Michigan bird guide, financial case for carbon rule presented and the social network of prairie dogs: this week in environmental news

An American Robin. Photo by John Beetham courtesy of the Great Lakes Echo.

An American Robin. Photo by John Beetham courtesy of the Great Lakes Echo.

By Kary Askew Garcia, MNA Intern

Every Friday, MNA gathers news related to the environment from around the state and country. Here are a few highlights from what happened this week in environmental news:

Winged Wednesday: A Great Lakes summer bird guide (Great Lakes Echo): There are 47 million bird watchers in the nation over the age of 16, according to a 2011 U.S. Fish and Wildlife survey. With this nationwide trend, the Great Lakes State offers diverse habitats throughout both peninsulas, making it difficult for birdwatchers to pick a favorite location.

Peter Marler. Photo by Ingbert Gruttner. Courtesy of the New York Times.

Peter Marler. Photo by Ingbert Gruttner. Courtesy of the New York Times.

Peter Marler, graphic decoder of birdsong, dies at 86 (New York Times): Basic animal science in the 1950s made the claim that animals made noises very unlike human conversation. Yet, when Peter Marler, an animal behaviorist born in Britian, came along, he showed that songbirds learned to sign in varieties or dialects of their region.

White House pushes financial case for carbon rule (New York Times): According to an analysis by the White House Council of Economic Advisers released Tuesday, carbon emissions causing climate change could cost $150 billion per year. The report serves as another way to further Obama’s plan of cutting carbon emissions and reducing climate change.

Vicious cycle: Air conditioning is making your city even hotter (Conservation Magazine): Rising temperatures start creating a cycle of turning on the air conditioning, emitting carbon into the air and causing temperatures to continue to rise in the long run. Yet recent research has shown that air conditioners are also making temperatures hotter just through the absorption of hot air in a room and its emission outdoors.

Prairie Dogs. Courtesy of Conservation Magazine.

Prairie Dogs. Courtesy of Conservation Magazine.

Creating a prairie dog “Facebook” to aid conservation (Conservation Magazine): In recent studies, researchers have attempted to gain more insight into the social world of animals via “social network analysis.” This method in research has helped scientists to take a closer look into the complex social networks, hubs and connections of prairie dogs.

Lake Erie’s algal blooms: a cause for concern

By Kary Askew Garcia, MNA Intern

A view of algae-infested Lake Erie. Photo courtesy of NASA Earth Observatory.

A view of algae-infested Lake Erie. Photo courtesy of NASA Earth Observatory.

In a story from the Great Lakes Echo, Lake Erie has yet again produced record-high algae blooms. In 2011, the amount was the worst ever recorded with 2013 coming in close.

Lake Erie has been used as a source of water for farming and drinking and the increasing toxicity poses harm to the environment.

According to Discovery News, algae blooms are a natural part in the life of an aging lake, but have been greatly increased due to human activity.

An explanation of algae

Rick Stumpf, oceanographer from the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration examines a water sample from Lake Erie. Photo by Karen Schaefer  courtesy of the Great Lakes Echo.

Rick Stumpf, oceanographer from the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration examines a water sample from Lake Erie. Photo by Karen Schaefer courtesy of the Great Lakes Echo.

Algae are common members of aquatic communities. Often in the form of green plants like seaweed, these plants grow and are green because they contain chlorophyll. Algae usually doesn’t pose problems in bodies of water, but algae blooms are of greater concern. These green-blue scum masses are full of harmful cyanobacteria, containing threatening cyanotoxins.

The US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) defines cyanotoxins as “a diverse group of chemical substances that are categorized by their specific toxic effects. In humans, cyanotoxins can affect the nervous system, gastrointestinal system, liver and increase tumor growth.

Click here to read the fact sheet which includes symptoms of cyanotoxin consumption and contact and treatment.

The toxic dangers in Lake Erie

The problem facing Lake Erie is not only that it’s turning a pernicious green color, it’s under silent attack by toxins in water runoff making their way into the lake. Fertilizer from agricultural practices in recent years has contributed to this issue. Climate change may also be contributing to the issues surrounding Lake Erie, causing more storms, higher water temperatures and less control of fertilizer runoff.

A boat speeds through algae blooms in Lake Erie, 2011. Photo by Peter Essick, National Geographic.

A boat speeds through algae blooms in Lake Erie, 2011. Photo by Peter Essick, National Geographic.

