Environment & Science

Environment
5:44 pm
Tue April 24, 2012

Island added to Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge

Maumee Bay wetlands in the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge.
user notorius4life wikimedia commons

The Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge was established in 2001 and it includes shoreline, wetlands, and shoals along 48 miles of the Detroit River and western Lake Erie.

The refuge system has now added a 30-acre island to the system.

From the Associated Press:

Officials say Sugar Island is part of conservation area surrounding the southern end of Grosse Ile in the Detroit River. It's located in Wayne County's Grosse Ile Township.

The island once was a destination for picnicking and had other attractions. It's near Boblo Island, which once was home to a well-known amusement park.

Sugar Island was bought by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service with Great Lakes Restoration Initiative funding and it's now part of the National Wildlife Refuge System.

The refuge includes roughly 5,700 acres along 48 miles of the Detroit River and western Lake Erie.

Weather
1:45 pm
Tue April 24, 2012

Elevated fire danger in lower Michigan today

USDA

Today's high winds and dry weather are making conditions right for fire.

The National Weather Service's office in Grand Rapids issued a bulletin today warning of "Elevated Fire Danger Today":

Fire danger across all of Lower Michigan will be quite elevated today due to the very dry air in place, and with wind gusts to 40 mph expected to develop today.

If a wildfire was to start today, it would be expected to spread very quickly due to the dry and windy conditions.

So far, the warm dry conditions this year have led to 160 wildfires in Michigan, compared to 36 last year, according to the Michigan DNR.

The Weather Service offers tips to keep wildfires from starting and urge people to call 911 if one is spotted.

Environment
10:25 am
Tue April 24, 2012

Study finds large majority of Americans connect extreme weather events to climate change

A mesocyclone tornado
Photo courtesy of NOAA

You’ve probably noticed we’ve had a strange spring.

This March – the warm temperatures broke 15,292 weather records across the country.   And last year... there were 14 weather-related disasters that each caused $1 billion – or more – in damages.

A new study finds a large majority of Americans are now connecting specific extreme weather events to climate change.

The study is part of a long-term project called Climate Change in the American Mind.  It’s by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication and George Mason University's Center for Climate Change Communication.

Here's an excerpt:

A majority of Americans say the weather in the United States is getting worse and many report that extreme weather in their own local area has become more frequent and damaging. Further, large majorities believe that global warming made a number of recent extreme weather events worse. Only about a third of Americans, however, have either a disaster emergency plan or an emergency supply kit in their homes.

Ed Maibach directs George Mason’s climate change center.  He and his colleagues found that 82 percent of Americans personally experienced one or more types of extreme weather or natural disaster in the past year.  I asked him how these experiences are affecting people’s understanding of climate change.

"We know that most Americans believe the climate is changing, and now, this latest survey shows us that a lot of people are connecting the experience of the extreme weather they’re experiencing to the fact that the climate is changing."

But he says not too many people understand the difference between weather and climate.

Read more
Environment
4:27 pm
Mon April 23, 2012

Michigan CAFO activist Lynn Henning appears on HBO's Real Time with Bill Maher

Michigan environmental activist Lynn Henning appears on HBO's Real Time with Bill Maher
screenshot HBO

Michigan farmer and environmental activist Lynn Henning appeared on the Earth Day edition of HBO's Real Time with Bill Maher (video below).

Henning is known in Michigan as a thorn in the side of large scale animal farms - also known as Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, or CAFOs.

I first met Henning back in 2006 in Hudson, Michigan when I did a story about CAFOs and water pollution.

I drove around with her as we followed trucks laden with liquefied manure and watched as they spread the liquid on nearby farm fields.

It's a practice that can add nutrients back to the land if done right, but with the huge quantities of manure these CAFOs are dealing with year round - doing it right is something they've had trouble with.

And Henning, a "Sierra Club Water Sentinel," has been watching them - reporting them to state officials when they weren't complying with the law.

It's clear from visiting these communities that these large scale farms have caused rifts among neighbors; some like the income they make selling corn and renting land to CAFO operators, but others feel CAFOs threaten their health and the beauty of rural farming life.

Working as an environmental activist in rural Michigan (she formed the group Environmentally Concerned Citizens of South Central Michigan), Henning says she's felt those divisions first-hand - saying she's been harassed and threatened on numerous occasions.

In 2010, Henning was given a $150,000 Goldman Environmental Prize for her grassroots activism. From the Goldmand Prize website:

Family farmer and activist Lynn Henning exposed the egregious polluting practices of livestock factory farms in rural Michigan, gaining the attention of the federal EPA and prompting state regulators to issue hundreds of citations for water quality violations.

