Environment & Science

Environment
12:26 pm
Thu July 19, 2012

Diesel fuel spills into Lake Huron after tug and barge sink

The oil spill site is reported to be two miles off the coast of Lakeport.
Google Maps

Friday, July 20, 9:06 a.m.

The U.S. Coast Guard released a statement this morning declaring that the diesel fuel tanks onboard the sunken dredge, the Arthur J, have been secured and that no more diesel fuel is spilling into Lake Huron:

All the fuel valves and vents on the Arthur J have been plugged. 

The Arthur J has ten vents to its fuel tank and responders where able to plug four of them early Thursday afternoon, but six remained open until responders were able to plug them late Thursday night.

The impact to the shoreline has been minimal; however there is visible sheening along the shores of Lakeport, but there has been no report of a thick product wash ashore. However, there is still a strong diesel odor in the air, so residents and visitors of the lower Lake Huron area are encouraged to avoid areas where there is an odor in the air.

Thursday, July 19, 12:26 p.m.

Mlive.com reports that if storms do not let up, all 1,500 gallons of diesel fuel will get into Lake Huron.

The Michigan Department of Enviromental Quality is monitoring the situation from the periphery, and spokesman Brad Wurfel said ongoing storms may limit the effectiveness of the containment boom.

"We're hoping to recover all we can," he said. "But it's anticipated that if the storms do not let up, it's best to plan on the idea that all 1,500 gallons will get into the lake."

The weather, the weight of the fuel, wind direction and underwater currents make it difficult to predict where the fuel may head. Some local beaches may see a sheen, Wurfel said, but the "environmental impact is not expected to be catastrophic."

"The upside is, it's a big lake. A lot of this will dissipate."

St. Clair County officials have closed all public beaches on Lake Huron as a precautionary measure, according to health education and planning director Jennifer Michalul.

A local hazmat team and fire crew are aiding the Coast Guard, which has established 100-yard safety zone around the periphery of the oil sheen.

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Environment & Science
11:09 am
Thu July 19, 2012

Coping with a historically low crop in the Cherry Capital

Ben LaCross manages 750 acres of cherry trees on the Leelanau Peninsula. This year some of his trees were bare of fruit when they would normally hold 50-100 pounds of cherries each.
Emily Fox Michigan Radio

The great loss of cherries

Earlier this month, most of the counties in Michigan were designated disaster areas for agriculture. Michigan is the largest producer of tart cherries in the nation, and this year, the state lost 90 percent of its crop.

Ben LaCross is one of the many farmers who is trying to cope in what is known to be the Cherry Capital of the world. He manages 750 acres of cherries in Leelanau County, just outside Traverse City.

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energy
9:00 pm
Wed July 18, 2012

City of Holland takes a long-term look at energy issues

Martin Kushler, Senior Fellow with the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, speaks of the need to invest on conserving energy first.
Lindsey Smith Michigan Radio

Holland City Council adopted guidelines on Wednesday night to handle the city’s long-term energy needs.

The comprehensive plan covers a wide variety of energy issues facing the city over the next 40 years.

Arguably the biggest energy issue long-term is whether the city needs to expand capacity at its coal plant, or maybe modify it to burn natural gas.

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Environment & Science
6:04 pm
Tue July 17, 2012

A good day to sit next to an air conditioner in Michigan

Is it hot or is it just me? No, it's hot.
Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

How hot was it today?

Hot enough for Consumers Energy to smash its all-time record for electricity demand.

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energy
11:05 am
Tue July 17, 2012

Report on Palisades nuclear plant: 'Lack of accountability at all levels'

Mark Savage Entergy Corporation

Update 11:05 a.m.

Palisades Spokesman Mark Savage issued these bullet points Tuesday in an email response to reporters about the report by Conger & Elsea:

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Environment & Science
9:00 am
Tue July 17, 2012

City officials ask residents to water stressed street trees

A stressed maple tree in Ann Arbor.
Mark Brush Michigan Radio

City officials in Holland, Grand Rapids and Ann Arbor are asking for a little help from residents. They're asking people to start watering trees along city streets – the ones between the curb and the sidewalk. 

