Farm bill, drops in Monarch migration and invasive species: this week in environmental news


A Monarch Butterfly. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

By Alyssa Kobylarek, MNA Intern

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

Monarch butterflies drop, migration may disappear (The Washington Post): The number of Monarch butterflies that migrate to Mexico from the United States in the winter is at a record low since 1993, experts say. There are a number of reasons that could be the cause, but the believed main culprit is herbicide-resistant corn and soybean crops that are leading to the killing of milkweed, the butterfly’s main food source. This years extreme weather patterns are also playing a significant role.

White Lake to be first Area of Concern in Michigan removed from list this summer (mlive): White Lake should be removed from the Great Lakes Area of Concern list by the summer of 2014 due to efforts to bring awareness and routine cleanups to the lake and surrounding areas. White Lake would become the first of 14 lakes of concern in Michigan to be removed from the list. Efforts included cleaning up the shoreline to make the lake more ascetically pleasing and removing drinking water pollution.

Sleeping Bear bill likely headed to House floor (record eagle): Legislation has been introduced to protect 32,500 acres of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore as a wilderness area, which is important to northern Michigan’s tourism industry and conservation. The bill has made its way closer to reaching the U.S House of Representatives this past week.

Farm bill heads to vote; US Sen. Debbie Stabenow talks about how it could affect Michigan (mlive): A five-year farm bill was announced that will extend crop insurance for apple and tart cherry farmers in Michigan. The frost that occurred in 2012 destroyed 90 percent of the states crops and the new bill will allow disaster assistance for farmers who were affected by this. Also, when farmers sign up, they are agreeing to adopt better conservation practices to benefit the land and the Great Lakes.

Cold spells may kill some but not worst invasive bugs (Great Lakes Echo): A recent study found that this severe winter we are experiencing may lead to the death of some invasive species of insects. The emerald ash borer, though, seems unaffected. The storms happened later in the winter resulting in animals acclimating to the weather and the cooler temperatures so they become less affected. MSU professor Deborah McCullough hopes that the cold will kill off other harmful species that are less immune to the weather like the mimosa webworm.


Species Spotlight: The Mitchell’s satyr butterfly


The Mitchell’s satyr butterfly. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

By Alyssa Kobylarek, MNA intern

The Mitchell’s satyr butterfly is considered one of the world’s rarest butterflies. Historically, it was found in New Jersey, Ohio, Michigan, Indiana and Maryland. Today, it is only found in 19 sites throughout Michigan and Indiana.

The Mitchell’s satyr butterfly is a dark brown, medium sized butterfly with a wingspan ranging from 1.5 to 1.75 inches. The undersides of their wings contain orange bands and a row of four to five black eyespots surrounded by yellow rings. The three spots in the center are always the largest.

In July, females lay their tiny eggs close to ground on young leaves of plants, usually on the undersides of the leaves or on the stems. The eggs hatch within seven to eleven days. The caterpillar feeds on sedges and hibernates under the snow during the winter months to later emerge and resume its development and form a cocoon. In late June and July, the butterfly emerges to live its adult life for about two weeks.

These butterflies are the most geographically restricted species of eastern butterfly. This is because they require a special type of wetland habitat to survive. These wetlands are only found in prairie fens, which globally rare and very vulnerable because they are only found in parts of the midwest that were carved by glaciers. Prairie fens are one of the most biologically diverse ecosystems in Michigan. They are low-nutrient grassy wetlands with peat soils that have a basic pH balance. They have a unique diversity of plants and animals specific to the fens due to their soil and alkaline groundwater that feeds into it from seeps and springs. Tamarack trees, poison sumac, sedges and a variety of wildflowers call the prairie fens their home.

This species was put on the endangered species list on June 25, 1991 for a number of reasons, but the main reason was loss of habitat and land modification. Many of the fens the butterflies are native to have been altered for agriculture and land development. This has also led to invasive species of plants that make the land unsuitable for the butterflies. Natural processes like wildfires, changes in water levels and flooding from beavers have been eliminated from the fens. A Federal Recovery Plan has been completed which guides conservation efforts for the butterfly and its habitat. The Department of Natural Resources also received a grant in 2006 that provides a framework for managing prairie fens for the butterflies.

