Lake-effect snow, monarch butterflies and the climate: this week in environmental news

Each week, MNA does a quick recap of news related to nature and the environment. Below are a few stories you may have missed this week in environmental news:

Monarch butterflies near a plot of tropical milkweed where doctoral students at the University of Georgia Odum School of Ecology are monitoring the insects. Credit Stephen Morton for The New York Times

What is lake-effect snow? Hint: it involves a lake (TIME): A timely look at the science behind lake-effect snow. Brr!

For the monarch butterfly, a long road back (The New York Times): Researchers at the University of Georgia are studying the human effects on migratory behavior of monarch butterflies. The recent efforts of amateur conservationists to replenish declines in milkweed may be part of the problem – in many cases, the milkweed available for planting is an exotic species that may lead to unseasonal breeding.

Long-eared bat listing gets pushback (Great Lakes Echo): Timber industry advocates and bat conservationists are at odds over the federal protection of the northern long-eared bat. Fish and Wildlife Service officials recommended the listing and have distributed guidelines on how to best log forests without harming bats. These recommendations suggest restricted logging from April through October, which led to pushback from the forest industry.

State of the Climate: Global average temperature is highest on record for October (NOAA): The combined average temperature over global land and ocean surfaces for October 2014 was the highest on record for October at 0.74 degrees Celsius above the 20th century average of 14.0 degrees Celsius.

Students and Volunteers Build a Boardwalk at Twin Waterfalls

By Adrienne Bozic, Regional Stewardship Organizer – Eastern Upper Peninsula

On a brisk Saturday morning, a group of intrepid young adults converged upon MNA’s Twin Waterfalls Memorial Plant Preserve in Munising to celebrate All Saint’s Day in the most hallowed of ways: volunteering in the name of community service and ecological restoration. Regional Stewardship Organizers Adrienne Bozic and John Bagley led a crew of ten in construction of a new boardwalk over a wet section of trail. Twin Waterfalls is one MNA’s most visited sanctuaries, so these improvements were much needed and will provide a better trail system and visitor experience for years to come.

Our lumber was delivered, already cut to length, to the construction site at 8:30, thanks to 41 Lumber – who also extended a significant discount on all of the project materials. The enthusiastic group of students from Northern Michigan University and Grand Valley State University, all the more dedicated for having foregone Halloween festivities for this endeavor (maybe we should have had a belated costume contest?), carried the lumber from the road up the trail to the job site.

Nicole Mathiasz carrying lumber

Nicole Mathiasz carries more than her weight in lumber! Photo: Kathryn Lund Johnson

After moving all of the lumber down the trail to the construction site, we set to work clearing the area and constructing the framework for the walkway.  At this point, the trail was still relatively dry.

But… our work site quickly turned into a wet, muddy quagmire which would have soured most; but expectations were realistic and spirits were high. One noted that “I never expected to have warm, dry feet anyway!”  Good thing!

Yikes! Photo: Adrienne Bozic

Yikes! Photo: Adrienne Bozic

The project slowly came together over the course of the morning. Everybody took part in all tasks, including cutting, drilling, digging, and most importantly, keeping spirits and energy high. I would welcome this good-natured crew on any of my projects!  David Buth of the Grand Rapids-based experiential education non-profit, Summer Journeys, brought several of his current and former students and leaders.  He noted that this service project was a perfect fit for his organization’s goal to “transform adolescents through experiential learning so they become stewards of their communities and selves”. Though the Twin Waterfalls project was not officially part of his curriculum, we agree that participation in activities like MNA work days help people acquire knowledge, skills, and confidence.  Working on service projects enables people to better appreciate and act ethically in the places they visit and call home.  We hope to work more with Summer Journeys in the future!

John Bagley and David Buth set the first screw. Photo: Kathryn Lund Johnson

John Bagley and David Buth set the first screw. Photo: Kathryn Lund Johnson

Everyone lent a hand, and while some present may not necessarily agree that “many hands make light work”, it certainly made it more enjoyable! One student was even overheard exclaiming, “I love volunteering!”

