Environment & Science

Bug_girl_mi / Flickr

A group of environmentalists is calling on Congress to fully fund Great Lakes restoration projects in the federal budget.

They say the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative is working to clean waterways and drinking water, and create jobs in the Great Lakes region.

Jeff Skelding, with the Healing Our Waters coalition, says talk of budget cuts in Washington, D.C. have Great Lakes conservationists on guard:

There are those in Congress who would gladly take the axe to the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative without a second thought. Our message to Congress is – cutting successful Great Lakes restoration programs that protect drinking water, safeguard public health, create jobs and uphold the quality of health for millions of people is exactly the wrong thing to do.

The coalition hopes Congress will approve $300 million dollars for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative in the coming weeks.

David Lance / USDA APHIS

The Michigan Department of Agriculture has confirmed the presence of invasive brown marmorated stink bugs (BMSB) in two Michigan counties. The bugs were discovered by students from Michigan State University.

Jennifer Holton is with the Michigan Department of Agriculture. She says the bugs can do damage to the types of fruits and vegetables grown in Michigan. The damage makes them difficult to sell. 

And what is does is... a little bit of character distortion on the fruit, what they refer to as cat facing, and that makes the fruit, or the vegetable, if there may be one, unmarketable for the fresh market.

You can find more information about identifying BMSB at the Michigan Department of Agriculture website.

Holton also suggested never moving firewood and to contact your local Michigan State University extension office if you think you found a brown marmorated stink bug.

-Bridget Bodnar, Michigan Radio Newsroom

Jhritz / Flickr

New analysis by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment says state forests were hit hard last year by the emerald ash borer and a variety of other ailments and invasive pests.

According to the Associated Press, in a report released yesterday, the DNRE said:

...people continue to make the invasive species problem worse by moving firewood infested with exotic organisms. The unwelcome critters also work their way into nursery stock and wooden pallets that are hauled around the state.

Lynne Boyd is chief of the Forest Management Division and says insects and foreign species are a big danger to Michigan's 19.3 million acres of woodlands. Industries connected to Michigan forests such as timber and recreation provide 136,000 jobs and pump $14 billion into the state's economy each year.

The Traverse City Record Eagle reports:

The Michigan Department of Agriculture has set up a quarantine to limit the ash borer's spread — including a firewood checkpoint at the Mackinac Bridge linking the Upper Peninsula and Lower Peninsula. People caught hauling firewood into the U.P. can be fined or even jailed. Even so, the ash borer has been found in several U.P. locations after killing more than 30 million ash trees in southeastern Michigan.

Holland BWP

Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality will not continue its legal fight to prevent the plans for two coal power plants.

The state denied air quality permits last year for two coal plants, one in Holland and one in Rogers City.  The decision was based on an executive order issued by former Governor Jennifer Granholm. She said the state must factor in whether or not a community really needs more power and consider conservation efforts and alternative energy.

Brad Wurfel is a spokesman with MDEQ. He says their decision to change course is partly because of two judges ruling against the state and partly because of the new administration.

 “Governor Snyder is in favor of building Michigan’s economy and in the case of Wolverine Rogers City has expressed an interest in additional power to realize a long term vision for increasing its port capacity, expanding its infrastructure, and they need power to do it. Right now they’re buying that power from Ohio and Indiana.”

Wurfel says it’s not an issue of whether or not the new governor is for or against coal plants. 

“Our job at the department of environmental quality is to see to it that the permits that are issued to them are in compliance with state and federal clean air statues.”

Wurfel says the state is working with Wolverine Power on their plans to build a new plant in Rogers City, and the City of Holland to expand an existing plant. He says they will still have to meet air quality standards to get the permits they need.

David Slater / Flickr

The Environment Report's Rebecca Williams produced a piece the other day on the Michigan DNRE's proposal to limit the number of Mute swans in the state (the swans with an orange bill).

The Michigan DNRE has been trying to reduce their population in the state for decades. By reducing Mute swan numbers, state wildlife officials hope to allow more room for native birds, such as Loons and Trumpeter swans (the USFWS says Mute swans were brought to the U.S. more than 100 years ago as "decorative waterfowl" for parks, zoos, and estates).

On February 10th, the Natural Resources Commission is expected to vote on a DNRE proposal that would make it illegal for wildlife rehabilitators to nurse Mute swans back to health.

The proposal, like any proposal to limit Mute swan numbers, has sparked a lot of debate.

We received several comments on the Environment Report web page about the proposal and about managing Mute swans in general.

