Wildlife cooperatives boost conservation and habitat

Capital News Service

LANSING – According to research studies on their perception about land use, many farmers’ attitudes are still rooted in using their private land to grow crops, focusing on increasing productivity.

Fewer of them would think about taking conservation actions, the studies found.

However, what if these activities are not wildlife-friendly? What if these types of land management hurt wildlife habitat?

“There are some people who don’t have interest in wildlife. Some agriculture practices and different land use practices are not good for pheasants,” said AI Stewart, a Department of Natural Resources (DNR) upland game bird specialist.

But landowners have the right to manage their property as they choose, he said.

Anna Mitterling of Michigan United Conservation Clubs (MUCC) has worked for more than three years to broaden the perceptions of landowners and break land-use stereotypes.

Mitterling, the organization’s wildlife cooperative coordinator, promotes a comprehensive program to assist landowners in better land management and planning for future needs.  

The Michigan Wildlife Cooperative is a voluntary conservation effort supported by the DNR, the Quality Deer Management Association, Pheasants Forever and MUCC.

A wildlife cooperative gathers private landowners, hunters and wildlife enthusiasts to enhance their local wildlife and habitat. The participants share their wildlife experiences with each other, accumulate more knowledge of wildlife from activities,  improve relationships with neighbors and have a chance to use land management techniques on a bigger scale.

Currently, Michigan has 120 wildlife cooperatives, a number that has been increasing since 1991, according to the MUCC.

“The ones I work with are often larger over time, with 25 or so members, and 3,000 -12,000 acres of combined properties,” Mitterling said.

Deer cooperatives and pheasant cooperatives are two of the major types in Michigan.

Deer cooperatives focus on the quality of deer herds. Pheasant cooperatives work to create and enhance grassland habitats.

“In our deer cooperative, we have an annual buck pole, we do a youth deer pole on the weekend of the youth hunt and we work with the DNR to put a plane in the air to look for poachers,” said Harold Wolf, the president of the Southern Mecosta Whitetail Management Association.

Wolf said cooperatives are good for the people who join: He got to know his neighbors better, felt pride in improving the deer herd and shared happy experiences and memories with family and friends.

As for pheasant cooperatives, Lake Hudson Pheasant Cooperative leader David Ames said, “Most of us are hunters. We focus on creating grassland habitat pheasant can survive in.”

His cooperative is based in Lenawee County.

Despite such benefits, some landowners decide not to take part.

“The biggest challenge for us is finding private landowners that want to participate,” Ames said.

One reason for landowner concern is the size of their property. Many think their land is too small to support conservation activities, Ames said. “A small amount of land, like 20 acres, would be big enough that we can help them to do something on it,” he added.

Ames also stressed the significance and necessity of wildlife and land use education.

In terms of the land use stereotypes, Ames suggested more outreach and said that elementary education about wildlife conservation may lead to more changes in property owners’ attitudes and land use stereotypes.

Rick Lucas, a wildlife and forestry professional with the Mecosta/Osceola Lake Conservation District in Reed City, said, “The common denominator of every natural resource and conservation issue across the state is people.”

Sara Kross, an assistant professor in the Department of Environmental Studies at California State University, Sacramento, researched the impact of farmers’ perceptions on their conservation activities.

She found a positive relationship between their perceptions and conservation efforts. For instance, general farmers thought perching birds and bats significantly help control insect pests, while fruit farmers view them negatively.

Accordingly, fruit farmers are less likely to try to protect perching birds and bats, Kross’ study said.

Push on to improve conservation education

Capital News Service

LANSING — When NASA reported 2017 to be the second-hottest year on record, the announcement was confirmation of a continuing trend: All 18 of the hottest years in modern history have occurred in the past two decades.

Yet as the globe heats up, no coordinated effort to standardize education on the conservation of natural resources in Michigan’s public schools has appeared, according to state officials and educators.

Dan Eichinger, executive director of Michigan United Conservation Clubs, said he believes public schools are failing to properly educate students about conservation.

Eichinger said public education standards heavily emphasize the more rote aspects of science, while he prefers more of a focus on how humans can take better care of their environs.

“I think it’s far more important for us to prepare somebody in their compulsory education less on how many particles make up this, that or the other thing, and talk more about conservation biology and how humans have the potential to impact it,” Eichinger said.

A lack of education in these areas has led to misunderstandings, Eichinger said, using clear-cutting as an example.

Eichinger said people often have a negative reaction to the idea of chopping down large swaths of trees, when in fact, clear-cutting is an important part of a healthy regeneration process within forests.

“Being able to really talk about some of those nuances that happen when you’re talking about conservation — we miss a lot of that,” Eichinger said.

The implementation of environmental education is “hit-or-miss” across the state due to a lack of state oversight, said Kevin Frailey, the education services manager for the Department of Natural Resources (DNR). He also serves on the board of the Michigan Science Teachers Association.

This is unlikely to change immediately because standardized tests like the MEAP focus on other aspects of science, technology, engineering and math education and don’t leave much room for variation.