Photo: Adrienne Bozic

Photo: Adrienne Bozic

Four hours of heavy labor in the cold really works up an appetite, so we broke for lunch at noon to enjoy hearty and delicious sandwiches and sides generously donated by the Falling Rock Café in downtown Munising.

Alas, the end of a long work day came before we could complete the project.  But we got a significant portion built and a great foundation to add to in the future. Besides…we had hot pizza and cold drinks awaiting us at Main Street Pizza in Munising, who offered to donate all the pizza we could eat and then some!  And we all had a long drive awaiting us: some back to Marquette, and some an all-day drive back home to Grand Rapids.  What a commitment by these dedicated volunteers! You can see the keen sense of satisfaction on the faces of these well-fed volunteers at the end of a long, tough day.

Ready for some pizza! Photo: Adrienne Bozic

Ready for some pizza! Photo: Adrienne Bozic

More improvements are yet needed, and additional segments of boardwalk have yet to be built.  Keep your eye out for future opportunities to help improve this fantastic natural area! Volunteer Days will be posted on the MNA website.

We made great progress on the boardwalk in just one day thanks to our fantastic volunteers and local sponsors! Photo: Adrienne Bozic

We made great progress on the boardwalk in just one day thanks to our fantastic volunteers and local sponsors! Photo: Adrienne Bozic

Thanks to all of the participants who showed up on Saturday to lend a much-needed hand; and without whom this project would not have happened: David Buth, Sky Curie, Tyler Lenderink, Peter Donnelly, Nicole Mathiasz, Kelly Radius, Nathan Sherman, Kathryn Lund Johnson, Maddie Tencate.

Special thanks to the generous local business donors who made this project possible: 41 Lumber, Falling Rock Café, Main Street Pizza, the Munising Chamber of Commerce, and the Magnusson Hotel

Fewer forest fires, a wolf hunt battle, and a scenic drive: this week in environmental news

Here’s a quick rundown of some of what happened this week in environmental news in Michigan and around the globe:

Gov. Snyder likely to tackle energy and water issues in next term (Michigan Radio): In a post-election discussion with Michigan Radio, James Clift of the Michigan Environmental Council expects that energy will be a big issue for Gov. Snyder as federal regulations for clean energy will come into play. Snyder is also expected to unveil a water strategy in the next six months.

Battlefront on wolf hunt likely to shift to court (Detroit Free Press): Voters Tuesday rejected two proposals that would have affirmed the National Resources Commission’s ability to name wolves and other animals as game eligible for hunting. This will impact a state law change last August that gives the commission that authority. The decision will likely next go before a judge.

Wet weather douses forest fires (Great Lakes Echo): Michigan has had an unusually small number of wildfires this year, likely due to the an unusually large amount of rain. According to Scott Heather, assistant chief of DNR’s Forest Resources Division, this season resulted in the fewest wildfires he’d seen in his 37-year career. The largest fire the DNR responded to was about 150 acres. Typically, there is at least one fire that is 1,000 acres or more. This is a stark contrast to 2012, which saw the Duck Lake Fire spread 11 miles and burn over 21,000 acres.

Keweenaw Peninsula highway makes magazine list of ‘Best Scenic Roads’ (MLive): The November 2014 issue of Country Magazine ranked the UP’s U.S. 41 among the top 10 most picturesque drives in the U.S. in a special section highlighting unique byways. MNA members who have visited one of MNA’s 15 Keweenaw Peninsula nature sanctuaries are likely very familiar with this beautiful drive.

A 2001 photo provided by the C.S. Mott Foundation shows a waterfall on the Keweenaw Penisula in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. (MLive file photo)

Delta Phi Epsilon Makes a Difference in the Keweenaw

By Nancy Leonard

Beginning the day by hauling lumber into the sanctuary. Photo: Nancy Leonard

Beginning the day by hauling lumber into the sanctuary. Photo: Nancy Leonard

On a sunny but cool and windy Saturday in late October, 26 “Make a Difference Day” volunteers showed up to join five MNA stewards to begin the building of a much-needed boardwalk over 300 feet of wet and sensitive habitat on the trail at Keweenaw Shores No. 1 Nature Sanctuary.  Twenty-two of these volunteers were the young women of Delta Phi Epsilon, a service sorority on the campus of Michigan Technological University in Houghton, accompanied by four young men who, they admitted, had been coerced into joining.

