Environment & Science

Image courtesy of Wisconsin Sea Grant

Today, we wrap up our series, Swimming Upstream. Dustin Dwyer traveled all around the Lower Peninsula to gather stories for this series. And today we have a story we wish we didn't have to do. It's the story of toxins in our fish. 

Here's Dustin's story:

A few weeks ago, Joe Bohr got a surprise. He's a researcher for the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. He was looking at some numbers for PCB contamination in carp caught in canals in St. Clair Shores.

This press release is from the Michigan Department of Agriculture:

La Providencia of Holland is recalling raw cilantro and other food products prepared or packed in the store because they could be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

All of the following products sold on or before June 29, 2011 are under recall:  Raw Cilantro, Guacamole, Pico de Gallo, Red Salsa, Green Salsa, Grated Cotija Cheese, or Sour Cream sold in unlabeled clear plastic containers, and Oaxaca Cheese or Fresco Cheese sold in unlabeled clear plastic containers or on Styrofoam trays covered in plastic wrap. 

The recalled products were sold at La Providencia, located at 372 W. 16th Street, Holland and Santa Fe Supermarket #3, located at 981 Butternut Drive, in Holland, MI. 

Consumption of food contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes can cause listeriosis, an uncommon but potentially fatal disease. Listeriosis can cause high fever, severe headache, neck stiffness, and nausea. It can also cause miscarriages and stillbirths. The very young, the pregnant, the elderly, and persons with compromised immune systems are the most susceptible to infection. People experiencing these symptoms should seek immediate medical attention.

The contamination was noted after testing by the Michigan Department of Agriculture & Rural Development revealed the presence of Listeria monocytogenes in ready to eat products collected at Santa Fe Supermarket #2 and La Providencia on June 21, 2011.

To date, no illnesses have been reported in connection with this problem.

Production of the product has been suspended at this location while La Providencia and the Michigan Department of Agriculture & Rural Development continue their investigation as to the source of the contamination.

Consumers who have purchased raw cilantro or various other products sold in these stores are urged to return them to the place of purchase for a full refund. Consumers with questions may contact LA PROVIDENCIA at (616) 546-8857.

Jerde et al.

The Great Lakes and the Mississippi River basin are connected, but it's an artificial connection.

Around the turn of the last century canals and channels were dug that reversed the flow of water.

Waters that used to flow into Lake Michigan now flow into the Des Plaines River and eventually into the Mississippi.

The reversal was a way of separating Chicago's sewage from its drinking water supply.

And with more than 2 billion gallons of water a day flowing out of Lake Michigan, it's the largest diversion of Great Lakes water.

Undoing what was done around a hundred years ago has been considered crazy talk because of the expense involved, but some scientists are now embracing that idea.

In a new paper released in the Journal of Great Lakes Research, four lead scientists (Jerry Rasmussen, Henry Regier, Richard Sparks, and William Taylor) argue that the costs of permanent separation of the Great Lakes and Mississippi River Basin are worth it.

Dustin Dwyer / Michigan Radio

This week, we've been hearing stories about fish, for our series "Swimming Upstream." For today's story, Dustin Dwyer paid a visit to some researchers with the Department of Natural Resources. The DNR tracks fish populations at sites around the state. Dustin went aboard with the team on Lake St. Clair, and sent us this report.

DETROIT (AP) - State officials have approved a permit for a coal-burning power plant in northern Michigan.

The state Department of Environmental Quality is announcing the decision Wednesday.

The Wolverine Power Supply Cooperative Inc. now may proceed with its 600-megawatt, coal-fired steam electric power plant near Rogers City, about 210 miles north of Detroit.

Wolverine Power provides electricity to more than 220,000 customers

Photo by Dustin Dwyer

All this week, Dustin Dwyer has been bringing us fish stories from around the state for our series, Swimming Upstream. And for today's story, Dustin wanted to get into the mind of a fish. So, he met up with a charter boat captain on Saginaw Bay.  Here's his story:

There's no evidence that fish understand irony. But if they did, they might find irony in the fact that the people who best understand them are the people who get paid to kill them - or at least injure their lips slightly.

