Dolphin deaths, tiny plastic pollutants, and a predator for the emerald ash borer: this week in environmental news

Each Friday, MNA rounds up news stories focused on nature and the environment. Here is what happened this week in environmental news:

The BP oil spill as seen from space by NASA’s Terra satellite in May 2010. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Study links BP oil spill to dolphin deaths (The Guardian):  A study led by scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration found lung disease, hormonal abnormalities and other health effects among dolphins at Barataria Bay in Louisiana, an area heavily oiled during the April 2010 BP spill. The diseases and elevated mortality rates have raised concerns about the short-term and long-term impacts on the Barataria Bay dolphin population.

Emerald ash border may have met its match (Science Daily): A study has found a native predator that is able to detect and respond to the invasive emerald ash border. Bark-foraging birds, including woodpeckers and nuthatches, were found to be feeding on the emerald ash borer, an invader responsible for the death of 30 million trees in the U.S. and Canada. The native birds are more efficient than other methods to slow the spread of the invasive.

Scientists turn their gaze toward tiny threats to Great Lakes (The New York Times): Tiny plastic beads used in facial scrubs and toothpastes are turning up by the tens of millions in the Great Lakes, where fish and other aquatic life eat them and the pollutants they carry. Scientists fear that the pollutants may be working their way back up the food chains to humans. Recent studies have found that there may be greater concentrations of plastic particles in the Great Lakes than in the oceans.

Chemistry getting greener at Michigan companies, universities (Great Lakes Echo):  Michigan companies are leading the way in a movement to make chemical manufacturing more environmentally friendly. Created under Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s executive order in 2006, the Green Chemistry Program has brought together government agencies and businesses. Companies involved are making strides in using chemistry that is benign toward people and the environment.

As wolves die out on remote national park in Michigan, debate brews over whether to intervene (The Republic):  The gray wolf population on Isle Royale National Park has dropped steadily in recent years. Eight wolves remained last winter, the lowest rate since the 1950s. Park managers are now trying to determine whether they should intervene to preserve the wolf population in the park. The situation could set a precedent for other parks and wilderness areas dealing with threats to species as climate change alters the environment.

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A greenhouse gas, a resurgence of lake trout and a new state park: this week in environmental news

Whitcomb Conservancy on Belle Isle. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Each Friday, MNA shares important environmental news stories from around the state and country. Here is some of what happened this week in conservation and nature news:

Newly discovered greenhouse gas ‘7,000 times more powerful than CO2’ (The Guardian): Researchers in Toronto have discovered the gas perfluorotributylamine (PFTBA), which has been in use by the electrical industry since the mid-20th century. The chemical breaks all records for potential impacts on the climate, and is 7,000 times more powerful at warming the earth over a 100-year time span than carbon dioxide. Currently, there are only low concentrations of the gas in the atmosphere, but climatologists warn that PFTBA could have a very large impact on climate change if it grows.

Go lake trout! Native fish overcome seemingly ‘insurmountable’ challenges in Lake Huron (Michigan Radio): For nearly 40 years, biologists have been trying to reestablish a lake trout population by hatching the fish and placing them in Lake Huron. The stocked fish, however, could not reproduce until alewives disappeared. The trout were eating alewives which caused a vitamin deficiency in eggs and young fish. Now the alewives are being eaten by salmon, and it’s likely their population will not recover. The return of lake trout as a big predator may result in a more stable ecosystem in Lake Huron.

Early warning program battles frog bit, other invasive species (Great Lakes Echo): A DNR early warning program is preventing invasive European frog bit from destroying native aquatic plants. The program quickly assesses areas of infestation and examines the extent of damage. Crews from AmeriCorps and Michigan Civilian Conservation Corps are focusing on southeast Michigan have removed more than 1,500 pounds of frog bit from state waterways. Officials hope to keep the invasive from spreading elsewhere in Michigan.

Crews get busy cleaning up Belle Isle for new state-park status (Detroit Free Press): State and city officials, along with 40 companies, government groups and volunteer associations, have pledged that they’re “All in for Belle Isle”. The Detroit park is in the midst of a transition period after which the DNR will operate the 985-acre state park. Restoration efforts including brush removal, trail clearing, and repairs to picnic structures are already underway. The transition period ends on February 10, and after that entry into Belle Isle will require those in automobiles to have the $11 annual state recreation passport sticker. Pedestrians and bicyclists can enter the park at no charge.

Panel: Strong laws can help West Michigan environmental issues (Holland Sentinel): At Tuesday night’s “Great Michigan” Town Hall meeting in Holland, Mich., a panel discussed environmental issues facing west Michigan. According to Erica Bloom, Michigan League of Conservation Voters director in west Michigan, citizens need to raise environmental issues with legislators. MLCV is concerned with pending legislation that would reduce requirements for biodiversity and require nonprofits to open up land to all forms of recreation, including off-road vehicles.

Endangered Species Act celebrates 40 years

By Sally Zimmerman, MNA Intern

The gray wolf has been protected by ESA. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The gray wolf that has been protected by ESA. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

When Congress passed the Endangered Species Act in 1973, the act’s intention was to protect the nation’s plants and animals that were in danger of becoming extinct, and also to recover the ecosystems in which they live. Over the next 40 years, the act, administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service, helped preserve and protect countless species of plants and animals.

In 1972, President Nixon declared conservation efforts in the United States inadequate in preventing the extinction of species. Nixon called on the 93rd Congress to develop new endangered species legislation and on December 28th, 1973, the Endangered Species Act was signed into law.

Under the ESA, species can be “endangered” or “threatened.” “Endangered” means the species is in danger of extinction throughout a large portion of its range, if not the entire range. If a species is likely to become endangered in the future, the species is listed as “threatened.” As of January 2013, there were 2,054 species worldwide listed as endangered or threatened, of which 1,436 were in the United States.

