Environment & Science

Environment
10:36 am
Tue February 14, 2012

New phase of Muskegon Lake restoration begins

Muskegon Lake.
Muskegon County

Muskegon Lake is on a list of polluted hot spots around the Great Lakes called Areas of Concern. It made that list because of decades of industrial pollution.

Richard Rediske is a professor of water resources at Grand Valley State University. He says the last phase of cleanup is underway. The next step will be to improve habitat for fish and wildlife.

Rediske is working on projects to restore wetlands and remove debris at an old sawmill site. He says he expects it’ll take another five years to get Muskegon Lake off the Areas of Concern list. It was listed in 1985... so, getting the lake cleaned up and restored will end up taking more than three decades.

“That’s pretty much typical. White Lake to the north of us is actually going to be delisted this year so they’re a little ahead of us. It takes a long time to assess the problems and then fix them.”

Michigan has 14 Areas of Concern.

You can learn more about pollution hot spots in this feature story by The Environment Report.

 

Environment
12:30 pm
Fri February 10, 2012

New Michigan hunting program for kids under 10 to start this year

A Deer Blind.
Charles Dawley flickr

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Michigan's new hunting program for children will start this year, with licenses on sale starting March 1.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources announced Friday that the Michigan Natural Resources Commission approved the program aimed at introducing children under the age of 10 to hunting and fishing.

It's called the Mentored Youth Hunting program.

A recent law eliminated the minimum hunting age, allowing kids under 10 to hunt with an adult who's at least 21 years old. Under the rules for the new youth program, the adult must have previous hunting experience and possess a valid Michigan hunting license.

A Mentored Youth Hunting license will cost $7.50. Details about hunting rules are posted on the DNR's website.

Environment
9:30 am
Thu February 9, 2012

Northern Michigan fruit growers brace for a changing climate

Cherry grower Jim Nugent prunes his trees.
Photo by Bob Allen/Interlochen Public Radio

by Bob Allen for The Environment Report

Warmer temperatures and melting snow are less than ideal for winter sports and outdoor festivals. But the weird weather has northern Michigan fruit growers holding their breath, hoping to avoid disaster.

In his more than 20 years as an agricultural extension agent in the Traverse City area, Duke Elsner says this is the most bizarre winter weather he’s ever seen.

“The ups and downs have just been remarkable. The inability to hang on to a cold period for any length of time has been very strange.”

A gradual drop in temperature at the beginning of winter and holding there below freezing for long periods are the ideal conditions for plant to become frost hardy, and hardiness is what protects them from getting damaged by cold.

But when temps bounce up into the 40’s and 50’s as they’ve done frequently this winter, some of that hardiness is lost.

“Our trees and vines can take below zero in a normal winter. I sure wouldn’t want to drop below zero at this point in time, I’ll say that.”

That’s fruit grower Jim Nugent. He and a couple of his neighbors are doing the yearly chore of pruning his cherry trees.  With long-handled saws, they reach up eight or ten feet to strip away branches and limbs.

Nugent knows his orchard is vulnerable right now because of a loss of winter hardiness. But there’s not a lot he can do about it.

Things could go either way at this point.

A sudden drop to zero would be serious.

But orchards still may slide by unscathed. If temps gradually drop below freezing and stay there, trees will regain some of their hardiness.

Read more
Environment
1:25 pm
Wed February 8, 2012

Warm winter hampers Northern Michigan sled dog race

user Alaskan Dude Flickr

INDIAN RIVER, Mich. (AP) - A northern Lower Peninsula sled dog race has been cancelled because of a lack of snow.

The Cheboygan Daily Tribune reports the 2nd annual Indian River Sprint Dog Sled Race has been cancelled. Race Committee President Jane Schramm says it originally was set for Jan. 28-29 before being postponed until this Saturday and Sunday.

The original postponement was made because there was too much ice.

Warmer than usual weather and a lack of snow have led to the postponement or cancellation of several winter events recently in Michigan.

Environment
1:24 pm
Wed February 8, 2012

Two Michigan Girl Scouts nominated for "Forest Heroes" Award

Rhiannon Tomtishen (left) and Madison Vorva (right) are working to save rainforests in Indonesia.
Rhiannon Tomtishen and Madison Vorva

Sixteen year-olds Rhiannon Tomtishen and Madison Vorva could teach us a thing or two about dedication.

They are two of three people in North America nominated for a United Nation's "Forest Heroes" award.

