Capital News Service

of the Michigan State University School of Journalism

Habitat projects protect rare butterflies in Southwest Michigan

Credit: Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment

Capital News Service

LANSING – Two nature restoration projects in Southwest Michigan are rejuvenating wetland habitats as a hospitable home for endangered species, including one of the world’s rarest butterflies.

The work, including removal of invasive plants with herbicides and the controlled burning of encroaching shrubs and trees, was a collaboration of public agencies and a nature conservation group.

“We’ve been working in the Southwest region for a long time, and like most of our projects, we had earmarked this region as an ecological priority for biodiversity preservation,” said John Legge, the conservation director of the Nature Conservancy’s West Michigan office in Comstock Park.

The projects, which began in 2003, were a joint effort of the Michigan Department of Transportation, (MDOT), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Department of Natural Resources and Environment, (DNRE) and the Nature Conservancy to preserve and improve the Blue Creek Fen in Berrien County and the Paw Paw Prairie Fen in Van Buren County, both in the Paw Paw River Watershed.

These efforts, which were recently honored with an Exemplary Ecosystem Initiative award from the Federal Highway Administration, started when MDOT purchased property near the Blue Creek Fen for the expansion of a highway.

“When we realized that this property was home to one of the endangered butterfly species in Michigan, we initiated a series of talks which led to the dedication of the land to DNRE for conservation work,” said Paul South, manager of the MDOT’s Transportation Services Center in Coloma.

The Blue Creek Fen is one of the last remaining habitats for the Mitchell’s satyr, according to state officials.  The chocolate brown, medium-sized butterflies are found in only 16 habitats in Michigan.

The fens are home to two other rare species, the Eastern massasauga rattlesnake and Eastern box turtle.

“The Mitchell’s satyr butterfly has been rare for as long as we’ve known about it,” Legge said.  “It has very specific requirements for certain types of wetlands, and we think that human activity has reduced the number of habitats available for the butterfly.”

Fens, their natural habitat, are rare, according to Doug Landis, an entomologist at Michigan State University.

Landis, who is involved in the preservation of the species, said the alteration of natural habitats for development and the abandonment of old conservation practices have led to factors that endanger the butterflies.

“Fire, which was used in the old days to reset the natural succession of prairie fens, is no longer used these days,” Landis said.  “In the absence of fire, woody and shrubby habitats have surrounded the fens, trapping and isolating the butterflies and leading to inbreeding.”

Landis said that inbreeding reduces the genetic diversity of species, which limits their adaptation to changes in their habitats, and, most importantly diseases.

Landis and his team are investigating whether a type of bacteria, discovered in the satyr is leading to its inability to produce viable offspring.

The Nature Conservancy is using technological advances to identify fens that have been invaded by non-native species.

Legge said staff identifies and tracks non-native plants using satellite data and high-altitude photos.  The conservancy also uses remote sensing to identify healthy habitats and those that need conservation work.

According to Landis, one way to improve the population of these butterflies is to restore the fens’ natural ecosystem functions.

Activities such as removing and controlling the regrowth of invasive species and sustaining the underground water that feeds the wetlands are part of the work that the partners undertook to restore the wetlands at both sites.

Landis and his team are working on research to promote repopulation of endangered species in other fens.

“We are looking to see what happens if we breed these species in our labs and then release them in such fens — perhaps this will help to improve their genetic diversity,” Landis said.

This strategy, referred to as “captive rearing and release,” has succeeded with large mammals such as tigers and cheetahs and other types of insects, he said.

For example, the Toledo Zoo used that technique to repopulate the endangered Karner blue butterfly, which disappeared from its habitat more than two decades ago.

“There’s only a few of the Mitchell’s satyr butterflies in the world,” said Landis.  “This is one of our global strongholds here in Michigan and we have a huge responsibility to preserve it.”

© 2011, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.



