Carbon emission cuts, ice cover, and microbeads: this week in environmental news

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

Great Lakes ice cover at 85.5% Feb. 25. Image: NOAA CoastWatch

Obama cuts federal government’s carbon emissions (U.S. News & World Report): On Thursday, President Obama signed an executive order cutting greenhouse gas emissions by the federal government. The measure calls for a 40 percent reduction in heat-trapping emissions over the next decade, which the White House says is expected to save $18 billion in taxpayer money. The government will increase use of renewable energy like wind and solar power by 30 percent.

Great Lakes ice in retreat (Great Lakes Echo): Ice cover on the Great Lakes has dipped below 55 percent coverage, down from 80 percent cover earlier this month. Temperatures this week are expected to hover around average, dipping below freezing at times. Daily temperature changes and wind impact lake ice coverage. Last year, the Great Lakes were not completely free of ice until June, though observers expect ice-free waters earlier this year. Great Lakes Echo offers a cool sliding tool that shows the dramatic difference in ice coverage on the Great Lakes in just three weeks.

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder wants up to 40 percent clean energy by 2025 (MLive): Gov. Rick Snyder released an energy message last week saying he’d like to have between 30 and 40 percent of Michigan’s energy needs met by a combination of renewable energy and energy efficiency efforts. By 2025, Snyder believes Michigan could get 19 percent of its energy from renewable sources.

State rep. introduces microbeads bill to protect Michigan waterways (C&G News): Michigan State Rep. Christine Greig has introduced a bill that would remove microbeads from personal care products. Microbeads, tiny pieces of polyethylene used in facial scrubs and other products, are too small to be filtered out at wastewater treatment facilities and end up in lakes, rivers, and streams, eventually reaching the Great Lakes and seaways. Similar legislation has been introduced in Illinois, while Wisconsin and Indiana are also considering taking action.

Winter Lovers: Dark Eyed Junco

By Stephanie Bradshaw, MNA Volunteer

Dark-eyed Junco  © Gary Mueller, MO, Rolla, February 2007

Dark-eyed Junco
© Gary Mueller, MO, Rolla, February 2007

It might be surprising that anyone would love the cold and snow of a Michigan winter, but it is the perfect climate for the Dark Eyed Junco. As the Robin is a symbol of the coming Spring, the Dark Eyed Junco could be called a symbol of winter. A type of sparrow slightly bigger than the ordinary house finch, Michiganders will often see these gray birds with white undersides at their feeders but only with a backdrop of snow. The slate-colored breed is the type of Junco that people in the Eastern states see only in the winter months. Dark-eyed Juncos can be found throughout the United States and Canada at different seasons. They are one of the most common birds in North America with an estimated population of 630 million individuals.

Why does the Junco appear only in the winter?             

Juncos, like many other birds, migrate “South” for the winter months; however, lower Michigan is their South. These little birds live in Canada for the rest of the year and come down to lower parts of America only in the winter. Juncos are commonly found in coniferous and deciduous forests, but during winter migration they may journey to woodlands and fields.

Where do Juncos build their nests?

Juncos prefer their nests lower to the ground: in a depression, rock ledge, or roots of upturned trees. However, these birds easily adapt, and around people they may place their nest in or under buildings, in window ledges, flower pots, or light fixtures. The females weave the nests out of pine needles, grass, and sometimes small twigs. The birds may incorporate mosses, hairs, and leaves into the nests as well. They rarely reuse nests, so they will build a new nest at each of their destinations.

What do Juncos eat?

Seeds of chickweed, buckwheat, lamb’s quarters, and sorrel are the Juncos’ favorites. At the feeders they will pick out the millet and leave the sunflower seeds. They also eat insects such as beetles, moths, butterflies, caterpillars, ants, wasps, and flies.

If you see a Junco, be sure to say hello and enjoy his presence because when it starts to warm up he will be heading North in search of cooler regions.

Did you see any Juncos this winter? 

Bird counts, trails, and air pollution studies: this week in environmental news

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

The proposed route of the Iron Belle Trail. Image: Michigan Department of Natural Resources

Birders break records for Great Backyard Bird Count (Michigan Radio): Citizen scientists participating in the Great Backyard Bird Count logged 5,090 species this winter, about half the bird species in the world. The bitter cold this winter impacted the bird count, with fewer submissions this year, but still a record number of species were logged by those who did venture out.

Mich. Legislature approves $2M for Ironwood-Detroit trail, plus local projects (WDIO): The Michigan Legislature approved $24.7 million in spending on 69 recreational projects around Michigan, including funding for the Iron Belle Trail from Ironwood to Belle Isle in Detroit. This will connect several existing trails from Detroit to the western Upper Peninsula with two  distinct routes, one for bicycling and one for hiking.

Children’s lung health improves as air pollution is reduced, study says (The New York Times): A new study published in The New England Journal of Medicine shows that reducing air pollution leads to improved respiratory function in children ages 11 to 15. The study was conducted over 17 years by researchers at the University of Southern California, measuring air pollution levels as they declined in five regional communities and breathing capacity in 2,120 schoolchildren from those communities.

Several local sightings prove bald eagles making comeback (The Oakland Press): Residents in Oakland County have reported seeing bald eagles in their communities recently. Experts say the eagles may not be as rare as some people think; there are approximately 800 bald eagles in Michigan. At Stoney Creek Metropark, bald eagles have been nesting since early 2013, and residents have reported seeing eagles in Highland Township and Waterford Township.

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.