Capital News Service

of the Michigan State University School of Journalism

Scientists warn of future Great Lakes invaders

Bighead Carp. Credit: Michigan Department of Natural Resources

Capital News Service

LANSING — As many agencies try to rid the Great Lakes of foreign plants and animals that are now causing ecological havoc, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has identified the region’s potential future invaders.

Perhaps to no one’s surprise, two species of Asian carp—bighead and silver—top the enemies list as five Great Lakes states continue a court battle to close Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal locks to stem the carp’s advance.

The NOAA effort includes potentially troublesome plants like the water lettuce and water hyacinth introduced through aquarium and pond shops.

The NOAA “watch list” of 52 nonnative crustaceans, fish, plants and invertebrates is a step toward the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative’s goals of early detection of and rapid response to invasive species, said Rochelle Sturtevant, a principal investigator on the study and a Great Lakes Regional Sea Grant Extension educator based in Ann Arbor.

That initiative addresses pollution, invasive species and habitat restoration through funding to local, state and federal governments, universities and nonprofit organizations.

Sturtevant said the project started with 20 invasive species and ended up finding 52 that scientific literature and researchers cited for their potential to survive, establish or spread in the Great Lakes.

Species could be added to the list if climate change makes once-uninhabitable environments habitable. Others may be removed as researchers assess whether recent regulations made it harder for them to be transported in the ballast water of ships.

She said some studies considered whether a potential invader could survive a Great Lakes winter but didn’t take climate change into account. “There just isn’t enough data yet on what climate change is realistically going to do to the region, much less on an individual species-by-species basis of whether it’s going to over-winter. The data’s just not there.”

The NOAA list is part of a database of Great Lakes aquatic non-native species that helps lake and resource managers decide how to best manage aquatic invaders.

Potential troublemakers were identified after reviewing scientific studies published between 1998 and 2010. Species were also listed if they could survive and be transported into the Great Lakes, could reproduce there and could be introduced multiple times.

“I see this list as a living document, a work in progress that we hope to go through and update with whatever new literature has been published,” Sturtevant said.

John Magnuson, a zoology and limnology professor emeritus at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, has studied climate change impacts on lakes, rivers and freshwater fish.

“The warm-water fish that do really well in the warmest waters of our shorelines in the Great Lakes are also able to withstand winter temperatures at a couple degrees Centigrade,” Magnuson said. That’s about 36 degrees Fahrenheit.

Warm-water fish include carp, bluegill and crappie.

Climate change may create favorable habitat for species not currently on the watch list, like the golden mussel, according to Alexander Karatayev, director of Buffalo State University’s Great Lakes Center for Environmental Research and Education.

“This species is adapted to higher temperatures than the zebra mussel. Therefore, climate change may further the spread of the species,” he said. The golden mussel is a powerful water filterer, like the invasive zebra mussel, and can clog water intake valves for industrial and power plants, water treatment stations and refineries.

The golden mussel comes from Southeast Asia. Although the Great Lakes are too cold for it now, Karatayev said rising water temperatures may allow it to survive although it prefers warmer water. “It’s very likely that in the near future it can get to North America because now it’s almost everywhere in South America.”

According to NOAA, most species on the list have a “high probability of invasion if introduced to the Great Lakes via residual ballast water” or sediment. Ballast water has long been recognized as a pathway for aquatic invasive species.

Sturtevant, the Michigan Sea Grant Extension educator, said some species may come off the NOAA list in light of new regulations that require ships to flush ballast tanks with seawater, creating a more hostile environment for potential nonnative species.

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


Filed under: Environment

Michigan companies join biobased bandwagon


Capital News Service

LANSING—More than 60 companies in Michigan are participating in the federal BioPreferred Program to boost the manufacture and distribution of biobased products.

The federal initiative aims to increase the development, purchase and use of biobased products. They are renewable and environmentally friendly or organic products made from agricultural, forestry or marine materials. Products range from bed linens and towels to greases and cleaners.

The program was introduced to reduce the impacts of climate change and create jobs through expanding markets for farmers, manufacturers and vendors, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The program has designated more than 5,000 products for federal preferred purchase and includes companies that manufacture or distribute designated items in Grand Rapids, Shelby Township, Zeeland, Detroit and Holland.

