For some, the magic of Isle Royale doesn't necessarily reside in the boat trip to the island.
Two days before Rebecca Williams and I left on our reporting trip, a friend and I were having lunch together.
"You're not riding on the 'Barf Barge' are you?!"
"The boat from Copper Harbor?"
"Yeah, I took that trip. We were on Isle Royale for a week. The first half of the week, all we could talk about was the boat trip over. And the second half of the week, all we could talk about was the boat trip back!"
On her trip, as the ship pulled out of Copper Harbor, the captain came on the loudspeaker.
"O.k., folks," the captain started. "We have the forecast for our crossing. And I just want to say... we're all in this together. We can get through this."
The snack bar was not open on that crossing.
But the snack bar was open for our trip.
The seas got a little rough (I saw a few eight footers roll by). And a trip to the restroom wasn't a straight walk to the door. You had to ping-pong yourself from table, to wall, to other passenger (excuse me), to the door.
Emergency cups and plastic grocery bags were deployed by some, but their "green-around-the-gills" condition didn't spread throughout the cabin.
The owners of the Isle Royale Line from Copper Harbor tell me the round-bottomed "Barf Barge" was retired in 2004. Their new boat, the Isle Royale Queen IV, rolls a lot less in heavy seas, and the new boat cut an hour off the trip.
What once took around four hours, now takes around three.
To get a sense of the crossing, I mounted a time lapse camera near the bridge. So here's the 54 mile crossing in less than two minutes.
Cell phones don't work on the island. Senses that can be overwhelmed by a connected, electric lifestyle are freed to look up, and take in the wind, waves, rock, and soil.
What makes the Isle Royale so special? We asked the Isle Royale Line's retired Captain Donald Kilpela that question:
Kilpela first made the trip to Isle Royale in 1945. And he and his family have been running the ferry service in Copper Harbor since 1971. His sons Ben and Don Jr. now run the boat. The family has been crossing Lake Superior to Isle Royale every summer since they started the business.
Two other people who know the island well have spent a good part of their lives here.
Rolf Peterson has been studying the interactions of wolves and moose on Isle Royale for more than 40 years. He and his wife Candy spend around eight months of each year on the island, and they raised their two kids on Isle Royale while living in the tiny Bangsund Cabin.
Isle Royale became a National Park in 1940, and was designated as a wilderness area in 1976. Humans are not in control here. It's an ideal laboratory for Peterson and the other researchers studying wolves and moose here.
Much of what scientists around the globe know about wolves and their behavior comes from Michigan's Isle Royale. The research project here is the longest running continuous study of any predator-prey system in the world.
All this week, we'll bring you stories about this research and about the people who make it happen - online and on-air.
Isle Royale is the least visited National Park, but as Captain Kilpela pointed out, it's the most re-visited one.
Many of you have had your own personal experiences with the island. We invite you to share your experiences about Isle Royale in the comment section below. In six words or less - tell us - what's so special about Isle Royale?
The Nature Conservancy has released an analysis saying that invasive species such as zebra mussels and sea lamprey cost businesses and consumers hundreds of millions of dollars each year, besides damaging the environment in the Great Lakes region.
Power companies spend $130 million annually removing mussels from electric plants.
The report out yesterday said tourism and other industries lose $50 million a year in reduced demand because of invasive species.
The study conducted by Anderson Economic Group of East Lansing says the situation will get worse if Asian carp reach the Great Lakes.
Let’s say you own a beach house. You might want to pull out some plants or mow them or smooth out the sand to make it look nice.
At the moment, if you want to do any of these things, you need a permit from both the state and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Maggie Cox is with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. She says her department has to make sure everyone can walk on the beaches, and she says sensitive wetlands need to be protected.
"Your property line is down to the water’s edge – but the state also holds in trust for the public the land up to ordinary high water mark."
Last week, the Michigan Senate passed legislation that would eliminate the state permit for beach maintenance.
Several environmental groups are opposed to that. (You can check out this Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council brochure on beach grooming.)
The DEQ’s Maggie Cox says her agency will still have oversight of beach maintenance in wetland areas.
