Proposed bill would prevent creation of rules more strict than federal regulations

By KALEY FECH
Capital News Service

LANSING – Some Republican  lawmakers want to prevent state departments from creating rules that are tougher than federal regulations.

They’re backing a bill that would allow only the Legislature to do that unless there are exceptional circumstances. The bill, introduced by Rep. Triston Cole, R-Mancelona, would encompass rules that would regulate sectors as diverse as business, the environment and manufacturing.

“This is a good bill with a good purpose,” said Jason Geer, the director of energy and environmental policy for the Michigan Chamber of Commerce. “It will help ensure Michigan is not overregulated.”

It’s the third time in six years that the legislation has been pushed. And opponents fear this time there may be enough political will to pass ith.

The Michigan Environmental Council questioned why lawmakers would want to take away the governor’s power and put it in the hands of the federal government.

“Why should we demote the governor and his ability to protect Michigan?” said James Clift, the policy director for the council.

Clift said the bill would give the decision-making power to the Trump administration. He said this would directly impact quality of life in Michigan, especially  considering the federal government’s lowering of its own regulations.

Supporters of the bill say that’s good because it will require state departments to show  there really is a need for a rule that is more strict than federal regulations.

Geer said the bill would prevent state departments from doing whatever they want.

”It’s not an outright ban,” he said. “Anytime they feel the need to exceed federal standards, it just requires them to explain it and demonstrate a need for it.”

But critics fear the bill will force the state to be reactive instead of proactive.

“The level of convincing that will be needed to exceed the federal standards is a very high bar,” said Charlotte Jameson, director of government affairs at the Michigan League of Conservation Voters. “That means there will only be rules in times of crisis.”

Geer said many of the rules in Michigan that exceed federal standards relate to environmental laws, and the bill shines a light on that.

He said it would force state departments to prove why they are necessary. That would help businesses because they wouldn’t have to meet standards significantly higher than the federal level, he said.

The Michigan League of Conservation Voters says the standards set by the federal government are a minimum requirement all states must be at or above.

“We feel the federal standards are a floor, not a ceiling,” Jameson said. “The rules don’t account for unique states.”

The Michigan Environmental Council agrees, Clift said.

Officials at both environmental groups say their biggest concerns relate to the Great Lakes.

“Michigan is the Great Lakes State,” Clift said. “This would undermine the ‘Pure Michigan’ campaign because we wouldn’t be able to create stricter rules to protect the lakes.”

Stricter rules are needed to protect the lakes, Jameson said.

“The Great Lakes need forward-thinking protection,” she said. “We need flexibility to go beyond federal standards.”

This is not the first time a similar bill has been proposed. Gov. Rick Snyder vetoed one in 2011. And in 2016 one cleared the House but never made it out of the Senate.

Sen. Jim Stamas, R-Midland, said he thinks the bill will pass in the Senate this year. He sits on the Oversight Committee that approved he bill, and he supports it.

“It does present some challenges, but the bill has great intentions,” Stamas said. “This is a positive discussion to have.”

One challenge could be protection of wetlands, Stamas said. Michigan is one of only two states that administers the federal wetland program. There is a lot of support for keeping wetlands under state control, he said.

Clift said he is concerned the governor may sign the bill this time because Snyder has not made a statement in opposition to it.

The governor isn’t saying. He’ll evaluate the final version if and when it reaches his desk, said Tanya Baker, the deputry press secretary in the executive office of the governor.

Clean Water Action members and Plainfield Township residents gathered at the Capitol on Oct. 10 to oppose the bill and highlight contaminated drinking water in that Kent County community.

That contamination was caused by Wolverine Worldwide, a footwear manufacturer.

Sean McBrearty, the campaign organizer of Clean Water Action, said the bill threatens public health because the Department of Environmental Quality would be unable to more strictly regulate contamination in drinking water.

Sen. Peter MacGregor, R-Rockford and who represents Plainfield Township, issued a statement saying the bill was not created in response to water contamination there.

“This bill was not introduced or approved by the Senate Committee on Oversight in response to the current situation, nor can it be retroactively applied to the ongoing issue in Plainfield Township,”  MacGregor said.

