Sleeping Bear Dunes, gray wolves, and invasive species: this week in environmental news

sleeping bear dunes

Sleeping Bear Dunes

Living Lab: Science a constant at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore (Record-Eagle): More than 30 scientific studies take place within the park at any given time. Some studies include topics such as tree generation, tree disease, and the impact of deer on vegetation. The public is able to learn about the studies taking place by attending Research Rendezvous talks, which are presented by scientists themselves. The talks are free and take place at Sleeping Bear’s Philip A. Hart Visitor Center in Empire.

Nature-inspired art exhibit opens Saturday at U-M (Detroit Free Press): The art exhibit “Forest & Tree – a Multitude of Gifts”, featuring nature-inspired works, is opening this weekend at the University of Michigan’s Matthaei Botanical Gardens. The exhibit, displaying works from nearly 70 artists, runs through January 3.

Scientists call for continuing Great Lakes wolf protections (Upper Michigans Source): Gray wolves in the western Great Lakes region should not yet be removed from the federal endangered species list, a group of scientists and scholars say, disagreeing with colleagues who said the population has rebounded sufficiently. The scientists contend the wolves still meet the legal definition of endangered species and need to continue to follow state management plans.


Scientists say gray wolves should remain on the endangered species list.

New invasive species discovered in Michigan rivers (The Arenac County Independent): The Department of Natural Resources has confirmed that two new aquatic invasive species have been detected in Michigan. Rock snot and the New Zealand mud snail have only been found in one river each.

Algal blooms in the Great Lakes, wolf hunting in the U.P., energy legislation: this week in environmental news

By Kary Askew Garica, MNA Intern

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:

A fish flops dead on the shore, due to an increase of algae. Photo courtesy of Great Lakes Echo.

A fish flops dead on the shore, due to an increase of algae. Photo courtesy of Great Lakes Echo.

Public trust demands Great Lakes phosphorus cuts (Great Lakes Echo): A team of United States and Canadian citizens known as the International Joint Commission, or IJC, have come together to create a public trust to protect the Great Lakes from “excessive nutrient runoff.”. This has created toxic algal blooms in the lakes, adversely affecting the ecosystems and causing beach closures.

Second ballot proposal to stop gray wolf hunt in U.P. approved (Detroit Free Press): A proposal to end hunting of grey wolves in the Upper Peninsula will appear on the ballot on Nov. 5 and could possibly repeal a law passed in 2012. The proposal was pushed by Keep Michigan Wolves Protected and is among three other proposals about the wolf hunt that will also be on the ballot.

Scientists propose new classification system for invasive species (Conservation Magazine): Researchers across the globe came together to create a new classification scheme to better understand risks and threats to biodiversity on the planet. Rather than using a system that points out species who are endangered, they’re classifying invasive species by the adverse effects they impose on the communities they invade.

Obama pushes climate rules despite Dems’ midterm election concerns (Huffington Post): The Obama administration is set to reveal new emissions caps for factories throughout the nation to democrats’ dismay in energy-producing states during the midterm elections. Obama must start now with making an energy efficient nation, a major component to his campaign, otherwise new legislation won’t be enacted before his term ends.

Extensive Great Lakes ice and El Nino equals cooler Michigan summer  (Macomb Daily): Michigan’s frigid winter could continue to impact the state well into the summer. Extensive Great Lakes ice cover could mean higher lake levels, while the cold winter and an El Nino weather pattern mean cooler temperatures will likely continue. This could also delay severe spring storms.



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.


Plastic pollution, wolf hunt regulations and Great Lakes cuts: this week in environmental news

By Allison Raeck, 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:

Masses of plastic particles found in Great Lakes (The Weather Channel): In the already polluted Great Lakes, scientists are discovering great quantities of tiny, plastic pellets, some of which are only visible through a microscope. It is suspected that the pellets are abrasive “microbeads,” commonly used in facial washes and toothpaste. Because of their miniscule size, many of the plastic specks flow through water treatment plants and into the lakes. The plastic beads soak up toxins from the water and harm the fish that mistakenly eat them, causing significant ecological damage. Research groups are urging personal care companies to stop developing microbead products, hoping to keep the plastic out of the Great Lakes altogether.


