Environment & Science

Science/Medicine
4:51 pm
Fri June 17, 2011

Science: Black hole eats star, sparks gamma rays

A composite picture of two black holes merging from 2009
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.

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Environment
3:07 pm
Thu June 16, 2011

State asks federal officials to assess storm damage in Calhoun County

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.”

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Environment
1:00 pm
Thu June 16, 2011

Officials expand testing of cancer-causing chemical in Lake St. Clair

Carp in Lake St. Clair have the highest levels of PCB. Carp have levels that are 10 times what is considered safe.
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.  

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Environment
12:18 pm
Thu June 16, 2011

Power plants killing millions of Great Lakes fish every year

The Bay Shore Power Plant on Maumee Bay in Lake Erie. Lake Erie Waterkeeper Sandy Binh says this power plant is "probably the largest fish-killing plant in the Great Lakes."
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."

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Environment
10:55 am
Thu June 16, 2011

Lawmakers wrestling with wild hogs

Wild hogs in a breeding facility.
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.”

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Environment
10:42 am
Thu June 16, 2011

Climate change & Great Lakes restoration

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.

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Environment
1:19 pm
Wed June 15, 2011

Bear sighting confirmed in Washtenaw County

This young black bear, believed to be about a year old, was sighted Tuesday near Dexter. A homeowner said the animal was attracted to beehives on the property.
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.

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Accolades
4:43 pm
Tue June 14, 2011

Michigan Radio's Environment Report wins national Edward R. Murrow award

Edward R. Murrow through the eyes of artist John Tebeau.
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.

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Environment
11:29 am
Tue June 14, 2011

Lake trout on life support in Lake Michigan

Lake trout were once the big game fish in all of the Great Lakes. Some people still love catching and eating them.
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.

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Environment
11:00 am
Tue June 14, 2011

Fish-killing virus rears its head again in mid-Michigan lake

VHS has been found in a mid-Michigan lake. The virus kills fish, and sport fisherman worry it will decrease the stocks of big fish like muskie. (Fishing guide Rich Clarke of Clayton, NY).
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.

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Environment
1:53 pm
Mon June 13, 2011

Report calls for fracking ban

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.

Environment
11:34 am
Mon June 13, 2011

Recent weather opens planting door for Michigan farmers

Crops in Michigan are going in late this year.
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.

Environment
4:54 pm
Fri June 10, 2011

State reverses, will keep forest campgrounds open

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.

Environment
4:44 pm
Fri June 10, 2011

Michigan lifts deer-baiting ban for next three years

Deer baiting is now legal in most of Michigan
schick Morgue File

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources has lifted the deer-baiting ban in most of Michigan's Lower Peninsula.  The ban had been in effect since 2008 after cases of chronic wasting disease had been reported among Michigan deer.

Mary Dettloff is with the DNR. She says baiting can create problems for the health of deer herds:

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Environment
4:23 pm
Fri June 10, 2011

Ban on deer-baiting lifted in much of Michigan's lower peninsula

A buck at a salt lick.
Tee Poole Flickr

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources has lifted a ban on putting bait out for deer. From October 1st through January 1st the practice will again be allowed in most counties in the lower peninsula.

Baiting will not be allowed in Alcona, Alpena, Iosco, Montmorency, Oscoda, and Presque Isle counties - the state's six county area known as the  Bovine Tuberculosis Zone.

Officials at the Michigan DNR put the baiting ban in place in 2008 after biologists found the state's first case of Chronic Wasting Disease in a deer at a private deer breeding facility in Kent County.

Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD), a fatal brain disease similar to mad cow disease, can be spread from deer to deer through saliva and blood. The disease started out west in elk and made its way into some Midwestern deer herds. Wisconsin had to cull big herds of deer to get the disease under control.

Banning a practice such as baiting, a practice that brings many deer together in one spot as they eat or lick the bait, was thought to be the best way to prevent the spread of CWD in Michigan - apparently, it worked.

From the Michigan DNR press release:

At the time, the Department followed protocol as outlined in the state's emergency response plan for CWD and immediately banned baiting and feeding of white-tailed deer in the Lower Peninsula. The NRC then passed regulations making the ban permanent, but said it would reconsider the ban in three years, giving the DNR adequate time to perform disease testing and surveillance in the state for CWD.

In the three-year period, the DNR tested thousands of white-tailed deer for CWD, but did not detect another case.

So in a 4-3 vote by the Natural Resources Commission, the three-year old ban was lifted. It will be reconsidered in 2014.

