Capital News Service

of the Michigan State University School of Journalism

Lake sturgeon starting to make a comeback

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By MEHAK BANSIL
Capital News Service

LANSING—Lake sturgeon, one of the oldest surviving species from prehistoric times, is making a comeback in the Great Lakes region, albeit a small one.

“They’ve increased about a couple of percent since their lowest numbers, but at least the populations aren’t going down anymore,” said Bruce Manny, a fishery biologist for the U.S. Geological Survey’s Great Lakes Science Center in Ann Arbor.

The increase is due in part to a spawning project in Black Lake, an inland lake in Cheboygan County.

Source: EPA

According to a report in the Journal of Applied Ichthyology, 40 percent of the lake sturgeon released into Black Lake as part of the project survived their first winter, but Manny said, there are no estimates on the actual number due to a lack of comprehensive studies.

Gary Towns, the Southfield-based Department of Natural Resources’ lake sturgeon coordinator for Lake Erie, said industrialization has eliminated most of the sturgeon’s traditional spawning grounds.

Towns said reefs built along the Detroit River are beginning to attract some spawning sturgeons.

“They might all die or get eaten, but at least they’re spawning,” he said.

According to Manny, there are about 2,000 sturgeon in Lake Erie, 20,000-25,000 in Lake Huron and 45,000 in Wisconsin’s Lake Winnebago.

“We’re hoping that things are turning around because they’re an interesting and critical part of the ecosystem,” Towns said.

To aid the turnaround in population, the DNR enforces extremely restrictive fishing requirements for sturgeon, including a special license and limits on how many fish may be caught and held per year.

Manny describes the fish as an environmental barometer that can be used to test the quality of drinking water.

“If these fish can reproduce and thrive, we can say the source from which we draw our water is safe,” he said.

Jim Boase, a fishery biologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Waterford, points to a remediation site in the Trenton Channel on the Detroit River in Riverview as potential spawning ground for sturgeon.

Chemical giant BASF Corp. cleaned up the site which Boase said is now regarded as a possible spawning area.

© 2009, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

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DNR, Salvation Army team up for coat drive

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By CAITLIN COSTELLO
Capital News Service

LANSING— The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the Salvation Army’s Coats for Kids program are hoping to help families bundle up this season and enjoy Michigan’s outdoors.

Coats for Kids encourages the public to bring gently used coats to one of 16 state parks on Saturday, Dec. 5 between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. In return, donors will receive free entrance to the park for the day.

They are: Bay City State Recreation Area, Fort Custer State Recreation Area, Harrisville State Park, Interlochen State Park, Island Lake State Recreation Area, Leelanau State Park, Ludington State Park, Maybury State Park, Muskegon State Park, Pinckney State Recreation Area, Pontiac Lake State Recreation Area, South Higgins Lake State Park, William C. Sterling State Park, Tawas Point State Park, Traverse City State Park and Warren Dunes State Park.

This is the Salvation Army’s 24th year for the project but its first partnership with the DNR, said Roger Snider, director of the Salvation Army’s Western Michigan and Northern Indiana Division, based in Grand Rapids.

He said the organization “strives to help our neighbors in need and encourage communities and neighbors to step up and help each other.”

Maia Stephens, a DNR recreational programmer, said this is the first of many partnerships the department hopes to set up in the next year.

“We are looking for new ways to give back to the community,” she said.

The partnership is also part of the DNR’s GO-Get Outdoors campaign to encourage children to experience Michigan’s wildlife.

The GO-Get Outdoors campaign sponsors more than 500 events yearly, from learning how to ski and kayak to teaching environmental stewardship, said Stephens.

“We want people to see this as an opportunity to enjoy the outdoors in a season when people wouldn’t normally think to spend a day at a state park.”

Drop-off locations were chosen based on what parks are open year-round, and the amount of staff available to help on the event day, but donors can enter any open state park for free that day with a donation, said Stephens.

Tim Schrener, unit supervisor at Traverse City State Park, said the park is looking at the day as an “open house to show off the wonderful resources we have to offer.

“We love our Traverse City Park and we encourage folks to fill up the gas tanks and come visit for a day,” he said.

© 2009, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

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Good time proposal for inmates sparks debate


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By VINCE BOND Jr.
Capital News Service

LANSING- Sometimes the truth isn’t good enough.

