Rare butterflies, growing wolf hunt and a wildfire dispute: this week in environmental news

By Sally Zimmerman, 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:

The Poweshiek skipperling. Photo courtesy of Michigan State University Extension.

The Poweshiek skipperling. Photo courtesy of Michigan State University Extension.

Michigan could be last hope for rare butterfly, feds say (Detroit News): The Poweshiek skipperling is a brown and gray butterfly that used to be found in seven states and one Canadian province. It is now found at only one site in Manitoba, two sites in Wisconsin and eight sites across Michigan. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is pushing for the butterfly to be put on the endangered species list. This would make it illegal to kill, remove or harm the butterfly that becomes scarcer every year.

Two more wolves killed in Michigan’s first wolf hunt, bringing total to four in slow start (MLive): Four wolves have been killed and reported to the Department of Natural Resources in Michigan’s first wolf hunt. The wolves shot must be reported within 24 hours. Only 43 wolves are to be killed in the wolf hunt from zones in the Upper Peninsula where they are deemed problematic. It is estimated that there are at least 658 wolves in Michigan in total.

Wildfire dispute between sheriff, local fire chief (ABC News): A sheriff in Colorado is claiming the Colorado wildlife was intentionally set, and also said the Black Forest Fire Chief Bob Harvey is being “less than truthful about other circumstances with (the) disaster.” Although there is no evidence, El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa is claiming the fire that destroyed 486 homes and killed two people was “human caused” and that Harvey was “covering his own mishandling of the event.”

Report: Climate change threatens to alter big game in Michigan (WKAR): A new report from the National Wildlife Federation is saying climate change could negatively impact many big game species. Frank Szollosi, Great Lakes Regional Outreach Coordinator for the National Wildlife Federation, said big game animals in Michigan are seeing changing habitats and an increase in parasite populations due to warmer winters.

Elk’s sad tale a reminder not to feed wildlife (Mother Nature Network): An elk in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park was euthanized after a video of it head-butting a photographer went viral, having over 1 million views. Park officials say they tried many other options before ultimately deciding the elk had lost its instinctive fear of people and had to be put down. Officials believe this is the result of wild animals being fed by visitors in the park.

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Tar sands threat in Great Lakes region pipelines

The Great Lakes hold 20 percent of all surface freshwater on the planet, providing drinking water for 30 million people. The Lakes are home to a fishery worth $7 billion annually and multiple species, including threatened and endangered animals. The Great Lakes are crucial to the economies of the surrounding states.

The Mackinac Bridge. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The Mackinac Bridge. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Recently, the National Wildlife Federation wrote an article about the old pipeline that runs under the Mackinac Bridge under Lakes Michigan and Huron. The pipeline is 60 years old and carries 22 million gallons of crude oil and natural gas fluids daily across the Straits of Mackinac. The 60-year-old pipeline is part of the Lakehead Pipeline System that carries crude oil to refineries in the Great Lakes region.

“We are dealing with a 60-year-old pipeline in one of the most sensitive areas of the world, and it carries one of the dirtiest, most toxic types of oil on the planet – tar sands-derived crude,” said Andy Buchsbaum, director of NWF’s Great Lakes Regional Center in Ann Arbor.

Tar sands oil is heavier than traditional crude, which increases the likelihood of ruptures because the pipelines are designed to transport lighter conventional crudes. Tar sands oil contains more cancer-causing chemicals, emits more greenhouse gases when burned, and is harder to clean up because it can sink in water. In the forests of western Canada, it has poisoned local waters, killed wildlife, and threatened human health.

According to government officials, the pipeline (Line 5) crossing the Straits has never leaked. However, there is good reason to believe a rupture is possible in the future. The pipeline is partially owned by Enbridge, Inc., a Canadian-based oil transporter. The company has a history of careless maintenance and frequent oil spills. Recently, an Enbridge Partners pipeline ruptured and dumped 1 million gallons of tar sands crude into the Kalamazoo River. The spill sickened over 300 people, killed numerous fish and birds in the area, and disrupted the river’s ecosystem. The cleanup will cost an estimated $1 billion. Enbridge Inc. pipelines have suffered nearly 800 spills in the United States since 1999.

