Volunteers Help MNA Complete Rare Orchid Survey

By Katherine Hollins, MNA Regional Stewardship Organizer – Eastern Lower Peninsula

A PFO peeks out behind the tall grasses. Photo by Dan Sparks-Jackson

A PFO peeks out behind the tall grasses. Photo by Dan Sparks-Jackson

MNA is fortunate to protect one of the top-ranked lakeplain wet-prairies in the state. This globally imperiled habitat is home to a beautiful diversity of plants, perhaps one of the most showy being the eastern prairie fringed orchid (PFO). MNA protects one of the largest populations of PFO and one of the few populations in the world that is considered long-term viable.

This beautiful, sweet-smelling orchid is a mysterious plant. It was once common in the state, but its population has declined to the point that it is now considered endangered by the state of Michigan and threatened by the federal government. This population decline is primarily due to habitat destruction. Many of the rich prairie soils were plowed into farm fields, and other areas were ditched or diked, altering the hydrology of the habitat that is so important to the plant.  However, while we tend think of it as requiring extremely high quality habitats to survive, specimens have been found in roadside ditches and along the edges of mowed fields.

Volunteers gather for orientation at the beginning of the day. Photo by Dan Sparks-Jackson

Volunteers gather for orientation at the beginning of the day. Photo by Dan Sparks-Jackson

Historically, fluctuating lake levels helped support PFO habitat. High water pushes the orchid population inland, and prevents shrubs and trees from encroaching into the sunny prairie. When lake levels lower again, the orchid population moves back shoreward. Each year some plants are lost to too much or too little water and new ones are recruited where new suitable habitat is created. With land alterations, however, this ability to shift inland and shoreward according to the lake levels has been hindered.

Seasonal drought, lake level changes, and other factors influence the number of annually surviving plants, as well as the number of blooming plants. Individual PFO plants may not flower every year or may even go dormant when conditions are not favorable. In their PFO paper, Mike Penskar and Phyllis Higman say, “… the species is notorious for having large fluctuations in the number of flowering individuals from year to year.” Continue reading

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Asian Carp plan, river tracing, butterflies and a gulf leak: 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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Electrofishing for the invasive Asian carp.
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Feds update plan to protect Great Lakes from carp (ABC News): Improving defensive barriers is the primary focus of the $50 million federal plan to keep Asian carp from reaching the Great Lakes. The plan calls for reinforcement of electrical barriers already in place as well as for some new methods to deter Asian carp, such as a shock-and-catch method known as electrofishing. Currently, an electric fish barrier in the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal is repelling most of the invasive fish from the Great Lakes. Various conservation groups are brainstorming possible methods to keep Asian carp out of the Great Lakes and protect its $7 billion fishing industry.

Here’s a cool new tool for tracing US rivers to their sources and destinations (MinnPost): The National Atlas of the United States has developed a useful online map to trace U.S. rivers. Users can zoom into any area on the United States map or use the search feature to find the rivers they want to track. Once a river is selected, users can “Trace Upstream” to see sources draining to it or “Trace Downstream” to discover its destination. Additionally, the “Trace Report” button displays summaries and up-to-date detailed reports on any river, maintained by the U.S. Geological Survey.

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A monarch butterfly.
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Flowers are blooming, but where are Southwest Michigan’s butterflies? (mlive): Almost three months later than usual, monarch butterflies have recently been reported in the upper Midwest and southern Ontario area for the 2013 season. Monarchs are not the only butterflies seeing a dramatic decrease in Michigan, as rare Karner blues are more sparse than usual as well. Experts believe that the overall population decrease is a result of last year’s hot and dry weather as well as the lack of nectar-supplying plants this year. Additionally, human activities such as habitat destruction and pesticide use are likely causes of this butterfly population decline.

Carbon acidification could cause problems for Great Lakes wildlife (The Arenac County Independent): The Environmental Protection Agency is suggesting that carbon dioxide in the atmosphere could be affecting Great Lakes pH levels and harming lake wildlife. Though data on the issue is currently limited, experts believe that the increasingly acidic concentrations of Great Lakes waters are a result of human carbon emissions. Lowered pH levels in the lakes can also see lowered carbonate ion levels, hindering the formation of mussel and oyster shells. Though experts are not certain as to whether atmospheric carbon is the main cause for these acidic waters, the correlation has been proven in some oceanic areas.

Data Watch: The Great Lakes’ top priorities (Great Lakes Echo): Recent data shows that almost a third of the Environmental Protection Agency’s priority waste sites are in Great Lakes States. The agency’s National Priority List includes 1,320 areas that have released or can release hazardous contaminants. Each site is given a score on a scale from 0-100 based on environmental threat, with the average score of a Great Lakes region site being 41.77. All of the sites listed are either undergoing or awaiting cleanup.

Why The Latest Gulf Leak Is No BP Disaster (NPR): A natural gas well in the Gulf of Mexico exploded and caught fire Tuesday, resulting in a continual blaze off the Louisiana coast. Teams of workers are on the scene, putting out fire and cleaning up the mess. A thin sheen on the ocean surface has been reported in certain areas, caused by hydrocarbon liquids that were released into the air. While this explosion is having a negative environmental impact on the coast, experts say this leak is very different from the BP oil disaster of 2010. Bureau officials have not yet determined how the gas leak started or where it is located.

