Farmers uninterested in renting land for bioenergy crops

By JACK NISSEN

Capital News Service

LANSING — When Scott Swinton, an agriculture, food and resource economics professor at Michigan State University, asked landowners if they’d be interested in renting their land for bioenergy crops, the initial response was unexpected.

“The first thing we found was that a number of people that we sent questionnaires to were hoping MSU was secretly trying to find people they could rent land from to grow bioenergy crops,” Swinton said.

“I got scores of phone calls from people telling me they would love to rent their land to MSU if we were interested.”

But that wasn’t what Swinton was looking for. Instead, he was trying to study the willingness of farmers to rent land that isn’t used for crops. Continue reading

Stay away from algae decay

By LUCY SCHROEDER

Capital News Service

LANSING — As if you needed another reason not to play with stinky piles of algae: Decaying algae can promote the growth of bacteria that could make people and animals sick, according to recent research.

Scientists tracked the changes in bacterial communities while Cladophora algae decays. Bacteria harmful to humans and wildlife were among the many microbes they found, according to their study published in the journal Science of the Total Environment.

It is possible when people come in contact with the algae or water around it, they may be exposed to harmful bacteria, said Murulee Byappanahalli, a microbiologist with the U.S. Geological Survey’s Great Lakes Science Center and one of the authors of the study.

No solid cause-and-effect evidence links human illness to Cladophora, as those types of studies are difficult to conduct, Byappanahalli said. Continue reading

Seed-stealing bugs threaten prairie restoration

By LIAM TIERNAN

Capital News Service

LANSING — Bugs hinder prairie restorations more than previously thought, according to research conducted at Michigan State University.

The study found that arthropods — which include insects, spiders and crustaceans — account for the majority of seeds removed from prairie restoration sites.

The study could catch a lot of attention in the prairie restoration field, said Mary Linabury, an MSU plant biology researcher who authored a study to be published in the Journal of Plant Ecology.

“In the past, I don’t believe that managers believed that arthropods had much of an impact on seed consumption,” said Linabury, who conducted the research with Lars Brudvig and Nash Turley of MSU. “This study says otherwise.” Continue reading

‘Saving Arcadia’ tells conservation success story

By IAN WENDROW

Capital News Service

LANSING — For Michiganders, going “Up North” is a common answer to questions about upcoming vacation plans – and for good reason.

That region holds Michigan’s dunes—landforms integral to the state’s history and tourism. They also hold stories of grassroots advocates and volunteers who successfully preserve these pristine landscapes.

Heather Shumaker, the author of “Saving Arcadia: A Story of Conservation and Community in the Great Lakes” (Wayne State University Press, $22.99), explores the near 40-year battle between Arcadia Dune conservationists and CMS Energy, the holding company of Consumers Energy, a natural gas and electric public utility.

Located along Lake Michigan’s coastline and almost directly across from Wisconsin’s Green Bay, the Arcadia Dunes’ conservation story begins in 1969. Elaine Putney, an orchard farmer, received a knock on her door from a sharply dressed man. The man, Gerald Derks, was offering to buy land from Benzie County residents on behalf of Viking Land Co., which — as it would later turn out — represented Consumers Power Co. Continue reading

It’s time to prioritize Michigan roads, transportation chair says

By LAURA BOHANNON

Capital News Service

LANSING — In light of a recent study detailing Michigan’s road needs, some legislators say they’re hoping to see roads become a bigger priority for the state.

House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chair Triston Cole, R-Mancelona, said transportation is his main focus, and roads are a major issue.

“The two things that my constituents bring up the most are insurance and roads,” Cole said.

A recent study by TRIP, a Washington, D.C.-based transportation research group, concluded that Michigan’s roads require more than the increased funding they’re getting, or else they may deteriorate further. Continue reading

Prehistoric hunting grounds found deep in Lake Huron

 

By ERIC FREEDMAN

Capital News Service

LANSING — Deep below the chill waters of Lake Huron, scientists have found long-submerged physical evidence that prehistoric peoples systematically and strategically hunted caribou thousands of years ago.

Searching 50 miles offshore from Alpena, researchers discovered “drive lanes” — in effect, runways of death that channeled unwitting caribou into the clutches of hidden hunters — and stone hunting blinds where hunters awaited their prey.

“Caribou have a thing for linear features. They like following lines,” said scientific researcher Lisa Sonnenburg of the environmental consulting firm Stantec Consulting Inc. in Hamilton, Ontario. “Line stones up in a row and caribou will follow them. It’s something about how their brains work.”

Today, scientists and shoreline property owners pay close attention to annual fluctuations of Great Lakes water levels, but water levels between 8,350 and 9,000 years ago were unusually low, according to a newly published study by Sonnenburg and John O’Shea, the curator of Great Lakes archaeology at the University of Michigan’s Museum of Anthropological Archaeology. Continue reading

Computer model bolsters sustainability, production for dairy farms

By IAN WENDROW

Capital News Service

LANSING — Researchers at Michigan State University are creating a computer model to help make pasture dairy farming more sustainable.

The project draws upon several research papers released in the past three months that discuss the environmental impact of livestock farms and how climate change affects them.

They also address the challenges of moving cows from barns to pastures.

Mecosta, Sanilac and Hillsdale counties have more than 100 dairy farms each, according to the United Dairy Industry of Michigan. Allegan and Huron counties have between 76 and 100, while Gladwin, Missaukee, Newaygo, Montcalm, Ionia, Clinton and Isabella counties have between 51 and 75 each.

Pasture-based livestock graze year round or seasonally. That’s different than in confined systems where the cows are housed and fed indoors for the majority of the year, said Melissa Rojas-Downing, an MSU doctoral student and a co-author of the research papers. Continue reading

DNR program helps urban youths better their future

By LAURA BOHANNON

Capital News Service

LANSING — Michigan has plenty of scenic publically owned land, and the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is using its summer youth program to expose urban youth to parks and other recreational outdoor activities.

The DNR hopes the program will give kids from urban areas who aren’t typically exposed to outdoor recreation such as hiking, camping and fishing the chance to experience  those options, develop new hobbies and explore career opportunities, Director Keith Creagh said.

He also said the DNR is focused on bringing some aspects of parks to urban areas to help diversify their user base. Continue reading

Contest to stop invasive carp gets many bites

By LAINA STEBBINS

Capital News Service

LANSING — The clock is ticking.

What happens when state and federal agencies lack the technology to prevent a potential ecological disaster? What happens when the well-being of Michigan’s ecosystems and economy is on the line?

If it’s up to the governor, Legislature and Department of Natural Resources (DNR), you hand the problem over to the international community. You make it a contest.

The state has set aside $1 million for a “carp challenge,” a contest to crowdsource an innovative solution to save the Great Lakes from a looming invasive carp problem. Half of that $1 million will be designated as prize money.

Since the contest was announced in Gov. Rick Snyder’s State of the State address in January, some 3,000 people from around the world have expressed interest in participating, said DNR Director Keith Creagh. Continue reading

State works to help localities with significant public lands

By CHAO YAN

Capital News Service

LANSING — Michigan ranks seventh in the nation in its percentage of land owned by the public, and state officials are working to make sure that property does not burden local governments.

State- and federal-owned land offers opportunities for tourism, recreation and resource extraction such as mining. But in some counties, particularly in the North, the land also limits local tax revenue and development potential.

“In a county that is 50 percent state-owned and we manage it, they have a hard time standing up fire, police and schools because they don’t get full tax off that, though they get great recreational outdoor activity,” Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Director Keith Creagh said. “For them it’s very difficult to drive some long-term economic sustainability or community sustainability.” Continue reading