Rebecca Williams | Michigan Radio
WUOMFM

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.

Power plant
Courtesy of Duke Energy

Getting exposed every day to certain kinds of air pollution can lead to a higher risk of premature death if you’re over 65.

That's the finding of a new study in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Francesca Dominici is a professor of biostatistics at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health and an author of the study.

School plane
Rebecca Williams / Michigan Radio

There are about 32,000 islands in the Great Lakes. Most are uninhabited. But for those who live year-round on about 30 of them, it can be an isolating experience. Now, Great Lakes islanders are getting together to tackle some of the problems they have in common.

Japanese knotweed is a prohibited invasive plant species in Michigan.
USDA Forest Service

Invasive species tend to do well in new places, and they can push out native species. There’s an assumption that they do better in the same kind of environment as the country they came from.

But scientists have found that some invasive plants can change and adapt to new continents and new climates.

D. Tallamy, courtesy of Desiree Narango

Native plants are better for birds than non-native plants.

That’s the main finding of a study on chickadees and the caterpillars they eat.

Photo by Scott McArt, used with permission.

We’ve heard a lot about honeybees and how important they are as pollinators. But bumblebees pollinate wildflowers and crops, too, and some kinds of bumblebees are in trouble.

Grass carp
USGS

There are several federal agencies in charge of trying to control Asian carp, and they just came out with their latest report to Congress on how those efforts are going.

Map of animals that have evolved in cities.
Marc Johnson & Jason Munshi-South

Cities are creating new ecosystems, and they’re changing the way some creatures evolve. Those are the findings of a new paper in the journal Science.

Natural gas power plant in California
David Monniaux / Wikimedia Commons

The reliability of our power supply is vulnerable to climate change. But the grid can be made more adaptable.

Those are the conclusions of a new study in the journal Nature Climate Change.

Sea lamprey
Photo courtesy of USFWS

Lakes Superior and Erie have too many sea lampreys.

The invasive fish latch onto big fish like lake trout and salmon and drink their blood and body fluids. A single lamprey can kill up to 40 pounds of fish in its lifetime.

M. Horath

Canada geese have been spending their winters farther north.

Scientists have figured out geese are drawn to cities for safety more so than for food.

Michael Ward is an associate professor in the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He’s an author of a study on Canada geese in the Chicago region.

Ward and his team fitted Canada geese with radio collars and tracked them for two years, trying to understand why there are so many geese in Chicago during the winter.

“And what we learned was that they weren’t going there for food, they were going there because there were no hunters,” he explains. “So all of the Canada geese that spent the winter in Chicago survived, whereas half of the birds that decided to leave the Chicagoland area and go to areas where hunting is allowed and more prevalent were harvested.”

Ward says geese are all about conserving energy.

satellite map of Michigan, the Great Lakes
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

People are gathering in Buffalo this week for the annual Great Lakes restoration conference.

At the top of their list is making sure Congress fully funds the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative in the 2018 budget.

President Trump’s proposed budget included massive cuts to the GLRI.

Todd Ambs is the campaign director for the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition.

Pete Markham / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Lake Superior is cold, deep and clear. But it’s no longer the clearest of the Great Lakes.

Lakes Michigan and Huron have gotten clearer, bumping Lake Superior to number three.

Scientists have been able to figure how much clearer by using satellite imagery.

Kerry Wixted / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Forests in our region are under attack from a shrub.

The culprit is an ornamental plant called Japanese barberry. It was introduced from Asia in the late 1800s. It’s been in used in landscaping in Michigan for decades, but it’s considered invasive.

I just found out I have some in my front yard.

They’re pretty, with bright red berries that birds love to eat.

The Velsicol Superfund sites in St. Louis, Michigan.
Kaye LaFond / Michigan Radio

Researchers find there could be more health effects lingering decades after a toxic contamination of Michigan’s food supply.

U.S. Supreme Court

The number of state and federal lawsuits related to climate change has been on the rise since 2006.

Sabrina McCormick is an associate professor of environmental and occupational health at The George Washington University Miliken Institute School of Public Health. She's the lead author of a study in the journal Science that finds the role of climate science in court is changing.

Smallmouth bass
micropterus_dolomieu / Wikimedia commons

Antidepressants that people take are building up in the brains of fish like walleye, bass, and perch. Researchers studied fish from the Niagara River, which connects lakes Erie and Ontario.