"In areas that are mostly sand or mostly rock, you no longer have to get a permit from the department. But in areas that are wet or coastal wetlands, made up mostly of bulrush or other vegetation, you’re going to have to still come to the department and the Army Corps for a permit."
The Lake Michigan car ferry S.S. Badger started what could be its final sailing season today.
The historic ship burns coal as its fuel and dumps the leftover coal ash into Lake Michigan.
The EPA has said the ship needs to stop this practice. They've given the owners until the end of this year to come up with a solution, but the owners want more time.
Dave Alexander of MLive reported on a press conference held by the ship's owners this morning:
Before the 9:15 a.m. departure from its Ludington dock for the four-hour trip across a lumpy Lake Michigan to Manitowoc, Wis., Lake Michigan Carferry co-owner Bob Manglitz announced his company has made application to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to continue its coal ash dumping practices another five years.
Michigan Radio's Sarah Hulett reported on legislation in the U.S. House that "would allow the Badger to continue to dump coal ash because it's been nominated as a national historic landmark." She reports environmental groups are fighting against the designation.
The federal government says it will speed up a decision on how to protect the Great Lakes from invasive species in the Mississippi River basin. The Obama administration announced the new timetable Tuesday.
To pay tribute to the store's Great Lakes roots, the leather of the blue and gray shoe is embossed with Petoskey stones and will feature a tote bag with a Petoskey stone print.
"We decided to do something a little more in-depth than the state colors or theme colors. We wanted to take different elements from the landscape and nature side of the state," said Premier co-owner Eric Blanding. "The Petoskey stone had a different print on it that we've always thought would look cool on a shoe."
Premier has worked on several other store-exclusive shoes in the past. Blanding said from design to the rack the entire shoe creation process can take up to a year and a half.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says it will award $20 million in grants this year for projects to help the Great Lakes.
EPA officials recently invited states, cities, Indian tribes, universities and nonprofit groups to apply for the grants, which will come from money Congress appropriated under the Obama administration's Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.
The projects will focus on issues such as invasive species, toxic pollution and runoff from farms and cities.
Last month, we spoke with Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow (D) about plans about a permanent solution for keeping Asian Carp out of the Great Lakes.
“The Army Corps of Engineers is working on a plan to give us specific recommendations on how to separate the waters… The problem is they say they won’t have this done until 2015. And, so, what we’re trying to do is push them to get this done much quicker,” Stabenow explains.
Now, we hear about legislation introduced in Congress by Senator Stabenow and U.S. Rep. Dave Camp to get the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to speed up their analysis.
More from the Associated Press:
Legislation introduced in Congress would force the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to speed up a study of how to prevent Asian carp and other invasive species from reaching the Great Lakes.
The corps has identified 18 locations where fish and other organisms could migrate between the lakes and other watersheds, including an artificial linkage between Lake Michigan and the Mississippi River basin in the Chicago area.
Corps officials say they'll release their recommendations by late 2015.
Michigan's U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow and U.S. Rep. Dave Camp say that isn't soon enough. They're sponsoring bills to require the corps to submit a progress report within 90 days of the legislation's enactment and a full plan within 18 months.
Scientists say Asian carp could starve out native Great Lakes fish.
Ships entering the Great Lakes can carry water from foreign ports. That water is held in their ballast tanks. It helps stabilize the ship.
Now, anytime you hear the term ballast water... do your eyes glaze over? Maybe you start thinking about what you’re going to make for dinner? Okay, so it’s not the sexiest topic. But it matters because sneaky little invasive species can hide in the ballast water... and catch a ride across the ocean.
“Invasive species, scientists think, are the worst problem facing the Great Lakes. They threaten the Great Lakes health, they threaten to crash the ecosystem, they threaten our economy.”
That’s Andy Buchsbaum. He directs the Great Lakes office of the National Wildlife Federation. He says when ships dump their ballast water in the Great Lakes, the invaders can get out.
“And if they find each other and fall in love, you have families of those critters and you actually have some real population problems like zebra mussels going wild in the Great Lakes.”