The Michigan Nature Association currently has 14 sanctuaries that contain prairie fens. MNA began working to conserve Michigan’s prairie fens in 1961 and still continues efforts today in order to protect these habitats and the wildlife that depend on them. MNA’s efforts to benefit the fen and the butterflies include prescribed burns to help restore the habitat and the removal of invasive plants. To get involved, visit

Wildfires, rising water levels and a new species of anemone: this week in environmental news

By Alyssa Kobylarek, MNA Intern

Every Friday, MNA shares news stories related to conservation from around the state and the world. Here is what happened this week in environmental news:


The peak season for California wildfires runs from May to early December. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Behind California’s January Wildfires: Dry Conditions, Stubborn Weather Pattern (National Geographic): The record dry conditions that California has been experiencing have been the result of almost 2,000 acres of land destroyed by wildfires. Meteorologists say the drought is being caused by a dome of high pressure over the state of California that has been sitting over the state for months and there is little indication that it is breaking down.

Great Lakes Water Levels Expected to Rise Thanks to Frigid Winter (Guardian Liberty Voice): There is a benefit to the arctic temperatures and the record high snowfall this year. The cold polar vortex that hit the Great Lakes region is expected to create higher water levels, which is good news for industries that depend on the lakes, like agriculture.

Michigan rivers polluted by human, animal waste more than double previous estimates (mlive):  Pathogen pollution in lakes and rivers in Michigan has more than doubled in recent years, according to a draft of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality’s 2014 impaired waters report.  Many sources linked to the contamination are sewer overflows, polluted stormwater runoff, leaking septic tanks and manure from farms. A state report is in the process of being finalized in order to help guide efforts to clean up the rivers and lakes.

First Known Sea Anemone Found That Lives Upside Down in Sea Ice (National Geographic): This newly discovered species lives in burrows dug into the bottom of sea ice in the Ross Sea. It was discovered by accident during environmental surveys to test underwater equipment and geologists saw “fuzzy things” on the underside of the ice.  This anemone is the first of its kind to be found living in sea ice, rather than sticking to rocks or reefs.

Michigan Trout Unlimited works to conserve, protect and restore Michigan’s coldwater fisheries and watersheds (mlive): Michigan Trout Unlimited is a conservation organization aiming at protecting and restoring Michigan’s watersheds which house wild trout and salmon. They are focusing on climate change and dams in Michigan.


Asian carp, sea cows disappearing, and invasive species: this week in environmental news

By Alyssa Kobylarek, MNA Intern

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

Tab to keep Asian carp out of Great Lakes could hit $18 billion, federal report says (Detroit Free Press): Some of the most effective alternatives to keeping asian carp out of the Great Lakes could possibly take decades and cost up to $18 billion. The Army Corps of Engineers released a report stating various options to keep Asian carp out of the Great Lakes. Some of the debated options included physically separating the waterways by creating flood management basins and runoff tunnels, electronic barriers, herbicides and screened gates.

Where have all Florida’s sea cows gone? (The Guardian): More manatees died last year in Florida than ever recorded and Earth Island Journal reports that scientists are unsure as to what is killing them. The record die-off of Florida in 2013 was 829 manatees out of an estimated population of 5,000. Officials are working on improving water quality and expanding storage and flow capacities to improve the population.

Rivers in wintry cities remain salty year-round (Great Lakes Echo): Much of the salt that is applied to roads in the United States during the winter months winds up in rivers. The salt remains toxic throughout two-thirds of the year and could be harmful to fish and other creatures that rely on the rivers, as well as humans if the salt reaches groundwater. Amphibians are the most sensitive to the runoff and develop developmental deformities when exposed to salt. Streams in Maryland, New Hampshire and New York exceeded the chloride toxicity guideline of 230 parts per million.