Filed under: Environment

Wireless service uncertain at more state parks

Capital News Service

LANSING –A proposal to bring wireless Internet service to state parks to boost tourism appears far from certain.

Agriculture Director Keith Creagh said broadband service can promote agri-tourism to golf courses, fishing docks and state parks, but the head of the state parks division of the Department of Natural Resources and Environment (DNRE) said a pilot program at a limited number of parks proved too expensive.

Creagh said Agriculture and DNRE may try different approaches to enhance agri-tourism and state park use by offering more up-to-date technology and making Michigan more attractive to a variety of campers.

In 2004, the state piloted wireless Internet service at eight of its 97 state parks: East Tawas, Holland, Grand Haven, Ludington, Charles Mears, Mackinac Island, Traverse City and Van Riper, as well as several state harbors, welcome centers and transportation centers.

Internet is still available for a fee at central locations, near concessions and headquarters, at those parks.

The original contract allowed campers free access to, the official state government website, but browsing other sites costs $7.95 for a 24-hour session, according to the Department of Transportation.

The DNRE said Michigan was the first state to introduce wireless to parks.

Harold Herta, the DRNE chief of parks and recreation resource management, said, “It was an experiment that never really took off. It wasn’t too successful because hotels and coffee shops nearby offered free Internet.”

Herta said the pilot program wasn’t popular because many park-goers can pick up some sort of access from nearby cell towers.

Therefore, they don’t want to pay for an extra service they view as an amenity, he said.

The Internet contract has expired, but parks are still able to provide access.

The Department of Technology, Management and Budget (DTMB) would operate the wireless revival or expansion, Herta said.

The possibility of rejuvenating the wireless experiment raises questions beyond money, compatibility and visitor demand.

Herta pointed to complaints and skeptical editorials about the pilot program. Critics contended that Internet use defeats the purpose of a relaxing park vacation.  Questions arose about visitors spending time on iPads and laptops to watch Netflix, instead of hiking trails and appreciating wildlife.

On the flip side, Herta said campers enjoyed the fact that they could enhance their park experience, make reservations on their computers and phones, keep up with e-mails and receive weather updates.

Herta said it was too expensive because too few campers took advantage of the Internet.

If the state tried wireless again, it would need to be free for campers he said.

Gail Vander Stoep, a tourism expert at Michigan State University, said, “It’s a complex issue because wireless is ubiquitous– an expected kind of service– but others argue part of the reason why people use state parks is for reflection, rejuvenation and to get away from those kinds of regular demands.”

In addition, Vander Stoep said there are serious practical issues.

“Some parks are in more rural places and others are remote.  Some parks are more natural and primitive, and others are near urban recreational areas for quick-in-quick-out experiences.”

There are logistical challenges, and consistency may be challenging, she said.

Kurt Weiss, the Technology, Management and Budget public information officer, said the rejuvenation is in the early stages, since his department has not been contacted about possible expansion.

Jennifer Holton, Department of Agriculture public information officer, said if departments partner to develop a holistic approach in agri-tourism, they can align opportunities and enhance state parks.

© 2011, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.


Filed under: State Agencies

State pushes for more young farmers

Capital News Service

LANSING — As the state’s agricultural sector continues to grow, so does the need for young farmers, according to the Michigan Farm Bureau.

While the average age of the state’s farmers was about 54 in 2007, the Department of Agriculture believes that number is currently higher — evidence of an old agricultural infrastructure in need of a youthful jolt.

Joe Ott, chair of the Farm Bureau’s Young Farmers and a grain grower in Lenawee County, said it’s important to get young farmers involved in the community to ensure that small-and medium-sized family-owned farms survive.

However, Ott, who lives in Sand Creek, said it’s tough to get financial backing to start.

“The banking industry has got so strict and tough that it’s just so hard for a young guy –especially if his family wasn’t in farming — to get his foot in the door and get credit established,” Ott said.