The bill passed 57-50 in the House in May. It was reported from the Senate Oversight Committee on Oct. 5. It’s unclear when the Senate will take a vote on the bill.

MacGregor has asked the Senate to pause the bill, according to McBrearty. MacGregor could not be reached for comment.

Sandhill cranes could be hunted if legislators get their way

By JINGJING NIE
Capital News Service

LANSING — Some lawmakers want to reverse a hundred years of conservation and allow hunting of Michigan’s sandhill crane.

The push comes as the cranes — by the hundreds — are expected to land at the 23rd annual CraneFest on Big Marsh Lake in Bellevue at dusk Oct. 14-15. The CraneFest celebrates the big birds in art and offers educational materials.

Rep. James Lower, R-Cedar Lake, recently introduced a resolution asking the Natural Resources Commission to add the birds — some as big as 5 feet tall and with a 6- to 7-foot wingspan — to a list of Michigan game species, and to seek U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approval for a hunting season. The resolution was passed in the House Natural Resources Committee Committee.

Lower said many of his constituents complain that the birds damage crops. They favor freshly planted corn.

But conservationists say the birds still require protection. The Michigan Audubon Society and the Kiwanis Club of Battle Creek sponsor CraneFest at the Kiwanis Youth Area in Bellevue, overlooking Big Marsh Lake. The event promotes crane awareness and provides optimal viewing of hundreds of cranes as they land for a rest on their way south.

The Department of Natural Resources reports a 10.5 percent annual increase in Michigan’s sandhill crane population from 1966 to 2013. The Nongame Wildlife Fund recently found 805 breeding pairs in the state, the DNR reported.

The  Fish and Wildlife Service reports that sandhill crane hunting is allowed in Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and Wyoming.

Farmers with damaged crops can apply for permits to hunt them from the Fish and Wildlife Service. But even with a crop damage permit, farmers cannot eat what they kill, Lower said.

“I think it is sad and wasteful. It would make a lot of sense to be able harvest the meat,” Lower said.

The Michigan United Conservation Clubs, which represents hunters, supports a hunting season.

“Hunting is a valid and preferred way of wildlife management. We would like to see hunters have the opportunity to manage the population,” said Amy Trotter, the deputy director of the organization.

The birds were once rare in Michigan but their population has recovered.  

Julie Baker, director of the Michigan Songbird Protection Coalition, said, “The sandhill crane has been protected as a non-game species for a hundred years, and we hope to remain that way,” said

The bird is native to Michigan but was hunted to near extinction, Baker said.

Hunting them was banned nationwide in 1916 when they verged on extinction. By the 1930s, only 50 breeding pairs lived in Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Because they reproduce very slowly, it took several decades for the birds to recover, Baker said. A pair usually hatch one or two chicks each year.

The increase in population in recent years is because the crane is protected as a non-game species. For the first time in many decades the population has stabilized but is still vulnerable, Baker said.

“There is no good reason to recreationally hunt sandhill crane. There are no benefits to anyone,” she said.

Farmers don’t have to kill them, Baker said. Most of the damage is done in the first three weeks after corn is planted and chicks have hatched. Farmers can apply a product that makes crops taste bad to the birds.

The issue has not come before the state Natural Resources Commission which sets hunting seasons. The DNR only monitors the population, said Ed Golder, the agency’s public information officer.

John Matonich from Marenisco, the chair of the Natural Resources Commission, said, “There is no initial discussion on that yet. If there is an interest, we will look into that, and we will work with the wildlife division to see their recommendation and options then decide.”

The resolution is co-sponsored by Reps. Roger Victory, R-Hudsonville; Tom Barrett, R-Potterville; Triston Cole, R-Mancelona; Scott VanSingel, R-Grant; Jason Sheppard, R-Temperance; Michele Hoitenga, R-Manton; Rob VerHeulen, R-Walker;  Jason Wentworth, R-Clare;  Gary Howell, R-North Branch; Daire Rendon, R-Lake City; and Tim Sneller, D-Burton.

The resolution awaits House action.

State set to renew groundwater rule for toxic chemical

By KALEY FECH
Capital News Service

LANSING — Michigan’s emergency rules on how much of a particular hazardous chemical can be left in groundwater are set to expire Oct. 27, and that could create an environmental problem in the state.

