Geoengineering, zebra mussel bacterium and beaver fur dealers: this week in environmental news

By Alyssa Kobylarek, MNA intern

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

The North American beaver. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The North American beaver. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Fur dealers could trap beavers under proposed law change (Great Lakes Echo): Licensed fur dealers could trap beavers under new legislation. Beavers can be trapped now, but this measure would allow fur dealers to trap, which is something that has been outlawed as far back as the early 1900s. The law was originally made when the population of beavers was low and needed to be increased. Today, the population of beavers in Michigan has grown considerably since the prohibition against fur dealers trapping them was made.

Geoengineering side effects could be potentially disastrous, research shows (the guardian): Human engineering of the Earth’s climate to prevent global warming would prove to be ineffective as well as have severe side effects that could not be safely stopped, according to new research. Ocean up welling or bringing up of deep, cold waters would reduce sea ice melting, but would unbalance the global heat budget and affect oxygen levels in the oceans. Each of the five climate engineering methods has advantages and disadvantages, but they are all limited.

Zebra mussels were introduced to the Great Lakes in the 1980s and have since spread to hundreds of lakes and rivers throughout the United States. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Zebra mussels were introduced to the Great Lakes in the 1980s and have since spread to hundreds of lakes and rivers throughout the United States. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Science Takes On a Silent Invader (The New York Times): Two species of mussels, the quagga and zebra mussels, have disrupted ecosystems since they arrived in the Great Lakes and since spread to lakes and rivers in 34 states. Biologist Daniel P. Molloy has discovered a bacterium that kills the mussels but has little to no effect on other organisms. New York State has awarded a license to develop a commercial formulation of the bacterium.

Michigan Department of Natural Resources calls for “laser-like” focus on invasive species eradication (mlive): There have been positive DNA findings for Asian Carp in Lake Erie, suggesting that there may be a residual population in the lake, but there have been no live fish discovered. Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder allocated more than $6 million to support and supplement state funding for aquatic species management. Earlier this year, hydro separation between the Great Lakes and the Chicago River basin was the next step to prevent Asian Carp from entering the Great Lakes.

California Endangered Species: Plastic Bags (The New York Times): Los Angeles became the largest city in the country this year to enforce the ban on plastic bags. Many policy makers in California have come to see the plastic bag as a symbol of environmental wastefulness. The measure would ban single use bags at supermarkets, liquor stores and other locations, but paper bags and other reusable bags will be available for a 10-cent fee. Some disagree with the ban saying it will cost the state up to 2,000 jobs and cost them millions of dollars.


Why are there so many snowy owls in Michigan this winter?


There have been an abundance of snowy owl sightings in Michigan. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

By Alyssa Kobylarek, MNA Intern

The snowy owl is a majestic bird that is native to the polar regions around the globe. During the shortest days of the year, the white owls of the Arctic have flown south to the Northeastern United States and the Great Lakes region in record numbers, making this a winter to remember for avid bird watchers and Harry Potter fans. While it is common to see sighting of the owl every year, there has been an increased number of them that indicates a higher population is migrating south. The movement to southern regions is thought to be the cause of an increase in the bird’s food supply in the Arctic. The frigid weather and early deep snow cover that Michigan has experienced this winter has also been a contributor to the early December migration of the snowy owls.

The snowy owl, which can be distinguished by it’s piercing yellow eyes that pop from it’s frosted white feathers, is protected in the United States as a migratory bird.  They display a population pattern that correlates with the abundance of their main source of food, the lemming. An increase in the lemming population in the Arctic caused a huge increase in the number of owls, which migrate south in search of more food during the winter. The snowy owl serves as a huge attraction to bird watchers and also benefits Western Michigan’s ecosystem. They control lower level populations of animals, such as rodents and other small birds. One owl may kill more than 1,600 lemmings in one year. Their main food sources are lemmings and mice, but they also eat rabbits, other birds and fish. They hunt by perching above the ground and watching their prey, where they swoop down from above and snatch them with their powerful legs and long talons.


