Fishing for plastic, algae threats and California’s drought policies: this week in environmental news

By Kary Askew Garcia, MNA Intern

A University of Michigan research scientist and her research assistant sift through debris from the water. Photo courtesy of Great Lakes Echo.

A University of Michigan research scientist and her research assistant sift through debris from the water. Photo courtesy of Great Lakes Echo.

Every Friday, MNA gathers news related to the environment from around the state and country. Here are a few highlights from what happened this week in environmental news:

Researchers troll for plastic on Great Lakes fishing boat (Great Lakes Echo): Captain David Brooks of the Nancy K boat headed out to Lake St. Clair in pursuit of catching bits of plastic in the water. His curiosity was piqued by the fact that a sweater he owned was made of plastic and bits of plastic washed down the drain when he cleaned it. His intention with the plastic hunt in the water was to find out how harmful these bits of plastic can really be to the environment.

Bracing for Lake Erie algae threats to drinking water (Great Lakes Echo): The 2011 all-time high record of the algae blooms in Lake Erie was followed up by a close second high in 2013. Scientists and government organizations are becoming more concerned about the dangers posed by the toxic algae crowding the lake. Researchers take a closer look at the water, algae and problems surrounding it.

California approves forceful steps amid drought (New York Times): State officials have moved forward with implementing harsh repercussions for over-using water. Citizens could be fined $500 per day for simply washing a car or watering a garden. Still, convincing urban residents of the seriousness of the drought has been a difficult task.

3-D images captured with help from a panda, California condor pair and a dugong,.

3-D images captured with help from a panda, California condor pair and a dugong,.

Animals live in 3-D, now scientists do, too (Conservation Magazine): Finding animals’ home ranges have been part of recent studies. These home ranges would help scientists study animals and their habitats and employing 3-D mechanisms has helped them to get a closer look at animal life.

Still poison: Lead bullets remain a big problem for birds (Conservation Magazine): The Bipartisan Sportsman Act of 2014 may have given different parties a chance to unite in support, but would have had other implications for birds during hunting season. The bill would have called for an exemption for lead ammunition and fishing tackle from “longstanding regulations.” Recent studies have shown a growing issue with lead poisoning leading to the death of birds.

 

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ENDANGERED!

At MNA, our Mission is to protect special natural areas and the rare species that live there. The goals of our blog are to cover the latest environmental issues affecting these areas and provide information about the efforts of our volunteers. Our weekly “ENDANGERED!” column serves to inform you about the endangered plant and animal species found in and around these special natural areas, and how you can contribute to conservation efforts before it is too late.

Indiana Bat
By Brandon Grenier

While we do not often see bats, they play an active role in the environment. With an appetite for bugs such as mosquitoes, moths and other pests, bats help manage insect populations. They also aid in the pollination of plants and seed dispersal of fruits and nuts.

First listed as endangered in 1967, the Indiana bat (Myotis sodalis) is only found in the eastern United States and there are only about 400,000 individuals left in the world. It is believed that the population of bats is now less than half of what it was in 1967, according to 2009 estimates.


Physical Appearance:

The Indiana bat is incredibly light, weighing only seven-to-eight ounces, roughly the weight of two sugar packets. It has a wingspan of 9-to 11-inches and usually is about five inches long. It has dark, grayish brown fur, with pink undersides and a dark petagium (wing membrane). Its ears are short and rounded. While it can sometimes be difficult to tell it apart from its relative the little brown bat, the Indiana bat has tri-color hairs that make it easy to distinguish upon close inspection.

Preferred Habitat:
The Indiana bat has a very specific habitat, with 85 percent of the current population found in only seven caves. The largest caves support 20,000-50,000 bats. In Michigan at the northern end of their range, Indiana bats prefer savanna habitats with sun-exposed trees for maximum warmth. In the winter, bats hibernate in large caves in Kentucky, Indiana and Missouri. However, a relatively new hibernacula (a cave where bats hibernate for the winter) has been found in northern Michigan at the Tippy Dam spillway. Because of their hibernation habits, Indiana bats are incredibly vulnerable to human disturbances.

