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.

Image

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.

Species Spotlight: Poweshiek Skipperling

By Allison Raeck, MNA Intern

To me, one of the most interesting things about the outdoors is its variety. Each species provides a vital link in its habitat, regardless of how small it may be. One of Michigan’s tiny yet fascinating creatures is the Poweshiek skipperling.

Though moth-like in appearance, the Poweshiek skipperling is a small butterfly that resides in tallgrass prairie. Its upper wings are a dark grayish-brown tone, with orange markings on the forewing. A distinctive pale area on the butterfly’s hindwing sets it apart from moth counterparts, as does a dark green stripe on Poweshiek skipperling caterpillars. Males and females are very similar in appearance, as they both have a wingspan of roughly one inch. However, females can be identified by a subtle brand on the forewing.

A Poweshiek skipperling on a black-eyed Susan. Photo: Dwayne Bagdero.

A Poweshiek skipperling on a black-eyed Susan.
Photo: Dwayne Bagdero.

The main flight period for the Poweshiek skipperling is mid June to mid July. During this time, the butterfly can be spotted fluttering low in the grass near nectar sources, especially tending to prefer black-eyed Susan flowers in Michigan. Its flight involves excessive wing movement that exerts little forward velocity, distinguishing the species from other butterflies and moths. This slow, bouncy pattern resembles skipping, which gives the Poweshiek skipperling its name.

The butterfly has been sporadically reported in various areas throughout the Midwest, as far east as Ohio and as far west as Minnesota. In Michigan, the Poweshiek skipperling resides in select prairie fens in the southeast region. These fens are wetland communities mainly composed of sedges and grasses, and are one of the most biologically diverse ecosystems in Michigan. Prairie fens house over two dozen of the state’s rarest plants and animals, including the Poweshiek skipperling.

However, because Michigan Poweshiek skipperlings are limited to this specific prairie fen habitat, they are experiencing a severe population decline and are currently state threatened. Prairie fens are extremely delicate areas, limited by invasive species, gravel mining, and woodland invasion. Without scheduled burn or mow periods, fen plants grow too tall to house this sensitive insect, limiting their survival.

Addressing this concern, MNA protects prairie fens in 14 of its sanctuaries in southern Michigan. In order to prevent the fens from succeeding into forest or shrubland, MNA holds prescribed burns of these areas. Though some of MNA’s especially sensitive fens have restricted access, Lefglen Nature Sanctuary, Lakeville Swamp, and Goose Creek Grasslands are all open to the public. MNA also holds scheduled field trips and work days in many of these areas, including upcoming volunteer days at Goose Creek Grasslands, located in Lenawee County, on June 10th and June 14th.  These visits allow guests to help protect these delicate habitats.

Plover rebound, mosquitoes, lake grants and a 216-mile kayak trip: 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:

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A piping plover parent with chicks. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Plovers rebound with Conservation efforts (Grand Traverse Insider): Current measures to protect endangered piping plovers, small sparrow-like birds found on Great Lakes shores, are proving effective. The bird was listed as endangered in 1986, when only 12 pairs remained. The plover population has been slowly rising since then, with 58 pairs recorded last year. Attempting to raise these numbers, conservationists are breeding the birds in protected areas of the Platte River Mouth, incubating abandoned chicks and eggs and educating the public to stay away from areas reserved for rehabilitation. Though it will take some time to reach the recovery goal of 150 pairs, conservationists remain optimistic.

Urban blackbirds are more cautious than country birds (Conservation Magazine): Recent studies show that city-dwelling blackbirds show greater restraint than those from rural areas. A team of researchers collected 28 young blackbirds from the urban atmosphere of Munich, Germany as well as 25 blackbirds from a nearby forest. The team found that city birds took an average of half an hour longer than rural birds to perch near an unfamiliar object, which they say is likely a result of genetic personality differences.

Experts: Mosquitoes in Muskegon County showing normal activity for late spring, no West Nile Virus cases confirmed (mlive): Though the recent mosquito invasion around Michigan may seem especially intense, experts say that these numbers are nothing out of the ordinary for the spring season. April’s heavy rainfall combined with warm temperatures provided the ideal habitat for spring mosquitoes, which are expected to experience a population peak for the next 2-3 weeks. Experts say that, though West Nile Virus does not appear to be particularly present in Michigan this spring, it is important to watch for the virus this coming summer.