“What the state does do is they create the tests,” Frailey said. “If you’re going to have questions about environmental education on the test, then teachers are more likely to teach that to kids.

“But of course, that’s the question: How do you get environmental education types of questions on the tests?” he said.

The framework for Michigan’s current K-12 Science Standards, adopted in November 2015, do make mention of human impact on Earth’s systems. “Earth and Human Activity” is listed as one of the “core ideas” for earth and space sciences.

However, Gregg Dionne, supervisor of curriculum & instruction for the Department of Education, said local boards of education are the ones that approve curriculum, so the state does not have much say in how thoroughly this subject matter is explored.

School boards “have the authority over implementation — how much time is spent on it, how deep they go into the content, those kinds of things,” Dionne said. “They assess that locally.”

Frailey said this “fragmented” setup sometimes leaves the implementation of environmental education up to individual teachers.

Michigan residents “do think it’s taught in their schools,” Frailey said. “If it is, it’s pretty much the teacher’s choice.”

Frailey said the decision to leave that choice up to the districts reflects Michigan’s historical preference for hands-off governing by the state.

“Michigan is not a state that typically mandates much of anything at the state level — it’s more done at a local level,” Frailey said. “There’s never been a lead at the Department of Education to make environmental [education] or conservation a priority with Michigan students.”

The state’s refusal to mandate environmental education leaves it up to other organizations to push for change.

At the DNR, Frailey is responsible for coordinating educational programs, like Salmon in the Classroom, that bring students in contact with natural resources and environmental studies.

Frailey said he believes students nowadays still have more knowledge about natural resources than in the past. He attributes that in part to a growing awareness among educators of the importance of getting such information out to children.

“I would say kids in school know more about wildlife and the environment than they ever used to,” Frailey said. “I used to go into classrooms 30 years ago and ask kids about wildlife or habitats or whatever, and they would just look at you blankly.

“Nowadays, you go into schools and it seems like kids know so much more of that stuff,” he said.

Barbara Lester, curriculum director of Centreville Public Schools in St. Joseph County, said Centreville students are afforded many opportunities in and out of the classroom to learn about conservation.

Lester said field trips to the Kalamazoo Nature Center and an agricultural science class are among the many ways the district implements environmental education in the curriculum.

“We teach environmental science as part of our curriculum in almost every grade level,” Lester said. “It’s part of biology, it’s part of earth science, it’s part of the elementary curriculum. It’s infused into what we teach in science.”

Lester said she also has seen a definite improvement in students’ understanding of environmental issues in her time as an educator.

Because of that improvement, Frailey said he’s hesitant to connect climate change denial with a lack of standardized environmental education, saying climate change denial is often more of a political issue than an educational one.

“I think people know the science, but the politics sometimes don’t allow them to let the science sink through,” Frailey said.

A 2013 study from Stanford University found that 77 percent of Michiganders believe global warming is happening. The same study found 72 percent of state residents approve of increased consumption taxes on electricity and 23 percent favor increased consumption taxes on gasoline.

Worries plague Isle Royale as wolves almost disappear

Capital News Service

LANSING – Isle Royale’s problem with the balance in its animal population is at an all-time high.

According to Michigan Technological Institute, only one wolf survives and an expanding moose population numbers about 1,600.

The national park located on an island in Lake Superior faces an extreme blow to its biodiversity, but new possibilities for help are on the horizon.

The island is a unique ecosystem as the wolf and moose populations operate in a single predator-prey relationship.

According to researchers at the Isle Royale Wolf and Moose project, the wolf population reached an all-time high around 1980 with about 50 animals. Researchers assert it quickly declined with the spread of the canine parvovirus.

Since that time, the wolf population has struggled to gain strong numbers. Inbreeding resulting from the sharp population decline has only furthered the problem.

Now, the wolves face extinction on the island while moose face widespread starvation.

“With so many moose, they are eating themselves out of house and home,” said Isle Royale guidebook writer Jim DuFresne.

Without a predator, the moose population will continue to expand until they deplete their food source and die out, DuFresne said.

While the current proposal by the National Park Service is to bring wolves from Canada to the island, alternatives are being discussed.

“We should be using the wolves from the U.P., not Canada,” said Dan Eichinger, executive director of the Michigan United Conservation Clubs.

Eichinger suggested allowing hunting on the island to lower to moose population.

Keeping the movement of animals within state borders may seem logical to Eichinger, but according to DuFresne the ability of the wolves to adapt to the island’s environment is questionable.

“We need wolves that can kill a moose,” said DuFresne, “Wolves in the U.P. preying on deer is very different than wolves from Canada that know how to take down a 1,300-pound moose.”

Other experts like Ken Vrana, director of the Isle Royale Institute, say that the argument surrounding the location of the wolves to be transferred is far too political.

“The situation should be looked at through a scientific perspective. Scientists should figure out what genealogy would be best and go from there,” said Vrana.  

According to the U.S. Department of the Interior, 66 of the 75 areas managed by the National Park Service allow recreational hunting.