“They almost have to have someone willing to stick their neck out and sign on the dotted line with them to get started,” he said.

Jeff  VanderWerff, vice chair of the organization’s Young Farmers,  said they are eligible for federal loans but  some are reluctant to apply.

“There is a fair amount of skepticism about those programs,” VanderWerff said. “A lot of young farmers don’t necessarily want the government to have their fingers on everything that we do.”

Instead, VanderWerff, who farms in Casnovia, points to more local efforts, including programs with the Farm Bureau, that help them connect with communities while improving their business and marketing skills.

“It’s going to help them grow their business and grow themselves personally through professional development training, networking and social interaction,” VanderWerff said.

Along with the high cost of entrance into the business, young farmers also face the problem of land availability.

Through its program FarmLink, the Farm Bureau connects young farmers with retiring ones, in hopes that a younger farmer will take over operations.

According to VanderWerff, the program provides beginning producers a chance while ensuring that farmland isn’t lost to developers.

However, VanderWerff said that the program has limitations and may need help from the state.

“There are a lot of young people that would like to get their hands on those operations,” VanderWerff said. “But for the retiring farmers there isn’t really an incentive.”

VanderWerff said that giving incentives to retirees would help keep the agriculture industry strong for generations.

While some young farmers get their start through such programs or transfers of family farms, others begin through local ties.

Jay Williams, who raises corn and soybeans in Hillsdale County, got his start in 2004 through a neighbor.

Williams gradually earned land by working on his neighbor’s farm, gradually building a base to become competitive.

“It would have been much more difficult if I didn’t have a neighbor that was willing to give me a try and allow me to enter the business,” Williams said.

Williams said that learning from other farmers allowed him to succeed, adding that it’s critical the state encourage young farmers to stay.

“To have a segment of the society involved in agriculture is a great way to retain young talent in the state and keep knowledge in the state,” Williams said.

According to VanderWerff, the Farm Bureau has seen an increase in membership of newer farmers like Williams.

“Young farmers help put a face to a plate,” VanderWerff said. “ They show a farmer behind the food.”

© 2011, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.




Filed under: Agriculture

Want merlot with your quantum physics?


Capital News Service

LANSING—How about E=MC² with your draft beer? Or a chemical reaction with your double-mocha latte?

Can you learn science in a bar or café?

It’s happening as science pubs and science cafés gain popularity in Michigan and beyond.

That’s where a growing number of people are learning science in communities like Jackson, Okemos, Muskegon, Lansing and Ann Arbor, as well as across the Indiana border in South Bend.

“You can drink alcohol while listening to the lecture. It is not in a classroom. Be casual,” said biology Professor Laura Thurlow at Jackson Community College (JCC) and science liaison for the city’s science café.

Thurlow said the science café has been held fall and winter since 2009 with three or four lectures per semester.

It’s become more and more popular.

“Arrive at the Hudson’s Classic Grill restaurant early, or you need to stand in the back to listen to the lecture,” Thurlow said.

It attracts about 60 people, she said. Some are retired professors, some are from high school science classes but most are the general public.

Programs begin with a 10-to-15-minute small group discussion led by JCC science students. Then the guest speaker makes a 20-to-30-minute presentation, followed by an hour of discussion and questions.

“The science café is a way to engage the general public in discussing science in a casual way,” Thurlow said.

According to Meg Gower, the owner of Gower Design Group and the initiator of Jackson science café, topics ranged from stem cell research and the atom smashing cyclotron to the expanding universe, health care and climate science.

Gower said, “It’s not difficult to line up guest speakers because most scientists are very willing to come and talk about their favorite topics.”

As for funding, Gower said, “In 2009, the PBS station WGBH in Boston had seed money available for start-up science cafés. I wrote a grant and included a letter of support from Jackson Community College saying that Jackson was in great need of such a series and it got approved.”

The money is used for renting space in the restaurant, inviting speakers and providing prizes for encouraging the public to participate.