4R Future in Holland joined the initiative from a desire to show people how to live healthier by adding green, environmentally friendly and natural products to their lives, according to the company.

Its products include bath, body care, pet and paper products wholly or partly made with organically grown ingredients like grapefruit seed, pulp extract and orange peel extract.

Another participant, Microcide, Inc. in Detroit, produces mouthwash, soaps and fruit-and-vegetable-based cleaning products.

Bob Robinson, president of the Michigan Biopreferred Products Association, said he believes biobased products have a tremendous future and that emerging bio-industries are becoming the foundation of a new economy for the state and nation.

“We reduce our dependence on energy and use natural resources to produce products, which creates a far more sustainable economy for the future,” Robinson said.

But he said there’s not enough public awareness of the availability of such products. “Some people don’t know there are biodegradable trash bags available, and our job is to make them know and promote the biobased products.”

As for the future, he said Michigan can be a leading place for biobased businesses because of its rich and diverse supply of natural resources.

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

Filed under: Environment

State tracking beach, water pollution problems

Capital News Service

LANSING— The success of Michigan depends on clean water and beaches, and state agencies are striving to prepare recreational areas for the upcoming summer.

Dan Wyant, director of the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), said the agency works to solve pollution problems by using metrics, which measure the quality of recreational activities like swimming, using the beaches and boating.

“The metrics allow people to see what efforts we’re doing to improve these areas and keep people coming back,” Wyant said.

Wyant said Michigan sits in the middle of 20 percent of the world’s freshwater and those resources are fundamental to boosting its economy.

“By keeping water recreation locations clean, people will keep traveling to experience them,” Wyant said. “This is a creative and innovative way to help Michigan succeed in this economy.”

According to Wyant, the DEQ is using its measuring system to fix and prevent future pollution problems, like bacterial contamination.

Brad Wurfel, communications director at the DEQ, said major categories of pollutants in water include E. coli, long-time sediment accumulation, soil from eroding banks and trash.

“It really depends on what region, but the pollutants vary,” Wurfel said. “For example, Southwest Michigan has manufacturing pollution issues, which is different from what pollution issues affect the north.”

Shannon Briggs, toxicologist and coordinator for the beach monitoring program at the DEQ said she closely watches the quality of water and beaches in the Upper Peninsula since there are many visitors there.

“The U.P. is a great place for vacationing because it has clean beaches and water,” Briggs said. “People know the quality of its recreational areas, which is why they keep returning.”

According to Briggs, there are problems at beaches and state parks throughout the region, but the DEQ handles it through a monitoring procedure.

“The Michigan Beach Guard is a way to monitor the U.P. and keep people updated on closures in recreational areas,” Briggs said.

The Michigan Beach Guard is a website,, with a map showing all the beaches throughout the state, said Briggs.

“People can click on the map and it will show closures and track the progression of pollutant clean-ups and weather,” Briggs said. “The health department also uses this website to post changes of pollutant levels, and people can monitor this to help decide where they should visit.”

According to Briggs, one recent problem occurred at Brimley State Park in Chippewa County on Lake Superior.

“We found results of E. coli on some beaches and in the water, so the health department worked quickly to clean up any contamination so we could avoid a long-term beach closure,” Briggs said.

Mike Norton, media relations director at the Traverse City Convention and Visitors Bureau, said that Traverse City water and beaches are often affected by E. coli.

“Traverse City is not historically industrial, so we don’t face those types of pollution problems, but we do commonly face issues with E. coli in the water, which comes from ducks, swans and geese,” Norton said.

According to Norton, the contamination is caused by tourists feeding the birds, whose droppings in the water cause bacteria to spike.

“It usually only lasts 24 hours, but we immediately close the beaches and clean up what we can,” Norton said. “We are working to educate tourists who come to our city’s recreational areas about not feeding the animals and also ensure the cleanliness of our water and beaches so people keep returning. If news gets around that a beach is closed, people won’t travel to swim or boat, which can really affect business and the economy,” Norton said. “It is our job to advertise the high standards of our water and to keep it as clean as we can.”

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

Filed under: Environment

Volunteers called to find plant invaders, sturgeon poachers


Volunteers called to find plant invaders, sturgeon poachers

Capital News Service

Lake Sturgeon, Credit: DNR

LANSING — It sounds like an exotic, almost-always fresh seasoning or must-have condiment with bright green heart-shaped rosettes and beautiful white flowers.