Since they were 11, the girls have been working to raise awareness about endangered orangutans and the diminishing Indonesian rain forests.

They began to get attention when, as Girl Scouts, they formed a petition drive to get the Girl Scouts of America to remove palm oil as an ingredient in their cookies.

Rain forests in Indonesia have been slashed and burned to make way for palm oil plantations. Palm oil is used in all kinds of products, including Girl Scout cookies.

Palm oil plantations are bad for orangutan habitat, and they're bad for global warming too.

In 2009, the Environment Report's Ann Dornfeld visited one of these forests months after is was burned:

Greenpeace Indonesia campaigner Bustar Maitar looks out on a charred landscape. You'd never know a forest stood here just a few months ago.

“Is the no more ecosystem here. No more forest here.”

Only a few burnt tree trunks are standing. Sour smoke curls up from the blackened ground. Maitar says this fire has been burning for a month.

You can listen to that report here:

After Tomtishen and Vorva learned about this type of devastation, they started a website to teach others about it.

In an interview with Michigan Radio's Lindsey Smith last March, spoke with Tomtishen:

“We felt motivated to continue this project and I think we also felt that because we were girl scouts and because this was an issue in Girl Scout cookies, we thought we were going to be able to make a change.”

At that time, the Girl Scouts of America hadn't removed palm oil from the cookies. But this past October, they did budge a little, as MLive.com reports:

...in October Girl Scouts USA agreed to revise its policy on palm oil use to include the purchase of GreenPalm certificates as offsets and use sustainable oil when possible...

The girls say purchasing offsets is a good first step, but they would like to see the organization do more to make sure harm to rainforests is minimized and human-rights concerns related to palm oil farming are addressed....

“(Offset certificates) are better than nothing, but we’re not done talking about it,” Vorva said.

Winners of the United Nation's Forest Heroes Award will be announced tomorrow in New York City.

Environment
12:53 pm
Wed February 8, 2012

EPA: Lake Michigan Badger ferry can apply to continue coal ash dumping

wikimedia commons

LUDINGTON, Mich. (AP) - Federal regulators will let operators of the passenger ferry S.S. Badger apply for a permit to continue dumping coal ash into Lake Michigan.

The Badger typically puts more than 500 tons of waste ash into the lake every year during its crossings between Ludington and Manitowoc, Wis. The Environmental Protection Agency previously set a December deadline for the company to stop the practice.

The Ludington Daily News reports that EPA on Tuesday told Badger operators they could apply to continue the dumping as they study ways to convert the ship to burn natural gas.

Republican Rep. Bill Huizenga tells The Muskegon Chronicle that the Badger is a historic vessel that provides jobs on both sides of the lake.

Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan also praised the EPA decision.

Environment
10:36 am
Tue February 7, 2012

Living with Michigan's wolves

Michigan's gray wolf population is estimated to be 687 animals. The recovery goal for the population is between 250-300 wolves.
Tracy Brooks/Mission Wolf/USFWS

Gray wolves in the western Great Lakes were recently taken off the endangered species list. Now, the state of Michigan is responsible for managing the wolf population.

Michael Nelson is a professor of environmental ethics at Michigan State University. He’s an author of a new report on people’s attitudes about wolves in Michigan. His report is based on a statewide telephone survey conducted in 2010. 

Nelson says they asked people throughout the state how they felt about the following four statements (on a five point scale from strongly disagree to strongly agree):

  1. "I enjoy knowing wolves exist in Michigan."
  2. "I would be likely to purchase a license to hunt or trap wolves."
  3. "The decision to hunt wolves should be made by public vote."
  4. "Wolves should only be hunted if biologists believe the wolf population can sustain a hunt."

Michael Nelson says overall, Michiganders tend to value wolves.

"Generally, we found out that people enjoy knowing there are wolves in Michigan. This varies from place to place. We also found out that in general, the people of Michigan really support wildlife biology, wildlife science as an important way to make decisions about wolves."

But he says people’s feelings about wolves change based on where they live in the state.

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Environment
11:28 am
Thu February 2, 2012

EPA misses deadline to issue dioxin health assessment

Imerman Park sits on the floodplain of the Tittabawassee River. Signs along the trail warn walkers about dioxin contamination in some of the park's soil.
Photo by Shawn Allee

The Environmental Protection Agency has missed its own deadline to release a major report on the health effects of dioxins. Dioxins are a class of toxic chemicals.