Eichinger and DuFresne argue that hunting moose could be a successful tactic, but the concept holds challenges.

From the Treaties of 1842 and 1854, the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community has hunting, fishing, and gathering rights in certain areas of the U.P., including Isle Royale. This would give them the final decision on the hunting of moose on the island, Vrana said.

Even if the tribe chooses to hunt in the area and possibly allow others to do the same, the logistics of moving an animal once it’s killed make the plan seem less feasible, DuFresne said. Outside of the main harbor, the island is pure wilderness with only small trails, and with vehicles banned, hunters would have to carry their kill out of the woods.

“They may be able to carry chainsaws with them and cut up the moose to make it easier to carry,” said DuFresne, who has seen moose hunters in Alaska use that method. But even with this tactic, moving an animal that weighs more than 1,000 pounds would be no easy feat, he said.

Whether the plan to move wolves to the island is carried through or hunting is allowed, with only one wolf on the island, time is running out.  

Vrana said, “Whatever happens, I think everyone agrees that something should be done, and fast.”.

Catch and release kills many fish

Capital News Service

LANSING — Catch and release was meant to help sustain fish populations. But a four-year study shows it may do the opposite.

Almost half of lake trout caught in Lake Huron and Lake Superior die after they’re released, according to the recent study published by the Department of Natural Resources Fisheries Research Station in Marquette. 

The trauma of getting caught and the difference in air and water temperatures stress the fish, said Shawn Sitar, the author of the study. “It reduces their survivability.”

By 40 percent to be exact.

The researchers trained anglers to tag trout and record every detail of the catch and release process. Any factor that could indicate a stressful or traumatic experience of the fish provided better information on which of the fish died.

“The study was rather demanding because they wanted 600 fish,” said Marquette resident Joe Buys, who helped catch the fish. “We recorded things like how the fish were hooked, the temperature of the water and the depth of where the fish were caught.”

To calculate trout mortality – death rates — two groups were collected, tagged and then released back into the lakes. One group was caught by commercial fishing nets that didn’t use traditional catch and release methods and one group was caught recreationally by anglers who did use catch and release. Over the span of four years, when tagged fish were re-caught, the anglers reported the catch to Sitar’s team.

The strongest indicator of trout mortality is the water and air temperature when the fish were caught. Because lake trout is a cold water fish, warmer temperatures are an intense stressor, Sitar said.

The study dispelled some previous assumptions.

Historically, both biologists and anglers assumed that when trout are caught, they die if their stomachs bloat from the change in pressure when they’re pulled quickly from deeper to shallower water.  However, Sitar found little connection between fish that showed bloating, or barotrauma, and those that died.

“What we found in our study, the number of bloated fish that were tagged and released by our anglers had the same return rate as those that weren’t,” he said. “That tells us the mortality rate being so high is related to the trauma and temperature difference, rather than depth.”

Barotrauma was found in 32 percent of the fish caught for the study in Lake Superior.

The only other study looking at catch and release mortality in the Great Lakes had concluded only 15 percent of fish died. But that study was conducted by attaching fish to shower curtain rings that were attached to buoys, Sitar said. While a good first attempt, it isn’t the most accurate method for measuring mortality. More research was needed.

Catch and release is intended as a conservation technique. After a fish is caught, a quick measurement is made to see if state regulations require it to be thrown back.

Another technique is to limit how many fish can be caught instead of the size of what’s kept.

States often wrestle with how to control recreational fishing by limiting the size of keepers or through fish quotas, Sitar said. Both the Minnesota and Wisconsin DNR enforce a quota on the number of fish.

Sitar’s study is a good compass for how to regulate fishing, experts say.

“When Sitar’s study came out, we realized we still need to account for how the fish are hooked when they’re caught,” said Brad Ray, a fishery biologist with the Wisconsin DNR. To account for the high mortality rate, the 25-inch minimum length was lowered to 15 inches, Ray said.

Most Great Lake states, like Wisconsin and Minnesota, enforce a 15-inch minimum for most fish caught, Sitar said. But because there are so few actually caught it’s not usually a problem.

There aren’t many solutions to solving catch and release mortality, Sitar said. Fishing during colder parts of the season resulted in less mortality. He also recommended reeling in fish at a slower speed.



Survey: dune supporters include stormwatchers, ecologists, campers, economists

Capital News Service

LANSING — It’s not just their beauty that people love about dunes. Some value Michigan’s sandy knolls for storm-watching.

“It was a really popular activity that we didn’t have on our radar,” said Brad Garmon, director of conservation at the Michigan Environmental Council. “Some parks, specifically in Southwest Michigan, had a pretty high percentage of people rank storm-watching as the primary purpose of their visit to the dunes.”

Those storm clouds and lightning bolts are among many reasons why Michigan’s residents value the state’s dunes, a new survey is telling researchers.

“About 93 percent of people that took the survey valued dunes for their scenic value,” Garmon said. “I think that’s not surprising if you think about Sleeping Bear and some of these high-profile dunes, but that’s still a really high number.”

