Great Lakes cleanup, the Keystone pipeline, and forest health: this week in environmental news

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

This Oct. 5, 2011 satellite photo from a NASA website shows algae blooms swirling on Lake Erie. (MLive file | NASA)

$50 million cut for Great Lakes cleanup in Obama 2016 budget riles healthy waters group (MLive): President Obama’s 2016 fiscal budget was released this week and those behind an effort to clean up the Great Lakes oppose a $50 million funding cut. The new budget drops funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) from $300 million to $250 million. This will impact the GLRI’s initiatives to tackle invasive species, pollution, habitat degradation, and algal bloom-causing runoff. Since the GLRI launched in 2010, about $1.9 billion has been spent on 2,000 projects in the Great Lakes states.

Keystone pipeline: Obama given boost from EPA report revisiting climate impact (The Guardian): The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said this week that falling oil prices have changed the economic viability of the Keystone XL pipeline. In a letter to the State Department, the EPA said that the recent drop in oil prices meant that Keystone would promote further expansion of Alberta tar sands, which would increase greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 27.4 metric tons per year, nearly as much as building eight coal-fired power plants. President Obama has said he will take climate change into account when deciding on the project, and those opposed to the project say he now has enough information to reject it.

New website finds Great Lakes data in minutes (Great Lakes Echo): Environmental data on the Great Lakes region can now be easily accessed through the Great Lakes Monitoring website. The new site includes an interactive map with monitoring locations, and users can see trends in levels of things like phosphorous, chlorophyll a, nitrogen, and mercury.The website was created by the Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant and the National Center for Supercomputing Applications. The groups hope to expand the website to include a myriad of EPA data.

DNR releases forest health update (Upper Michigan Source): The Michigan Department of Natural Resources released the 2014 Forest Health Highlights Report this week. The report provides an overview of the condition of Michigan’s forest, breaking own health threats, forest decline, and invasive plant control. You can view the report in its entirety on the MDNR website.

One more thing: MNA is hiring! We are looking for a Land Protection Specialist. Visit the MNA website for a job description and application information.

Monarch butterflies, climate change, and microbeads: this week in environmental news

Each week, MNA compiles news stores related to conservation and the environment from around Michigan and the country. Here is a look at some of what happened this week in environmental news:

Monarch butterflies at Fred Dye Nature Sanctuary. Photo: Adrienne Bozic

Monarch butterflies at Fred Dye Nature Sanctuary. Photo: Adrienne Bozic

Monarch butterfly count rises as conservationists warn of extinction (Reuters): This winter’s tally of monarch butterflies in Mexico rose to 56.5 million from last year’s record low of 34 million. Though this number is an improvement, it is still far below the 1 billion monarch butterflies that migrated to Mexico in the 1990s. Conservationists say the butterfly may warrant Endangered Species Act protections.

Most Americans support government action on climate change, poll finds (The New York Times): A poll conducted by The New York Times, Stanford University, and a nonpartisan research group found that an “overwhelming majority” of Americans support government action to curb global warming. This includes 48% of Republicans, who say they are more likely to vote for a candidate who supports fighting climate change. These findings could have implications for the 2016 presidential campaign.

Climate affects how the Great Lakes grow and flow (Great Lakes Echo): New projections suggest increases in maximum and minimum daily temperatures in the Lake Michigan basin by as much as 8 degrees in 2099. These rising temperatures will lead to increased precipitation and runoff during winter and a decrease in the Spring, especially in northern Michigan and Wisconsin. These seasonal temperatures will also impact wetlands and sensitive fish and invertebrate populations.

House committee passes measure banning soap, scrub microbeads that pollute Great Lakes (Minneapolis Star Tribune): A bill banning the tiny exfoliating plastic bits known as microbeads passed through an Indiana House committee Wednesday. The bill is part of an effort gaining momentum in other states to protect the Great Lakes. Microbeads are found in popular cosmetic products like facial scrubs and toothpastes. Microbeads currently account for about 20 percent of plastic pollution in the Great Lakes.