The EPA says dioxins are likely to cause cancer in humans. Since the mid-1980’s, the EPA has been working to define just how toxic dioxins are. Over the years, the agency has released drafts of the report. These drafts have been picked apart by scientists and industry. Then, the EPA goes back to working on it.

Last year, the EPA decided to split its dioxin assessment into two parts. One part will look at cancer risks; the other part will look at non-cancer health risks. The agency had promised to release the report on non-cancer effects by the end of January. But they missed that deadline.

The EPA did not want to be recorded for this story. They would only say they’re “working to finalize the non-cancer health assessment for dioxin as expeditiously as possible.”

Living with dioxin pollution

People in central Michigan have lived with dioxin pollution for more than three decades. The pollution is largely from a Dow Chemical plant in Midland. We’ve previously reported that EPA’s dioxin assessment could affect how much dioxin Dow might have to clean up.

Michelle Hurd Riddick is with the Lone Tree Council. It’s an environmental advocacy group based in Saginaw.

“We need our government to issue a clear scientific statement and report on the toxicity of this chemical. But unfortunately, it appears it’s probably politics as usual. And the monied interests, the lobbyists, they have the access, they have the influence and you know, public health be damned.”

The EPA has been under pressure from industry groups.

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Environment
1:46 pm
Wed February 1, 2012

What life off of the Endangered Species List could mean for Michigan wolves

The wolf population in Michigan is now being controlled by the state. In Minnesota, officials are considering a hunting season.
user metassus Flickr

As of last Friday, wolves in Michigan are no longer a federally protected “endangered species.”

On December 21, 2011 Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced in Washington that Gray wolf populations in the Western Great Lakes states of Minnesota, Michigan and Wisconsin have exceeded recovery goals and are stable enough to be removed from the Endangered Species List.

The current populations in each state are:

Read more
Environment
5:23 pm
Tue January 31, 2012

Hunting, snowmobiling preserved in areas of the Huron-Manistee National Forest

The Manistee River flowing through the Huron-Manistee National Forest.
USFS

In 2010, a man successfully sued the U.S. Forest Service saying the agency did not incorporate enough land for quiet recreation in the Huron-Manistee National Forest.

He said more land for these activities should have been set aside in the USFS' 2006 forest management plan.

Here's how the plaintiff, Kurt Meister, explained it in a story by Michigan Radio back in 2010:

“This case isn’t about hunting. It’s not about gun hunting. It’s not about stopping gun hunting. It’s simply saying it shouldn’t be everywhere. And if you make it everywhere, you’re affecting other people’s rights.”

In that report, Interlochen Public Radio's Bob Allen explained that "what Kurt Meister is asking the court to do is set aside areas designated as non-motorized for quiet recreation.

Those are places where, on paper, the forest plan says a person can expect to be isolated from the sights and sounds of other humans.

But on the ground, Meister says, what happens is that snowmobile trails and cross country ski trails run side by side."

Today, the U.S. Forest Service released its revised plan in response to the 2010 decision by the federal court.

The Forest Service says it will:

  • Continue to allow gun hunting in the previously designated Semiprimitive Nonmotorized and Primitive areas of the Huron-Manistee National Forests in accordance with regulations of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.
  • Continue to allow snowmobiling on designated trails within the Huron-Manistee National Forests.

 

Ken Arbogast of the U.S. Forest Service says for the public visiting the national forest, very little will change.

What's changed, he said, is the description of these areas. The plan now describes the areas in contention as areas that are "more secluded" and "less roaded" - but it does not leave the impression that noise from human activity will be absent.

The Huron-Manistee forest covers about 1 million acres of land. The land in contention covers about 70,000 acres.

Environment
12:30 pm
Tue January 31, 2012

6th Circuit Ct. of Appeals rules for developers in Jean Klock Park case

Updated 12:30p.m. 1/31/12

90-acres of land along the Lake Michigan shore were donated nearly a century ago to the City of Benton Harbor for public recreation. In 2008, city leaders agreed to lease 22 acres of Jean Klock Park to a non-profit developer known as Harbor Shores. The developer converted the land into 3 holes of a Jack Nicklaus golf course.

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Environment
6:00 am
Tue January 31, 2012

Report: Time to sever ties between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River system

The report outlines three possible scenarios for physical separation.
Great Lakes Commission

Asian carp have been making their way up the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers toward the Great Lakes for decades.

