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Environment & Science

REBECCA WILLIAMS / MICHIGAN RADIO

There are about 32,000 islands in the Great Lakes. About 30 of them have year-round residents – people who stick it out through the long winter.

Now, Great Lakes islanders are banding together.

School plane
Rebecca Williams / Michigan Radio

There are about 32,000 islands in the Great Lakes. Most are uninhabited. But for those who live year-round on about 30 of them, it can be an isolating experience. Now, Great Lakes islanders are getting together to tackle some of the problems they have in common.

Sleeping Bear Dunes
Rebecca Williams / Michigan Radio

Since Michigan is the Great Lakes State, it's no surprise that environmental reporting continues to be relevant year after year, and 2017 was no different.

Here are some of the biggest environmental stories from the year:

LITTLE TRAVERSE BAY BANDS OF ODAWA INDIANS

Wildlife specialists will soon be in the woods in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, tracking wolves. 

The Department of Natural Resources last conducted a wolf census in 2016, when it estimated more than 600 wolves prowled in the U.P.

The DNR's Kevin Swanson says they don't know what to expect. But he says conditions may be right for an increase in the wolf population. 

"We have a lot more deer on the landscape now," says Swanson. 

But Swanson says there are other factors, like canine distemper, that could negatively affect the wolf population. 

tuchodl / Flickr Creative Commons HTTP://MICHRAD.IO/1LXRDJM

Two additional firearm deer hunts are planned for January 4-7 and 11-14 in portions of Ionia and Montcalm counties, according to an announcement of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

The goal of the extra hunts is to help with monitoring chronic wasting disease that has been found in some deer in these counties.

Participants in the hunt will be required to turn in the heads of the deer they kill for testing. 

The DNR advises not to eat the deer until test results are back.

steve carmody / Michigan Radio

A new study may ease some of the concern among Flint parents about the future of their children exposed to high levels of lead in their drinking water. 

Flint children who've tested with high blood lead levels from their drinking water may experience learning problems as they age. Some scientific research, in particular a 2008 University of Cincinnati study, suggests the children may also be prone to criminal behavior later in life. 

However, new research refutes that. 

pine grosbeak in tree with berries
Don Henise / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

As the rest of us are snuggled up with hot cocoa this holiday season, Michigan birders have been heading out in the snow and cold for the annual Christmas bird count.

"The first Christmas bird count actually did happen on Christmas back in 1900,” says Rachelle Roake, conservation science coordinator for Michigan Audubon.

Snowy owls have descended on the Great Lakes region and northeastern U.S. in huge numbers in recent weeks, to the delight of birdwatchers.

The mass migration we’re seeing this winter is what’s known as an irruption.

"For snowies, that's usually largely influenced by whether or not they had a really good breeding year,” said Rachelle Roake, a conservation scientist at Michigan Audubon.

And snowy owl breeding is influenced by how much food those snowy owls have access to during the breeding season.

Rogue River
Trout Unlimited

More Kent County residents will have their private wells tested for toxic chemicals after the state expanded its testing zone this week.

Wolverine Worldwide manufactures shoes for brands like Hush Puppies and Merrell. The company is believed to be the source of the groundwater contamination.

Cheyna Roth / Michigan Public Radio Network

The call to shut down Enbridge’s Line 5 continues.

That’s the pipeline that carries oil and natural gas liquid under the Straits of Mackinac.

Protestors gathered outside the State Capitol today. They marched to the governor’s office and Attorney General Bill Schuette’s office. Once there, they delivered over 25,000 comments calling for the line to be shut down.

Should we ever leave invasives alone?

Dec 21, 2017
Rebecca Thiele

Invasive plants and animals are an expensive problem in the United States.

Federal agencies spent more than $104 million last year to control them. But a study on the garlic mustard plant shows that it might be better to leave some invasives alone. 

Garlic mustard is a forest plant with heart-like leaves and clusters of white flowers. It can grow up to about four feet tall and is often the first green plant you’ll see in the spring.

Europeans settlers brought it to the United States in the 1800s as an herb for cooking. It was also used to treat ulcers and gangrene.

Paul Vugteveen, a chef in Battle Creek, uses the plant in his cooking. He says it has a garlicky, oniony flavor and is best served raw. 

Courtesy of Tyler Petroelje

Michigan has held one wolf hunt. That was in 2013, when 22 wolves were killed in the Upper Peninsula.

The next year, a federal judge put wolves back on the endangered species list.

Since then, lawmakers from Michigan, as well as Minnesota and Wisconsin, have tried to tack on riders to various bills in Congress that would "de-list" the wolves. These moves are backed by farmers who say wolves are preying on their livestock.

But now, a new study indicates those farmers may be contributing to that predation problem. How? By not burying their dead cows.

A rusty barrel in the woods
Bryce Huffman

On Monday, environmental activist Erin Brockovich spoke at a west Michigan town hall.

She was there in support of a class-action lawsuit filed against three companies – 3M, Wolverine Worldwide, and Waste Management.

The suit accuses them of dumping toxic waste and polluting the groundwater in several areas of Kent County with a family of chemicals known as PFAS, which stands for per-and-polyfluoroalkyl substances.

