Environment & Science

Environment
10:50 am
Tue December 13, 2011

Cutting down a Christmas tree in the national forest

Amelia Payette, age 9, with the tree her family decided to cut down.
Photo by Sarah Payette

Most of us get our Christmas trees from a lot or a farm.

But if you have a saw and five bucks, you can cut down a tree in the national forest. Peter Payette took his family out to do it the old fashioned way and sent this report:

It’s true that five bucks is not much to pay for a tree, but it’ll cost you some time and gas money to get there.

The first stop is at a U.S. Forest Service office to buy a tag.

There’s one in Cadillac where Dianne Berry sells us our tags and helps us get our bearings.

“This is a two sided map... the other side has the area closest to Manistee. And on the Huron-Manistee we have almost a million acres.”

That means there are 500,000 acres of trees just on this side of the state, between Cadillac and Big Rapids!

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Environment
10:35 am
Tue December 13, 2011

Flame retardant chemicals show up in air around Great Lakes region

Researchers at Indiana University have discovered two new kinds of flame retardant chemicals showing up in the air around the Great Lakes. These chemicals are added to polyurethane foam to help keep furniture and baby products from catching on fire.

They’re replacing other flame retardants called PBDEs that have been linked to neurological and developmental defects, and fertility and reproductive problems.

These newer chemicals are called brominated benzylates and brominated phthalates.

Ron Hites is an author of the study. His team found the chemicals in air samples from six sites around the Great Lakes... from Chicago to the remote Eagle Harbor in the Upper Peninsula. But he says it’s not clear yet what this might mean.

“We have very limited toxicology and virtually no information on ecological effects.”

Hites says one study suggests these chemicals can cause DNA damage in fish.

He says the concentrations of the chemicals in the atmosphere appear to be doubling every year or two in the Great Lakes region.

So how do you know if a product has flame retardants in it?

Experts say there's no way to know just by looking at a couch or car seat or baby changing pad whether it has flame retardant chemicals in it, but they say generally, if it has polyurethane foam and a label indicating it meets CA TB 117 (a California flammability standard that companies often meet by adding flame retardant chemicals), there's a very high probability the product contains flame retardants.

In a publication from the National Institutes of Health, Heather Stapleton, PhD says:

"I don't think we know much at all about the potential human health effects from exposure to these chemicals. What we do know is that infants are likely receiving more exposure to these chemicals than adults. Therefore, more research is warranted to determine if this exposure is leading to any adverse health effects."

The American Chemistry Council stands by the use of flame retardants.

But some scientists say these chemicals pose unnecessary risks.  The Green Science Policy Institute says many types of halogenated flame retardant chemicals are "persistent, bio-accumulative and toxic." The group has put out some guidelines for consumers.

You can learn more from The Environment Report's five part series on flame retardants.

 

Environment
3:02 pm
Mon December 12, 2011

Kennecott mine opponents to appeal judge's go-ahead ruling

Drilling began at the Eagle Mine this past September. This aerial photo was taken in September of 2011.
Kennecott Eagle Minerals

Four groups are planning to appeal a recent court ruling that cleared the way for Kennecott Eagle Minerals Co. to go ahead with mining operations in the U.P., the Associated Press reports:

The opposition coalition was filing paperwork Monday asking the Michigan Court of Appeals to overturn a decision last month by Circuit Judge Paula Manderfield. She ruled that the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality acted properly by issuing Kennecott a permit for the project in northwestern Marquette County.

Last month, Michigan Radio's Rebecca Williams explored some of the possible environmental effects the mine could create and spoke with  opponents and representatives of the mining company:

Michelle Halley is an attorney for the National Wildlife Federation. It’s one of the groups that challenged (the initial) permit. She says they’re concerned about the type of mining that will happen in the Eagle Mine. It’s sometimes called sulfide mining.

“The rock at Eagle is extremely acid producing, very high in sulfides and so once that rock is exposed to air and water, there’s really no debate it will begin producing acid.”