To address the concern, the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) is proposing  a new rule with a limit of 7.2 parts per billion for 1,4-dioxane, which is responsible for a high-profile groundwater contamination west of Ann Arbor at the site of Gelman Sciences. The company used the chemical to manufacture medical filters.

If a new rule is not approved before the expiration, the limit will revert to 85 parts per billion, the level it was before the emergency rules went into effect in 2016, said Mitch Adelman, section manager for the remediation and redevelopment division of the DEQ.

The department is working with those responsible for the contamination to assure that human health and the environment are protected using the new, lower limit for contamination, Adelman said.

But Gelman Sciences isn’t the only site where the chemical has led to groundwater  contamination. The West KL Avenue Landfill in Oshtemo Township and the Metamora Landfill in Metamora Township have been contaminated by 1,4-dioxane as well, Adelman said, resulting in groundwater contamination.

The proposed new rules would continue the emergency rules that are set to expire and are before the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Administrative Rules.

Rep. Steven Johnson, R-Wayland, chair of that committee, said they will likely be approved.

“They’ll go into place about a week before the other ones expire,” he said.

The Michigan Environmental Council agrees with the proposed limits.

“It’s needed a lower number for years,” said James Clift, the policy director for the council.

The 1,4-dioxane rule is being considered separately so that standards do not revert to 2002 values that were in place before the 2016 emergency rules were implemented.

The 1,4-dioxane solvent is a clear liquid chemical that easily dissolves in water, and is considered likely carcinogenic to people, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Long-term exposure can also cause kidney and liver damage, according to the DEQ.  

It’s used mainly when making other chemicals and can be found in paint strippers, glues and pesticides.

Although it can also be found in some makeup, lotions, detergents, bath products and shampoos, the amount found in these products is not likely to be harmful, even if used every day, according to the DEQ.

The DEQ’s proposed change on 1,4-dioxane may be the first of a series of revisions to clean up criteria for up to hundreds of other chemicals.  

The DEQ has been updating the toxicological, physical and chemical data for over 300 hazardous substances to help set new cleanup criteria, Adelman said.

He said there are more than 9,000 contaminated sites across Michigan.

That more extensive overhaul has met with various levels of opposition.

Although the Michigan Environmental Council supports an update, Clift said he believes the proposed rules fail to provide for new science as it emerges.

“We want the cleanup processes to use the best available science,” Clift said. “Unfortunately, this doesn’t provide a way to adjust the rules with the development of new science.”

That is a safety concern, he said.

“They’re supposed to regulate any substance that could cause injury,” Clift said. “The inability to update the rules without going through the time-consuming rulemaking process every time leaves them powerless to regulate new chemicals.”

The Michigan Petroleum Association said it worries the rules are too strict and will become a bigger hindrance than a help.

The association’s members have cleaned up more than 2,000 underground sites, said Mark Griffin, the industry group’s president. “All of that is in jeopardy of coming to a standstill.”

He said contaminated sites are currently cleaned to a level that won’t harm anyone; he believes the new criteria require a level for cleanup of contaminated sites that is unreachable.

“Our concern with the new rules is getting sites cleaned up and closed,” Griffin said. “We’d hate to lose all that progress.”

The Michigan Environmental Council said it’s been too long since the rules were revised.

The Michigan Chamber of Commerce said its members acknowledge the rules for cleaning up contaminated sites need to be updated.

“It’s improved from where it started, and it’s a step in the right direction,” said Jason Geer, the chamber’s director of energy and environmental policy. “Our members all recognize that it needed to be fixed.”

Michigan farmers encouraged to help fight water pollution

BY STEVEN MAIER
Capital News Service

LANSING — Federal officials are launching a two-year study to determine the best ways to convince farmers, including those in Michigan, to fight water pollution in the Great Lakes region.

The pollution has created conditions ripe for excessive algal blooms that perennially appear in Lake Erie and other lakes and bays and threaten water quality. The culprit: nutrient-laden runoff, much of which comes from farmland.