Kerry Gray is an Urban Forestry & Natural Resources Planner with the City of Ann Arbor.

"Most of the trees are currently really under a lot of stress.  So we would obviously love people to water the street trees but we’d also love them to pay attention to the trees on private property as well."

She says trees need water immediately if you see wilting or curling leaves and if leaves or needles are dropping off.  Newly planted trees are especially at risk.

Here are some guidelines the Ann Arbor city foresters recommend for watering trees:

  • The morning hours are usually the best time to water
  • Slow, deep soakings are better than frequent light watering for both newly planted trees and established trees
  • For newly planted trees and small trees up to 4", a good watering is 10 gallons per inch of tree diameter applied in the mulched area around the tree, once per week.  A 3" diameter tree would need 30 gallons of water (3" x 10 gallons).  Newly planted trees should be watered weekly during the first 3 growing seasons.
  • For established medium trees (5"-12"), a general guideline for watering during prolonged dry periods is 10 gallons of water for every 1 inch diameter, three times per month.  For example, an 8" diameter tree will need 80 gallons of water.  To water, place a sprinkler or soaker hose in the dripline of the tree.  The dripline is the outer extent of the branch spread.  Move the sprinkler/hose around to ensure that all the roots in the dripline are watered. 
  • For large trees (greater than 13"), 15 gallons of water for every inch of diameter, two times per month during prolonged dry periods. A 14" tree would need 210 gallons of water. To water, use the method described above for medium trees. For established trees, do not water within 3 feet of the trunk; this can lead to root rot.
  • In normal precipitation years, mother nature provides the water an established tree needs and supplemental watering is typically not necessary.   

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Environment & Science
8:55 am
Tue July 17, 2012

Why we love going 'up north'

Boat on Northport Bay in Lake Michigan
Mark Brush Michigan Radio

A lot of us in Michigan are passionate about going up north.

“I remember the good old days when my dad would pack us up in the station wagon and head up north. It was 80 acres in the middle of nowhere … I’m heading to Petoskey on Wednesday and on Thursday or Friday to Whitefish Point and Tahquamenon Falls… Tomorrow, I’m making my annual pilgrimage to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.”

Those are comments from Michigan Radio's Facebook fans, answering the question, “Anyone headed up north this weekend?”

But where is up north, and why do we love going?

The definition of “up north” is incredibly personal. It has to do with where you’re from and where you’re headed.  But there seems to be a general consensus, of where it begins, at least for people in the Lower Peninsula.

“In Michigan, I think the north begins right about halfway across the mitten—or you can be a little more exact and say Highway 10. Somewhere between Clare & Ludington," said nature writer Keith Taylor.  He says the world around you begins to change quickly once you cross that line.

“You suddenly start seeing white pines and white birches," he said. "So the trees change.”

Taylor says people have always craved a landscape that’s different from the hustle and bustle of their everyday lives.  For people who lived in Detroit in the '20s and '30s, going “up north” just meant traveling one county over.  These days, “up north” usually means driving a couple of hours in the car.

Taylor says we’re lucky that in Michigan there are a lot of places close by.

“It’s the interesting thing about our state: there’s the major industries to the south employing all those people and we’re so close to the edge of the wilderness," he said.

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Asian Carp
7:19 pm
Mon July 16, 2012

Latest search fails to find Asian Carp in Illinois lake which is a short distance from Lake Michigan

Another search of a lake close to Lake Michigan has failed to find Asian Carp. The invasive carp could threaten native Great Lakes fish populations.

Fishermen spent three days last week sweeping a six mile stretch around Lake Calumet, near Chicago. The result: 6,300 fish caught, 30 different species, but no Bighead or Silver carp.

It’s the second time this year that teams led by the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Army Corps of Engineers, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources and other agencies, have scoured the waterway looking for Asian carp.

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Environment & Science
10:37 am
Mon July 16, 2012

State plans to remove Asian Carp species from Michigan lake

A ball of white bread and 6-pound fishing line did this grass carp in.
user Catman529 wikimedia

It's not one of the "Big Three" Asian Carp species that biologists worry could devastate an already struggling Great Lakes fishery (Bighead, Black, or Silver). But the Grass Carp is a species of Asian Carp officials are concerned about. The fish can damage native plant and fish habitat in lakes.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources plans to remove these illegal carp from a lake about 20 miles southeast of Jackson, Michigan.

