Endangered butterflies, climate change, and robofish: this week in environmental news

Each week, MNA gathers news stories from around Michigan and the globe related to conservation and nature. Check out some of what happened this week in environmental news:

A poweshiek skipperling butterfly. Photo by Dwayne Badgero.

A poweshiek skipperling butterfly. Photo by Dwayne Badgero.

Two Prairie Butterflies Gain Endangered Species Act Protection in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan and Dakotas (Center for Biological Diversity): The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced yesterday a settlement to speed protection decisions for 757 imperiled plants and animals across the country. Among these are the Poweshiek skipperling butterfly, which survives in small numbers in Michigan.

Autumn anomaly: Deepest Great Lakes’ levels rising (Detroit Free Press): The brutal winter of 2012-2013 is still impacting the Great Lakes this fall, contributing to rising water levels in Lake Superior and connected Lakes Michigan and Huron. In the fall, the Great Lakes typically have a slow decline in water levels. Lake Superior’s depths, however, rose almost a half-inch from Aug. 1 to Oct. 1, and Lakes Michigan and Huron rose almost two full inches.

How climate change is transforming winter birds (Conservation Magazine): Data analyzed from the Project FeederWatch citizen science project as well as other bird survey and climate data indicate that bird species that prefer warmer weather are advancing north. Between 1989 and 2011, the average temperature index of species present at surveyed cites crept upward, meaning warm-adapted birds became more prominent.

University spawns robofish to monitor Great Lakes (Great Lakes Echo): For about 10 years, Michigan State University engineering professor Dr. Xiaobo Tan has been working on a robotic fish that can be used to monitor water quality.

Fracking waste legislation, oil spills, and phragmites: this week in environmental news

Each week, the Michigan Nature Association gathers news stories related to conservation and the environment from around the state and country. Here is a brief recap of what happened this week in environmental news:

 

Enbridge workers continue cleanup efforts on the Kalamazoo River near East Burnham Street in Battle Creek on Aug. 31, 2011. / Kevin Hare/The Enquirer

Bill would keep other states’ radioactive fracking waste out of Michigan (Detroit Free Press): Michigan Sen. Rick Jones says he plans to introduce legislation to stop companies in other states from dumping low-level radioactive waste materials in Michigan landfills. This comes on the heels of news that a hazardous-waste landfill in Van Buren Township is to receive 36 tons of radioactive sludge that was rejected by landfills in Pennsylvania and West Virginia. Other states have tightened regulations on radioactive fracking waste, and Sen. Jones hopes Michigan can adopt similar legislation.

Michigan business owners sue over 2010 Enbridge oil spill (Lansing State Journal): Businesses in Michigan have filed approximately 30 cases against Enbridge, the company responsible for the oil spill that dumped nearly 1 million gallons of oil in the Kalamazoo River in 2010. More than 20 of those cases have already been settled without a trial, but several remain pending. One pending case is that of Charles Blakeman, Jr. and Robert Patterson who say their business, Extreme Adventures, lost money due to the spill.

 

A boater maneuvers in Lake Michigan waves during windy conditions at Holland State Park Tuesday, July 15, 2014. (Cory Morse | MLive.com)

Will Lake Michigan’s water temperatures warm before fall? Hot weekend could help (MLive): Lake Michigan’s average surface water temperature is about 64 degrees, which is six degrees below a 21-year average. Last winter’s colder-than-average temperatures and several summertime fronts that have swept through with strong winds have kept the lake chilly. This weekend will likely be the warmest of the summer, and it is expected that the lake’s temperatures will tick a degree or two higher.

Oakland Township joins fight against phragmites (The Oakland Press): Invasive phragmites have been impacting wetlands in Oakland Township for more than five years, and the township is now working together with nearby Orion, Oxford, and Independence townships on a solution. Oakland Township has set aside funding for treatment of the plant and has applied for a treatment permit with the DEQ, hoping to begin eradication efforts this fall.

Leaking petroleum judgement gains $800,000 for state (Great Lakes Echo): The Michigan Court of Appeals has ruled that Strefling Oil Co. owes more than $800,000 for cleanup costs, civil fines, and administrative penalties for failure to properly remediate sites with leaking underground storage tanks in Berrien County. According to the court, petroleum products leaked into the ground at all three of the company’s storage tanks between 1994 and 2001.

