Environment & Science

Environment & Science
12:31 pm
Tue June 19, 2012

Ladies' trash collecting group goes after garbage as a hobby

(L to R) Moy Garretson, Karen Rooke and Melinda Fons spend some of their free time picking up trash while they're out on walks together. They say it's more fun than working out at the gym.
Rebecca Williams Michigan Radio

When you’re driving around southeast Michigan, you might happen to see three women on the side of the road. They’re all moms, but their kids are grown up. They work part time. They fill their free time by picking up trash... for fun.

"This is a beautiful area, and yet we have piles of garbage there."

Melinda Fons is with her friends Moy Garretson and Karen Rooke in suburban Detroit.

Karen: "Wagons roll!"

They get plastic grabbers and garbage bags out of the trunk. And they head into a little wooded patch next to a busy two-lane road.

Karen Rooke starts on the edges.

"I’ve got some cups, a newspaper and a plastic bag. And a credit card... ooh this is good. I’ll take that to the police."

The three women crawl under trees and into bushes to get the trash. There’s a pile of Styrofoam peanuts, empty rum bottles, a tire... and two more credit cards.

Karen: "I picked up 20 vodka bottles once and Listerine. I think it’s the kids that go drink down there. It’s just a quiet road, and have the Listerine so their parents – they think - don’t know. We were young once too!"

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Environment & Science
12:05 pm
Tue June 19, 2012

Blacklegged tick population booms along west Michigan shoreline

Blacklegged ticks are increasing in Michigan, especially in counties along the western shoreline.
CDC

Blacklegged ticks – formerly known as deer ticks - are historically rare in the Lower Peninsula. But over the past decade, that’s been changing. The tick population is booming along the west Michigan shoreline.

Erik Foster is a medical entomologist with the Michigan Department of Community Health. He’s been studying the tick population as it’s been moving north.

“It’s been so rapid, anecdotal reports say within the last five years of these ticks moving in and just really flourishing. Because of the habitat, and because of the amount of hosts they have to feed on.”

He says the Lake Michigan shoreline is a good habitat for ticks.

Foster says because the winter was so mild, more mice and chipmunks survived. Those animals are hosts for ticks, and that means more ticks made it through the winter too.

He says deer and birds are also hosts for ticks, and they're transporting the insects north.

Foster says blacklegged ticks can transmit Lyme disease. He recommends wearing insect repellant that contains DEET and checking yourself and your pets for ticks after you walk in tall grass or in the woods.

You can learn more about ticks in this document from the state of Michigan: Ticks and Your Health.

Environment & Science
2:09 pm
Mon June 18, 2012

DNR to search lake after illegal carp report

A Michigan DNR group today will search for Grass Carp, seen here.
user Dezidor Wikimedia Commons

Wildlife experts are searching a southern Michigan lake for illegal carp this week after a fisherman submitted a photo of a 3-foot-long grass carp, a species of Asian carp.

A crew traveled today to set up nets in Marrs Lake in Lenawee County, about 20 miles southeast of Jackson. Department of Natural Resources agency biologist Todd Kalish  says the crew plans to pull out the nets on Thursday to inventory what's found.

MDNR Fisheries Specialist Elizabeth Hay-Chmielewski traveled with that group today.  She says the grass carp is capable of disrupting a lake's ecosystem.

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Environment & Science
3:27 pm
Fri June 15, 2012

Romeo dies in an old mine: How three Isle Royale wolves died

"Romeo" was eager to mate with other females. He was one of the wolves that died in the mine shaft last fall. He's seen here following a female wolf in 2010.
Michigan Tech

In the last year, seven wolves on Isle Royale died. The total population is now down to nine wolves.

That's the lowest number recorded by researchers who have been studying the Isle Royale wolf population for the last 54 years. It's the longest continuous predator-prey study in the world.

When Rebecca Williams and I visited Rolf Peterson on Isle Royale last month, we asked him about the die-off.

He told us they didn't know what happened to them, "but we will know," he said.