That acid is sulfuric acid. According to the Environmental Protection Agency... that acid can cause heavy metals to leach from rocks. The resulting fluid can be highly toxic to people and wildlife.

This is called acid mine drainage. On its website, Kennecott Eagle Minerals Company says there is a risk that it can happen. But the company says it’s taking a number of steps to reduce that risk.

Matt Johnson is with Kennecott. He says the company will use a state of the art water treatment plant to purify the mine water using reverse osmosis.

“The entire mine site is designed to control water with water protection in mind. Which is why it’s the company’s commitment not to discharge any water back into the environment until it meets safe drinking quality water (sic) standards.”

And he says the state is also requiring them to do that.

Michigan Radio's Mark Brush followed up with an examination of what the state might gain financially from the project.

-John Klein Wilson, Michigan Radio Newsroom

Environment
3:56 pm
Fri December 9, 2011

Signs of a bigger deer harvest in 2011

Deer populations appear to be increasing slowly in the UP and the northern lower peninsula, according to Michigan DNR officials.
USDA.gov

Officials from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources say the harvest from the 2011 firearm deer season "appears to have increased slightly compared to the 2010 season."

From a Michigan DNR press release:

Experiences can differ widely even within regions, but DNR biologists estimate the harvest compared to 2010 was unchanged to up perhaps 10 percent across the Upper Peninsula, likely increased in the Northern Lower Peninsula by as much as 10 percent, and the southern Lower Peninsula appeared down 5 to 10 percent.

The statement said deer populations in the Upper Peninsula and the Northern Lower Peninsula are not as abundant as they were in the 1990's, but they seem to be increasing.

Environment
10:24 am
Thu December 8, 2011

Legislative mistake and a court decision put low-income heating fund in jeopardy

Michigan lawmakers are debating this week how to help low-income families pay their heating bills. It’s turned into an urgent problem because of federal budget cuts... and a court decision that has tied up millions of dollars. Here’s how it works: there’s a program called the Low-Income Energy Efficiency Fund. If you get your power from DTE or Consumers Energy, you pay into that fund when you pay your energy bills... somewhere between one and two dollars a month. There’s been about $90 million dollars in that fund annually.

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Environment
9:50 am
Thu December 8, 2011

New DNR advisory council weighted toward timber interests

There’s a shakeup in managing Michigan’s forests.

A new advisory council is heavily weighted with voices from the timber industry, and there will be more emphasis on developing forest products to boost the state’s economy.

Governor Rick Snyder says there’s a lot of potential to use natural resources to bring in more revenue.

The head of the Department of Natural Resources has just appointed a new ten member forest advisory council. Eight of the ten members are connected to the timber industry.

The new council will focus on developing logging and lumber, pulp and paper, and biofuels. An existing forest management advisory group includes other interests such as wildlife, recreation and conservation as well as logging.

Marvin Roberson with the Sierra Club says those other voices largely will be gone from the new council.

“I think this is going to mean a lack of management for natural conservation values and an increase in management for timber-only values,” said Roberson.

The DNR also is reorganizing its forestry division so that come January it will no longer deal with oil, gas and minerals or recreation on state forestland.

-Bob Allen for The Environment Report

Environment
10:43 am
Tue December 6, 2011

Black bears moving south

A hungry black bear left its paw print in a frame of Terry Klein's beehive.
Photo by Terry Klein

Black bears have been doing well in northern Michigan for a while. There are somewhere between 12,000 and 15,000 bears in the state, mostly in the U.P. and the northern lower peninsula, but in recent years, bears have been on the move.

Some people are already getting a little closer to bears than they’d like to.

“There’s one coming up to inspect...”

Terry Klein is a commercial beekeeper and he’s checking on the hives in his backyard.

“These are in good shape if they’re that far down and there’s that much honey on them,” said Klein.

He lives in St. Charles. It’s about 20 miles southwest of Saginaw.

“This spring is the most recent fun we had with the bear, if you want to call it that.”