Thomas Hamann, a chemist at Michigan State University, recently started a science café in Okemos.

The money was from the International Year of Chemistry and the first session was successful, he said.

“It was snowy that day, but around 40 people were coming,” Hamann said. “If the weather is not that bad, we are confident we will have more audience.”

He said there’s an advantage to off-campus sites. “We break the barriers for people so that it’s more accessible to the general public and they can listen to the informal lecture at the end of the day in a relaxed atmosphere.

“It’s also a good way to minimize the intimidation of the public,” he said.

Hamann said the programs let the public connect with scientists directly.

In Dusty’s Cellar restaurant in Okemos, a one-hour lecture about energy science by Professor James McCusker was followed by two hours of interaction with the audience.

McCusker, a chemistry professor at MSU said, “We provide some prizes to encourage people to ask questions and get involved in this lecture.

“The majority of the audience was from the MSU community and a couple were high school science teachers,” McCusker said, adding that the teachers can “disseminate the knowledge to their students.

“Our job as scientists is to filter and distill the knowledge we have learned to the public in a way that they can easily understand and let them have a sound basis about science,” he said.

In Ann Arbor, the next science café will be held in Conor O’Neill’s Traditional Irish Pub and the topic is “Water, Oil and Energy”.

It will feature professors from MSU and University of Michigan to discuss the science and policy resulting from recent events.

Meanwhile, in Muskegon, Grand Valley State University has supported this kind of science café since 2005.

The science café sponsored by Lansing Community College presents informal discussions of scientific topics once a month. The next one, “What Is a Healthy Human Diet” will be held in mid-February.

In South Bend, the science café at the University of Notre Dame meets the last Wednesday of every month.

© 2011, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.


Filed under: Education

New media connect state government, the public

Capital News Service

LANSING – State agencies are using social networking sites such as Twitter, Facebook and Youtube as a new method of outreach.

For example, the Michigan Department of Agriculture (MDA) hopes the public will turn to them for everything from cherry recipes to warnings about food-borne illnesses.

MDA has posted links to recipes in honor of National Cherry Month, undiscovered wine regions and a new interactive website for the Michigan Beef Industry Commission.

Its Twitter, Facebook and Youtube pages — the three forms of new media approved by the Department of Technology, Management and Budget — are coordinated through MDA’s office of communication.

“It is a good way for us to talk to young farmers and people who are trying to start an agricultural business,” Jennifer Holton, the department’s public information officer, said.

Twitter enables MDA to communicate urgent messages about food-borne illnesses, such as last summer’s salmonella outbreak, faster than before, she said.

Twitter makes it easy to promptly inform people who may be affected, Holton said. “Our ability to post about recalls or food-borne illnesses is tremendous because it can impact someone’s daily life.”

Other agencies have also used technology to reach out during an emergency, such as the Department of Natural Resources and Environment during the wildfires in northern Michigan last summer and the Department of Community Health during the H1N1 flu virus outbreak.

MDA also uses social media to promote agri-businesses to boost the economy and tourism. One business recently highlighted on its Facebook and Twitter pages is Achatz Handmade Pie Co. in Chesterfield.

MDA posted a link to a video that featured a behind-the-scenes look at Achatz by FOX 2-TV in Detroit.

Achatz has its own Facebook page and blog, and is starting to see the positive uses of social media to raise brand awareness and sales, Achatz project manager Scott Brown said.

“It’s almost instantaneous, like wildfire. It spreads faster than any other form of media. I don’t think there’s anything like it, nor has there ever been,” Brown said.

Achatz Handmade Pie Co. uses a majority of locally-grown ingredients in its products and Brown said the company expects to expand to nine retail stores across the state in the next two years with guidance from MDA.

“I believe social media is a way a small percentage of the population is informed, but I think year by year that will grow rapidly, and that will become the preferred method of information transfer. It’s just a matter of time,” Brown said.