Nutrients in the fertilizer runoff have contributed greatly to the growth of cyanobacteria, fertilizing the toxin rather than the intended on-land crops. Not only is this bacteria harmful for humans to consume in drinking water, it creates “dead zones” in different areas of lakes. A dead zone happens when the bacteria consumes most of the oxygen in a particular area of a lake, so that other organisms are deprived of that oxygen and die.

A plan of action 

In Michigan, scientists hope to continue monitoring the water, although the high amount of algae blooms has been a great cause of stress and concern. Recently, President Obama reauthorized a federal law which allocates $82 million for studying and monitoring algae blooms. This time, the Great Lakes were included.

 

Deer Lake cleanup success, Michiganders in favor of decreasing coal burning, Google searches educate on climate change: this week in environmental news

By Kary Askew Garcia, MNA Intern

Every Friday, MNA gathers news related to the environment from around the state and country. Here are a few highlights from what happened this week in environmental news:

Deer Lake. Photo by Stephanie Swart courtesy of the Great Lakes Echo.

Deer Lake. Photo by Stephanie Swart courtesy of the Great Lakes Echo.

Michigan’s Deer Lake could be taken off polluted hot spot list (Great Lakes Echo): Deer Lake, located in Marquette County in the Upper Peninsula, has endured decades of costly cleanup which may soon pay off. The lake had been contaminated by mercury from nearby mines. Since the lake was listed as an area of concern in 1987, the restoration process has been well underway and Deer Lake could be taken off the polluted hot spot list in the next few months.

9 surprising diseases you can catch in the nation’s oceans (Huffington Post): Water affected by oil spills and chemical pollution may be making headlines, but those aren’t the only bodies of water being affected by contamination or disease. Find out the surprising diseases humans can catch just by swimming, swallowing water or breathing in mist at polluted beaches.

Michigan voters favor changing energy mix — especially if it doesn’t cost anything (Great Lakes Echo): A poll by Public Sector Consultants revealed that more than 42 percent of Michiganders would like to see the use of coal burning for electricity significantly reduced over the next 25 years. Still, in another poll conducted by Denno Research, only 13 percent would support drastic movement away from coal in the next decade, even if it were to mean rising costs of electricity.

Geothermal industry grows with help from oil and gas drilling (New York Times): Geothermal energy, a mostly forgotten way of harvesting energy, involves drilling into the ground and using the earth’s hot air for energy purposes. Despite being less than one percent in the world of ways to harvest energy, the United States is still the leader in this industry and it’s slowly growing.

Using Google tends to gauge climate change perception (Conservation Magazine): University of Rhode Island environmental researcher Corey Lang found that with more weather anomalies, there were more online searches about climate change. Particularly during hot summers, mild winters or long rain-free periods these searches seemed more apparent.

Bee colony collapse disorder affecting Michigan

A bee pollinates a peach flower. Photo courtesy of wikipedia.org.

A bee pollinates a peach flower. Photo courtesy of wikipedia.org.

By Kary Askew Garcia, MNA Intern

With summer in Michigan comes the hot sun along with plenty of critters coming out of their habitats. Among animals and insects that emerge, the honey bee is one of them, essential to maintain life of plants in ecosystems and the creator of sweet, gooey, golden honey.

The importance of bees

Bees are one of the main pollinators for several plants including flowers, fruits and vegetables. Bees have a hand in much of the produce Americans eat. Pollination is the process of moving pollen from one part of flowers to another, causing fertilization. This contributes to growth and production of flowers, fruits and vegetables. This process is important to maintaining ecosystems and natural plant communities.  Without insects like bees to pollinate flowers and other crops, the entire ecosystem is affected, causing a decline in natural flora in Michigan, an issue that has already arisen due to many other factors. Click here for more facts about bees.

A large honeycomb. Photo by Julie Grant courtesy of Michiganradio.org.

A large honeycomb. Photo by Julie Grant courtesy of Michiganradio.org.

Colony collapse disorder

Colony collapse disorder, or CCD, is a disorder in bee colonies connected to their decline in recent years. Scientists have not pinpointed a specific cause of this decrease but infer that climate change, pesticides, mite infestations and bee disease have all contributed to CCD, according to an article in the Washington Post. Hives have been dying each year, and it’s not uncommon to lose at least five percent of colonies in a winter, said a 2011 article from Michiganradio.org. According to the article, there was an overall 30 percent nation-wide decline at the time.