Disruption Books, 2017

When it comes to protecting the environment, our existing laws have failed us.

So says environmental activist Maya van Rossum. In her new book, The Green Amendment, she says existing laws don't ban pollution or development.

She writes, "Industries are perfectly able to pollute the air and water not in spite of, but because of, the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act – they simply need the right permits to do so."

The Impossible Burger
Kara Holsopple

Scientists have created a vegan burger that bleeds like beef. It’s called the Impossible Burger and its creators argue it’s better for the planet. But there are some questions about the substance the company uses.

Sarah Bird

 

"When can we eat the fish?”

That’s what the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula wants to know.

 

Officials in Michigan issue fish advisories. Those recommend limits on how much fish we eat because of toxic chemicals that can build up in fish.

 

Indigenous communities in the Great Lakes are at greater risk because they eat a lot of fish.

 

For years, there was a focus on trying to get tribes to follow the advisories more closely. But some people argue that’s the wrong way to tackle the problem.

 

The DEQ PFAS Investigation Map near Rockford, MI
From Google map provided by Wolverine Worldwide

Money might be on the way to help fight perfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, in Michigan.

 

PFAS is a family of chemicals that’s been discovered in groundwater in 14 communities, and 28 sites, across the state. PFAS chemicals are used in things like flame retardants, cleaning products and food packaging.

 

Susanne Nilsson / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

An archeological dig yields more than arrowheads, shards of pottery, or pieces of jewelry.

They also yield bones.

A research team at the University of Michigan has been studying some ancient dog bones dug up in Germany. In doing so, they’ve uncovered new clues about when our faithful domesticated dog evolved from wolves.

A small fish is held in a net.
Sarah Bird

 


If you eat wild caught fish from Michigan, you might know about fish consumption advisories. They’re recommended limits on safe amounts of fish to eat, and they're necessary because toxic chemicals build up in fish in the Great Lakes and inland lakes and streams.

screenshot from Enbridge report to the state

Members of a pipeline advisory board are criticizing a deal Governor Snyder struck with the energy company Enbridge. They are calling for the line to be temporarily shut down.

The Pipeline Safety Advisory Board, created by a governor’s executive order, met Monday. Some members raised concerns over Enbridge’s Line 5 pipeline, and the agreement the governor made with the company after the line showed wear on the decades-old protective coating.

Japanese knotweed is a prohibited invasive plant species in Michigan.
USDA Forest Service

Invasive species tend to do well in new places, and they can push out native species. There’s an assumption that they do better in the same kind of environment as the country they came from.

But scientists have found that some invasive plants can change and adapt to new continents and new climates.

New wild bee species discovered in Michigan

Dec 7, 2017
Kim Phillips / Michigan State University

Michigan is home to more species of wild bees than has been previously known, according to the first census made of wild bee species in the state. 

"Overall we found that there's 465 species of wild bees in Michigan," said Michigan State University professor Rufus Isaacs, co-leader of the project. "And interestingly, 38 of those were new species that hadn't been seen before in the state of Michigan."

Caribb / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

The Next Idea

From the Sears kit houses of the early 1900s to the McMansions of the '90s, the way we heat and cool our homes has mostly followed this formula: Build a space the size you want, then install heating and cooling that will keep that square footage comfortable. 

D. Tallamy, courtesy of Desiree Narango

Native plants are better for birds than non-native plants.

That’s the main finding of a study on chickadees and the caterpillars they eat.

A "no trespassing" sign from the House Street site boundary.
Bryce Huffman / Michigan Radio

People in northern Kent County have been dealing with the recent discovery of groundwater contamination for the past several months.

Some residents still have questions about what caused it and how it could affect their health.

Bruce Power / Ontario Power Generation

More than 100 Great Lakes mayors and elected officials want the Canadian government to say no to a controversial plan to bury low- and intermediate-level nuclear waste within one mile of Lake Huron at the Bruce Nuclear Power Plant in Kincardine, Ontario.

The officials from both side of the U.S-Canadian border slammed Ontario Power Generation's plan in a November 30, 2017 letter to Catherine McKenna, Canada's Minister of Environment and Climate Change.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality is vowing to strengthen lead-in-water rules because of the Flint water crisis. At a public meeting in Lansing Wednesday night, state regulators said they cannot wait on the federal government to finish its own version of the new rules.

Today on Stateside, we talk to a physician who nearly died at her own hospital. Now, she's calling on medical staffers everywhere to be more empathetic. Also today, a deer specialist explains chronic wasting disease's impact on animals this year and what the Department of Natural Resources has learned from deer submitted by hunters for testing. And, Enbridge defends its agreement with the state on the Line 5 pipeline.

Michigan Department of Natural Resources / Facebook

All through this deer hunting season, Michigan hunters are bringing their deer to check stations to be tested for a disease called chronic wasting disease (CWD).

It's turning up again in deer in our state, which is why the Department of Natural Resources is keeping a close eye on this threat.

Today on Stateside, a member of the state Pipeline Safety Advisory Board explains why the state's agreement with Enbridge "mostly goes in the wrong direction." And, in a holiday rendition of Theater Talk, we learn what's playing now on Michigan stages.

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