Kurt Weiss, Technology, Management and Budget public information officer, said the department recently issued guidelines so that all agencies know how to keep their look consistent across state government.

Security was one of the major reasons state agencies were leery of social networks for a long time, Weiss said. Facebook is the site where a majority of viruses were transferred to state media pages.

“Government interest in new media is really about improving the way we communicate with businesses and citizens around the state. And we really need to look at the value around doing that.

“The application within state government is different from the campus community and state citizens, so we’re still trying to tweak it and see what the use is,” Weiss said.

© 2011, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.











Filed under: State Agencies

Police update training to counter increased violence

Capital News Service

LANSING – As violent attacks against law enforcement officers continue to rise, police departments are modernizing their training programs despite budget cutbacks.

Departments in Three Rivers and Sturgis are changing how and how often they train their officers.

Sturgis Deputy Chief Dave Ives said the biggest change is increased cooperation among departments. One approach is organizing consortiums with community colleges to maximize spending on training, including shared instructors.

“We’ve saved considerable money for good-quality classes we couldn’t otherwise afford,” he said.

Eighteen officers across the country have been killed in the line of duty already this year, 12 of them shot, according to the nonprofit National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund in Washington, D.C. In 2010, 61 officers were fatally shot, up from 49 in 2009.

Among those was Officer Larry Nehasil of the Livonia Police Department, who was killed by gunfire while conducting surveillance in January. Last year, members of the Detroit, Jackson, and Taylor police departments died in the line of duty. Four Detroit officers were wounded by gunfire in their station last month.

Ives said part of the changes in Sturgis involve better preparation for close quarters combat, including “defensive tactics training, ground fighting, pressure point control tactics and Tasers.” Tasers, a brand name for electroshock devices, in particular have been good for police and suspects, giving officers a “line in the sand” that elicits cooperation from suspects more readily, he said.

In Three Rivers, the police department has introduced a new defensive tactics course and increased its training budget.

Officer Eric Piper, its instructor, says the classes focus on close quarters defensive training. Prior to the new program, officers received four hours of such training per year.

Now the department will offer three or four classes each month. Officers must attend at least six per year, but can attend more, he said.

Piper said this type of training is something he’s wanted to offer for a long time.

“It was strange for me to get into police training and see how little of this they did,” he said.

According to Piper, the old system didn’t address close quarters situations and the necessary “core self-protection skills” that his department now focuses on.

He said it’s not unusual to be assaulted in the field, although not always with a deadly weapon.  Therefore, the goal must be to prepare officers to think through scenarios in the best way possible.

Piper said psychological aspects are essential, especially making officers aware of potential challenges in the field.

Ives, of Sturgis, said all training must help officers to understand their limitations, both physical and mental, so they don’t wear themselves out on the job.

Departments across the state continue to face budget constraints, which can impede implementing such measures, Ives said.

In addition, the Michigan Commission on Law Enforcement Standards, which approves statewide standards for training, has only provided limited funding for such classes, and it is difficult to have supplemental requests granted, he said.

Terrence Jungel, executive director of the Michigan Sheriffs’ Association, cited declines in state funding of criminal justice programs, including prisons and reduced numbers of police, as increasing dangers for officers in the field.

“There’s only so much you can do to protect yourself,” he said. “It’s a very dangerous time to be a police officer.”

While the trend of fatal shootings is horrific, he said, the death of each officer is itself a tragedy.

“These are people, not just numbers,” he said.

With declining or stagnant funding, fewer police are on the rolls and more prisoners are being released early, Jungel said. That overall trend has led to a “precarious” situation where backup can’t arrive as quickly.

In addition, the struggling economy has supported more crime, placing a tougher burden on police, he said.

“Economics is the engine that drives the vehicle of public safety,” he said.

Gov. Rick Snyder’s creation of a Criminal Justice Advisory Council and increased focus on public safety are encouraging first steps, Jungel said.