A coalition of U.S. and Canadian mayors says the solution is to physically separate the Great Lakes basin from the Mississippi River system forever. In other words... they want to completely stop the flow of water between the two systems to permanently block carp from swimming up into Lake Michigan... and stop any kind of invaders from moving between the basins.

A new report out today outlines how that massive separation might happen.

Tim Eder is the executive director of the Great Lakes Commission. His group put out the report, along with the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative. The report identifies three different places on the Chicago waterway system where a physical separation could be put in place.

“It’s just putting some sheet piling, some metal and earth and concrete in the river to make a dam, basically.”

But the manmade system of canals in the Chicago area has been in place for a century (it was originally put in place to reverse the flow of the Chicago River away from Lake Michigan because untreated sewage was being dumped in the lake and making people sick - and even killing them).

Eder says there are a lot of people who depend on the waterway system as it is now.

“The river in Chicago now serves some really important purposes for managing floodwaters, for dealing with wastewater, and for transportation. Commercial transportation depends on that waterway, so our options propose solutions to maintain and even enhance all of those existing important uses of the waterway.”

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Environment
4:37 pm
Fri January 27, 2012

Gray wolves in Michigan officially off endangered list

Gray wolves in Michigan are no longer on the federal government’s endangered species list.

The decision shifts the responsibility for managing wolves to Michigan wildlife officials.

It also means that farmers and pet owners can shoot wolves that attack livestock or dogs.

Ed Golder is with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

“The important thing here is that people have greater power to address issues with wolves and we certainly want to help with that,” Golder said. “We encourage people to find non-lethal means to deal with wolves and we are available for consultation on that, but where these particular instances are occurring with livestock and with dogs, people have some power that they didn’t have before.”

Even though wolves in Michigan have been removed from the federal endangered species list, Golder said wolves remain on the state's “protected species” list -- and it is still illegal to hunt or trap wolves that don’t pose an immediate threat to dogs or livestock.

The gray wolf was once nearly extinct in the Upper Midwest. There are now nearly a thousand gray wolves in Michigan, mostly in the Upper Peninsula.

*Correction - an earlier version of this story said "wolves remain on Michigan’s “threatened species” list." The animals remain on the state's protected species list. The copy has been corrected above.

Environment
10:54 am
Thu January 26, 2012

Power line fight in the U.P.

There’s a fight brewing about whether Michigan’s Upper Peninsula needs two new power lines. The high voltage lines would cut through northern woodlands to bring electricity from Wisconsin to the U.P. Energy companies say the single existing line is maxed out.

An announcement by WE Energies of Milwaukee sparked this debate last fall. The company said it would phase out an old coal burning power plant in Marquette over the next five years. To keep the plant going would mean investing millions in new pollution controls.

People in the U.P. were worried about where their power would come from, and they were upset about the prospect of losing 170 jobs at the Presque Isle power plant.

WE Energies favors building new power lines to send electricity from Wisconsin to the U.P. That plan was put on a fast track for regulatory approval.

But then a couple of weeks ago, WE Energies and Wolverine Power based in northern lower Michigan announced a joint venture.

They’re now looking at upgrading the plant in Marquette to meet stricter pollution rules.

Read more
Environment
10:49 am
Thu January 26, 2012

A Michigan company in the State of the Union spotlight

When President Obama talked to the nation this week, he pointed out a guy from Michigan in the audience.

“When Bryan Ritterby was laid off from his job making furniture, he said he worried at 55, no one would give him a second chance. But he found work at Energetx a wind turbine manufacturer in Michigan. Before the recession the factory only made luxury yachts. Today it’s hiring workers like Bryan who said I’m proud to be working in the industry of the future.”

Last spring, Energetx Composites expected to increase its workforce from 40 employees to 300 sometime in 2012. We wanted to check in to see how things are going.

Chris Idema works in business development for the Holland-based company.

“You know, I can’t really comment on a specific number but we are definitely in growth mode right now, we are hiring and we expect to do so over the next several months.”

He says the biggest obstacle to his company’s growth is uncertainty in the market. Idema points to a federal tax credit that he says gives the wind industry some stability. That credit expires at the end of this year. It’s not clear what Congress will do about it.

Environment
6:50 am
Wed January 25, 2012

Training for an icy water oil spill

A three-day exercise testing the U.S. Coast Guard's ability to contain oil spills on large freshwater waterways is scheduled to wrap up today near St. Ignace.    