Photo by Rebecca Williams

At the moment, all royalties from oil and gas development in Michigan go into something called the Natural Resources Trust Fund. The trust fund money is used for improving wildlife habitat and parks and it's used to buy land for conservation.

But at a time when pretty much everything’s up on the chopping block... the future of that trust fund is in question.

State Representative Dave Agema (R) from Grandville has introduced legislation to divert oil and gas royalties away from the Trust Fund.

Under his proposal:

  • 60% of oil and gas royalties would go into the State Transportation Fund
  • 20% would go into the State Aeronautics Fund
  • the remaining 20% would go into the Natural Resources Trust Fund

The NRTF has been around since 1976. It was negotiated as part of a larger deal to allow oil and gas development in Michigan's Pigeon River Country State Forest.

I talked with the Michigan Environmental Council's policy director, James Clift, about this.  He says:

"Every corner of the state has obtained some of this trust fund money, either buying parkland or developing parkland, setting aside public land for hunting and fishing... It’s a very popular program and I think people are going to be very supportive of the way it’s spent currently."

user Cseeman / Flickr

The National Weather Service is releasing data on just how much snow fell during the massive winter storm that sweep across the state this week. South Haven, on the coast of Lake Michigan, saw 20 inches of snow on the ground. That's the largest snowfall so far reported, according to the Associated Press. Muskegon got 19.7 inches. A foot of snow fell in the Lansing area. Flint got 10 inches, Detroit got 8.7 inches.

Scottobear / Flickr

While many in the Midwest chose to stay buried under the covers this morning amidst the snow storm that blanketed the region, Punxsutawney Phil, the famed weather prognosticator, ventured out to let us know whether or not we should expect an early spring. Upon being presented to the crowd at Gobbler’s Knob in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, Phil failed to see his shadow, thereby predicting an early spring for everyone.

Today marks the 125th annual Groundhog Day ceremony featuring the meteorological predictions of the large marmot. Since Phil’s first prediction in 1887, he has failed to see his shadow only 15 times. Most meteorologists suggest that Phil’s predictions lack scientific justification. But, as many struggle to dig their way out of over a foot of snow in temperatures near zero, it remains unclear whether Phil is an optimist attempting to lift our spirits or just a sarcastic rodent.

Meanwhile, at the Howell Conference and Nature Center in Livingston County, Woody the Woodchuck made her own prognostication regarding the arrival of spring for Michigan. Upon being presented to the crowd in Howell, Woody promptly saw her shadow, predicting another six weeks of winter, and perhaps inadvertently starting a meteorological feud between the two prophetic marmots. Only time will tell who has true powers of prophesy, but, after last night’s winter storm, odds are currently in Woody’s favor.

Sami / Flickr

Update 8:33 a.m.:

The National Weather Service has canceled blizzard warnings for much of the west and middle regions of the state. A Winter Weather Advisory remains in effect for West and Mid Michigan until 12p.m. Blizzard warnings remain in effect until 12 p.m. today for cities in the eastern part of the state including Midland, Bay City, Bad Axe, Saginaw, and Caro.

6:35 a.m.:

Most of Lower Michigan is digging out of last night’s winter storm, and it’s not over yet. A blizzard warning remains in effect until 7 P.M. for the western side of the state, as well as areas as far east as Lansing. In areas around Flint, a blizzard warning is scheduled to expire at noon. In the Detroit and Ann Arbor areas, a winter storm warning will last until noon. The counties along the state’s southern border are under a winter weather advisory until 1 P.M., with the exception of Berrien County, whose winter weather advisory is set to expire at 10 A.M. As for the Toledo area, a winter storm warning will remain in effect until 7 o’clock this evening.

Earlier this morning,  the southwestern part of the state reported having 10 to 15 inches of snow already on the ground. Cities in the southeast, including Ann Arbor and Flint, received between four and six inches.

The storm has made roads hazardous, with snow drifts of up to five feet being reported. AAA Michigan reportedly helped more than 3,600 drivers stuck on the roads Tuesday night. Those who can avoid driving are urged to do so.

Today, numerous school districts, as well as many colleges and universities, are closed. School districts closed for Wednesday include Detroit, Kalamazoo, Ann Arbor, Lansing, Grand Rapids, Toledo, and Jackson. In addition, Michigan State University, Wayne State University, the University of Michigan-Dearborn, Western Michigan University, and Grand Valley State University have canceled classes for today.

LisaW123 / Flickr

While the snow has been heavy across the state over the past 12 hours, the freezing rain that was forecasted missed much of the state.

That’s good news for DTE Energy and Consumer’s Energy, who are reporting relatively few power outages, according to the Associated Press.