As one of the first of its kind, the online “How You Dune” survey administered by Michigan State University  pinpointed where and how people spend time when they visit dunes. Popular uses included beach-going and camping.

More than 89 percent of the respondents valued protection of dunes, while 80 percent valued them as a unique ecosystem.

“The idea of generational importance that ‘the dunes I enjoy today I want my kids and grandkids to have the opportunity to have and see and experience these dunes too,’ was really significant,” Garmon said.

Found mostly on the state’s west coast, the 275,000 acres of Michigan dunes comprise the world’s largest freshwater dune system. They house an ecosystem of animals and vegetation distinct to the region.

Many of these organisms rely on how the dunes migrate, a nuisance to many homeowners.

“From a coastal homeowner’s perspective, you’re always trying to keep the dunes in place,” said Shaun Howard, a Nature Conservancy project manager. “You’ve got your home and you’re worried about erosion. But they are dynamic and they are supposed to move.

“Dunes are really important as a component of the ecosystem food-chain because they have these really specific plants which have really specific insects that feed on them which in turn feed birds and other wildlife,” Howard said.

Some species, like the federally endangered Pitcher’s thistle, indicate the health of the dunes.

The plant needs the dunes to scour its seeds so they can continue to reproduce, Howard said. “Without the sand movement, you don’t get that scouring effect, and in return you get reduced germination rates of that particular plant. So we use Pitcher’s thistle success and growth as an indicator for whether the dunes are healthy.”

Coupled with understanding how individuals use dunes, researchers also sought how to galvanize dune supporters.

“We wanted to catalyze a group of dune stakeholders,” said Robert Richardson, an ecological economist with Michigan State who helped develop the survey that 3,610 people answered. “So given that we don’t know who cares about dunes, people who took the survey were invited to give us their contact information so that we could follow up. So now we can build upon this dune stakeholder community.”

Survey respondents were fairly homogeneous, Richardson said. About 87 percent are white.

“We feel like that’s also an opportunity for the Department of Natural Resources to do some targeted outreach to reach more diverse communities who may not have visited dunes or who may not be aware of the uniqueness of dunes,” Richardson said.

To reach minorities, there needs to be a reframing of the discussion about promoting the environment, said Sandra Turner-Handy, the community engagement director for the Michigan Environmental Council.

It’s not that people of color don’t enjoy nature, because they do, she said. The priorities for many people of color in the environment are about survival.

“We are long-term lovers of nature. But when we have our hands in the dirt or we’re fishing or hunting, we’re supplying our food system,” she said. “Reframing how we can enjoy the environment is happening and it will take a while. But we have to invite more people of color into the conversation about the environment so we can begin to understand how it plays a natural role in our everyday lives.”

It’s not easy to calculate the economic value of dunes. Park officials say Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore brought in 1.68 million people in 2016 who spent $183 million in nearby communities. Silver Lake Sand Dunes officials say that state park generates about $2 million a year from the 1 million people who visit. Arcadia dunes near Traverse City collects close to $1.45 million a year in direct economic impact, according to the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy.

Howard said, “They offer Michigan a unique opportunity to develop an ecotourism economy. We know people traveling from all over the country and all around the world come to see these dunes.”

As dynamic as they are, dunes are also sensitive to outside influences. When people pick them as a tourist spot, it can harm them.

“In a large dune area, there are places where people run wild,” said David Foote, the director of stewardship for the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy. “It denudes the face of the dune, moving vegetation from an entire system.”

As a solution, the conservancy uses a tactic called controlled trampling. That makes it more inconvenient for individuals to walk on dunes by making the trails between them and parking lots longer. Fewer people walking on the dunes loosens up the sand, without destabilizing the mound.

“If you have just a trickle of people, it can free up sand that will be blown up the dune on the backside,” Foote said. “That way rare plants like Pitcher’s thistle can thrive. It’s sustainable in the long run and a way we handle public use on some of the larger properties.”

Michigan protects more than a dozen shipwreck areas

Capital News Service

LANSING — More than a dozen underwater preserves along Michigan’s Great Lakes coastlines have been established to protect hundreds of shipwrecks.

The Michigan Underwater Preserves Council lists the following state-designated sites:

— Alger Underwater Preserve, which stretches from just west of Munising to Au Sable Point and includes Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. The council says the preserve is the final resting place for at least eight shipwrecks.

— De Tour Passage Underwater Preserve, a narrow strait between the eastern end of the U.P. and Drummond Island, home to more than a dozen wrecks, the council says.

— Grand Traverse Bay Underwater Preserve, where at least eight wrecks and even a sunken Ford Pinto can be found, including one wreck that lies in just 6 feet of water, according to the council.

— Keweenaw Underwater Preserve, which wraps around the U.P.’s Keweenaw Peninsula on the southern shore of Lake Superior, holds about a dozen wrecks and artifacts dating to the 1800s, the council says.