When the state instituted truth-in-sentencing guidelines for criminals in 1998 and eliminated the “good time” system that allowed inmates who behaved well to leave earlier, prison populations and costs expanded significantly, said John Cordell, public information specialist at the Department of Corrections.

As prison and jail head counts hover around 70,000 and corrections spending exceeds $2 billion a year, the Legislature is considering a proposal by Rep. George Cushingberry, D-Detroit, to reinstitute the good time system for nonviolent offenders.

Reinstituting good time opportunities would give inmates a further incentive to behave while saving taxpayers more than $100 million annually, Cordell said.

The department estimates that the legislation could reduce the prison population by 7,550 within the first six months of enactment.
Under the proposal, inmates would be credited with five days off for each month they don’t commit any major misconduct violations during the first two years of their sentence.

In years three and four, inmates could shave six days off their sentences each month.
Cordell said department specialists track good time credits for the 14,000 prisoners who were sentenced before the truth-in-sentencing laws took effect in 1998.  They are still covered by the old system.
Since 1998, defendants are required to serve at least their minimum term before becoming eligible for parole.

“Michigan continues to be a progressive state in how it deals with prisoners. This is another step to allow the department to provide some incentives to behave while in the prison population,” Cordell said. If the bill passes, inmates can “continue to show good behavior in communities rather than in prisons where it costs $33,000.”

Lapeer County Prosecutor Byron Konschuh said he would like to be able to inform his clients that a criminal is actually going to serve his or her full sentences.
If legislators want to save money, they should take a “front-end” approach to crime prevention and invest in childhood education programs, he said.

“I’m totally opposed,” to Cushingberry’s proposal. “It shouldn’t be a deceptive thing,” Konschuh said. “Legislators are trying to save some money, but it’s at the risk of public safety. It sends the wrong moral message.”

However, Cordell said most offenders believe they won’t get caught, so more flexible sentencing measures won’t even cross their minds.

Tougher sentencing also hasn’t had any measurable impact on crime statistics in the decade since truth-in-sentencing was established, Cordell said.

The prison population steadily rose from 43,821 in 1998 until peaking at 51,454 in 2006, according to the department.

“What we saw was an explosion in our prison population. It took away a tool to be released a little bit sooner because every prisoner had to serve their minimum sentence,” Cordell said. “What it did was create a more expensive prison system.”

Cushingberry’s bills are pending in the House Judiciary Subcommittee.

© 2009, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

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Lake sturgeon starting to make a comeback

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By MEHAK BANSIL
Capital News Service

LANSING—Lake sturgeon, one of the oldest surviving species from prehistoric times, is making a comeback in the Great Lakes region, albeit a small one.

“They’ve increased about a couple of percent since their lowest numbers, but at least the populations aren’t going down anymore,” said Bruce Manny, a fishery biologist for the U.S. Geological Survey’s Great Lakes Science Center in Ann Arbor.

The increase is due in part to a spawning project in Black Lake, an inland lake in Cheboygan County.

According to a report in the Journal of Applied Ichthyology, 40 percent of the lake sturgeon released into Black Lake as part of the project survived their first winter, but Manny said, there are no estimates on the actual number due to a lack of comprehensive studies.

Gary Towns, the Southfield-based Department of Natural Resources’ lake sturgeon coordinator for Lake Erie, said industrialization has eliminated most of the sturgeon’s traditional spawning grounds.

Towns said reefs built along the Detroit River are beginning to attract some spawning sturgeons.

“They might all die or get eaten, but at least they’re spawning,” he said.

According to Manny, there are about 2,000 sturgeon in Lake Erie, 20,000-25,000 in Lake Huron and 45,000 in Wisconsin’s Lake Winnebago.

“We’re hoping that things are turning around because they’re an interesting and critical part of the ecosystem,” Towns said.

To aid the turnaround in population, the DNR enforces extremely restrictive fishing requirements for sturgeon, including a special license and limits on how many fish may be caught and held per year.

Manny describes the fish as an environmental barometer that can be used to test the quality of drinking water.

“If these fish can reproduce and thrive, we can say the source from which we draw our water is safe,” he said.

Jim Boase, a fishery biologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Waterford, points to a remediation site in the Trenton Channel on the Detroit River in Riverview as potential spawning ground for sturgeon.

Chemical giant BASF Corp. cleaned up the site which Boase said is now regarded as a possible spawning area.