So garlic mustard must be a delight.

Not. It’s an unwanted spring beauty and officials want it stamped out of state parks and recreation areas because the non-native invader thwarts the growth of Michigan’s treasured diversity of native wildflowers.

The Department of Natural Resources is urging park visitors to look for and report the weed so employees and volunteers can uproot and eradicate it.

The worst hit areas are in Southeast Michigan, according to DNR officials.

“It’s crucial that we find invasive plants when they first arrive,” said Ray Fahlsing, DNR Parks and Recreation stewardship unit manager. “If we respond rapidly with control measures, we may be able to eliminate the invasive plant before it damages wildflowers and other natural resources.”

DNR’s enemies’ list also includes Japanese knotweed and black swallow wort.

Garlic mustard is described as an “early riser.” Its low-lying leaves take advantage of the first rays of spring sunlight after snows melt to flourish ahead of other plants in the woods.

And it’s highly adaptable.

The alien species was brought to the U.S. by European settlers as an herb and is spreading across the continent at a rate of 2,471 square miles per year – an area 10 times the size of Toronto, according to the Nature Conservancy.

It produces many seeds which remain viable for five to 10 years, has no known natural predators and excretes a chemical from its roots that prevents other plants from developing.

“We do have a lot of park visitors who are concerned about nature conservation, and it makes sense to tap that interest,” said Lindsay Ross, a DNR steward assistant. “Visitors also get to see areas of the parks we don’t get to see.”

A number of environmental organizations are enlisting the public’s help to protect native species and get rid of suspicious invasive ones.

For example, Sturgeon for Tomorrow, based in Cheboygan, is committed to the survival and repopulation of the threatened lake sturgeon.

Since 1999, from late April through May, the group has collaborated with volunteers to guard the fish while it spawns along the shorelines of Cheboygan County’s Black River.

Garlic Mustard, Credit: Steve Mayer

“We can always use extra eyes and ears to guard the fish along the 6-mile stretch of the river,” said Brenda Archambo, president of the group’s Michigan chapter.

Any fish that needs up to 20 years to reach sexual maturity and reproduces only once every four years is in danger of population decline or extinction, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service warns.

In 2009, a Grand Rapids man was jailed for 30 days, ordered to perform 50 hours of public service with the DNR and fined $2,298, after witnesses took cell phone photos of him hooking a sturgeon by the tail and dragging it to a waiting pick-up truck.

The incident occurred on the Grand River in Grand Rapids.

Overfishing and loss of critical habitat have reduced the population of the Great Lakes giant which can grow to up to 300 pounds and nine feet long.

Archambo said that, together with Michigan State University researchers, the sturgeon watch group has noticed a growing number of younger lake sturgeons since it started the vigil, “a good sign for its mission,” she said.

The sturgeon briefly leave their home in Black Lake to spawn in the Black River, which is clear and shallow, making them vulnerable to poachers who sell them on the black market.

Sturgeon caviar is the most expensive and is commercially sold worldwide as a delicacy.

Volunteers are usually campers or people visiting the area for the day or working in shifts at the river.

Volunteers are provided with cell phones and instructed to call and report to DNR enforcement personnel or the group’s conservation officers if they spot someone fishing.

“We don’t expect our volunteers to try and stop the poachers. We just expect them to report to our law enforcement officers,” Archambo said.

When it comes to invasive plants, DNR is asking park visitors to report suspicious plants by filling out an Unwanted Plants Detection Card or mark the location on a visitor map.

DNR predicts more reports this year than in the past.

“Last year we received several post cards – about 15 via mail – and about a hundred reports through our website,” said Laurel Malvitz-Draper, volunteer coordinator for DNR’s Southeast parks.

“It’s hard to keep an inventory of such species in every single area of every single park in the state,” she said. “We can always use park visitors – there’s a lot more of them in our parks than are our employees.”

Filed under: Environment

Trumpeter swans surge back, face mute swan challenges


Capital News Service

Credit: FWS

LANSING – Is it time to break out the brass band because trumpeter swans are surging back.

A 2005 Michigan survey, counted only 500, but wildlife experts say numbers are increasing.