Norm Hoekstra / Creative Commons

A proposed deal would allow a smaller scale development along the Lake Michigan shore. Aubrey McClendon owns more than 300 acres north of where the Kalamazoo River empties into Lake Michigan. He wants to build a marina, condos, houses, and a golf course there.

McClendon argues Saugatuck Township officials unfairly singled him out because they banned any development on the property without special permits. So he sued them in federal court.

Tom Gill / Flickr

Michiganders don’t have to take a trip to see if their favorite beach is closed. 

BeachGuard is a website run by Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality. It tracks the water quality and closures of all public beaches in the state. 

Shannon Briggs is with the DEQ.

Photo courtesy of USFS, Rob Elliott

This week, we're focusing on fish for our series Swimming Upstream. And today, Dustin Dwyer has a story about one of the most fascinating fish in the Great Lakes. Sturgeon have been around for more than 100 million years.  Each fish can live more than a hundred years, weigh more than a hundred pounds and stretch eight or nine feet long. But sturgeon have also been the target of overfishing and poaching. Dustin caught up with one group in northern Michigan that's trying to save them.  Here's his story:

So about a month or two ago, I was sitting along the bank of the Black River, way up near Onaway. And I was next to Jesse Hide, who has lived in this area all his life, and watched sturgeon all his life. We were keeping an eye out for sturgeon heading up the river to spawn.

“There's one coming up right there ... he's coming back down now.”

The long, spear-like fish occasionally poke their heads out of the water, like a submarine coming to the surface.

A new report from the Michigan Environmental Council says Michigan’s oldest coal-burning power plants are costing state residents $1.5 billion dollars in health care costs each year. 

The report focuses on the state’s nine oldest coal-burning power plants.  It highlights particle pollution.  This type of pollution comes from power plants and factories as well as car and trucks.

James Clift is the policy director for the MEC.

“If you think of smog, kind of the black cloudy stuff, the really tiny particles, they lodge deep in your lungs and those are the ones they’re seeing causing the most impacts.”

He says these tiny particles are linked to a variety of heart and lung problems, including asthma.

He says on average, a family of four spends more than 500 dollars a year on health care expenses that can be attributed to the particle pollution from the power plants.

DTE Energy owns four of the power plants targeted in the report. 

John Austerberry is a spokesperson with DTE.

“All Detroit Edison power plants meet or exceed federal standards for sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions.  And it’s those constituents that can contribute to the formation of fine particles under certain atmospheric conditions.”

The report calls on DTE and Consumers Energy to gradually phase out the oldest coal-burning power plants.

Photo by Dustin Dwyer

All this week, we're focusing on stories about fish for our series, Swimming Upstream. Dustin Dwyer traveled all around the Lower Peninsula for the series, and for today's story, he went to the site of a former trout farm along the headwaters of the Manistee River, near Grayling. Dustin went to learn about the complex world of dam removal.  Here's his story:

Pratibha Varshney / Flickr

YPSILANTI, Mich. (AP) - Eastern Michigan University is considering a campuswide smoking ban as the University of Michigan gears up to go smoke-free.

AnnArbor.com reports that the Eastern Michigan will try out a two-week smoking ban at its Ypsilanti campus this fall to see how that works. Ellen Gold, executive director of EMU Health Services, says the two-week ban is being called "Heads up, butts out."

If all goes well, Gold says smoking could be banned on campus within a year-and-a-half of the practice run.

Officials at Eastern Michigan will be watching to see how things go with University of Michigan's ban on smoking outdoors and indoors, which takes effect Friday. The university has banned smoking inside its buildings since 1987.

Photo submitted by Gary Stock

Gary Stock calls himself a member of the “creative class.”He is a longtime resident of Kalamazoo, Mich.