Well, now they know how three of the seven wolves died. One was a young female wolf.

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Environment & Science
1:08 pm
Fri June 15, 2012

EPA proposes new standard to cut soot emissions

Smog and air pollution around downtown Los Angeles.
Ali Azimi Creative Commons

The Environmental Protection Agency announced a new proposal today to cap soot emissions at between 12 and 13 micrograms per cubic meter (µg/m3) annually. The current standard is 15 µg/m3 annually. The agency is required to update the standard every five years.

In a press release from the American Lung Association, Albert Rizzo, M.D., chair of the board of the ALA, emphasized the dangers of soot.

"Particle pollution kills — the science is clear, and overwhelming evidence shows that particle pollution at levels currently labeled as officially 'safe' causes heart attacks, strokes and asthma attacks," Rizzo said.

"The Clean Air Act gives the American public the truth about pollution that is threatening their lives and health—just as they would expect the truth from their doctor," he added.    

Last year the ALA, the Clean Air Task Force and Earthjustice, a non-profit public interest law firm, released a report warning of the dangers of soot and urging the EPA to set stricter emissions standards.

Their analysis estimated that capping emissions at 11 µg/m3 annually and 25 µg/m3 daily would prevent:

  • 35,700 premature deaths
  • 2,350 heart attacks
  • 23,290 hospital and emergency room visits
  • 29,800 cases of acute bronchitis
  • 1.4 million cases of aggravated asthma

According to the report, these standards would save about $281 billion in medical costs annually.

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Environment & Science
2:39 pm
Thu June 14, 2012

Cougars on the rise in the Midwest

Wayne Dumbleton Flickr

A study by The Journal of Wildlife Management finds the number of cougars is on the rise in the Midwest. Adam Bump is part of what he calls the "cougar team" with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. He says cougars are traveling from North and South Dakota into Michigan's Upper Peninsula. But, he says, the cougars are not breeding.

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Environment & Science
10:44 am
Thu June 14, 2012

Palisades nuclear power plant shuts down to fix water leak

The Palisades reactor
Mark Savage Entergy Nuclear Operations

The Palisades Nuclear Power Plant near South Haven has an aluminum water tank that’s used in case of emergencies or when the plant needs to be refueled.  That water tank has been leaking for several weeks.  On Tuesday evening, the Palisades plant was shut down so workers can fix the leak.

The shutdown this week was a planned outage – so, in other words, the plant operators saw this coming.

Mark Savage is a spokesperson for Entergy, the company that owns the Palisades plant.  He says this tank has been leaking for several weeks. It’s an old aluminum tank that holds 300,000 gallons of water.  He says the tank is the same age as the Palisades plant: 40 years old.

It’s considered to be a small leak and the company has been collecting the water and monitoring it for weeks.  But on Tuesday the amount reached 31 gallons per day... and that was the threshold where the company determined the leak had to be fixed. So that means taking the plant out of service.

The federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission is in charge of oversight on the country's nuclear power plants. NRC spokesperson Viktoria Mitlyng says the water leaking out of the tank does not pose any safety hazard.

"They’re collecting that water; it has no way of getting out of the plant. It cannot go outside and it does not pose a threat to plant workers and at this rate of leakage it does not compromise the plant’s stability or safety."

Entergy's Mark Savage declined to say how long the outage will last.  But he says the procedure is pretty straightforward:

"Shut the reactor down - which we’ve done, unload the water from the tank, find the leak, repair the leak, fill it up again and start the reactor back up."

This time around the shutdown was planned.  But Palisades had five unplanned shutdowns last year – and one of those was considered to be of substantial safety significance.  Because of that the power plant now has one of the worst safety ratings in the country, and that means the federal government is watching the plant more closely. NRC spokesperson Viktoria Mitlyng says they want to see how the plant operators handle this repair... and find out what caused the leak in the first place.