The ESA is America’s most powerful environmental law, and has affected Michigan wildlife greatly throughout the years. The gray wolf was almost driven to extinction across the United States by the mid-20th century. There were virtually no gray wolves in Michigan. When the Endangered Species Act went into effect, the population of gray wolves in Michigan flourished to the point that they have been removed from the endangered species list. Their success is a result of the ESA’s efforts in public education about the species, habitat restoration, compensation of ranchers for livestock killed by wolves, and introduction of wolves into various areas.

This month, the Endangered Species Act celebrates its 40th anniversary of protecting the species of plants and animals that otherwise may no longer exist. To learn more about what the ESA has accomplished in the last 40 years, visit the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service website.

Related: Timeline of Endangered Species Act History and Achievements

Christmas trees, global warming and tar sands: 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 Christmas tree farm in Iowa. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

A Christmas tree farm in Iowa. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

For U.S. Christmas trees, a festival of blights (Mother Nature Network): Christmas trees across the U.S. are suffering from a deadly soil disease, flooding, heat waves and other severe weather caused by climate change. North Carolina, the number 2 Christmas tree state, is losing $6 million every year because of a deadly water mold called Phytophthora root rot. Plant pathologist Gary A. Chastagner calls it a “national problem.” Oregon could lost $304 million due to the outbreak.

Panel says global warming carries risk of deep changes (New York Times): A scientific panel said continued global warming may lead to the possible collapse of polar sea ice, mass extinction of plants and animals, and vast dead zones in oceans. The panel wants to create an early warning system because they believe people have done little to prepare for the changing climate. James W.C. White, a paleoclimatologist at the University of Colorado Boulder, said the change is inevitable and the hope is that the change will happen gradually so society has time to adapt.

Report: Great Lakes ill-equipped to ship tar sands safely (WKAR): The Alliance for the Great Lakes released a report that said there are gaps in Enbridge’s oil spill response and prevention methods. The group is concerned because tar sands crude oil is extremely difficult to clean up, according to Lyman Welch, the water quality program director at the Alliance for the Great Lakes. Enbridge is still trying to clean up the tar sands crude oil in the Kalamazoo watershed from three years ago.

Study identifies obstacles to aquaculture expansion (Great Lakes Echo): According to the Michigan Sea Grant, fish farms could bring in $1 billion a year with better sustainability. Michigan’s abundant lakes and fresh groundwater give it the potential for growth in the industry. Dan Vogler, the president of Michigan Aquaculture Association, said we could see a $1 billion industry by 2025. Fish farms are still relatively new, making them mismatched with Michigan’s environmental regulations.

Rising ocean acidification leads to anxiety in fish (Science Daily): Researchers from Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego and MacEwan University have shown that the rising acidity levels in the ocean are causing anxiety among rockfish. This species is an important commercial species in California. Martin Tresguerres, a Scripps marine biologist, said the anxious behavior is a concern because rockfish will not be able to adapt to their dynamic environment and will spend less time foraging for food.

Bird migration: Why does it happen?

By Sally Zimmerman, MNA Intern

The Kirtland's warbler migrates from Michigan to the Bahamas. Photo by Cindy Mead.

The Kirtland’s warbler migrates from Michigan to the Bahamas. Photo by Cindy Mead.

Many people know that birds migrate south when it starts to get cold and that they can be seen flying in a V-shape as they leave, but not much more than that. The large-scale movement of birds as the weather changes is imperative to their survival and is stamped into their genetic makeup.

The migration of birds happens because there is a difference between their breeding home and nonbreeding home. Their breeding home is where they spend the summer months building nests and laying their eggs. The nonbreeding home is where they spend the winter months. The two main resources birds look for when they migrate are food and nesting locations. They typically move from areas of decreasing resources to areas of increasing resources.

In the northern hemisphere, birds migrate north in the spring. They thrive on insect populations and budding plants. There are also plentiful nesting locations for the birds to build their homes. When it starts to get cold, the insect populations decrease and the plants are no longer budding, so the birds migrate south.

Birds can cover a span of thousands of miles in their migration. They often travel the same route with little deviation from year to year. Researchers believe birds use a variety of techniques to navigate, including navigation by the stars, changes in the earth’s magnetic field and smell. Birds have important stopover locations in their migration pathways that provide food supplies.

Raptors such as hawks, eagles, vultures and falcons use landmasses such as the Keweenaw Peninsula as a stopover point in their migration. This shortens their flying time over Lake Superior and the updrafts carry the birds so they exert minimal energy.

The Kirtland’s warbler is another bird species that uses Michigan as one of its homes. The bird arrives in Michigan anywhere from late April to early May and constructs its nest between mid-May and early June. Egg-laying occurs from late May to mid-July. Incubation takes about 15 days with fledging occurring nine days afterward. The bird migrates from northern Michigan where it nests exclusively in young jack-pine forests to the Bahamas in the winter, where they nest in pine woods, broad-leafed scrub and Australian pipe. The Kirtland’s warbler makes the journey to the Bahamas sometime between August and October without any stops, following a narrow band that crosses Ohio, West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina.

Recently, there have been increasing migration hazards for birds as more communication towers and tall buildings are being constructed. The lights of tall buildings attract birds and are accountable for millions of collision deaths each year. Food supplies, weather and exposure to predators can also affect the journey. Organizations like MNA have been working to protect these important flyway areas for migratory birds. You can read about MNA’s efforts to discourage the building of a cell phone tower on Brockway Mountain in the Fall 2013 issue of Michigan Nature magazine

Scientists use banding and satellite tracking to study migration, with the hope of locating important stopover and winter spots. The goal is to make steps toward protecting and saving these important locations.