U-M Water Center Awards $570K in Great Lakes Restoration Grants (Great Lakes Now): The University of Michigan Water Center, a Great Lakes education and research organization, awarded twelve, two-year research grants yesterday. The grants were awarded to projects that followed one or more of the federal Great Lakes Restoration Initiative’s four focus areas: extracting toxic contaminants, combating invasive species, protecting wildlife and clearing nearshore areas of polluted runoff. Projects range from tracking harmful algae blooms to monitoring fish responses to restoration initiatives.

Student completes 216-mile kayak trip for fundraiser (Detroit Free Press): A student from Western Michigan University completed a 216-mile kayaking journey on Tuesday. Cody Ledsworth began the trip on Wednesday, May 15, paddling against the wind down the Muskegon River. Throughout the trip, he gathered donations for Parkinson’s disease research, inspired by his grandmother who has the disease. The 20-year-old eventually raised more than $2,300 for the nonprofit Parkinson’s Disease Foundation, far surpassing his original $500 goal.

Meet the MNA Staff: Adrienne Bozic

By Annie Perry, MNA Intern

MNA’s staff is full of people committed to protecting Michigan’s natural habitats. In addition to stewards and volunteers that help manage the sanctuaries, MNA has a group of regional stewardship organizers that oversee the volunteers and organize stewardship projects. Our three regional stewardship organizers are Adrienne Bozic, Katherine Hollins and Matt Schultz.

MNA's Regional Stewardship Organizer for the Eastern Upper Peninsula

Adrienne Bozic, MNA’s Regional Stewardship Organizer for the Eastern Upper Peninsula

Adrienne has been on the MNA staff for two years and first worked as a contractor. She was a volunteer and steward for some time before joining the staff. Adrienne oversees all of the Upper Peninsula sanctuaries from Baraga County to Chippewa County, where she coordinates and conducts sanctuary maintenance and monitoring, writes and executes management plans for each sanctuary, performs plant and animal surveys, organizes and recruits volunteers, collaborates with partner organizations, and acts as an ambassador for MNA throughout the Upper Peninsula.

Adrienne comes from a long line of outdoors people and found her interest in the environment while leading nature walks for children in her neighborhood. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in environmental interpretation and worked for 15 years in a number of field jobs in environmental science and conservation. She eventually conducted plant surveys at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore and completed her master’s degree in biology.

We sent Adrienne a few questions to learn a little more about her experiences at MNA. Check out her responses below!

Q: What is your favorite part about being a regional stewardship organizer?

A: Getting to work in all of the U.P.’s varied landscapes and habitats, the opportunity to spend time with some of Michigan’s most rare and threatened species, and the relationships I’ve developed with many of MNA’s outstanding volunteers and members. And believing that I am making a direct contribution to the conservation of native landscapes and biodiversity.

Q: What is your favorite Michigan species (flora or fauna) and why?

A: I don’t tend to think that way, so I don’t have an answer to that question! I love them all. Except the noxious non-native ones that threaten native ecosystems. I did my master’s research on some of Michigan’s rare native orchids, so I do have a special affinity for them.

Q: If you could be any species (Michigan native or not), what would you be and why?

A: Um, maybe a wood duck? I could walk, swim and fly, and live in a tree. Then again, maybe I’d prefer to be a non-game species.

Lake symposium, Muskegon bear, and carp testing: 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:

Students, Teachers Gather at Tech to Learn About Lake Superior (Michigan Tech News): Michigan Technological University will hold its 10th Biennial Lake Superior Symposium this weekend, drawing an expected 200 students and teachers in grades 7-12. The gathering will feature 50 presenters, covering topics such as student stewardship initiatives and conservation issues in the Lake Superior area. The goal of the four-day event is to teach attendees about the Great Lakes watersheds, inspiring them to apply this knowledge in their various communities. The program is made possible by the work of Joan Chadde, longtime MNA steward and volunteer, as well as input from other MTU staff members and Great Lakes organizations.