Zebra mussels have caused all kinds of havoc with Great Lakes ecosystems. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates 30 percent of the invasive species in the Great Lakes have come in through ballast water.
Today's real-time Wind Map is showing some strong northeasterly winds flowing across Michigan's Lower Peninsula, and southeasterly winds across the U.P.
There's a gale warning in effect until midnight in the open water forecast for Lake Michigan where waves of 8 to 12 feet are a possible. The map above is showing waves of around 9 to 10 feet.
The Associated Press reports on winds gusts topping 50 mph in parts of the state "knocking down some trees and threatening the possibility of other damage."
The National Weather Service issued wind advisories for the Lower Peninsula and parts of the Upper Peninsula. Temperatures were expected to drop in northern Michigan, bringing with it the possibility of snow and ice. Snow accumulations of a few inches are possible in the western Upper Peninsula.
More than 10,300 Consumers Energy customers in West Michigan are without power this afternoon because of strong winds, according to a spokesman for the utility.
And the winds coming off of Lake Michigan near Ludington caused damage. The Ludington Daily News reported on power outages with winds that gusted to 49 mph.
Consumers Energy reported 116 customers without power in Mason County and 236 customers without power in Oceana County. Consumers Energy spokesman Tim Pietryga said there were about 5,600 customers without power at 9 a.m. today, most of them along Lake Michigan.
A group of planners and designers is arguing that we need to rethink the way we make our buildings. The U.S. Green Building Council and the University of Michigan recently put out a report: Green Building and Climate Resilience.
It says design teams should start making buildings that are better suited to a changing climate. That could mean redesigning heating and cooling and storm water systems, and it could mean changing the kind of landscaping we do.
Larissa Larsen is the lead author of the report. I met up with her on a corner in Ann Arbor to take a look at a new high rise apartment building that’s going up.
“This looks like a fairly traditional apartment building and that’s completely fine. We want to start thinking that this building is going to be inhabiting conditions that are different than what has been in Michigan for a long time.”
Wednesday state regulators and researchers will head about 35 miles west of Muskegon, near the Michigan-Wisconsin border in Lake Michigan. There they’ll survey the bottom of Lake Michigan to make sure there are no historic artifacts in the way when a floating research platform drops anchor there (likely) later this week.
Arn Boezaart heads the Michigan Alternative and Renewable Energy Center. Last year the center operated the buoy only 4 miles offshore. This year it’ll collect first of its kind data that’ll likely determine whether an offshore wind farm is viable in the middle of Lake Michigan.
Boezaart says there was a lot more interest in offshore wind data when the project began two-and-a-half years ago.
“The times have changed, the political winds have changed. So we’re just minding our business and going forward with the research work that we’re charged to do," Boeazart said. “We’ll let other people figure out how the public policy questions and politics of this play out.”
TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) - Federal officials say a deal to speed up consideration of proposed offshore wind farms in the Great Lakes should cut red tape and open the way for more clean energy production.
Officials announced the agreement Friday between the federal government and Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, New York and Pennsylvania.
There are no wind turbines in the Great Lakes now. But one project is in the works for Lake Erie.
Nancy Sutley of the White House Council on Environmental Quality said there's "tremendous" potential for wind energy development in the region. She said it's hard to know when other offshore wind proposals may arise, but government agencies should have an efficient system in place to evaluate them.
The people who manage salmon in Lake Michigan will have to decide soon how many fish to put into the lake. The salmon fishery is a manmade industry in the Great Lakes. It’s produced by planting millions and millions of fish in the lakes. But keeping the salmon population in balance with the food supply is a challenge these days. And some scientists are raising new questions about the salmon’s demise in Lake Huron and whether that can be stopped in Lake Michigan.
TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) - The Obama administration plans to spend $51.5 million this year in its continuing battle to protect the Great Lakes from destructive Asian carp.
Federal officials announced their carp strategy for 2012 on Thursday. It includes first-time water sampling to determine whether bighead and silver carp have reached vulnerable sections of Lakes Michigan, Erie and Huron.