Klein had 20 hives set up near the Saginaw-Midland county line. Only two of them survived the winter. And those last two hives were the ones the bear decided to eat. He left behind a calling card.

“There was one very definite paw print in one of the frames that had fallen or got knocked out of the hive, and there were several other frames that you could see claw marks.”

Bears do love honey, but they also love to eat the bee larvae. So they can devour the entire hive.

Black bears are not just wandering into the Saginaw area. They’ve been showing up all over southern Michigan.

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Environment
12:58 pm
Mon December 5, 2011

State firefighters spent total of 22 weeks battling blazes in Texas

A firefighter from California extinguishes a smoldering tree at Camp Bullis, TX, on Friday, September 12, 2011. Michigan sent DNR staff to help fight fires in one of the worst wildfire seasons in Texas' history.
U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Nathan G. Wilson-Crow USDA

A good part of the drought-ridden state of Texas was on fire this past year. USA Today reports this spring, firefighters battled "seven of the 10 largest wildfires in state history."

A total of 40 staff members from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources have helped battle the blazes in Texas since mid-June. The MDNR said the last of the crews returned home on November 18. The MDNR also sent four tractor/plows to Texas.

From a MDNR press release:

"Fighting wildfires is dangerous, which is why we are happy to report that all of the Michigan DNR staff returned unharmed," says Scott Heather, section manager for the Resource Protection and Cooperative Programs of the Michigan DNR. "Additionally, the State of Texas will reimburse the department for all of the costs associated with having the staff and equipment down there for 22 weeks."

Heather says final accounting hasn't been done yet, but he estimates the state spent around $200,000 to $250,000 on crew and equipment to battle the fires in Texas.

State officials say this was the longest period of time they've sent staff and equipment to another state to fight fires. Michigan firefighters battled two of the largest fires in Texas, "the Bastrop County Complex and the 101 Ranch, saving many homes."

Environment
5:20 pm
Fri December 2, 2011

Consumers Energy scraps plans to build coal plant near Bay City

The J.R. Whiting Generating Complex, a coal plant in Erie, MI.
Photo courtesy of Consumers Energy's flickr page

Consumers Energy has canceled its plans to build a coal plant near Bay City. The $2 billion plant would have created 1,800 construction jobs and 100 permanent jobs.

Jeff Holyfield, a spokesman for Consumers Energy, says there two main reasons for the cancelation:

  1. Customer demand is down "about 5 or 6 percent. Holyfield says they "don’t expect that demand to reach pre-recession marks until sometime late in 2012."
  2. Natural gas prices are cheap, which Holyfield says makes a "new coal-fired power plant less economically attractive."

Holyfield says Consumers Energy invested about $25 million in the now scrapped coal plan.

The utility will also suspend operations at seven of its smaller coal-fired units across the state by 2015, and focus on two new wind farms it’s developing: one in west Michigan's Mason County, the other in Tuscola County in the thumb.

Consumers continues its $1.6 billion investment at its five largest coal-fired units to meet environmental regulations, which Holyfield says will create about 2,000 jobs in the state.

Environment
12:04 pm
Fri December 2, 2011

What's the use? State cuts back on salmon stocking in Lake Huron

Juvenile Chinook salmon. Populations of the popular sport fish have collapse in Lake Huron.
USFWS

The sport fishery has been on the rocks in Lake Huron for quite some time.

We first reported on the collapse in Lake Huron back in 2006.

That's when Jim Johnson with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources Alpena Fisheries Research Station explained to Lester Graham what was going on:

"There was a huge decline in the amount of nutrients available to zooplankton and phytoplankton in the middle of Lake Huron. These are the basic nutrient bits that fish eat. And it appears now to most of us in the scientific community that a large portion of the nutrients that used enter Lake Huron are now being trapped by zebra and quagga mussels and not finding their way to alewives and other prey fish."

Now we hear news that the state plans to cut salmon stocking in Lake Huron.