A gray wolf.
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Michigan’s first wolf hunt will no longer include trapping (Detroit Free Press): Michigan’s Natural Resources Commission has rejected the use of steel-jaw leg traps during the state’s first-ever wolf hunt, applying to both public and private land. According to specialists from Michigan’s Department of Natural Resources, the regulation was added to the approved hunt to help ease into the public harvest as a management tool and to start the hunt conservatively. Still, other groups believe the regulation is a tool to compromise with the hunt’s many opponents.

Could these mice save threatened Midwestern prairies? (Huffington Post): Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo is raising mice in an effort to bring back restored prairies. Researchers are releasing the mice in hopes that the animals will mate and distribute the grassland seeds that they eat, aiding in the spread of plant life. Currently, biologists believe that only 1 percent of historical prairie grasslands remain in Illinois. The Chicago team is implanting trackers on the mice to see if spread of the species can work as a natural restoration agent for plant life in diminishing prairies.

Michigan senators and congressman consider Great Lakes cuts (Petoskey News): The U.S. House Committee on Appropriations considered a bill Wednesday with the potential to cut 80 percent form Great Lakes funding. The funds have been gradually dropping form the initial amount of $475 million in 2009, and would fall from $285 million to $60 million if last week’s draft of the bill were passed. The committee chose to raise this proposed amount to $210 million for the 2014 year. Michigan senators Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow still oppose the cuts, believing that the initiative funds critical restoration efforts such as combating the invasive Asian carp species.


Crested auklets rely on scent during breeding season.
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

By a nose: Birds’ surprising sense of smell (National Wildlife Foundation): While previously believed to be anosmic, or unable to smell, new discoveries show that some birds extensively rely on scent. Biologists from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s Wildlife Diversity Program are studying small seabirds called crested auklets, located off western Alaska in the Bering Sea. In groups or pairs, the birds bury their faces into each other’s citrus-scented feathers, occurring every summer during breeding season. Additionally, other findings suggest that songbirds are able to recognize their kin based on smell, and that European starlings rely on scent when selecting certain plants for their nests.

Climate change report: As Michigan warms, new crops, plant life and disease may take hold (mlive): A report by the Union of Concerned Scientists predicts radical consequences of climate change for the state of Michigan, anticipating the state’s climate to become similar to that of northern Arkansas by the end of the century. Along with increased temperature, the report states that incidents of flooding and extreme storms will rise, lake levels will drop and wetlands will shrink. Though the predictions of this report parallel many other analyses, its findings make clear the potential ecological and economic results of climate change in Michigan.

Western Gray Wolves to be Removed from Endangered Species List

Photo courtesy of Michigan DNR

By Allie Jarrell

After recovering from near extinction, western gray wolves will be removed from the endangered species list this month in Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has agreed to formally delist the wolves due to a “robust, self-sustaining wolf population” present in these states.

Canis lupus, more commonly known as the gray wolf, could once be found in all of Michigan’s counties, but due to past eradication efforts, the wolves were practically wiped out by the 1960s. Michigan’s gray wolf populations hit a record low in 1973 with only six wolves accounted for, and one year later they were added to the federal endangered species list. Conservation efforts, such as the introduction of wolves from neighboring states and a ban placed on hunting wolves, have helped the species to rebound, but they still suffer from forest destruction and urban sprawl.

Despite the loss of habitat, the American gray wolf population has now reached approximately 6,200 wolves.  Nearly 700 of these wolves are residing in Michigan, which far surpasses what biologists thought was sustainable. After roughly four decades and tens of millions of dollars dedicated to saving the gray wolves, the government has stepped back, allowing individual states to take charge of protecting the adaptive predator. The wolf populations will be monitored over the next five years and can be relisted at any time if the population seems to be in danger.