The runoff has forced national, regional and local agencies, organizations and universities to collaborate on a solution. Their goal: convince more farmers across the Great Lakes region to implement sustainable farming practices.

That’s not always easy, said Great Lakes Commission Program Director Victoria Pebbles.

“It’s very, very difficult because farmers are proud, they’re private and they feel like the finger’s being pointed at them,” she said. “And most of these people are honest people and hardworking people who are just trying to do their best.”

Interest from farmers is substantial, said Brian Buehler, the federal Natural Resources Conservation Service public affairs specialist for Michigan. But they often need help bearing the financial burden.

“Producers have been doing this for a long time, and they’re tried and true practices, so getting anyone to change is, it’s a challenge,” Buehler said. “They need to see it makes economic sense for them, because you know, it is a business.”

Among the programs that will be assessed to determine best methods at reducing agricultural runoff is the Saginaw River watershed.

“I think the farmers realize that they can have a big impact,” said Ben Thelen, a district conservationist with the Saginaw Conservation District. “And you know, a lot of them want to do the right thing.”

Farmers in the Saginaw River watershed used to compete for conservation grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Thelen said. A waiting list formed.

Farmers still compete for funds, but the Saginaw River watershed’s priority designation narrowed the competitive pool and allowed more farmers to make changes, he said.

The Great Lakes Commission begins a two-year study in November, looking to channel federal sustainable practices subsidy dollars more efficiently into the hands of county officials and the pockets of farmers. The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative has put more than $100 million into those pockets over the past six years, according to the Great Lakes Commission.

In addition to the Saginaw River watershed, the commission will assess programs in three other watersheds: Wisconsin’s Lower Fox River; New York’s Genesee River; and the Maumee River, which winds through Indiana, Michigan and Ohio. The practices of many farmers in all four watersheds have been the subject of prior studies, and the commission also has access to data submitted annually by each initiative-funded project.

The U.S. House of Representatives voted in September to continue funding the restoration initiative, despite President Donald Trump’s proposal to zero out a its $300 million allocation from the federal budget. Deliberation over the possible budget cut continues in the U.S. Senate.

The commission’s Pebbles said battling algal blooms and its resulting poor water quality has been a main focus for the initiative since it launched in 2012, funding more than 90 programs to reduce farm runoff. Problems created by the blooms are serious: In 2014, algae blooms tainted tap water in Toledo, Ohio, causing shutoffs for 500,000 residents.

The bulk of the work comes from local governments like the Outagamie County Land Conservation Department, in Appleton, Wisconsin. It’s part of the Lower Fox River watershed and is just outside of Green Bay. Like much of the Great Lakes, the bay is plagued by algal blooms — killing fish, forcing beach closings and damaging the local economy.

Runoff reduction won’t happen without large-scale buy-in from the farmers, said Greg Baneck, a county conservationist with 14 years under his belt in Outagamie.

“Basically, we are the local delivery method for getting the conservation on the ground,” Baneck said. “That’s the only way we’re getting down to the water quality standards, is if we have the funding for the boots on the ground.”

The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative has helped immensely on that front, he said. It allows the county to employ 12 full-time conservation staffers, up from seven. That makes it easier to meet directly with farmers.

Initiative funding has also made it cheaper for farmers to implement watershed-friendly practices, Baneck said. The county shares the cost of things like seeds for cover crops that keep the soil packed after harvest when fields would otherwise be brown and bare. It has also bought expensive conservation-friendly equipment that is loaned to farmers.

Outagamie County loans out its crimper roller, a machine that crushes and kills cover crops, clearing the way for planting and creating a protective bed over the seed. The decomposing stalks then fertilize the seed.  

Farmers can also cost-share installment of drainage tiles, which help regulate the amounts of runoff.

Baneck said there’s been a mindset change.

“Most farmers want to do the right thing,” he said. “If we can show them the financial benefit of it, that’s huge.

“Bottom line, everyone wants to still make a profit and help the environment, and that’s what we’re showing them.”

As more farmers see their neighbors adopt new practices, the momentum builds, Baneck said.

Collaboration and federal funding has also aided county officials in the Genesee River watershed in New York.