Marrs Lake in Lenawee County is where officials previously said they found a grass carp. MDNR also plan to sample connected lakes (Washington, Wolf and Allen) for grass carp DNA to see whether the fish spread.

The grass carp was found during a June survey after a fisherman submitted a photo of one. During the survey, three other grass carp were spotted.

Environment & Science
4:01 pm
Sat July 14, 2012

Michigan's drought is growing worse

Lawns are burning up and drying out all across Michigan
Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

Look at any of the scorched lawns in Michigan, and you can see the state is in the grip of a drought. And the grip is tightening.

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Environment & Science
2:14 pm
Sat July 14, 2012

2 sturgeon found washed ashore off Lake Huron

Lake Sturgeon
MI DNR website

The Times Herald in Port Huron reports that a Lakeport resident found a 3-foot-long sturgeon this week on a beach.

 The newspaper reports that a 4-foot-long sturgeon also washed ashore in Fort Gratiot, northeast of Detroit.

Michigan Natural Resources fisheries biologist Mike Thomas says it's not unheard of for small numbers of the fish to wash up in one week, but he is "kind of watching what's going on."

Environment & Science
5:00 pm
Thu July 12, 2012

Canadian report: Great Lakes would provide hospitable environment for invasive Asian carp

Wikipedia

A new study says Asian carp could easily establish in the Great Lakes  unless physical barriers are built to keep them out.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada says it would take as few as 10 female and even fewer male Asian carp to create a breeding population.

The invasive fish have already infested the Mississippi River and many of its tributaries.

Andy Buchsbaum  is with the National Wildlife Federation's Ann Arbor office.

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Environment & Science
3:26 pm
Thu July 12, 2012

Michigan's lone wolverine now part of traveling exhibit

This nine-year-old female wolverine was captured by Jeff Ford's trail cam in Michigan's Thumb region. The animal's body was discovered by hikers in 2010.
Jeff Ford

Few people believed stories about a live Wolverine spotted in Michigan a few years ago.

But a Thumb-area man proved it:  Jeff Ford's trail camera captured images of the animal.

Then some hikers discovered the Wolverine's body in 2010 in Minden.

The state of Michigan paid a taxidermist to preserve the animal. Now it's in an exhibit that travels around the state.

Kevin Frailey is with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

He says there's no proof of where this animal came from or whether Wolverines were ever native to Michigan.

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Environment & Science
11:33 pm
Wed July 11, 2012

Tracking invasive species in Detroit, one tree at a time

Ecological surveyor Chris Kort leans back to get a better view of a tree he's cataloging. Kort has counted over 13,000 trees in Detroit since March.
Meg Cramer

There’s so much to know about what’s happening in the world around us, and that information gives us insights into patterns and changes that could have a big impact on our lives.

But finding these trends requires a lot of data – and somebody has to go out and get it.

Chris Kort is one of those people. He's an ecological surveyor counting trees in Detroit. For every tree he counts, Kort marks where the tree is, then he adds details like its size, species, and health.

Kort does this all day long, walking up and down Detroit streets, counting trees on city property.

“Since March, I have surveyed 13,468 trees. And counting,” he says.

The data from this survey will go to the city, the state, and scientists at the U.S. Forest Service. It will tell a story about what’s happening to trees in the city.

A database like this has to be built manually by people like Chris Kort, tree by tree.

Kort is like the human version of the Google street view car, roving up and down blocks and adding to his map. He notices details that most people miss. There are some things you can only find on foot. 

“I’ve actually been collecting pennies on the sides of the roads for, like four months," says Kort, "I cashed in 2,200 pennies yesterday. People just don’t pick them up anymore apparently.”

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energy
5:46 pm
Wed July 11, 2012

City of Holland decides winds not strong enough for wind farm

warrenski Creative Commons

The City of Holland is backing out of plans for a potential wind farm. The city-owned utility bought the option to lease hundreds of acres in Allegan County after the state identified the area as one of the best in Michigan for wind energy potential.

