Toxic fish, contaminants in West Virginia and insecticides in otters: this week in environmental news

By Alyssa Kobylarek, MNA Intern

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

A North American river otter. Photo by Ken Thomas via Wikimedia Commons

A North American river otter. Photo by Ken Thomas via Wikimedia Commons

Review panel questions US plan to take gray wolf off endangered list (the guardian): There was a setback on the proposal to lift protection for gray wolves in the U.S. Federal wildlife officials want to remove the animals from the endangered species list across the lower 48 states. A peer review panel said that the government was relying on unsettled science and their claim that the Northeast and Midwest were home to a separate species of wolf, making gray wolf recovery in those areas unnecessary.

Record levels of banned insecticide found in Illinois otters (Great Lakes Echo): A study published in the journal “Ecotoxicology and Environmental Safety” found high levels of chemical compounds in 23 otters in Illinois, the most troubling one being dieldrin. Dieldrin, which has been a banned insecticide since 1978, is linked to neurological, behavioral  and immune suppression problems in wildlife.

Michigan’s widespread toxic fish problem redefines ‘catch and release’ (mlive): Mercury and toxic PCBs (chemicals used for coolants in transformers) emitted in the atmosphere rain down on Michigan’s lakes which contaminate wildlife and pose a threat to people if they consume too much fish. The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality has drafted plans for reducing the levels of these contaminants. This will require cutting global PCB emissions by 94 percent and getting there could take 50 years.

Obama in East Lansing: His signature will change face of food stamp and farm program (mlive): President Barack Obama signed the Farm Bill in East Lansing on Friday and it will have major impacts on Michigan farmers, researchers, rural communities and those who rely on food stamps. It will ensure that tart cherry growers have crop insurance and expands it to many other specialty crop growers that had to previously take low interest loans. The bill cuts about $1.7 billion a year from current spending levels.

More contaminant troubles for West Virginia (Environmental News Network): One month after the chemical spill in West Virginia that tainted the drinking water, another disaster occurred. 100,000 gallons of coal slurry, a waste fluid produced by washing coal with water and other chemicals, poured into the stream. Officials are trying hard to contain the spill so it does not affect the Kanawha River.

 

Severe drought in California, new study on Asian Carp prevention and the Keystone pipeline: this week in environmental news

By Alyssa Kobylarek, MNA Intern

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

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The new farm bill will expand crop insurance and other benefits for the agriculture business. Photo courtesy of WIkimedia Commons

Severe Drought Has U.S. West Fearing Worst (The New York Times): 17 rural communities in California that provide water to 40,000 people could possibly run out of water soon. Officials are saying this drought is on track to be the worst in 500 years and it has already produced dry fields, starving livestock and dense areas of smog. Farmers are being forced to give up on planting and have had to sell animals because there is not enough water. Recreational activities like fishing and camping have been banned and water use is extremely limited among residents living there.

Study: Physical, electric barriers best defenses against Asian Carp (Detroit Free Press): A recent study has found that the most effective defense against Asian Carp reaching the Great Lakes is placing dam-like structures or less expensive electric barrier systems in Chicago waterways. Other methods that were considered are strobe lights, noise makers and depleting oxygen levels in the water, but these were deemed less effective. The study found that physical separation could prevent 95 to 100 percent of Asian Carp from entering Lake Michigan.

Herbicides may not be sole cause of declining plant diversity (Science Daily): The declining plant biodiversity has often been blamed by herbicides, but other factors may be a cause. A study found that rare and common plant species had similar tolerances to three commonly used herbicides, which means they do not have a strong effect in shaping plant communities. During the time that herbicide use was on the rise, crop segregation and increased mechanical use were growing and diminishing habitat loss.

Report: Keystone pipeline would have minimal environmental impact (NBC News): A pipeline that would be used to carry crude oil from Canada to refineries in the United States was found to have minimal impact on the environment if it were to be constructed. There has been increased pressure on the president to approve the project, who will only do so if the project does not have a negative effect on the climate. Republicans, on the other hand, have been demanding for the approval of the project for a while because it will provide jobs, but climate and environmental concern are the main priority in the decision making process.

Senate Passes Long-Stalled Farm Bill, With Clear Winners and Losers (The New York Times): The Senate passed a farm bill on Tuesday that expanded crop insurance and other benefits for agriculture business. It is estimated to cut $17 billion from the budget of government spending over a decade. Anti hunger advocates and other critics, though, oppose the bill and say it would harm thousands of American households by causing them to lose money due to cuts in food stamps and they think that the industry does not need more support.

Farm bill, drops in Monarch migration and invasive species: this week in environmental news

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A Monarch Butterfly. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

By Alyssa Kobylarek, MNA Intern

Every Friday, MNA shares news stories related to conservation from around the state and country. Here is some of what happened this week in environmental and nature news.

Monarch butterflies drop, migration may disappear (The Washington Post): The number of Monarch butterflies that migrate to Mexico from the United States in the winter is at a record low since 1993, experts say. There are a number of reasons that could be the cause, but the believed main culprit is herbicide-resistant corn and soybean crops that are leading to the killing of milkweed, the butterfly’s main food source. This years extreme weather patterns are also playing a significant role.

White Lake to be first Area of Concern in Michigan removed from list this summer (mlive): White Lake should be removed from the Great Lakes Area of Concern list by the summer of 2014 due to efforts to bring awareness and routine cleanups to the lake and surrounding areas. White Lake would become the first of 14 lakes of concern in Michigan to be removed from the list. Efforts included cleaning up the shoreline to make the lake more ascetically pleasing and removing drinking water pollution.

