Environment & Science

Environment & Science
4:46 pm
Fri August 24, 2012

Expert: West Nile conditions worst he's seen

MSU bug expert Ned Walker says the intensity of this year's West Nile conditions are "very alarming."
GammaMan flickr

The scope of the West Nile Virus problem continues to grow in Michigan.

There have been 57 confirmed cases in the state, as well as a third death from the disease spread by mosquitos.

"The intensity of this is very alarming," said Michigan State University entomologist Ned Walker. "I haven't seen anything that is this intense in my career."

Walker says Michigan is at the peak of transmission of West Nile right now, and it could last through October.

"So the question is, how many human cases will we be counting three weeks from now?" he said.

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Environment & Science
9:40 am
Thu August 23, 2012

Which is greener? A gas grill or charcoal?

Which is greener, a charcoal grill or a gas grill? The answer, "it's complicated."
Magnus Manske wikimedia commons

(Editor's note: This story was originally published in July 2009)

Neal Fisher thinks he’s an environmentally friendly kind of guy. He and his wife recycle, they use compact fluorescent light bulbs in the house, they walk most places and hardly ever use their car.

But when it comes to outdoor grilling... it’s charcoal all the way.

“It may be a little decadent when you’re taking the environment into consideration, but I do it.”

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Environment & Science
9:26 am
Thu August 23, 2012

Landowners celebrate a small win in court against Enbridge Energy

The orange stake marks the site of the new pipeline going through this homeowner's land. Most homeowners along the pipeline have a 60ft. easement on their land. The easement gives Enbridge the right to build a second pipeline.
Logan Chadde Michigan Radio

Enbridge Energy plans to build a bigger oil pipeline across the state. The company says, not only will it be bigger and move more oil. They say it will also be safer than the line that broke in 2010.

The Michigan Public Service Commission approved the first phase of the project last May, but some landowners have sued. They say they weren’t properly notified that the construction work could force them to give up more land. And that Enbridge could remove more trees.

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Environment & Science
9:00 am
Tue August 21, 2012

Biologists look for answers to pine marten mystery in Michigan (PHOTOS)

Pine martens are elusive creatures.
Robert Sanders Courtesy of Jill Witt

by Bob Allen for the Environment Report

Nearly a hundred years ago a small animal that most people have never heard of was wiped out of the northern forest. In the mid-1980’s, wildlife biologists reintroduced the pine marten in two locations in the Lower Peninsula. They thought the population would take off and spread but it hasn’t. And now researchers are trying to find out why.

The pine marten is the smallest predator in the northern forest. It’s a member of the weasel family… related to otters and ferrets. It weighs roughly two to two-and-a half pounds, has big furry ears, a pointed nose, a bright orange patch on its chest and a bit of a temper.

“I don’t know how big of an animal they would take on but they do have a reputation for being quite fierce.”

Jill Witt is a wildlife biologist with the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians. She has a marten caught in a wire cage tucked next to a fallen log, half buried in twigs and leaf litter.

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Environment & Science
8:14 am
Mon August 20, 2012

DTE to start pollution cleanup in Ann Arbor this week

Kevin Lund, a senior geologist at the MDEQ's Department of Remediation, kicks over gravel to reveal the pollution along the Huron River in Ann Arbor.
Mark Brush Michigan Radio

Starting today, DTE plans to bring in the heavy equipment needed for the pollution cleanup along the Huron River west of the Broadway Bridge in Ann Arbor.

Black, oily coal tar pollution has been underground for decades.

It was left behind by an old manufactured gas plant owned by the utility company. Two years ago regulators discovered the coal tar was getting into the river. Now, DTE plans to spend between $2-3 million digging it out.

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Environment & Science
4:39 pm
Thu August 16, 2012

Enbridge, property owner spar over felled trees

A Livingston County homeowner says Enbridge cut down about 50 trees on her property without permission. The energy company is replacing about 65 miles of oil pipeline.

The owners of the property near Fenton say they were surprised to find the trees bulldozed Wednesday morning.

Chris Christenson is the attorney for Debora and David Hense.

He says the Henses had been in negotiations with Enbridge to extend an easement on their property to allow work space for heavy equipment as the pipeline is replaced.

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Environment & Science
11:15 am
Thu August 16, 2012

Michigan-based startup company takes you back to the farm

Cara and Karl Rosaen, co-founders of RealTimeFarms.com
Karl Rosaen

You can listen to today's Environment Report above (the Real Time Farms story starts one minute in).

