Biodiversity bill, fracking and algae blooms: this week in environmental news

Each week, MNA gathers news stories from around the state and country related to conservation and the environment. Here is some of what happened this week in environmental news:

This NOAA simulation shows high water levels at the Harbor Bay Power Plant in Michigan’s thumb region. Source: http://coast.noaa.gov/llv/

Is Michigan’s biodiversity in jeopardy? Environmental group critical of bill soon to be on Gov. Rick Snyder’s desk (MLive): A bill that aims to prevent the Department of Natural Resources from making land use decisions based on biodiversity has passed both chambers of the Michigan Legislature. The Michigan Environmental Council is critical of the bill’s broad language, while Sponsor Sen. Tom Casperson says the program could have restricted private land use. The bill will likely go to Gov. Rick Snyder for consideration.

New York bans fracking after health report (Reuters): New York Environmental Commissioner Joseph Maretens says he will issue an order early next year to ban fracking. This decision comes after the release of a report which concluded that the oil and gas extraction method poses health risks. Once the ban is in place, New York and Vermont will be the only two states to completely prohibit fracking.

New tool simulates climate change impact on Great Lakes shores (Great Lakes Echo): A new computer application developed for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) will help planners see the impact varying water levels have on Great Lakes shoreline.

Obama indefinitely bans drilling in Alaskan Bay (The New York Times): On Tuesday, President Obama indefinitely barred oil and gas exploration of Alaska’s Bristol Bay, which is home to a variety of marine life that includes the endangered North Pacific right whale. The bay also supports a $2 billion fishing industry that supplies 40% of the wild-caught seafood in the United States. The ban is permanent unless a future president acts to reverse it.

U.S. gives $3.1 million for Lake Erie algae projects (Detroit Free Press): The Environmental Protection Agency is allocating $3.1 million from a Great Lakes cleanup fund for efforts to reduce algae blooms in Lake Erie. Projects will improve water quality testing and algae bloom forecasting, as well as expand assistance for agricultural conservation practices.

Invasive species, Great Lakes, and biodiversity: this week in environmental news

Each week, MNA gathers news stories from around the state and country related to nature and the environment. Here is some of what happened this week in environmental news:

Water levels in Lakes Superior, Michigan and Huron continue to be above their monthly averages for the first time in 16 years. Photo: NOAA

Upper Great Lakes water levels are up. Here’s why. (Michigan Radio): Water levels in Lakes Superior, Michigan and Huron are above their monthly averages for the first time in 16 years. According to the Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory, water levels dropped in the late 1990s and remained low. Since 2013, water levels have surged, mainly due to increased precipitation. A seasonal forecast predicts a typical seasonal cycle with no extreme changes in water level.

Invasive species can dramatically alter landscapes, study shows (Science Daily): A study from Purdue University and the University of Kentucky reviewed research on how life forms interact with and influence their surroundings. The review concluded that invasive species can cause serious problems that may have an impact for decades, or longer. The review showed that areas where land and water systems overlap are particularly vulnerable to invasives.

Rufa Red Knot Gets Listed (Audubon Magazine): The US Fish and Wildlife Service announced this week that the Rufa Red Knot will be listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. This coastal shorebird has experienced a population drop of more than 75 percent since the 1980s. The Rufa Red breeds in the Arctic tundra in the summer and then migrates more than 9,000 miles to the tip of South America – passing through parts of Michigan on its journey. The bird’s primary threat is climate change – rising water levels and storms are harming the coastal habitat used by the bird for migration.

Scientists oppose bill to keep DNR from considering biodiversity (Michigan Radio): The state legislature is considering a bill that would forbid the Michigan Department of Natural Resources from considering biodiversity along with other uses of state lands. Introduced by State Sen. Tom Casperson , the bill would prohibit the DNR from enforcing the rule that designates an area of land specifically for maintaining biological diversity, limiting the ability to fight invasive species

Study shows that 270,000 tons of plastic float in the ocean (AP): A new study estimates that 270,000 tons of plastic, enough to fill 38,500 garbage trucks, is floating in the world’s oceans. The study, led by the 5 Gyres Institute, aims to understand how synthetic materials are entering the oceans and how they affect fish, seabirds, and the ecosystem. The study only measured plastic floating on the ocean’s surface – plastic on the ocean floor was not included.

MNA Looks Back on a Remarkable 2014

2014 has been an incredibly important and successful year for MNA! It’s impossible for one blog post to do justice to the amazing work of our staff and volunteers, but we’ve compiled a few highlights from throughout the year. Click on the images to enlarge and scroll through the gallery:

Check out out MNA’s 2014 Year in Review publication for more details about our progress in 2014. 

Thank you for making this a year to remember! If you’d like to support MNA, you can become a member or make a tax-deductible contribution.

Great Lakes ice, climate change, and a snowy owl: this week in environmental news

Each week, MNA gathers news stories related to conservation and the environment. Here is a some of what happened this week in environmental news:

A snowy owl has been spotted near Chrysler Beach in Marysville. (Photo: Tim Buelow / Submitted to The Times Herald)

Great Lakes ice breaking all the rules (Great Lakes Echo): Ice is forming on the Great Lakes this year faster than ever. Lake Superior had areas freezing on Nov. 15, the earliest in over 40 years. Due to last winter’s harsh cold temperatures, ice remained on Lake Superior from November until June. With such a short time without ice, the Great Lakes remained unusually cold and had higher-than-normal water levels.

Secretary General Expresses Optimism About Climate Meeting (The New York Times): The United Nations secretary general Ban Ki-moon said he was optimistic that progress on curbing greenhouse gas emissions would be made during a conference he will attend next week in Lima, Peru. Delegates from more than 190 countries will be working on a new agreement to contain global warming.

Snowy owl spotted in Blue Water Area (The Times Herald): Earlier this week, a resident spotted a snowy owl near Chrysler Beach in Marysville, Michigan. According to the Michigan Audubon Society, snowy owls typically only come that far south when the food supply is low in the arctic. The high survival rate of last year’s snowy owl offspring is likely the cause of the lower food supply. The owl appears to be staying around Chrysler Beach for the winter.

DNR Advises not to move firewood between state parks to prevent spread of oak wilt (Michigan DNR): Oak wilt, a deadly tree infection spread by the transport of firewood, has been increasing in Michigan. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources has conducted treatment at several state parks to halt the spread of the disease, which has already destroyed more than 100 large red oaks. The DNR asks that no one transport firewood between campgrounds in order to keep the disease from spreading further.

Video: Swimming owl in Lake Michigan, footage captured by Chicago photographer (MLive): A Chicago photographer captured video footage of a great horned owl swimming the butterfly in Lake Michigan. Sources say the owl had been forced down into the lake by two peregrine falcons, swam to shore, and rested on the beach until he could fly. The video appears below:

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)