Protecting the sturgeon, transforming agriculture and a grey wolf shot dead: this week in environmental news

By Kary Askew Garcia, MNA Intern

Every Friday, MNA gathers news related to the environment from around the state and country. Here are a few highlights from what happened this week in environmental news:

Kids with a sturgeon fish. Photo by Michigan State University, courtesy of The Great Lakes Echo

Children holding a sturgeon. Photo by Michigan State University, courtesy of The Great Lakes Echo

Volunteers guard Michigan’s spawning sturgeon (Great Lakes Echo): The lake sturgeon, a threatened fish species in Michigan, will have several guardians ensuring its safety at the Black River in Northern Michigan. Volunteers will stand watch on the banks through June to ensure no fish are illegally snatched and are able to leave the Black Lake and reproduce in the Black River.

Grey wolf appears in Iowa for the first time in 89 years — and is shot dead (The Guardian): It was just recently confirmed that an animal shot dead in February in Iowa was a grey wolf, an animal which hadn’t been seen in the area since 1925. Because the hunter who shot the animal believed it to be a coyote and cooperated with the authorities, he has not been cited even though grey wolves are protected in that area.

California’s thirst shapes debate over fracking (The New York Times): Opponents of fracking have a new argument on their side. A drought that was declared early this year in California may have an impact on decisions made about fracking. Last year, fracking one oil well took 87 percent of water which would normally consumed by a family of four in one year.

Smart soil: transforming american agriculture one class at a time: (The Huffington Post Blog):

John Reganold, soil scientist and professor at Washington State University speaks of his study and success with creating sustainable agriculture in the United States. Reganold advocates for organic soil systems as a more sustainable way of growing and producing better crops.

 

A fish swimming near the reef. Photo courtesy of Conservation Magazine

A fish swimming near the reef. Photo courtesy of Conservation Magazine

Reef fish don’t care where conservation lines are drawn (Conservation Magazine): Over the years there have been increasing amounts of established marine protected areas, or MPAs, particularly near the Caribbean. Despite establishing these areas, fish often tend to migrate in and out, swimming outside of the bounds of protection. A research group of the Marine Institute of the United Kingdom tracked several different reef species and determined that conservation efforts must take this migration into account.

Hope for the honey bees? Experts pitch plans to curb deaths (NBC News): Honey bees throughout the world have been suffering from colony collapse disorder and scientists think they may have found a way to lower the death rate. It was found that certain types of pesticides played a role in largely killing the bees — some of the world’s largest contributors to the food and crop industry because of their pollinating role in nature.

Species Spotlight: The Indiana Bat

By Annie Perry, MNA Intern

Michigan protects federally listed birds, snakes and plants—and one bat. The Indiana bat, the only endangered bat in the state, has been federally protected since the late 1960s.

An Indiana bat. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

Indiana bats are small, with mouse-like ears and dark brown to black fur, and only weigh one-quarter of an ounce. Though these bats are small and light, they appear larger in flight and have a wingspan of 9 to 11 inches.

Indiana bats can be found in the eastern United States, with populations living in Indiana, Missouri, Kentucky, Illinois, New York, Alabama, Arkansas, Connecticut, Iowa, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia. They spend their winters hibernating in cool, humid caves or abandoned mines, and roost under loose tree bark on dead or dying trees in the summer.

In 2005, the estimated population was about 457,000 Indiana bats—half as many as there were when the species was listed as endangered in 1967. Reasons for population loss include human disturbance, cave commercializing and improper gating, summer habitat loss or degradation, and pesticide and environmental contaminants. One additional factor threatens all species of bats and has killed millions bats since 2006: a disease called white-nose syndrome.

White-nose syndrome was first observed in a cave in New York in 2006 and has spread to caves in Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. The disease affects hibernating bats and is named for the white fungus that appears on the bat’s muzzle and other body parts. Bats with this disease exhibit uncharacteristic behavior during hibernating months, including flying outside during the daytime and clustering near entrances of the areas in which they hibernate. White-nose syndrome has killed between 5.7 and 6.7 million bats in the eastern part of North America; in some hibernating areas, as many as 90 to 100 percent of hibernating bats have died.

A bat with white-nose syndrome. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

State and national plans have been established to manage white-nose syndrome, and Michigan published its response plan in December 2010. The response plan focuses on delaying human-assisted introductions of the disease as much as possible, minimizing human dissemination of the fungus associated with the disease once it becomes present in Michigan, and conserving the remaining bat population after the disease has arrived. Thankfully, things are still looking good in the mitten state: the Michigan Department of Natural Resources conducted a statewide survey in 2012 and found no sign of white-nose syndrome.

For more information on white-nose syndrome, visit the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s white-nose syndrome website.

Spot wildflowers in bloom at MNA’s spring events

By Annie Perry, MNA Intern

White trillium at Trillium Trail Nature Sanctuary. Photo by Ron Grogan.

White trillium. Photo by Ron Grogan.