Snowy owls are known for their intense yellow eyes. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia commons

Snowy owls can be seen all over Western Michigan in areas like Grand Rapids, Lansing, Kalamazoo and around the Great lakes area.  They are commonly found in open spaces, fields and farmlands perched on light posts or fences. They are also popular at airports because the open and expansive runways are similar to the tundra habitats where the birds breed. While this is exciting for people who want to see these birds of prey, there have been many casualties with owls running into airplanes and getting severely injured or dying.  These birds are also dinural, which means they are active both during the day and night. This distinguishes the snowy owl from most other owls, which are nocturnal, so sightings during the day will be common. Be on the lookout for a snowy owl in your area or at an MNA sanctuary this winter!

Climate change, monarch butterflies and a snowy owl invasion: this week in environmental news

By Alyssa Kobylarek, MNA Intern

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

A monarch butterfly feeding on swamp milkweed. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

A Monarch butterfly feeding on swamp milkweed. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Michigan cities brace for a changing climate (Great Lakes Echo): Several cities across Michigan are preparing for climate trends that are already apparent in our state. Flooding, intense storms, extreme heat and falling water levels are all impacts that have developed in recent years. Some preparation plans include planting trees, putting solar panels on 360 state-owned buildings and setting a 100 percent renewable energy goal by the year 2020.

Possibility of oil fracking in Genesee County stokes environmental fears (mlive): Employees from the Western Land Services in the area are offering deals to people to sell the oil and minerals off their land, but the use of fracking is controversial. Environmental groups claim the process of oil fracking can harm groundwater and cause seismic disturbances, but supporters say it is done too far down below the aquifer to do damage. If there is enough interest to drill in the area, a permit would have to be granted in order to do so.

Asian carp issue seen as not stopping river barge concept for Muskegon Lake (mlive): The Army Corps of Engineers released a report to congress outlining eight possible approaches to stopping Asian carp from entering the Great Lakes through barges. Some solutions include separating the river system from the Great Lakes, but that would cost an estimated $18 billion. Many people fear the carp will threaten the Great Lakes fishing industry and are concerned about the river barge operation.

North American Leaders Urged to Restore Monarch Butterfly’s Habitat (New York Times): The leaders of Mexico, the United States and Canada have been urged to commit to restore habitat that supports the Monarch butterfly and its migration. A proposal to plant milkweed along its migratory route was issued, as milkweed has been disappearing over the past decade in America.

Snowy owls invade ‘south’; cold affects waterfowl (Associated Press): This winter has shown an invasion of snowy owls in 25 states. More than 2,500 snowy owls were reported in the U.S. and Canada this winter. The frigid cold is also causing unusual movements of waterfowl.  Due to the Great Lakes being almost entirely frozen over, some species of waterfowl are moving closer inland where they are not usually found.


Toxic fish, contaminants in West Virginia and insecticides in otters: this week in environmental news

By Alyssa Kobylarek, MNA Intern

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

A North American river otter. Photo by Ken Thomas via Wikimedia Commons

A North American river otter. Photo by Ken Thomas via Wikimedia Commons

Review panel questions US plan to take gray wolf off endangered list (the guardian): There was a setback on the proposal to lift protection for gray wolves in the U.S. Federal wildlife officials want to remove the animals from the endangered species list across the lower 48 states. A peer review panel said that the government was relying on unsettled science and their claim that the Northeast and Midwest were home to a separate species of wolf, making gray wolf recovery in those areas unnecessary.

Record levels of banned insecticide found in Illinois otters (Great Lakes Echo): A study published in the journal “Ecotoxicology and Environmental Safety” found high levels of chemical compounds in 23 otters in Illinois, the most troubling one being dieldrin. Dieldrin, which has been a banned insecticide since 1978, is linked to neurological, behavioral  and immune suppression problems in wildlife.

Michigan’s widespread toxic fish problem redefines ‘catch and release’ (mlive): Mercury and toxic PCBs (chemicals used for coolants in transformers) emitted in the atmosphere rain down on Michigan’s lakes which contaminate wildlife and pose a threat to people if they consume too much fish. The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality has drafted plans for reducing the levels of these contaminants. This will require cutting global PCB emissions by 94 percent and getting there could take 50 years.