© 2009, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

Filed under: Uncategorized

Research project to measure the winds of changing energy

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By NICK MORDOWANEC
Capital News Service

LANSING – As the state continues its quest for multiple forms of renewable energy, one university is focusing on the winds of change.

Grand Valley State University’s Michigan Alternative and Renewable Energy Center intends to develop an offshore wind project on Lake Michigan to measure wind data, using a $1.4 million grant pushed by U.S. Rep. Pete Hoekstra, R-Holland.

Although the original project plan was to place wind turbines in the Great Lakes, that plan has changed.

“We are not putting wind turbines out there,” said Arn Boezaart, interim director of GVSU’s center. “Funding has not allowed for that to happen. We are developing an offshore project to develop wind data on Lake Michigan, as well as other research information on top of that.”

He said no start date has been announced because “we are still in the process of getting things figured out.”

Development of offshore projects on the Great Lakes is an idea promoted by the Michigan
Great Lakes Wind Council. The council was created in January to help the Department of Energy, Labor and Economic Growth (DELEG) analyze offshore wind development.

The center is aided by the West Michigan Strategic Alliance, an organization that promotes alternative energy, for advice about developmental options.

“The development of the project is predicated on winds and how predictable they are,” said Greg Northrup, president of the alliance, based in Grand Rapids.

How such development will occur remains uncertain.

Boezaart said, “Nobody knows how to construct such a project. We’re looking at a  variety of sources and proposals and figuring out the best strategy. It will most likely be a mono-pole structure in the lake bottom.”

The purpose of the project is to measure wind speeds and other wind-related data on a year-round basis because the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration pulls its buoys from the water from November through March.

“Nobody has ever done this before,” said John Sarver, supervisor of technical assistance in DELEG’s Bureau of Energy Systems and chair of the Michigan Wind Working Group.

“Grand Valley State University could provide major contributions as no actual data of wind speeds in lakes are taken because the buoys are not tall enough in height.”

The project itself will be no easy feat, Sarver said.

Focusing on offshore wind rather than placing turbines far from the shore would benefit both environment and nearby communities, Sarver said.

“There are many things to consider,” Sarver said of the original idea to place turbines in the lakes. “Fish, migratory birds, navigation in terms of shipping channels and disturbing lake bottoms are just some of them.

“And then there are view-shed issues. Do people want to look out at a sunset over the lake and see these large turbines?”

An offshore wind project could study more than just wind data.

“There’s a real interest in developing information on bird migration patterns, bat behavior patterns and climate interests,” Boezaart said. “We could even do ice studies and see how it impacts the lake.”

Boezaart said development of the center’s offshore wind project has been met with little to no criticism and lots of encouragement. “People want to develop wind energy.”

And Northrup said the project is intended to create a more alternative energy-friendly environment without harming the essence of Michigan’s Great Lakes.

“Turbines could have presented long-term liabilities – both aesthetic and environmental,” Northrup said. “We want to protect Michigan’s beautiful shoreline.”

© 2009, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

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Shopping season brings proposal to trim bank fees

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By QUINCY HODGES
Capital News Service

LANSING — Retailers are getting ready for the one of the busiest days of the year, Black Friday. But how are consumers gearing up to protect their pocketbooks?

Sen. Gretchen Whitmer D-East Lansing, is working on legislation to protect consumers from excessive and hidden fees tacked on by banks.

“As the holiday shopping season kicks off in full this week, shoppers deserve to be protected from unfair fees and should know about any hidden costs in their purchases,” said Whitmer.

“My plan would help consumers put more of their hard-earned money towards gifts for their family instead of gifts to bailed-out banks.”

Whitmer’s “Buyer Beware” plan would reduce overdraft fees, prevent banks from charging multiple fees in a 24-hour period and require banks to disclose and post online how they calculate the overdraft fees.

The Center for Responsible Lending, which has offices in North Carolina, California and Washington, D.C, found that overdraft fees have more than doubled since 2004, costing consumers $23.7 billion in 2008 alone.

That number is expected to rise to $26.6 billion for 2009, the center said. Michigan’s share of overdraft fees is estimated at more than $576 million.

Gail Madziar, vice president of membership and communications for the Michigan Bankers Association, said potential federal legislation early in 2010 would probably address the issue.

The American Bankers Association recently surveyed 1,000 banking customers and found that 82 percent didn’t pay an overdraft fee. Madziar said only 5 percent of them said they paid 10 or more overdraft fees.

“If you have that many overdraft fees, then there is a probably another problem going on there,” she said.

