Birding Trails, Fungi, and Protecting Native Species: this week in environmental news

Birdwatchers celebrate two new birding trails in Michigan (Great Lakes Echo): Michigan’s Northwest Lower Peninsula is a paradise for birdwatchers. Piping plovers, on the endangered species list, and the snowy owl nest there in the winter. The region is a stopover for thousands of birds on their way to breeding grounds. The Petoskey Regional Audubon Society, in partnership with local conservancies, plans to celebrate the launch of the Sunset Coast Birding Trail later this year. The trail will start in Mackinaw City and follow a coastal corridor through Emmet, Charlevoix and Antrim counties. According to a report of the Mackinac Straits Raptor Watch, a nonprofit organization that educates the public about the birds and their migration, 47,090 birds migrated through the straits in 2016. Another new trail, The Blue Water Birding Trail in St. Clair County, is also expected to launch this year. Michigan has six birding trails already – North Huron Birding Trail and Superior Birding Trail in the Upper Peninsula, and Sleeping Bear Birding Trail, Beaver Island Birding Trail, Sunrise Coast Birding Trail and Saginaw Bay Birding Trail in the Lower Peninsula.

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The piping plover. Image: United States Fish and Wildlife Service Mountain Prairie

Fantastic Fungi in Michigan (Oakland County Times): “Fantastic Fungi in Michigan: You don’t have to go to the rain forest to see amazing mushrooms” speaker program is being held on Wednesday, April 12th, 2017 beginning 7:30 pm at the Royal Oak Middle School (709 N. Washington). Join Mary Fredricks, Nature Society mycologist, and learn about mushrooms tiny enough to grow on oak leaves, beautiful mushrooms that are among the most poisonous known, mushrooms that are easy to overlook during the day but glow at night, and more, all growing right here in Michigan. There is no preregistration or cost for this program.

Usually the villain, invasive species odd hero for native fish (Great Lakes Echo): A native fish may be poised for a comeback in the Great Lakes with the help of an invasive species. Great Lakes cisco, also known as lake herring, typically grow about 12 to 15 inches long and at one point supported one of the largest commercial fisheries in the region. They disappeared from much of the basin around the 1950s. Now it looks like the stage has been set for their return–by an unlikely ally. Invasive quagga mussels have depleted nutrients in the lakes. Cisco do well in low-nutrient environments, unlike competing species like the invasive alewife. That gives cisco space to thrive.

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Cisco caught in Lake Michigan. Image: Katie Steiger-Meister/USFWS.

Trump admin delays listing bumblebee as endangered (The Detroit News): The Trump administration delayed what would be the first endangered designation for a bee species in the continental U.S., one day before it was to take effect. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service adopted a rule Jan. 11 extending federal protection to the rusty patched bumblebee, one of many types of bees that play a vital role in pollinating crops and wild plants. It once was common across the East Coast and much of the Midwest, but its numbers have plummeted since the late 1990s.

 

Native Prairies, Mini-Tsunamis, and Sand Dunes: this week in environmental news

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Volunteers collect native seeds that will be used to increase prairies. Image: Heidi Frei

Native prairie restoration fights invasive species and helps the endangered ones (Great Lakes Echo): From flower pots to 100-acre lots, planting native prairie plants is increasingly important as they face threats from invasive species and human development. Prairies in the Great Lakes region are known for hosting bobolinks, wild turkeys, butterflies and a vast array of wildflowers. A program was created to collect seeds from native plants to promote prairie growth and engage volunteers with the environment. It’s something that everyone can help with.

Researchers creating warning system for low oxygen water (Great Lakes Echo): Researchers are developing a system to warn water managers when unpalatable, harmful water from Lake Erie is headed their way. The project, with $1.5 million in federal funding, could give water treatment plant operators time to prepare to treat water that is hypoxic by predicting the movement of oxygen-depleted Lake Erie water. Hypoxia occurs when dissolved oxygen in a body of water is depleted to a level that is harmful to aquatic organisms. This is a particular problem in the central basin of Lake Erie, where it’s deeper.

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Large waves on Lake Superior. Image: Greg Kretovic, Flickr

Mini-tsunamis a hazard in the Great Lakes (Great Lakes Echo): The Great Lakes have their own miniature version of tsunamis – more than 100 times per year. That’s according to new research led by the University of Wisconsin Madison. The name of these waves – and the danger that comes with them – are relatively unknown to those in the region. Their name, meteotsunami, is a contraction – broken down, it means meteorological tsunami. They’re about a foot high. And they’re not caused by earthquakes like actual tsunamis. Researchers are now looking into a way to predict when these mini-tsunamis might occur in order to warn beachgoers. According to the study, Lake Michigan is most prone to these mini-tsunamis, followed by Lake Erie and Lake Huron.