Florida’s manatees are members of the IUCN Red List of Endangered Species. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Alaska’s Bristol Bay Region could be devastated by mining, EPA report finds (The Guardian): The EPA reports that Pebble Mine, a large gold and copper mine in Alaska’s Bristol Bay region, could be devastating to the world’s largest salmon fisheries. Bristol bay produces about half of the world’s sockeye salmon and the mine footprint would affect up to 94 miles of streams. The mine has strong opponents that include some jewelery chains who will refuse gold from the mine. The oppositions have negatively affected the project and there are strong allegations that the report will inevitably shut down the project.

Studies show invasive species not as abundant as some assume (Great Lakes Echo): A new study by the University of Wisconsin-Madison revealed that invasive species are not as big of an issue as previously believed. Most populations do not grow very large and ones that do get out of control are very uncommon. On average, the invaders live at three times the abundance of their native counterparts. Evaluating the abundance and identifying the areas where their populations are more likely to grow too large will better able scientists to approach the invasive species issue.

Acquisition Expands Big Valley Nature Sanctuary

By Alyssa Kobylarek, MNA intern


A view of Big Valley Nature Sanctuary. Photo by Owen Perkins

MNA acquired a 22-acre addition to Big Valley Nature Sanctuary in December 2013, expanding the already existing sanctuary to 157 acres. The addition further protects quality wetlands and habitat for rare species.

The addition will add more than four acres of quality wetland, six acres of upland, 12 acres of lake and more than 750 feet of shoreline to the Oakland County sanctuary. The new property includes southern wet meadow, degraded oak barrens and part of a lake. The addition has a savanna remnant which includes 10 to 20 savanna/prairie species.

Portions of the addition were partially cleared for development, but it retains many native species. The lake is home to rare species and the addition of the land to the Big Valley Nature Sanctuary will aid in the protection of the flora and fauna that call the sanctuary home.

Keep an eye on the MNA Calendar of Events for opportunities to explore the sanctuary or volunteer.

A chemical spill, the emerald ash borer, and ice balls: this week in environmental news

Ice balls at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Photo via YouTube.

Every Friday, MNA shares news stories related to conservation from around the state and the world.

Chemical spill fouls water in West Virginia (The New York Times): A chemical spill in Charleston, W.Va. left more than 100,000 people without safe tap water. The spill happened at a storage facility about a mile north of a water treatment plant on the Elk River, where a compound used to clean coal began leaking. Officials do not currently know how much of the chemical spilled into the river.

Extreme cold may wipe out high percentage of emerald ash borer larvae (MPR):  A forestry expert in Minnesota says that the extreme cold temperatures may kill off a significant percentage of emerald ash borer larvae. Studies have shown that 34 percent of larvae die at -10 degrees Fahrenheit, with that number jumping to 79 percent at -20, and 98% at -30. These numbers could vary, depending on whether or not the insects are insulated by the bark of trees or snow.

Watch captivating video of Lake Michigan ice balls at Sleeping Bear Dunes (MLive): The giant ice boulders on the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore were recognized as one of the most amazing earth images of 2013. They have formed once again, and can be seen washing in and out from the Lake Michigan shoreline. Several photographers have captured fascinating images and videos of the beach-ball sized ice formations.

‘Carnivore cleansing’ is damaging ecosystems, scientists warn (The Guardian): According to a new study, more than three-quarters of the 31 species of large land predators, such as wolves and lions, are in decline. Of these species, 17 species are now restricted to less than half the territory they once occupied. An international team of scientists say that the large predators play a vital role in maintaining the delicate balance of ecosystems. The group has called for a global initiative to conserve large predators.

Plastics in your face? There’s an app for that (Great Lakes Echo): Plastic microbeads, which are often found in personal hygiene products, have been polluting the Great Lakes and other waterways. A new app has been designed that allows customers to scan a barcode and see if the product contains microbeads. The app is called “Warning: Plastics Inside!” and can be downloaded for free in the Apple App Store, the Google Play Store, and the Windows Phone Store.