Environment & Science

Environment
12:54 pm
Tue July 12, 2011

Local girl scouts take aim at palm oil in cookies

Burning peat forests in Indonesia to make way for palm oil plantations.
Ann Dornfeld Environment Report

To make way for palm oil plantations in countries like Indonesia and Malaysia, forests are slashed and burned.

By clear-cutting these forests, foreign governments and companies can ruin the habitat for animals like Sumatran tigers, Asian elephants, and orangutans.

The Detroit Free Press has a story about two local girl scouts who are hoping to get palm oil out of their Girl Scout cookies.

From the Freep:

The Girl Scouts don't have a badge for "Demanding the Organization Stop Using Palm Oil in its Iconic Cookies and Causing a National Brouhaha."

If the organization did, Rhiannon Tomtishen, 15, of Ann Arbor and Madison Vorva, 16, of Plymouth would have them sewn on their vest or sash.

A 2007 project about orangutans for a Girl Scout Bronze Award has snowballed into a nationwide campaign to remove palm oil from Thin Mints and the rest of the cookie lineup. When the girls learned that Indonesian and Malaysian plantations destroy the rain forests these great apes call home to grow the ingredient, they did what the Girl Scouts taught them to do -- take action.

The Free Press reports that teens met with national leaders in the Girl Scouts of the U.S.A. to raise their concerns and they hope to have a follow call with the leaders next month.

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Michigan fish advisory
5:31 pm
Mon July 11, 2011

State adds to fish warnings this year

The new Michigan Fish Advisory is out.  The advisory lists which Great Lakes fish are fairly safe to eat, and which should be avoided.

In general, blue gill, crappie, yellow perch and rock bass are safer to eat than fish like carp, lake trout, white fish, and catfish.

Women of child-bearing age and children have to be especially cautious about eating too many fish, because chemicals in fish can potentially cause neurological damage.

State toxicologist Kory Groetsch says the level of mercury in locally-caught fish has stayed about the same over the past few decades.

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Environment
2:29 pm
Mon July 11, 2011

Number of bald eagles in Michigan rising

A bald eagle spotted near Horseshoe Lake recently
J Scot Page

The number of bald eagles in Michigan has risen to 700 eagle pairs, up 70 from last year, according to the Associated Press.

Here's more from the AP article (care of the Chicago Tribune):

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Environment
11:49 am
Fri July 8, 2011

Grand Rapids takes on lead poisoning

User: wayneandwax flickr.com

Grand Rapids is celebrating the success of a program aimed at preventing lead-poisoning. Michigan Radio’s Lindsey Smith reports the number of cases of lead poisoning in Grand Rapids has fallen 75-percent since the program began.

Lead poisoning poses serious health risks for children under six-years-old. Lead-based paint is a hazard in homes built before 1978. Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell says more than 85-percent of houses in the city were built before then.

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Environment
3:16 pm
Thu July 7, 2011

Thieves are stealing material from abandoned Flint houses

Abandoned home in North Flint
(Photo by Traci Currie/Michigan Radio)

Thieves in Flint are stealing copper pipes, aluminum sidings, indoor fixtures, and appliances from vacant houses. They are taking the material to scrap dealers for quick cash.

Doug Weiland is with the Genesee County Land Bank. He says Flint lost over 70,000 jobs due to the downsizing of the auto industry.

"So the city of Flint’s population is literally about half of what it was at its peak, and we have roughly half of the property that had been used in the past sitting vacant."

Environment
12:18 pm
Thu July 7, 2011

The sugar beet comeback

Sugar beets competing at a state fair
(Photo courtesy of Flickr user kregarious)

Sugar beets are large white beets that grow well in Michigan’s cooler climate. In fact, farmers have grown sugar beets in the Bay area for more than 100 years. The beets are planted at the end of April and harvested at the beginning of September. From then until March, the beets are processed into sugar.

Refineries run 24 hours a day and seven days a week with no breaks for holidays. If machines were to stop in the middle of the process, sticky molasses would harden inside the equipment. In the end, the sugar beets become white granular sugar, powdered sugar, or brown sugar. If you’ve bought a bag of sugar at a Michigan grocery store, chances are it’s sugar beet sugar from the Michigan Sugar Company.

Things are going pretty well for the Michigan sugar industry now. But twenty years ago, the industry nearly dissolved. Steve Poindexter is a sugar beet specialist with Michigan State University:

“The sugar industry, back in the ‘90s, was struggling, trying to get production up. The yields were down and not going up, and profitability was very low.”

That was the result of a push toward raising beets with higher sugar content. The experiment was a failure. The low yields caused many farmers to stop growing beets. Things got so bad, Michigan sugar beet farmers were granted almost 20 million dollars in disaster funds.