Throughout the past decade, there have been reported occurrences of the bat in Calhoun, Cass, Washtenaw, Van Buren and St. Joseph counties.

Life Cycle:
In the spring, Indiana bats leave their hibernacula, sometimes travelling hundreds of miles. In early fall, Indiana bats flock the entrance of caves or mines and mating takes place. Sperm is stored in the female’s body until the eggs are fertilized in the spring. One bat is born to each female in late June, and it can fly within one month. Indiana bats generally live to be 14 years old.

List Status:

As human activity increases in the areas where Indiana bats hibernate, their delicate habitat shrinks. The bats are protected federally and are listed as endangered in Michigan. Commercialization of caves, the logging of dead trees and the use of pesticides and contaminants contribute to the decline of this species.

The Indiana bat is also threatened by a disease called white nose syndrome. More than one million bats have died from it since its discovery in 2006 in New York. The name refers to a white ring of fungus found on the faces of infected bats.

The presence of white nose syndrome has been found in more than 25 different caves and mines so far, and a moratorium has been placed on caving activities in those areas. Fortunately, the disease has not yet been found in Michigan.

Protection Efforts:
The Michigan Department of Natural Resources is collaborating with state, federal and local government officials as well as university researchers and bat conservation groups to develop a response plan to white nose syndrome that prevents the disease and minimizes its impact on the species.

Indiana bat’s habitat can be protected by protecting mature forests, leaving dead trees standing to promote habitat and refraining from using insecticides.

How You Can Help:
To help protect this rare species, abstain from demolition and land clearing such as canopy removal and clearing snags. Cutting down trees significantly reduces bats’ habitat. However, if you must remove trees, you can build a bat house. Bat houses mimic the space between a tree trunk and bark and provide warmth. To learn how to build your own bat house, click here.

MNA volunteers are currently working to protect this and other endangered species, and you can help too. Join our efforts as a volunteer removing invasive plants in the special natural areas where this species lives. Or, become a steward and take responsibility for planning efforts to maintain a specific MNA sanctuary. To find out how to get involved, visit our website.

American Marten

by Hannah Ettema
MNA Intern
American marten

American marten

Commonly referred to as the pine marten, the American marten was once believed to be extirpated in Michigan but now has a healthy population.

Records show the American Marten extirpated in the 1930s. However, efforts for their recovery began as early as 1958 and then redoubled in the 1970s.

After a recent review of the endangered species list, the marten was deemed recovered with a sustainable population.

Description

The marten has a long slender body with glossy brown fur and a long bushy tail. A member of the weasel family, it ranges from 24-30 inches in length, including its tail. Like a cat, the marten has semi-retractable claws which enable it to easily climb trees. Relative to its weight, the marten has large footpads which allows for easy walking across deep snow.

The marten is most active during the night, early morning and late afternoon. As omnivores, martens eat both plants and animals. Mice, chipmunks, red squirrels, fish, frogs, insects, berries and nuts are on its menu.

Solitary creatures except for breeding, martens will mate with more than one partner in their lifetime. Males will defend a territory of one to three square miles. Born naked and blind, the marten will be full grown around 3 months old and shortly after are on their own from their mother.

The average lifespan of the marten in the wild is anywhere from six to twelve years.

Habitat and Range

The American marten was originally thought to only prefer coniferous forests, but now have been known to live in both evergreen and leafy forests.

map of range of American marten

The range of the American marten

Today in North America the marten can be found mostly in Canada and Alaska. In the lower 48 states, the marten can be seen in northern New York, Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota as well as in western states.

Threats

Due to their highly shiny and luxuriant fur, the marten’s pelts were and still are highly desired. Now, strict hunting laws are in place to ensure the survival of the marten.

Deforestation is still a threat to the marten. Considered to be mainly arboreal, martens need dense forests for survival.

american marten in snow

The American marten in the snow

MNA properties such as the Myrtle Justeson and Braastad Nature Sanctuaries in Marquette County and Black Creek and Estivant Pines Nature Sanctuaries in Keewenaw County offer ideal homes for the marten.

For more information about the American marten in Michigan, click here.

For more information about MNA Nature Sanctuaries, click here.