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energy
1:38 am
Wed June 13, 2012

Palisades nuclear plant shut down to fix leaky water tank

Palisades Nuclear Power Plant in South Haven, Michigan.
Mark Savage Entergy Corporation

The leaky tank in question at the Palisades Nuclear Power Plant in South Haven holds 300,000 gallons of water in case of emergencies or a planned refueling outage. In a written statement issued late Tuesday night a Palisades spokesman says workers have been collecting and analyzing water that’s leaked from the tank.

On Tuesday workers collected 31 gallons of water. At that point administrators declared the tank "inoperable" and shut down the plant down while workers fix the leak.

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development
2:46 pm
Tue June 12, 2012

One lawsuit settled, but likely more to come in Singapore Dunes case

This is an artist rendering of how a proposed marina might look. Singapore Dunes LLC provided it in July 2011. Singapore wants to build a marina, condos and a hotel among other things on the property.
Lindsey Smith Michigan Radio

A federal judge has signed off on a long-standing legal dispute between Saugatuck Township and Oklahoma energy executive Aubrey McClendon. The case revolves around the potential development of 300 acres of land McClendon owns that includes critical dunes near Lake Michigan.

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Environment & Science
9:00 am
Tue June 12, 2012

Engineering students race for the highest mpg in Supermileage Competition

The Penn State University team heads toward the track.
Logan Chadde Michigan Radio

They look like one-person bobsleds. They run on lawnmower engines. And they get incredible mileage.

They’re cars that achieve what’s called supermileage. College engineering students from as far away as Quebec come to compete in the SAE International Supermileage Competition.

It’s held every year at the Eaton Corporation Proving Grounds in Marshall, Michigan.

When we visited last week, a lot of the students were scrambling to finish last-minute improvements to their vehicles before the moment of truth.

Each driver had to complete six laps on a 1.6 mile track. And they had to maintain an average speed of 15 miles per hour. Teams could do as many runs as they wanted.

Laura Pillari is the driver for the University of Michigan team.

"I was a little nervous because there's a lot of stuff to do with my hands, and I'm kind of crammed in there with this little helmet, and it's very, very hot in that car in the sun."

To measure mileage, competition officials gave each team regulation fuel tanks that were weighed before and after each run. These vehicles can get hundreds or even thousands of miles to the gallon.

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Environment & Science
12:02 pm
Mon June 11, 2012

U.S. Forest Service restoring endangered butterfly habitat in West Michigan

user Hollingsworth, J & K wkimedia commons

The Karner blue butterfly, an endangered species native to parts of the Midwest, including Michigan, is getting some help from the U.S. environmental authorities.

The Associated Press reports:

The U.S. Forest Service is restoring a savannah-type landscape in the southern part of the Manistee National Forest to create habitat for the endangered Karner blue butterfly.

Officials say the work will take place this summer in Muskegon and Oceana counties. The goal is to create a grassy environment that will promote growth of colorful lupine plants, on which the butterflies feed during their caterpillar stage.

Other species that thrive in such a setting include Hill's thistle, the golden-winged warbler, dusted skipper, and eastern box turtle. It's also good for game species such as wild turkey, white-tailed deer and ruffed grouse.

The Forest Service will remove some trees and set controlled fires to develop the savannah habitat. It also will close many unauthorized "two-track" roads that cause erosion.

More information about efforts to protect the Karner blue can be found on the Environment Report, or if you are feeling festive, consider attending the Karner Blue Butterfly Festival  this summer in Black River Falls, Wisconsin.

-John Klein Wilson, Michigan Radio Newsroom

Lessons from Isle Royale
2:51 pm
Fri June 8, 2012

Extinction of wolves could lead to extinction of study on Isle Royale

Rolf Peterson holds up the song sheet for the evening. Candy Peterson loves to get people singing. She says "people shouldn't say, 'I can't sing,' they should say 'I don't sing very often.'"
Mark Brush Michigan Radio

We've been posting radio pieces, videos, and blog posts all week as part of our series Lessons from Isle Royale's Wolves and Moose.

Researchers like Durwood Allen, and Michigan Tech's John Vucetich and Rolf Peterson have been keeping a close eye on the animals on the island for more than five decades.