Consumer’s Energy reports roughly 3,700 customers without power, with most of the outages occurring in Gratiot County.

Meanwhile, DTE Energy is reporting only 1,000 residential outages, which the company says is in line with the average number of outages during a typical day.

Steve McFarland / Flickr

Hundreds of flights in and out of Michigan airports have been canceled due to the winter weather, according to the Associated Press.

The AP reports:

Detroit Metropolitan Airport spokesman Mike Conway says... many cancelations were made by airlines in advance of the storm. Conway says runways at the airport in Romulus and nearby Willow Run Airport have been kept open despite the snow, thanks to constant work from plow crews.

The Grand Rapids Press reports most early Wednesday departures were canceled at Gerald R. Ford International Airport in southwestern Michigan. And The Flint Journal reports that some flights at Flint's Bishop International Airport had been canceled.

The Detroit Free Press reports:

Out of 600 departures and 622 arrivals scheduled for today at Metro Airport, 254 departures and 263 arrivals have been canceled, airport spokesman Scott Wintner said.

As of 6:30 a.m., Southwest stopped all operations at the airport through noon and United has canceled all flights in and out of Detroit for today, not including United Express flights to Newark and Houston, he said.

Delta Air Lines canceled 800 flight systemwide today. Customers traveling through areas impacted by the storm can change flights without fees, Delta’s Web site says.

Homeless shelters from Grand Rapids to Detroit are gearing up for a busy couple of days this week.

The major winter storm that's headed our way is expected to dump around a foot of snow across the state, and temperatures will be around 20 degrees for the next several days.

The city of Lansing is coordinating with its homeless shelters to make sure no one is turned away. Joan Jackson Johnson directs the city’s Community Services department: 

"What we’re doing is providing any extra resources the shelters may need -  from food to blankets. We’ve authorized one shelter to go out and purchase some emergency air mattresses for their shelter because this is their first time expanding for the overflow population."

Johnson says they’re prepared to house people in a hotel if they run out of room at the shelters.

Photo by Mary Hollinger, NESDIS/NODC biologist, NOAA

You've definitely seen mute swans: they're big, white birds with orange bills.  A lot of people love them.

But Michigan wildlife officials say there are too many mute swans in the state

So... the Department of Natural Resources and Environment is now proposing a change... one that’s making some people very angry.

Barbara Avers is a waterfowl specialist with the DNRE. She says mute swans are not native to the U.S. – they were brought over from Europe in the 1800's. Basically, because they’re pretty.

“They’ve grown exponentially in Michigan. They’re kind of many times the bullies of the marsh.”

Avers says mute swans eat a huge amount of vegetation in lakes. They can push out native birds, such as the trumpeter swan. And she says mute swans can snap and charge at people.

“Routinely each year we get reports of mute swan attacks on land, and kayakers, people on jet skis, people out fishing in a boat, and what we see is as mute swan population grows so do the number of conflicts we see.”

Sami / Flickr

Forecasters are predicting a big winter storm is on its way. It's forecasted that the storm could leave up to a foot of snow on the ground across much of the southern part of the state by Wednesday morning. As the Associated Press reports:

Meteorologist Brian Meade with the National Weather Service's Grand Rapids office says the storm is expected to include "considerable blowing and drifting snow" in the southern and central parts of the state.

Snow is expected to begin piling up Tuesday and continue overnight through Wednesday morning.

Photo courtesy of www.epa.gov

More than six months after 800,000 gallons of oil spilled into the Kalamazoo River, cleanup efforts continue, the Associated Press reports.

The oil leaked from a pipeline near Marshall, MI. The pipeline, owned by Enbridge Energy, runs from Griffith, Indiana to Sarnia, Ontario.

The AP reports:

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said in November that much of the cleanup has been finished but some operation and maintenance "will continue for the foreseeable future.

Kate.Gardner / Flickr

John Goss, the Obama administration's so-called 'Asian carp czar,' was in Traverse City yesterday to talk about how the federal government is trying to keep Asian carp out of the Great Lakes. Goss said the government is moving as fast as possible to keep the species out of the Lakes. There's concern that if the carp made their way into the Great Lakes it would devastate the waters' ecosystem.

Callum Black / Flickr

The North Carolina based giant Duke Energy wants to build more than a hundred 500 foot tall turbines in rural Benzie and Manistee counties.  Bob Allen reports this proposed wind farm is causing divisions in communities up north.

Michigan officials have identified parts of these two counties as having the 2nd highest wind potential in the state. 

Alan O’Shea has been in the renewable energy business for the past thirty years. 

“We don’t have to wait for Michigan to heal. This project can heal northern Michigan. I mean there are people, workers that are here looking for jobs.”

