Greenhouse gasses, birds and some fall color: this week in environmental news

Each week, MNA gathers news stories from around the state and country related to conservation and the environment. Here is a brief overview of what happened this week in environmental news:

Where ice once capped the Sermeq Avangnardleq glacier in Greenland, vast expanses of the Arctic Ocean are now clear. Credit Kadir van Lohuizen for The New York Times

U.N. Draft Report Lists Unchecked Emissions’ Risks (The New York Times): According to a draft of a major United Nations report, growth of greenhouse gas emissions has raised the risk of severe impacts over the coming decades. The report also states higher seas, devastating heat waves, torrential rain, and other climate extremes are likely to intensify unless something is done to control emissions.

The 1,300 bird species facing extinction signal threats to human health (National Geographic News): Globally, one in eight bird species are threatened with extinction, and many others are in worrying decline. Habitat loss has been a factor in bird species’ decline for decades, but new threats to the environment, including certain chemicals, may threaten birds as well as humans.

Wolf hunt can proceed after Michigan House vote (Detroit Free Press): Michigan legislature voted Wednesday to support a wolf hunt in the Upper Peninsula, by a 65-54 vote. But, voters will still see two anti-wolf hunt proposals on the ballot in November. If voters pass those proposals, a hunt won’t occur in 2014.

Bare Bluff. Photo: Bob Stefko/Midwest Living

Legends of the Fall: Autumn Getaway to Michigan’s Keweenaw Peninsula (Midwest Living): Midwest Living profiles the Keweenaw Peninsula in a feature that includes stunning photography of some MNA favorites like Grinnell Memorial Nature Sanctuary at Bare Bluff! Also worth a look – Midwest Living‘s 30 Great Midwest Spots to See Fall Color (it’s no surprise that the Keweenaw tops this list as well!)

Don’t miss a chance for a Wildflower Walkabout this fall

By Kary Askew Garcia, MNA Intern

Summer has come and gone in what seems to be the blink of an eye — yet it’s not too late to enjoy an educational and aesthetically pleasing Wildflower Walkabout at an MNA nature sanctuary.

Upcoming dates:

  • Saturday, September 6 – 1 p.m. Saginaw Wetlands, Huron County
  • Saturday, September 6 – 11 a.m. Keweenaw Shores No. 1, Keweenaw County
  • Saturday, September 20 – 10 a.m. Goose Creek Grasslands Nature Sanctuary, Lenawee County (rescheduled from August)
  • Saturday, October 4 – 1:30 p.m. Phillips Family Memorial, Van Buren County

Saginaw Wetlands Nature Sanctuary is a lakeplain prairie habitat. Historically, Michigan had nearly 160,000 acres of this type of ecosystem, yet today only 511 acres remain. Saginaw Wetlands preserves 155 acres of this rare habitat.

This sanctuary boasts an array of plant species within the lake plain oak opening, wet prairie and wet mesic prairie habitat, among others. The lake plain prairie is of critical concern due to land degradation. This habitat contains grasses as well as a beautiful variety of wildflowers.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Flowers found at Keweenaw Shores. Photo by Charlie Eshbach.

The Keweenaw Shores No. 1 Nature Sanctuary also boasts a beautiful array of flora during the fall season. The sanctuary is located in the Upper Peninsula and consists of an interesting geology, conifer swamp and boreal forest. Among wildflowers, another interesting plant to be found in this sanctuary are the colorful lichens which attach themselves to rocks and trees. Lichens are indicators of good air quality. This sanctuary boasts a beautiful array of colors in the fall season.

Virginia meadow beauty. Photo by Joshua Mayer.

Virginia meadow beauty. Photo by Joshua Mayer.

The Phillips Family Memorial Nature Sanctuary in Van Buren County is also unique as it is one of three sanctuaries to contain a coastal plain marsh community. This rarity allows for 40 different disjunct plant species to grow there. Some plants that grow in coastal plain marsh communities are bald-rush, seedbox and tall beak-rush.