— Manitou Passage Underwater Preserve, which the council calls “one of the richest areas in Michigan for shipwreck diving.” The preserve — home to 11 wrecks — is around the North and South Manitou Iislands in Lake Michigan and next to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.

— Marquette Underwater Preserve, location of more than a dozen wrecks, is split into two parts. The Marquette section borders 24 miles of U.P. coast, extending into Lake Superior. The second part is around the Huron Islands, rocky outcroppings rising from Lake Superior in Marquette County, the council says.

— Sanilac Shores Underwater Preserve, which runs along Lake Huron from near Lexington in the south to just north of Forestville in Sanilac County. At least 16 shipwrecks lie within this preserve.

— Southwest Michigan Underwater Preserve, on the shores of Lake Michigan, runs southward from the Holland area to near the Indiana border, the council says. About a dozen wrecks are submerged within the preserve.

— Straits of Mackinac Shipwreck Preserve is in the turbulent waters around Mackinaw City and St. Ignace. “The straits has a well-deserved reputation as a dangerous area to navigate,” the council says. “Over the years large numbers of ships have foundered in the straits. Many have yet to be discovered.”

— Thumb Area Bottomland Preserve, running from the Harbor Beach area to Port Austin, is home to at least 22 major wrecks, according to the council.

— Thunder Bay Underwater Preserve also is home to the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary, the first such federal sanctuary in the Great Lakes. Thunder Bay harbors “at least 99 known shipwrecks and possibly another 100,” according to Stephanie Gandulla, volunteer coordinator for the federal sanctuary.

— West Michigan Underwater Preserve, the state’s newest submerged preserve, is the final resting place for at least 10 sunken ships, the council says. The Lake Michigan preserve extends from just north of Big Sable Point near Ludington to just south of Grand Haven.

— Whitefish Point Underwater Preserve, west of Sault Ste. Marie, covers the Lake Superior coast west of Whitefish Point and most of Whitefish Bay. The preserve is the graveyard for “a long list of historical shipwreck sites,” the council says.

Shipwrecks also lie in protected waters of the Isle Royale National Park Preserve, which  the National Park Service manages. The federal underwater preserve surrounds Isle Royale National Park, a 45-mile-long island in Lake Superior. The frigid waters around the  island hold at least 10 shipwrecks, the council says.

Perfect storm shrinks volunteer corps that protects Michigan shipwrecks

Capital News Service

LANSING — Silently resting beneath the surface of the Great Lakes, off the shores of many Michigan communities, are hundreds of shipwrecks, protected by the state and a dwindling crew of volunteers.

Michigan has designated 13 underwater preserves, from St. Joseph to the Straits of Mackinac, and from the Thumb to Copper Harbor in the Upper Peninsula. The state also has two federal underwater preserves.

The state preserves, which protect sunken ships and natural features, receive no state money.

So protecting these sunken sanctuaries is left largely to volunteers with the nonprofit Michigan Underwater Preserves Council, which is based in St. Ignace and draws many of  its members from communities near the protected underwater areas.

“Our volunteer corps is not expanding. It’s declining and it’s going to continue to decline,” said Ron Bloomfield, past president of the council. He also spent eight years on the state’s Underwater Salvage and Preserve Committee, an advisory panel.

Volunteers place marker buoys at the sites of shipwrecks, research the sunken ships, promote the preserves and check on the vessels to “make sure people aren’t stealing stuff off the wrecks,” said Bloomfield, who lives in Kawkawlin Township.

The volunteers even raise the money to buy the marker buoys, he said.

“At one time there were approximately 50 to 60 volunteers spread throughout the preserve system,” he said. “I would venture a guess we now have less than 20 active volunteers mostly spread between three preserves, with a few in some of the other area.”

There are a variety of reasons for the shrinking pool of volunteers, Bloomfield said.

Many people move away or get out of diving, he said, and “fewer new divers seem interested in the Great Lakes..

“In addition, our projects are considered to be long-term commitments and the current trend in volunteering is to shy away from long-term commitments and focus on short-term experiences and then move on to the next.

“Couple that with increasing demands on people’s time, and it is one of those cliche ‘perfect storms.’”

Within the preserves are at least 500 shipwrecks, Bloomfield said, and “they’re finding new ones” all the time.

“We have some of the best preserved wooden shipwrecks in the world,” he said.

Michigan’s 13 underwater preserves include more than 7,000 square miles of Great Lakes bottomland, said Dan Friedhoff, the secretary of the Michigan Underwater Preserves Council.

The preserves range from nearly 14 square miles at the Detour Passage Underwater Preserve in the eastern U.P. to 4,300 square miles in Thunder Bay, off the coast of Alpena, said Friedhoff, who lives in St. Ignace.

Thunder Bay is a national marine sanctuary as well as a Michigan underwater preserve, and is jointly managed by the federal and state governments.

The waters around Isle Royale National Park in Lake Superior also are under federal protection.

Friedhoff says the council’s “active volunteer base is shrinking, to an alarming point.”

“We have the same issues as most nonprofit organizations. Lots of people are in favor of what you do, but few have time or inclination to get involved,” he said.