Early settlers hunted the birds nearly to extinction in the 1800s — using them to make powder puffs and feathered hats. But lack of exact records makes it impossible to reliably estimate the original population.

Those settlers exported hundreds of thousands of carcasses, said Larry Gillette, wildlife manager of Minnesota’s Three Rivers Park District, where a successful restoration program started with five swans in 1973.

Standing up to 4-feet tall with an up-to-8-foot wingspan, trumpeter swans are the largest waterfowl in North America.

Their Great Lakes range includes neighboring Wisconsin, Ohio and Ontario, as well as New York and Minnesota.

There’s new evidence of the trumpeter come-back.

Preliminary results of a 2010 survey of Midwest states – from South Dakota to New York – are expected to yield 8,000 birds, said Joe Johnson, chief wildlife biologist emeritus of Michigan State University’s Kellogg Bird Sanctuary, who is compiling the findings.

The heart of their population is in the Great Lakes states, Ontario and Iowa, Johnson said, and numbers vary dramatically. For example, an early January survey tallied more than 5,000 migrating swans in Minnesota, but experts put the actual number at nearly 6,000 by taking migrating birds into account.

Yet the trumpeters’ continued resurgence faces a number of challenges, including competition in the natural world and habitat destruction.

In February, the Michigan Natural Resources Commission voted 3 to 2 to make it illegal to rehabilitate the invasive mute swan, a major rival of the trumpeter.

Johnson said mute swans were deliberately brought to the state “as ornamental birds, and they got away from us.”

The overpopulated invasive mutes compete with the trumpeters by taking up preferred nesting spots and bullying them, according to some experts.

A Department of Natural Resources and Environment report to the commission described the mutes as “voracious feeders, which has resulted in the disturbance and destruction of submerged aquatic vegetation, a valuable food source for native waterfowl and other wetland species,” including trumpeters, loons and Canada geese.

The report also cited state efforts to reduce the number of mutes, including egg and nest destruction.

Dave Sherman, a wildlife biologist at the Ohio Division of Wildlife, said, “They’re a definitely a problem and we’re trying to minimize their impact on the trumpeter’s success.”

However, MSU’s Johnson said the relationship between the two species is the other way around: “My experience has been that the trumpeter swans dominate the mute swan.”

In Michigan, Johnson said, trumpeters are intentionally released where no or few mute swans are present.

Another impediment is lack of sufficient trumpeter habitat – mainly wetlands.

Sherman said Ohio has lost 90 percent of its wetlands, limiting the swans that usually like large territories to themselves.

“We found that the birds are fairly adaptable and we’ve seen them in wetlands that are less than 20 acres,” he said, indicating they’ve adapted to the limited amount of suitable habitat in Ohio.

Ohio has listed the bird as endangered since 1996 and has about 150 to 200 trumpetersnow, including 30 nesting pairs, Sherman said.

Alice Rossignol writes for Great Lakes Echo.

Filed under: Environment

Challenges face national forests in centennial year


Capital News Service


LANSING — 2011 is a big year for national forests.

A 1911 law allowed the use of federal funds to purchase denuded private land to establish publicly-owned forests for conservation.

A century later, around 20 million acres have been converted or expanded into national forests in 20 eastern states under the Weeks Act, according to the U.S. Forest Service.

That includes vast swaths of the Upper Peninsula and the northern Lower Peninsula.

“The Weeks Act is one of the most significant natural resource conservation achievements of the 20th century,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “It reminds us of the importance of past conservation efforts that shape our ability to sustain our national forests today, and to keep them healthy for the future.”

The law, named for a Massachusetts lawmaker, was created to salvage underdeveloped land that eroded into wasteland because of excessive lumbering, farming and mining, according to the service.  Key to the rescue mission was protecting major headwaters of rivers and watersheds.

Michigan has more than 2.7 million acres of national forest.  They produce enough lumber each year to build around 18,000 average-sized houses and provide habitat to endangered species such as the bald eagle and osprey.

They are the Huron-Manistee National Forest in the Lower Peninsula and the Ottawa and Hiawatha national forests in the Upper Peninsula.

To commemorate the centennial anniversary, events will include lectures, conservation education programs and a national symposium to discuss future conservation projects.

