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Environment & Science

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Mussel-Phosphorus puzzle: Invasive mussels are reshaping the chemistry of the Great Lakes

Feb 26, 2021
D. Jude / University of Michigan via NOAA/GLERL Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0

Since the late 1980s, four of the five Great Lakes have played host to an increasing number of invasive mussels. First came zebra mussels, followed shortly thereafter by quagga mussels, both members of the Dreissenid family whose native range includes the waters around Ukraine.

Today, the filter-feeders comprise more than 90% of the total animal biomass of the Great Lakes (barring Lake Superior, whose depth and water chemistry make it a less suitable habitat for the two species of mussel).

30 years later: Mussel invasion legacy reaches far beyond Great Lakes

Feb 26, 2021
Bob Nichols / USDA

The way J. Ellen Marsden remembers it, when she first suggested calling a new Great Lakes invasive species the quagga mussel, her colleague laughed, so the name stuck.

At the same time, it was no laughing matter. The arrival of a second non-native mussel, related to the already established zebra mussel, was a major complication in what was becoming one of the most significant invasive species events in American history.

LITTLE TRAVERSE BAY BANDS OF ODAWA INDIANS

A state senate committee Wednesday approved a resolution to push state wildlife officials to authorize a wolf hunting season this year.   

The resolution by State Sen. Ed McBroom (R-Vulcan) calls on the Natural Resources Commission to authorize and the Department of Natural Resources to organize wolf hunting and trapping as part of this year’s wolf management efforts.

enbridge sign in front of a gray sky
Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s notice to shut down Line 5 in the Straits of Mackinac by May won’t prompt some of the changes many environmental groups hoped for.

It won’t affect how the state reviews a plan to replace the pipelines and build a tunnel beneath the lakebed, according to a ruling from Judge Dennis Mack this week.

gretchen whitmer wearing mask at podium
Michigan.gov

Governor Gretchen Whitmer will be part of a panel testifying Wednesday before a U.S. Senate committee on infrastructure and climate change.

Jeff Cranson is with the Michigan Department of Transportation.

He says the governor will mention the failures last year of two dams in Midland and Gladwin counties.

“PFAS in the House” was produced by Great Lakes Now/Detroit Public TV, in partnership with Type Investigations.

After spending several months reporting on the PFAS crisis, an alarming realization hit — taco night might be poisoning me.

I learned that the type of nonstick pans that I used to fry the fish usually contain the toxic chemicals, also called per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances. Research alerted me to their use in some types of parchment paper used to roll tortillas, while the aluminum foil in which I wrapped leftovers raised a red flag with its “nonstick” label. For dessert, I purchased cookies that a local bakery packed in the type of paper bags sometimes treated with PFAS, and the chemicals may have been in my tap water and fish.

John Pizniur / GBBC

Michigan has had quite an irruption this winter. We’re not talking lava, but rather an irruption of birds. It’s been a great year for winter birding because of this irruption and Michigan Audubon education coordinator Lindsay Cain explained that an irruption is when northern wintering birds come down south for winter because they’re not finding enough food. 

“They're moving to find food for the winter, which is a really great experience for a lot of birders because we're seeing a lot of things that we wouldn't normally see over the winter,” Cain said.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

The recent cold spell has meant ice fishing at more lakes in Michigan. Some anglers go after a tiny fish called smelt in the cold water. In the past, people went after them during spawning runs using dip nets. But smelt populations have crashed.

Bob Ruleau with Ruleau Brothers, Inc. in Stephenson, Michigan is a commercial fisher licensed to catch smelt. He says a lot of things combined to devastate the smelt fishery over the last 30 years, including predation by larger fish, zebra and quagga mussels, and the climate.

DTE Energy

DTE Energy and state regulators have asked the Court of Appeals to reconsider a decision affecting a permit for the utility's new gas plant.

The company is building a billion gas plant in St. Clair County.

Nick Leonard is the executive director of the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center. He says the Court of Appeals rightly decided that state regulators ignored their own permitting process.

Tracy Brooks/Mission Wolf/USFWS

Gray wolves were removed from the federal endangered species list officially in January. Now, state senators have proposed a resolution calling on the Natural Resources Commission to authorize and the Department of Natural Resources to organize wolf hunts as a form of management.

There are around 695 gray wolves in Michigan, all of which live in the Upper Peninsula. According to the DNR, that population has remained relatively stable over the last ten years. The resolution has no binding authority, but does encourage those state agencies to get the ball rolling on a wolf hunt.

hemlock wooly adelgid
Courtesy of Mark C. Whitmore

A tree-killing pest has made its way into the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore and its spread has state natural resources officials concerned.

The threat comes from the hemlock wooly adelgid, described as aphid-like creatures that are native to eastern Asia. They form small white masses on the underside of branches and make their way beneath the bark to feed off the sap.

Road Salt: Researchers look at vegetables and juices for alternatives to salt

Feb 18, 2021
Kathy Johnson / Great Lakes Now, Detroit Public TV

Salt-speckled sidewalks, driveways and highways are synonymous with winter in the Great Lakes region. But while road salt is highly effective at deicing surfaces, the safety that salt provides for humans places a heavy burden on freshwater ecosystems.

“We have an unhealthy addiction to road salt,” said Claire Oswald, a hydrologist and associate professor at Ryerson University in Toronto, Ontario.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio


Invasive mussels now control key Great Lakes nutrients, threatening fish

Feb 16, 2021

The stunning beauty of Lake Michigan’s crystal clear water draws comparisons to the French Riviera. 

But to Dustin Van Orman, it’s a hideous sight.

Van Orman, whose family owns Mackinaw City’s Big Stone Bay Fishery, knows that the clearer the water gets, the scarcer whitefish and chubs become. 