In the Grand Rapids Press, Howard Meyerson writes that hunters have been split on the issue. Around half in favor of baiting and half against it. Meyerson writes that in 2008, many hunters were glad the ban was put in place:

They said it altered deer behavior and pulled deer off their lands and onto others where people baited. That, in turn, prompted them to resort to “defensive baiting.”

On the flip side, however, others are crowing.

“The good guys won,” said Jeff DeRegnaucourt, an avid hunter from Rockford who was glad to see the ban lifted.

But the nation’s top professional wildlife biologists probably wouldn’t see it that way. Mason is one who steadfastly urged keeping the ban in place. Steve Schmitt, the DNR’s wildlife disease expert, was another.

Environment
6:38 pm
Thu June 9, 2011

Raising Lake Huron water level problematic, says study

A new study suggests raising the water level in Lake Huron could cause as many problems as it solves. 

 Eugene Stakhiv is U.S. Co-chair of the International Great Lakes Study. 

He says people could build dams or other structures in the St. Clair River to slow the flow of water out of Lake Huron.  

That would raise the level of Lake Huron and benefit marinas and wetlands around the lake.   

But water levels would also rise near Chicago, which already has high lake levels.

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Environment
12:05 pm
Thu June 9, 2011

What it takes to get a river cleaned up (part 2)

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

Dow Chemical polluted the Tittabawassee River with dioxin. Dioxin has been linked to several health issues, including cancer. A comprehensive clean up of the river has barely begun. Dow chemical, the Environmental Protection Agency and the state have wrestled over the cleanup for 30 years.

Michelle Hurd Riddick has spent the last 10 years of her life pushing to get the Tittabawassee River cleaned up.

When she’s not working as a nurse, she has helped file lawsuits against Dow. She religiously attends public meetings about the clean up and follows what the EPA is doing by filing freedom of information requests. And she writes a lot of letters to state and federal officials.

Hurd Riddick is part of an environmental group called the Lone Tree Council. She talked about how she felt as we drove along the river.

“I get frustrated. I get frustrated. There are a number of citizens you know who have hung in on this issue as long as I’ve been on this issue. But not a lot of them. They have to get on with their lives. And I understand that and I respect that.”

The Tittabawassee flows through Hurd Riddick’s hometown of Saginaw before emptying its waters and contaminated sediment into Lake Huron.

Dow did not want to be recorded for this story.

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Environment
10:51 am
Thu June 9, 2011

Raising Lakes Huron, Michigan costly

Water levels in Lake Michigan have been low for years. Would dams at the upper end of the St. Clair River raise lake levels, and would they be worth the cost?
Mark Brush Michigan Radio

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) - A new report says it would be technologically feasible to raise water levels in Lakes Huron and Michigan to make up for drop-offs caused by more than a century of dredging and other human activity.

But the report obtained by The Associated Press says it would take decades to accomplish the task and the price tag could exceed $200 million.

The study is scheduled for public release Friday. It was conducted by a team of engineers and scientists for the International Joint Commission, a U.S.-Canadian panel that advises both nations on Great Lakes issues.

They're trying to determine whether it would be worthwhile to place underwater dams, gates or other structures at the upper end of the St. Clair River to reduce the volume of water escaping Lake Huron.

Environment
12:29 pm
Wed June 8, 2011

Crawford County wildfire under control, investigation starts

Officials say the fire near Grayling has been contained.
Marcus Obal creative commons

Officials say the wildfire near Grayling, Michigan has been contained after burning 817 acres.

From the Associated Press:

Crawford County officials released the updated acreage total Wednesday morning. They say the fire damaged several buildings and caused one minor injury.

About 100 homes were evacuated. That order has been lifted and an evacuation center was closed.

Crews are attending to remaining hot spots and making sure the perimeter line is holding.

Howes Lake Road remains closed to traffic except for fire and emergency vehicles. Only local residents are being allowed on Manistee River Road.

Booth MidMichigan reports that Jeff Pendergraff, Crawford County Undersheriff, said conditions were ideal for a wildfire yesterday:

"It was hot, humid and high winds. Two bad things made it worse: it hit the jack pines and the wind picked up. But then it moved into a hardwood forest and slowed down."

Fire crews contained the blaze around midnight last night. The state is monitoring the area today:

"We are working at the holding the fire line today," said Mary Detloff, spokeswoman for the DNR. "We're a little concerned about the weather; it's supposed to be hot and gusty and we don't want the fire jumping lines and spreading to a new area."

An investigation into how the fire got started is beginning today.

Environment
5:49 pm
Tue June 7, 2011

Wind Energy in Michigan (video)

A brief look at wind energy in Michigan, using American Wind Energy Association data and other sources.

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