Water quality-related problems have persisted there for years, said Molly Cassatt, district manager of the Genesee County Soil and Water Conservation District.

Her district has partnered with 11 others to form the Genesee River Watershed Coalition of Conservation Districts. The coalition crosses state lines, with one county located in Pennsylvania.

“We’re going to work together so that these projects aren’t small and scattered, but really address the worst areas of the watershed,” Cassatt said.

And with programs “saturated with money” from federal sources, she said, adoption of conservation practices has hastened as farmers no longer have to wait long periods until they’re able to sign up for cost-sharing programs.

That increased buy-in from farmers is what the Great Lakes Commission is seeking.

Pebbles said, “What we want to know is, what’s changing behavior in the long term? If the money went away tomorrow, would they continue to implement these conservation practices?”

The study’s core team is composed of officials from the commission, Michigan State University and Ohio State University. The commission will also assemble an advisory team composed of county officials from those watersheds.

Steven Maier is a reporter for Great Lakes Echo.

Lynx could survive if returned to Isle Royale, study suggests

By ERIC FREEDMAN
Capital News Service

LANSING — Can the Canada lynx return to Isle Royale and survive there?

The most likely answer is “yes,” according to a new study of the feasibility of reintroducing a predator that’s been gone from the national park in Lake Superior since the 1930s.

There is a high potential for a successful lynx reintroduction to Isle Royale if the animals are appropriately monitored and managed, according to a research team from the National Park Service and the University of Minnesota Duluth. Most likely they’d be brought in from Ontario.

Bringing back the lynx means “Isle Royale could continue its long and storied tradition as a site that leads to a better understanding of wildlife ecology and conservation,” the study said.

Wolves, which are currently the top-tier predator species on the island, arrived there in 1949. Since then they have been decimated by inbreeding, disease and harsh winters. With only two wolves now believed to be surviving, there’s ongoing debate about whether the Park Service should relocate wolves onto the island.

“The wolf plan/environmental impact statement in still in progress. We expect to have the final decision late this fall or early winter,” said Elizabeth Valencia, the Isle Royale National Park cultural historian. “The preferred alternative, identified in the public review draft earlier this year, is to bring in wolves.”

Daniel Licht, the lead author of the new study and a Park Service regional wildlife biologist, said conflicts between wolves and lynx on the island are unlikely because they eat different animals. Wolves eat moose and deer while lynx prefer snowshoe hares and sometimes squirrels.

The two species coexist in arboreal forests — dense, lush wooded areas with mature tree canopies — in other parts of North America, including Canada and Alaska, he said.

A 2016 Park Service feasibility study reported, “Wolves are likely dominant over lynx. However, the degree and type of interaction between the two species is mostly unknown and probably negligible.”

Whether the Park Service should reintroduce the lynx is a separate question for scientists, natural resource managers and policy makers.

The study estimated that the island could support about 30 lynx, based on its population of snowshoe hares. Other research estimated that the island could support as many as 44 lynx.

Because 99 percent of Isle Royale is a federally designated wilderness where motorized vehicles, hunting and trapping are banned, lynx wouldn’t be at risk of death from hunters or collisions with motor vehicles, according to the study published in “Natural Areas Journal.”

That contrasts with the experience in Colorado, where lynx were reintroduced in 1997. There, firearms and vehicles are blamed for 32 percent of known lynx deaths. Plague — a disease absent from Isle Royale — caused 7 percent of the known deaths.

Caribou and lynx were originally the largest mammals on the island, but caribou were wiped out in the 1920s. Another predator, the coyote, colonized the island in the 1900s but disappeared in the 1950s.

Moose colonized Isle Royale in 1909, and the most recent survey by Michigan Technical University estimated their number at 1,600.

The new study said the island’s former lynx population may never have been self-supporting but could have sustained itself as more migrated across the ice bridges from the mainland, improving genetic diversity.

It’s unlikely but not impossible that lynx would be able to return to the island without human intervention, the study said. That’s because ice bridges between Isle Royale and the Minnesota shoreline about 14 miles away are significantly less common than in the past, although there was one in 2015.

In fact, Licht said, there have been occasional reported lynx sightings since the 1940s, most likely animals that arrived over ice bridges but either returned the same way or died on the island.