From the Associated Press:

Michigan plans a sharp cutback in Chinook stocking in Lake Huron next year, further evidence of the collapse of the lake's salmon fishery.

The state Department of Natural Resources said Friday it will place 693,000 spring Chinook fingerlings in Lake Huron in 2012. That's down from the nearly 1.5 million fed to the lake this year.

Acting DNR fisheries chief Jim Dexter says recreational harvest of Chinook has all but disappeared in the southern two-thirds of Lake Huron. The lake's only productive recreational fishery is in the northern section, where salmon are proving able to reproduce on their own.

Fish biologists blame Huron's Chinook drop-off on the unraveling of the food chain likely caused by invasive zebra and quagga mussels, which have gobbled up plankton needed by forage fish.

Environment
2:35 pm
Thu December 1, 2011

Flood waters rising along the River Raisin in Monroe County

A section of the River Raisin near Monroe at a normal water level
Lester Graham Michigan Radio

Flood waters on the River Raisin are not expected to crest in Monroe County until Friday afternoon at the earliest. The crest is expected to be near a record high.    

This week’s heavy rain and snow are being blamed for the rapidly rising River Raisin. The flood waters have already spilled over the river’s banks in Monroe and Dundee, inundating neighborhoods and businesses. The rising water has also forced the closure of the M-50 bridge in Dundee.  

Julius Suchy is Dundee’s village manager. He says it’s too soon to fully assess the damage. 

Environment
11:21 am
Thu December 1, 2011

Less money for cities to fix water systems?

Water at the Senior Citizens' Housing Center in Louisville, NY before it is filtered.
Julie Grant/The Environment Report

by Julie Grant for The Environment Report

When Ernie Runions took the job as maintenance manager at the Senior Citizens Housing Center in Louisville, New York, he didn’t realize how much time he’d be spending in this small room. The water room. It’s filled with water tanks and filters. Runions says the equipment cost about $25,000 and the price tag keeps rising.

“It’s in terrible shape. It keeps falling apart. Every time we fix it, it’s $5,000, $3,000. This place is right in the hole because of that.”

We fill a bucket with the nursing home’s water – before it’s gone through the extensive filtering.

It smells bad, like eggs and iron. It’s got a blackish tint, and it’s got black particles floating in it.

Runions says even after the filtering, the elderly residents don’t want to drink it. It’s high in sodium, which can be bad for their health. And it smells like chlorine, which Runions uses to kill bacteria.

“And they complain. They say the chlorine is making me itch, all the extra chlorine. I’ve got red blotches all over my body, and my doctor says it’s the chlorine from the building.”

Town leaders say that until a few years ago, everyone used well water. And most people had some kind of problem with it. Nearly half the wells tested had coliform bacteria contamination – some suspected sewage was seeping into the wells.

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energy
2:18 pm
Wed November 30, 2011

Investigation shows event at Palisades Nuclear Plant was of "substantial safety significance"

The Palisades Nuclear Power Plant sits close to the Lake Michigan shoreline near South Haven.
Excelon Nuclear

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission says a week-long shut-down of the Palisades Nuclear Power Plant in September was of "substantial safety significance." The plant is located in South Haven about 55 miles southwest of Grand Rapids.

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Weather
7:45 am
Wed November 30, 2011

Snow totals reach up to 9.5 inches around parts of Michigan

Much of Michigan was painted white overnight.

The National Weather Service was predicting totals of an inch yesterday afternoon, and up to six inches overnight in parts of southern Michigan. It appears a bit more snow fell than predicted.

From the Associated Press:

Storms brought heavy snow to parts of southern Michigan, with up to 9.5 inches reported in the Lansing area.

The National Weather Service says 7 to 9.5 inches of snow fell by Wednesday morning around Lansing. That came after heavy rains flooded some areas Tuesday.

Winter storm watches were issued. The storms left thousands without power.

The Saginaw area had reports of about 6 inches of snow. In southeast Michigan, the weather service says the Detroit area got anywhere from a dusting to about 3 inches.