Image courtesy of Michigan DNR

Many of MNA’s sanctuaries in the Upper Peninsula protect the gray wolves’ habitat and have the potential to offer rest, shelter, hunting ground and a corridor. The Echo Lake and Keweenaw Shores Nature Sanctuaries are known to be areas for gray wolf migration. Thanks to conservation efforts, the wolves now exist in every Upper Peninsula county as well as certain areas of the Lower Peninsula.

If you’d like to find out more information about gray wolves in Michigan, visit the Department of Natural Resources’ website or check out this MNA blog post, filled with tips for identifying and understanding gray wolves. To get involved in protecting the western gray wolf and its habitat, you can visit the National Wildlife Federation’s site or support MNA’s efforts to protect Michigan’s land. Check out our website to find more information on volunteering at MNA!


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 and threatened 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.

Gray Wolf
By Brandon Grenier

The gray wolf (Canis lupus) was once found in every county in Michigan. Now it is most commonly found in the Upper Peninsula. When Michigan was originally settled, state-driven efforts to get rid of wolves via paid bounty were hugely successful. By 1960, the gray wolf was nearly wiped out in both the Upper and Lower Peninsulas. Since then, the state has changed its aims from eradication to protection.

Physical Appearance:
The gray wolf is the largest member of the dog family. On average, adults are 30 inches in height and weigh 65 pounds. They have oversized paws, which is the best indicator to differentiate between wolves and coyotes in the wild. Gray wolves have a distinct black tipped tail and a white-gray coat of fur, sometimes mixed with light brown. Generally, gray wolves (also known as Timber Wolves) have light-colored fur around their muzzles and a black nose.

Preferred Habitat:
The gray wolf is an extremely adaptive animal and can survive almost anywhere in North America with large areas of contiguous forest. Surprisingly, some timber cutting and land management are good for wolves’ hunting; however, too much development restricts where the wolves can hunt and limits their range. Their choice of habitat is based more on a steady food source than their surroundings. They prey on deer, elk, beavers, hares, rodents and other animals.

Life Cycle:
Gray wolves in the wild live for approximately six-to-eight years, but can sometimes live for up to 13 years. Gray wolves mate for life, and breeding occurs in February between the alpha male and female of a wolf pack. Once the pups are born in April, the alpha female cares for them until they are weaned. All members of the pack provide nourishment for the pups until they are old enough to learn hunting skills.

List Status:
The status of the gray wolf is among one the most controversial of animals in Michigan. The wolf was first listed as endangered in Michigan in 1973 after it was almost wiped out from both peninsulas. Confirmed sightings were only of solitary wolves until 1989, when a pair was spotted travelling together. The state wolf population grew from an estimated 20 in 1992 to 520 in 2008. In Michigan, the gray wolf was still listed as an endangered species as of June 2009. It was briefly delisted in May 2009, and lethal measures of control were legal throughout the state. After several complaints, the USFWS relisted the wolf as endangered.

The gray wolf is endangered mostly because of human development and because it is seen by many as a threat. Farmers do not want wolves eating their livestock; some people do not want wolves in their community. The more forests that are destroyed, the harder it is for gray wolves to find a sustainable food source and sufficient land to roam.

Protection Efforts:
With their lowest recorded population at six animals in 1973, there have been multiple efforts to repopulate Michigan’s gray wolves. The USFWS has attempted to introduce animals from Wisconsin with some success, and since killing was banned, populations have made steady progress. Currently, gray wolves are found in every county in the Upper Peninsula.

How You Can Help:
Speak up! The DNR and USFWS are attempting to come to a final decision of whether gray wolves should be endangered, and will be asking the public for its opinion. If you believe the gray wolf should be saved, let them know before it is too late.

MNA protects wolves’ habitat at sanctuaries such as Echo Lake and Keweenaw Shores, which are known to be transportation corridors for the gray wolf.

MNA volunteers are currently working to protect this and other endangered and threatened 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.