Environment & Science

Environment
4:19 pm
Wed December 21, 2011

Great Lakes wolves to be taken off endangered species list

Canis lupus.
USFWS Midwest

Update 4:19 p.m.

The U.S. Interior Department announced today gray wolf populations in the Great Lakes region have recovered and no longer require the protection of the Endangered Species Act.

They will lose their federal protection as of January 27, 2012.

From a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service press release:

"Gray wolves are thriving in the Great Lakes region, and their successful recovery is a testament to the hard work of the Service and our state and local partners," said Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe. "We are confident state and tribal wildlife managers in Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin will effectively manage healthy wolf populations now that federal protection is no longer needed."

The Associated Press reports that Michigan Department of Natural Resources Director Rodney Stokes says "the change will give state officials more flexibility to deal with problem wolves and make people more supportive of having the predators in their midst."

Wisconsin officials will issue permits allowing landowners to control "problem wolves" on their property.

11:25 a.m.

The wolf population in Michigan has been growing. Michigan DNR estimates put it at more than 650 animals for 2010-2011. The number was around 430 wolves in 2004-2005.

Wolves in the western Great Lakes region have been taken off the Endangered Species List before, and conservation groups have successfully sued the federal government to put them back on the list.

Now, the Associated Press reports western Great Lakes wolves will be delisted again.

From the AP:

The Obama administration is taking gray wolves in the western Great Lakes region off the federal endangered species list.

The Associated Press obtained a Wednesday statement in which Interior Secretary Ken Salazar says the more than 4,000 wolves in Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin have exceeded recovery goals and
no longer need federal protection.

Responsibility for managing and protecting those wolves will be turned over to state wildlife agencies. The populations will be monitored for at least five years to make sure they remain at sustainable levels.

The Interior Department also says it's reconsidering a previously announced plan to remove endangered species protections for wolves in 29 Eastern states, even though they aren't believed
to have any established wolf populations. Officials say they'll decide on the status of Eastern wolves later.

State officials say they're prepared for federal delisting. The state of Michigan has a wolf management plan.

Once management is turned over to the state, people would have more flexibility in killing "problem wolves." From Bob Allen's report on The Environment Report:

The plan would give people the authority to defend against attacks on their pets and livestock, and it would allow them to cull wolves in places where they’re putting a lot of pressure on deer.

The current state management plan does not call for a hunting season on wolves. It would take an act of the state legislature to make a hunt a reality.

Environment
2:15 pm
Tue December 20, 2011

$300 million for Great Lakes cleanup, and a '12 Days of Invasive Species Christmas'

A map of 664 Great Lakes Restoration Initiative projects listed on the GLRI website.
greatlakesrestoration.us

One item that has escaped the budget tie-ups in Congress is funding for Great Lakes cleanup.

Congress approved $300 million in funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative for fiscal year 2012.

From the Associated Press:

The money was included in a larger spending bill that cleared the House and Senate last week and is awaiting President Barack Obama's signature...

Jeff Skelding of the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition says next year's federal budget is a victory for people who depend on the Great Lakes for drinking water and jobs.

The approved funding keeps the ball rolling for the historic levels of federal investment in Great Lakes cleanup through the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

The Initiative was kicked off in 2010 with $475 million in restoration funds aimed at cleaning up toxic hot spots, curbing runoff pollution, fighting invasive species, and restoring habitat.

2011 saw a decrease in funding from Congress to just under $300 million.

Jeff Skelding, the campaign director of the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition, told Rebecca Williams of the Environment Report earlier this year that debate about funding for Great Lakes cleanup cuts across party lines:

"...one thing about the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative is because of the nature of the program, federal funding to clean up the Great Lakes, and to help the economy, it's really a bi-partisan issue. We have really received great support from both Republicans and Democrats in the Great Lakes Congressional delegation. So that gives us hope as we stare down the significant cuts that are happening across the federal budget."

The AP reports the Great Lakes region is also "expected to get $533 million in loans for sewer upgrades."

Twelve Days of Aquatic Invasive Species Christmas

And for those who want to mix holiday cheer with aquatic invasive species (who can resist, really?)...

Read more
Environment
9:49 am
Tue December 20, 2011

Fingerprinting mercury pollution

PhD candidate Laura Sherman setting up a rain collector in Crystal River, Florida.
Photo by Laura White

Mercury is a neurotoxin. The Environmental Protection Agency says mercury can be especially harmful for babies and kids. Mercury can affect their developing brains and harm their memory, attention, language and motor skills.

Mercury is naturally-occurring. Volcanoes emit mercury and so do hot springs, like the ones in Yellowstone National Park.

But the EPA points out... the largest manmade source of mercury emissions in the U.S. comes from coal-burning power plants.

Joel Blum is a professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University of Michigan. Blum says when power plants burn coal, mercury is emitted as a gas.

“In order to become toxic, it has to be transformed into a particular form known as methylmercury which is something that happens in the environment.”

So... mercury falls from the atmosphere, and is converted to methylmercury in the water. That toxic form builds up in fish... and it can build up in us when we eat fish.

But for years... there’s been a big debate about where that mercury goes when it’s released from a power plant smokestack.

“How much is deposited nearby, close to the plant, and how much goes into what we call global pool of mercury - basically goes into the atmosphere and stays there for a long period of time and mixes with mercury from other sources.”