If lynx were brought back, periodic introduction of additional animals might still be necessary to maintain viability of the population the study said.

According to the study, introduction of one male and one female every 10 years would dramatically increase the probability of the species’ long-term survival there and reduce inbreeding.

That makes “intuitive biological sense,” the researchers wrote, but added that such a timetable should change if monitoring finds undesirable levels of genetic diversity. If that happened, more lynx brought in from the mainland could refresh the gene pool.

New poetry collection showcases beauty of Northern Michigan

By KATE HABREL
Capital News Service

LANSING — In his most recent book, poet Russell Thorburn imagines familiar characters from around the Upper Peninsula and beyond.

In “John Lennon on the Beach in the Upper Peninsula,” Thorburn imagines the titled celebrity wading on the Lake Superior shoreline:

“Just the idea that John’s here, his arms wrapped around his body,

like some whaler whose ship went down, glows in me like fire.”

A 2013 grassroots fundraising campaign earned Thorburn the unofficial title of the U.P.’s poet laureate. His recent book, “Somewhere We’ll Leave the World,” celebrates the joy of wandering. It’s his seventh poetry collection.

His poems take readers on what Thorburn calls “parallel journeys” through nature and history. He uses familiar characters and personal experiences to call attention to the scenic beauty of Northern Michigan.

“The Lake Superior shoreline is very unique, and I love walking along the water, especially in winter,” said Thorburn, who lives in Marquette. “These characters, the environment, and my relationship within that environment created these poems.”

John Lennon isn’t the only famous name to appear in the book. Walt Whitman, Billy the Kid and Marilyn Monroe co-star in several poems.

But celebrities aren’t the only people featured in the book. Thorburn also connects the landscape with soldiers in the Civil War.

“Union soldiers came back here to heal,” he said. “Quite often I read about people who served in Iraq or Afghanistan — they take a wilderness walk. So I thought, well, this is kind of like a precursor to that.”

Of course, Thorburn didn’t completely ignore the view. Images of nature and animals often surface in his poetry. Foxes are a common sight—sometimes appearing in unusual places. From the poem “Chinese Restaurant:”

“She tells the animal he can eat only what’s

on the carryout menu: egg rolls, noodles.

She shows him a table in the corner, not

understanding why a fox would want Chinese

at this hour.”

Several poems are based on events in Thorburn’s life. It’s those experiences that started his artistic career.

“It began much earlier when I was 18 or 19 in the Detroit area, and I had a garage band,” Thorburn said. “Music was very big back in Detroit, so there’s poems about that. And as a teenager and in my 20s, I wandered around. I hitchhiked. So a little bit of that spirit is in there too.”

Thorburn includes several poems about his time in the Mojave National Preserve in San Bernardino County, California. He was a resident artist there in 2012, staying in a desert study center near Soda Lake.

There’s a little bit of something for everyone in the collection—recognizable faces, natural beauty and musical turns of phrase.

In the end, Thorburn’s poetry insists that the journey is worth as much as the destination.

“I’m not trying to educate anybody, or teach,” Thorburn said. “It’s just to have the poem, and they’re on the journey with me as a reader. I hope you get on the bus and go on this journey.”

“Somewhere We’ll Leave the World” is available from Wayne State University Press for $16.99.

Kate Habrel writes for Great Lakes Echo.

Michigan moose on the loose — and on the rebound

By CARL STODDARD
Capital News Service

LANSING — About three years ago, a sign went up outside the U.P. Trading Co. in Newberry that says, “Report Your Moose Sightings Here.” Inside is an area map where people who’ve spotted moose can mark the spot with a pushpin.

Moose can be hard to find, but the map is slowly filling in with pushpins, said Sharon Magnuson. She and her husband, Bill, own the U.P. Trading Co. and an adjacent store called the Exclusive Moose.

The village of Newberry, about  21 miles southwest of Tahquamenon Falls State Park in the Upper Peninsula, is the official “Moose Capital of Michigan.” That designation helps bring in tourists, Magnuson said.

“We do get a lot of people … coming up for that reason,” she said.