© 2011, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.


Filed under: Uncategorized

Wine tasting, sales could expand to farmers markets

Capital News Service

LANSING — Farmers markets and wineries are lifting their glasses to toast a bill that would promote wine sales.

The sponsor, Sen. Goeff Hansen, R-Hart, said that allowing tasting and sales of wine at farmers markets would give customers more access to wineries that are off the beaten path.

The legislation would authorize a special license for Michigan-owned wineries.

Michigan Grape and Wine Industry Council program director Linda Jones sees the bill proposal as part of the natural evolution of market access that wineries face.

“Michigan wineries are looking for places to promote their product, and the traditional places where wine is sold are the retail store and the restaurant,” she said.

“With the tremendous growth of farmers markets in past years, it’s become more apparent that there’s an opportunity to capitalize on the interest in buying local in the farmers market environment with wine,” she said.

The Michigan Farmers Market Association has worked with unsuccessful legislation in the past and director Dru Montri said that allowing wine to be sold at farmers markets is a priority for the association.

She said that Hansen’s bill will require careful review and comparison with other states that allow wines sales at farmers markets, like New York and Iowa.

She added that emphasizing the proposal’s impact on small business development and entrepreneurship could help it gain momentum in the current economic climate.

Stoney Acres Winery business manager Amy Gagnon said that although selling at farmers markets may seem appealing at first, wineries — especially smaller ones — must consider the costs involved.

Stoney Acres Winery is in Alpena.

She said her primary concern is the license fee for 20 nonconsecutive days at $25 per day.

“I think this is another way to put a tax in there because the government’s hurting and they realize the wine industry in Michigan is growing,” she said.

“I could have another tasting room that could be opened regularly that would only cost me $100 a year for another license. This would cost me $500 for 20 days. That’s expensive,” she said.

Advocates of the bill, such as Ludington Farmers Market coordinator Heather Venzke, say the measure would be a win-win for everyone because it would bring more public attention to local industries.

Two of the state’s 80 wineries are in Mason County.

Georgaphically, wineries are scattered from Blissfield to Berrien Springs to the Leelanau Peninsula to Cheboygan to Carsonville, with three in the Upper Peninsula.

“The more exposure that any local products, including wineries, get, the more business they get and the more people they employ,” she said.

Venzke said that if the bill becomes law, she will likely try to recruit local wineries to participate.

In the United States, Michigan ranks 13th in wine production. And with a growth rate of 10 to 15 percent a year, it’s one of the fastest-growing agriculture industries in the state, according to the council.

Michigan’s wineries produce more than 1 million gallons of wine, attract more than 800,000 tourists and contribute more than $300 million annually, according to council.

Hansen said that wine production will foster Michigan’s agritourism industry and secure the state’s position as a culinary destination.

“Every year our wineries are getting better. They’re learning more about the grapes that they produce, which means the better the product,” Hansen said.

“We are going to be big in wine, and if we can become big in culinary, marrying them together would be an absolute plus,” he said.

The bill is pending in the Senate Regulatory Reform Committee.

© 2011, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.


Filed under: Agriculture

Proposal would legalize Taser-type devices

Capitol News Service

LANSING – A new Senate bill would legalize private possession of high-voltage electroshock weapons, best known by the brand name Taser.

It would let anyone with a concealed weapons permit carry the weapon.

“I very strongly believe that everyone has the right to defend themselves,” said Sen. Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge, co-sponsor of the legislation.

According to Jones, the “common sense” bill would save lives by allowing potential victims to carry such “less than lethal” devices.

Sen. Goeff Hansen, R-Hart, who also sponsored the bill, said that giving the option of carrying a high-voltage electroshock weapon instead of a handgun would be beneficial.

“People can still carry a pistol if they want to,” Hansen said.  He added that the proposal would allow another means of protection for people who are uncomfortable carrying a gun.