Madziar said she has not seen Whitmer’s legislation but her initial reaction is that the association won’t support the proposal.
Don Mann, regulatory liaison for the Michigan Association of Community Bankers,  said the legislative efforts may be well-intentioned  but the complexity of banking, from local banks to worldwide banks, is overwhelming.

Banking laws and regulations are better supervised at the federal level because federal agencies can apply rules to all insured banks and credit unions, he said.

“At the state level, it gets a little tricky because it may not apply to all banks.  Why would you subject your local banks to more stringent rules?” said Mann.

As for Black Friday and Thanksgiving weekend,  “We believe this will be a better season for many retailers, despite the challenges out there,” said Michigan Retailers Association President James Hallan.

According to the National Retail Federation, shoppers are expected to spend an average of $508 on food, decorations and gifts this year, down from $534 last year.

Foreclosures, economic uncertainty and unemployment are among the reasons consumers are scaling back.

Hallan said, “While high unemployment levels remain a big obstacle, we have seen gains since April and expect that momentum to continue through the end of the year. Our national and state economies are more stable than at this time last year and our members have greater confidence in their businesses and consumers.”

© 2009, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

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Winter pushes jobless rate higher in northern Lower Peninsula

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By ADAM DeLAY
Capital News Service

LANSING – As temperatures fall across northern Michigan, the unemployment rate is rising.

Many workers who rely on seasonal jobs in the tourism industry are finding themselves out of work as winter months arrive.

Angie Ross, business liaison for the Northwest Michigan Works! Petoskey office, said the agency tends to be busier during winter.

“There are a larger number of people in November, December and January coming in because there are fewer jobs available,” she said.

For example, someone may work during the summer at a golf course but in the winter months work at a ski resort.

Ross also said many people do multiple jobs in different seasons.

“It’s not uncommon to see people work two or three seasonal jobs and work different jobs in different seasons,” she said.

Carlin Smith, president of the Petoskey Regional Chamber of Commerce, said winter is particularly difficult because summer residents are gone.

“There are a lot of people who have summer homes and live here all summer,” he said. “They live, eat and shop here, so in the winter there is less of a need for grocers, restaurant workers and other positions. A lot of people have to take unemployment or will do odd jobs like plowing snow and hauling wood.”

Fluctuations in unemployment rates are common in many of the state’s northern counties.

Throughout the summer, Emmet, Charlevoix and Cheboygan counties saw steady declines in their jobless rates, compared to sharp increases in unemployment last winter.

In September, however, Emmet County’s unemployment rate increased from 11.6 to 12.2 percent. Charlevoix County’s rate also increased from 13 percent to 13.9 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The number of unemployed in Cheboygan County dropped from 8.7 percent to 8.6 percent in September, the smallest decrease the county has seen since March.

Smith said he wants to see more advertising for winter tourism in the area.

“While there is certainly a higher volume of people coming in the summer, we should do more to promote winter tourism,” he said. “People can travel easier today than in years past, and I think we have a lot to offer to winter travelers.”

Kirsten Borgstrom, media relations manager for Travel Michigan, said the Pure Michigan campaign has been advertising winter activities since last year. Travel Michigan is the state’s official tourism promotion agency.

“The ads cover things like snowmobile riding, skiing and all of the things people can do during the wintertime,” she said. “We’re trying to bring people to the state who would like to have an affordable winter getaway, which would increase the number of visitors and create more jobs.”

But Pure Michigan needs additional state money, Borgstrom said, so it will discontinue winter ads, at least temporarily.

“Unfortunately that aspect of the campaign will be going dark for now because we don’t have the funding for it,” she said. “If we receive our additional funding we’ll be ready to go for a January and February winter campaign.”

Smith said he remains optimistic about the region’s ability to increase the number of winter visitors.

“While I don’t think we’ll ever get to our summer levels, there is definitely room to expand our winter volume and perhaps keep more people working,” he said.

© 2009, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

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Yuck! Bad bedbugs biting bigtime

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By EMILY LAWLER
Capital News Service

Source: Oklahoma State University Department of Entomology

LANSING – Forget letting the bedbugs bite – even having them in your home is a danger.

The entire United States is dealing with a resurgence of these pesky parasites, which feed on human blood.

“They can cause red itchy lesions,” said Kim Signs, a zoonotic disease epidemiologist with the state’s Department of Community Health. She studies diseases that can be transmitted from animals to humans.