The National Wildlife Foundation wants Enbridge to replace the 60-year-old pipeline, and they have also filed a petition asking the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to stop shipments of tar sands-derived crude through any U.S. pipelines until safety regulations are improved.

If the pipeline were to rupture, it would cause significant damage to numerous types of wildlife in Michigan. For more information, see the article that appeared in National Wildlife magazine.

Mining in Mackinac, forest pests and reducing emissions: this week in environmental news

By Sally Zimmerman, 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:

Caption. Photo by blah

Graymont Inc.’s plan to start mining in Mackinac. Photo by UpNorthLive

Limestone producer looks to build massive underground mine in the U.P. (Up North Live): The Canadian company, Graymont Inc., is one of the largest limestone producers in North America. The company wants to start mining in the Upper Peninsula by buying 10,000 acres of Mackinac County land that currently is owned by the Department of Natural Resources. The land will be divided up between an underground mine, surface mining and a processing plant. County residents have mixed reactions to the plan, claiming it will bring jobs, but also harm the environment. The DNR is accepting feedback for the next six weeks on the situation.

Climate change opens doors to forest pests new to Great Lakes (Great Lakes Echo): The changing climate will increase the frequency of droughts, increase the severity of snow/rain storms and make frosts occur later. These things will make trees more vulnerable to insects and disease. Insects such as the mimosa webworm and the hemlock woolly adelgid are a concern for the Great Lakes region. The mountain pine beetle, however, is the most dangerous because it could mean a higher risk of forest fires if the insect causes an increase in pine tree mortality.

Snuffing out smoke: West Michigan school bus drivers shut off engines to reduce emissions (MLive): Schools in West Michigan are taking steps toward reducing the amount of fumes that come out of their school buses by turning off the buses rather than letting them idle. Newer buses also have higher standards when it comes to harmful emissions. A recent USA Today story reported that soot levels in air samples at Cincinnati public elementary schools dropped after the schools implemented the change.

What America’s forests looked like before Europeans arrived (Mother Nature Network): Researchers know the landscape of America’s Northeastern forests are dramatically different today than they were 400 years ago, before European settlers arrived. Because of a rare fossil discovery in Pennsylvania, scientists were able to piece together the full story of America’s early forests. They are hoping that if they can identify fossil tree-leaf sites, it can help with forest restoration projects throughout the Northeastern United States.

Michigan’s feral swine numbers are dropping…or are they? (Great Lakes Echo): Wild pigs in Michigan are known to carry diseases, infect farm pigs and destroy land. According to the Department of Natural Resources, the number of feral swine in Michigan has dropped significantly. But, other groups are saying differently. The DNR’s report shows that less than ten feral swine were reported this year, whereas over 40 were reported last year. Mary Kelpinski, executive director of Michigan Pork Producers Association, said the problem is actually growing worse and they are having a hard time getting people to report sightings.

New aquatic invasive species found in Michigan

By Sally Zimmerman, MNA Intern

The European frog-bit. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The European frog-bit. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Researchers have recently discovered a new invasive species in Michigan, the European frog-bit (Hydrocharis morsus-ranae). It is an aquatic plant that grows in shallow, slow-moving water on the edges of lakes, rivers, streams, swamps, marshes and ditches.

The Department of Natural Resources’ Wildlife Division is leading the effort to control the invasive species. Only recently, it was found in Saginaw Bay, Alpena and Munuscong Bay in Chippewa County. Before statewide monitoring, it was only thought to exist in a few spots in the Lower Peninsula.

European frog-bit was accidentally introduced into Canadian waters between 1932 and 1939 and has traveled to lower parts of Canada and eastern states such as New York and Vermont. The plant is a free-floating, perennial plant that resembles lily pads and grows in extremely dense vegetative mats. The mat covers the water’s surface and shades out submerged plants that rely on the sun to thrive. It threatens native plants’ invertebrate and plant biodiversity as well as disrupting natural water flow and possibly harming fish and wildlife. It has the potential to threaten the $7 billion fishing industry of the Great Lakes in Michigan.

