Environment & Science

At 3:00 p.m today you can tune into Lester Graham's documentary, "Growing up in poverty and pollution," produced for State of Opportunity. Or, you can listen to the compelling stories these families anytime over at State of Opportunity.

R/V Laurentian NOAA / Creative Commons

You’ve probably heard about the big bad invasive silver or bighead carp, also known as Asian carp.

But there’s another invasive fish that’s roughly a third the size of the carp that’s already done a lot of damage to Great Lakes fisheries. Alewives have been a particular menace in Lakes Michigan and Huron. The invasive fish cause all kinds of problems for native lake trout.

Alewives scarf down lake trout eggs and very young fish. But even once lake trout grow big enough to turn the tables and eat the alewives, the invasive fish still cause problems.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

It’s been nearly four years since the Enbridge Energy oil spill. Enbridge has already recovered more than a million gallons of heavy tar sands oil from the Kalamazoo River. But federal regulators have ordered the company to clean up another 180,000 gallons that’s mixed in with sediment on the river bottom.

Now that spring is here, work is underway again.

Enbridge spokeswoman Jennifer Smith says dredge work is nearly finished on a section of river near Battle Creek. Workers will remove Ceresco Dam closer to Marshall this summer.

USFWS Midwest

There are fewer wolves living in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

State wildlife biologists report a slight dip in the wolf population following last fall’s controversial hunt.

The Department of Natural Resources has just completed a census of wolves in the Upper Peninsula. The DNR admits the count is more of an estimate than an accurate head count.

Brianna Allgood gets a checkup on her asthma.
Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Children growing up in poverty face huge challenges. One challenge that might not come to the top of the mind, though, is pollution.

As part of Michigan Radio's State of Opportunity project, reporter Lester Graham spent the past three months exploring the problem.

His documentary, "Growing up in Poverty and Pollution," will air tomorrow at 3 p.m. on Michigan Radio.

Lester joined us today to talk about his project.

*Listen to the audio above.

Shawn Malone / UP Second Wave

With its rocky soil, thick forests and painfully short growing season, the Upper Peninsula is never going to look like Iowa or Kansas – and that's okay. For more than a century, a hardy batch of growers and livestock farmers have managed to survive and prosper in these less-than-ideal conditions. Thanks to new technologies and some decidedly low-tech solutions, the U.P.'s latest generation of ag workers are more productive than ever. Ultimately, the fruits of their labor may be felt – and tasted – far beyond the region's borders.

Age-Old Limitations
If you're a U.P. native, you don't need an advanced degree to understand why agriculture is challenging here. But Alger County MSU Extension Director Jim Isleib has one, so people tend to listen to his thoughts on this issue. "Poor soils and a short growing season – that about sums it up," he says. 

webapps.lsa.umich.edu/

Today marks the 44th anniversary of Earth Day. Many consider April 22, 1970 to be the birth of the modern environmental movement.

At that time, Earth Day organizers had an advantage: The environmental problems were highly visible, tangible problems that people came up against in their daily lives, such as toxic effluent from factories spilled into streams and rivers. Kids couldn't swim in lakes and rivers because they were too polluted.  Parks and highways were strewn with trash and air pollution made people sick.

You could draw a direct connection between these problems and the need for environmental action to improve the quality of life for everyone.

Many of today's biggest environmental concerns seem more abstract even though they are perhaps even more threatening than the burning river in Cleveland. Global warming is one example.

That's why a study by our next guest caught our eye. He found that what is happening to moths in Finnish Lapland suggests that we're underestimating the impacts of climate change because much of the harm is hidden from view.

Mark Hunter is a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Michigan, and he joined us today.

Listen to the full interview above.

Sara Hoover / Interlochen Public Radio

Students in northern Michigan are planting clones of ancient sequoias today.

There's a grove of sequoias along the shores of Lake Michigan on the site of a former Morton Salt factory.

Sequoia trees are not native to Michigan, but this grove has grown in Manistee for more than 65 years when they were brought here from the West Coast. Now, those trees are going to take another trip, or their clones will.

Students who attend Interlochen Arts Academy are planting them on campus along Green Lake. The clones are from Archangel Ancient Tree Archive.

David Milarch is the group's co-founder. He says they’re planting clones of redwoods around the world today.

“Ninety-six percent of all of our redwoods have been cut down, butchered and sold,” Milarch says.

Here's a look at how the group collects genetic material from these old growth trees:

Both the Interlochen Center for the Arts and nearby Interlochen State Park have lost many trees recently due to disease and bug infestation.

Head park ranger Chris Stark has mixed feelings about the planting. He'd prefer to plant native varieties, such as the white pine.

Rebecca Williams / Michigan Radio

I thought I knew a lot about the Great Lakes, until I met Chris Gillcrist. He’s the kind of guy you want on your Trivial Pursuit team.

This is the kind of fact I learned from him every few minutes:

“The first millionaire in American history is John Jacob Astor. It’s a guy trading beaver pelts from the Great Lakes and sending them to Europe.”