The three national forests in Michigan will join other eastern U.S. forests to show the “Green Fire,” a film about wilderness management and environmental ethics.

Despite the celebration, the forests face conservation hurdles, including intermingled land ownership that makes it more difficult to protect natural resources.

“Our ownership is kind of a checkerboard,” said Ken Arbogast, a public affairs officer for Huron-Manistee in Cadillac.  “Large tracts of private land are still within the forests, which make it hard to come up with a larger scale approach to management.”

Part of the service’s policy is to buy land only from willing sellers, and only land that has an impact on the forests’ conservation plans.

A recent national audit by the U.S. Government Accountability Office indicated that the Forest Service lacks adequate wildland fire management.

According to the report, the service also lacks a comprehensive strategy for containing costs related to putting out fires.

Arbogast said that’s not the case in Michigan.

“We don’t have large-scale wildfire issues as those in the West,” he said.  “Usually our fires are in less than 100 acres and it takes the fire service one or two days to put them out.”

But Jim Thomas, the acting regional deputy director for fire operations based in Wisconsin, said putting out fires, however small, is getting costlier.

“We are more efficient than our partners in the West, but then we have more fire partners and we need to pay them,” Thomas said.  “Fire equipment and supplies are costing more, and many times we have to supply food and other needs for the time it takes to put out fires.”

Climate change is also adding a new dimension to the way the national forests are managed.

“We are seeing the effect of climate change on our forests – we need to deal with the issue of climate change as we address our forest management,” said Jane Cliff, public affairs specialists for the service’s eastern region.

Andrew Burton, a forestry professor at Michigan Technological University, said that one way to reduce the vulnerability of forests to climate change and invasive species is to increase the diversity of species there.

He also said that management of the forests is a public issue and the service needs to involve the public through education and by taking public comments into account when planning.

“We also need to know what the long-term nature of the forests will be before we implement some of our projects,” he said.  “We don’t want to do things that create an environment for, say, invasive species.”

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



Filed under: Environment

Pheasants need grass, food to return in numbers


Capital News Service


LANSING — A new state effort is targeting the shrinking amount of habitat land for grassland birds in the Lower Peninsula by focusing on pheasant restoration.

The effort, formally known as the Michigan Pheasant Restoration Initiative, is designed to rebuild wild pheasant populations by devoting large areas of public and private land to the birds’ recovery.

Pheasant recovery areas are in Clinton, Sanilac, Lenawee, Huron, Tuscola, Hillsdale, Monroe, Gratiot and Saginaw counties.

The landscape of southern Michigan has changed significantly in 50 years due to more intensive agriculture practices, urban sprawl and more forest land, which has directly affected pheasant habitats, said Mike Parker, regional wildlife biologist for Pheasants Forever, an advocacy group involved with the restoration initiative.

“The focus of the initiative is to bring back quality pheasant habitat. The most important thing is large blocks of undisturbed nesting cover.”

“The secondary concern is winter cover, which can be established by planting blocks of switch grass or restoring wetland, and the third priority is winter food,” he said.

The program focuses on three areas where landowners are encouraged to work together to provide up to 2,000 acres of land per cooperative for habitat restoration.

The first pheasant recovery area is in Huron, Sanilac and Tuscola counties. The second is in Hillsdale, Lenawee and Monroe counties, and the third is in Gratiot, Saginaw and Clinton counties.

According to the Department of Natural Resources, the goal is to establish 10 such cooperative areas by 2015, resulting in 15,000 to 20,000 acres of quality habitat.

Parker said only one cooperative area has been established so far in Gratiot County, but others are in the works.

Dennis Fijalkowski, executive director of the Michigan Wildlife Conservancy in Bath, said that while current agricultural practices are a huge threat to the pheasant population, focusing on private land owners may be more promising.

“You have a better chance to reach people who are not solely dependent on their land as an income source, and that’s non-farmers,” he said.

“If it’s a program directed at farmers, it’s going to be minimal in its success. Farmers won’t delay hay mowing because they make their living off of cutting the hay in June. They’re just not going change their agricultural practices because they’re trying to optimize profit,” he said.

Mowing in the early summer threatens pheasants because it often kills the hens and destroys the nests in crops that pheasants prefer, such as alfalfa, he said.