But after more than a year of serious study, the city doesn’t think there’s enough potential to build the wind farm.

“When we went into this, everything looked like it was going to be a good project to pursue,” said Dan Nally, who directs business services for Holland’s Board of Public Works.

"We shouldn’t take the fact that this project doesn’t go forward that we are not supporting renewable, because we absolutely, positively are. But we will also, at the same time, get the best value that we can,” Nally said.

The wind was good, but not as strong as they had hoped. The plan was to have a 20 mega-watt wind farm-- relatively small compared to large scale commercial projects.

Nally says the utility has spent roughly $678,000 to collect wind data and study the impact on birds, bats and wetlands.

"We don’t feel that any of this money has been wasted. It’s been an investment in understanding what we could and could not do,” Nally said.

Nally says Holland is working on agreements to purchase renewable power from other wind farms, but he declined to give details until any agreement is negotiated.

Holland and all other utilities in Michigan must have 10 percent of their energy come from renewable sources like wind by 2015. Nally says Holland is still on track to meet that requirement.

Environment & Science
11:55 am
Wed July 11, 2012

Ospreys make a comeback in southern Michigan

Teddy Llovet/Flickr

Everyone loves a comeback story, and this is a good one. Just 13 years ago, there was only one osprey nest in southern Michigan. Today, there are at least 49.

The large raptor, known as the “fish hawk,” began disappearing from the Great Lakes region in step with increasing use of DDT and other pesticides. Scientists have found that these chemicals cause thinning in osprey eggshells.

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energy
11:55 am
Wed July 11, 2012

Palisades nuclear plant restarts after repairs to leaky water tank

The Palisades Power Plant is near South Haven, Michigan.
Mark Savage Entergy Corporation

The Palisades nuclear power plant is returning to service after being shut down for the last four weeks to repair a leaking water tank.

The tank is a giant aluminum sphere that holds 300,000 gallons of water in case of emergencies or a planned refueling outage.

The tank is made up of a bunch of aluminum plates welded together. There are 26 plates on the bottom of the tank.  Palisades spokesman Mark Savage says they found  “several minor through wall leaks” in the aluminum walls and some flaws in the welds themselves and repaired them all.

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Environment & Science
1:01 am
Wed July 11, 2012

Critical NTSB report will likely not affect state review of new Enbridge pipeline in Michigan

Federal regulators this week blasted Enbridge Energy for its handling of the 2010 Kalamazoo River oil spill.     But the highly critical federal report is unlikely to affect a state review of Enbridge’s plans for a new oil pipeline through Michigan.  

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Environment & Science
10:06 am
Tue July 10, 2012

Enbridge employees compared to 'Keystone Cops' in 2010 Kalamazoo River oil spill

6 and a half foot long rupture in Line 6B.
NTSB

The National Transportation Safety Board is not pulling its punches against Enbridge Energy in a highly critical report of the company’s handling of the July, 2010 oil spill near Marshall.

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Environment & Science
9:05 am
Tue July 10, 2012

Report: Waterfowl doing well in 'America's duck factory'

In a narrow swath of grass in a roadside ditch, a mallard hen nests her second brood of the season, a rare event for these ducks. Her first ducklings were killed by a predator.
Lester Graham/Michigan Radio

If you’re a duck, this is a good news, bad news story. 

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service takes surveys of the ten most abundant duck species every year. 

Brad Bortner is Chief of the Division of Migratory Bird Management at the Fish and Wildlife Service.  He says this year’s survey recorded 48.6 million ducks. That’s the highest number of ducks recorded since the agency started keeping records in 1955.

"We’ve had a series of very good years on the prairies, with excellent water conditions and great habitat management and restoration programs," he said.

He says more than half of North America’s duck breeding happens in the prairie pothole region of the Dakotas and eastern Montana.  It’s nicknamed America’s duck factory.

Bortner says species such as mallards, gadwalls and redheads are all doing great, and he says the breeding duck populations in Michigan are doing well, too.

So, that’s the good news.  The bad news: some other duck species are not doing so well. 

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