Carbon emission cuts, ice cover, and microbeads: this week in environmental news

Each week, MNA gathers news stories from around Michigan and the United States related to conservation and the environment. Here is some of what happened his week in environmental news:

Great Lakes ice cover at 85.5% Feb. 25. Image: NOAA CoastWatch

Obama cuts federal government’s carbon emissions (U.S. News & World Report): On Thursday, President Obama signed an executive order cutting greenhouse gas emissions by the federal government. The measure calls for a 40 percent reduction in heat-trapping emissions over the next decade, which the White House says is expected to save $18 billion in taxpayer money. The government will increase use of renewable energy like wind and solar power by 30 percent.

Great Lakes ice in retreat (Great Lakes Echo): Ice cover on the Great Lakes has dipped below 55 percent coverage, down from 80 percent cover earlier this month. Temperatures this week are expected to hover around average, dipping below freezing at times. Daily temperature changes and wind impact lake ice coverage. Last year, the Great Lakes were not completely free of ice until June, though observers expect ice-free waters earlier this year. Great Lakes Echo offers a cool sliding tool that shows the dramatic difference in ice coverage on the Great Lakes in just three weeks.

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder wants up to 40 percent clean energy by 2025 (MLive): Gov. Rick Snyder released an energy message last week saying he’d like to have between 30 and 40 percent of Michigan’s energy needs met by a combination of renewable energy and energy efficiency efforts. By 2025, Snyder believes Michigan could get 19 percent of its energy from renewable sources.

State rep. introduces microbeads bill to protect Michigan waterways (C&G News): Michigan State Rep. Christine Greig has introduced a bill that would remove microbeads from personal care products. Microbeads, tiny pieces of polyethylene used in facial scrubs and other products, are too small to be filtered out at wastewater treatment facilities and end up in lakes, rivers, and streams, eventually reaching the Great Lakes and seaways. Similar legislation has been introduced in Illinois, while Wisconsin and Indiana are also considering taking action.

Monarch butterflies, climate change, and microbeads: this week in environmental news

Each week, MNA compiles news stores related to conservation and the environment from around Michigan and the country. Here is a look at some of what happened this week in environmental news:

Monarch butterflies at Fred Dye Nature Sanctuary. Photo: Adrienne Bozic

Monarch butterflies at Fred Dye Nature Sanctuary. Photo: Adrienne Bozic

Monarch butterfly count rises as conservationists warn of extinction (Reuters): This winter’s tally of monarch butterflies in Mexico rose to 56.5 million from last year’s record low of 34 million. Though this number is an improvement, it is still far below the 1 billion monarch butterflies that migrated to Mexico in the 1990s. Conservationists say the butterfly may warrant Endangered Species Act protections.

Most Americans support government action on climate change, poll finds (The New York Times): A poll conducted by The New York Times, Stanford University, and a nonpartisan research group found that an “overwhelming majority” of Americans support government action to curb global warming. This includes 48% of Republicans, who say they are more likely to vote for a candidate who supports fighting climate change. These findings could have implications for the 2016 presidential campaign.

Climate affects how the Great Lakes grow and flow (Great Lakes Echo): New projections suggest increases in maximum and minimum daily temperatures in the Lake Michigan basin by as much as 8 degrees in 2099. These rising temperatures will lead to increased precipitation and runoff during winter and a decrease in the Spring, especially in northern Michigan and Wisconsin. These seasonal temperatures will also impact wetlands and sensitive fish and invertebrate populations.

House committee passes measure banning soap, scrub microbeads that pollute Great Lakes (Minneapolis Star Tribune): A bill banning the tiny exfoliating plastic bits known as microbeads passed through an Indiana House committee Wednesday. The bill is part of an effort gaining momentum in other states to protect the Great Lakes. Microbeads are found in popular cosmetic products like facial scrubs and toothpastes. Microbeads currently account for about 20 percent of plastic pollution in the Great Lakes.

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.

Bat-killing fungus, air patterns and microbeads: 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:

A brown bat. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

A brown bat. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Bat-killing fungus all but invincible, study finds (Mother Nature Network): The fungus, Pseudogymnoascus destructans, causes white-nose syndrome in American bats and is extremely difficult to kill. It has already killed about 6 million American bats in the last seven years and has a mortality rate of nearly 100 percent. The fungus can be found in 22 U.S. states and five Canadian provinces. The fungus most likely came from Europe, where native bats are mostly immune. Scientists are searching for ways to control the spread of the fungus because American bats are important to the economy. Insect-eating bats keep disease-spreading and crop-killing insects in check and save the U.S. agriculture industry around $3 billion per year.

Strange air patterns could help predict heat waves (Mother Nature Network): New research shows that heat waves are usually preceded by a global weather pattern known as a wavenumber-5 pattern. This consists of five high-pressure systems evenly distributed across the Northern Hemisphere. The configuration usually occurs 15 to 20 days before extreme weather in the United States. Because of this, the wavenumber-5 pattern could be used to enable better forecasting, which could save between 600 and 1,300 lives per year.

Nonprofit launches consumer app to help keep microbeads out of the Great Lakes (Journal Sentinel): Microbeads found in hand soaps, facial scrubs and other exfoliating products bypass sewage treatments and ultimately end up polluting the Great Lakes and getting eaten by wildlife. Researchers say there are higher concentrations of microbeads in the Great Lakes than there are in the oceans. Several companies, including L’Oreal, Unilever and Johnson & Johnson, pledged to use natural alternatives to microbeads after the findings were shared. A Netherlands-based foundation has created a free cell phone app called “Beat the Microbead” that allows consumers to scan a product before buying it to figure out if the product contains microbeads and if the company has agreed to remove them or not.

Great Lakes state playing catch-up in effort to build water-based economy (Great Lakes Echo): Milwaukee and Ontario are ahead of Michigan in efforts to turn water-based technology, academic research and tourism into jobs and revenue. The director of the Michigan Economic Center, John Austin, said Michigan has all the assets necessary to support a thriving “blue economy:” plentiful freshwater, a growing tourism industry, research universities focused on water issues and manufacturers to turn concepts into products. Austin said building Michigan’s blue economy begins with cleaning polluted waterways and restoring damaged shorelines.

Endangered Kirtland’s Warbler: Looking good, but what lies ahead (MLive): The Kirtland’s Warbler has much such a drastic turnaround in Michigan that government agencies and non-governmental groups have discussed taking it off the federal Endangered Species list. Michigan holds 98% of the Kirtland’s Warbler population, so it is important to assure the birds have ongoing support once they come off the list. Continued human intervention is the key to the warbler’s success. It is also important to limit the population of cowbirds, who lay their eggs in warbler nests and compete for food.

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.