Michigan Dune Alliance helps protect Michigan’s iconic sand dunes from invasive species (Model D): From the towering glory of Sleeping Bear Dunes to more modest southern Lake Michigan beaches, perhaps nothing in our state represents “Pure Michigan” better than our iconic sand dunes. But as with so many of Michigan’s fragile native ecosystems, invasive weeds threaten to strangle the dunes. Exotic fungi and invasive bugs are killing the trees that are part of the dune ecosystem, while invasive water plants are choking coastal marshes and interdunal wetlands. There are around 550 miles of coastline on the Mitten’s west that are under siege from alien invaders. Luckily, the combined forces of the Michigan Dune Alliance are on a search-and-destroy mission throughout that long stretch of sand.

Lake Sturgeon, Ice Coverage, and Tree Identification: this week in environmental news

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Juvenile lake sturgeon. Image: Michigan DNR.

Seasonal lake sturgeon releases put nearly 8,000 fish into Michigan waters (Michigan DNR): The Michigan Department of Natural Resources and several partners released more than 7,800 juvenile lake sturgeon into various public waters across the state this summer and fall in an effort to rehabilitate this culturally significant fish species. The juvenile fish were collected from the wild last spring and reared in streamside facilities until they reached at least seven inches or larger in size. Most fish were tagged prior to being released into their respective rivers to allow future evaluations of stocked fish.

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Ice Chart for Nov 28, 2013. Image: GLERL Digital Ice Database

How much ice should we expect to see on the Great Lakes this winter? (MSU Extension): Our last really big ice cover winter for the Great Lakes was 2013-2014 where over 92 percent of the Lakes were frozen over. So, during a really good ice winter, like that of 2013-14, how early did ice start forming in the Great Lakes? As early as Thanksgiving, 2013, (November 28) ice had already started forming and by December 31, 2013, there was significant cover. Now fast forward to 2016. There is no ice formed anywhere in the Great Lakes and we are past Thanksgiving. The reason is that all the Great Lakes are at their highest average temperatures for at least the past 5 years. As researchers continue to study and gather data on Great Lakes ice cover, we will begin to more thoroughly understand impacts, implications and ecological functions of Great Lakes ice cover.

Tree identification (MSU Extension): Michigan boasts around 100 tree species, depending upon how a tree is defined. There are about a dozen characteristics available to help identify trees. Learning which subset of characteristics to use for a particular tree is where practice and skill are needed. Some characteristics are seasonal, such as leaves, fruits, and flowers. Most others are more year-round, such as twig and branching patterns, buds, bud scars, bark, tree form, site, and tree associates.

Online tool combats sales of invasives (Great Lakes Echo): The Great Lakes Commission created a web tool designed to prevent sales of aquatic invasive species over the Internet. The software searches the web looking for sites selling plants or animals invasive to the Great Lakes and then records the data. The project’s director says most of the invaders purchased are aquatic plants. They make their way from homes into the environment. Being aware of what you buy is key to preventing accidental purchases of invasive species online.

Pacu Fish, Endangered Butterflies, and the Common Loon: this week in environmental news

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Pacu Fish. Image: Thinking Humanity.

‘Human-toothed’ Pacu in Michigan waters, endangered species running out of time (Great Lakes Echo): The Michigan Department of Natural Resources recently reported finding fish with “human-like teeth” in southeastern Michigan lakes. Anglers spotted red-bellied pacu in Lake St. Clair and near Port Huron. These unusual fish sport teeth eerily reminiscent of humans’ so they can eat seeds and nuts. While they’re not native to Michigan, DNR said they’re not invasive.

 

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Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Photo: Joshua Stevens, NASA Earth Observatory

Celebrating 100th anniversary of parks system with a great Great Lakes view (Great Lakes Echo): The U.S. National Park Service celebrates its centennial in 2016, commemorating 100 years of stewardship of America’s natural and historic treasures. Many of those monuments, scenic rivers, parks, and historic sites are visible from space – where the views are just as compelling.

 

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Mitchell’s Satyr. Photo: Bill Bouton

Endangered butterflies released by Kalamazoo Nature Center (WMUK 102.1): The Kalamazoo Nature Center released 18 rare butterfly caterpillars. The Mitchell’s Satyr butterfly is a nationally endangered species. There are only 11 groups of the butterfly left in the entire United States. The Mitchell’s Satyr has been called a “canary in a coal mine” for America’s wetlands. Almost all of the butterflies live in the southernmost counties of Michigan because they live in a rare habitat – fens.

 

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Common loon. Image: US FWS.

Loony for a diving bird (Great Lakes Echo): Great Lakes common loons are a barometer for water and habitat quality since they’re sensitive to pollution and very particular about where to nest. Listen to the podcast to learn more about the common loon.

Great Lakes, Robot Cleanup, and Cormorants: this week in environmental news

Water levels and surface temperatures up for Lakes Michigan/Huron in 2016 (MSU Extension): Visitors to the beaches and boat launch ramps will notice both higher lake levels and earlier seasonal warming of the Great Lakes than in the past several years. The NOAA Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory shows that Lakes Michigan and Huron are the highest they have been since August 1998. What about the water temperatures? Again, they are well ahead of 2015 and well ahead of long-term average of Lake Michigan.