It’s especially bad in neighboring Ohio, where a bedbug-targeting task force has formed and legislators are calling for the Environmental Protection Agency to reverse a federal ban on a pesticide to help fight the bugs.

According to Signs, Michigan has now has its own bedbug workgroup, including state and local health departments and pest management companies.

But bedbugs aren’t a new phenomenon, according to Howard Russell, an entomologist with diagnostic services at Michigan State University.

“There have always been bedbugs. Even 15 years ago I got the occasional sample of bedbugs. They’d been around even in Michigan before the current outbreak,” he said.

Russell identifies bedbug samples he receives directly or through Michigan State University Extension. And he’s had more bugs to identify recently.

“I’m getting more calls than I have in past years,” said Russell.

Don Burns, president of Expert Pest Control in Detroit, gets more inquiries too. But that doesn’t mean more business.

“We get a lot of calls, but nobody wants to pay the money” for extermination services, he said.

Signs said there’s no public money available to help individuals coping with bedbugs.

“Funding is an issue that we’re coming up against repeatedly,” she said.

And a lot of commercial pesticides won’t control bedbugs, so many times professional companies are needed.

“It’s very expensive to have them treated right,” said Signs.

Burns said his fees depend on the size of the house and the homeowner’s insurance, but it’s between $650 and $700 to start.

Detroit is an at-risk area in terms of bedbugs.

“The more people you have, that increases your odds of any county having more bedbugs- so certainly Wayne, Macomb and Oakland counties,” said Russell.

It doesn’t help that these counties are close to an airport. Most bedbug infestations result from travel, experts say.

“A lot of people visit and stay overnight at a hotel or a friend’s and bring the bugs back home via their luggage,” said Russell.

Russell said bedbugs are resistant to some typical pesticides, and a professional extermination company has a wider variety of tools.

“We use heat,” said Burns.

That process consists of heating a house to temperatures that are lethal to bedbugs.

The bottom line, however, is that bedbugs are easy to get and hard to get rid of.

“They’re all over the place, not just Ohio or Detroit. They’re all over the place, everywhere,” said Burns.

© 2009, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

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New books tell of doomed ship, threatened habitats

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By ERIC FREEDMAN
Capital News Service

LANSING – The Edmund Fitzgerald is the best-known of the Great Lakes’ doomed ships, but the freighter’s demise with its entire crew off Whitefish Point in the Upper Peninsula is by no means the state’s only such maritime disaster.

Andrew Kantar, a Ferris State University professor, tells another such story, that of the ill-fated freighter Daniel J. Morrell. It sank in 1966 off the tip of the Thumb in Lake Huron, northwest of Harbor Beach.

“Each of the Great Lakes has its own tragic history, and Lake Huron’s violent moods have become legendary,” Kantar writes in “Deadly Voyage: The S.S. Daniel J. Morrell Tragedy” (Michigan State University Press, $16.95).

Like the Edmund Fitzgerald, the Morrell went down in a brutal November storm.

Unlike the Fitzgerald, there was a survivor. As the ship sank, four shipmates made it onto a life raft, but Dennis Hale was the only one to live through the 38 hours it took before a Coast Guard rescue helicopter spotted the raft.

Twenty-six bodies were recovered. Two others were never found.

“All that was left were the families, the fathers and mothers, wives and children, sisters and brothers. It was a human wreckage of loss and emptiness,” Kantar says.

While Kantar writes of a life-and-death struggle on the water, Ryan O’Connor, Michael Kost and Joshua Cohen direct their attention to a life-and-death struggle on land.

In their profusely illustrated “Prairies and Savannas in Michigan: Rediscovering Our Natural Heritage” (Michigan State University Press, $24.95) the three ecologists explore the history and future of two vital ecosystems.

Prairies are dominated by broad-leaved plants and grasses with few trees. Savannas are habitats between forest and prairie with a partial canopy of trees.

In the first half of the 1800s, savannas and prairies covered 7 percent of the state, primarily in the southern third of the Lower Peninsula. Fires, whether started by lightning or by Native Americans, maintained the openness of the land and its ability to regenerate and support wildlife.

Today, however, their survival is in almost as much jeopardy as was the Daniel J. Morrell. Largely to blame are farming, logging, development, drainage systems, overuse of groundwater and the absence of fire, according to the authors, who work for the Michigan Natural Features Inventory.