Due to schedule changes, the Wildflower Walkabout hike at Goose Creek Grasslands was moved to September. This is a great opportunity to see the unusual plants that make their home in the sanctuary’s prairie fen!

Don’t miss a chance to experience the beauty of Michigan’s nature! Mark your calendar for the next Wildflower Walkabout.

Call the MNA office at (866) 223-2231 or visit the MNA website for more information. We hope to see you at a hike soon!

Fracking waste legislation, oil spills, and phragmites: this week in environmental news

Each week, the Michigan Nature Association gathers news stories related to conservation and the environment from around the state and country. Here is a brief recap of what happened this week in environmental news:

 

Enbridge workers continue cleanup efforts on the Kalamazoo River near East Burnham Street in Battle Creek on Aug. 31, 2011. / Kevin Hare/The Enquirer

Bill would keep other states’ radioactive fracking waste out of Michigan (Detroit Free Press): Michigan Sen. Rick Jones says he plans to introduce legislation to stop companies in other states from dumping low-level radioactive waste materials in Michigan landfills. This comes on the heels of news that a hazardous-waste landfill in Van Buren Township is to receive 36 tons of radioactive sludge that was rejected by landfills in Pennsylvania and West Virginia. Other states have tightened regulations on radioactive fracking waste, and Sen. Jones hopes Michigan can adopt similar legislation.

Michigan business owners sue over 2010 Enbridge oil spill (Lansing State Journal): Businesses in Michigan have filed approximately 30 cases against Enbridge, the company responsible for the oil spill that dumped nearly 1 million gallons of oil in the Kalamazoo River in 2010. More than 20 of those cases have already been settled without a trial, but several remain pending. One pending case is that of Charles Blakeman, Jr. and Robert Patterson who say their business, Extreme Adventures, lost money due to the spill.

 

A boater maneuvers in Lake Michigan waves during windy conditions at Holland State Park Tuesday, July 15, 2014. (Cory Morse | MLive.com)

Will Lake Michigan’s water temperatures warm before fall? Hot weekend could help (MLive): Lake Michigan’s average surface water temperature is about 64 degrees, which is six degrees below a 21-year average. Last winter’s colder-than-average temperatures and several summertime fronts that have swept through with strong winds have kept the lake chilly. This weekend will likely be the warmest of the summer, and it is expected that the lake’s temperatures will tick a degree or two higher.

Oakland Township joins fight against phragmites (The Oakland Press): Invasive phragmites have been impacting wetlands in Oakland Township for more than five years, and the township is now working together with nearby Orion, Oxford, and Independence townships on a solution. Oakland Township has set aside funding for treatment of the plant and has applied for a treatment permit with the DEQ, hoping to begin eradication efforts this fall.

Leaking petroleum judgement gains $800,000 for state (Great Lakes Echo): The Michigan Court of Appeals has ruled that Strefling Oil Co. owes more than $800,000 for cleanup costs, civil fines, and administrative penalties for failure to properly remediate sites with leaking underground storage tanks in Berrien County. According to the court, petroleum products leaked into the ground at all three of the company’s storage tanks between 1994 and 2001.

The Upper Peninsula’s abundance of waterfalls

By Kary Askew Garcia, MNA Intern

Olson Falls. Photo by Mike Zajczenko.

Olson Falls. Photo by Mike Zajczenko.

Besides being the Great Lakes State, another unique thing that attracts people to Michigan is the hundreds of waterfalls all around the Upper Peninsula.

Despite the fact that there are so many waterfalls in the UP, surprisingly there are only a few in the Lower Peninsula.

Most Michiganders know the story of how the Great Lakes were created; after an ice age, the melting process began, with some glaciers being extremely dense and thick, gouging holes into the earth. These gouges formed the Great Lakes as they are today after the glaciers finally melted away and the land became populated with plants, animals and people.

Memorial falls. Photo via MNA archives.

Memorial falls. Photo via MNA archives.