He added that another reason why the program may succeed is because it’s different from other pheasant population initiatives that the state has tried before.

Previous efforts such as the Put-and-Take program and the Sichuan project were costly mistakes that simply did not work.

Those programs released thousand of game farm-raised birds into the wild with hopes that they would cross-breed with the existing ring neck population, but they didn’t succeed.

Paul Morrow, former habitat chair of the Ingham County chapter of Pheasants Forever, said the Sichuan project and similar stocking programs were dismal failures because pen-raised birds cannot survive in the wild.

That’s why there’s been a shift toward propagating natural, existing populations and growing them from a core area, he said.

“If you take a bunch of pheasants and let them go in various places and they don’t have the right habitat to survive and thrive, then obviously your results are going to be less than successful. It’s putting the cart before the horse,” he said.

Parker said that pheasants are an indicator species for the quality of grassland habitat.

“If pheasants are declining, there’s probably a lot of other grassland wildlife that are declining, and that is the case. Many migratory grassland songbird populations are really declining, so anything that we do for pheasants will also be beneficial to those other birds,” he said.

Fijalkowski agrees, but said that the focus on habitats for grassland birds shouldn’t end with pheasants.

He said that while pheasant populations are dangerously low, advocacy groups such as Pheasants Forever and their hunting constituency bring ample attention to the issue.

“The meadowlark doesn’t have an advocate and the Henslow’s sparrow and the grasshopper sparrow, which are now rare birds, don’t have advocates, and they’ll disappear first,” he said.

He said that those species need some of the attention received by the pheasant, which isn’t even native to Michigan.

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


Filed under: Environment

Meet nature face to face, state environmentalists say

Capital News Service

LANSING—Are you tired of sitting in a classroom to learn about the environment? Why not go outside to touch and feel nature?

This summer, dozens of environmental and outdoor education organizations want to immerse students in their surroundings.

For example, Marquette County will have a summer camp in August. In Grand Traverse County, there’s a trip to Valley of the Giants. Kent County will open a gardening program in June.

Many such outdoor programs are run by more than 50 business, health, youth, recreational, environmental and educational groups in the state.

These groups are part of the No Child Left Inside Coalition, a national organization that said it aims to alert Congress and the public to the need for schools to devote more resources and attention to environmental education.

As a member of the coalition, Michigan 4-H Youth Development offers outdoor education programs to students in many counties.

In Marquette County, the U.P. Adventure Challenge Seekers 4-H Club runs four camps each year, one for each season.

Brian Wibby, the Michigan State University Extension educator, said the county received a $10,000 grant from MSU to purchase canoes, gear trailers, backpacking equipment and camping supplies so the children won’t worry about equipment.

Wibby said that the club, established in 2009, aims to provide opportunities for youth to experience the natural environment of the Upper Peninsula, to learn valuable skills and to promote a desire and ability to participate in life-long outdoor recreation activities.

Kathy Wright, a co-leader of the club, said, “Our next camp will be held in August at the Seney National Wildlife Refuge.” The four-day program will include canoeing, camping, climbing and outdoor education.

She said past participants were excited to learn how to paddle a boat and how to pack a backpack, as well as learning more about their environment.

In Grand Traverse County, the next trip of its outdoor education program will take middle school students to the Valley of the Giants on South Manitou Island, according to Boone Scharp, the Kingsley Outdoor Adventure Club leader.

“Our club has 67 high school student members and 21 middle school student members. We have different kinds of activities every month. We do rock climbing, caving trips, trees growing and other activities,” said Boone Scharp, the club leader.

“The traditional classroom of environmental teaching makes students fall asleep, so they need to go outside to experience the environment by themselves. They can learn knowledge by their own experience,” Scharp said.

He emphasized the importance of outdoor education. “The state has training programs for everyone,” and people can make use of them.

In addition to some environmental knowledge, members of his club get a better understanding of themselves and strengthen friendships, he said.

On the club’s website, member Cody Gidner reflected that during the last year’s winter camp, he never gave up even though things got tough and stayed positive to help others who were struggling.

In Kent County, the 4-H Development Program has a Junior Master Gardener Summer Camp for 4th to 6th grade students.

