Environment & Science

Environment
10:53 am
Thu April 5, 2012

Designing buildings for a changing climate in the Great Lakes region

U.S. Forest Service

A group of planners and designers is arguing that we need to rethink the way we make our buildings. The U.S. Green Building Council and the University of Michigan recently put out a report: Green Building and Climate Resilience.

It says design teams should start making buildings that are better suited to a changing climate. That could mean redesigning heating and cooling and storm water systems, and it could mean changing the kind of landscaping we do.

Larissa Larsen is the lead author of the report. I met up with her on a corner in Ann Arbor to take a look at a new high rise apartment building that’s going up.

“This looks like a fairly traditional apartment building and that’s completely fine. We want to start thinking that this building is going to be inhabiting conditions that are different than what has been in Michigan for a long time.”

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Environment
4:11 pm
Wed April 4, 2012

Michigan Hemlock trees infested by woolly adelgids

Woolly adelgids inhabit the underside of hemlock tree branch.
USGS

Flip over a branch of a hemlock tree, and you might spot them.

Nasty little critters in their cute woolly homes.

They're woolly adelgids (pronounced "ah-DELL'-jids").

They're native to Asia and have been spreading around the U.S. since 1924, and the bugs have infested forests along the east coast and the Smoky Mountain range.

They were spotted here in Michigan back in 2006, and again in 2010.

And today we have news that the sap-suckers have turned up in Michigan's southwestern corner.

More from the Associated Press:

The state Department of Agriculture and Rural Development announced Wednesday that hemlock woolly adelgid has been spotted in the New Buffalo area of Berrien County. One site had 41 infested trees and a second site had eight.

Authorities are surveying the area. All infested trees will be cut down, and nearby hemlocks will be treated with an insecticide.

The hemlock woolly adelgid has attacked trees in Emmet, Macomb and Ottawa counties since 2006. In each case, the infested trees were destroyed and there's been no evidence that the parasite has
spread.

The Michigan DNR says the invasive insect harms hemlocks by "sucking plant juices and by injecting a toxic saliva while feeding." Eventually, if left unchecked, the bugs will kill the tree.

In 2010, Michigan Radio's Jennifer Guerra spoke with Kelly Goward of the Ottawa Conservation District after the insect was found in that county.

She says the woolly adelgid can be spread through firewood or landscape nursery stock that gets moved around. She says HWA can also "be trasnferred naturally in the environment...they are kind of sticky, so they'll grab hold on a bird or as a deer brushes by a tree that's infected."

If you're concerned about your hemlock trees, you can inspect them by looking for a white cottony substance under the trees' branches.

The University of Kentucky's College of Agriculture says there are three common treatment options:

  1. insecticidal soap,
  2. imidacloprid soil injections,
  3. and biological control using tiny beetles native to the Pacific Northwest that feed on hemlock woolly adelgid. 

And the Michigan DNR has these suggestions for curbing the spread of woolly adelgids:

  • Carefully monitor your hemlock trees and report any infestation immediately, early detection is critical.

  • Since Hemlock Woolly Adelgid is primarily spread to native trees from planted stock, carefully inspect any purchased trees prior to planting.

  • Do not bring hemlock trees into Michigan from infested areas

energy
4:10 pm
Tue April 3, 2012

Buoy that could determine viability of offshore wind farm to head back out to Lake Michigan

The wind buoy sits on a pier in Muskegon before it first launched back in October 2011.
Lindsey Smith Michigan Radio

Wednesday state regulators and researchers will head about 35 miles west of Muskegon, near the Michigan-Wisconsin border in Lake Michigan. There they’ll survey the bottom of Lake Michigan to make sure there are no historic artifacts in the way when a floating research platform drops anchor there (likely) later this week.

Arn Boezaart heads the Michigan Alternative and Renewable Energy Center. Last year the center operated the buoy only 4 miles offshore. This year it’ll collect first of its kind data that’ll likely determine whether an offshore wind farm is viable in the middle of Lake Michigan.

Boezaart says there was a lot more interest in offshore wind data when the project began two-and-a-half years ago.