She's also been to the White House to meet President Obama. And now, here she is on Bill Maher. To watch, we have to pull up a chair up to "imnewshound's" television - he has subscription to HBO, after all (and being HBO and Bill Maher, be warned - there is some foul language):

energy
8:09 pm
Sun April 22, 2012

PHOTOS: Tour the Palisades Nuclear Power Plant

The nuclear reactor is inside the containment building. The building is made of a half-inch thick steel with 3-and-a-half feet thick steel reinforced concrete wrapped around. It’s made to withstand earthquakes, tornadoes, and an airplane crash.
Mark Savage Entergy

The Palisades Nuclear Power Plant, located on the shores of Lake Michigan, now has one of the worst safety ratings in the country. That’s after the plant had five unplanned shutdowns last year.

This year federal regulators are keeping an even closer eye on the plant. It’s tucked in between tall sand dunes at the southern edge of Van Buren State Park in Covert Township.

Palisades "extremely important" to area economy

Read more
Earth Day
9:09 am
Sun April 22, 2012

How has your local climate changed? The Weather Underground shows you

On the Weather Underground's climate page, you can select a weather station near you to see how things have changed.
Wunderground.com

A popular Ann Arbor-based online weather service is offering a new feature on its website. At the Weather Underground’s “Climate Change Center,” you can see how your local climate has changed over the years.

Detailed graphs display historical information for temperature, precipitation, and snowfall. The data goes back to the 1700s in some cases.

It also shows how your local climate is expected to change in the future based on current climate models.

Co-founder of the Weather Underground Jeff Masters said they launched the new tool in honor of Earth Day. One of the goals of the site, he said, is to help people understand the differences between climate and weather.

“Climate is what you expect based on past history of weather,” Masters says, “but weather is what you get. It’s got lots of random variations. You see a lot of extremes both on cold and hot sides, but they average out over a period of time. And to really understand where the weather of the future might fall, you have to look at how the climate, the long-term statistics over a period of 30 years or more, might be changing.”

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Environment
2:13 pm
Sat April 21, 2012

EPA accepting Great Lakes grant applications

Flickr user/I'm Such a Child

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says it will award $20 million in grants this year for projects to help the Great Lakes.

EPA officials recently invited states, cities, Indian tribes, universities and nonprofit groups to apply for the grants, which will come from money Congress appropriated under the Obama administration's Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

The projects will focus on issues such as invasive species, toxic pollution and runoff from farms and cities.

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energy
9:45 pm
Fri April 20, 2012

Floating wind farm in the Great Lakes?

An underwater simulation of a PellaStar offshore wind turbine.
The Glosten Associates

One major investor could make all the difference for a group hoping to test a prototype of a floating offshore wind farm in the Great Lakes. The group needs about $3 million to apply for a federal matching grant to support testing the floating wind farm concept.

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Science
5:11 pm
Fri April 20, 2012

UM professor consults on Disney film "Chimpanzee"

John Mitani, Professor of Anthropology at the University of Michigan.

The movie Chimpanzee from Disney Nature opens in theaters today.

It follows a young chimp, Oscar, who is separated from his troop, and is adopted by an alpha male named Freddie.

John Mitani was a scientific consultant on the film. He's a primate behavioral ecologist and University of Michigan Professor of Anthropology. Mitani’s research centers on the behavior of male chimps and why males co-operate.

According to Mitani, it's not uncommon for young chimps to be separated from their parents. Often they are adopted by close relatives. But what's unusual in this story is that Oscar was adopted by an adult male chimp "which rarely or never has been seen," Mitani says.

“It’s not as if male animals, male primates, male chimps are generally helpful to others. Why he should go out of his way to help this poor little helpless infant who was not obviously his own is really the thing that is quite interesting and unusual in this.”

The film took three years to make, and actually follows two main groups of chimps, one filmed in west Africa and one filmed in east Africa. Through the magic of movie making we get one story. Mitani recognizes the film has two qualities. One scientific and the other purely entertaining.

You can see the movie trailer here:

Changing Gears
11:39 am
Fri April 20, 2012

On Earth Day, turning the Motor City into "Cycle City"

The Tigers' mascot, Paws, with cyclists who rode to Opening Day 2012.
courtesy Detroit Tigers

Let’s face it: Detroit’s reputation as the Motor City is unshakeable. But it’s gaining ground as a city for cyclists.

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Environment
4:14 pm
Thu April 19, 2012

No time to dawdle on Asian carp plan, lawmakers push for quicker plan

Asian carp leaping out of a river.
glfc.org

Last month, we spoke with Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow (D) about plans about a permanent solution for keeping Asian Carp out of the Great Lakes.

“The Army Corps of Engineers is working on a plan to give us specific recommendations on how to separate the waters… The problem is they say they won’t have this done until 2015. And, so, what we’re trying to do is push them to get this done much quicker,” Stabenow explains.