Under the new State of Michigan’s Rapid Response Plan for Aquatic Invasive Species, a response plan was formulated, which includes physical removal of 1,500 pounds of the invasive species and herbicide treatments. The plan also includes assessments of places that have been found to have the European frog-bit.

The European frog-bit has leaves about the size of a quarter and produces a small white flower, usually around June. It can be found in shallow waters within cattail and bulrush stands. If you suspect you have seen the European frog-bit, you can report sightings at www.misin.msu.edu or to Matt Ankney, coordinator of the Early Detection Rapid Response project at ankneym2@michigan.gov or (517) 641-4903.

Modified poplars, Asian carp and a new invasive species: this week in environmental news

By Sally Zimmerman, 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:

Poplar trees. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Poplar trees. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Poplars modified for ethanol production still fight bugs (Great Lakes Echo): A recent University of Wisconsin study found that genetically modifying poplar trees to more easily produce ethanol had little to no effect on the tree’s susceptibility to insects. The trees were modified in two ways, making the production of ethanol easier. These findings may bring genetically modified poplar trees closer to commercial use for a biofuel made from the cellulose in plant cell walls.

Asian carp DNA detected in Lake Michigan sample (ABC News): Sturgeon Bay in Wisconsin has tested positive for the invasive Asian carp, which is the second water sample to test positive for the invasive species in recent years. The Asian carp was accidentally introduced into the Mississippi River and has made its way north. Scientists fear the Asian carp could out-compete native species in the Great Lakes and damage the $7 billion fishing industry. Scientists say it is unknown whether the sample came from a live fish or not, so the DNR and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will take more samples.

New invasive species battle brewing in northern Michigan (Up North Live): The Department of Natural Resources has turned their attention to a new aquatic invasive plant called the European frog-bit. This species has been detected in Saginaw Bay, Alpena and Munuscong Bay in Chippewa County. Frog-bit shades out submerged native plants, which reduces plant biodiversity, disrupts natural water flow and may adversely affect fish and wildlife habitat. Control measures are underway, including removing 1,500 pounds of the free-floating plant.

Crying wolf: Michigan’s first hunt heavily influenced by outside interests; follow the money (MLive): The Humane Society of the United States has donated more than $300,000 in an effort to end the Michigan wolf hunt. More than $600,000 was donated in total. Jill Fritz, the director of the Keep Michigan Wolves Protected campaign said the newest petition drive is all volunteers. Other opponents to the hunt include native tribes, the Doris Day Animal League and individual contributors from outside the state. Many of these people provided statements to Michigan lawmakers.

Tsunami debris ‘island’ isn’t Texas-sized, but it is headed toward the U.S. (Mother Nature Network): About 1.5 million tons of debris from the tsunami that struck Japan in 2011 is drifting across the Pacific Ocean toward the United States. The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration cannot accurately predict when the debris will arrive on U.S. shores. Debris has been washing up along the shores of Oregon, Washington, Hawaii and Alaska. The docks that washed ashore in Washington and Oregon contained large amounts of marine life that had to be decontaminated to prevent invasive species from entering the U.S. coast.

Species Spotlight: Cerulean Warbler

By Sally Zimmerman, MNA Intern

The cerulean warbler (Dendroica cerulea) is a small, but strikingly beautiful, songbird that has been declining rapidly in the United States over recent decades.

The cerulean warbler. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The cerulean warbler. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The cerulean warbler has a length of only 4.3 inches and a wingspan of 7.9 inches. Male and female cerulean warblers look rather different from each other. The males are bright blue with a white underbelly. Black streaks line their sides. Females are a dull turquoise color with a yellowish underbelly. The male cerulean warbler has a song that is distinguishable from all other warblers.

These birds spend summers breeding in the United States, ranging from the lower Great Lakes region all the way down to northern Louisiana. It is most prevalent in eastern Ohio and southern Missouri and Wisconsin.  They usually arrive to build nests and breed in the United States in late April or early May. Cerulean warblers then leave in August and migrate down to South America where they will stay until the next summer.