Repercussions in Michigan

With CCD on the rise, the amount of crops produced annually falls. This affects the entire U.S. but is a large problem in Michigan because of the state’s agricultural industry. Farmers have seen a decline in their crops. Michigan fell in pollen production in 2013, to ninth in the nation from seventh. Not only is CCD bad for crops and honey production, it can cost beekeepers thousands of dollars.

Restoration programs

President Obama showed his support for stopping CCD in his launch of a task force related to this specific issue on June 23, according to CNN.  $50 million will be allocated for the purpose of research to stop CCD and help restore bee colonies and the economy. According to a statement from the White House, bees contribute “more than $15 billion through their vital role in keeping fruits, nuts and vegetables in our diets.” Programs like this will help the overall nation to try and stop the decline of bees and boost the economy.

Back in February, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced the allocation of $3 million to Midwestern states including Michigan for the assistance of farmers who would participate in projects aimed at improving pollinator health.  “The future security of America’s food supply depends on healthy honey bees,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in an MLive article.

Fishing for plastic, algae threats and California’s drought policies: this week in environmental news

By Kary Askew Garcia, MNA Intern

A University of Michigan research scientist and her research assistant sift through debris from the water. Photo courtesy of Great Lakes Echo.

A University of Michigan research scientist and her research assistant sift through debris from the water. Photo courtesy of Great Lakes Echo.

Every Friday, MNA gathers news related to the environment from around the state and country. Here are a few highlights from what happened this week in environmental news:

Researchers troll for plastic on Great Lakes fishing boat (Great Lakes Echo): Captain David Brooks of the Nancy K boat headed out to Lake St. Clair in pursuit of catching bits of plastic in the water. His curiosity was piqued by the fact that a sweater he owned was made of plastic and bits of plastic washed down the drain when he cleaned it. His intention with the plastic hunt in the water was to find out how harmful these bits of plastic can really be to the environment.

Bracing for Lake Erie algae threats to drinking water (Great Lakes Echo): The 2011 all-time high record of the algae blooms in Lake Erie was followed up by a close second high in 2013. Scientists and government organizations are becoming more concerned about the dangers posed by the toxic algae crowding the lake. Researchers take a closer look at the water, algae and problems surrounding it.

California approves forceful steps amid drought (New York Times): State officials have moved forward with implementing harsh repercussions for over-using water. Citizens could be fined $500 per day for simply washing a car or watering a garden. Still, convincing urban residents of the seriousness of the drought has been a difficult task.

3-D images captured with help from a panda, California condor pair and a dugong,.

3-D images captured with help from a panda, California condor pair and a dugong,.

Animals live in 3-D, now scientists do, too (Conservation Magazine): Finding animals’ home ranges have been part of recent studies. These home ranges would help scientists study animals and their habitats and employing 3-D mechanisms has helped them to get a closer look at animal life.

Still poison: Lead bullets remain a big problem for birds (Conservation Magazine): The Bipartisan Sportsman Act of 2014 may have given different parties a chance to unite in support, but would have had other implications for birds during hunting season. The bill would have called for an exemption for lead ammunition and fishing tackle from “longstanding regulations.” Recent studies have shown a growing issue with lead poisoning leading to the death of birds.

 

School’s out for summer: fun activities for kids

By Kary Askew Garcia, MNA Intern

The final bell has rung and students of all ages have rushed out the door to greet the warm summer season.

There are plenty of fun outdoor activities to do while enjoying Michigan’s lush foliage from now through September that can be great for kids of all ages and their families.

Here are some entertaining activities to keep healthy and energized during summer break:

MNA members and stewards gather at the Fred Dye Nature Sanctuary in Mackinac County to take pictures. Photo by Marianne Glosenger.

MNA members and stewards gather at the Fred Dye Nature Sanctuary in Mackinac County to take pictures. Photo by Marianne Glosenger.

Plan your visit to an MNA sanctuary near you

MNA has over 170 nature sanctuaries in both peninsulas throughout the Great Lakes State. Each sanctuary is unique with its own type of habitat and fauna. Visiting a sanctuary is a great way to explore Michigan’s nature and learn about native plants and animals. There are also several opportunities to volunteer to preserve native plants and animals with the upcoming volunteer days in different sanctuaries.