Sara Bird / Michigan Tech

Earthworms seem pretty harmless. But they’re causing problems for Michigan’s multi-million dollar sugar maple industry.

That’s the finding of a study by Tara Bal, a research assistant professor of forest resources and environmental science at Michigan Technological University.

A cyanobacterial bloom on Lake Erie in 2013.
Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

There’s a green bloom of cyanobacteria on Lake Erie again. People who run water utilities and scientists are watching the bloom because the cyanobacteria can produce toxins called microcystins that are dangerous for people and pets. It's what made Toledo’s drinking water unsafe to drink in 2014.

Chris Winslow directs Ohio Sea Grant and Ohio State University’s Stone Laboratory. He says the bloom’s covering about 10% of the western basin.

The blacklegged tick can transmit the bacteria that causes Lyme disease.
CDC

Experts tell us it’s important to treat Lyme disease early, and state officials say Lyme disease is the most common tick-borne disease in Michigan. 

But officials with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say it can sometimes be confused with a similar condition that’s also transmitted by ticks, called Southern Tick-Associated Rash Illness, or STARI.

Varroa mites attached to honey bees.
Zachary Huang / MSU

Varroa mites are considered the worst pest of honey bees worldwide. The mites suck blood from the bees and transmit viruses to them.

Researchers have identified six genes in the mites that could be used to attack them.

Zachary Huang is an associate professor of entomology at Michigan State University.

“We found four genes that would reduce their reproduction and two genes that would kill them pretty fast, so those would be used for their control later, perhaps,” he says.

Sea lamprey
Michigan State University

The sea lamprey is an invasive fish with a round mouth like a suction cup. It latches onto big fish like lake trout and salmon, drills its razor sharp tongue into them, and gets fat drinking their blood and body fluids. A single lamprey can kill up to 40 pounds of fish in its lifetime.

We spend about $20 million dollars a year to control lampreys. One of the main ways people do that is with a pesticide, but researchers are working on other ways to control the invasive species.

Asian longhorned beetle
USDA

Officials want you to help them look for a tree killer.

It’s called the Asian longhorned beetle. It has a shiny black body with white spots, really long antennae, and sometimes, blue feet.

It’s not in Michigan yet, as far as anyone knows. But there are infestations in Ohio.

Water running from tap
jordanmrcai / Creative Commons

Water filters that you attach to your faucet are known to be good for filtering out heavy metals like lead and disinfectants like chlorine. But they’re not designed to filter out bacteria that can grow in the filter itself.

American pika
Erik Beever

We talk a lot about how people can adapt to climate change, and scientists have found that some animals are changing their behavior, too. The ability to change rapidly because of environmental changes is called behavioral flexibility.

User dsleeter_2000 / Flickr

Remember how it was too hot for planes to fly in Phoenix last month?

That could happen more often as our climate warms.

Radley Horton is an associate research professor at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. Horton is an author of a new study on this issue in the journal Climatic Change.

USFWS

Biologists say the sixth mass extinction episode on Earth is already happening. But researchers say if we only look at species extinctions, we miss a big part of the story.

Paul Ehrlich is a professor emeritus of biology at Stanford University, and an author of a new study about this published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Joanna Paterson / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

23 counties in Michigan have reported one or more unhealthy ozone days each year, on average. That’s from a new analysis by the Natural Resources Defense Council.

An online map the group produced also shows where those high ozone days tend to overlap with high pollen days. That can make air unhealthy for people with respiratory problems.

Paul Cryan / USGS

White-nose syndrome is killing millions of bats in 31 states including Michigan, and five Canadian provinces. It’s a disease caused by a fungus.

But clusters of bats that warm up together during hibernation might have an edge against the fungus. Researchers discovered this by putting temperature-sensing surveillance cameras in caves.

CDC

There’s a newly discovered kind of bacteria that can cause Lyme disease, Borrelia mayonii. Scientists have run tests to find out how long it takes to transmit the disease after a tick bites you.

Fishing on Lake Michigan.
Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Freshwater lakes provide many things: water for crops, recreation, power plants, and of course, fish. But a new study argues we don’t value those fisheries enough.

The study is from Michigan State University and the U.S. Geological Survey.

Andrew Deines is the lead author. He says we know more about the fish we catch from oceans than we do from freshwater lakes.

Pages