Figuring out how your food is grown is not always easy to do. Sometimes there are labels saying things like “free-range” or “certified naturally grown” but it can take some work to figure out what that means.

“So as a consumer, it’s just kind of like, ugh, I give up.”

Cara Rosaen and her husband Karl wanted a lot more information. They wanted our food system to be more transparent.

“And so we said, okay let’s just take you back to the story, to the pictures, all the things that are the core of the farm that will make you really know that that’s the truth, you know, go way beyond and way deeper than a label.”

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Environment & Science
10:59 am
Thu August 16, 2012

New barrier to keep blood-sucking parasite under control?

The invasive sea lamprey preys on all species of Great Lakes fish.
USFWS

Michigan is taking ownership of a dam on the Manistique River in the Upper Peninsula.

That will allow the federal government to build a new barrier there to keep sea lampreys from breeding in the river. Managers of the fishery expect that will bring the lamprey problem under control in Lake Michigan.

For more than fifty years Canada and the U.S. have been battling the eel-like creature across the Great Lakes. Sea lampreys are parasites that drill holes in fish to feed on blood and body fluids. They often kill the fish. The sea lamprey was one of the first invasive species to arrive in the lakes, and it’s the only invasive to be successfully controlled by humans.

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Energy
5:40 pm
Wed August 15, 2012

NRC sends inspection team to Palisades Nuclear Power Plant

Palisades Nuclear Power Plant on Lake Michigan near South Haven, Michigan.
NRC.gov

Palisades Nuclear Power Plant was shut down this past Sunday for a water leak inside a containment building. This is the second leak at the plant this summer that has triggered a shutdown.

The plant is operated by Entergy Nuclear Operations and is located in Covert, Michigan near South Haven.

Today, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission announced that a three member inspection team is at Palisades looking into the problem:

The three member inspection team will begin work Wednesday and look into the circumstances surrounding the leak. They will review the utility’s monitoring of the leak and subsequent plant shutdown, verify the adequacy of radiological controls, evaluate any potential degradation, and review the plant’s repair actions. The team will also review the plant’s reporting requirements and their plan for addressing the cause of the event.

Michigan Radio's Lindsey Smith covered the shutdown in yesterday's Environment Report segment. She spoke with Entergy spokesman Mark Savage.

Savage says they’ve determined that a “control rod drive package” is the source of the leak. There are 45 of these control rods. Plant operators can raise or lower control rods to control the rate of the nuclear reaction.

“And occasionally these control rod drives will have a problem. In this case we couldn’t identify it until we actually shut the plant down. So we take aggressive action to shut the plant down, do the right thing, make the repairs and return the plant to service," Savage said.

Palisades has been the focus of significantly more oversight from federal regulators over the last year.

Environment & Science
5:27 pm
Tue August 14, 2012

Michigan DNR plans to harvest healthy ash and beech trees before disease sets in

Technicians in Michigan Tech's emerald ash borer survey search for signs of the pest in Brimley State Park. Here, on the shore of Lake Superior, the first borer-infested ash tree was found in Michigan's Upper Peninsula.
Michigan Technological University

Forests throughout Michigan are undergoing big changes as millions of beech and ash trees are killed off by pests and disease.

Beech Bark Disease and the Emerald Ash Borer first arrived in Michigan around twelve years ago.

Both problems continue to spread, but many forests still have healthy trees in them.

Foresters from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Michigan Tech are taking a closer look at more than 30,000 acres of state forest land.

Andrew Storer, professor of forest and insect ecology at Michigan Tech, said the plan is to harvest healthy stands of ash and beech trees before they’re affected.

"If it's consistent with the management objective of the stand, then removing resources that you know are not going to persist until the next cutting cycle makes a lot of sense just in terms of getting the value out of those trees while they’re still in the forest," said Storer.

Storer said harvesting these trees now can also help forest ecology.

"It helps the forest by getting a head start, if you like, on what the future forest is going to be, and so by removing trees now and getting the value from that, we’ll start to see what the regenerating forest is going to be, and through management be able to direct that regeneration toward species that are going to be successful in the forest in the future," said Storer.

In a press release, the Michigan DNR said the goal is not to remove all beech or ash trees in these forests, but to thin them to a healthier level.