Kendra Wills, the MSU Extension educator in the county, said, “The gardening program will help kids learn how to grow healthy vegetables and how to take care of plants. Also, each kid will grow his or her own fruit, vegetables or flowers.”

The 10-session program begins on June 15.

“Kids will grow their own plants at a local farm first, and we have a weekly meeting to teach them how to take care of their plants,” she said.

Each week the program teaches a different topic. It includes several field trips so participants can better connect with nature and gain more environmental knowledge.

“Kids can learn where the food comes from and the nutrients in each vegetable by their own experience,” Wills said.

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

Filed under: Environment

‘Soft’ touches green up Detroit River’s ‘hard’ shoreline

Capital News Service

LANSING — The Detroit River shoreline has miles of steel sheet pilings, concrete break walls and cement used to deepen the river and increase water flow for safety, navigation and industry.

Credit: Department of Natural Resources and Environment

Freighters needed such “hard” shoreline engineering to load and unload coal, salt, cement products and other materials, said civil engineer Patrick Doher of the Ann Arbor office of JJR, a landscape architecture firm. Manufacturers along the river processed those raw materials and shipped the final product the same way.

That hard edge is no longer needed to move freight in parts of the Detroit River. And its legacy isn’t great for river species looking for a place to live, for the expense of repairing its crumbling or cracking rim, and for the eyes of Detroiters and visitors.

Rising in its place is the concept of “soft” shoreline engineering like that designed and engineered by JJR along Gabriel Richard Park’s river edge and in sections of William G. Milliken State Park and Harbor in the waterfront’s East District.

Construction of a section of Milliken, Michigan’s first urban state park, was plagued by “concrete dinosaurs,” when the project began in 2008, said Luba Sitar, the Department of Natural Resources recreation division manager for southeastern Michigan.

Concrete and steel had transformed 31 of 32 miles of river shore into commerce and industry’s backdoor, according to a report by John Hartig, manager of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Detroit River International Refuge, and Anna Cook, a biological technician at the agency.

Part of Milliken was transformed into a stormwater-treating wetland. Staff removed industrial relics— boat launches, wooden structures, train tracks and the turnstile on which train cars turned after dropping their loads, Sitar said.

Here’s how soft shoreline engineering works: Instead of concrete and steel, designers put vegetation, stone and other materials that soften the edge while maintaining a stable shoreline.

The technique uses ecological principles to reduce erosion, keep the shoreline intact, restore habitat and improve public access. A soft shoreline also creates a visually appealing “waterfront porch” for businesses, industry, homeowners and public places and can increase waterfront property values.

Hartig said most projects so far have been in Southeast Michigan, including one proposed for the St. Clair River. However, the techniques have been used elsewhere in the state, including Gull Lake near Kalamazoo and along northern Michigan streams.

A Detroit American Heritage River Initiative conference in 1999 led to a manual of best practices that guided testing and demonstrations of the technique along the Detroit River and western Lake Erie. Since then, the state and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have approved 38 projects costing more than $16.5 million,

JJR’s Doher said natural stone and plants replaced the East District’s hard industrial shoreline, creating habitat for fish and wildlife native to the Detroit River.

Because freighters don’t unload in the East District anymore, “we were able to reduce that hardened and sheeted edge and create more natural habitat,” he said.

Construction was completed in 2009 in a complicated process.

Sitar said an orange snow fence marked where old and new soil met. The team brought in clay to the 5-acre site to create islands lined with burlap-wrapped logs and topped with wetland plants. The roots will eventually stabilize the shoreline as the logs disintegrate.

The soft shoreline also cleans stormwater before it flows into the river. Stormwater now enters the wetland area from 11 acres in and near Milliken State Park before spilling into the Detroit River.

Sitar said she hopes local school science classes will monitor progress by taking water samples at the top of the wetland and at the discharge site.

At its best — and depending on a project’s needs and materials — soft shoreline engineering costs half as much as hard shoreline techniques, where concrete or steel sheet pilings cost about $2,000 per linear foot, according to the refuge’s Hartig.

While hard design structures often have a limited life, soft engineering produces living shorelines that can repair themselves.

The technique can’t be used everywhere, but where appropriate, the option offers multiple benefits, Hartig said.

“It’s an initiative or practice whose time has come,” he said, adding, “You’ve got to be sort of opportunistic. You’ve got to be at the table at the right time for this.”