Private possession of such devices is already legal in 43 states, according to Jones.

Jones said versions of high-voltage electroshock weapons sold to the public are weaker than those used by law enforcement agencies.

When fired, the devices also release “confetti” that lets police identify the owner.

Owners would be subject to the same laws that govern concealed weapons.

Jones said, “They will be treated just like handguns.  No one can just play with them.”

Jones said legalizing private ownership would help keep real guns off the streets because it would “replace bullets with a Taser.”

He said he isn’t worried about the device winding up in the wrong hands and said most criminals prefer guns.  Only in “rare cases” have criminals used them.

“If my daughter worked at the local convenience store and was robbed, I would be thankful if the criminal had a Taser instead of a gun,” Jones said.

Last year, Hansen and Jones co-sponsored similar legislation in the House but it died.

Hansen said lawmakers were uncomfortable with the proposal because of a couple of Taser-related deaths at the hands of police last year.

However, he said, “There is a big difference between police and civilian use of Tasers.”

According to Hansen, there has been no opposition to the current bill, which unanimously passed in the Senate Judiciary Committee and now moves to the full Senate.

Terrence Jungel, executive director of the Michigan Sheriffs’ Association, said the measure would have little-to-no effect on law enforcement.

He said that any person with a license to carry the device should be able to use it for protection, but added that the user is responsible for the weapon.

“Weapons that are used to protect people can also harm them,” Jungel said.

According to Jungel, there is an increased need for self-protection because the state has fewer police officers this year than in the past.

He said the bill is part of the “evolution of self-protection” and likened it to other protection devices such as pepper spray.

“We don’t know if allowing more protection devices is a good or bad thing,” Jungel said. “Only time will tell if this legislation is a positive.”

© 2011, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.


Filed under: Legislation

Internet service might lure campers to U.P. parks, officials say

Capital News Service

LANSING—- The state’s effort to improve rural development by boosting tourism could bring broadband services to more Upper Peninsula parks, said Keith Creagh, director of the Department of Agriculture (MDA).

It would be a part of an effort by the Snyder administration to re-invent the agriculture industry by improving rural areas in the state, Creagh said.

“We plan to strategically enhance state parks by introducing broadband in outdoor, rural areas,” Creagh said.

Only one U.P. state park, Van Riper, near Marquette, offers wireless access now.

According to Creagh, no contracts have been signed with wireless providers yet, but he hopes broadband access will attract urban tourists to rural areas.

Jennifer Holton, public information officer at the MDA, said the goal is to improve both state parks and tourism.

“By combining these agriculture and tourism industries, the MDA plans to raise environmental standards and the overall quality of Michigan,” Holton said.

Dave Lorenz, managing director of Travel Michigan, the state’s official tourism promotion agency, said such service would attract campers who rely on the Internet.            “This is a very new idea, but one that would definitely boost tourism and bring people to the more rural areas in the state, “Lorenz said.

Travel Michigan website mentions wireless access as a feature of Von Riper.

According to Lorenz, today’s traveler is younger and uses the Internet daily through cell phones and laptops. With broadband in state parks, they can plan activities and find places to eat.

“With the Internet in these areas, people can look up restaurants in nearby cities, find the weather and directions to outdoor activities,” Lorenz said.

Broadband can help connect rural and city areas, which can attract more tourism to the U.P.’s state parks, Lorenz said.

“For the Upper Peninsula, there is so much public land to explore,” Lorenz said. “Easier access to the Internet in these areas can only bring more tourists who aren’t as familiar with the land.”

Harold Herta, chief of parks and recreation resource management for the Department of Natural Resource and Environment, says the state has tried to introduce broadband to state parks before.

“In 2004, we had an initiative to bring wireless access to outdoor areas, like Van Riper State Park, but people had to pay for the service and it ultimately pushed people away,” Herta said. “Our agency knew we had to change this to compete with the free Internet offered at other tourism venues.”