“The times have changed, the political winds have changed. So we’re just minding our business and going forward with the research work that we’re charged to do," Boeazart said. “We’ll let other people figure out how the public policy questions and politics of this play out.”

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Environment
9:00 am
Tue April 3, 2012

Tracking city-dwelling coyotes at night

Coyote tracks in the dirt.
Photo by Holly Hadac

Coyotes have been making themselves at home in cities all over the country.    They’ve been showing up in big cities like Chicago and Detroit, and in a lot of suburban areas. 

But we don’t know a whole lot about Michigan’s urban coyotes.

A small research team from Wayne State University is trying to find out as much as they can.

But to do this... they have to act like urban coyotes... and become nocturnal.  Bill Dodge is a PhD candidate at Wayne State.  He heads up the research team. 

“They’ve found in other studies that coyotes especially around humans become much more nocturnal than say, out West.”

Dodge invited me to tag along on their 6pm to midnight shift one Friday night a few weeks ago. 

I met up with the group in a parking lot in northeast Oakland County. 

Bill Dodge puts on a headset and pulls an antenna and a mess of cables out of his trunk.

“I’m getting a signal on him but it’s really weak...”

They’re tracking a radio collared coyote that they trapped last summer.   

“We’ll go down the road a ways and take a listen to see if he’s closer.”

The team takes precautions to keep from being spotted by other people... as they cruise around these neighborhoods.

Holly Hadac volunteers with the coyote study.  She’s also a retired sheriff’s deputy.  She points out the red cellophane covering her car’s interior lights.

“My interior lights don’t go on when I start the car up.  I’ve got all the lights in my car blocked out, and that way keeps me incognito with what I’m doing.  So we keep our coyote safe so nobody knows where he is.”

“If someone doesn’t like coyotes, they might look for him.”

She says they’re worried someone might kill their research subject.

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Environment
12:40 pm
Mon April 2, 2012

Study: Role of coyotes on deer population in the UP

Coyotes prey on fawns in the UP.
flickr - caninest

In the last few years, illegal wolf kills in the Upper Peninsula have been going up as more sportsman become convinced that wolves are harming the deer population.

The antipathy toward wolves might change now that the species is no longer federally protected, but it also might change as more research is done on other predators in the UP.

Howard Meyerson of the Grand Rapid Press, reports on deer predation research being conducted in Michigan's Upper Peninsula by Mississippi State University students.

So far, the research is showing a somewhat surprising result: that coyotes are a top predator of fawns in parts of the western UP.

From the Grand Rapids Press:

...what researchers found this past winter, the third year of a western U.P. deer mortality study, is that coyotes were the No. 1 predator followed by bobcats. Wolves came in fourth after a three-way tie among hunters, unknown predators and undetermined causes.

“I was somewhat surprised to see coyotes play as large a role in fawn predation as they did...,” said Jerry Belant, an associate professor of Wildlife Ecology and Management at Mississippi State University.

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Environment
12:28 pm
Sun April 1, 2012

Michigan recreation land could be leased for oil, gas rights

Michigan Department of Natural Resources

Parts of a state-owned recreation area in Livingston County could be tapped for gas and oil.

About 100 parcels of land along the Lakelands Trail and in the Brighton Recreation Area could be leased at a Department of Natural Resources auction next month.

Tom Wellman directs the DNR's mineral management section. He says although the mineral rights could be leased, no actual drilling would be allowed to take place on the land -- only on adjoining or adjacent property.

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Environment
12:00 pm
Sat March 31, 2012

Vets warn: Lilies are toxic to cats

user mike73/morguefile

Lilies are popular home decorations this time of year. But the plants are highly toxic to cats.

Ingesting any part of a lily can cause kidney failure in cats, and can be fatal without emergency treatment.

Symptoms include vomiting, lethargy, and a lack of appetite.

Dr. Jennifer Aschenbrener is a veterinarian with Irwin Avenue Animal Hospital in Albion. She says it’s important to contact your veterinarian immediately if you think your cat has eaten part of a lily.