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Environment
9:42 am
Tue July 5, 2011

Karate farmers take back the neighborhood

Hakim Gillard works at the Harvesting Earth farm and he also works at King Karate in Flint.
Photo by Kyle Norris

King Karate is a martial arts studio that’s been in the Flint area for 22 years. But in the past few years, the couple who run the studio have broadened their definition of self-defense…and that’s why they’ve added farming to their arsenal.

18 year old Hakim Gillard has a lot on his plate today.

First he’s got to harvest vegetables for tomorrow’s farmer’s market...

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Environment
9:29 am
Tue July 5, 2011

Finding out how Michigan residents feel about wind power

Residents in Manistee and Benzie counties are receiving surveys in the mail this week. The survey will ask questions about wind energy.

Christie Manning is a visiting professor at Macalester College in Minnesota. She’s supervising the survey.

“To understand what it is about wind energy development that creates a sense of pro or anti in individuals; what are the various factors that tip a person to feel one way or the other?”

Township officials will use the survey results to help them with future zoning decisions.

There’s also an online version of the survey that’s available to anyone who lives in Michigan.

Environment
5:19 pm
Mon July 4, 2011

DNR to move slowly in enforcing swine ban

Feral swine often escape from hunting ranches.

 The state Department of Natural Resources says it will move slowly to enforce a ban on wild boar species that takes effect at the end of this week. The order declares some breeds of swine dangerous invasive species.

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Environment
4:01 pm
Mon July 4, 2011

Battling the 'Asian Carp on Land'

(photo by Peter Payette) (courtesy of the Environment Report)

On July 8th, the Department of Natural Resources will follow through with a designation that wild hogs are an invasive species.    There are several thousand feral pigs believed to be running wild in Michigan, according to  Mary Detloff, a spokeswoman for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.  

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Environment
1:44 pm
Sun July 3, 2011

Storms knock out power to 125,000 in SE Michigan

Storm in Fort Gratiot, MI
Flickr/mdprovost

Michigan utility crews are working to restore power to tens of thousands of homes and businesses.  Last night’s storms knocked out power for 125,000 customers.

The severe thunderstorms hit the southeast corner of the state, with hail and winds up to 64 miles per hour that knocked down trees and power lines.

The storms focused on metro Detroit and Michigan's rural thumb area. DTE Energy says 95,000 homes and businesses remain without service and a few will have to wait until Tuesday to get their power back.

Environment
12:16 pm
Sun July 3, 2011

Profs call for wind farm noise restrictions

An MSU professor compares the sound of a turbine to someone talking while you're trying to sleep.
Kevin Connors MorgueFile

Michigan’s wind industry is just getting started, but a group led by two Michigan State University professors is calling for stricter noise levels at wind farms in the state.

MSU's Kenneth Rosenman says that’s why this is the perfect time to put tougher noise regulations in place on turbines.

Current guidelines call for a limit of 55 decibels. Rosenman says 40 decibels would be much better. He  gives some comparisons:

"Normal conversation is 60 decibels," Rosenman says. "A ringing telephone is 30 decibels. A whisper is 30 decibels."

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Environment
10:56 am
Fri July 1, 2011

Swimming Upstream: Toxins in Great Lakes fish (part 7)

Advice on cleaning fish to cut away fat and remove certain contaminants.
Image courtesy of Wisconsin Sea Grant

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

Here's Dustin's story:

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

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Food
5:20 pm
Thu June 30, 2011

Recall of La Providencia salsa, cilantro and other products

This press release is from the Michigan Department of Agriculture:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Environment
5:01 pm
Thu June 30, 2011

Scientists: Enough talk, Great Lakes and Mississippi should be separated

Asian carp DNA detections (red) in the Chicago waterways upstream and downstream of the electric fish barriers in 2009 and 2010, according Jerde et al., 2011.
Jerde et al.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Environment
3:17 pm
Thu June 30, 2011

Swimming Upstream: Fishing for Science (Part 6)

A DNR researcher working on the annual fish survey on Lake St. Clair.
Dustin Dwyer Michigan Radio
  • An error occurred ingesting this audio file to NPR

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

Energy
12:08 pm
Wed June 29, 2011

Michigan approves power plant permit

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

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

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

Wolverine Power provides electricity to more than 220,000 customers

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Environment
11:02 am
Wed June 29, 2011

Swimming Upstream: The mind of a fish (part 5)

Captain Ed Patnode knows a thing or two about fish.
Photo by Dustin Dwyer
  • An error occurred ingesting this audio file to NPR

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

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

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Environment
4:43 pm
Tue June 28, 2011

Legal battle between Saugatuck Twp and private developer could be settled outside of court

Dunes near Saugatuck
Norm Hoekstra Creative Commons

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

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

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Environment
12:08 pm
Tue June 28, 2011

Beach closure information is a click away

BeachGuard tracks the water quality and closures of Michigan's public beaches.
Tom Gill Flickr

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

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

Shannon Briggs is with the DEQ.

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