The Upper Peninsula’s waterfalls are made up of sandstone and were formed over thousands of years. Much of the formation is due to how water falls over or on top of the rock that makes it up. Water erodes the rock over time and can create ridges and falls and a water basin by wearing down soft rock. The water basin at the bottom of the falls where water is collected.

Some waterfalls are more cascading, others have more of a sharp drop-off and some are considered rapids because of their location and how water flows.

MNA boasts the Twin Waterfalls Plant Preserve Nature Sanctuary in Alger County. The sanctuary was acquired in 1986 in honor of MNA member Rudy Olson. The Munising Formation is also an exquisite part of the sanctuary, making up the vertical walls of the waterfalls. This formation is made of 550-million year old sandstone which is soft and erodes more quickly. The sandstone of the upper-rock which caps the formation is made of harder sandstone, which takes much longer to erode and makes up the Au Train Formation. This slower rate of erosion results in the shelf over which the water drops.

Click here to see a map of all Upper Peninsula waterfalls.

 

Great Lakes levels, deep-sea coral and an ‘incomplete’ grade: this week in environmental news

Each week, the Michigan Nature Association gathers news stories from around the state and country related to conservation, nature, and environmental issues. Here is a peek at what happened this week in environmental news:

Smoother sailing as Great Lakes levels continue their rebound (Detroit Free Press): After last winter’s record snowfall and a rainy spring, Great Lakes levels are recovering faster than they have in decades. All of the Great Lakes with the exception of Lakes Huron and Michigan are above their long-term average depths going back to 1918.

Great Lakes water levels have rebounded significantly. Photo via Detroit Free Press.

 

Reaching Deep: BP oil spill had big impact on deep-sea coral (Conservation Magazine): A new study finds that deep-water coral communities were affected by the BP oil spill, even at large distances from the wellhead itself.

State Senate approves measure that would cancel wolf hunt ballot measure (WKZO): The Michigan State Senate has approved a measure that could nullify items on the November ballot that will ask voters to ban wolf hunts in Michigan. Conservation officials say they hope the House will take up the issue later this month.

Environmental group gives MI Legislature an ‘incomplete’ grade (WKAR): The Michigan League of Conservation Voters recently graded the slate legislature on performance in the 2013-2014 session, giving legislators an “incomplete” for the environmental score.

Ohio farmers point to algae law loophole (Great Lakes Echo): Farm groups in Ohio and environmentalists say a new state law that will certify fertilizer doesn’t go far enough to reduce phosphorous run-off into Lake Erie.

Frogs and toads: environmentally beneficial creatures

A frog swimming. Photo by Cindy Mead.

A frog swimming. Photo by Cindy Mead.

By Kary Askew Garcia, MNA Intern

The warm Michigan weather brings about many different types of plants an animals, including amphibians like frogs and toads.

Often after a rain or in a wet, shaded area these critters can be found hopping around.

What’s the difference?

It might be surprising that all toads are considered frogs. Frogs and toads are both amphibians but it’s easy to tell the difference between them by a few key factors. The frog has more smooth, moist skin and longer legs. Toads are more bumpy and warty-looking. Frogs prefer to be around water and moist places whereas toads don’t require wet areas as much and can withstand drier habitats. Toads prefer to crawl rather than to hop from place to place.

Amphibians are defined by a life-cycle that begins underwater. Baby frogs and toads start off as eggs in the water and develop into tadpoles that have gills and can swim. These tadpoles develop lungs and other body parts and, once they have matured, can enjoy life on land.

A green frog sitting. Photo by Jim Harding courtesy of the Department of Natural Resources.

A green frog sitting. Photo by Jim Harding courtesy of the Department of Natural Resources.

Toads and frogs breed during the spring and summer and find warm shelter to protect themselves during harsh winter months.

Where do they live?

Frogs and toads live in many places around the world including the rain forest. In Michigan they tend to live in wetlands, wooded areas, beaches and near streams or lakes.

What do they do?

