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.

Sturgeons, students, migrating birds and salmon: This week in environmental news

By Annie Perry, 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:

DNR has new regulations in place regarding northern pike and other fish species. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

DNR: New Fishing License Required April 1 (CBS Detroit): The 2013-2014 fishing license season started this past Monday, which means fishing licenses need to be renewed. Anglers can choose from a variety of licenses, including a 24-hour license, 72-hour license, restricted license, and all-species license. Prices have not changed since last year. In addition, new regulations are in place this year regarding muskellunge, northern pike, bow and spear fishing, netting, and others.

Outdoors: Teen’s nature bodes well for future (Detroit Free Press): Last year, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources put out a call to kids ages 14-18, seeking youth that were eager to get their peers involved on “rebooting the future” of Michigan’s natural resources. Together, they formed the Natural Resource Commission Youth Conservation Council, a group of 18 teenagers from all parts of the state and with different outdoor and recreation backgrounds that come together to meet with peers and natural resource mentors, brainstorm ideas, and participate in outdoor activities with the DNR staff. This article features one of the members, 16-year-old Wolfgang Lohrer.

Sturgeon studies and students (Great Lakes Echo): Researchers at Black Lake in the Lower Peninsula are studying threats to the lake’s sturgeon and using the findings to teach biology to students from kindergarten through high school. Threats to sturgeon include pollution, dams and invasive species. Researchers used the data found in their studies to develop a K-12 curriculum that focuses on the scientific method, egg survival, juvenile capture and spawning behavior, as well as giving students a feeling of attachment to the environment and a sense of responsibility for its protection.

A lakefront landing strip for migrating birds (Chicago Public Media): The Chicago Park District plans to restore native habitat for migratory songbirds along a 2.2 mile strip of land that lies in between railroad tracks and Lake Shore Drive. The area, which the Park District named the Burnham Wildlife Corridor, includes land east of Lake Shore Drive, where restoration has already begun. If the restoration is successful, this stretch of land, which will mostly be woodland dominated by oak species, will be a resting spot for more than five million migrating birds.

State DNR to release 100,000 salmon in Lake Huron (Michigan Radio): The Michigan DNR plans to release 100,000 Atlantic salmon into Lake Huron and two of the lake’s tributaries this spring. This will be the first time the DNR has successfully stocked the fish since the 1970s, although Lake Superior State University has been stocking 20,000 to 30,000 Atlantic salmon each year for about 20 years. Lake Huron’s native salmon have declined because invasive species have eaten their food source, but the DNR believes the Atlantic salmon will succeed because it is “more of a generalist in its feeding behavior.”

Species Spotlight: The Great Blue Heron

By Annie Perry, MNA Intern

When I’m at my parents’ house in metro Detroit, one of my favorite sightings are the great blue herons that wade in the neighborhood’s ponds. Great blue herons can adapt to almost any wetland habitat in its range and can be found in heavily developed areas as long as they have bodies of water with fish. These large, majestic birds are not on Michigan’s endangered species—in fact, the populations in the state are large and healthy—but MNA works to protect great blue herons and their rookeries, which are being displaced by shoreline development and timber cutting.

A great blue heron at Lake George, Michigan. Photo by Amalia Jonas. Courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

The great blue heron is the largest heron in North America and can be recognized by its long legs; long, slender neck; and thick, dagger-like bill. Great blue herons appear blue-gray from a distance, but the upper-side of the wings are two-toned in flight and are pale on the forewing and darker on the flight feathers.

MNA protects the great blue heron because of its colonial nesting behavior and declining habitat. Construction of vacation homes, boating, sport fishing, camping, or hunting within or near active heronries are all sources of disturbance or direct habitat loss. These activities have caused some herons to abandon their breeding colonies or have led to reduced reproductive success.

Great blue herons build their nests in tree branches high off the ground using sticks, twigs, leaves, and other materials. These nests are refurbished and reused every year, making it important for MNA to protect the rookery.

Protection provided by MNA sanctuaries

Black River Nature Sanctuary protects 102 acres of floodplain and mesic southern forest and was donated to MNA in 1992 specifically to protect the heron rookery. One reason Black River is a Class C sanctuary—meaning guests must be authorized by the MNA office or a steward before visiting—is for the herons’ benefit. During 1993, when the sanctuary was open to visitation, Black River received a high volume of traffic from the general public. That year, there were numerous reports of disturbance to the rookery, as well as vandalism, camping, and disturbances to neighbors living near the sanctuary. As a result, unauthorized visitors are not permitted in the sanctuary in order to keep disturbances of the rookery to a minimum.

MNA recently acquired the Great Bear Swamp Nature Sanctuary, which is located near the Black River Nature Sanctuary. While Great Bear Swamp is a few miles from the rookery and does not protect it directly, protecting more land in that area will continue to benefit the many plant and animal species that live there.

For information on other MNA sanctuaries, visit the MNA website.

Northern Goshawk spotted at Lefglen Nature Sanctuary

By Annie Perry, MNA Intern

Northern Goshawk

Photo by Norbert Kenntner Courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

On January 15, MNA Regional Stewardship Organizer Matt Schultz led a group of 18 people on a hike at Lefglen Nature Sanctuary in Jackson County. While on the hike, the group spotted a juvenile northern goshawk, a bird typically found in northern North America and Eurasia.

None of the hikers were able to get a picture, but Schultz said in an email that several experienced birdwatchers were convinced it was a northern goshawk. They identified the bird by its white eye stripe, accipiter shape, large size, and its long, banded tail.

Though northern goshawks live farther north, finding them in Michigan isn’t entirely unusual. Northern goshawks will fly to the Great Plains and Midwest in the winter if prey levels fall in their native forests. They are an irruptive species—a species that irregularly migrates to another area for reasons including availability of food, suitability of climate and amount of predatory activity. Unlike traditional migrations, irruptive migrations may occur one year, then not again for many years.

MNA has other hikes and winter activities planned this season to help you keep winter restlessness at bay. Be sure to check out one of our upcoming events in your area, and maybe you’ll get lucky and see another neat species like the northern goshawk!

Keep checking MNA’s events calendar for an updated list of our winter events!