Rebecca Williams | Michigan Radio
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Rebecca Williams

Senior Editor, News

Rebecca Williams is senior editor in the newsroom, where she edits stories and helps guide news coverage. She's been with Michigan Radio for 18 years, and she's spent most of that time as a reporter and producer, and host of the Environment Report.

Rebecca has a degree in resource ecology and management from the University of Michigan’s School of Natural Resources & Environment, where she had close encounters with escaped boars and poison sumac.

She’s won several national awards for her work including a national Edward R. Murrow award for a documentary, Coal: Dirty Past, Hazy Future that she reported with Mark Brush and Lester Graham, and she shared in the prestigious duPont-Columbia and Scripps Howard awards for team coverage of the Flint water crisis.

Adobe Stock

When President Donald Trump announced in 2017 that the United States would pull out of the Paris Agreement, cities across the country declared that they would uphold the goals of the accord on their own.

Two years later, a handful of Michigan cities have plans in place to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, but many more are just in the process of putting a plan together. Which is good, says Jenna Jorns, because cities are especially vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Jorns is the program manager for the Great Lakes Integrated Sciences and Assessments Center.

Benton Harbor Area Schools Central Adminstration building
Bryce Huffman / Michigan Radio

Update: July 9, 2019 6:45 p.m.

Governor Gretchen Whitmer and Lt. Governor Garlin Gilchrist met today with officials from the Benton Harbor school board. The governor's Press Secretary, Tiffany Brown, and BHAS Board President Steve Mitchell issued the following joint statement after the meeting:

“Today, Governor Gretchen Whitmer, Lt. Governor Garlin Gilchrist and Benton Harbor Area School Board leadership met to discuss next steps regarding the district. The lines of communication are open among all parties and we look forward to future discussions to identify a solution that puts Benton Harbor students first.”

Brown declined to elaborate on the statement, and school board vice president Joseph Taylor declined to comment.

Benton Harbor High School
Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Benton Harbor High School could stay open for the next year, if the school board votes on Tuesday night to approve an agreement with the state.

State officials had proposed closing the high school because the district is more than $18 million in debt and students are struggling academically. That created a community outcry to keep the school open.

NOAA

Divers are planning to collect zebra and quagga mussels this week in Muskegon. It’s part of a national effort to study chemical pollution, called Mussel Watch.

The mussels are invasive species, but they’re also good study subjects.

Rebecca Williams / Michigan Radio

This week, we’re looking at PFAS chemicals: they're industrial chemicals that have contaminated water sources around the state.

PFAS chemicals are used to make a lot of products stain and water resistant.

A monarch butterfly at the Kalamazoo Nature Center.
Rebecca Williams / Michigan Radio

The monarch butterflies that are emerging right now in Michigan have a long trip ahead of them.

A painting of a house sparrow.
Louis Agassiz Fuertes/USFWS

The creatures that live with us in cities – things like spiders, owls, lizards and mice – are evolving over time.

A new set of studies in a special issue of the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B looks at all kinds of organisms that thrive in cities and how city life affects the ways they evolve.

Diane Episcopio, courtesy of Oliver Stringham

Researchers have found that some of the most common reptiles and amphibians that people own as pets are also the most likely to be released into the wild.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

Public health experts want us to pay more attention to the effects of climate change on kids.

A mosquito
flickr user trebol-a / http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

Many Americans are ok with genetic engineering of animals if it benefits human health. But a lot of people oppose other uses of the technology. Those are the findings of a new Pew Research Center survey.

Matt Allender

We have a rattlesnake in Michigan called the eastern massasauga. It’s listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.

One of the threats it’s facing is a disease called snake fungal disease, and it can kill the snakes. 

Researchers have figured out some clues about how the pathogen affects the snakes.

Kara Holsopple

The global market for recycling has changed dramatically over the last year, and it’s already trickling down to what happens at the curb.

USGS

Water use in the U.S. has dropped to its lowest level in about 45 years.

But the U.S. Geological Survey found 12 states accounted for more than 50% of the total water withdrawals in the U.S. – and Michigan ranks 10th on that list.

Map of Michigan
Limnotech

Scientists are creating an experimental warning system for meteotsunamis in the Great Lakes.

Meteotsunamis are potentially dangerous waves that are driven by storms.

Eric Anderson is a physical oceanographer with the Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory, with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

“Meteotsunamis are a very particular kind of wave and we don’t yet have the ability to forecast when and where they’re going to occur,” he says.

Dan Dillon

Methane is one of the big three greenhouse gasses, next to carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide.

Peter Groffman is a professor at the City University of New York Advanced Science Research Center at the Graduate Center, and a senior research fellow at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies. 

“Its concentration in the atmosphere has been going up at a rather high rate since the Industrial Revolution,” he says.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

Dry months of the year have been getting hotter in large parts of the U.S.

Felicia Chiang is the lead author of a new study on droughts and climate change, from the University of California-Irvine.

“Essentially we found that droughts are warming faster than the average climate in the southern, the midwestern and the northeastern states of the U.S.,” she says.