Gillcrist is the executive director of the new National Museum of the Great Lakes. It opens this Saturday, April 26, in Toledo.

There are a lot about shipwrecks here, sure,  but Gillcrist wants you to know it’s much more than that.

“We look at it as retrofitting American history to more accurately depict how the Great Lakes impacted the nation as a whole over the past 300 years,” he says.

Crews working to remove propane tanks from river

Apr 20, 2014
Wikimedia Commons/Larry Pieniazek

EVART, Mich. (AP) - State emergency officials say they are working to remove dozens of propane tanks floating in the Muskegon River as part of flood-recovery efforts in western Michigan.

State Emergency Operations Center spokesman Ron Leix said Saturday that more than 40 tanks have been retrieved by state and local crews working with propane safety experts on flat-bottom boats. He says floodwaters dislodged them from the residential properties along the river.

NOAA

Residents of the Great Lakes basin are worried about their water.

Whether pollution, energy or invasive species like Asian carp, many of the 1,250 people surveyed in late 2013 by schools like the University of Michigan felt that the Great Lakes were ok, but could be better. This is despite tons of efforts to clean them up, says Barry Rabe, a public policy professor at U-M who was part of the survey.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Headquarters / U.S. government

Things are not looking good for Michigan’s bats.

As Michigan Radio's Rebecca Williams reported earlier this week, bats infected with the deadly white-nose syndrome have been found in Michigan.

The disease, which has killed more than six million bats in North America since 2006, wakes up bats during hibernation once a week – twice the normal amount of hibernation disturbance.

According to Allen Kurta, a biology professor at Eastern Michigan University, when the fungus keeps the bats waking up, they use up their stored fat too quickly:

“So, by arousing much more frequently, they’re using up their fat much more frequently; they are then running out of that fat come February and March, and essentially they will die of starvation because there are no flying insects out there to give them food.”

And in short, the spread of the disease is threatening the livelihood of the state's bats. 

“I think that this is one of the worst wildlife calamities ever in the history of North America,” said Kurta. “You’re looking at potential extinction of multiple species of bats.”

Luckily, there are a few things we can do to help out the little guys.

Rebecca Williams / Michigan Radio

Monahan’s Seafood Market in Ann Arbor carries soft-shell crabs from Maryland, Alaskan salmon, and Florida red snapper.

But at the moment, they’re fresh out of Great Lakes whitefish.

Bernie Fritzsch manages the fish market.

“We’re hoping to see it today, but we haven’t seen it for the last week,” he says.

user Alain r / Wikimedia Commons

Ever since Stephen Hawking came out with his theory about how black holes work, physicists – including Hawking himself – have been wrestling with a "hole" in that theory.

Hawking postulated that if you threw something like a chair into a black hole, given enough time that chair would "dematerialize." It would disappear, leaving no trace of its existence.

But the laws of physics don't allow for things to simply disappear. Things can change, or be altered, but they can't disappear. You can burn a piece of paper, and it's no longer there, but the carbon, water, and other molecules still exist somewhere. Again, it can't simply disappear.

It's called the black hole information paradox.

PBS' Kate Becker quoted Stanford physicist Leonard Susskind in describing Hawking's theory in her post "Do Black Holes Destroy Information?":

As Leonard Susskind wrote in “The Black Hole War,” his 2008 book on the problem of black holes and information loss, “The possibility of hiding information in a vault would hardly be a cause for alarm, but what if when the door was shut, the vault evaporated right in front of your eyes? That’s exactly what Hawking predicted would happen to the black hole.”

The solution?

Now comes a theoretical physicist and computational biologist from Michigan State University who believes he has solved Hawking's black hole information paradox.

Chris Adami joined us today on Stateside. (You can listen to how he explains his theory above.)

Hawking discovered that black holes emit a glow called the “Hawking radiation.” That radiation, Hawking theorized, consumes the black hole and all things in the hole are lost. Poof! Nothing left.

Adami theorizes that a copy of the chair is made before it goes into the black hole.

More on Adami’s solution from MSU:

One of the aerial images near Munising, MI capture from the video.
Roam, Inc. / YouTube

Spring in Michigan's Upper Peninsula means watching the layers of snow melt. Thomas Dolaskie of Roam, Inc. in the UP put together this video of a spring weekend in Munising, Michigan. He writes:

Filmed the first weekend of April, 2014 – we got in the last snowshoe and frozen lake roaming of the year, and watched the waterfalls start to flow. Relax, it's spring. 

Here's the video:

Steve Sawyer / Flickr

If you eat bacon, prepare for higher prices at the grocery store soon.

Porcine epidemic diarrhea virus is deadly to piglets, and it’s shown up on at least 93 Michigan farms. The virus was first seen in the U.S. about a year ago. It causes severe diarrhea in baby pigs that eventually dehydrates and kills them. It is extremely infectious  and so far little is known about how it spreads.