Other planned measures include stepped-up netting and trapping of Asian carp in the Illinois River. Also high-tech monitoring to determine if an electric barrier near Chicago is adequately blocking the carp's path to Lake Michigan.
Authorities also plan field tests of an acoustic underwater gun that could scare carp away and pheromones to lure them to places where they could be captured.
The Obama administration will spend about $50 million this year on protecting the Great Lakes from greedy Asian carp, including first-time testing to see if the fish have reached Lakes Michigan and Erie.
Federal officials tell The Associated Press the government has updated its strategy for battling bighead and silver carp that have infested the Mississippi River watershed and are closing in on the Great Lakes.
Scientists say if the carp take hold in the lakes, they could threaten the $7 billion fishing industry by gobbling up plankton at the base of the food web.
Among new initiatives will be searching southern Lake Michigan and western Lake Erie for signs of carp DNA.
Also planned is stepped-up trapping and netting to remove Asian carp from tributary rivers.
TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) - Environmental groups say they may renew a legal battle if the federal government doesn't toughen proposed regulations of ship ballast water that has brought invasive species such as zebra mussels to the Great Lakes.
Groups have gone to court twice to force the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to crack down on ballast water disposal. The agency now requires ships to exchange the water at sea. In November, EPA proposed requiring vessels to install equipment that would kill at least some organisms remaining in the tanks.
The rule is based on an international standard that shippers say is the best they can do with existing technology.
But environmental groups said Tuesday the rules aren't strong enough to prevent more species invasions and they may sue again unless EPA toughens them.
Every summer, it seems there's some new water recreation device on the Great Lakes, I wonder if we'll see the "Dolphinator" anytime soon.
That's not what the inventor, Franky Zapata, calls it, that's what Robert Krulwich calls it on his blog "Krulwich Wonders":
I'm looking at this thing and thinking it should be renamed "The Dolphinator," because this is about as close as a human is ever going to get to flying in and out of the air and sea as dolphins do. In fact, it beats the dolphins.
Have a look:
I can't wait to spot one in action on the Lakes. I don't know how hard it would be to get your hands on one (Mr. Zapata's online store is down at the moment). But Krulwich writes that the "Dolphinator" (as it is now known here at Michigan Radio), costs $6,441.
"...the Flyboard is very intuitive : it’s like learning to walk. Find your balance and you will become Flying Man or Dolphin Man! Between 2 and 20 minutes are needed to learn with an instructor and 20 minutes/ 1 hour without."
People who are working on cleaning up the Great Lakes got some good news this week. After months of negotiations, the 2012 federal budget contains $300 million for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.
That money will be used to clean up pollution, deal with invasive species and restore wildlife habitat. A lot of these projects are already underway.
Jeff Skelding is the campaign director for the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition. He says in a time when many budgets are getting slashed, funding for Great Lakes cleanup will remain steady.
“We have pretty much full support from both Republicans and Democrats in the Great Lakes Congressional delegation. I mean, they see the wisdom of infusing federal funding into the region, not only to clean up the Lakes which of course is very important, but the ancillary benefit we get from that is the economic benefits of investing these funds.”
The budget also includes more than $500 million to help Great Lakes states upgrade their aging sewer systems. When it rains, the sewers often get overloaded, and raw sewage can wash up on beaches.
The Initiative was kicked off in 2010 with $475 million in restoration funds aimed at cleaning up toxic hot spots, curbing runoff pollution, fighting invasive species, and restoring habitat.
2011 saw a decrease in funding from Congress to just under $300 million.
Jeff Skelding, the campaign director of the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition, told Rebecca Williams of the Environment Report earlier this year that debate about funding for Great Lakes cleanup cuts across party lines:
"...one thing about the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative is because of the nature of the program, federal funding to clean up the Great Lakes, and to help the economy, it's really a bi-partisan issue. We have really received great support from both Republicans and Democrats in the Great Lakes Congressional delegation. So that gives us hope as we stare down the significant cuts that are happening across the federal budget."