Photo by C. Daly, courtesy of Jo Latimore

If you’re out on a lake this summer and you stumble on a blob that looks like an alien life form, it could actually be a good thing.

Jo Latimore got an email recently about a weird-looking greenish-gray gelatinous blob that a boater found in Juno Lake in Cass County. Latimore is an aquatic ecologist at Michigan State University.

She says she got an email from the boater saying, “We found something that’s pretty gross attached to the bottom of one of our pontoon boats and we’re afraid of what it might be.”

Monarch Butterfly
flickr user Paul VanDerWerf / http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

It’s breeding season for monarch butterflies, and government officials from the U.S., Canada and Mexico want your help collecting data on them.

The second International Monarch Monitoring Blitz is underway, now through Sunday, August 5.

Mara Koenig is with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Midwest Region. She says you can write down the number of monarch butterflies you see this week, and take a close look at any milkweed plants you find.

Wetland in Kalamazoo
Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

The state Legislature is considering bills that would speed up wetland restoration in Michigan.

“Wetlands are nature’s answer to a lot of our societal woes that we’re facing right now,” says Gildo Tori, director of public policy for the Ducks Unlimited Great Lakes/Atlantic Region office. His group has been pushing for these new bills. He says the process for getting permits to restore degraded wetlands takes too long.

“We should be doing all we can to make it easier, quicker and more streamlined to get these wetlands back on the landscape,” he says.

CDC

More than 16,000 ticks have arrived in Nate Nieto’s mailbox.

He’s an associate professor of microbiology at Northern Arizona University, and he launched a citizen science project to learn more about the diseases ticks can transmit. 

People from 49 states sent him (and his collaborators at Colorado State University) the ticks they found on themselves or other people or dogs.

Peeling lead paint.
Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

The Environmental Protection Agency has proposed tighter standards for lead in dust on floors and window sills. Lead dust can be a big source of lead exposure for kids when chips of old paint flake off, or when older homes are renovated. The proposed standards would affect most homes built before 1978 and places where kids spend a lot of time, like day care centers.

Lisa Barrett

If you’ve ever tried to keep a raccoon out of your trash can, you know they’re smart. At my house, it takes a brick on top of the trash can and a bungee cord on top of the lid to keep the raccoons out.

New research looks at how animals with complex cognitive abilities might do better in cities, but could end up in more conflicts with people.

Power plant
Courtesy of Duke Energy

A lot of economists like the idea of putting a price on the use of fossil fuels, as a way to tackle climate change.

But it’s been a hard sell politically.

A new report on this topic is out from the National Surveys on Energy and Environment. It looks at Americans’ opinions on policies like carbon taxes and cap and trade over the last 10 years.

A green roof can help reduce the heat island effect.
EPA

The amount of tree cover in our cities is dropping, and we have more paved surfaces. Those are the main findings from a national study by the U.S. Forest Service.

Gary Stolz / USFWS

This time of year, it’s good to keep an eye out for turtles that might be slowly crossing the road.

Lori Sargent is a wildlife biologist with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

“They’re on the move because they’re looking for good nesting spots and some species move more than others,” she says.

She says Blanding’s turtles and snapping turtles are the ones you’ll see on the road most often. Sargent says Blanding’s turtles are on the decline in Michigan, mainly because so many get hit by cars.

Asian Carp Regional Coordinating Committee

The Asian carp action plan for this year is out. It's the plan U.S. and Canadian agencies put together to try to stop carp from spreading.

Charlie Wooley is the deputy regional director for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Midwest region. 

“The most important priorities for us in controlling Asian carp is to keep them out of the Great Lakes,” he says.

Juliet Berger and other birders look through their binoculars at a warbler.
Emma Winowiecki / Michigan Radio

Mornings in Michigan is our series about morning routines and rituals around our state. This time of year, some people get up early to see migrating birds arriving in Michigan. Mike Kielb and his wife sometimes get up at 4 a.m.

UC San Diego Health

The first major results are in from the American Gut Project. It’s a citizen science project to get a better understanding of the microbial communities inside our bodies.

People pay $99 to send in a sample – a swab from their hands, their mouth, or a stool sample.

Daniel McDonald is the project’s scientific director at the University of California-San Diego.

“So it turns out that most of the people sending us samples tend to send us fecal samples. We think it must just be the sexy thing to do,” he says. “But I think a lot of individuals are sending us these samples because they’re curious to learn a little bit more about these organisms that are important for your health that we are just beginning to understand in the scientific community.”

Mosquitoes after a blood meal.
R. Rico-Hesse lab.

It’s not just the mosquito bite that’s a problem. When a mosquito bites you, it also drools on you.

Silke Paust is an assistant professor of pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Hospital.

“During this poking around phase, basically, and during the feeding, it automatically secretes saliva proteins," she says.

She says there are more than 100 proteins in mosquito saliva. Paust and her team found those proteins trigger a complex immune response.

A congregation of moose on Isle Royale.
Rolf Peterson

The last two wolves on Isle Royale are still hanging on. 

The wolf-moose research study on the wilderness island in Lake Superior is now in its 60th year, and the report from the past year of the study is out today.

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