The weather service says snow totals in the Jackson and Battle Creek areas were up to 5 inches, while Kalamazoo had 3 to 4 inches. Grand Rapids, however, avoided the snow.

Tuesday's rains closed several roadways, including part of the Southfield Freeway near Detroit.

Environment
7:20 pm
Tue November 29, 2011

MSU Study: Minorities pay more for water in Michigan

Mark Brush Michigan Radio

A new study indicates racial minorities pay more for water and sewer service than whites in Michigan.

Michigan State University researchers looked at what people across the state paid for water and sewer service in 2000. Basic economic theory predicts that rural residents would pay the most for such services.

But the researchers found precisely the opposite to be true. Their results show that people in urban centers—with large minority populations—paid the most.

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Environment
2:32 pm
Tue November 29, 2011

Marquette selling forestland for sand mining

Forestland in Michigan's Upper Peninsula
user {inercia} Flickr

MARQUETTE, Mich. (AP) - The city of Marquette is selling 100 acres of forestland for use in sand mining.

The Mining Journal and television station WLUC report the City Commission voted Monday to approve the sale of part of the former Heartwood Forestland property to the Marquette County Solid Waste Management Authority for $180,000.

The city bought the 2,400-acre property in 2005. The authority plans to use the sand at a landfill that serves the city in an effort to cut costs.

Environment
1:41 pm
Tue November 29, 2011

Mining in the UP, what does the state get in return?

Drilling began at the Eagle Mine this past September. This aerial photo was taken in September of 2011. The mine is 25 miles northwest of Marquette, Michigan.
Kennecott Eagle Minerals

Drilling continues in Michigan's Upper Peninsula for potentially valuable ore deposits after a judge turned down a request from environmental groups to stop the mine's development.

Kennecott Eagle Minerals is drilling 25 miles northwest of Marquette primarily for nickel and copper, but palladium, gold, and silver could also turn up in the deposit.

Kennecott, a subsidiary of the London-based Rio Tinto Group, began drilling in September.

The ore deposit the company is after is about a mile away from the mine's opening (and about 1,000 to 1,500 feet underground). They're not expected to reach the deposit until sometime in 2013.

Around 50 percent of the deposit is under state-owned land, so it belongs to the collective "we" - the citizens of Michigan.

So what are we getting in return?

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Environment
10:17 am
Tue November 29, 2011

Upper Peninsula nickel-copper mine moves ahead

The Eagle Mine (aerial photo from October 2010).
Photo courtesy of Kennecott Eagle Minerals Co.

For ten years, Kennecott Eagle Minerals Company has been pushing to mine nickel and copper near Marquette. The company started underground blasting of the mine in September.

The Department of Environmental Quality issued permits for the mine in 2007. But several of those permits have been challenged in court.

A circuit court judge in Ingham County recently upheld the mining permit.

Michelle Halley is an attorney for the National Wildlife Federation. It’s one of the groups that challenged that permit. She says they’re concerned about the type of mining that will happen in the Eagle Mine. It’s sometimes called sulfide mining.

“The rock at Eagle is extremely acid producing, very high in sulfides and so once that rock is exposed to air and water, there’s really no debate it will begin producing acid.”

That acid is sulfuric acid. According to the Environmental Protection Agency... that acid can cause heavy metals to leach from rocks. The resulting fluid can be highly toxic to people and wildlife.

This is called acid mine drainage. On its website, Kennecott Eagle Minerals Company says there is a risk that it can happen. But the company says it’s taking a number of steps to reduce that risk.

Read more
Environment
3:18 pm
Wed November 23, 2011

1 in 4 in Michigan buy optional state park pass, $6 million extra raised

The little "P" on your license plate sticker means you paid the extra $10 to get into Michigan's parks. The new system raised extra money for the parks this year.
Mark Brush Michigan Radio

The new system to help fund Michigan state parks was a success in its first year.