But there also are people in the area opposed to this project.

Kate.Gardner / Flickr

Want to hear how the federal government plans to keep Asian carp out of the Great Lakes? Well, now's the time. John Goss, the Obama administration's point man in the fight against Asian carp, will be part of a federal delegation visiting Traverse City today for back-to-back public meetings.

The Associated Press reports:

The officials will outline their strategy and take comments on a long-range study of how to prevent the carp and other invasive species from migrating between the Great Lakes and Mississippi River basins.

Environmentalists, Michigan and four other Great Lakes states want to sever the man-made link between the two aquatic systems. The Army Corps of Engineers is conducting the study and says that's one option.

Activists also say the study's planned completion date of 2015 isn't soon enough.

There's concern that if the Asian carp make their way into the Great Lakes that they could wreak havoc on the lakes' eco-systems.

Google Maps

The Michigan Supreme Court heard arguments yesterday on the dispute around Jean Klock Park in Benton Harbor.

In 1917, some land along Lake Michigan was given to the city of Benton Harbor. The "Friends of Jean Klock Park" describe the gift this way:

In 1917, John and Carrie Klock deeded a half mile of lake Michigan frontage to the City of Benton Harbor Michigan in memory of their deceased daughter Jean. Their gift consisted of 90 acres of globally rare natural resources that included Great Lakes Dunes, a Great Lakes Marsh and interdunal wetlands. The donated land was named Jean Klock Park and was dedicated "FOR THE CHILDREN" - "in perpetuity" - "FOREVER."

Today, the city of Benton Harbor has leased part of the park to the Harbor Shores Community Redevelop Corporation. The Redevelop Corporation used the land, including sand dunes along the Lake Michigan shoreline for 3 holes of an 18 hole golf course.

Residents didn't like it and they filed a lawsuit. The case made it to the Michigan Supreme Court yesterday.

gophouse.com

In his first State of the State address last night, Governor Rick Snyder made it clear that jobs are his first priority.

But he also made several announcements on conservation and park projects and the Pure Michigan tourism campaign. He announced that his budget recommendation will include annual funding of $25 million for the Pure Michigan tourism campaign.

“This program supports one of our strongest assets – our water resources and the treasures of the Great Lakes, and it’s an illustration of value for money. It’s positive for our image, and it’s positive return on our tax dollars.”

And he urged the legislature to quickly pass a bill that would implement the recommendations of the Natural Resources Trust Fund board. The board has recommended that $100 million be used to buy land for conservation and parks.

“These projects will positively impact every corner of our state. From Iron County in the Upper Peninsula to Traverse City, to Luna Pier in Monroe County. Also included is a significant expansion of the William T Milliken Park on the Detroit riverfront.”

In his address, Governor Snyder called the Great Lakes “economic engines.”

 

Photo courtesy of the University of Michigan

A new type of incubator is open for business at the University of Michigan. It’s called a “venture accelerator,” and it’s located in the  sprawling research complex Pfizer built before it left Michigan a few years ago.

Photo by Flickr user Brandon Stafford

Many homeowners just can’t afford the upfront investment to make their homes more energy efficient. And many programs meant to defray some of that cost haven’t gotten much traction with consumers.

But Sarah Cwiek reports the federal government’s “BetterBuildings” program is trying to change that. It’s just now getting off the ground in Michigan with money from the 2009 stimulus package.

Sarah visited Chris Matus at his Ferndale home on the day he was getting an energy audit from Well Home's Kent Trobaugh.

The guys set up something called a blower door test to find out where the leaks were in Matus' home.  Then they roamed the house with an infrared camera.  The screen shows a landscape of blurred colors: gold is heat, purple is cold. Matus says the whole exercise reminds him of a certain movie from the 1980s.

“It feels like we’re Ghostbusting.”

Matus is getting about a thousand dollars worth of work done on his house today. But it only costs him 50. That’s because he’s taking advantage of the U.S. Department of Energy’s stimulus-funded BetterBuildings program. Michigan got 30-million dollars—the second-biggest chunk of any state.

MSU - NSCL

We hear a lot of talk about people and talent leaving the state.

Today, a story about people and talent coming to the state.

Lorri Higgins writes in today's Detroit Free Press about Michigan State University's National Superconducting Cyclotron Laboratory.

Today, the lab has two superconducting cyclotron accelerators that attract a lot of nuclear physicists to the program. And construction on a new accelerator will begin in a couple of years.