Obama in East Lansing: His signature will change face of food stamp and farm program (mlive): President Barack Obama signed the Farm Bill in East Lansing on Friday and it will have major impacts on Michigan farmers, researchers, rural communities and those who rely on food stamps. It will ensure that tart cherry growers have crop insurance and expands it to many other specialty crop growers that had to previously take low interest loans. The bill cuts about $1.7 billion a year from current spending levels.

More contaminant troubles for West Virginia (Environmental News Network): One month after the chemical spill in West Virginia that tainted the drinking water, another disaster occurred. 100,000 gallons of coal slurry, a waste fluid produced by washing coal with water and other chemicals, poured into the stream. Officials are trying hard to contain the spill so it does not affect the Kanawha River.


Trustee Profile: Paul Messing

By Alyssa Kobylarek, MNA Intern

Paul Messing with Executive Director Garret Johnson after receiving the 2012 Volunteer of the Year Award.

Paul Messing with Executive Director Garret Johnson after receiving the 2012 Volunteer of the Year Award.

Paul Messing joined MNA’s Board of Trustees in 2013 and has been an active member and volunteer at MNA sanctuaries in southeast Michigan for years. Paul began his work at MNA by leading hikes and distributing information about the Michigan Nature Association to the community. Now, in addition to joining the board, he serves as the steward at Lost Lake Nature Sanctuary and is the co-steward at Frinks Pond Plant Preserve and Wilcox-Warnes Nature Sanctuary. He was named one of MNA’s Volunteers of the Year at the 2012 Volunteer and Donor Recognition Dinner.

We took a few minutes to chat with Paul recently about his experiences with MNA:

1. When did you first learn about the Michigan Nature Association and what made you get involved? I first found out about a Michigan Nature Association Sanctuary (Anna Wilcox and Harold Warnes Nature Sanctuary) near my home in 2010 when I was researching the possibility of identifying tall trees in the area as part of the American Forests Big Trees program. An internet search yielded a link to the MNA website, and I became very curious about the Wilcox-Warnes sanctuary from the description. I visited shortly thereafter, and I was impressed by the nature of the sanctuary. The tall trees described on the website were so impressive in person. Leaves on the sprouting wildflowers were emerging on the early spring day. In 2011, after becoming a member, I met at the Wilcox-Warnes sanctuary for a workday to build sections of boardwalk and learn more about the sanctuary from the people that supported the organization.  I was instantly hooked by the enthusiasm of the volunteers and staff and what supporting the mission had to offer.

I quickly made it my goal to find out more about the other sanctuaries, and I worked throughout the year to visit sanctuaries and participate in various events that MNA offered.  These included the Spring Adventure offered that year and a hike at McGaw and Polovich sanctuaries. I also joined in on a workday at Saginaw Wetlands. After that, Bullard Lake Fen and Lefglen sanctuaries captured my attention to round out the year. In all, I had visited 18 sanctuaries that year, and was impressed by what I saw at every turn. 2012 was another great year as I continued adding to my stewardship roles, volunteer experience at many sanctuaries, and then finally being recruited to volunteer as a Trustee.

2. Is there anything you have accomplished or hope to accomplish since becoming a Trustee for the Michigan Nature Association?  My goal as a Trustee is to help the organization in its mission, especially as it relates to technology. I feel I bring a wealth of experience with my use of computers, and I hope to find ways to improve aspects of the organization in that respect.  I have enjoyed being part of a great team of knowledgeable Trustees. The responsibility to keep MNA a sustainable organization, just as we look to keep all of the habitats we steward sustainable, is all of our responsibility.  It is my goal to continue to support the organization in ensuring our mission continues.

3. What is special to you about the natural environment of Michigan?  Michigan seems to me to be a such a transitional, moderate climate; it’s certainly not tropical, nor arctic, but covered with some hilly terrain, wetlands, and even well drained areas. It harnesses such a variety of wildlife, be it our year-round birds or those migrating through.  It is also interesting how we are at one of the transitions between the conifer forests of the north and the deciduous forests more common to the south. All this helps me appreciate the place each species has in the environment. There are so many species of plants and animals to be discovered, some of which keep only a small piece of their range in Michigan.