Peterson has been doing it the longest. He's been watching and documenting things on Isle Royale for 42 years.

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10:47 am
Thu June 7, 2012

A new life for the Detroit Science Center?

Lead in text: 
The Detroit Science Center, which closed its doors last September, could be given a new life. The Detroit News reports Ann Arbor businessman, Ron Weiser, has agreed to buy the land, the building and its contents from Citizens Bank.
In a complex transaction being refined in advance of a public auction set for July 5, an all-new Michigan Science Center is being created and a prominent Ann Arbor business leader has reached an agreement to purchase the land, building and contents of the center from Citizens Bank, the mortgage holder owed $6.2 million.
Lessons from Isle Royale
9:20 am
Thu June 7, 2012

Volunteers hunt for moose bones on Isle Royale

Moosewatch volunteer Dave Beck holds up a marked antler. Team leader Jeff Holden looks on. They mark the antlers and hang them in a tree so others know the antler has been found and documented.
Mark Brush Michigan Radio

Wolves and moose are at the heart of the world’s longest running study of a predator and its prey.  The drama unfolds on Isle Royale National Park in Lake Superior.

But it’s a big island, almost entirely wilderness.

The researchers from Michigan Tech say they can’t cover all that ground alone. 

So they have a program called Moosewatch.  It’s a backcountry expedition where you pay to help out with the wolf-moose study.  But be warned: it’s no easy little walk in the woods.

"We’re going to trash through the understory here for a third to half of a mile and see if we can find some dead moose."

That’s Jeff Holden. He’s a Moosewatch group leader, in charge of a group of six (himself plus five volunteers).  We’re going to push our way into the thick forest.

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Lessons from Isle Royale
8:49 am
Thu June 7, 2012

VIDEO: Moosewatch volunteers slog through forest searching for bones

Moosewatch volunteers Susie Morrison (front), (L to R) Dave Beck, Pete Prawdzick, Jeff Holden (group leader), Dave Conrad, and Jeff Morrison.
Mark Brush Michigan Radio

The longest running predator-prey study anywhere in the world takes place right here in Michigan.

For more than five decades, researchers have been closely watching the ebb and flow of wolves and moose on Isle Royale.

To do their work, wolf biologists Rolf Peterson and John Vucetich of Michigan Tech lean on those willing to pitch in and help.

Moosewatch volunteers hike off-trail for miles with their backpacks getting heavier as they pick up moose bones along the way.

They get bitten by bugs, scratched by branches, and soaked by the rain as they make their way through Isle Royale's boreal forest.

And they pay for the experience. It costs $450 per person, which covers the expenses for the wolf-moose project.

The researchers have been relying on these summer volunteers since 1988. John Vucetich says overall, about a third of all bones they collect are collected by Moosewatch volunteers.

"In a typical year they find the skeletal remains of 50 to 75 moose.  They perform necropsies on these moose and collect several specimens (skull, jaw bone, metatarsus, and any arthritic bones)," says Vucetich.

Rebecca Williams and I recently went out with a Moosewatch group on Isle Royale.

Each group is made up of six people. Five volunteers and one group leader.

The leader is in charge of making sure people don't get separated and lost in the dense forest.

Our group leader, Jeff Holden, described himself as a bit of a mother hen, which is a good quality to have for someone looking after five people for an entire week in the backcountry.

Holden's job was made especially hard when we arrived. He now had two reporters to keep track of as well.

I tended to wander off a little with my camera as I tried to anticipate where the volunteers would come out of the woods:

I never wandered too far, and I captured some video of these volunteers at work in the woods.

Here's what the Moosewatch experience is like:

Moosewatch volunteer David Conrad says his friends don't know what to think of his trip to Isle Royale.

"They can't find this place on a map," says Conrad. "They think the U.P. is part of Canada. [I tell them] 'yeah, I'm going to an island in Lake Superior to count dead moose, and maybe see a live one.' People think I'm crazy. It's just a cool little adventure."