Cerulean warblers live in deciduous forests, choosing to build their nests higher up in the canopy than most other warblers. They piece grass stems, hair and bark fibers together in a spider web to create their nest. Here, they will lay between three and five eggs. When their eggs hatch, cerulean warblers will feed their young insects found on tree leaves.

These tiny birds face many threats to their population. Habitat destruction due to land development is a key threat. Climate change is another problem for cerulean warblers, as it may alter forest types. They also face the threat of habitat fragmentation. Brown-headed cowbirds will lay their eggs in cerulean warblers’ nests. When the brown-headed cowbird eggs hatch first, they tend to push all other eggs out of the nest.

Between 1966 and 1999, the cerulean warbler population in the United States declined 70 percent. Its population is dropping faster than any other warbler species.

Luckily, there have been two recent sightings of cerulean warblers in MNA sanctuaries. There was also nesting activity documented in one. This is a positive sign for the cerulean warbler, as there is a guarantee that their habitat will not be destroyed within the land protected by MNA.

Bat-killing fungus, air patterns and microbeads: this week in environmental news

By Sally Zimmerman, 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:

A brown bat. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

A brown bat. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Bat-killing fungus all but invincible, study finds (Mother Nature Network): The fungus, Pseudogymnoascus destructans, causes white-nose syndrome in American bats and is extremely difficult to kill. It has already killed about 6 million American bats in the last seven years and has a mortality rate of nearly 100 percent. The fungus can be found in 22 U.S. states and five Canadian provinces. The fungus most likely came from Europe, where native bats are mostly immune. Scientists are searching for ways to control the spread of the fungus because American bats are important to the economy. Insect-eating bats keep disease-spreading and crop-killing insects in check and save the U.S. agriculture industry around $3 billion per year.

Strange air patterns could help predict heat waves (Mother Nature Network): New research shows that heat waves are usually preceded by a global weather pattern known as a wavenumber-5 pattern. This consists of five high-pressure systems evenly distributed across the Northern Hemisphere. The configuration usually occurs 15 to 20 days before extreme weather in the United States. Because of this, the wavenumber-5 pattern could be used to enable better forecasting, which could save between 600 and 1,300 lives per year.

Nonprofit launches consumer app to help keep microbeads out of the Great Lakes (Journal Sentinel): Microbeads found in hand soaps, facial scrubs and other exfoliating products bypass sewage treatments and ultimately end up polluting the Great Lakes and getting eaten by wildlife. Researchers say there are higher concentrations of microbeads in the Great Lakes than there are in the oceans. Several companies, including L’Oreal, Unilever and Johnson & Johnson, pledged to use natural alternatives to microbeads after the findings were shared. A Netherlands-based foundation has created a free cell phone app called “Beat the Microbead” that allows consumers to scan a product before buying it to figure out if the product contains microbeads and if the company has agreed to remove them or not.

Great Lakes state playing catch-up in effort to build water-based economy (Great Lakes Echo): Milwaukee and Ontario are ahead of Michigan in efforts to turn water-based technology, academic research and tourism into jobs and revenue. The director of the Michigan Economic Center, John Austin, said Michigan has all the assets necessary to support a thriving “blue economy:” plentiful freshwater, a growing tourism industry, research universities focused on water issues and manufacturers to turn concepts into products. Austin said building Michigan’s blue economy begins with cleaning polluted waterways and restoring damaged shorelines.

Endangered Kirtland’s Warbler: Looking good, but what lies ahead (MLive): The Kirtland’s Warbler has much such a drastic turnaround in Michigan that government agencies and non-governmental groups have discussed taking it off the federal Endangered Species list. Michigan holds 98% of the Kirtland’s Warbler population, so it is important to assure the birds have ongoing support once they come off the list. Continued human intervention is the key to the warbler’s success. It is also important to limit the population of cowbirds, who lay their eggs in warbler nests and compete for food.