Muskegon bear may have found his way home, spotted swimming north (mlive): A young black bear seen around Muskegon appears to be headed home, according to DNR officials. After swimming south across Muskegon Lake, “Muskegon bear” was first spotted around Great Lakes Marina early Monday morning and later settled near the Muskegon Lakeshore Trail. Officials closed the bike trail, avoided the use of tranquilizers, and advised onlookers to leave the bear alone. After a day of attention from media representatives and local spectators, the bear reportedly returned to the lake and swam back northward.

Great Lakes Water quality improved but there are still issues, report says (JSOnline): Rapid ice cover reduction and excessive nutrients are growing problems in the Great Lakes, even in the midst of a federal restoration program. Though assessments of the water’s chemical health show mostly positive results, some data reveals an increase in toxic chemicals over the past decade. This could be caused by ballast water discharges from foreign freighters, which were not addressed in the Clean Water Act of 1972. The International Joint Commission suggests that both U.S. and Canadian governments look into creating a structure to reduce the flow of the St. Clair River as a possible solution.

Blind birdwatchers learn to see by hearing sounds (CBS News): Donna Posont, field director for Opportunities for the Blind in Dearborn, has developed a new approach to bird identification: “birding by ear.” Posont teaches blind students to memorize various bird calls in the classroom, which they are later able to identify in the wild. Bird watching becomes bird listening, allowing the blind to recognize birds without seeing them at all. Posont hopes the activity will not only connect the students to the outdoors but also provide them with a sense of confidence.

Grand tested for Asian carp (Grand Haven Tribune): A portable lab was established on the Odawa/Battle Point Launch in Grand Haven Township on Wednesday as part of a federal invasive species monitoring program. Officials took water samples from the Grand River, searching for environmental Asian carp DNA. Though there is currently no indication of the species in Lake Michigan, Asian carp pose a large threat to the Great Lakes. The purpose of the monitoring program is to gather baseline data, hoping to remain one step ahead of a potential invasion.

April’s heavy rains pushed billions of gallons of sewage into Michigan waterways (mlive): Recent heavy rains have revealed that Michigan’s sewage system may be a larger issue than expected. April rains overwhelmed sewer systems, releasing approximately 1.5 billion gallons of partially treated and raw sewage into lakes and streams. The leakage was likely a result of Michigan’s “combined” sewage systems, which carry both sewage and stormwater to treatment plants. This issue has led to a call for increased state funding for sanitary and storm sewers.

How similar are prairie restorations to native prairie remnants in southwest Michigan?

The landscape of the fen at Campbell Memorial.

The landscape of the fen at Campbell Memorial.

MNA’s mission includes studying Michigan’s natural history. While every visit to a sanctuary brings a chance of expanding your knowledge and appreciation of nature, MNA also seeks to support dedicated scientists who try to understand our world and its fascinating flora and fauna. When done in a way that is compatible with conservation, MNA encourages scientific research on sanctuaries.

This post is the second in a series of posts on research done in MNA sanctuaries. Emily Grman is a postdoctoral researcher in Dr. Lars Brudvig’s lab in the Department of Plant Biology at Michigan State University. She is interested in how species assemble into plant communities. To study Michigan prairie restorations, Lars and Emily teamed up with Tyler Bassett, a Ph.D. student also in the Plant Biology Department at MSU and at the Kellogg Biological Station. More information is available on Dr. Grman’s website

Of the vast areas of tallgrass prairie that once flourished in the central United States, less than 1% remains. In Michigan, scattered patches of native prairie once intermingled with savanna and woodland communities, but nearly all have been converted to cropland or development. This massive habitat loss has threatened the persistence of prairie plant and animal species. Over the past few decades, conservationists have increasingly used prairie restoration as a tool to reverse habitat loss. Prairie restoration in Michigan frequently involves adding seed of native prairie species and returning fire to former agricultural land. These restoration efforts often produce communities with an abundance of native plant species that can provide habitat for prairie insects and animals, but these restored prairies don’t replicate remnant, untilled prairies. This is partly because we still don’t completely understand the complex ecological interactions that allow ecosystems to accumulate species as they recover from a disturbance or change through time. Clearly, though, this information is essential. We must understand how to reconstruct communities in order to successfully rebuild lost prairie ecosystems.