Photo by Dustin Dwyer

Today we continue our series, Swimming Upstream. Dustin Dwyer took a road trip around the Lower Peninsula to bring us stories about fish. Yesterday we heard about the Petersens. They’re one of the few remaining non-tribal commercial fishing families in the state.

Today Dustin tells the story of the Fish Mongers Wife:


It's a grey day at the Muskegon Farmer's Market, but Amber Mae Petersen is selling the heck out of some fresh Michigan whitefish.

“We're based here in Muskegon, my husband's family has been commercial fishing here for 75 years. So we sell what we catch.”

The vacuum-sealed bags of whitefish filets, and packages of smoked whitefish are disappearing quickly. Petersen's husband Eric stands next to her, packing the fish in ice and wrapping it in old copies of The Muskegon Chronicle.

“It's the only way to do it.”

Image by Josh Leo/Rick Treur

Today we begin a series called Swimming Upstream. It's about one of Michigan's most valuable natural resources: fish. These slimy, scaly water dwellers contribute to the ecology of the Great Lakes, our economy, and, of course, our dinner plate.

Reporter Dustin Dwyer has traveled all over the lower peninsula to gather these fish stories for us, and he starts with a simple question: why can it sometimes be so difficult to buy fresh fish caught in Michigan? 

Here's Dustin's story:

State of Michigan

Cleanup crews are collecting oil that remains at the bottom of the Kalamazoo River this week.

It’s been nearly a year since more than 840,000 gallons of heavy crude oil leaked from a broken pipeline near Marshall. More than 90% of the oil has been cleaned up already.

Becky Haase is a spokesperson for Enbridge Energy, the company that owns the pipeline.

Photo by Suzy Vuljevic

There’s been a lot of outside interest in Michigan’s coastal wind supply. There have been multiple proposals for land-based wind farms in Michigan. But only a couple of companies have set their sights offshore.

One company in particular has met some tough opposition.

Scandia Wind came to Michigan last year looking to install 50 to 100 wind turbines in Lake Michigan. They had plans to site a wind farm six miles outside of Mason and Oceana counties.

Nasa's Marshall Space Flight Center / Flickr

Here's your Friday "Science is awesome" moment, care of the Washington Post.

The story is about a black hole eating a star like our sun and shooting out gamma rays.

Oh...and it only happens once every 100 million years.

Rhondda / Flickr

The Michigan State Police, Emergency Management and Homeland Security Division (MSP/EMHSD) hasve requested support from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to conduct joint Preliminary Damage Assessments (PDA) in the City of Battle Creek and Calhoun County.

Beginning Friday, teams made up of local, state and federal officials will conduct joint PDAs in areas most severely impacted by the storms on May 29. The teams will review and verify damage to homes, businesses and public infrastructure. This information will assist state officials in determining whether a federal declaration should be requested.

“We look forward to FEMA’s assistance in reviewing the impacted areas,” said Capt. W. Thomas Sands, commander of the MSP/EMHSD. “Their support greatly enhances the state’s capabilities to obtain a clear and accurate assessment, and determine the potential need for requesting federal assistance.”

User: Lebatihem / Flickr

State health and environmental officials are expanding the scope of their testing for PCB in fish in Lake St. Clair.

PCB is a toxic compound that was used in electrical and industrial equipment. The chemical was banned in the 70s for its toxicity.  

Joe Bohr is with the Department for Environmental Quality. He says while the PCB found in the fish is 10 times what is considered safe, the amount of PCB in Michigan’s waters is decreasing.  

screen grab from YouTube video / sWestern Lake Erie Waterkeepers and Ohio Citizen Action Education Fund

Power plants around the region are responsible for killing hundreds of millions of fish each year, according to an investigative report from the Chicago Tribune.

The Tribune's environmental reporter, Michael Hawthorne, looked at thousands of pages of industry reports documenting fish kills obtained through the Freedom of Information Act.

Hawthorne reports that the reports "highlight a threat to the Great Lakes ecosystem that has largely gone unaddressed for years."