The AP reports the Great Lakes region is also "expected to get $533 million in loans for sewer upgrades."
Twelve Days of Aquatic Invasive Species Christmas
And for those who want to mix holiday cheer with aquatic invasive species (who can resist, really?)...
That's when Jim Johnson with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources Alpena Fisheries Research Station explained to Lester Graham what was going on:
"There was a huge decline in the amount of nutrients available to zooplankton and phytoplankton in the middle of Lake Huron. These are the basic nutrient bits that fish eat. And it appears now to most of us in the scientific community that a large portion of the nutrients that used enter Lake Huron are now being trapped by zebra and quagga mussels and not finding their way to alewives and other prey fish."
Now we hear news that the state plans to cut salmon stocking in Lake Huron.
From the Associated Press:
Michigan plans a sharp cutback in Chinook stocking in Lake Huron next year, further evidence of the collapse of the lake's salmon fishery.
The state Department of Natural Resources said Friday it will place 693,000 spring Chinook fingerlings in Lake Huron in 2012. That's down from the nearly 1.5 million fed to the lake this year.
Acting DNR fisheries chief Jim Dexter says recreational harvest of Chinook has all but disappeared in the southern two-thirds of Lake Huron. The lake's only productive recreational fishery is in the northern section, where salmon are proving able to reproduce on their own.
Fish biologists blame Huron's Chinook drop-off on the unraveling of the food chain likely caused by invasive zebra and quagga mussels, which have gobbled up plankton needed by forage fish.
A top Michigan Republican would like the makers of Jack Daniel's whiskey to consider moving north if the company decides to leave Tennessee.
House Speaker Jase Bolger has invited distillery managers to visit Michigan. He says the state's business climate is improving, and he noted the state's large supply of fresh water.
A spokesman for Jack Daniel's parent company said Friday there are no plans to visit Michigan or other places that have made similar offers since a dispute about taxes sprouted in Tennessee.
Some Moore County citizens have proposed a "barrel tax" for the Lynchburg, Tenn., distillery that could raise up to $5 million a year. They're asking Tennessee lawmakers to authorize a local referendum.
The distillery is waiting to see what happens with the tax issue.
Michigan’s fight to control invasive species in the Great Lakes could be weakened by a bill passed by the U.S. House this week.
Michigan put a ballast water law into effect in 2007 to keep ships from releasing new invasive species into the Great Lakes.
But the standard would be lowered by a Coast Guard funding bill that’s on its way to the U.S. Senate.
Patty Birkholz is director of Michigan’s Office of the Great Lakes. She says the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Coast Guard had plenty of time to come up with recommendations, but failed to do so.
Now, Birkholz says, Michigan has the most to lose.
"We know the dangers that we're under with invasive species, both from water and land, and we have to protect ourselves even if the federal government won't standup to the invasive threat out there," Birkholz says.
Birkholz says no new invasive species have been found since Michigan tightened its ballast water standards.
The U.S. House bill also allows the SS Badger car ferry in Ludington to continue dumping coal ash into Lake Michigan. The operator says it can’t yet afford to convert to natural gas.
In Lansing last week, the legislature put the finishing touches on a bill to prevent the various departments of our state government from issuing regulations stronger than federal ones.
That may sound a little odd, so let me explain. Let’s say we wanted to have clean water standards higher than those Washington requires. That ought to make sense. We are surrounded by the Great Lakes, which account for most of the fresh water in the entire Western Hemisphere. Preserving them is essential to our survival.
Two cruise ships are getting ready to travel the Great Lakes starting next year. The Yorktown, a new vessel, is scheduled for 13 stops in Detroit. The Grand Mariner will have one stop.
Officials credit Detroit's new Public Dock and Terminal with generating at least some of the interest. The new terminal opened last July. The 14 planned stops are up from two stops by cruise ships this year.
*Correction - A previous version of this story stated that "roughly two-dozen cruise ships are getting ready to travel the Great Lakes starting next year." An official from the Detroit/Wayne County Port Authority says just two ships will be making more than a dozen stops at the Public Dock and Terminal. The copy has been corrected above.