"They will most likely have you try to get induced emesis, which is vomiting, which also can be done at the vet clinic. Basically the biggest thing is to get the lily out of the system," she says. "Without treatment, and sometimes even with treatment, it can be fatal. So it’s very serious."

That’s not the only harmful Easter tradition. Local animal advocates are warning against giving bunnies, chicks, and ducks as presents. Many of the animals end up in shelters once the novelty wears off. 

-Alex Markel, Michigan Radio Newsroom

Environment
5:12 pm
Fri March 30, 2012

Michigan and 4 other states join feds to push for Great Lakes wind farms

A wind farm off the coast of Sweden
Mariusz Paździora wikimedia commons

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) - Federal officials say a deal to speed up consideration of proposed offshore wind farms in the Great Lakes should cut red tape and open the way for more clean energy production.

Officials announced the agreement Friday between the federal government and Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, New York and Pennsylvania.

There are no wind turbines in the Great Lakes now. But one project is in the works for Lake Erie.

Nancy Sutley of the White House Council on Environmental Quality said there's "tremendous" potential for wind energy development in the region. She said it's hard to know when other offshore wind proposals may arise, but government agencies should have an efficient system in place to evaluate them.

The Environment Report
7:54 am
Thu March 29, 2012

Michigan Sen. Stabenow: We need to move as quickly as possible to stop the Asian Carp

Michigan Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow says we need to move quickly to stop the threat of the Asian Carp on the Great Lakes' eco-system
Kate.Gardner Flickr

By now, you’ve probably heard all about the Asian Carp.

The invasive species is making its way up the Mississippi River and there’s concern that if the fish are able to get into the Great Lakes that they could drastically change the waters’ eco-system.

Michigan Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow and Michigan Republican Congressman Dave Camp introduced the Stop the Asian Carp Act last year. The legislation required the Army Corps of Engineers to create a plan to permanently separate the Mississippi River and Lake Michigan.

Stopping the Carp

I spoke with Senator Stabenow this week and asked her where things stand with the Army Corps of Engineers’ plan. “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.

The Mississippi River: Not the only entry point for the Carp

A lot of attention has been paid to the Mississippi River as the main entry point where the Carp could get into the Great Lakes. But, Stabenow explains, “We also, now, are looking more broadly than just the Illinois River and the Mississippi River going into Lake Michigan. We’ve found that there have been some fish seen going across Indiana – in the Wabash River. At certain times, during the year, it connects to the Maumee River in Ohio and then actually goes into Lake Erie. And, so, this is a real challenge for us. There is, I believe, nineteen different tributaries and ways to get into the Great Lakes – that’s my biggest worry.”

Chicago shipping interests

Recently, we’ve been hearing more about the idea of permanently separating the waterways rather than a temporary solution. “I believe that we ought to be closing the [Chicago] locks until we get to a permanent solution. But, there is a lot of pushback from Illinois and Chicago,” Stabenow says. Those who work in commercial shipping in Chicago are against the idea of closing the locks. They say it would hurt their multi-million dollar business interests. “Personally, I’d say the other side’s interests are – not that we don’t respect them – but they’re small in terms of economic impact compared to what could happen having the fish go into the Great Lakes.

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Environment
1:47 pm
Wed March 28, 2012

Michigan researchers turn to public to help fund wolf research

The wolves of Isle Royale
Photo from petridish.org

Two Northern Michigan scientists are turning to the public for funding help.

Michigan Tech researcher Rolf Peterson studies the wolf population on Isle Royale National Park. Peterson says the National Science Foundation, a federal agency, has helped fund the bulk of the research on the island for the past several decades.

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Energy
4:13 pm
Tue March 27, 2012

DTE Energy Fermi 2 nuclear reactor shutdown for a month

The Fermi 2 nuclear reactor near Monroe, Michigan began shutting down last Sunday night. It's expected to be offline for a month.
NRC

DTE Energy has shutdown its Fermi 2 nuclear power plant for refueling and maintenance work.

The Monroe News reports the shutdown is expected to last more than a month.

The company began reducing reactor power Sunday night and the plant stopped producing electricity early Monday morning, officials said.