The weather has been ideal, with a wintry blast creating the icy, unpleasant conditions Coast Guard officials wanted.   

"It's very necessary to make sure that we're ready to respond in case something does happen," George Degener, a Coast Guard spokesman said.

Environment
9:58 am
Tue January 24, 2012

Breaking through to climate change skeptics

Photo courtesy USFWS

Anthony Leiserowitz directs the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication. He says the vast majority of scientists agree that climate change is real. It’s mostly caused by people. And it’s serious.

“We know through multiple studies that over 95% of scientists agree about this.”

But... he says his studies and others show the number of Americans who believe climate change is happening has declined. 

Leiserowitz says there are a lot of reasons for that. A tough economy... declining media coverage...

“Then there’s actually been a very active campaign to discredit the science, to put out disinformation about the science. And that really kicked into gear in 2008 and 2009 because Congress was about to pass climate legislation. Forces that are perfectly happy with the status quo worked very, very hard to stop that effort and they were successful.”

So as a result of these factors and others... he says many Americans are confused about what to believe... or downright skeptical.

This was the topic of a conference put on by the Erb Institute for Global Sustainable Enterprise and the Union of Concerned Scientists at the University of Michigan last week. There were social scientists and climate scientists, religious leaders and members of the business community. They were here to talk about how the public climate change debate has become more about personal values and how you see the world than about the science.

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energy
10:45 am
Thu January 19, 2012

Wind farm in Mason County taking shape despite legal challenge

Consumers Energy map of the Lake Winds Energy Park in Mason County. Construction of access roads and turbine bases began in November 2011.
Consumers Energy lakewindsenergypark.com

Consumers Energy is wrapping up the initial phase of its first wind farm. Construction of the 100 mega-watt farm began last fall. Consumers plans to have the wind farm operating by the end of this year.

The project is known as the Lake Winds Energy Park. Since construction began last fall, workers have built about half of the large bases for 58 utility sized wind turbines.

Read more
Environment
10:04 am
Thu January 19, 2012

Environment nearly absent in State of the State

Michigan Governor Rick Snyder
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In his second State of the State address, Governor Rick Snyder did not spend a lot of time talking about the environment. But he did say that agriculture, tourism, mining and the timber industry are key to the state’s future.

He also talked about his push to overhaul the state’s regulatory system.

“So far we’ve rescinded nearly 400 obsolete, confusing and burdensome regulations.”

Now... those 400 regulations are not all environmental. But Governor Snyder did call out one set of rules that was on the books.

“The Department of Environmental Quality has 28 separate requirements for outhouses, including a requirement that the seat not be left up.”

The governor got big laughs - it was the best punch line of the evening. But of course, there’s a serious undertone to the Governor’s plans for overhauling the way the state regulates businesses.

Read more
Environment
10:57 am
Tue January 17, 2012

Strange winter weather affects some parts of tourist economy

It's been wet enough, just not cold enough.
Patrick Feller Flickr

The arrival of winter in Michigan is not supposed to last long.

The cold snap earlier this week is expected to give way early next week to temperatures back in the forties.

The lack of snow is taking a toll on some parts of the state’s tourism economy.

Forecaster Mike Boguth says northern Michigan might set a record this year for the least amount of snowfall ever. Boguth works at the National Weather Service office in Gaylord.

He says what little snow there is now could melt next week when temperatures rise.

“We don’t see any signs of cold weather coming back after we get by this week.”

Most ski resorts up north opened in December. That’s because nighttime temperatures have been cold enough to make snow.

But for businesses that depend on snowmobile traffic this time of year, things couldn’t be much worse. They’ve had just one weekend of business all winter. That was this past weekend which included the Martin Luther King holiday.

Dave Ramsey owns Beaver Creek Resort near Gaylord. He says just enough snow fell late last week to open the trails.

Still, more than half his cabins were empty this weekend when he would usually have a waiting list.

“Every hotel in Gaylord every motel and little cabin cluster will just about fill to capacity on every major holiday if we have good snow.”

The weather could also create problems for the North America Vasa. The cross-country ski race near Traverse City could draw 1,000 racers the second weekend in February.

The VASA trail has three inches of base but no snow-making capacity.

-Peter Payette for The Environment Report

So what's up with this weather? Wunderground.com's Dr. Jeff Masters explains.

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