"We are using criteria including proximity to the nearest infested site, infestation, size, density and quality of trees, and accessibility, in order to prioritize which areas need attention," said Bill O'Neill, chief of the DNR's Forest Resources Division, who also serves as state forester. "Considering other factors important to maintaining healthy forests, harvests are being scheduled to remove the beech and ash and regenerate the stand to a desired, productive species mix. The goal is not to remove all beech or ash, but to reduce them to a level that the mortality will not significantly impact the quality of the remaining trees or the productivity of the forest."

Researchers started surveying state forest land for this project last June and plan to continue surveying through next summer.

Environment & Science
9:00 am
Tue August 14, 2012

Another leak forces shutdown at Palisades nuclear power plant

Lindsey Smith Michigan Radio

The Palisades Nuclear Power Plant near South Haven has shut down again.

This is the second time this summer Entergy Corporation has had to shut down the plant for repairs. 

The plant shut down to refuel in April; that was normal. It restarted in early May.

But then a water leak in a tank above the control room caused the plant to shut back down just a few weeks later. Those repairs took a month and on July 11th the plant started up again. Though that leak appears to be fixed, it is still under investigation by special federal agents with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

But as it returned to service in July, Palisades spokesman Mark Savage says operators discovered a different water leak – this time in the building that holds the nuclear reactor. In a written statement, Savage called the leak “minor.”

The company noticed this leak when they restarted the plant after fixing that first leak in a tank above the control room. This leak is in a different area of the plant – the containment building. This building holds the nuclear reactor itself.

Prema Chandrathil is a spokeswoman for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.  She says the leak is not a threat to public health.

“It’s contained and it goes into the plant’s waste storage tank," Chandrathil said.

Chandrathil says the situation at Palisades is “serious” though. The NRC now has a specialized inspector to assist regular inspectors at the plant while the company makes repairs.

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Environment & Science
3:07 pm
Mon August 13, 2012

DNR turns down request for moratorium on mute swan killings

A pair of mute swans.
Photo by Mary Hollinger, NESDIS/NODC biologist, NOAA

Mute swans are flourishing in Michigan. The state’s Department of Natural Resources estimates their population almost tripled from 5,700 to more than 15,000 between 2000 and 2010.  We've previously reported the DNR says mute swans eat a huge amount of vegetation in lakes. They can push out native birds, such as the trumpeter swan, and officials say mute swans can snap and charge at people.

To keep the population under control, the DNR is killing the birds and destroying their nests.

The Humane Society of the United States and the Michigan Save Our Swans Committee argue the DNR’s methods are inhumane.

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Energy
1:40 pm
Sun August 12, 2012

New water leak forces Palisades nuclear power plant to shut down again

The leak is somewhere in the containment building, the circular shaped one on the left. That's where the nuclear reacotr is housed.
Mark Savage Entergy

The Palisades Nuclear Power Plant near South Haven is shut down again. This is the second time this summer Entergy Corporation has had to shut down the plant for repairs.

The plant shut down to refuel in April; that was normal. It restarted in early May.

But then a water leak in a tank above the control room caused the plant to shut back down just a few weeks later. Those repairs took a month and on July 11th the plant started up again. Though that leak appears to be fixed, it is still under investigation by special federal agents with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

But as it returned to service in July, Palisades Spokesman Mark Savage says operators discovered a different water leak – this time in the building that holds the nuclear reactor. In a written statement Savage called the leak “minor.”

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Environment & Science
4:35 pm
Fri August 10, 2012

Robots to spend winter under the ice in Lake Superior

Jay Austin (L) is an Associate Professor at the University of Minnesota-Duluth. He and assistant scientist Matt James are shown here prepping the device, an "autonomous moored platform" for its test dive.
Brett Groehler, Director of Photography UMD

Researchers are sending robots where no scientist has gone before: under the ice in Lake Superior during winter.

This week, researchers from the University of Minnesota-Duluth put their first robot in Lake Superior to test it. Think of them as robotic divers... they travel up and down on cables and collect data. The cables will be anchored to the bottom of the lake.

Erik Brown is one of the lead researchers and the acting director of the Large Lakes Observatory at UMD.  He says the harsh winters on Lake Superior make it too dangerous for people to go out on ships and collect data.

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Environment & Science
10:26 am
Fri August 10, 2012

Electrofishing survey finds no silver, bighead carp in Lake Erie

Don't worry, fish, I'm not gonna eat you. Fish temporarily stunned via electrofishing.
Michigan Department of Natural Resources

Silver and bighead carp don't appear to be living and breeding in Lake Erie - yet.

Environmental DNA from the fish was found in the lake near the Maumee River last year.  Environmental DNA comes from things like fish mucus, excrement, or scales.

