have a public recycling system?

There is a recycling program in the city, so I reached out to Jay in order to understand what, exactly, he was asking. (Jay has asked to be referred to only by his first name, for reasons that will become clear.)

steve carmody / Michigan Radio

State officials confirm a Berrien County deer has died from a disease that killed more than 12,000 Michigan deer in 2012.

Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease, or EHD, is spread by flies. The disease causes extensive internal bleeding.

There have been no cases reported in Michigan during the past few years.

But four years ago, Michigan experienced its largest EHD outbreak ever, which devastated some deer herds.


DTE Energy's coal-fired power plant in Monroe has been named one of the nation's "super polluters" in a report by the Center for Public Integrity, a non-partisan, non-profit investigative news organization.

The report said the Monroe plant ranks 11th in the country for the most greenhouse gases emitted into the air and 140th for the most toxic air releases. That's out of 20 thousand power plants, factories and other industrial sites reporting to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Sea lamprey
USFWS Midwest / Flickr

We spend a lot of money to control sea lampreys. The U.S. and Canada spend $21 million dollars a year to keep them in check.


The invasive fish drills holes into big fish like trout and salmon, and drinks their blood and body fluids. A single lamprey can kill 40 pounds of fish.


Managers are always looking for new ways to control the blood suckers and keep tabs on where they are in the Great Lakes system.


Now, scientists are testing the idea of using environmental DNA – or eDNA. It’s a tool that’s been used a lot to see if Asian carp are in a river or lake; it detects genetic material from the fish.


Courtesy Joel Tonyan / Flickr http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

225 million years.

That's the amount of time it takes Earth -- and our Solar System -- to travel around the Milky Way Galaxy's galactic center.

We may not definitely will not live to see an entire orbit. But today we're celebrating progress. Specifically, we're celebrating "National Galactic Tick Day."

What's a galactic tick?

It's one centi-arcsecond of a rotation around the Milky Way's galactic center.

Double-crested cormorant

There’s now more evidence that manmade chemicals can spread far and wide.


Researchers have found a chemical called PFPIA in cormorants, northern pike and bottlenose dolphins. The chemical has been used in pesticides, and it belongs to a group of chemicals called perfluorinated acids. They’re used to make cookware non-stick and make carpets stain resistant.


Amila DeSilva is a research scientist at Environment and Climate Change Canada.

Part of Flint's  hand-written records showing drinking water lines last updated in 1984.
Image courtesty of Jacob Abernethy / U of M

New research suggests there may be many more lead service lines in Flint that need to be replaced than previously thought.

A team of University of Michigan researchers examined 171 drinking water service lines removed as part of Flint’s “Fast Start” program. The pipes had connected homes to city water mains.

Based on the city's records, they expected around 40% of them would contain lead, but they found 96% did.

More from a summary of findings by the U of M researchers:

Jerry Linenger with ham radio equipment in the Russian Mir Space Station Base Block module.

Imagine you’re 14 years old, camping in Ontario with your family.

It’s July 20, 1969, and you’re watching on a small TV as Neil Armstrong becomes the first man to set foot on the moon.

You decide: I want to go to space.

And so you grow up to become an astronaut. You go into space on the shuttles Discovery and Atlantis. You spend five months on the Russian space station Mir.

You ultimately rack up 143 days and 52 minutes in space, over 2,177 orbits of the earth, and you fly 54.5 million miles through space.

And after all that, you come home to Michigan to settle down in Suttons Bay.

That’s just a brief look at what retired Navy Captain and astronaut Jerry Linenger has done.

Flickr user NASA Goddard Space Flight Center/Flickr / http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

In this all-too-fast-paced era we live in, it's comforting to see something that's managed to stick around for 225 years – the Old Farmer’s Almanac.

What Massachusetts schoolteacher and bookseller Robert B. Thomas started in 1792 is still with us. The 2017 edition is now out.

New phase announced in Dow dioxin cleanup near Midland

Sep 27, 2016
User mgreason / wikimedia commons

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, has proposed a new phase in its multi-year plan to clean up dioxin contamination from Dow Chemical's Midland plant. 

Discharges from the plant in the last century boosted levels of dioxins in the Tittabawassee and Saginaw rivers and their floodplains.

Dioxins are toxic chemicals that may cause cancer and other serious health problems.

The latest phase targets six miles of a contaminated 21-mile section of the Tittabawassee River and its floodplain. 

Honey bees in a GVSU hive.
Rebecca Williams / Michigan Radio

You can thank a honey bee for pollinating about one of every three bites of food we eat. But as you’ve likely heard, bees are in trouble.

They’re getting hit hard by pesticides and diseases and pests, and they’re losing habitat.

Two Grand Valley State University professors are using technology to track the health of hives in a new way.

Average surface temperatures for 2015. NOAA

Michigan could benefit from cleaner energy. That was the message of a report released Monday on model scenarios about Michigan’s energy future.

The Michigan Agency for Energy’s report details what could happen in Michigan under the Clean Power Plan – and without it.

Flickr user Andy Rogers/Flickr / http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

When you think about water pollution, you might think about massive sewer overflows, factory pollution or agricultural runoff. But there’s another source of water pollution that might be in your backyard: septic systems that have failed.

They pollute lakes and streams around the state – and in fact, around the country.