A chemical spill, the emerald ash borer, and ice balls: this week in environmental news

Ice balls at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Photo via YouTube.

Every Friday, MNA shares news stories related to conservation from around the state and the world.

Chemical spill fouls water in West Virginia (The New York Times): A chemical spill in Charleston, W.Va. left more than 100,000 people without safe tap water. The spill happened at a storage facility about a mile north of a water treatment plant on the Elk River, where a compound used to clean coal began leaking. Officials do not currently know how much of the chemical spilled into the river.

Extreme cold may wipe out high percentage of emerald ash borer larvae (MPR):  A forestry expert in Minnesota says that the extreme cold temperatures may kill off a significant percentage of emerald ash borer larvae. Studies have shown that 34 percent of larvae die at -10 degrees Fahrenheit, with that number jumping to 79 percent at -20, and 98% at -30. These numbers could vary, depending on whether or not the insects are insulated by the bark of trees or snow.

Watch captivating video of Lake Michigan ice balls at Sleeping Bear Dunes (MLive): The giant ice boulders on the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore were recognized as one of the most amazing earth images of 2013. They have formed once again, and can be seen washing in and out from the Lake Michigan shoreline. Several photographers have captured fascinating images and videos of the beach-ball sized ice formations.

‘Carnivore cleansing’ is damaging ecosystems, scientists warn (The Guardian): According to a new study, more than three-quarters of the 31 species of large land predators, such as wolves and lions, are in decline. Of these species, 17 species are now restricted to less than half the territory they once occupied. An international team of scientists say that the large predators play a vital role in maintaining the delicate balance of ecosystems. The group has called for a global initiative to conserve large predators.

Plastics in your face? There’s an app for that (Great Lakes Echo): Plastic microbeads, which are often found in personal hygiene products, have been polluting the Great Lakes and other waterways. A new app has been designed that allows customers to scan a barcode and see if the product contains microbeads. The app is called “Warning: Plastics Inside!” and can be downloaded for free in the Apple App Store, the Google Play Store, and the Windows Phone Store.

Tar sands threat in Great Lakes region pipelines

The Great Lakes hold 20 percent of all surface freshwater on the planet, providing drinking water for 30 million people. The Lakes are home to a fishery worth $7 billion annually and multiple species, including threatened and endangered animals. The Great Lakes are crucial to the economies of the surrounding states.

The Mackinac Bridge. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The Mackinac Bridge. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Recently, the National Wildlife Federation wrote an article about the old pipeline that runs under the Mackinac Bridge under Lakes Michigan and Huron. The pipeline is 60 years old and carries 22 million gallons of crude oil and natural gas fluids daily across the Straits of Mackinac. The 60-year-old pipeline is part of the Lakehead Pipeline System that carries crude oil to refineries in the Great Lakes region.

“We are dealing with a 60-year-old pipeline in one of the most sensitive areas of the world, and it carries one of the dirtiest, most toxic types of oil on the planet – tar sands-derived crude,” said Andy Buchsbaum, director of NWF’s Great Lakes Regional Center in Ann Arbor.

Tar sands oil is heavier than traditional crude, which increases the likelihood of ruptures because the pipelines are designed to transport lighter conventional crudes. Tar sands oil contains more cancer-causing chemicals, emits more greenhouse gases when burned, and is harder to clean up because it can sink in water. In the forests of western Canada, it has poisoned local waters, killed wildlife, and threatened human health.

According to government officials, the pipeline (Line 5) crossing the Straits has never leaked. However, there is good reason to believe a rupture is possible in the future. The pipeline is partially owned by Enbridge, Inc., a Canadian-based oil transporter. The company has a history of careless maintenance and frequent oil spills. Recently, an Enbridge Partners pipeline ruptured and dumped 1 million gallons of tar sands crude into the Kalamazoo River. The spill sickened over 300 people, killed numerous fish and birds in the area, and disrupted the river’s ecosystem. The cleanup will cost an estimated $1 billion. Enbridge Inc. pipelines have suffered nearly 800 spills in the United States since 1999.

The National Wildlife Foundation wants Enbridge to replace the 60-year-old pipeline, and they have also filed a petition asking the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to stop shipments of tar sands-derived crude through any U.S. pipelines until safety regulations are improved.

If the pipeline were to rupture, it would cause significant damage to numerous types of wildlife in Michigan. For more information, see the article that appeared in National Wildlife magazine.