The Michigan Natural Resources Commission meets about a wolf hunt in Michigan.
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

When the Michigan Natural Resources Commission voted to allow a wolf hunt in Michigan, they did so with the idea that the hunt would help curb the number of so-called "problem wolves" in the Upper Peninsula – wolves that preyed on livestock owned by cattle farmers.

But MLive reporter John Barnes looked at the wolf predation records in the Upper Peninsula and found that one farmer accounted for the majority of predation reports.

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.”

Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

Studies by environmental scientists find that 48217 is the most polluted zip code in the entire state of Michigan.

It's the zip for the Boynton neighborhood in southwest Detroit, perched next to the Marathon Refinery, which refines tar sands oil that comes from Canada.

The byproduct of that tar sands refining? Those huge piles of pet coke that appeared along the banks of the Detroit River last year before being removed.

For many people who call the Boynton neighborhood home, life is about belching smoke stacks, terrible odors, worries about what chemicals they're being exposed to, and declining property values.

Renee Lewis recently reported on "Life in Michigan's Dirtiest Zip Code" for Al Jazeera America, and she joined us today.

Listen to the full interview above.

Whitefish filets.
user Cheryl Q / Flickr

TRAVERSE CITY – Many fish markets in the Great Lakes region are running short of whitefish, and it's coming at a bad time: the Passover holiday.

Whitefish is a key ingredient in gefilte fish, a traditional Jewish dish that originates in eastern Europe. Recipes vary, but it often consists of ground fish, vegetables such as onion and carrots, and bread crumbs formed into loaves or balls.

The shortfall results partly from the bitterly cold winter that caused vast sections of the Great Lakes to freeze over. The ice cover kept some commercial fishing crews stuck in port. A drop in the whitefish population is also to blame.

Kevin Dean of Superior Fish Co. near Detroit says his latest shipment amounted to just 75 pounds, although he requested 500 pounds.

Volunteers build birdhouses in Canton as part of the 2013 Rouge Rescue clean-up event. This year's event will take place on May 17 and surrounding days.
Cyndi Ross / Friends of the Rouge

An annual project to clean up the Rouge River is happening early this year because a federal grant that helps fund the event is coming to an end.

Aimee LaLonde-Norman, executive director of the conservation group Friends of the Rouge, says the Rouge Rescue will center around May 17 rather than the first weekend in June, as it has been for 27 years. The change comes because the grant they use for the event ends this May.

Nuclear Regulatory Agency

Federal regulators are holding a private meeting with officials from DTE Energy today to discuss a security issue at the Fermi 2 nuclear power plant in southeast Michigan.

Details are scarce, due to security concerns.

But Viktoria Mytling with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission says an issue was discovered during a security assessment that showed vulnerability.

“Specifically, this vulnerability would have allowed unauthorized or undetected access into the plant – to the protected area of the plant,” Mytling said.

Penn State / Flickr

Gov. Rick Snyder wants more households in Michigan to recycle their waste. He's announcing a plan today to make that possible.

The plan will focus on four key areas – including developing markets for recycled products, and helping communities make recycling more convenient for residents.

Coast Guard tops in drunken boating arrests

Apr 13, 2014
Facebook/U.S. Coast Guard

MARBLEHEAD, Ohio – A U.S. Coast Guard station that watches over western Lake Erie led the nation in drunken boating arrests last year. 

The Coast Guard says officers with Marblehead station charged 67 people with boating under the influence in 2013.

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.

Ryan Von Linden / New York Department of Environmental Conservation

A fungal disease that has decimated bat populations in other parts of the U.S. and Canada has been found in Michigan.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources today confirmed the presence of white-nose syndrome in three counties: Alpena, Dickinson and Mackinac.

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. 

user tami.vroma / Flickr

With winter finally behind us, hopefully fruit farmers all over Michigan are getting an idea of what the snow, ice and cold has done to orchards, vineyards and fields.

Knowing that the early spring warm-up of 2012 was devastating to most of Michigan's fruit-growers, we wondered if the rough winter has them just as worried now as they were two years ago.

Ken Nye of the Michigan Farm Bureau joined us.

Listen to the full interview above.

Creative Commons photo by user Meridithw

Ben Freed over at The Ann Arbor News has more about the plans being developed by Traverse City-based West Bay Exploration Company. Freed reports the company has approached landowners in Scio Township looking to obtain their mineral rights.

West Bay says it would drill for oil using a "traditional" method. The company's vice president, Patrick Gibson, said it wouldn't use horizontal hydraulic fracturing, or fracking:

“We’re a conventional oil and gas exploration company, we do not utilize hydraulic fracturing,” Gibson said.

“What we’re looking for is geological formations that are already fractured so that we don’t have to do any fracturing ourselves, hydraulic or otherwise.”

Landowners are being advised to educate themselves before signing contracts offered by the company. MSU's extension office offers insights into oil and gas leasing on this page.

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.

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