According to Herta, Wi-Fi is a popular amenity that would boost both tourism and recreational experiences.

“This is a new concept, but hopefully as it grows, people will see how it can bring in local tourists who haven’t experienced the rural parts of Michigan,” Herta said.

© 2011, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.





Filed under: State Agencies

Clean-up continues through winter as oil spill damage lingers

Capital News Service

LANSING – Cleanup efforts are still underway more than six months after 819,000 gallons of heavy crude oil spilled into Talmadge Creek near Marshall and into the Kalamazoo River, covering wildlife and the nearby environment with sludge.

Remediation efforts have slowed for the winter by the clean-up crew will continue to sample sediment and water for benzene and other harmful toxins, said Mark Durno, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) deputy incident commander for the spill.

Containment boom lines were removed because of freezing weather conditions but below-freezing temperatures actually help with some clean-up like oil removal because oiled soils are solidified and easier to remove, according to the EPA.

Low-lying sites are also more accessible in the cold.

The ruptured pipeline, operated by Houston-based Enbridge Energy Partners, carried crude oil 286 miles from Griffith, Ind. to Sarnia, Ontario.

The Ceresco spill was the largest ever recorded in Michigan, according to the Department of Natural Resources and the Environment (DNRE).

As of mid-December, cleanup workers from Enbridge and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency had collected 13,750,922 gallons of oily water, the EPA said. The company  estimates that 699,000 gallons of oil will be salvaged and put back into commercial use.

“All the oil that could be put back in commercial use went back to the Enbridge facility,” said Durno.

Immediate cleanup after the spill involved collecting and refining oil, decontaminating riverbanks, building a wildlife rehabilitation center that cleaned more than 2,000 animals, monitoring the environment for toxins and hiring more than 2,000 contract workers, Enbridge public information officer Kevin O’Connor said.

In spring when the ice begins to thaw, Enbridge will replace containment boom lines, continue monitoring for toxins and erosion, and check the river bottom for submerged oil, Durno said.

Enbridge and the EPA will also develop work plans to determine when to remove any residual oil that’s found and when to leave it to avoid further environmental disturbances that may harm wildlife.

So far, spill cleanup has gone well, Enbridge’s O’Connor said.

“The process that’s been involved to get this back to where it is has been is pretty astounding,” O’Connor said. “We certainly had issues here and there, but by and large it’s gone really well.”

Those clean-up efforts certainly don’t come cheap.

Durno said, “The EPA alone has spent over $20 million, which we billed to Enbridge. I can only imagine what Enbridge’s costs are.”

The company’s first estimate came to about $400 million before government fines and lawsuits. New estimates reached $550 million, Enbridge project director John Sobojinski said.

The cause of the spill remains unknown. The National Transportation Safety Board is scheduled to finish studying the pipe’s rupture and interviewing Enbridge employees to get a clear picture of the events leading up to the spill this year. And the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is completing a long-term damage assessment to evaluate the ecological damage to the Talmadge Creek and Kalamazoo River systems.

Federal and state agencies will continue to oversee Enbridge’s assessment, monitoring and remediation until the environment has been restored to what it was before the spill, according to Durno of the EPA.

Durno anticipates that clean-up work will continue throughout the spring and summer, and possibly even longer.

“Our hope is that the ecosystem recovers within a couple years,” Durno said. Overall, he said he’s optimistic about the response to the spill, which he called nationally significant.

Monitoring the environment for damage will continue for at least the next several years, said DNRE public information officer Mary Detloff.

The area’s groundwater flows into the river, making monitoring easier, and tests have shown no groundwater contamination yet,” Detloff said, but added, “There are groundwater issues we’ll be monitoring for years.

“We would hope that within the next five years there’s a complete recovery of the ecosystem there,” she said.

Carol Thompson writes for Great Lakes Echo.

© 2011, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.


Filed under: Environment

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