Mountain lions, a wildlife council and invasive stink bugs: 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:

Mountain lion. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Mountain lion. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Are mountain lions going urban? (Mother Nature Network): Due to excessive hunting and habitat destruction, mountain lions are now making their home in urban areas of the United States, such as Los Angeles and Washington D.C. Researchers say the mountain lions are traveling long distances across the U.S. to find homes. Mountain lions are on the endangered list and were all but extinct in 2011. Since then, they have made a slight comeback.

Michigan lawmakers propose wildlife council to promote hunting, fishing (Great Lakes Echo): Lawmakers want to create a bill that would finance a new wildlife council, headed by the Michigan Wildlife Management Public Education Fund. This council would educate the public on the importance of wildlife management and licensed hunters. The Department of Natural Resources estimates $1.6 million will be collected from hunting and fishing license increases, which will cover the cost to create the council.

Invasive stink bugs swarm across the U.S. (Mother Nature Network): The brown marmorated stink bugs, arriving from Asia, are overshadowing stink bugs native to the U.S. The bug that once bred in only southern Pennsylvania now breeds in 15 states and exists in about 25 more. Chuck Ingels of the Cooperative Extension office in Sacramento calls them the “worst invasive pests we’ve ever had in California.” Besides their stench, the brown marmorated stink bug destroys commercial crops. In 2010 alone, they caused $37 million in damage to Mid-Atlantic apple farms.

Lyons Dam on borrowed time: Endangered species discovery complicates removal project (MLive): The Lyons Dam was set to be removed until biologists from Central Michigan University discovered an endangered species downstream of the dam, the snuffbox mussel. These mussels were added to the endangered species list in 2012 when there was a 62% population decrease. They must be relocated before the dam can be removed. State and federal officials will have to decide where to relocate the mussels, and they would likely not begin this process until next summer.

No cure in sight for loon-killing botulism (Great Lakes Echo): An avian botulism outbreak in northern Michigan has killed more than 1,000 loons. Tom Cooley, a Department of Natural Resources disease lab biologist and pathologist said there is an estimated loon population of 2,000. Conditions in the water make a breeding ground for the bacteria. Scientists believe the loon’s predation on infected fish is causing a rise in deaths. There are no known solutions to stop the botulism from infecting loons.

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Lake symposium, Muskegon bear, and carp testing: 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:

Students, Teachers Gather at Tech to Learn About Lake Superior (Michigan Tech News): Michigan Technological University will hold its 10th Biennial Lake Superior Symposium this weekend, drawing an expected 200 students and teachers in grades 7-12. The gathering will feature 50 presenters, covering topics such as student stewardship initiatives and conservation issues in the Lake Superior area. The goal of the four-day event is to teach attendees about the Great Lakes watersheds, inspiring them to apply this knowledge in their various communities. The program is made possible by the work of Joan Chadde, longtime MNA steward and volunteer, as well as input from other MTU staff members and Great Lakes organizations.

Muskegon bear may have found his way home, spotted swimming north (mlive): A young black bear seen around Muskegon appears to be headed home, according to DNR officials. After swimming south across Muskegon Lake, “Muskegon bear” was first spotted around Great Lakes Marina early Monday morning and later settled near the Muskegon Lakeshore Trail. Officials closed the bike trail, avoided the use of tranquilizers, and advised onlookers to leave the bear alone. After a day of attention from media representatives and local spectators, the bear reportedly returned to the lake and swam back northward.

Great Lakes Water quality improved but there are still issues, report says (JSOnline): Rapid ice cover reduction and excessive nutrients are growing problems in the Great Lakes, even in the midst of a federal restoration program. Though assessments of the water’s chemical health show mostly positive results, some data reveals an increase in toxic chemicals over the past decade. This could be caused by ballast water discharges from foreign freighters, which were not addressed in the Clean Water Act of 1972. The International Joint Commission suggests that both U.S. and Canadian governments look into creating a structure to reduce the flow of the St. Clair River as a possible solution.

Blind birdwatchers learn to see by hearing sounds (CBS News): Donna Posont, field director for Opportunities for the Blind in Dearborn, has developed a new approach to bird identification: “birding by ear.” Posont teaches blind students to memorize various bird calls in the classroom, which they are later able to identify in the wild. Bird watching becomes bird listening, allowing the blind to recognize birds without seeing them at all. Posont hopes the activity will not only connect the students to the outdoors but also provide them with a sense of confidence.

Grand tested for Asian carp (Grand Haven Tribune): A portable lab was established on the Odawa/Battle Point Launch in Grand Haven Township on Wednesday as part of a federal invasive species monitoring program. Officials took water samples from the Grand River, searching for environmental Asian carp DNA. Though there is currently no indication of the species in Lake Michigan, Asian carp pose a large threat to the Great Lakes. The purpose of the monitoring program is to gather baseline data, hoping to remain one step ahead of a potential invasion.

April’s heavy rains pushed billions of gallons of sewage into Michigan waterways (mlive): Recent heavy rains have revealed that Michigan’s sewage system may be a larger issue than expected. April rains overwhelmed sewer systems, releasing approximately 1.5 billion gallons of partially treated and raw sewage into lakes and streams. The leakage was likely a result of Michigan’s “combined” sewage systems, which carry both sewage and stormwater to treatment plants. This issue has led to a call for increased state funding for sanitary and storm sewers.

To bee or not to bee and the role one invasive plant plays

By Tina Patterson

Spotted knapweed, also known as starthistle, is considered an invasive species in the United States. In Michigan, the eradication of this species has stirred up a controversy between those who want it eradicated and Michigan’s beekeeping industry.

Believed to have first arrived from Europe in the 1800s as a contaminant of alfalfa seed, spotted knapweed survives in dry, sandy soil and most climate conditions. It can be found along roadsides and in former farm fields where it grows in clumps.

Estimated to infest more than 8 million acres nationwide, efforts have been underway in many states to control the spread of spotted knapweed, if not completely eliminate it. This biennial plant crowds out native vegetation and produces a poisonous chemical that deters the growth of other desirable vegetation, like wildflowers and sedges.

Some of Michigan’s beekeepers oppose efforts to control knapweed. Honey flavor is determined by the plant from which bees collect nectar. Because spotted knapweed blooms in late July and early August when many other plants are not flowering, beekeepers count on it to produce the buttery-flavored honey and set up hives near large expanses of knapweed. Considering recent hive collapses, any threat to bees raises alarm for beekeepers. Some worry that if knapweed is destroyed, other more desirable, native flowers will not be as available for nectar and pollen.

However, others argue that diverse natural communities support a range of wildflowers throughout the growing season. Some believe that if natural areas were included in the agricultural landscape that these intact communities could support native bee species of pollinating crops.

Michigan is among the nation’s top honey producers and second only to California in diversity of crops. Some fear that if beekeepers left the state due to knapweed control, the bees needed to pollinate red cherries, apples, blueberries and other crops would have to be imported. This could raise cost to farmers, and ultimately, consumers.

While there are bees at many of MNA’s sanctuaries, knapweed grows at Newaygo Prairie Nature Sanctuary, Karner Blue Nature Sanctuary and Five Lakes Muskegon Nature Sanctuary.

MNA’s policy is to remove invasive species and knapweed falls under that category. However, we acknowledge the concerns of the beekeepers and hope this issue can be resolved.

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