After becoming a certified diver in 2001, Friedhoff learned that all Great Lakes wrecks are not the same.

“I quickly became aware of the vast difference between shipwrecks that were discovered and largely stripped before the preservation ethic caught hold, and those that were discovered later, after divers recognized the value in keeping these sites relatively intact,” he said.

And while there has been a significant reduction in the stripping of wrecks, he said, “there is still a lack of understanding that certain traditional diving activities are harmful to old wooden vessels.”

Volunteers have made strides in educating divers about not hooking directly onto wrecks and instead using moorings placed on wreck sites, he said.

“The preserve volunteers also help raise awareness of the damage done by simple acts, like forcing a way through a tight passage or attempting to move artifacts to get a better photo,” he said.

The Michigan Underwater Preserves Council and the individual preserves “work to spread the word that even the smallest artifact needs to be preserved,” he said.

“I think most divers are receptive to the preserve ethic promoted by the preserve system, and increasing peer pressure has gradually reduced the impact of looters.”

Thanks to promotion and protection efforts by the council, the state and local residents, Friedhoff said, “divers come to the Great Lakes from across the country and around the world to see the well-preserved freshwater shipwrecks.”

Volunteers also are important to the success of the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary, said Stephanie Gandulla, who coordinates volunteer activities at the sanctuary.

Volunteers staff the visitors center, place mooring buoys and help with events and educational activities, including underwater robotic competitions, Gandulla said.

She has the names of about 300 volunteers in her database and has been fortunate to not see a drop off in volunteering, she said. That may be due to the fact that many volunteer tasks at the Thunder Bay facility are less demanding than anchoring buoys, she said.

The Thunder Bay sanctuary and preserve is jointly managed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the state.

Sandra Clark, director of the state’s Michigan History Center in Lansing, heads  the state’s half of the management team at Thunder Bay.

That team includes a state underwater archeologist, whose responsibilities include preserving the rich maritime history at Thunder Bay, she said.

A shipwreck “is a frozen-in-moment kind of history,” Clark said. “That moment doesn’t get altered.”

Since the creation of the state  preserve at the Straits of Mackinac, area tourism has been up, said Janet Peterson, executive director of the St. Ignace Chamber of Commerce.

“Yes, it’s absolutely impacted our community,” Peterson said. “It’s just not as visible. They don’t walk around in their gear.”

But if you look, she said, there are plenty of signs in the summer of divers in the St. Ignace area. She said she’s learned to spot dive decals on vehicles, tourists wearing dive T-shirts and dive gear left to dry outside motel rooms.

Black tern numbers plummet, invasives largely to blame

Capital News Service

LANSING — The once-abundant black tern is far less abundant in Great Lakes wetlands, a victim of habitat loss and invasive plant species. And there’s a high risk that more colonies will be abandoned, according to a new study.

Since 1991, the number of active black tern colonies has plummeted nearly 90 percent, the study found. Major factors included changes in vegetation from invasive plants at breeding sites and land development near colonies.

“Decline of black terns in the Great Lakes region has been severe, and preventing abandonment of remaining colonies is an important stop-gap measure for maintaining the bird’s presence until the causes of its decline are better understood,” study authors Katherine Wyman and Francesca Cuthbert of the University of Minnesota wrote.

“Many scientists view continuing wetland habitat loss and degradation as a major barrier to black tern conservation in North America,” they said in a new article published in the journal Wetlands Ecology and Management. And fewer breeding sites increases the birds’ vulnerability to natural disasters.

Terns aren’t the only beneficiaries of coastal wetlands preservation and restoration.

Cuthbert said fish nurseries benefit, as do other birds such as the least bittern — a threatened species in Michigan — Virginia rail, pied-billed grebe and marsh wren. All those species need water they can walk, swim or forage in.

In Michigan, black terns are “not doing well,” and the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has listed them as a species of “special concern,” said Rachelle Roake, the Michigan Audubon Society’s conservation science coordinator.

Bird survey data show generally a 3-to-8 percent annual decline since the 1960s, Roake said. She cautions that survey data is more difficult to collect for waterbirds like the terns.

Terns, which feed on fish and insects, generally nest in deep-water wetlands colonies with two to 50 breeding pairs. Their nests are built on floating layers of plants that are hard for scientists and predators to reach.

“They have lost a lot of habitat. They’re also very specific in the type of wetlands habitat they like, a mixed mosaic of open water and emergent vegetation, which can be somewhat hard to find nowadays,” Roake said.

Consider the Upper Peninsula, where 50 to 100 pairs of black terns used to nest each summer at Ogontz Bay near Escanaba. In 2016, that number dropped to 15 nests — and to none in summer 2017, said Caleb Putnam, the Michigan bird conservation coordinator for the DNR and Audubon Great Lakes.

Fluctuating water levels may be responsible for determining the extent of aquatic vegetation such as the marsh bulrushes that form nesting platforms for terns, Putnam said.