Now, we hear about legislation introduced in Congress by Senator Stabenow and U.S. Rep. Dave Camp to get the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to speed up their analysis.

More from the Associated Press:

Legislation introduced in Congress would force the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to speed up a study of how to prevent Asian carp and other invasive species from reaching the Great Lakes.

The corps has identified 18 locations where fish and other organisms could migrate between the lakes and other watersheds, including an artificial linkage between Lake Michigan and the Mississippi River basin in the Chicago area.

Corps officials say they'll release their recommendations by late 2015.

Michigan's U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow and U.S. Rep. Dave Camp say that isn't soon enough. They're sponsoring bills to require the corps to submit a progress report within 90 days of the legislation's enactment and a full plan within 18 months.

Scientists say Asian carp could starve out native Great Lakes fish.

Environment
2:14 pm
Thu April 19, 2012

New outdoor burning law limits what can be torched

A tool often used to burn refuse in rural areas. A new law puts limits on what can be burned.
joelk75 Flickr

A new law will soon limit the types of waste that can be thrown into pits and barrels to be burned. Plastics, chemically treated wood, and electronics are among the types of trash that cannot be burned.

The new rules don’t go as far as some people wanted, which was to ban outdoor burning altogether.

There were fights between neighbors about drifting smoke  -- in some cases, causing or aggravating asthma attacks.

But burning waste is so common in parts of rural Michigan that a compromise was struck. Some of the most toxic materials are banned, but grass, leaves and other yard waste can still be burned.

The director of the state Department of Environmental Quality Dan Wyant said he hopes this is the beginning of a culture change in rural Michigan.

“We’ll go out, and we’re trying to educate,” said Wyant. “We’re not trying to be heavy-handed in our enforcement, but we will communicate about the law, and we do want to move away from outdoor burning.”

The new rules become enforceable in six months.

Environment
11:03 am
Thu April 19, 2012

Stopping hitchhikers in ballast tanks

Entry to a ballast tank in a ship's cargo hold
Photo courtesy of the Great Lakes NOBOB Team

Ships entering the Great Lakes can carry water from foreign ports. That water is held in their ballast tanks. It helps stabilize the ship.

Now, anytime you hear the term ballast water... do your eyes glaze over? Maybe you start thinking about what you’re going to make for dinner? Okay, so it’s not the sexiest topic. But it matters because sneaky little invasive species can hide in the ballast water... and catch a ride across the ocean.

“Invasive species, scientists think, are the worst problem facing the Great Lakes. They threaten the Great Lakes health, they threaten to crash the ecosystem, they threaten our economy.”

That’s Andy Buchsbaum. He directs the Great Lakes office of the National Wildlife Federation. He says when ships dump their ballast water in the Great Lakes, the invaders can get out.

“And if they find each other and fall in love, you have families of those critters and you actually have some real population problems like zebra mussels going wild in the Great Lakes.”

Zebra mussels have caused all kinds of havoc with Great Lakes ecosystems. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates 30 percent of the invasive species in the Great Lakes have come in through ballast water.

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Environment
8:09 pm
Tue April 17, 2012

Part of Kalamazoo River opens Wednesday, first time since oil spill

People had a chance to ask representatives from at least a dozen government agencies and other groups about the oil spill. The meeting was Tuesday night at Marshall High School.
Lindsey Smith Michigan Radio

Calhoun County Health officials will open up a three mile section of the Kalamazoo River near Marshall Wednesday at 8 a.m. It’s the first time the river has opened to the public since a major oil spill July 26th, 2010. 

It’s just a tiny portion of the 37 total miles of the river that have been closed since the underground Enbridge pipeline ruptured. Crews have recovered more than a million gallons of oil from the river. 

Read more
Environment
3:44 pm
Tue April 17, 2012

Americans less concerned about environmental problems

A graph showing the decline in concern over air and water pollution.
Gallup

A recent Gallup poll finds Americans are less concerned about environmental problems today than they were twelve years ago.

From Gallup:

The trends are part of a broader decline in worry about environmental threats documented in the poll.

Gallup asked Americans to say how much they worry about each of seven environmental problems. All show significantly less worry today than in 2000, when worry was at or near its high point for each item. The declines in concern about drinking-water pollution and air pollution are the largest for the problems included in this year's poll.

Here's a breakdown of those concerned "a great deal" about the following problems:

Pollution of drinking water

  • 2000 - 72 percent
  • 2012 - 48 percent

Air pollution

  • 2000 - 59 percent
  • 2012 - 36 percent

Pollution of rivers, lakes, and reservoirs

  • 2000 - 66 percent
  • 2012 - 48 percent

Contamination of soil and water by toxic waste

  • 2000 - 64 percent
  • 2012 - 50 percent

The loss of tropical rain forests

  • 2000 - 51 percent
  • 2012 - 37 percent

Global warming

  • 2000 - 40 percent
  • 2012 - 30 percent

Extinction of plant and animal species

  • 2000 - 45 percent
  • 2012 - 36 percent

Thoughts? Is this a sign of a perceived improvement in environmental conditions? A shift in perception because a Democrat occupies the White House vs. a Republican? Or another sign of hard economic times as more people shift their worries to just making a living?