Sleeping Bear bill likely headed to House floor (record eagle): Legislation has been introduced to protect 32,500 acres of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore as a wilderness area, which is important to northern Michigan’s tourism industry and conservation. The bill has made its way closer to reaching the U.S House of Representatives this past week.

Farm bill heads to vote; US Sen. Debbie Stabenow talks about how it could affect Michigan (mlive): A five-year farm bill was announced that will extend crop insurance for apple and tart cherry farmers in Michigan. The frost that occurred in 2012 destroyed 90 percent of the states crops and the new bill will allow disaster assistance for farmers who were affected by this. Also, when farmers sign up, they are agreeing to adopt better conservation practices to benefit the land and the Great Lakes.

Cold spells may kill some but not worst invasive bugs (Great Lakes Echo): A recent study found that this severe winter we are experiencing may lead to the death of some invasive species of insects. The emerald ash borer, though, seems unaffected. The storms happened later in the winter resulting in animals acclimating to the weather and the cooler temperatures so they become less affected. MSU professor Deborah McCullough hopes that the cold will kill off other harmful species that are less immune to the weather like the mimosa webworm.

 

Farm bill, lake sturgeon, and blueberries: this week in environmental news

By Allison Raeck, MNA Intern

Every Friday, MNA shares recent environmental news stories from around the state and country. Here’s some of what happened this week in environmental and nature news:

International Joint Commission issues Great Lakes report card (Great Lakes Echo): According to the International Joint Commission’s latest progress report, Michigan’s Great Lakes are experiencing some new problems, mainly linked to warmer temperatures. According to Lana Pollack, former Michigan Environmental Council president, warm temperatures are taking their toll on lake ecology, dramatically impacting species that were once considered stable in these areas. The commission summarized that, tough protection measures have greatly improved the quality of the Great Lakes in recent decades, the area now requires a new type of conservational attention.

Stabenow calls for passage of Senate farm bill (East Village Magazine): U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow joined with Michigan agricultural and conservationist leaders Wednesday to call for the passage of her 2013 Farm Bill. The bill is a major reform of past agriculture programs, and yields $24 billion in spending cuts. The reforms increase investments to create more jobs in the agriculture industry while aiming to save taxpayer dollars overall. The Senate Committee passed the bill by a strong bipartisan vote on May 15, and a final Senate vote is expected next week.

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Lake Sturgeon.
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Restoring an ancient Great Lakes fish (Michigan Water Stewardship Program): Federal and state officials have joined with the Gun Lake Band of Potawatomi to rebuild the lake sturgeon habitat in the Kalamazoo River. Currently, the lake sturgeon population is declining below sustainable levels in the area, and fewer than 125 exist in the Kalamazoo River today. Conservationists are attempting to raise these numbers by reconstructing areas of cobblestones, rock and sand at the bottom of the river, which the sturgeon use for spawning.

Does Climate Change Impact Tornadoes? The Scientific Jury Is Still Out (TakePart): Though multiple theories exist, some scientists are beginning to suspect that stronger tornadoes, such as the twister that hit Moore, Oklahoma on May 20, may be linked to climate change. Humid air masses coming off the Gulf of Mexico could increase from warmer global temperatures and, as a result, increasingly clash with cold northern air masses to form more tornadoes. Still, while the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change acknowledges this hypothesis, the organization does not believe there is enough data to prove it true at this time.

Honeybees, other bees put to the test pollinating Michigan blueberries (mlive): Planting wildflowers near blueberry plants may increase the crop’s yields, according to a recent study conducted at Michigan State University. The wildflowers attract bees and other pollinating insects, which additionally support blueberry plants. These findings will lead to a larger study funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, testing ways to make full use of pollination on a broader scale.

MNA Urges Congressional Leaders to Make Changes to the Farm Bill

By Allison Barszcz

Before Congress left for spring recess, MNA and other conservancies across the state sent a joint letter to Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow and Ranking Member Pat Roberts urging the strengthening of the Farm Bill by allowing federal funding for land acquisition or conservation easement projects where groups like MNA own the land or hold the easement, not a government agency.

The recommendations address a key federal program, the Forest Legacy Program, which aims to protect privately-owned forests from development and conversion to non-forest uses by purchasing land or securing conservation easements from landowners. The Forest Legacy Program has helped protect more than 425 square miles of Michigan’s privately owned forests, including lands that buffer more than 192 miles of Class A trout streams, protect more than 300 inland lakes and preserve 52,000 acres of forested wetlands.

However, the program has the potential to do much more. In its current form, the Forest Legacy Program does not allow for a direct partnership with nonprofit conservation organizations. Current law allows only government entities to own the land or hold the conservation easements, which can create a significant long-term financial strain on state agencies and prevent important conservation projects from moving forward.

If enhancements are made to the Forest Legacy Program to allow government agencies to partner with qualified nonprofit conservation organizations, organizations like MNA could more easily preserve forested areas buffering nature sanctuaries, protecting habitats at a much greater scale. Studies have shown that conserving land at a larger scale helps protect sensitive habitat from the potential effects of invasive species, altered hydrology, climate change and other threats.

The last Farm Bill passed in 2008 and will expire this year unless Congress acts. Changing the Farm Bill’s Forest Legacy Program to allow groups like MNA to hold the easements it funds would reduce costs for government agencies, allow for additional investment from private funding sources, and significantly expand the success of the Forest Legacy Program.

You can read the latest about the Farm Bill in this posting by the National Coalition for Sustainable Agriculture.