Sean Hammond, deputy policy director for the Michigan Environmental Council, is calling for better rules for septic systems and inspections.

“We are the only state in the country to not have a statewide septic code,” Hammond said.

Reviving Michigan's coastal marshes

Sep 22, 2016
Allison Smart, a biologist with the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians, examines wild rice in Arcadia Marsh.
Peter Payette


Most visitors to northern Michigan are looking for sugar sand beaches on the Great Lakes. But if you’re a spawning fish or a migratory bird, you might be looking for a coastal marsh.

The Great Lakes used to be lined with coastal marshes that were full of native plants and wildlife. But in lower Michigan, many of these places been drained, plowed, polluted and, more recently, overrun by exotic plants from other parts of the world.


Some conservation groups are working to restore and protect the marshes we have left.

Flickr user/_chrisUK / http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

As the summer road construction season moves into its final weeks, you might find yourself wondering: instead of pouring time and money into patching roads that crack every year during the winter, why not make better concrete?

Average surface temperatures for 2015.

Every day, you and I burn up all kinds of things.

We burn gasoline to get to work, mow the lawn, or fly to a conference. We burn natural gas, coal, or heating oil to heat our homes. And we burn up coal or natural gas when flipping on that light switch.   

Whenever we burn stuff, we release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Burned a gallon of gas driving around town? You just put around 20 pounds of CO2 into the air.

That CO2 traps heat, and all the burning we do is causing the planet to warm dramatically.

Cobb power plant in Muskegon, which shut down in April 2016
Tracy Samilton / Michigan Radio

Michigan and its Midwest electric grid operator, MISO, believe they've come up with a solution to a potential shortage of electricity that could happen as early as 2018.

That's the year yet another power plant in the grid will shut down (this time in Indiana); Michigan's Consumers Energy shut down six smaller power plants in April. 

The shutdowns mean there might not be enough electricity generation capacity during times of peak demand.

Deb Nystrom / Creative Commons http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

Update Friday, September 23:

Recreation on the Huron River has been resumed and, so far, water tests show no threat to human health, according to an updated press release by the city of Ann Arbor.

It is believed that the leak was caused after a motorist drove through barriers near the entrance to Gallup Park. The investigation of that incident is ongoing.

Raw sewage flowed out of the pipe from Saturday, September 17 to Monday, September 19.

More from the city’s press release:

Filling a sample bottle.
Courtesy photo / Virginia Tech

This week, a state lawmaker from Flint says he’ll introduce legislation that would make Michigan’s regulations on lead in drinking water some of the strictest in the U.S.

Governor Rick Snyder first rolled out the proposal in April in reaction to the Flint water crisis. He said federal rules on the amount of lead allowed in drinking water were “dumb and dangerous” because they’re not based on protecting public health.

Wind turbines
(courtesy Consumers Energy)

Researcher Markus Hagemann says even he was surprised by the radical degree of change that will be required in energy use in order to limit global warming to a 2 degree Celsius increase.

Hagemann is with NewClimate Institute, a partner with Climate Action Tracker.

The group's research shows that gas and diesel-burning cars and trucks would have to get about 100 miles to the gallon by 2030, and the entire fleet will need to be at least 50% electric by 2050.

Microplastics widespread in Great Lakes tributaries

Sep 15, 2016
A Healthier Michigan / flickr creative commons http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

Tiny particles of plastic are prevalent in rivers that flow into the Great Lakes, according to a new study by scientists with  the U.S. Geological Survey  and the State University of New York at Fredonia.

The study found  microplastics in every sample taken from 29 Great Lakes tributaries in six states. These tributaries account for more than 20% of the total river water running into the Great Lakes.

The ESPniagara, aka "lab in a can."

Scientists launched a kind of underwater robotic tool in Lake Erie this week to test the water for toxins.

Timothy Davis is a researcher with NOAA's Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory.

“We affectionately call it a lab in a can,” he says.

He says this tool takes water samples to test the levels of a toxin in the green blooms of cyanobacteria that've been showing up in the lake each year.

The plaintiffs say older, poor and impoverished people in Flint aren't getting enough water
Flickr user Daniel Orth / http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Should a judge force the government to deliver bottled water, door to door, to everybody in Flint?

The Flint water crisis has gone to federal court: a group of activists say the state’s efforts really aren’t reaching a lot of people – especially older, sick, or low-income people.

There’s several plaintiffs here:  a group called the Concerned Pastors for Social Action, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and a Flint resident/activist named Melissa Mays.

Flickr user NASA Goddard Space Flight Center/Flickr / http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

You may remember from your school days that one of the ways geologists measure time is by epochs, which can be seen in changes in rock layers. These epochs tell us much about what was happening on the earth at that time.

Grass carp.

The Canadian government has confirmed that, for the first time, a fertile grass carp has been caught in the Canadian waters of western Lake Erie.

Grass carp are considered less of a threat than bighead and silver carp (but grass carp can eat a lot of aquatic plants) and for a long time, people thought the grass carp in the lakes were sterile. But lately, fertile grass carp have been turning up.

A commercial fisherman caught the fish off Point Pelee.

A natural gas pipeline

Are people writing from beyond the grave to support a proposed natural gas line that would run from Ohio into Southeast Michigan and on into Ontario?

According to a story in today's Detroit Free Press, the answer is yes.