Throughout spring and summer, many of MNA’s sanctuaries are covered with abundant, colorful wildflowers. This spring, MNA is hosting a variety of wildflower-focused events, including a hike at Trillium Ravine Nature Sanctuary on May 1 that will give visitors a chance to check out the sanctuary’s three rare trillium species, which should be blooming throughout the sanctuary at the time of the hike.

Trilliums are spring ephemerals, or wildflowers that bloom in early spring and die after a short growth and reproduction phase. They appear to be plants with unbranched stems, but they actually produce no true leaves or stems above ground; the “stem” is really an extension of the horizontal rhizome (a stem that grows continuously underground and puts out shoots and roots) and produces small, scale-like bracts that look like leaves.

Red trillium at Jasper Woods Memorial Nature Sanctuary. Photo by Al Menk.

Red trillium. Photo by Al Menk.

Trilliums are divided into two major groups: pedicellate and sessile.  Pedicellate trilliums have flowers on stalks, while sessile flowers have no stalks and sit directly on the plant’s bracts. In all, there are 38 species of trillium, four subspecies and seven varieties.

Four trillium species are protected in Michigan. The state lists toadshade, prairie trillium and snow trillium as threatened and painted trillium as endangered. MNA sanctuaries protect several trillium species, such as red trillium, drooping trillium, painted trillium, prairie trillium and toadshade, among others. Trillium Ravine has three trillium species, but Trillium Trail Nature Sanctuary, Jasper Woods Nature Sanctuary, Joan Rodman Memorial Plant Preserve and other sanctuaries protect a few species, as well.

Visitors have more opportunities to see the spectacular wildflower displays in MNA sanctuaries throughout the summer at the 2013 Wildflower Walkabout. The Wildflower Walkabout is a series of guided tours through our nature sanctuaries from May to September. Each sanctuary was picked for its unique wildflowers, and each trip is planned during the time when those wildflowers are best for viewing and photographing. For more information on these tours, visit the MNA website.

Sand dunes, storms, and lots of fish: This week in environmental news

By Annie Perry, MNA Intern

Every Friday, MNA highlights recent environmental news stories from the past week. Here’s what happened this week in environmental and nature news:

A public hearing was held Monday for a request from Bro G Land Company, who wants to build a 1,200-foot driveway on Lake Michigan dunes. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Michigan sand dunes development controversy rages over 1,200-foot driveway (Huffington Post): Last August, Gov. Snyder signed legislation that changed development standards for landowners on privately-owned sections of the state’s sand dunes. Since then, around 50 applications have been submitted that request permission to develop on the dunes. Monday was the first public hearing for one of these requests, a request from Bro G Land Company, who wants to build a 1,200-foot driveway to a private residence. This driveway would stretch across a critical dune habitat on Lake Michigan. The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality hopes to reach a decision regarding the driveway by May 13.

Fracking opponents can start gathering signatures for a 2014 ballot proposal (Detroit Free Press): Supporters of a ban on fracking in Michigan can begin collecting petition signatures after the Board of State Canvassers approved the petition language Tuesday morning. This proposal would ban using horizontal hydraulic fracturing (fracking) to access pools of natural gas and oil underground across the state. Oil and gas companies have used fracking in Michigan since the 1960s and say that the fracking is well-regulated and not harming the state’s environment. Gov. Snyder, who supports fracking, commissioned the University of Michigan to complete a study on the practice. A report on the study is supposed to be released later this year.

Storms contribute to debris in Michigan waterways (The Detroit News): A huge pile of tree limbs, brush, marsh vegetation and garbage is clogging part of the Saginaw River after the recent storms that brought flooding to Michigan. Officials are urging caution to recreational boaters and anglers, as this debris can be a water hazard for boaters when it moves into the rivers.

Once too polluted, Lansing’s Red Cedar River is once again open to anglers (Michigan Radio): For the first time since the 1960s, people will be encouraged to fish along a portion of the Red Cedar River at Michigan State University, after the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and various MSU dignitaries (including Sparty) dumped buckets of Steelhead trout into the river. Forty years ago, the Red Cedar River suffered water quality issue, primarily from non-source point runoff and agricultural drainage, but the river has been cleaned drastically since enactment of the Clean Water Act and supports a diverse fishery today. The DNR plans to continue stocking the Red Cedar River on MSU’s campus for the next five years.

Let the river run: Dam removal accelerates across Michigan (MLive): A growing number of communities across Michigan are removing obsolete dams, restoring fisheries and developing riverside parks and trails. Big Rapids built a 2.6-mile Riverwalk trail along the Muskegon River after the city removed remnants of the Big Rapids Dam in 2001, and other cities, such as Detroit and Lansing, are working to improve water quality in their long-abused rivers by developing riverfront parks and trails. Gov. Snyder’s 2013 budget included $2.5 million for dam removals or repairs, and the DNR recently announced $2.35 million in grants to support dam removals or repairs in six communities. Four of these grants will help fund dam removals in Traverse City, Lyons, Shiawassee and Vassar.