4. What activities are you currently involved in for the Michigan Nature Association?  Besides Steward and Trustee roles, I have volunteered to mark boundaries at various sanctuaries. As I continue to try to transition from a novice birder toward an expert, I use Cornell’s eBird to report what I see or hear while hiking and volunteering at sanctuaries. I also enjoy trying to capture the wildlife through photography. It is such a great way share with others and for posterity the great variety of life out there.

5. What are some of the most memorable moments you have with the MNA?  Seeing many firsts at the sanctuaries, have been quite memorable. These include observing three rare ferns on a trip through the Eastern UP, and seeing Michigan’s only rattlesnake, the Massasauga, at two MNA sanctuaries last year. I also really enjoyed creating the design for a bridge that I helped to build at Kernan Memorial Sanctuary.  That was a real team effort and I was so proud to see the project completed.

Katherine Hollins, Bill McEachern, and Paul Messing stand on the completed bridge at Kernan Memorial Nature Sanctuary.

Katherine Hollins, Bill McEachern, and Paul Messing stand on the completed bridge at Kernan Memorial Nature Sanctuary.

Severe drought in California, new study on Asian Carp prevention and the Keystone pipeline: 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 news:


The new farm bill will expand crop insurance and other benefits for the agriculture business. Photo courtesy of WIkimedia Commons

Severe Drought Has U.S. West Fearing Worst (The New York Times): 17 rural communities in California that provide water to 40,000 people could possibly run out of water soon. Officials are saying this drought is on track to be the worst in 500 years and it has already produced dry fields, starving livestock and dense areas of smog. Farmers are being forced to give up on planting and have had to sell animals because there is not enough water. Recreational activities like fishing and camping have been banned and water use is extremely limited among residents living there.

Study: Physical, electric barriers best defenses against Asian Carp (Detroit Free Press): A recent study has found that the most effective defense against Asian Carp reaching the Great Lakes is placing dam-like structures or less expensive electric barrier systems in Chicago waterways. Other methods that were considered are strobe lights, noise makers and depleting oxygen levels in the water, but these were deemed less effective. The study found that physical separation could prevent 95 to 100 percent of Asian Carp from entering Lake Michigan.

Herbicides may not be sole cause of declining plant diversity (Science Daily): The declining plant biodiversity has often been blamed by herbicides, but other factors may be a cause. A study found that rare and common plant species had similar tolerances to three commonly used herbicides, which means they do not have a strong effect in shaping plant communities. During the time that herbicide use was on the rise, crop segregation and increased mechanical use were growing and diminishing habitat loss.

Report: Keystone pipeline would have minimal environmental impact (NBC News): A pipeline that would be used to carry crude oil from Canada to refineries in the United States was found to have minimal impact on the environment if it were to be constructed. There has been increased pressure on the president to approve the project, who will only do so if the project does not have a negative effect on the climate. Republicans, on the other hand, have been demanding for the approval of the project for a while because it will provide jobs, but climate and environmental concern are the main priority in the decision making process.

Senate Passes Long-Stalled Farm Bill, With Clear Winners and Losers (The New York Times): The Senate passed a farm bill on Tuesday that expanded crop insurance and other benefits for agriculture business. It is estimated to cut $17 billion from the budget of government spending over a decade. Anti hunger advocates and other critics, though, oppose the bill and say it would harm thousands of American households by causing them to lose money due to cuts in food stamps and they think that the industry does not need more support.

Additional land added to Evans Memorial Plant Preserve


Charlotte C. Evans Nature Sanctuary. Photo from MNA Archives

By Alyssa Kobylarek, MNA intern

Two acres were added to the Charlotte C. Evans Memorial Plant Preserve in December 2013. MNA acquired the addition to the Wayne County sanctuary from The Nature Conservancy.

The addition of this land will protect the species that live there from the negative effects of human activities that have contributed to the overall reduction of prairie habitat in Michigan.

The sanctuary contains high quality unplowed lakeplain prairie and includes a mosaic of lakeplain wet and wet-mesic prairie. The site, which is a mix of prairie, swamp and oak ridges, is home to many species of threatened plants.

A hydrological regime has limited the number of non-native species on the new addition and has become a critical aspect to the maintenance of the communities found at the prairie. MNA’s stewardship team will evaluate the addition and determine the best course of action to continue protecting the critical habitat it contains.