Environment
12:48 pm
Tue April 17, 2012

One death blamed on yesterday's winds, crews work to restore power

A downed tree in Ann Arbor.
Mike Perini Michigan Radio

Winds whipping across the state yesterday with gusts of up to 55 mph brought down big trees and downed power lines.

The Associated Press reports the winds caused the death of a women in Van Buren County when a tree hit her van.

And the Lansing State Journal reports on an injury to a second grader:

Strong winds knocked a tree down onto a second-grader during recess at DeWitt’s Schavey Road Elementary Monday, school officials confirmed today.The student was taken to the hospital and is recovering, said Superintendent John Deiter.

Today, crews are working to bring power back to homes and businesses. An estimated 38,000 customers are without power.

More from the Associated Press:

DTE Energy Co. says that about 31,000 of its 106,000 electrical customers that lost power due to Monday's winds are without service early Tuesday. And CMS Energy Corp. says that about 7,000 of its
96,000 affected Consumers Energy customers are powerless as of Tuesday morning.

The winds caused the death of a woman when a tree hit her van in Van Buren County's Bloomingdale Township.

Environment
9:00 am
Tue April 17, 2012

Northern Michigan man clones ancient trees

Clones of the Buckley elm - the first tree that David Milarch cloned.
Peter Payette/Interlochen Public Radio

by Peter Payette for The Environment Report

There’s a new book out today about an unusual conservation project based in northern Michigan.  For most of the last two decades, a man from Copemish has been cloning old trees around the world.  David Milarch believes the genetics of these trees are superior and could be useful in the era of climate change.  The author of the book says he might have a point. 

Back in the year 2000, an elm tree not far from David Milarch’s home was diagnosed with Dutch elm disease.

It was not just any elm.

It was the National Champion American elm at the time. That means it was the largest known elm in the country. Milarch tried to heal the tree with a soil treatment but it died. He did manage to clone the Buckley elm.

Today at the Archangel Ancient Tree Archive, there are about a dozen copies of the tree.

"Here’s the Buckley elm, the greatest elm in America.  And it’s living on and it can be utilized. That’s really what it’s all about."

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Environment
9:00 am
Tue April 17, 2012

Study: Electric cars produce fewer emissions than hybrids... sometimes

A new study says electric cars produce fewer global warming emissions than hybrids - in some regions. 

The Union of Concerned Scientists says electricity in California and New York isn't as reliant on older, coal-burning power plants as other regions.

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Environment
4:07 pm
Mon April 16, 2012

Winds whipping up big waves, causing power outages in Michigan

Waves are reaching up to ten feet in parts of Lake Michigan today.
NOAA

Today's real-time Wind Map is showing some strong northeasterly winds flowing across Michigan's Lower Peninsula, and southeasterly winds across the U.P.

There's a gale warning in effect until midnight in the open water forecast for Lake Michigan where waves of 8 to 12 feet are a possible. The map above is showing waves of around 9 to 10 feet.

The Associated Press reports on winds gusts topping 50 mph in parts of the state "knocking down some trees and threatening the possibility of other damage."

The National Weather Service issued wind advisories for the Lower Peninsula and parts of the Upper Peninsula. Temperatures were expected to drop in northern Michigan, bringing with it the possibility of snow and ice. Snow accumulations of a few inches are possible in the western Upper Peninsula.

The Grand Rapids Press reports on power outages in West Michigan:

More than 10,300 Consumers Energy customers in West Michigan are without power this afternoon because of strong winds, according to a spokesman for the utility.

And the winds coming off of Lake Michigan near Ludington caused damage. The Ludington Daily News reported on power outages with winds that gusted to 49 mph.

Consumers Energy reported 116 customers without power in Mason County and 236 customers without power in Oceana County. Consumers Energy spokesman Tim Pietryga said there were about 5,600 customers without power at 9 a.m. today, most of them along Lake Michigan.

Environment
12:14 pm
Fri April 13, 2012

Michigan State University commits to green energy (but not enough for some)

Not going anywhere soon. MSU's T.B. Simon power plant will continue to provide electricity for the East Lansing campus for years to come
(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

The Michigan State University Board of Trustees has approved a plan that will increase the East Lansing campus’ reliance on renewable energy sources.

The plan approved this morning will require MSU to get 40 percent of its electricity from wind, solar and other alternative energy sources by 2030. Renewables account for about two percent of MSU’s power right now.

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