But no Asian carp were captured in a recent electrofishing survey, which temporarily stuns fish with an electrical current.

Todd Kalisch is with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

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Energy
6:54 pm
Thu August 9, 2012

Should Holland’s power plant stop burning coal and switch to natural gas?

James DeYoung power plant in Holland
Lindsey Smith Michigan Radio

Holland’s city owned utility would be better off if it burned natural gas rather than coal in the future. That’s the conclusion of a months-long study released this week.

The city hired an energy consultant firm to figure out which of its many energy options would produce the best return on investment. The firm said natural gas would be the best bang for the buck. The report says that return also considers other factors like the environment.

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Environment & Science
2:38 pm
Thu August 9, 2012

Living with Cancer: a documentary from Michigan Radio

John Klein Wilson Michigan Radio

It’s something we don’t like to talk about, but cancer is all around us. It would be hard to find someone who hasn’t been touched by cancer - not just someone you know - but someone you love.

In Living with Cancer, a special one-hour documentary from Michigan Radio, we'll explore how much we really know about the connections between cancer and the chemicals in our environment.

We’ll meet both regular people and scientists trying to figure out if certain towns around Michigan are struggling with more cancer cases than other places because of current or past pollution. You'll hear about whether or not turning to the courts makes sense when it seems a company might to be blame for putting people at risk of cancer or other illnesses. Finally, we'll look at where we go from here. What do researchers know, and where are they looking next?

Listen live at 3pm on air on Michigan Radio or you can listen to the show at the audio links below:

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Environment & Science
9:00 am
Thu August 9, 2012

Hot, dry summer favors mosquitoes that carry West Nile virus

You can listen to the Environment Report broadcast for Thursday August 9th. An expanded version of the West Nile story appears below.

Maybe you’ve noticed you haven’t been swatting a lot of mosquitoes this summer. 

“It’s been a strangely quiet year for nuisance mosquitoes in particular.”

Michael Kaufman is a mosquito expert and an associate professor at Michigan State University. 

“Most people think all mosquitoes are a nuisance and I guess I’d have to agree with that. But the ones most people complain about come out in large numbers after rain events or spring snow melts and things like that.”

Think of nuisance mosquitoes as the kind that attack you in swarms.

Kaufman says it’s been so dry that we haven’t had the usual bursts of mosquitoes that you get after a big rain. 

But he says ironically, our hot, dry summer has been ideal for the species of mosquitoes that carry West Nile virus.  The species Culex pipiens is the one experts are most concerned about... and those guys like it when it’s hot.

“The Culex breed in areas that don’t necessarily need that much water. A really good source of them for their larval development is what we call catch basins or parts of storm sewer drainage systems.”

Kaufman says they also like standing water in bird baths and kiddie pools.

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Environment & Science
10:21 pm
Wed August 8, 2012

Gov. Snyder signs controversial critical sand dunes bill

Flickr user/I'm Such a Child

People who own private property on Michigan sand dunes will now have more flexibility when it comes to getting building permits.

Governor Rick Snyder signed a bill this week that broadens building permits on what are called critical dunes. Those are dunes that have the most environmental protection.

Rachel Hoekstra is the legislative Director for the Senator who introduced the bill. She says the previous law had too many regulations for building permits.

“Basically it turned out to be whoever had the most money could potentially one day build a home in these areas.”

But opponents of the new law say it puts those critical sand dunes at risk.

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Environment & Science
11:42 am
Tue August 7, 2012

Hunting for Asian carp in Lake Erie

A bighead carp at the Shedd Aquarium (perhaps a face only its mother could love).
Rebecca Williams Michigan Radio

You can listen to the Environment Report interview with MDNR's Todd Kalish.

Crews with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, along with the Ohio DNR, are searching Lake Erie for Asian carp this week.

They’re stepping up their sampling efforts because of lab results that showed six water samples from Lake Erie had positive environmental DNA hits for Asian carp. Those water samples were from August 2011.

The teams are now out on the lake to see if they can find any more evidence of bighead or silver carp in the lake.

Todd Kalish is the Lake Erie Basin Coordinator with the Michigan DNR.  He says a positive eDNA sample could mean there are live Asian carp in Lake Erie... but there are other possibilities.

"A positive DNA sample basically means that some part of a carp was left behind within 24 hours of a sample being taken. And so it could’ve been a scale or mucus or excrement. Basically what it tells us, and what we assume, that environmental DNA means there was a silver or bighead carp in that area within 24-48 hours of the sampling."

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