Terns are flexible and find alternative nesting spots “but we don’t know where the birds went,” even after an airplane survey of Big Bay de Noc and Little Bay de Noc, he said.

As for villains, the new study identified invasive wetland plants that grow at high density, such as phragmites and reed canary grass. They grow so thickly that they leave no natural gaps to provide protected nesting sites and access to open water where terns can forage for food.

Cuthbert said coastal wetlands are important for biodiversity. “When they fill in, that habitat is lost. Throughout the Great Lakes, a lot of coastal wetlands are being lost to invasive species.”

In addition, the study found that the proportion of developed land within 550 yards of colony sites related to high rates of colony abandonment, while those surrounded by agricultural land are more likely to survive.

Researchers looked at data about 78 black tern colonies on the U.S. Great Lakes, Lake St. Clair and their connecting waterways. They included sites near Sault Ste. Marie, Manistee, Cedarville, Whitefish Point, Pointe Mouillee Marsh and Sebewaing.

“Colonies on Lake Michigan and Lake St. Clair were more likely to be abandoned than colonies on Lake Huron, including St. Marys River, or Lake Ontario,” according to the study.

For example, the study said the St. Clair River Flats, a delta that’s home to an estimated 145 to 400 pairs of terns, faces intense pressure from development, and future development may increase the risk of colony abandonment. The delta, the largest in the Great Lakes system, is at the mouth of the St. Clair River in Lake St. Clair and sprawls across the Michigan-Ontario border.

Putnam said terns do well there because of extensive floating mats formed by the prior year’s dead bulrush stems.

Despite the terns’ troubling population decline, Wyman and Cuthbert reject suggestions that it’s hopeless to spend money to maintain active colonies.

To the contrary, they say the probability of abandonment can be reduced if conservationists and land managers focus on restoring wetlands by managing vegetation and eradicating invasive plants. Their study also called for minimizing development activities near the colonies.

As for the future of already-abandoned colonies, Audubon’s Putnam said, “My guess is, if you can promote enough openings and promote formation of mats, there’s a chance you can recruit them to come back.”

A monitoring project planned for next summer will experiment with clearing three areas in a DNR-owned cattail marsh in Saginaw Bay’s Wigwam Bay State Wildlife Area, he said.

Federal ballast water rules would replace state’s, if bill passes

Capital News Service

LANSING — MIchigan’s ballast water regulations are deterring oceangoing vessels from entering Michigan ports to pick up exports.

Rep. Dan Lauwers, R-Brockway Township, has introduced a bill that he says will bring those ships back to the state. The bill has passed the House and is headed for the Senate.

“Michigan’s ballast water regulations are the most stringent,” he said. “The regulations drove the state’s export business to neighboring states.”

His bill would get rid of the current ballast water discharge requirements for oceangoing vessels and adopt the federal regulations.

Ballast water is water in a ship that is taken in and let out, depending on the weight of the ship’s cargo, increasing the ship’s stability.

Ballast water has been blamed for the introduction of invasive species into the Great Lakes. Some environmentalists worry that easing the standards will bring more invasive species.

The regulations have deterred oceangoing vessels from entering Michigan ports to pick up exports like grain, said Jim Weakley, the president of the Lake Carriers’ Association.

Instead, these vessels pick up Michigan grain in cities like Toledo and Windsor, he said.

As a result, grain is transported by truck or train out of the state and loaded on the ships in other ports.

“They basically stopped calling on Michigan,” Weakley said. “The grain is trucked to these other ports and loaded on to those same ships that would have gone to Michigan ports if not for Michigan laws.”

This impacts revenue for Michigan farmers, he said. Farmers pay more to send their grain to ports out of state, but they cannot charge more for it because the buyer would then simply buy it from someone else.

“When that happens, the additional cost of trucking the grain out of Michigan simply cuts into the profit the farmer receives,” he said. “The farmer has to pay for double handling.”

Moving Michigan’s exports out of the state by truck or rail also creates more air pollution, Weakley said. Because a ship can carry more cargo than a truck or train, more trucks and trains are needed to transport the cargo to another port. One ship can carry the cargo of multiple trucks or trains while consuming less fuel and emitting less exhaust.

Michigan’s regulations were created in 2005 because the Legislature felt the federal standards did not do enough to protect the Great Lakes. Oceangoing vessels are prohibited from discharging ballast water in Michigan waters without a permit from the Department of Environmental Quality. The permit allows four types of ballast water treatment, and every oceangoing vessel has to use one of the four approved treatments.

Since then, the U.S. Coast Guard has updated its standards for ballast water. Oceangoing vessels have several options for ballast water management. The regulations set a performance standard for discharged water and allow for more treatment options than those allowed by Michigan law, Weakley said.

Changing to those standards would put the states and Canadian provinces in the Great Lakes region on a level playing field, Lauwers said.

“This bill simply says Michigan is going to use the Coast Guard federal standards as the requirement for seeking a permit to be able to discharge ballast water in the state,” he said.

Some environmental groups  are concerned that changing the state’s standards will open the door for invasive species.