Photo by Peter Payette

Wild hogs have been the talk of the state legislature this week. Hunting ranches call the hogs Russian boars. They’re brown and hairy and the males have little tusks. The hogs are bred and raised to be hunted. Wild hog hunts typically go for around 500 or 600 bucks.

The Department of Natural Resources says wild hogs have gotten out of hand. The DNR says the hogs have gotten loose and are running around... doing things like tearing up the soil, destroying crops and competing with other animals for food.

The agency points out that wild hog breeding and hunting within these fenced facilities is currently unregulated. Last year, the DNR director signed an order. It will make it illegal to possess a wild hog in Michigan. The order goes into effect July 8th... unless a law is passed to regulate wild hogs on hunting ranches.

Ted Nugent is possibly the most outspoken critic of a ban on wild hogs. He owns a hunting ranch near Jackson.

“There’s this voodoo subculture out there that is misrepresenting that there are pigs loose and there are pigs out there destroying the environment and destroying family farms, when none of that is true.”

Photo by Rebecca Williams

There’s an enormous project underway to clean up and protect the Great Lakes. It’s called the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. People are doing things like cleaning up toxic hot spots... restoring wetlands... and trying to keep Asian Carp out of Lake Michigan.

Melinda Koslow is with the National Wildlife Federation. She’s an author of a new report on how climate change might affect these projects. She says scientists are finding the climate in the Great Lakes region is already changing.

Courtesy Washtenaw County Sheriff's Department

Police and Michigan Department of Natural Resources officials are confirming the sighting of a black bear near Dexter this week.  

The Washtenaw County Sheriff's Department says there were two reports of a bear at Hudson Mills Metropark last weekend. Then on Tuesday, a nearby homeowner spotted the bear, and took  photos.

Mary Dettloff is with the DNR. She says conservation officers confirmed evidence of a bear on the property.

John Tebeau / Artist/Illustrator

The Environment Report from Michigan Radio has been recognized for excellence in broadcast journalism by the Radio Television Digital News Association with a 2011 National Edward R. Murrow Award.

The Environment Report received the award for Best Audio News Documentary in the Radio: Large Market category for “Coal: Dirty Past, Hazy Future.

In the series, The Environment Report's Rebecca Williams, Mark Brush, Lester Graham and Shawn Allee take an in-depth look at the future of coal in this country and the true costs of our dependence on coal. The series explores the role that coal plays in our lives and in the lives of those who depend on coal mining for a living. “Coal: Dirty Past, Hazy Future” takes listeners on a journey from their light switch back to America’s coal fields, and takes a closer look at the technologies that promise to deliver coal into the new green economy.

The Environment Report was the only news organization in Michigan to receive a 2011 National Edward R. Murrow Award, and one of seven public radio stations nationwide. This award is the third national Murrow Award that The Environment Report has received. The news service also received a National Murrow Award in 2010 for the five-part series “Dioxin Delays” and in 2002 for a story about the reproductive decline of mallard ducks in the Great Lakes region.

Photo courtesy of Michigan Sea Grant

For twenty years now the federal government has been trying to restore wild lake trout in Lake Michigan. Lake trout are native to the Great Lakes and were once the big game fish in all the lakes. The species is doing well in Lakes Superior and Huron these days. But recovery efforts in Lake Michigan have been almost a total failure.

Lake trout don’t have a big fan club. Anglers would prefer to land a salmon. And retail markets for lake trout are weak.

Rich Clarke

The fish-killing virus is known as viral hemorrhagic septicemia and it has been found in this region since 2003, according to the College of Veterinary Medicine at Iowa State University. Massive fish die-offs were first recorded in the 2005.

Now, another die-off has been found. From the Associated Press:

HARRISON, Mich. (AP) - A fish-killing virus has been detected again in a lake near the mid-Michigan community of Harrison.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources on Tuesday announced that viral hemorrhagic septicemia, or VHS, has been confirmed in Budd Lake.

