Monarchs, American Wetlands Month, and Migratory Bird Festival: this week in environmental news

Monarch butterflies winging their way north to Michigan (MDNR): With spring now sprung in Michigan, soon we’ll be welcoming back to the state one of the most distinctive signs that summer is on its way – the brightly colored monarch butterfly. Monarchs are on their way north from Mexico, where they spend the winter months. While National Start Seeing Monarchs Day is observed annually on the first Saturday in May, it may be a few more weeks before they make their way across Michigan. One of the most well-known and beloved butterfly species in North America, with their easily recognized orange and black wing pattern, monarchs have become a much less common sight in recent decades. The eastern monarch butterfly population has declined by 90 percent over the last 20 years due mainly to habitat loss, both in their summer range – including Michigan – and in Mexico, where they overwinter. The alarming declines in monarchs and other pollinators have sparked conservation programs across the nation. There are many ways that Michigan residents can contribute to ongoing monarch conservation efforts as well. Creating habitat for monarchs and other pollinators, whether it’s in your backyard or a large field, is a great place to start. Other resources include the Create Habitat for Monarchs web page from Monarch Joint Venture and “How to build a butterfly and pollinator garden in seven steps” from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Another way you can contribute to monarch butterfly conservation efforts is to monitor monarch populations by reporting any sightings at Journey North or getting involved in other monarch citizen science opportunities.

Celebrate American Wetlands Month by exploring Michigan’s wetlands (TV6): May is American Wetlands Month – a month to appreciate and enjoy the wonders of wetlands. The Department of Natural Resources encourages Michigan residents to get out and enjoy some of the outstanding wetlands the state has to offer. Try visiting one of Michigan’s Wetland Wonders for a day of hiking, birding, kayaking or fishing.

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The Keweenaw’s Migratory Bird Festival (Copper Harbor Birding): Join the Copper Harbor Birding group in celebrating the spring bird migration by offering a season full of bird and other nature related activities. The birds are the main focus, so get out there! Guided bird and nature walks are offered throughout the season.

Making your native plant choices for Michigan inland lake shorelines (MSU Extension): Michigan’s inland lakes draw many people for a variety of reasons. Being close to nature and being a part of a relaxing natural environment are not the least among them. However, the reality of owning a lake home often is at odds with what nature provides. When choosing native plants for your shoreline you should have a landscape design plan and know the Lake fetch or prevailing wind direction on your lake in relationship to your property. Then go about choosing what plants will serve your needs and aesthetic. The important thing to remember is to choose the right plant for the right place.

Small snail, big problems: Researchers track invasive New Zealand mudsnail in Michigan rivers (MDNR): A tiny invader is threatening prized trout streams in Michigan’s northern Lower Peninsula.  A mere 1/8-inch long, the New Zealand mudsnail is barely distinguishable from a grain of sand, but over time its invasive habits can affect the quality and quantity of trout and other fish in the Au Sable, Pere Marquette and Boardman rivers where it has been found. The Department of Environmental Quality recently released a new video providing an overview of New Zealand mudsnail identification. The video is the premiere in the “MDEQ Minute” series, offering 60-second views on a broad range of topics including new and potential invasive species in Michigan. If you think you have found a New Zealand mudsnail in a waterway outside of the Pere Marquette, Boardman or Au Sable rivers, report your finding using the Midwest Invasive Species Information Network website, www.misin.msu.edu, or download the MISIN app to your smartphone.

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.

 

Michigan Lake and Stream Leaders Institute, Frogs, and Endangered Bumblebees: this week in environmental news

Michigan Lake and Stream Leaders Institute (MSU Extension): The Michigan Lake and Stream Leaders Institute (LSLI) provides a unique and intensive leadership development opportunity for citizens, local leaders, and water resource professionals who wish to develop technical and people skills needed by leaders who can effectively protect Michigan’s lakes and streams. Participants take part in classroom and field-based sessions designed to help them better understand local water resource management planning and program implementation. Expert presenters from academia, natural resource agencies, and local communities cover topics including watershed management, lake and stream ecology, environmental education, leadership, and working with local and state government. The Institute is conducted through five in-depth sessions held across Michigan. The sessions will be held:

  • June 2-3: Kettunen Center, near Cadillac
  • August 18-19: Kellogg Biological Station, near Kalamazoo
  • October 6: Michigan State University, East Lansing
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Bullfrog ready for dinner. Photo: Martin Hejzlar/Shutterstock

Supernatural spit is the frog’s secret weapon for catching bugs (Mother Nature Network): Frogs are famous for the long sticky tongue they use to snag prey. But what is it about this tongue that allows a frog to nab an insect, pull the insect back to its mouth with lightening speed, and eat it — yet the stickiness doesn’t glue the frog’s mouth shut? The secret is super sticky saliva that’s reversible. A new study demonstrates that the saliva can turn from a honey-like viscosity to one more like water and back again, and all within a few seconds. Super-special spit and a trippy tongue make capturing insects a snap.

National Park Service starts keeping track of park disturbances (Great Lakes Echo): For the first time, the National Park Service is collecting concrete data to monitor and find patterns in what affects national park landscapes. The data on how park landscapes are affected by various disturbances both inside and outside the parks will help park managers maintain them for the ecosystem and for the visitors. Fire and beavers, for example, play key roles in developing habitat by changing the structure or composition of the landscape. Similarly, some human-induced disturbances are better for the environment than others. Sustainable forest harvest can aid the regeneration of a forest, while land development for things like new parking lots do not. Cataloging the disturbances will help with assessing if the impact is beneficial or recoverable.