An endangered butterfly, emerald ash borers and a new dinosaur: 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:

In Great Lakes, Reports Offer Reassurance and Warnings About Oil Pipeline Safety (Circle of Blue): Recent studies from the National Research Council contradict the previously-believed corrosive nature of some oil compounds. The three studies focused on diluted bitumen, a heavy oil mined in Alberta. Recent ruptures and leaks in U.S. pipelines transporting diluted bitumen from Canada have raised concern that the compound may be more corrosive and difficult to move than conventional crude oil. Though researchers have found bitumen to have no unique corrosive properties or greater spill risk than crude oil, the compound continues testing.

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The poweshiek skipperling.
Photo courtesy of Dwayne Bagdero.

Researchers work to save endangered prairie butterfly (Toronto Star): Researchers in the U.S. and Canada are searching for ways to stop a rapid population decline among the poweshiek skipperling, a once-common prairie butterfly. The brown, moth-like insect was once common in areas of Canada and the Midwest but, as prairie habitats began to diminish, the species’ population suddenly shrunk to alarmingly low numbers. Researchers are cautious yet optimistic about the poweshiek skipperling’s rehabilitation and are working to prevent some wildfires and farming practices that are currently devastating to the species.

Michigan’s native plants are essential in preserving the state’s ecosystem (Great Lakes Echo): Detroit native Cheryl English maintains an extensive home garden not only to add beauty to her neighborhood, but also to share the necessity of Michigan’s native plants. English’s yard stands out among the rest on her East English Village block, as her front and back lawns are covered with Michigan-native plants, including various bushes, shrubs, cacti and wildflowers. One of the main lessons English hopes people will learn from her garden is the environmental significance of native plant life and how every species plays an important role in its ecosystem.

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The emerald ash borer.
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Little Things, Big Problems: Emerald Ash Borer (Great Lakes Echo): The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative is producing a series of educational videos on the emerald ash borer, an invasive beetle species that originated from Asia and eastern Russia. The series emphasizes the harmful effects of the beetle, which lays its larva in ash trees and has killed a total of 40 million of these trees in the United States. It is critical that people know their role in the spreading of emerald ash borer and that they prevent the spread of the insect by never moving firewood to or from other areas.

Conservationists are peeping mad about birdsong apps (Mother Nature Network): Smartphone apps that play audio of bird calls have drawn attention from conservationists in England, as many park visitors are using the sounds to draw birds from their nests in order to photograph them. Conservationists argue that this distraction prevents birds from performing necessary duties, such as protecting their young. Still, some enthusiasts believe that bird watching apps help draw a wider audience to the hobby, allowing more people to better understand and enjoy nature.

New Big-Nosed Horned Dinosaur Found in Utah (National Geographic News): Paleontologists in Utah have discovered a new dinosaur, Nasutoceratops titusi. The dinosaur, a Triceratops relative, is a member of a group of horned, four-legged herbivores called ceratopsids. This newly discovered species is especially interesting to researchers because, though most known ceratopsids resemble the Triceratops, the new dinosaur looks quite different, with a large nose and curved horns over its eyes.

Kayakers Explore Les Cheneaux Islands

By Adrienne Bozic, MNA Regional Stewardship Organizer – Eastern Upper Peninsula

Kayaking the Les Cheneaux Islands

Kayaking the Les Cheneaux Islands. Photo courtesy of Adrienne Bozic

On Saturday, June 29, ten MNA members from across Michigan traveled to the Eastern Upper Peninsula to kayak the tranquil waters and see the beautiful Les Cheneaux Islands, under the expert guidance of Jess Hadley of Woods and Water Ecotours. The Les Cheneaux area lies east of the Mackinac Bridge along the northern shore of Lake Huron. Translated as “the channels” in French, the islands are glacially-formed rocky fingers of limestone, sand, and gravel that stretch out southeast into Lake Huron. The sheltered bays and channels around these landforms make for ideal boating since small craft are protected from the Great Lakes’ winds and much bigger waves.

The Les Cheneaux Islands from above. Photo by Marge Beaver/Photography Plus

An unpretentious treasure of the eastern Upper Peninsula, the Les Cheneaux area showcases 36 rocky islands, showy wildflower meadows, old-growth forests and diverse wetlands.  Much of the area is protected by a number of nature preserves and conservation easements, including several MNA sanctuaries.

In addition to the spectacular natural scenery, the region has hosted a long history of boating, exploration, trade, and tourism. Charming cottages, old-timey storefronts, historic harbors, and local character all define the Les Cheneaux area and add to its laid-back charm. The area’s fishing, natural beauty, and tranquility have attracted artists, academics, anglers and unique personalities from many walks of life, many of whom have been returning for generations.

Exploring one of the islands. Photo courtesy of Adrienne Bozic

Exploring one of the islands. Photo courtesy of Adrienne Bozic

MNA’s six-hour kayak tour included equipment sizing and fitting (all equipment was provided), beginner-level kayak instruction, a homemade picnic lunch, and a scenic tour through some of the islands near Hessel.

We had wonderful views of Marquette Island, Long Island, and Birch Island, with interesting local lore, facts and history provided by Jess.  The islands have been a popular resort and boating  incdestination for over a century, and Woods and Water is actively involved in promoting responsible, low-impact, silent sport ecotourism throughout the region.

MNA will host another kayak adventure through the Les Cheneaux Islands on Saturday, August 17. Trips are limited to 10 people. To make your reservation, contact Jessie Hadley at (906) 484-4157 or info@WoodsWaterEcotours.com. See the MNA website for more information.