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Robot collecting a tennis ball. Image: Robot Missions

Robot is on a mission to clean up Great Lakes shorelines (Great Lakes Echo): A robot designed by a maker in Toronto could soon be clearing up trash strewn across shorelines everywhere. The next step involves many more field tests throughout the summer and small revisions to the robot’s design. After those tests are complete, the robot will be deployed in August on Toronto Island in Lake Ontario to clean up the shoreline. There’s a lot of interest in the project because it combines robotics with environmentalism, creating a robot with a social impact.

The dirty eight: Great Lakes pollutants targeted by U.S. and Canada (Great Lakes Echo): Canada and the U.S. recently announced they will develop and coordinate strategies to reduce exposure to eight contaminants they have designated as Chemicals of Mutual Concern in the Great Lakes. The designation made under the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement also requires the countries to develop where needed the water quality standards for the pollutants.

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Cormorants at an East Chicago colony. Image: Patrick Madura

Can cormorants help control Great Lakes invaders? (Great Lakes Echo): Cormorants’ fish-stealing rep may be a bum rap – and the truth is more complex, as the first dietary study of cormorants in southern Lake Michigan shows. Researchers found the cormorants are chowing down on invasive species – mainly alewife, round goby and white perch – which together accounted for 80-90% of their diet. No studies to date have demonstrated that cormorants have a consistently negative effect on fisheries over broad geographic regions.

Invasive Species Workshop, Salamanders, and Wildlife Grants: this week in environmental news

Invasive Species and Site Preparation Workshop (Michigan Society of American Foresters): Attend a free hands-on invasive species workshop in Wellston, Michigan on Saturday, May 21 hosted by the Michigan Society of American Foresters. During this workshop you will learn all about the ecological and economic effects of invasive species, how and why they spread, control options, pesticide laws, and site preparation methods for planting tree seedlings and how this is relevant to invasive species management.  There will be a large hands-on component where you will observe and use different types of equipment, such as personal protective equipment (PPE), the gas-powered forestry clearing saw for killing invasive shrubs and small trees, and herbicide equipment for mixing and applying chemical.

Wildlife grants awarded to tribes in Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota (Great Lakes Echo): Native American tribes will protect bats from logging and place sturgeon in school aquariums as part of a recent round of federal grants. The Tribal Wildlife grant program was established by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2003. This year, $5 million was awarded to 29 tribes, three from Great Lakes states. In Michigan, the Saginaw Chippewa tribe is receiving $199,431 to determine what plants and wildlife live in the area and how to protect important species.

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Eastern red spotted newts like this one are at risk of fungal disease. Photo: Distant Hill Gardens, Flickr

A deadly fungus threatens salamanders (Great Lakes Echo): A deadly fungus is likely to threaten the health of salamanders in the United States. And one type of salamander found in the Great Lakes region – the eastern newt – is especially at risk. Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans – Bsal for short – is a fungus that eats away the skin of certain salamanders. It’s found in parts of Asia and Europe, and researchers say it could strike the United States next. Eastern newts in the region have an increased risk because Chicago is a port where diseased salamanders could be brought in.

inland fisheries

Inland fisheries are important indicators of changes in ecosystems from things such as hydropower projects and deforestation. Photo: Ken Bosma

Inland fisheries’ importance underrated, study says (Great Lakes Echo): Inland fisheries and aquaculture account for more than 40 percent of the world’s reported fish production but their harvest is frequently under-reported and ignored in the Great Lakes region and elsewhere, a new study says. The central role of inland fish in aquatic ecosystems makes them good indicators of ecosystem change. Ecosystem change includes threats from agriculture, hydropower projects and deforestation, as well as overfishing and invasive species. Although the study focused primarily on inland fisheries in the developing world, it also addressed the situation in the Great Lakes and the region’s inland waters. The study cited massive die-offs of alewives in Lake Michigan in the 1960s, an occurrence that brought to public and political attention large ecological changes occurring in the Great Lakes.

Upcoming Stewardship Workshops & More

Looking to get more involved? The Michigan State University Extension offers many workshops, volunteer, and educational opportunities in spring to make a difference in your community. Sign up today! Then bring those new skills to Michigan Nature Association as a volunteer!

Free Saginaw Bay Phragmites workshop series set (MSU Extension): A new series of free public workshops planned in the region will provide information on current efforts to control Phragmites across Saginaw Bay, as well as give practical information for landowners on how to treat Phragmites on their property and how to enroll in larger group treatment programs. The workshops are free and no registration is required.

Exotic Aquatic Plant Watch helps volunteers detect invasive species in Michigan inland lakes (MSU Extension): Recently, during National Invasive Species Awareness Week, Michigan State University Extension and Michigan Sea Grant featured aquatic invasive plants of special interest to Michigan. If you want to help detect invasive plants in your favorite lake, enroll in the Exotic Aquatic Plant Watch by April 1.

Register now to get students on board with the Great Lakes Education Program (MSU Extension): An excellent way for teachers to introduce their students to the Great Lakes is by participating in the Great Lakes Education Program, which will soon begin its 26th year of classroom and vessel-based education in southeast Michigan. Registration is now open for the spring 2016 season, which runs from mid-April through mid-June. The program allows students to understand the value of combined classroom and out-of-classroom learning, while understanding the shared ownership and stewardship responsibility we all have for the Great Lakes.