Biodiversity bills, white nose syndrome, and a heat record: this week in environmental news

Each week MNA gathers news from around Michigan and the country related to conservation and the environment. Here is a bit of what happened this week in environmental news:

Little brown bat (Myotis lucifugus) with white fungus on muzzle, New York 2008

Gov. Rick Snyder vetoes bill critics said would have jeopardized state’s biodiversity (MLive): Last week, Gov. Rick Snyder vetoed Senate Bill 78, which would have prevented the Michigan DNR from making land use decisions based on biodiversity considerations. In his veto letter, Snyder expressed concerns that the bill could create inconsistencies and confusion and possibly harm Michigan’s forests.

First bats to die from white-nose syndrome this winter reported in Keweenaw County (Michigan DNR): This week the Michigan Department of Natural Resources received the first reports of bats dying from white-nose syndrome. The bats were found outside the opening of an abandoned copper mine near Mohawk in Keweenaw County. Citizens can report bat die-offs on the DNR website but they are asked to stay out of mines and caves where bats hibernate.

New study details costs, environmental impact of raising Michigan’s Renewable Portfolio Standard (University of Michigan): The University of Michigan released a study analyzing the impact of raising Michigan’s Renewable Portfolio Standard in several different scenarios. The study found the most cost-effective renewable resource in Michigan is onshore wind and that changing the standard would raise a typical household’s utility bill by only $2.60 per month.

2014 Breaks Heat Record, Challenging Global Warming Skeptics (The New York Times): Scientists report that 2014 was the hottest year on earth since record-keeping began in 1880. Extreme heat was reported in Alaska and the western United States. Heat records were set in each continent and the ocean’s surface was unusually warm everywhere except around Antarctica. With this, 2014 passed 2010 as the warmest year on record.

Sources: NASA; National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration By The New York Times

Sources: NASA; National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
By The New York Times

Fascinating Frozen Wood Frogs

By Stephanie Bradshaw, MNA Volunteer

Wood Frog. Photo: Jim Harding/Michigan DNR

Wood Frog. Photo: Jim Harding/Michigan DNR

As the cold winds and icy showers come over the land, many animals migrate and others find a warm spot to curl up with full stomachs for a long winter nap. For Michigan, temperatures can get so cold that we often joke that one would freeze solid just by stepping outside, and that is exactly what our friend the wood frog does to survive the winter.

How do they freeze themselves?

Wood frogs are able to live farther north than any other type of frog. How do they handle the freezing temperatures? As the temperatures cool, the frogs bury themselves in the mud. As the ground freezes, the water in their body pools into their center, around their vital organs, and they freeze solid. These frogs are as hard as stones or bricks of ice. The frogs exhibit no sign of life: they do not breathe, they do not even have a heartbeat. But, they are not dead. Scientists call this “suspended animation.”

Freezing can cause many severe damages such as dehydration, cell damage, and punctured blood vessels. To avoid damages, the wood frog floods its systems with a sugary, glucose substance that retains the cells’ water and prevents cells from freezing. So while the frog allows freezing to occur around the cells and organs, the glucose protects the cells from the damages of freezing.

How do they thaw themselves?

For reasons still unknown to scientists, wood frogs are able to thaw themselves in the spring. Even more amazing, they thaw from the inside out, their vital organs becoming active in perfect timing so that the frog can regain full life. This process of coming back to life takes one or two days.

After the frogs have warmed up, they are ready to begin their mating season. Since the ground thaws before the lakes and ponds, wood frogs are the first frogs to awaken in the spring. Mating earlier than other species gives them an advantage for their youth to grow and mature before summer begins.

Possible Applications for Humans

The blood sugar that the frogs use to secure their organs and cells is the same blood sugar as all other vertebrate animals, including humans. With more research into the secrets of the wood frog, scientists may discover ways of storing and reviving organs without damage to tissues, managing blood sugar for diabetics, and treating people after strokes and heart attacks where their blood ceased to flow.

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:

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.