Environment & Science
11:59 am
Wed June 6, 2012

Arkansas man charged for illegally selling Asian carp in Michigan

Grass carp have been illegal to sell in Michigan for decades.
USGS

A man was charged with 12 felony counts for illegally selling live Asian carp in Michigan. And he wasn't too inconspicuous - "grass carp" was apparently written on the side of his truck.

From the Michigan DNR:

...the Attorney General's Criminal Division has charged an Arkansas man with 12 felony counts of possessing and selling live Asian carp in violation of state law protecting against the spread of invasive species. The charges follow a joint investigation by the DNR's Special Investigation Unit and Commercial Fish Enforcement Unit.

Grass carp are a type of Asian carp. Grass carp have been illegal to sell in Michigan for decades because the invasive species is a voracious plant eater.

Officials say grass carp "could potentially remove all vegetation from a body of water at the expense of native species."

The fish were imported in the 1960's and have been used to control weeds in ponds.

State officials say David Shane Costner, 42, of Harrisburg, Ark., had 110 grass carp housed in a semi-truck. Costner was working for Farley's Arkansas Pondstockers.

More from the MDNR:

Costner allegedly traveled around the state, conducting sales of the illegal carp from store parking lots. The trucks also contained live fish species permitted under state law, including channel catfish, largemouth bass and fathead minnows. On May 16, 2012, Costner allegedly sold two of the live grass carp to undercover DNR investigators in Midland, Mich.

David Eggert of MLive reports Costner's truck had the words "grass carp" written on the side.

The wildlife agency received a tip that Costner had been selling illegal carp at several locations in southern Michigan and the west side of the state, Golder said... Costner could not be reached for comment. A secretary who answered the phone at Farley's said he no longer works there.

Grass carp are just one of four species of Asian Carp officials are worried about. And Grass carp appear to be the least of their worries when it comes to threats to the Great Lakes.

The Asian Carp Regional Coordinating Committee lists three Asian Carp that are of concern - Grass carp are not on the list:

There are three species of Asian carp that are considered invasive and a threat to the Great Lakes: the bighead, silver and black carp. Silver and bighead carp are filter-feeding fish and consume plant and animal plankton. Asian carp can grow to large sizes: some as large as 110 pounds, though the average size is around 30-40 pounds. Bighead and silver carp are voracious eaters, capable of eating 5-20 percent of their body weight each day. They consume plankton—algae and other microscopic organisms—stripping the food web of the key source of food for small and big fish. Black carp differ in that they consume primarily mollusks, and threaten native mussel and sturgeon populations. They can grow to seven feet in length and over 100 pounds.

Lessons from Isle Royale
9:00 am
Wed June 6, 2012

VIDEO: Picking apart a dead moose on Isle Royale

Wolf biologist Rolf Peterson taking us to the site of a moose carcass on Caribou Island. He and other researchers collect bones from dead moose as part of their research.
Mark Brush Michigan Radio

It's not as gross as it sounds. And if you heard yesterday's report from Rebecca Williams, it really does sound gross.

The wolf-moose research project on Michigan's Isle Royale National Park is in its 54th year.

A big chunk of their research goes into tracking down dead moose - bones and carcasses - around the island.

From these remains the researchers can pick apart the status and overall health of the moose population. And understanding moose is important to wolf research, since the wolves eat the moose.

It's like understanding the overall quality and quantity of food available at the grocery store. If there's good, abundant food available, you'd expect things to be good. If not, well - you get the picture.

When Rebecca Williams and I arrived at the Daisy Farm campground on Isle Royale, we were met by Rolf Peterson in his boat.

He said he'd just heard of a dead moose on Caribou Island and asked whether we would like to go see it with him.

A stroke of luck. We'd traveled by plane, car, and boat to get here, and here was our chance to see Peterson in action.

Here's a video of our trip with him. Is ripping the skull off a dead moose gross? I didn't think so, but you can be the judge.

So, what did you think? Vote by typing "gross" or "not gross" in the comment section below.

