Environment & Science

Environment
11:42 am
Tue February 8, 2011

National bike routes for Michigan

Organizers are making progress on designating two national bicycle routes through Michigan.  As Michigan Radio's Lindsey Smith found out, they're hoping the routes will attract tourists to the state.

A group of avid cyclists is working to designate bike routes sort of like the U.S. Department of Transportation designates interstate freeway systems. You can ride on two of these routes in Michigan already – they travel mostly along county roads.

  • Number 20 is an east-west route from Ludington to Marine City.
  • Number 35 is a north-south route that stretches for hundreds of miles along the Lake Michigan shore.

Kerry Irons is with Adventure Cycling, the non-profit that’s spearheading the effort.

“Nothing moves by at a high speed. You don’t have to get off and stare at the lake, you know, get out of the car and stare at the lake, the lake is there for 400 miles. That’s the essence of bicycle touring and the driver behind this national network which is going to be a couple hundred thousand miles of established bicycle routes by the time it’s all done.”

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Environment
11:25 am
Tue February 8, 2011

Suing the state over pollution permits

A case that pinpoints a key issue in Michigan’s water law could come back before the state Supreme Court. The office of Attorney General Bill Schuette has asked the court to rehear the Anglers of the Au Sable case. The issue is: whether citizen groups can take state agencies to court to protect the environment.

Here's the nut of the case:

  • The Anglers group won their suit in the lower court to protect one of the state’s prime trout streams. The Department of Environmental Quality had given Merit Energy permission to pump more than a million gallons a day of treated wastewater into a creek at the headwaters of the Au Sable River.
  • The Court of Appeals upheld the ruling against the oil company but exempted the Department of Environmental Quality from the lawsuit. The Appeals Court said the issuing of a permit doesn’t cause harm to the environment... it’s the person with the permit that could do that.

So Anglers asked the Michigan Supreme Court to review that part of the ruling.

And in December the high court overturned the lower court and said state agencies that issue permits that result in harm can be named in a citizen suit.

The Court upheld clear language in the Michigan Environmental Protection Act that says any person can bring suit to protect the environment.

Jim Olson, an attorney for the Anglers, says the decision upholds state environmental law that’s been in place for more than forty years.

“Permits that cause harm can be brought into Circuit Court and people can bring it out into the open and judges can make decisions so agencies can’t hide behind the cloak of bureaucracy.”

Since December, a conservative majority is back in control of the Supreme Court.

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Great Lakes
6:59 am
Tue February 8, 2011

Environmentalists call on Congress to fully fund Great Lakes restoration

Environmentalists are calling on Congress to fully fund the Greak Lakes restoration projects
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.

Environment
4:24 pm
Fri February 4, 2011

Invasive brown marmorated stink bugs found in Michigan

The Brown marmorated stink bug. Spook it and it might put its stink on you, but the real worry is what it could do to crops in the state.
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

Environment
7:16 am
Fri February 4, 2011

Michigan forests hit hard last year

Detail of emerald ash borer damage
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.

Energy
5:29 pm
Thu February 3, 2011

Michigan is changing course in legal fight over coal plants

Holland's BPW wants to expand the James DeYoung coal plant on the shores of Lake Macatawa.
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.

Environment
1:44 pm
Thu February 3, 2011

Comments: Should "non-native" Mute swans be managed?

The Michigan DNRE wants to stop the rehabilitation of Mute swans in the state.
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.

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Environment
11:00 am
Thu February 3, 2011

Oil & Gas Royalties for Parks - or Roads?

Royalties from oil and gas development in Michigan currently go into the Natural Resources Trust Fund. That money is then used to buy land for parks, habitat, and create public access for recreation.
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."

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Winter storm
7:09 am
Thu February 3, 2011

Largest snowfall from winter storm reported in South Haven

The South Haven lighthouse in South Haven, covered with ice and snow from past winter storms
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.

Weather
8:59 am
Wed February 2, 2011

Spring prediction: Michigan's Woody vs. Punxsutawney Phil

Punxsutawney Phil in 2009
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.

Weather
8:41 am
Wed February 2, 2011

Winter storm brings more than a foot of snow in parts of Michigan

The big winter storm has brought more than a foot of snow in some parts of the state
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.

Weather
7:58 am
Wed February 2, 2011

Storm leaves 'relatively few' without power

Energy companies across the state say the winter storm left 'relatively few' powerless
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.

Weather
7:45 am
Wed February 2, 2011

Flights canceled as storm moves across state

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.

WEATHER
4:10 pm
Tue February 1, 2011

Michigan's homeless shelters prepare for overflow

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.

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Environment
10:56 am
Tue February 1, 2011

No rehab for mute swans?

A pair of mute swans.
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.”

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Winter Weather
7:26 am
Mon January 31, 2011

Forecasters expect big winter storm to come our way

Weather forecasters say Michigan will likely get hit by big winter storm late Tuesday
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.

Kalamazoo River Oil Spill
7:01 am
Mon January 31, 2011

Cleanup continues on the Kalamazoo River

Cleanup continues along the Kalamazoo River from last July's oil spill
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.

Great Lakes
7:53 am
Fri January 28, 2011

Feds working 'as fast as possible' to keep Asian carp out of the Great Lakes

The Obama Administration's 'Asian carp czar' was in Traverse City yesterday
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.

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Environment
10:18 am
Thu January 27, 2011

Wind turbines close to home

There's a lot of debate about how close wind turbines should be built to homes.
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.

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Great Lakes
6:57 am
Thu January 27, 2011

Federal officials to hold public meetings today on Asian carp threat

Public meetings will be held today in Traverse City about the threat of Asian carp to the Great Lakes
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.

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