Before the "Recreation Passport" system was put in place, park visitors had to buy annual or daily window stickers.

Now, people can get access to the parks by paying an extra $10 when registering their motor vehicle at the Michigan Secretary of State (window stickers and daily passes are still an option if you didn't pay extra at the Secretary of State).

The $10 annual fee is a lot less than the $24 people used to pay for an annual window sticker, but because more people participated, more money was raised.

From the MDNR:

In 2011, the program's first year, the DNR set a goal of 24.3 percent participation by Michigan motorists. Final tallies for the first year show that the goal was met and exceeded, with 24.7 percent of Michigan motorists checking "Yes" to support the Recreation Passport when renewing their motor vehicle registration. In total, the revenue generated by the sale of the Recreation Passport was $18,816,500.

Those who paid extra for access to Michigan's state parks have a tiny "P" printed on their license plate renewal sticker (the rectangular sticker on the upper-right part of the Michigan license plate).

Michigan DNR spokesperson Mary Dettloff says park rangers have gotten really good at spotting that tiny "P" from a distance.

For 2011, that little "P" signifies $6 million in extra revenue for the park system.

When lawmakers set up the new program, they anticipated the extra revenue. The $6 million will be be broken up according to a formula in the law:

  • State Parks - Capital Outlay (50 percent): $3,043,250
  • State Parks - Maintenance (30 percent): $1,825,950
  • Local Park Grants (10 percent): $608,650
  • State Forest Recreation (7 percent): $426,055
  • Cultural/Historical Facilities in State Parks (2.75 percent): $167,379
  • Marketing (0.25 percent): $15,216


The MDNR recently announced the recipients for local park grants. The local grants range from a minimum of $7,500 to a maximum of $30,000. MDNR officials say if revenues increase with the new "Recreation Passport" program, the maximum grant amount will increase as well.

24.7 percent participated in the program this year. Next year's goal is 30 percent.

Environment
1:39 pm
Wed November 23, 2011

Judge approves permit for Kennecott mine in Michigan's Upper Peninsula

Resistance to the Kennecott mine project has been going on since the project was first proposed. n 500) near the area. (Photo by Chris McCarus)
Chris McCarus Environment Report

A judge has allowed a controversial mining project in the Upper Peninsula to go forward.

From the Associated Press:

A judge has upheld state regulators' decision to let Kennecott Eagle Minerals Co. build a nickel and copper mine in Michigan's Upper Peninsula.

Circuit Judge Paula Manderfield of Ingham County on Wednesday sided against the National Wildlife Federation and other opponents of the mine being constructed in northwestern Marquette County. She ruled the Department of Environmental Quality acted lawfully when it issued a permit allowing the company to build and operate the mine.

An attorney for the wildlife federation says the group hasn't decided whether to appeal.

Kennecott Eagle is targeting an underground ore deposit that is expected to yield up to 300 million pounds of nickel and about 200 million pounds of copper, plus smaller amounts of other metals.

The company began blasting the mine entrance in September.

The controversy around the mine comes from fears of water pollution in the UP.

Mining operations in the U.S. haven't had the best environmental track record. Some old mining operations have left behind some pretty nasty legacy pollution problems (look up the "Berkeley Pit" in Butte, Montana for an example).

Back in 2005, Chris McCarus looked at the controversy surrounding the then proposed nickel mine in the UP for The Environment Report. McCarus reported:

Michelle Halle is a lawyer for the National Wildlife Federation and a local resident. She's got one question.

"I’m always interested in the answer to the question about whether he believes that a mine can exist with 100% perfect track record."

It’s a rhetorical question. She’s confident that the company won’t be able to meet the newer, stricter standards for getting a permit to mine.

"No human error, no design flaws, no natural disasters that are going to cause an impact... I don’t think that any company can say yes to that honestly."

Halle's 2005 hunch was wrong. Kennecott Eagle Minerals Co. did get the permit from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, and now a judge says development of the mine can go forward.

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