Nio_nl / Flickr

Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow hailed what she called a "major milestone" in the fight to stop Canadian trash shipments to Michigan. Michigan Radio's Sarah Cwiek was at a press conference that the Senator held yesterday in Detroit. Cwiek sent this report:

Michigan charges only 21 cents a ton to dump trash in landfills. That's far less than other Great Lakes states.

As a result, Ontario, as well as some U.S. states, export some of their trash to Michigan. But, Stabenow says as of January first, Ontario cities are no longer shipping their municipal waste. She credits a voluntary agreement she and Senator Carl Levin reached with Ontario officials in 2006.

But, Stabenow says that's not the end of the story because the agreement doesn't apply to non-municipal trash.

Commercial and industrial waste accounts for about 60-percent of the trash that's shipped from Canada to Michigan.

Photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Sea lampreys are invasive parasites found in every one of the Great Lakes. It’s a fish with a round mouth like a suction cup. It latches onto big fish like trout and salmon... and kills them by drinking their blood.

It costs fisheries managers in the U.S. and Canada 20 million dollars a year to control the lamprey.

There’s one secret weapon in development that could eventually save them money... pheromones. Those are odors that male lampreys release to attract the lady lampreys.

I called Nick Johnson with the Michigan lamprey research team to find out how the team's third and final year of testing these pheromones is going.

You could call him a lamprey matchmaker.

"Pheromones are typically species specific, so they should have minimal impact to other species, they're highly potent, effective at very low concentrations. So once they're developed they could be applied relatively cheaply and with little environmental impact."

Photo courtesy of Herpetological Resource & Management

Crews are still out on the Kalamazoo River cleaning up oil from last summer’s spill.  More than 840,000 gallons spilled from a ruptured pipeline owned by Enbridge Energy Partners, LP.  Right now, crews are focusing on cleaning the contaminated soil.

It’s not clear what the long term impacts will be on wildlife.

After the spill, rescue teams collected more than 2,400 birds, mammals, fish and reptiles... and took them to a rehab center to have the oil cleaned off. Most of the animals brought into the center survived.

This week, I talked with herpetologist David Mifsud, aka "Turtle Dave."  He was hired by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to help with the initial wildlife recovery. He says turtles made up the majority of wildlife rescued from the spill site.

“We had some, their mouths were so tacky with the oil they could barely open their mouths. We saw some pretty devastating things.”

David Kinsey / Creative Commons

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is ready to select one of four options to clean-up one of the main contaminators of the Kalamazoo River. The Allied Landfill is full of waste from old paper factories that contain the toxic chemicals.

At a public meeting Thursday night, EPA officials asked for feedback on the plans. The options range from doing nothing (EPA officials said that's not really an option), to capping the dump, to hauling the one-and-a-half-million-cubic-yards of contaminated waste off to a safer location.

flickr user molajen

The Chicago Sun-Times is reporting "a bizarre scene evolving along the Chicago lakefront."

Geese and mallard ducks are apparently gulping down thousands of dead fish that are in the ice or floating in the open water around the ice.

The paper quotes Lake Michigan Program biologist Dan Makauskas who says:

"Gizzard shad are pretty sensitive. On the toughness scale, [they] are pretty soft."

Some biologists attribute the die-off to lower oxygen levels because of ice cover around the lakefront.

Former Muskegon Chronicle reporter Jeff Alexander wrote about a gizzard shad die-off on Mona Lake in Muskegon County back in 2008.

That die-off was attributed to a hard winter as well. From Alexander's report:

Gizzard shad die-offs are common in several area lakes. The fish often die during winter as ice cover decreases oxygen levels in the water; the fish also die from thermal shock when the lake warms up rapidly in the spring, said Rich O'Neal, a fisheries biologist for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

Gizzard shad are members of the herring family and are native to the Great Lakes.

Flickr user: citizen of the deep

In past years, most of the so-called “green cars” at the North American International Auto Show were concept cars – not ready for prime time. This year is different.

The Toyota Prius has been America’s premier environmentally friendly car for ten years. Now, the car has some serious competition. Both the Chevy Volt and the Nissan Leaf have an EPA fuel economy rating the equivalent of more than 90 miles to the gallon.

Tracy Samilton talked with Brad Berman, founder of plugincars.com

“Suddenly it makes the Prius' 50 mpg seem mild. Now it’s Toyota’s turn to say, hey, we’re still relevant.”

Toyota is turning the Prius into an entire brand. People going to the show will be able to see three new Prius vehicles, including a plug-in being unveiled in Detroit.

Holland BPW

The state is challenging a lower court’s ruling that would’ve allowed Holland to expand a coal-fired power plant. But  its unclear whether or not state officials will follow through on the legal battle.

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