Joel Blum and his colleagues have started to crack that puzzle with some careful detective work. They were able to track mercury emissions from a power plant in Florida... and they found that a high proportion of the mercury ended up nearby.

They did this by looking at chemical fingerprints.

Read more
Environment
10:45 am
Sat December 17, 2011

St. Joseph pays for capture, relocation of coyotes

kabir Morguefile

ST. JOSEPH -- City officials are hoping to have coyotes roaming near downtown trapped and released into the wild.

The Herald-Palladium of St. Joseph reports two coyotes were sighted last week.

A business called Awesome Critter Gitters is being paid $25 per day by the city.  Owner Jim Sheffield says he will release the coyotes onto private land once they are captured.

Sheffield says his company typically euthanizes captured coyotes.

Coyotes are considered nuisances in a number of urban areas across Michigan, although they are not generally considered a threat to humans. They do prey on smaller animals, including pets.

Grosse Pointe Shores officials have said coyotes that wander too close to the Detroit suburb may have to be shot.  Bloomfield Hills ordered rifles with scopes and silencers in recent years to kill coyotes.

Energy
2:03 pm
Fri December 16, 2011

Palisades Nuclear Plant restarted; water pump valve malfunction blamed for shutdown

The Palisades Nuclear power plant in Van Buren County, Michigan.
nrc.org

The Palisades nuclear power plant in Van Buren County is operating again after a problem with its water pumps prompted a shutdown this week. It’s the fifth time the plant has shut down in the past year.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission says a valve on the Palisades’ main feed water system opened unexpectedly on Wednesday. Operators had to take the reactor off line.

NRC spokeswoman Viktoria Mitlyng says the Palisades plant is under investigation for three serious safety violations this year.

Read more
Energy
9:34 am
Fri December 16, 2011

Palisades nuclear plant restarts after shutdown

COVERT TOWNSHIP, Mich. (AP) - The Palisades nuclear power plant on the Lake Michigan shoreline has restarted after a shut-down caused by a problem with its water pumps.

Operators of the southwestern Michigan plant say it returned to service and reconnected to the electric grid late Thursday night. Both of the plant's feed water pumps automatically shut down
Wednesday afternoon.

New Orleans-based Entergy Corp. owns the plant, which is in Van Buren County's Covert Township. Palisades is about 35 miles west of Kalamazoo and about 80 miles east-northeast from Chicago across the lake.

Palisades has had several recent operating problems, with two shutdowns in September and one each in August and January.

Environment
5:12 pm
Thu December 15, 2011

Detroit Green Garage looks for the meaning of "green"

The view inside the Detroit Green Garage
Detroit Green Garage via Facebook

People everywhere are trying to get a grasp on what “sustainability” and “green jobs” really look like.

That’s an especially urgent quest in a struggling industrial city like Detroit.

Some folks there have developed a building—and a community—that’s trying to find out. It’s called the Detroit Green Garage.                                                      

The Detroit Green Garage was a sort of garage at one point. It started off in 1920 as a Model T showroom just north of downtown Detroit.

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Environment
2:10 pm
Thu December 15, 2011

Cutting back on manmade mercury pollution

DTE's St. Clair Power Plant in East China, Michigan. The plant burns a blend of low-sulfur western coal and high-sulfur eastern coal. Coal-burning power plants are one of the biggest sources of man-made mercury pollution.
user cgord wikimedia commons

A new report from the group Environment Michigan says 115 inland lakes and rivers in the state have advisories for mercury pollution. Eating contaminated fish is the main way people are exposed to mercury.

Jessica Surma is with Environment Michigan. She says children are especially at risk for adverse health effects from mercury exposure.

“These can include lowered IQs, developmental disabilities and problems with motor control.”

The Environmental Protection Agency says electric utilities are by far the largest manmade sources of mercury emissions in the U.S. The EPA is planning to regulate mercury from power plants – for the first time ever.

John Austerberry is with DTE Energy.

“We agree with the goal of those regulations, but we are concerned that the federal rules will not provide sufficient time for the utilities to plan and install control systems.”

He says the company doesn’t know yet how much any new mercury control systems might cost or how much of that cost they might pass on to customers.

Pets
11:41 am
Thu December 15, 2011

Animal welfare group tracks, rates Michigan animal shelters

More than 100,000 cats and dogs are euthanized at Michigan animal shelters annually.
Nino Morguefile

A non-profit group that promotes a no-kill animal shelter philosophy says there are big winners and big losers among the state’s facilities.

The Michigan Pet Fund Alliance tracks the performance of the state’s animal shelters.

Chairwoman Deborah Schutt says The Humane Society of Huron Valley is the best large shelter in Michigan. In 2010, it reported a nearly 81 percent save rate of the animals it took in.

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Environment
4:36 pm
Tue December 13, 2011

Michigan's aging water systems

Rainwater Infiltration into Sewer Line
(Courtesy of the East Bay Municipal Utility District)

A coalition of union and environmental groups says it’s time for the federal government to invest more money in the nation’s aging water and sewer lines.    

The group points to the city of Lansing as an example. The Laborers’ International Union of North America says it would cost more than $280 million to fully repair and replace the capitol city’s aging water lines. It  estimates the cost statewide would be in the tens of billions of dollars. 

The union’s Ben Lyons says water systems everywhere are failing.  

Read more
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.

Read more
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.

Read more
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.

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