Environment & Science
3:28 pm
Tue June 5, 2012

MSU study finds anxiety makes some women's brains literally work harder

This electrode cap was worn by participants in an MSU experiment that measured how people responded to mistakes. Female subjects who identified themselves as big worriers recorded the highest brain activity.
(Photo by G.L. Kohuth)

A new Michigan State University study finds the brains of “anxious” womens work much harder, but no better than others.    The study’s authors say their findings could help diagnose and treat women with “anxiety disorders."

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Lessons from Isle Royale
9:00 am
Tue June 5, 2012

Watching the lives of wolves and moose unfold on Isle Royale

Rolf Peterson on Caribou Island, one of more than 450 smaller islands in the national park's archipelago.
Mark Brush Michigan Radio

All this week, we’re visiting an island archipelago in Lake Superior.  Isle Royale National Park is so remote you can only get here by ferry or seaplane.  It's mostly wilderness.  Cell phones don’t work here. 

Wolves and moose have the run of the island.  It’s an ideal place for people who study the big mammals.

"A nine month old calf.  It looks like it might’ve just fallen down the rocky edge and never got up."

Rolf Peterson has come across a moose skeleton.  Mourning cloak butterflies are lapping up sodium from the bones.  With a yank and a twist, Peterson rips off the skull. 

"I think it’s least disruptive if we just saw off the back leg."

Every bone tells a story.  Peterson can tell how the moose lived and how it died.  He can tell whether it fell and broke its ribs, whether it starved or was killed by wolves.  

"We look for any abnormalities in any of the bones.  And particularly, how big it was, what its early developmental history and nutritional history was, which is key to its adult health."

Over the past 54 years, researchers have collected more than 4,ooo moose skeletons on the island.  The bones offer clues about the moose population – and about the wolves.  Wolves got here by crossing an ice bridge from Ontario in the late 1940’s.

This study of wolves and moose is the longest running study in the world of a predator and its prey.  Rolf Peterson has been involved for 42 years of the study. He’s been here through the brutal black fly summers and the harshest winters. He and his wife Candy live in an old fishing cabin on the island for much of the year.

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Lessons from Isle Royale
8:30 am
Tue June 5, 2012

VIDEO: Isle Royale wolves "hanging by their teeth"

Rolf Peterson, John Vucetich Michigan Tech

Much of what the world knows about wolves and their behavior comes from the long term research taking place on Isle Royale.

For 54 straight years, humans have been closely watching the top predator here, wolves - and their favorite prey, moose.

Durward Allen from Purdue first started the study in 1958. It was originally designed as a ten-year project.

Rolf O. Peterson joined the project after it had been running for 12 years. And under Peterson's leadership at Michigan Tech, the project continued from there.

The film Fortunate Wilderness by George Desort takes a close look at the wolf-moose study on Isle Royale.

In it, Yellowstone wolf project leader Doug Smith said he can't imagine the science of ecology without the Isle Royale wolf-moose project.

"I think Isle Royale is the best example of how you need that long term work, because we're at a point now scientifically where everything is subtle. Everything is in the details," said Smith. "Things are changing rapidly too with threats like global warming and what not. And we need baselines."

Protected wolves of Isle Royale hanging by a thread

Rolf Peterson is now retired (Michigan Tech's John Vucitech now leads the project), but he's still an active "volunteer" as he describes it.

The research on Isle Royale has led to a better understanding of wolves, and how their presence helps put nature back in balance.

It has also helped to shift the public's attitude toward the predators. 

Once hunted to near extinction, wolves are making a comeback in the West, Southwest, and the Upper Midwest.

But here on Isle Royale, the population has gone from a high of 50 animals in 1980, to just nine today.

  • Six wolves in the "Chippewa Harbor Pack,"
  • Two wolves in the "West-end Duo,"
  • and one lone wolf.

Here's Rolf Peterson describing the current state of the wolf population on Isle Royale. (In the video, Peterson mentions of the nine wolves left, there is only one female that is in a breeding situation. There is one other female wolf they know about, but she's not of breeding age yet.)

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