Arriving early and keen to begin the workday, the group’s enthusiasm wavered only slightly upon meeting the stack of lumber they were being asked to conquer.  Fifty-two 3” thick, 8-feet long hemlock planks, weighing on average about 80 pounds, were stacked at the trailhead. Those planks needed to be carried over nearly a quarter of a mile on a rough trail to the boardwalk staging area and then, the same planks were to be ferried over the growing boardwalk as it was established.

Gingerly, each team hoisted a plank, one volunteer in front and another in back, and off they headed into the unknown.  Karena Schmidt, steward of Keweenaw Shores, observed and described the four emotional stages the students seemed to experience as they completed each successive round trip. The first trip was awkward as they struggled with how to manage the heavy plank.  Apples and cookies and water were consumed to restore their energy.  Tips for carrying were shared and the second trip went decidedly better than the first. By the third trip, a profound weariness had crept in but so did their resolve. More apples and cookies were consumed and on the fourth and final trip, the resolve melted into excitement and newfound energy over their collective accomplishment.

Working together to pass planks further down the boardwalk. Photo: Nancy Leonard.

Working together to pass planks further down the boardwalk. Photo: Nancy Leonard.

While the planks were being carried into the boardwalk staging area, a team of MNA volunteers and stewards, Charlie Eshbach, Al Eckhart, and Bill Leonard, positioned and secured the planks, one by one, on stretchers of cedar logs being cut on the spot. Some volunteers became assistants to the builders and others helped to carry and place newly cut cedar stretchers.

After the entire stack of lumber had been moved to the staging area of the boardwalk and some beyond, the MTU volunteers formed a bucket brigade line and passed the remaining planks on down to the end of the built boardwalk assembly. From there, the planks were carried further and placed end-to-end to facilitate the completion of the boardwalk by future volunteers.

Counting the combined weights of the hemlock planks, the cedar 6x6s and cedar logs, the women of Delta Phi Epsilon and their friends carried almost 3 tons of material during the day!

Taking a quick break for a photo! Photo: Nancy Leonard.

Taking a quick break for a photo! Photo: Nancy Leonard.

One of the volunteers was overheard saying “I will forever appreciate any boardwalk I ever see again!” and another remarked, “this is a beautiful spot, I’ll be sure to come back.”

By the end of three hours of hard labor, 190 feet of boardwalk had been completed!  Plus, planks and stretchers were laid in place so regular MNA volunteers and stewards could more easily complete the remaining 110 feet at a future date.

Keweenaw Shores No. 1 Nature Sanctuary is a 36-acre gem located six miles east of Eagle Harbor on highway M-26.  The sanctuary showcases in miniature a number of forest communities moving inland from the spectacular lichen-covered Lake Superior shoreline, crossing through boreal forest, poor conifer and cedar swamps, and finally, hardwood-conifer forest. The new boardwalk will allow for future study of the special plant life growing within the sanctuary and will help preserve the sensitive habitat for those plants.

The wonderful, hardworking group of Delta Phi Epsilon sisters and friends who made a huge difference at Keweenaw Shores No. 1. Photo: Nancy Leonard

The wonderful, hardworking group of Delta Phi Epsilon members and friends who made a huge difference at Keweenaw Shores No. 1. Photo: Nancy Leonard

To see more photos from the day, visit the Michigan Nature Association’s Facebook page.

Endangered butterflies, climate change, and robofish: this week in environmental news

Each week, MNA gathers news stories from around Michigan and the globe related to conservation and nature. Check out some of what happened this week in environmental news:

A poweshiek skipperling butterfly. Photo by Dwayne Badgero.

A poweshiek skipperling butterfly. Photo by Dwayne Badgero.

