Mining in Mackinac, forest pests and reducing emissions: 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:

Caption. Photo by blah

Graymont Inc.’s plan to start mining in Mackinac. Photo by UpNorthLive

Limestone producer looks to build massive underground mine in the U.P. (Up North Live): The Canadian company, Graymont Inc., is one of the largest limestone producers in North America. The company wants to start mining in the Upper Peninsula by buying 10,000 acres of Mackinac County land that currently is owned by the Department of Natural Resources. The land will be divided up between an underground mine, surface mining and a processing plant. County residents have mixed reactions to the plan, claiming it will bring jobs, but also harm the environment. The DNR is accepting feedback for the next six weeks on the situation.

Climate change opens doors to forest pests new to Great Lakes (Great Lakes Echo): The changing climate will increase the frequency of droughts, increase the severity of snow/rain storms and make frosts occur later. These things will make trees more vulnerable to insects and disease. Insects such as the mimosa webworm and the hemlock woolly adelgid are a concern for the Great Lakes region. The mountain pine beetle, however, is the most dangerous because it could mean a higher risk of forest fires if the insect causes an increase in pine tree mortality.

Snuffing out smoke: West Michigan school bus drivers shut off engines to reduce emissions (MLive): Schools in West Michigan are taking steps toward reducing the amount of fumes that come out of their school buses by turning off the buses rather than letting them idle. Newer buses also have higher standards when it comes to harmful emissions. A recent USA Today story reported that soot levels in air samples at Cincinnati public elementary schools dropped after the schools implemented the change.

What America’s forests looked like before Europeans arrived (Mother Nature Network): Researchers know the landscape of America’s Northeastern forests are dramatically different today than they were 400 years ago, before European settlers arrived. Because of a rare fossil discovery in Pennsylvania, scientists were able to piece together the full story of America’s early forests. They are hoping that if they can identify fossil tree-leaf sites, it can help with forest restoration projects throughout the Northeastern United States.

Michigan’s feral swine numbers are dropping…or are they? (Great Lakes Echo): Wild pigs in Michigan are known to carry diseases, infect farm pigs and destroy land. According to the Department of Natural Resources, the number of feral swine in Michigan has dropped significantly. But, other groups are saying differently. The DNR’s report shows that less than ten feral swine were reported this year, whereas over 40 were reported last year. Mary Kelpinski, executive director of Michigan Pork Producers Association, said the problem is actually growing worse and they are having a hard time getting people to report sightings.


Hogs Gone Wild: The Dirt on Feral Swine

By Jake McCarthy

Throughout much of the world, swine function as part of a healthy ecosystem. The recent emergence of feral swine in Michigan, however, has many people trying to figure out how to get rid of yet another uninvited visitor.

With the state moving to declare feral swine an invasive species, it appears efforts to eliminate the population will soon ramp up, but what exactly is it that has people seeing red over feral swine?

Firstly, they aren’t native to Michigan. Feral swine currently causing concern are either pigs that escaped from livestock operations or wild boars imported from overseas to provide recreational hunting opportunities.
The wild boar is native to much of Europe and Asia, where it serves an important role as both predator and prey. In Michigan, though, they face few predators and pose serious threats to both the environment and agriculture.

A primary concern about feral swine is that, as voracious foragers with few enemies in Michigan, they may overrun native species that depend on a similar diet. Feral swine are opportunistic and omnivorous feeders. They dig up large tracts of land searching for roots, nuts and berries, having a negative effect on agriculture, water and soil quality. They are very efficient reproducers with large litters, a short gestation period, young age of maturity and the potential to have two litters in one year. Feral swine also harbor parasites and diseases that pose a threat to people, pets, livestock and wildlife.

Feral swine ravaged the habitat at MNA’s Timberland Nature Sanctuary in Oakland County approximately two years ago by uprooting plants and trees. Due to their recent presence in southeast Michigan, these swine have the potential to affect the following sanctuaries: Red Cedar River Floodplain, Joan Rodman Memorial, Swan Creek, Saginaw Wetlands and Kernan Memorial.

The wild boar is native to much of Europe and Asia, where it serves an important role as both predator and prey. In Michigan, though, they face few predators and pose serious threats to both the environment and agriculture.

At the same time that Michigan is seeking ways to eliminate feral swine, the animals are valued and even protected throughout much of their native range. Once threatened in Europe and Asia due to hunting pressure, recent resurgences in wild boar populations have been welcomed in England, Germany and Russia. In eastern Russia, boars are important prey for the threatened Amur Tiger. In Europe, they’re food for gray wolves and help keep rodent and deer populations in check.

In Michigan, though, many consider the feral swine to be a nuisance species. Later this year, feral swine will likely be declared an invasive species, which would make them easier to control. Hunters have been encouraged to kill any feral swine they see while hunting in Michigan for several years. Hopefully, efforts such as these will help reduce the impact feral swine have on Michigan’s wildlife and landscape.

Sources: Department of Natural Resources and Environment, United States Department of Agriculture