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Environment & Science

cougar in ontonagon county in the upper peninsula august 2020
Michigan Department of Natural Resources

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources reports 14 confirmed cougar sightings in 2020, all located in the Upper Peninsula. That's the highest number reported since 2008, when the DNR first began tracking cougars.

The sightings were spread across seven counties: three of the sightings were in Delta County, three were in Luce County, and another three were in Mackinac County. The others were spread across Baraga, Chippewa, Ontonagon, and Schoolcraft Counties.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Birds are beginning to migrate north. The Great Lakes flyway means a large number of those birds will be flying over Michigan. It also means at night birds will be crashing into buildings with lights on. Artificial light confuses them.

“And a city that produces a lot of artificial light at night from building and industry in a place with a lot of bird migration is going to have a high risk for bird mortality,” said Ben Winger, an assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Michigan.

© Photo by Whitney Gravelle

Michigan's Indigenous communities hold long-standing legal right to protect lands and waters.

On any given day, Jacques LeBlanc Jr. spends as many as 14 hours on the water catching whitefish. Out on his boat by the time the sun breaks the horizon over the Great Lakes, he moves between Michigan, Huron, and Superior for the best spots. In this part of northern Michigan, at the eastern end of the Upper Peninsula, fishing is a staple of LeBlanc’s Bay Mills Indian Community, one of the Sault Ste. Marie bands of Chippewa.

map of Line 5
Enbridge Energy

Fifteen members of Congress, including five Republicans from Michigan, are asking President Joe Biden to support the Line 5 oil pipeline.

During his first days in office, President Biden revoked a permit for the Keystone XL pipeline, stopping its construction.

This week, U.S. Representatives Jack Bergman (R-Watersmeet), Lisa McClain (R-Bruce Twp.), Tim Walberg (R-Tipton), Peter Meijer (R-Grand Rapids) and Fred Upton (R-St. Joseph) signed a letter on Michigan’s most controversial pipeline.

Deep below the cold, dark surface of Lake Superior, sensors strung like pearls along a vertical steel cable sway with the currents. Recording the lake’s dropping temperatures as winter sets in, their gentle rhythm belies their worrying readings: the lake is getting warmer.

Too few farmers are curbing pollution in Lake Erie. Should they be forced?

Mar 9, 2021
Dale Young / Bridge Michigan

As climate change complicates Lake Erie's algae problem, scientists say farmer must do far more to reduce phosphorus runoff. But will enough farmers change their ways without a government mandate?

West Michigan is getting $1.2 million dollars to improve household recycling rates in the region.

State leaders say it’s part of a goal to double Michigan’s recycling rate by 2025.

“Michigan’s current recycling rate is the lowest in the Great Lakes region and also ranks among the lowest in the nation,” says Elizabeth Browne, director of the Materials Management division at the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy. “To ensure we reach this goal, recycling across Michigan is receiving a major boost in 2021.”

Al Hicks / USFWS

White nose syndrome has killed millions of bats in the U.S. since the fungal infection came here in the early 2000’s. Some kinds of bats have been hit harder than others.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determined the northern long-eared bat was threatened rather than endangered even though about 99% of the bats in its primary living area died.

The agency said 40% of the bat’s range, including Michigan, was not as severely affected and did not expect the infection to spread quickly enough to threaten extinction.

Rights vs. Regulations: Property rights big barrier to septic system codes

Mar 2, 2021
Soil Science via Flickr, CC BY 2.0

In Michigan, with public health departments fully occupied with COVID-19, septic systems have been pushed back as a priority.

But even before COVID-19, it wasn’t much of a priority in the Legislature, because the last time an attempt was made to get Michigan statewide regulations for septic systems was in 2018.

steve carmody / Michigan Radio

State lawmakers are considering a resolution to end some restrictions on deer hunting.

The restrictions are in place in parts of the state known to have chronic wasting disease. CWD is a neurological disease in deer the state has been trying to contain.

The antler-point restrictions are meant to protect younger male deer and increase the number of older male deer in Michigan.

But critics complain the study actually threatens to spread CWD outside its current core area, which includes Kent and Montcalm counties.

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.

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