Invasive species such as purple loosestrife, buckthorn and garlic mustard also play a damaging role
In Oakland County –  “named for its historic, stately oak openings” – remaining patches of savanna are being converted to housing developments.

And Prairie Ronde once covered more than 300 square miles of Kalamazoo County. Now its prairie has shrunk to “three isolated remnants,” with “only a handful” of once-profuse oak openings left.

“Tiny, tattered pieces of these lost landscapes can still be found in the unmowed portions of old cemeteries, on open hillsides and along railroad tracks, which were formerly maintained by fires sparked from passing trains,” they write.

The book also discusses the need for restoration and preservation projects, such as controlled burnings, controlling invasive species and allowing beaver to return and build dams. As an example, it cites the Nature Conservancy’s Ives Road Fen preserve in Lenawee County, where hundreds of volunteers have worked to restore biodiversity.

Prairies and savannas “serve as natural open space, important habitat for rare species, areas for recreation, sites for educational study and places of spiritual inspiration,” the authors say.

© 2009, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

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Toxic cleanup spurs walleye resurgence

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By JEFF GILLIES
Capital News Service

Walleye swimming in Michigan’s largest watershed are 80 percent less contaminated with PCBs than they were in 1997, according to a study published recently in the Journal of Great Lakes Research.

PCBs are toxic, potentially cancer-causing chemicals that were used in electrical insulators, hydraulic equipment and some paints. The U.S. and many other countries banned PCB production in the 1970s and 1980s

Clean water laws helped turn Saginaw Bay's once-crashing walleye population into a world-class fishery. Photo: Eric Engbretson, US FWS

PCB levels in Saginaw Bay walleye have dropped 80 percent since 1997, said study author Chuck Madenjian, a fishery biologist at the U.S. Geological Survey’s Great Lakes Science Center. He credits the drop to a dredging project in 2000 and 2001 that pulled more than 340,000 cubic yards of polluted sediment out of the Saginaw River, the bay’s main tributary.

That’s enough to cover a football field in 160 feet of mud.

“This dredging was really effective in bringing down those concentrations to some really low levels,” said Madenjian,

That’s good news for Saginaw Bay’s world-class walleye fishery, said Michelle Selzer, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality’s coordinator for the Saginaw River and Bay Area of Concern. Areas of Concern are 43 highly contaminated sections of the Great Lakes designated by the U.S. and Canadian governments.

“The fish are our ambassadors,” she said. “They’re telling us something.”
Clean water laws helped turn Saginaw Bay’s once-crashing walleye population into a world-class fishery. Photo: Eric Engbretson, US FWS

Clean water laws helped turn Saginaw Bay’s once-crashing walleye population into a world-class fishery. Photo: Eric Engbretson, US FWS

What they’re telling us is that environmental laws like the Clean Water Act that crack down on industrial water pollution are working, she said. The laws aren’t perfect, , but they give environmental agencies a chance to target and clean old pollution hotspots like the Saginaw River’s PCB deposits.

General Motors Corp. factories and municipal wastewater treatment plants dumped PCBs in the Saginaw River beginning in the 1940s, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. In 1998, that agency, the state of Michigan and the Saginaw Chippewa Tribe reached a settlement with General Motors Corp. and the cities of Saginaw and Bay City, Mich. to pay for the dredging.

Though the PCBs were dredged nearly a decade ago, this new evidence of cleaner fish is still significant because scooping polluted dirt out of a waterbody doesn’t always mean wildlife gets cleaner, Madenjian said.

“You would expect in general that it would happen, but sometimes you get mixed results,” he said.

A 1997 project that pulled 100,000 cubic yards of DDT-laced sediment out of San Francisco Bay left some fish more contaminated than they were before the dredging.

Madenjian tested fish from the Tittabawassee River, a tributary of the Saginaw River that eventually flows into Lake Huron’s Saginaw Bay. When Saginaw Bay walleye swim upstream to spawn, most head up that river system until they hit a dam on the Tittabawassee River on Dow Chemical Co. property in Midland, Mich., Madenjian said.

“You have the bulk of the spawners from the entire bay being concentrated right there at this Dow dam,” he said.

Dow Chemical is responsible for widespread dioxin contamination in the Saginaw Bay watershed. Dow, Michigan’s environmental agency and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently reached a tentative agreement on a plan for the chemical company’s dioxin cleanup. The plan is open for public comment until Dec. 17.

Jeff Gillies writes for Great Lakes Echo.

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