“We think it’s really sending the wrong message,” said James Clift, the policy director for the Michigan Environmental Council. “We think that the Michigan standards are where everyone should be.”

This bill would give the power to protect the Great Lakes to the federal government at a time when the federal protections for natural resources are being cut back, Clift said.

If Michigan’s regulations were to fall in line with federal regulations, Weakley said he believes oceangoing vessels would return to Michigan ports.

“It’s always a risk when business goes away to try and get it to come back,” he said. “You have to give them an incentive to come back. I do think they’ll come back; whether it’ll be the same volume, I don’t know.”

Lauwers said his bill is meant to bring the export business back to Michigan.

“Everyone else has continued shipping all along,” he said. “By making it clear in the legislation that we are adopting the federal standards, we’re telling the world Michigan ports are open for export.”

New ways with wood open up building opportunities

Capital News Service

LANSING — Steel and concrete would be the classic choices for building a large new laboratory planned at Michigan State University.

But experts in the university’s forestry department are asking, “Why not wood?”

They’re not the only ones with that question as builders nationwide push to build high rises, college laboratories and other large buildings with a construction material typically seen in houses. It’s a trend that could bring new markets for Michigan trees, fight climate change and produce new jobs, experts say.

“We have a tremendous amount of resources here,” said Jon Fosgitt, a member of the Forest Stewards Guild in Michigan. “The challenge is understanding the construction style, but also creating the infrastructure here in the state. We’ve got the resources here and that’s a Michigan-made story.”

Building with wood isn’t new. But a hot new construction technique called cross-laminated timber—CLT, for short—makes it possible to build large buildings out of wood. It’s constructed by bonding several layers of wood panels in alternating directions. The result is a material strong enough to build skyscrapers.

It’s fire resistant as well, said David Neumann, the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) forest marketing specialist. “It has the same strength as concrete, when designed properly.”

Michigan has the trees. But there’s more to it than that to put them to work.

“Here’s the challenge with cross-laminated timber- there’s only two plants in the U.S. that construct it and they are both on the western side of the country,” Fosgitt said. It doesn’t make sense to construct the materials, then ship them across the country when we have all of those resources right here, he said.

One solution is to build a plant here, but even as interest in using cross laminated timber construction grows, it’ll take time for the industry to grow with it.

“I think it’s been taken up quite quickly, considering that there wasn’t even manufacturing in the US recently,” said Jennifer Cover, the president of WoodWorks. “We’re actually seeing it take off at an exponential rate. It’s quite incredible.”

WoodWorks is a nonprofit organization funded by the wood industry and  offers free education and design assistance related to non-residential and multi-family wood buildings.

Even so, the only large construction project considering the use of cross-laminated timber in the state is on Michigan State’s campus.

While the technique is recognized by the 2015 International Building Code, a model that addresses safety and health concerns of buildings, it’s still not the industry standard.

Fosgitt does anticipates a stronger emphasis on training people to build with wood, especially in Michigan.

In fact, one of the strongest drivers for more wood buildings is an environmental one. Wood products store atmospheric carbon, a greenhouse gas that warms the planet. Concrete and steel do not. According to the Journal of Sustainable Forestry, substituting wood could prevent 14 to 31 percent of carbon dioxide emissions from entering the atmosphere.

“Obviously the environmental benefits are good because climate change is real,” Fosgitt said. “This is part of a natural solution to climate change.”

Fears of a fire hazard may make wood a less popular choice. But cross-laminated timber doesn’t burn like normal wood because it’s so dense. It also has a faster installation process than concrete or steel, Cover said.

It’s particularly popular on the West Coast due to its flexibility and ability to withstand earthquakes, Fosgitt said. The first all-wood high rise was approved in Portland, Oregon, last June.

While Michigan has no structures built from cross-laminated timber, it does have the Superior Dome at Northern Michigan University in Marquette, the largest wooden dome in the world. Construction started in 1989 and used large laminated beams, said the university’s associate athletic director, Carl Bammert. It opened in 1991.

The DNR has teamed up with WoodWorks to help train more Michigan builders and architects.

The organization also offers assistance on other wood-building techniques that have been around for longer, like timber that’s put together with nails and glue.

It hosted training sessions for architects and engineers in Grand Rapids and Ann Arbor in September. The next step is to get more cros- laminated timber for Michigan builders to work with.

“In the long run, what we’d like to get is a facility to make some of these products out of Michigan wood,” said Richard Bowman, the director of government relations at the Nature Conservancy in Michigan.

Fosquitt said that iIf the mass timber industry were to make its way to Michigan, it would put more pressure on the forest resource. But, because Michigan harvests only a fraction of its annual growth, the industry can be managed sustainably.

“And when a building is made from natural products, it smells great too.”

Meanwhile, the newest wall covered by ivy at MSU may not necessarily be brick or concrete.

“MSU has been considering using CLT and other engineered wood products for the new building that is planned,” Richard Kobe, the chair of the university’s forestry department, wrote in an email.