The U.P., excluding Isle Royale National Park, has fewer than 500 moose but their numbers are growing, according to recent  Department of Natural Resources (DNR) estimates.

About 100 moose live in the eastern U.P., “spread across portions of Alger, Schoolcraft, Luce and Chippewa counties … ranging across a 1,200-square-mile area,” the DNR said in a June 12 report. Newberry is in Luce County.

That same report said wildlife biologists estimate the number of moose in the western U.P. at 378 animals, up from 285 in 2015.

The western U.P. moose range over about 1,400 square miles in parts of Marquette, Baraga and Iron counties, the DNR said.

Moose in the eastern U.P. got there on their own. But moose in the western U.P. were relocated there from Ontario in 1985 and 1987, said John Pepin, the DNR deputy public information officer in Marquette.

Candy Kozeluh remembers watching some of those moose being helicoptered into the area back in 1985. She was 10 years old and going to school in Marquette.

Today, she’s the recreation director for Travel Marquette, based in one of the western U.P. counties with a growing moose population.

“We don’t have exact data, but we have noticed more calls coming in” about where to see moose, said Kozeluh, whose organization is part of the Marquette County Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Kozeluh said she often suggests visitors go the Greenwood Reservoir, 10 miles southwest of Ishpeming, where they can hike, canoe and kayak while looking for the big, elusive creatures.

“That’s where I’ve had luck seeing them,” she said.

Jason Schneider, executive director of the Marquette Chamber of Commerce, said his office has seen some interest in the shy, majestic animals.

“We do get a call or so a month from people wanting to know where to go see the moose,” Schneider said.

He usually recommends the Baraga Plains, a state wildlife management area between Marquette and Baraga, as the best place to glimpse one.

Newberry got its Moose Capital designation several years ago from the Legislature, thanks to the efforts of a local developer, said Jennifer James-Mesloh, Newberry’s village manager.

“Local businesses are embracing this (designation), making it part of their marketing plans,” James-Mesloh said.

A moose was painted on the town’s water tower and added to the village’s seal, she said. There also has been talk about painting moose tracks on the village sidewalks, she said.

The DNR does not survey the moose population in the eastern U.P.

It does conduct surveys of moose in the western U.P. in the winter every two years from fixed wing aircraft, the DNR said in its June report.

“Our survey findings this year are encouraging” after a possible population decline was detected in the 2015 survey, said Dean Beyer, a DNR wildlife research biologist who organizes the survey efforts.

But the numbers are still too low to consider allowing a moose hunt in Michigan, the DNR said.

The moose population on Isle Royale, a 45–mile-long island in Lake Superior, has grown to about 1,600, according to the most recent annual winter survey  by researchers at Michigan Technological University in Houghton.

The island’s moose population is growing while the number of wolves on Isle Royale has flatlined at just two, the Michigan Tech researchers said.

“The Isle Royale wolves are no longer serving their ecological function as the island’s apex predator—the creature at the top of the food chain. With only two wolves left on the island, the moose population has grown,” said Rolf Peterson, a research professor at Michigan Tech and co-author of the report on the winter survey.

Without wolves keeping moose numbers in check, said John Vucetich, a professor of ecology at Michigan Tech and co-author of the report, the island’s moose population could double in the next three to four years.

Plain old conversation works for lakes’ advocates

By STEVEN MAIER
Capital News Service

LANSING — Representatives from multiple Great Lakes-based organizations gathered recently in Ann Arbor but not to tackle any threats to the lakes.

They came for happy hour.

“It’s just sort of a casual thing that happens a couple of times a year,” said Kristin Schrader, a communications manager for the Great Lakes Observing System, a regional data-sharing partnership based in Ann Arbor.

It started six years ago, when Schrader was working for Ducks Unlimited. She thought her organization would benefit from conversations with members of other groups – something that happened only at infrequent events with scheduled programs. Schrader wanted an event conducive to casual conversation.

And the Great Lakes Happy Hour was born.

The gathering creates “cross-pollination, in a casual way,” she said. Individuals from nonprofit organizations, government agencies, private firms and even the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have attended. And the soirees feature a mix of political leanings -– evident in the distinction between self-identifying “conservationists” and “environmentalists.”