Frogs consume thousands of bugs. This consumption is beneficial for people and the environment, protecting plants, getting rid of pests and maintaining a balance in the food chain and ecosystem. Frogs are also great indicators of changes in the environment as they are sensitive to even the slightest of changes. Their skin is thin and porous so any chemicals or other contaminants to the environment can be shown by a decrease of frogs in more frog-populated areas. Frogs also have provided scientists with compounds for different medicines.

A fowler's toad creeps through plants. Photo by JD Wilson courtesy of herpsofnc.org

A fowler’s toad creeps through plants. Photo by JD Wilson courtesy of herpsofnc.org

Threats to frogs and toads

Unfortunately there are many threats to frogs and toads throughout the world. Many of these are human-induced problems such as the use of harmful pesticides, habitat loss and pollution to name a few. These actions endanger frogs and toads and can be harmful for the environment which is why protecting them is important.

To learn more about frogs and toads click here. To learn about types of frogs and toads found in Michigan click here.

Butterflies to look for in Michigan

By Kary Askew Garcia, MNA Intern

It’s almost hard to believe that a tiny, graceful creature could fly out of a cocoon. Yet every year, the butterfly continues its phenomenon, metamorphosing from a mere bumbling, crawling caterpillar into a sleek, graceful winged insect.

A butterfly’s life

A monarch butterfly emerges from its cocoon. Photo courtesy of kids.britannica.com.

A monarch butterfly emerges from its cocoon. Photo courtesy of kids.britannica.com.

The butterfly begins its life in a small ovoid-shaped egg, developing into a caterpillar. The caterpillar grows and hatches out of its egg and must start eating in order to grow. The caterpillar sheds its smaller skin a few times during growth before it begins the “pupa” stage.It forms the chrysalis, the cocoon formed around its body to undergo metamorphosis. The final stage is when the newly formed butterfly emerges from its cocoon, no longer a ground-anchored insect.

For more details about the butterfly’s life cycle click here.

Here are some butterflies common to Michigan, that can be spotted while enjoying Michigan’s nature.

White Admiral

The White Admiral has a 2.25-4 inch wingspan and has a white band in the middle of both wings. Hind-wings also may have a row of blue dashes or red dots toward the edges. The White Admiral is usually found in Northern deciduous evergreen forests. This butterfly likes to eat rotting fruit and nectar from small white flowers.

Giant Swallowtail

The Giant Swallowtail boasts a wingspan of up to 6 inches, making it one of the largest of its species. The swallowtail can be spotted as a black winged-insect with yellow spots on its edges creating a band across them. The Giant Swallowtail chooses rocky and sandy hillsides near bodies of water. This butterfly likes to get its nectar from several plants including goldenrod, azalea and swamp milkweed.

Monarch

The Monarch is a well-known butterfly with an interesting history. This butterfly is known to migrate from the north to the south including places in California and Mexico during the harsh, northern winter months. The Monarch has black and orange wings with white dots near the margins. The Queen butterfly who is a close relative is often mistaken for a Monarch but is also commonly spotted in Michigan. Monarchs are particular to milkweed plants.

Silver Spotted Skipper

The Silver Spotted Skipper has a small wingspan which can be up to about 2.5 inches. Its wings are a mixture of brown and black, with transparent gold spots and a metallic silver band. They reside in disturbed and open woods, streams and prairie waterways. This butterfly avoids feeding on any yellow flowers but instead eats plants like everlasting pea, common milkweed and thistles.

Little Glassywing

The little Glassywing has an even smaller wingspan than the Silver Spotted Skipper, which can be up to 1.5 inches. The wings are a combination of brown and black like the Skipper. These butterflies prefer to feed on white, pink and purple flowers including common milkweed and peppermint. These butterflies like to live near shaded wood edges.

Endangered butterflies

Two other butterflies that can be found in Michigan are the Karner Blue and the Mitchell’s Satyr. These butterflies are particularly noteworthy in the state because of their endangered status. MNA has profiled these butterflies in the past, bringing awareness to their endangered status in the U.S.