When planning your visit to an MNA nature sanctuary remember that only foot travel is permitted so leave bikes and motorized vehicles at home. Remember to be respectful of the plants in the sanctuary and do not pull plants or collect seeds. Also remember to stay on trails and, if guided by a steward, remain close. More detailed information about sanctuary visitation policies can be found here.

Find out about upcoming events here. Visitors may also bring cameras and take photos but are asked to be aware to not accidentally harm plants or animals. Here’s your chance to showcase those photography skills and enter the MNA photo contest, submissions due August 1.

A view of Kent Lake in Kensington Metropark.

A view of Kent Lake in Kensington Metropark.

Visit parks

Michigan has many local parks which can provide an array of fun activities. For those living in the metro-Detroit area, Huron-Clinton Metroparks offer several opportunities to get out and have fun. One notable park is Kensington Metropark, located in Milford Township. Kensington offers nature trails, a biking/walking 8-mile loop, play-scapes, a farm center, boating, golfing, swimming and water slides. Click here for more details on pricing and permit fees.

For a statewide searchable listing of parks across Michigan, check out the Pure Michigan website.

Join an outdoor recreational sports team

For something fun to commit to, joining a sports team can be fun and beneficial for health. Baseball, softball, soccer and other outdoor sports might be offered in summer leagues locally. Check local websites to find out more information. Arranging just-for-fun groups to play in parks or other public areas can be fun too.

Go for a swim

Sometimes the only way to beat the heat is to take a dip. Michigan offers many lakes and public pools for residents to cool off in the hot summer season. Making a visit to one of the Great Lakes is also fun for the whole family. Be sure you check for open public beach spots. Also take note of beaches with or without lifeguards. Make sure to take proper precautions like water-wings and supervision for small children. Check out Pure Michigan’s guide for the Great Lakes here.

Explore Michigan’s history

The coast of Mackinac Island, a motor-vehicle-free spot. Photo courtesy of missionpoint.com.

The coast of Mackinac Island, a motor-vehicle-free spot. Photo courtesy of missionpoint.com.

There are many different parts of Michigan with rich histories and stories behind them. Planning a visit to local areas or museums can be fun and educational. Here are some fun, popular places to check out:

On your visit to any lake, park or nature sanctuary make sure you abide by their individual rules and respect the nature around you.

 

Droughts, natural gas flaring cuts, insect art: this week in environmental news

By Kary Askew Garcia, MNA Intern

Every Friday, MNA gathers news related to the environment from around the state and country. Here are a few highlights from what happened this week in environmental news:

 

Drought in the southwest. Photo by Mark Henle courtesy of the Guardian.

Drought in the southwest. Photo by Mark Henle courtesy of the Guardian.

US drought to deplete Lake Mead to levels not seen since 1930s (The Guardian): Federal water managers said the drought in the southwest will drop water levels below 1,082 feet. Officials from the US Bureau of Reclamation said water obligations would be met for at least the next year with no shortages and supply will continue to be monitored.

When beliefs and facts collide (New York Times): Americans continue to stay divided in their belief of theory on how the earth was created, global warming and other issues. Surveys have concluded that many Americans don’t know all of the facts.

Natural gas flaring in North Dakota to be significantly reduced by 2020 (Huffington Post): North Dakota’s booming oil industry will face rigid restrictions in attempt to reduce flame waste byproducts from the industry by 2020. Because of the fast pace of oil drilling, much natural gas is burned off rather than given to pipelines and processing facilities who can’t keep up.

 

"Artistic endeavors of leaf cutter bees" Photo by Chris Worden courtesy of Great Lakes Echo.

“Artistic endeavors of leaf cutter bees” Photo by Chris Worden courtesy of Great Lakes Echo.

Insect art: competition sheds new light on garden damage (Great Lakes Echo): Experts from the Canadian Pollination Initiative and the University of Guelph teamed up to start an art contest that brings a new perspective to insect-eaten plants. Their aim is turn frustration into pride — feelings that are all too familiar when gardeners come across holey plants and leaves among other beauties.

Climate change will alter fire patterns, push caribou herds around (Conservation Magazine): Increasing heat and drought have brought on more wildfires, which have been connected to the habitat of the caribou. Although wildfires may mean less trees, the trees are not what’s important to caribou; the lichens growing on them are. These lichens are what caribou subsist on and wildfires are burning them away.