The 175-acre lake in Clare County experienced a die-off of largemouth and smallmouth bass, bluegills, and pumpkinseed sunfish in April and May. Test results indicate that largemouth and smallmouth bass were positive for VHS. Other results were pending.

A similar die-off involving bluegill, black crappie, largemouth bass and muskellunge occurred in the spring of 2007, and VHS was identified in the lake after those deaths. The state says VHS was undetected through 2010 in testing that took place each year.

Budd Lake is one two Michigan inland lakes where VHS has been confirmed.

The virus is troubling, especially when it attacks 60 pound sport fish like the muskellunge. The Environment Report captured what the virus means to sport fisherman in a piece by David Sommerstein.

Sommerstein reports that fish exposed to the virus can develop immunity, but biologists worry that new generations of fish won't carry that immunity with them, so they're vulnerable when the virus comes around.

An environmental group is calling on Michigan lawmakers and President Obama to ban the natural gas extraction process known as “fracking.”

Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, involves injecting a high-pressure mix of water, sand and chemicals into underground rock formations to release natural gas.

Food and Water Watch says fracking poses an “unacceptable risk” to water supplies and human health. Several recent investigations have shown that fracking contaminated groundwater in several states.

Lynna Kaucheck is with Food and Water Watch in Detroit. She says northern Michigan is a current hotspot for fracking exploration.

“The northern part of the lower Peninsula sits on the Collingwood-Utica shale which is very deep deposits of shale gas. And so right now a lot of out of-state-companies are purchasing mineral rights so they can begin horizontal fracking for natural gas.”

Kauchek says that could to lead to chemically-contaminated groundwater, and pose a risk to the state’s agricultural and tourism industries.

“We don’t believe that fracking can be done safely. Especially not the way that they’re doing it right now.”

State environmental regulators say the gas is so deep in the ground that fracking shouldn’t affect water supplies. They acknowledge some concerns, but say the practice is generally safe.

Maureen Reilly / Flickr

The wet spring has been bad for farmers in Michigan. They've had to wait to get their crops in the ground, and those crops that were in the ground when the rains came didn't fair so well.

The warmer, drier weather in the past week has allowed some farmers to get into their fields and plant their crops.

Kris Turner of the Flint Journal filed a report yesterday on farmers who are putting in 20-hour days to get their crops in on time.

From the Flint Journal:

Jim Collom, an agricultural statistician at the Michigan branch of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, said farmers across the state and country are hurting this year. Michigan farmers battled intense rain that flooded fields and limited the time seed could be planted. Things have improved in the past few days..

Michigan farmers typically have 92 percent of corn planted by this time of the year but only have about 67 percent of it in the ground now, Collom said. Soybeans are worse — only about 31 percent is planted. Farmers typically have about 71 percent of that crop planted by this time of the year.

One farmer, Chad Morey, said the window for planting corn safely is closing, saying he might have to plant more soybeans this year to turn a profit.

The Morning Sun reports that the late plantings and moisture will affect how much farmers are paid:

And even what's planted in the next few days and what was planted earlier this month, will likely face yield and moisture issues in the fall.

"We can expect lower yields when we're planting that late, and it will be wet," Gross said. "It's not going to have the time to dry in the field."

Farmers get less for wet grains because of the time and expense required to dry them.

N1NJ4 / flickr

The state has reversed a decision to close 23 state forest campgrounds this summer.

Department of Natural Resources spokeswoman Mary Dettloff says the DNR has found partners to run three of them, and is in talks with local governments and other groups for similar arrangements for the rest. But she says maintaining the campgrounds is an expense the state is less and less able to afford:

"We have to do regular environmental testing on the wells for the water, we have to have the pit toilets pumped out regularly. We have to have the trash hauled away, the grass mowed. There’s lots of maintenance and upkeep for these things that I think a lot of folks just don’t realize we have to do."

Funding for the state forest campgrounds has been cut by almost two-thirds over the last three years. There are 133 of the campgrounds across Michigan.

Dettloff says the typical state forest campground costs about $9,000 a year to operate.

Pages