Kimberly Hirai writes for Great Lakes Echo.

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

Filed under: Environment

Anglers group cautions about drilling near Au Sable River

Capital News Service

LANSING — Protecting northern Michigan trout streams from the potential threats of oil and gas development will take some watch-dogging by a fishing and conservation organization, according to a report commissioned by the group.

The group, Anglers of the Au Sable, has a history of going to court over oil and gas issues. To prepare for what could come next, it commissioned environmental author and former Muskegon Chronicle reporter Jeff Alexander to investigate the region’s gas and oil infrastructure and a controversial method of natural gas extraction that could become more common there.

The report acknowledges the industry’s importance in northern Michigan, and the authors, Alexander and Anglers Vice President John Bebow, said it’s not an “anti-oil industry manifesto.”

For example: “Pumping millions of gallons of oil across thousands of miles of land and many lakes and rivers on a daily basis keeps the region’s economy running smoothly,” the report said. “Oil and gas exploration has long played an important role in northern Michigan’s economy and will continue to provide revenue and jobs for the foreseeable future.”

The report pays a lot of attention to a 58-year-old oil pipeline underneath the Au Sable and two of its tributaries. The pipeline is owned by Enbridge Inc., which also owns the pipeline that ruptured last July and spilled about 800,000 gallons of oil into Talmadge Creek and the Kalamazoo River in the southwest part of the state.

Several inspections in the last decade show the Enbridge pipeline under the Au Sable and both Big Creek tributary systems is in good condition, according to federal records and company officials.

The Anglers report called the company’s response to concerns over the risk of a potential spill “swift and thorough.”

Yet it cited eight incidents where problems with Enbridge pipelines caused millions of dollars in damage and caused two deaths in Great Lakes states.

Two leaks in Bay County in 2003 and 2005 spilled a combined 600 barrels of oil and caused $165,000 in property damage, according to a congressional committee report. A third leak in Monroe County in 2003 spilled 130 barrels of oil and caused $255,000 in property damage.

Also detailed are possibly severe consequences of a hypothetical spill on the Au Sable.

“According to federal government documents, a worst-case scenario could result in a spill of 1.5 million gallons of light crude into the Au Sable River in eight minutes,” the report said.

That’s nearly twice as much oil as leaked into the Kalamazoo River over the course of the 2010 spill. Additionally, the Au Sable’s cold-water ecosystem is more fragile, its fishery is more valuable and its slower flow would take longer to flush the oil out, according to the report.

It also discussed concerns in northern Michigan over a potential boom in a controversial method of natural gas extraction called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. The method allows drillers to reach natural gas within shale deposits like the Collingwood formation that runs under the Au Sable and elsewhere through northern Michigan.

Records from the Department of Environmental Quality’s Office of Geological Survey show that fewer than 10 wells have been drilled so far into the Collingwood none of them in the Au Sable watershed, the report said.

However, Encana Corp., a Canadian energy company that uses fracking, bought the rights to drill in thousands of acres near the Au Sable and Manistee rivers at a state auction last October.

Alan Boras, Encana’s vice president of media relations, said, “Fundamentally, we work very, very hard to make sure we don’t impact the environment, and particularly that we don’t impact surface water.”

Concerns about fracking raised in the Anglers report include:

  • Toxic chemicals: Fracking involves high-pressure injection underground of toxic chemicals that critics say could contaminate groundwater or surface water if something goes wrong.
  • Water use: Fracking requires an immense amount of water — typically 3 to 8 million gallons per well. The water is permanently removed from the aquifer it’s withdrawn from, either remaining deep underground or trucked off-site for disposal.
  • Regulation: Fracking is exempt from many water protection laws, including provisions of federal Safe Drinking Water Act and a Michigan law that prevents large water withdrawals from harming nearby streams.

Boras said the natural gas industry is well-regulated, especially against adverse environmental impacts.

Thomas Wellman, the mineral and land manager for the Department of Natural Resources’ forest section, agrees, according to the report.

In an e-mail to Anglers, he wrote, “The regulatory requirements and geological conditions in Michigan ensure that hydraulic fracturing continues to be done safely.”

A thick layer of rock separates the Collingwood shale from important aquifers, Wellman wrote.

Jeff Gillies 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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