Besides replacing about a third of the fuel in the reactor, the work will include upgrading the cables that connect the emergency diesel generators to the plant and upgrading the piping that supplies cooling water to the generators. The four big generators are designed to kick on to supply electricity to operator controls when there’s a power outage at the plant.

New equipment also will be installed at the transmission switchyard to improve grid reliability.

DTE spokesman Guy Cerullo told the Associated Press more than 1,500 supplemental workers are in town for the work.It's the 15th refueling and maintenance shutdown at the plant since it began commercial operation in 1988.

Environment
9:00 am
Tue March 27, 2012

A salmon balancing act for Lake Michigan fishery managers

The Desperado heads out at sunrise to go after Pacific salmon in Lake Michigan.
Photo by Lester Graham/Michigan Radio

by Peter Payette for The Environment Report

The people who manage salmon in Lake Michigan will have to decide soon how many fish to put into the lake.  The salmon fishery is a manmade industry in the Great Lakes.  It’s produced by planting millions and millions of fish in the lakes.  But keeping the salmon population in balance with the food supply is a challenge these days.  And some scientists are raising new questions about the salmon’s demise in Lake Huron and whether that can be stopped in Lake Michigan.  

Salmon were brought in from the Pacific Ocean.

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Environment
3:25 pm
Mon March 26, 2012

Health officials release draft assessment of polluted site in mid-Michigan

The "former burn area" circled in part of the Gratiot County Golf Course.

The Michigan Department of Community Health (MDCH) released a draft assessment today of an area in Gratiot County once used to burn waste. The contaminated area is near St. Loius, Michigan.

From the MDCH:

Of the results from the Public Health Assessment, soil from the former burn area and from a nearby neighborhood did not have levels of chemicals over health-based screening levels. There are ash piles in the former burn area that do have levels of arsenic and lead over health-based screening levels. However, people are not expected to be harmed by those chemicals, as people will have little to no contact with the ash piles.

Further, shallow groundwater under the former burn area had higher levels of chemicals than groundwater from deeper underground. This could potentially mean that chemicals in the soil or ash piles at the former burn area could be moving into the groundwater. People have little, if any, contact with the shallow groundwater under the former burn area, and nearby private drinking water wells did not have chemical levels above health-based screening levels.

The MDCH officials are inviting comments from the public on their health assessment. Comments are being accepted through May 7.

The Environmental Protection Agency has been developing a cleanup plan for the site and the Velsicol chemical plant site.

Environment
2:45 pm
Fri March 23, 2012

Massive Lake Huron water pipeline moving forward

Lake huron from the air
user Brucegirl wikimedia commons

There's a plan for the third biggest Great Lake, Huron, to be tapped by a 72 to 78 inch pipeline.

The Karegnondi Water Authority (KWA) is planning to start construction on a pipeline that will carry Lake Huron water to areas around the I-69 corridor of Michigan's Thumb area.

(Karengnondi is a old Petan Indian word meaning "lake.")

The KWA is made up of officials from Flint, Lapeer, Genesee County, Lapeer County, and Sanilac County.

The Flint Journal reports that Genesee County Drain Commissioner Jeff Wright said the county has started designing the "massive intake to draw water from Lake Huron," and that ground should be broken on the new water pipeline project by fall.

"We are starting the design of the intake," which will allow for construction on that piece of the $600 million pipeline project, Wright said.

The drain commissioner said the intake itself, which is expected to cost about $30 million, will take longer to finish than any other part of the project, and "the design requirements are the same whether any community drops out (of the project) or not."

The City of Flint, initially a partner in the project, might be forced to step aside because of its financial situation.

On it's website, the KWA says the pipeline is being built to "avoid increased water rates from the City of Detroit, which could increase by up to 15% per year."

Environment
4:53 pm
Thu March 22, 2012

Sneezing, coughing, itching? Thank Michigan's early spring

Jusben MorgueFile

Doctors’ offices in Michigan are filled with people suffering from acute allergies, thanks to the early bloom of trees and shrubs.

Some types of pollen are three to four times higher than normal for this time of year.