PFAS is in fish and wildlife. Researchers prowl Michigan for clues.

Feb 16, 2021
Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

J.D. Hock’s heart sank in 2018, when the state of Michigan warned it was unsafe to eat deer harvested within a five-mile radius of Clark’s Marsh in Oscoda Township.

For decades, his family had hunted on property just outside the “do not eat” zone. He had just mailed “an insane amount” of venison jerky to his son-in-law, an armed service member in Afghanistan.

Water could make Michigan a climate refuge. Are we prepared?

Feb 16, 2021
© J. Carl Ganter / Circle of Blue

Intrigued by warming winters, researchers from the University of Michigan set out in 1989 to formally measure changes in the geographical distribution of plants and animals in the dense pine and hardwood forests of northern Michigan. 

Their laboratory, the university’s 10,000-acre Biological Station east of Petoskey, had advanced forestry and natural sciences since the field station’s founding in 1909. Few projects, though, attracted the same level of attention as the migration research. 

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

It’s freezing outside and Larry Scheer is in neoprene chest waders kicking up sediment in Boyden Creek near Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

The downtown office for the Sault Sainte Marie Tribe of the Chippewa Indians Fisheries Management Program is a simple, small two-story brick building.

Grand Rapids History and Special Collections (GRHSC), Archives, Grand Rapids Public Library, Grand Rapids, Michigan.

In the archives at the Grand Rapids Public Library, there is a recording, made by the historian Carolyn Shapiro-Shapin in 1998.

steve carmody / Michigan Radio

Two major water system operators in southeast Michigan and Oakland County plan to work together to better control heavy storm water runoff.

The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) and the Great Lakes Water Authority (GLWA), along with Oakland County, plan to spend $68 million on three projects.  They want to prevent tens of millions of gallons of untreated rainwater from flowing into the Rouge River.

Linda Stephan


DTE Energy

The Biden administration says it will not appeal a federal judge’s decision to uphold a settlement agreed to by the Sierra Club and DTE Energy.

The agreement resulted in millions of dollars for reducing pollution and increasing energy efficiency in some Wayne County communities. DTE also agreed to shut down three coal-burning power plants.

KRIS KRÜG ON FLICKR

The plan to dig a nearly four-mile tunnel underneath the Straits of Mackinac and replace the Line 5 oil and gas pipelines continues to move forward.

Last week, Michigan’s Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy said the plan complies with environmental laws on wetland protection, cultural resources, and wastewater discharge.

But other state and federal agencies still need to weigh in on the project. And one big sticking point is climate change and whether carbon emissions from burning the oil and gas that flow through Line 5 should be a factor in deciding if the tunnel project gets greenlit.

The Detroit incinerator
tEdGuY49 / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

The State of Michigan has revoked the permits to operate the Detroit trash incinerator.

For decades, neighbors complained about the odors coming from the site in Detroit. The trash incinerator had been cited many times before the company shut down the incinerator almost two years ago.

Now, the Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy and Detroit Renewable Power have agreed to a consent judgment.

“Well, it was long standing air quality violations, both some emission limit exceedances and I think, as you’re aware, a long-standing odor concern to the neighborhood in the area,” said Jason Wolf with EGLE’s Air Quality Division enforcement unit.

How we know Michigan will lose lake ice if we don’t change our ways

Feb 3, 2021
Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

If humans continue to release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere at current rates, we should be prepared to say goodbye to ice-covered winters on the Great Lakes.

That’s the conclusion of a new study from researchers at Toronto’s York University, who used historical data from lakes throughout the Northern Hemisphere to track the steady loss of Earth’s ice and predict how ice loss will progress if we act now to curb the effects of climate change — and if we don’t.

Michigan is on thin ice. Get used to it, climate experts say

Feb 3, 2021
J. Carl Ganter / Circle of Blue

Hope is waning for those who hoped to stick an ice shanty on Little Traverse Bay this winter. 

The same goes for nearby Torch and Elk lakes, two large inland waters adjacent to the bay. At the height of Michigan winter, all three are so devoid of ice, fishing guide Jim Chamberlin said, “you could launch a boat out there.” 

periodical cicada
Laura Gilchrist / Unsplash

Though it might seem pretty cold in Michigan now, spring will soon be upon us, bringing with it cicadas from the largest brood in the United States.

Brood X, otherwise known the Great Eastern Brood, is the largest in both geographic range and number of cicadas of the 15 broods in the eastern United States. The cicadas you see each year usually only have three to four year lifespans, and look different from the distincive Brood X cicadas with bright red eyes.


enbridge sign in front of a gray sky
Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Updated at 5:26 p.m. on January 29, 2021:

The State of Michigan is approving permits to allow an underground tunnel to be built under the Straits of Mackinac. The Canadian pipeline company Enbridge Energy applied for the permits from the Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) last spring.

The tunnel is to house a replacement segment of the Line 5 dual pipeline which carries crude oil and natural gas liquids across Michigan to Sarnia, Ontario. Enbridge says the tunnel will be approximately four miles long and will cost $500 million to construct.

ice cover on the great lakes january 21 2021
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

The Great Lakes have been slow to freeze this year, compared to years past. Currently, around 2.4% of the Great Lakes are covered by ice, concentrated in the Green Bay region off Lake Michigan and Saginaw Bay in Lake Huron. That's lower than 11% cover at this time last year.

Jia Wang is an ice climatologist for NOAA. He says it's been a warm winter in the Great Lakes region.

"[Ice cover] is very very low, unusually low this year, compared to other years and compared to the average. This year, air temperatures are so warm. Air temperature has a negative correlation with ice cover. Of course, if it's warmer, there's less ice cover," he says.

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