Two Prairie Butterflies Gain Endangered Species Act Protection in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan and Dakotas (Center for Biological Diversity): The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced yesterday a settlement to speed protection decisions for 757 imperiled plants and animals across the country. Among these are the Poweshiek skipperling butterfly, which survives in small numbers in Michigan.

Autumn anomaly: Deepest Great Lakes’ levels rising (Detroit Free Press): The brutal winter of 2012-2013 is still impacting the Great Lakes this fall, contributing to rising water levels in Lake Superior and connected Lakes Michigan and Huron. In the fall, the Great Lakes typically have a slow decline in water levels. Lake Superior’s depths, however, rose almost a half-inch from Aug. 1 to Oct. 1, and Lakes Michigan and Huron rose almost two full inches.

How climate change is transforming winter birds (Conservation Magazine): Data analyzed from the Project FeederWatch citizen science project as well as other bird survey and climate data indicate that bird species that prefer warmer weather are advancing north. Between 1989 and 2011, the average temperature index of species present at surveyed cites crept upward, meaning warm-adapted birds became more prominent.

University spawns robofish to monitor Great Lakes (Great Lakes Echo): For about 10 years, Michigan State University engineering professor Dr. Xiaobo Tan has been working on a robotic fish that can be used to monitor water quality.

MNA to recognize volunteers and conservationists at October 17 ceremony

By Kary Askew Garcia, MNA Intern

Don’t miss out on MNA’s annual Volunteer and Donor Recognition Dinner on Oct. 17 at the Kellogg Hotel and Conference Center.

Guests will enjoy a delicious meal, jazz music and the presentation of awards to hard-working, dedicated individuals who do so much to protect Michigan’s natural heritage.

Tickets are $30. You can purchase tickets online through the MNA website or by contacting Danielle Cooke at dcooke@michigannature.org or 866-223-2231.

The following awards will be presented during the celebration:

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Climate change, fall colors, and oil transportation: this week in environmental news

Each week, MNA gathers news stories related to conservation and the environment from around Michigan and the United States. Catch up on some of what happened this week in environmental news!

Protestors at the People’s Climate March in New York City on September 21, 2014. | Dominique Mosbergen/The Huffington Post

Americans Are Getting More Worried About Climate Change, According to New Polls (Huffington Post): Results from two nationwide polls indicate that Americans are getting increasingly worried about climate change and its impacts. One poll found that nearly half of Americans believe global warming is causing a serious impact now, while 60 percent said protecting the environment should be a priority “even at the risk of curbing economic growth.”

Photo: NASA (click to enlarge)

Photo: NASA (click to enlarge)

Fall Color in the Great Lakes (NASA Earth Observatory): See fall color from space! NASA’s Terra satellite captured images of fall color around the Great Lakes on September 26 and New England on September 27. The brown and orange shades on the map are most pronounced in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and northern Wisconsin. The progression of fall color will move from north to south across North America from mid-September to mid-November.

Scientists Trace Extreme Heat in Australia to Climate Change (The New York Times): Five groups of researchers from around the world have concluded that the heat wave that hit Australia in 2013 was almost certainly a direct consequence of greenhouse gasses released by human activity. The research observed the heat across Australia through all 12 months of 2013 and relied on computer analysis of what the climate would have been like in the absence of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions.

Air near chemical plant remains polluted long after it closed (Great Lakes Echo): A recent Indiana University study finds that people living within six miles of the former site of Velsicol Chemical Co. in St. Louis, Mich. “are still being subject to relatively high levels of HBB, PBBs, and DDTs in the air they breathe.” The plant, which closed nearly 40 years ago, was designated a Superfund site by federal regulators in 1982. Cleanup of the site and the nearby Pine River have cost millions of dollars and continue today.

New report: oil transportation poses risks to Great Lakes Region (WKAR): This week, the Great Lakes Commission released a draft report exploring the safety of how oil is transportated. Increased oil production in North Dakota and Western Canada has turned the Great Lakes region into a transportation corridor for crude oil, but several oil spills have raised questions about how safe oil transportation is.