Mark Zacharek  is an associate professor of otolaryngology -- ear, nose and throat disorders -- at University of Michigan Hospital.

He says tree pollen and outdoor mold counts are making people miserable.  For people who already have respiratory problems, that can be dangerous.

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Environment
1:47 am
Thu March 22, 2012

Saugatuck Twp accepts proposed settlement with billionaire

A federal judge will consider another proposed settlement in a legal case between Saugatuck Township and a private developer. The township approved the proposed settlement Wednesday night.

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Environment
2:54 pm
Wed March 21, 2012

Arctic fox captured near Lansing

A wild arctic fox in northern Manitoba
Ansgar Walk wikimedia commons

It may feel like it's already summer outside but that didn't stop a little piece of the arctic from visiting central Michigan.

After several days of sightings in and around  the town of Portland, just northwest of Lansing,  local authorities captured a loose arctic fox as he woke from a nap on a baseball diamond.

The fox's origin is unclear but aside from being about 1,000 miles south of its natural habitat, local law enforcement believes it must have been  a domesticated pet based on its friendly demeanor, the Lansing State Journal writes.

From the LSJ's Tom Thelen:

“We were receiving calls about it for about a week,” said Portland police chief Bob Bauer. “People were seeing at in various parts of the city...We believe that it either escaped or was turned loose,” said Bauer. “It was not afraid of anyone. In fact, it would coming running out to people and some of them were scared by the way it ran up to them.”

Thelen reports that authorities found an owner of another arctic fox in nearby Lake Odessa who agreed to care for the captured animal.

-John Klein Wilson, Michigan Radio Newsroom

Environment
12:45 pm
Wed March 21, 2012

Michigan fruit crops threatened by prolonged warm weather

The unseasonably warm weather could jeopardize Michigan’s fruit crops.

While it's not unusual to have warm spells in early spring, it is unusual is for temperatures to average 40 degrees higher than normal for several weeks.

Matthew Grieshop  is an assistant professor at Michigan State University’s Department of Entomology.

He says this heat wave, along with a bumper crop of insects that didn’t die over the winter and an eventual freeze, pose a triple threat to the state's fruit farmers.

"This is pretty much unprecedented," Grieshop says. "It was back in the early 40s that we last had weather like this, and based on our experience, it looks pretty grim for the fruit growers."

Grieshop says fruit trees are blooming almost a month early, but without cool nights, the fruit won’t mature.

Fruit farmers closer to the Great Lakes, Grieshop says, are typically somewhat insulated from the threat of a heavy freeze because the thermal mass of the water moderates the temperature shifts.

Weather
3:22 pm
Tue March 20, 2012

Spring is here, feels like summer

user: q8 /flickr

The vernal equinox, or spring equinox marks the end of winter today, and the beginning of spring.  But don't rule out the possibility of another snow fall - after all this is Michigan.

Record highs across the state are expected to continue through the rest of the week in Michigan.

The Associated Press reports:

The weather service office in suburban Detroit says there's been six consecutive days of 70 degree temperatures that started March 14 and continued through Monday. It says the last time there was such a stretch of warm weather in the area around this time of year it was April 16-24, 1886.

The weather service forecasts several more days of 70 degree temperatures. In southeast and mid-Michigan temperatures are expected to reach 85 tomorrow.

According to the Associated Press, the weather service in Grand Rapids says record high temperatures in West Michigan were broken on five consecutive days from March 14 through Sunday. In the northern Lower Peninsula, forecasters say high temperatures are coming in about 25 to as much as 40 degrees above average.

Environment
2:46 pm
Tue March 20, 2012

UM study finds increase in global warming belief

wikimedia commons

The number of Americans who believe in global warming is once again on the rise, moving from 58 percent in 2010 to 62 percent last year.

That's according to survey results released last month by U of M's Ford School of Public Policy. The survey, conducted in conjunction with the Muhlenberg College Institute of Public Opinion and published by the Brookings Institute, shows that a higher percentage of Americans accepted the science of climate change in 2011 than anytime since the fall of 2009.

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