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The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service designated the rusty-patched bumblebee as endangered in early January, a first for any bee species. Image: Dan Mullen.

Fight invasives or protect pollinators: Neonicotinoids present tough choice (Great Lakes Echo): Neonicotinoids, a class of insecticides frequently used in agriculture, gets plenty of bad press for killing pollinators like honeybees. But they’ve also emerged as an important combatant of the emerald ash borer, an invasive insect that has devastated ash populations all over the United States with the highest risk localized to the American Midwest and the northern half of the Eastern seaboard. For pollinator protectors in Michigan, that’s a problem. With the recent designation of the rusty patched bumble bee as endangered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service – the first time any bee species in the U.S. has landed on such a list – the race for effective conservation tactics has accelerated. The Michigan Pollinator Protection Plan Committee will have a draft of the plan available for public comment between March 10 and April 14.

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.

Migratory Birds, Invasive Plants, and Citizen Science Projects: this week in environmental news

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A radar image shows a large migration event that occurred recently. Bubble size indicates the relative bird density; arrow direction and length indicate the migration direction and speed. This image represents about 25-50 million birds aloft. Image: Birdcast

How our unseasonably warm fall is affecting migratory birds (Interlochen Public Radio): 2016 has been on a record-breaking warm streak, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. So what does this unseasonably warm fall mean for birds that need to start packing up and heading south? Andrew Farnsworth, research associate with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, says how weather patterns affect birds varies by species. Some birds are dramatically affected. Some species may stay around for quite a lot longer than they might otherwise if temperatures are warmer. This effects waterfall: common loon and ducks on the Great Lakes, for example. On the other hand, some species are less affected by temperature, and instead time their trips south based on changes in the amount of daylight, such as warblers known as calendar migrants. Farnsworth says that while in general, birds are able to respond quickly to changes, they might not be able to keep up with the pace of human-caused climate change.

New research shows invasive plants can feed farms, power homes (Interlochen Public Radio): Researchers who work in wetlands in Michigan are taking a new approach to invasive plants. Instead of removing plants like phragmites and switchgrass, they’re harvesting them. They say these plants are a threat to biodiversity, but they can benefit farmers and even power homes. Scientists are working in the middle of the Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge, which has 10,000 acres of marshes and bogs, forest and farmland. Their team is removing invasive cattails from the area. Once these nutrients have been harvested, they are then put to good use. Working with local farmers, the harvested cattails are shredded and applied directly to crop fields where the biomass breaks down, providing organic material, as well as recycled chemical fertilizer. The invasive plants may have other economic uses as well.

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Scientists are experimenting with new uses for invasive cattails in the Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge. Image: Sam Corden

Interactive map helps bridge science-citizen divide (Great Lakes Echo): People can help keep their local lakes, rivers and streams healthier with a new app. The non-profit Ontario Water Rangers won the event put on by the Great Lakes Observing System to encourage the use of open source data either from GLOS or other water data collection services. The app functions like a Google Map. Clicking on a dot zooms in to display small magnifying glasses. Users can then contribute observations including but not limited to wind speed, algae growth or invasive species and read a summary of past observations.

Lake Superior gates to be automated, improving fish spawning (Newstimes): A set of gates that helps control water flow out of Lake Superior is being automated. An 80-acre area of rapids just downstream is one of the Great Lakes’ most productive fish spawning areas. Officials say the project will give the Corps more flexibility to operate the gates in ways that will improve conditions for fish.

MI Invasive Species, Poweshiek Skipperlings, and Bees: this week in environmental news

Michigan Invasive Species (MI.gov): Does your work take you to several outdoor sites in one day? Do you fish or hunt at different locations in the same week? If so, your actions could be considered high-risk for spreading species around the state. Want to learn more? Take a few minutes to watch this new video that briefly explains the best ways to look for and remove invasive species.

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Poweshiek skipperling. Photo: Erik Runquist/Minnesota Zoo.

The Poweshiek Skipperling: A Prairie Butterfly on the Brink (U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Endangered Species): Poweshiek skipperlings are small butterflies that live only in native prairies that have never been plowed, which makes them vulnerable. Until recently, the species (Oarisma poweshiek) was one of the most common prairie-obligate skipper in the Midwest. Yet, in the last decade, surveyors observed an abrupt and rapid decline in the species, and population after population began to vanish. Despite extensive surveys, the skipperling appears to exist in critically low numbers at just a handful of sites scattered between Wisconsin, Michigan, and Manitoba.

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The proposed trail. Image: Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

Trail segment installed at Sleeping Bear (Great Lakes Echo): A ribbon-cutting ceremony was held recently for a new segment of the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail at the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. The trail will eventually run 27 miles from Empire northeast about halfway up the Leelanau Peninsula. To limit environmental impact, the trail follows existing utility corridors, abandoned roads and a narrow gauge railroad. That minimizes its impact on forested areas and wetlands. Boardwalks are built with helical piles, a more environmentally friendly alternative to cement foundations. Instead of digging up landscape and pouring permanent cement, the piles screw directly into the ground and can be unscrewed if needed.

MSU researcher: more wild bee habitat would benefit growers (Great Lakes Echo): For farmers across Michigan and the country, pollination is essential for making their crops grow. For years now, they’ve kept a close eye on a key pollinator, bees, mainly because their numbers have been declining. Listen to the podcast with Rufus Isaacs, a professor of entomology at MSU, to learn more.