In my current research, I aim to understand how species assemble into a community. I am a postdoctoral researcher in Dr. Lars Brudvig’s lab in the Department of Plant Biology at Michigan State University. To study the assembly of plant communities in Michigan prairie restorations, Lars and I teamed up with Tyler Bassett, a Ph.D. student also in the Plant Biology Department at MSU and at the Kellogg Biological Station. In summer 2011, our research team collected data on the plant communities in five remnant prairies in southwest Michigan, including three MNA properties: the Betty and Ralph Campbell Memorial Plant Preserve at Helmer Brook, Prairie Ronde Savanna, and Sauk Indian Trail. We compared those data to 27 restored prairies throughout southwest Michigan, many on private lands.

We learned that restored prairies and remnant prairies in Michigan differ in important ways. Dominant C4 prairie bunchgrasses, such as big bluestem and indiangrass, were more abundant in restorations than in remnant prairies. We also found some prairie plant species in remnants that we never encountered in restorations, such as Pennsylvania sedge (Carex pensylvanica), veiny pea (Lathyrus venosus), and early goldenrod (Solidago juncea). Some of these differences may be due to the seed mixes used during restorations: none of those remnant prairie species were included in restoration seed mixes, and seed mixes often had high densities of C4 grasses. Even so, including rare prairie species in seed mixes did not guarantee that they would become part of the prairie community. Of the 65 different prairie species commonly included in seed mixes, more than 25% never established in our transects, and another 40% established less than half the time. Despite this, restored prairies had nearly as many species as the remnant prairies: we found 36 species in restorations (on average, per 10 m2 sampling area) and 41 species in remnants.

From this study, we learned that while prairie restoration can create diverse grasslands to provide habitat for many native species, restoration has not recreated the communities we see in rare prairie remnants that have never been tilled. Therefore we believe it is essential to continue to preserve the rare gems of remnant prairie habitat scattered throughout southwest Michigan.

Kirtland’s Warblers, piping plovers, and dunes: this week in environmental news

Kirtland's warbler

The Kirtland’s warbler.
Photo: Cindy Mead.

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:

Michigan’s ever famous, endangered Kirtland’s Warbler (mlive): The Kirtland’s Warbler, one of Michigan’s rarest migratory songbirds, is facing removal from the Endangered Species List, according to the DNR. The species has historically been threatened by the over-growth of Jack Pine trees and competition with the Brown-headed Cowbird. Combating this, the Kirtland’s Warbler Recovery Plan has helped the population grow from 167 to 2,063 singing males in the past 26 years. Intensive management practices will continue to sustain this species.

Volunteers needed to monitor endangered piping plovers (Great Lakes Echo): The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is currently seeking volunteers to monitor piping plovers during the bird’s nesting season, May 1st to July 15th. The piping plover, which nests on wide-open beaches, is considered critically endangered, and the population has seen a significant drop in recent decades. Volunteers can help restore the species by reporting sightings of the bird, assisting with habitat recovery, and raising public awareness along Great Lakes shores.

New Metropolitan Planning Council report offers solutions to stem Lake Michigan water loss (Chicago Tribune): The Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) may change its regulations for local permittee use of Lake Michigan water, hoping to save both water and money. Currently, northeastern Illinois loses 26 billion gallons of this water each year. The Metropolitan Planning Council released a report that supports the IDNR’s water regulation proposal and also suggests that the department improve its water accounting systems, metering plans, and permittee support. Additionally, they suggest that the department require modernized plumbing plans and restrict outdoor water use among permittees.

Protecting Sleeping Bear Dunes (Grand Traverse Insider): A funding cut to the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) has resulted in controversy regarding the protection of Michigan’s parks, particularly the Sleeping Bear Dunes. The fund puts a portion of the proceeds from offshore drilling toward the Park Service’s ability to buy privately owned land near parks, affecting animal migration, land and water quality, and environment sustainability. Park allies are working to achieve full congressional funding of the LWCF, which is currently supported by Michigan Senators Stabenow and Levin.

Plan could lead to lifting of land acquisition cap (Holland Sentinel): The Michigan DNR is planning to submit a proposal to lift the cap on state-owned land, which currently limits state-holdings to approximately 4.6 billion acres. If approved by Governor Rick Snyder, the proposal would end the cap statewide, allowing for more state-owned forests, recreation areas, and wildlife reserves. The DNR argues that this lifting is necessary, as the Detroit area in particular sees a general need for public land.