Both groups advocate for preservation of natural resources, although environmentalism is often associated with liberal political ideologies and conservation with those of the political right.

Although onlookers might expect some tension there, they won’t find it, said Drew YoungeDyke, a communications coordinator for the National Wildlife Federation’s Great Lakes Regional Center.

“We’re all looking out for the Great Lakes,” he said. “We’re all about the resource, though we may have come to appreciate that resource from a different perspective.”

Poor weather at the most recent event forced a last-minute change of venue from a beer garden to a local brewery and drew a smaller crowd than usual. Fewer than 10 attended.

The event has drawn audiences of up to 30 in the past.

Schrader said representatives from the Great Lakes Observing System, Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory, Great Lakes Commission and the Cooperative Institute for Great Lakes Research attended.

Members of Ducks Unlimited, League of Conservation Voters, National Wildlife Federation and the private environmental science firm LimnoTech have come in the past, she said.

YoungeDyke said, “We get together and have a beer, and just kind of discuss the issues that are going on. Pretty informal, but a good spot to kind of get in the loop on what’s coming up.”

Steven Maier writes for Great Lakes Echo.

Decline in boat registrations creating a lack of funding for marine patrols

By KALEY FECH
Capital News Service

LANSING — Over the past decade, state funding for the marine divisions of sheriffs’ offices in Michigan has dwindled with the decline in the number of registered boats.

At the same time, the number of unregistered canoes and kayaks has increased, leading to calls for the owners of those craft to also be required to pay the registration fees that support rescues and other boating programs

“We’ve experienced a dramatic decrease in funding,” said Mackinac County Sheriff Scott Strait. “It’s roughly one-third of what it was 10 years ago.”  

Marine divisions offer boater safety classes, patrol waterways and conduct search-and- rescue missions on the water, including areas of the Great Lakes.

The  Department of Natural Resources (DNR) offers Marine Safety grants to county sheriff departments for marine patrol divisions. The grant money comes from boat registration fees.

However, a decline in registered boats has led to a decrease in the grant money vailable, and sheriffs’ offices across the state are feeling the effects, said Blaine Koops, executive director of the Michigan Sheriffs’ Association.

In 2007, there were 827,869 registered boats in Michigan. By 2012, there were only 800,793. Last year that number dropped to 790,425, according to the DNR.

The amount available for Marine Safety grants is decreasing with the decline in registered boats. In 2007, it  was about $3.5 million. In 2012, it fell to about $2.8 million.  In 2016, it was about $2.2 million, according to the DNR.

“Funding here is roughly half of what it was when I first started,” said Sgt. Eric Decker, from the Marquette County special operations division. “Ten to 15 years ago, grant money was somewhere between $30,000 and $35,000. It’s now down to between $17,000 and $20,000.”

In the past, the Marquette County Sheriff’s Office used funds from the DNR grant to purchase new equipment, but he said the lack of funding is now forcing the county to make some tough decisions.

“We haven’t been able to replace equipment,” Decker said. “We have an aging boat, but we haven’t been able to replace it because grant money has gone down. It’s now looking like the county will purchase the boat and will put off getting a new patrol car for another year.”

An increasing problem counties are seeing is the number of calls they receive from canoers and kayakers in distress.

“We’re seeing major issues with kayaks,” said Kelly Hanson, the Huron County dheriff. “We’ve been called out over 70 times this year for kayak rescues.”

In Michigan, canoes and kayaks do not have to be registered. When users call for help, they are using marine division resources without contributing to the funding, Strait said.

Strait said his office is receiving a growing number of calls from kayakers, especially in the Straits of Mackinac. Deckersaid Marquette County is also getting more calls involving kayakers in trouble.

All three sheriffs say that  requiring canoes and kayaks to be registered would improve the funding situation.

They’re not alone.

“This is something we’ve wanted to see happen for years,” said Mark Miltner, vice president of Michigan Association of Paddlesport Providers and owner of Pine River Paddlesports Center in Wellston, about halfway between Manistee and Cadillac.

“The number of people who own personal crafts is increasing, and they’re not always experienced,” he said. “Sheriff marine divisions are getting called out more and more to do search and rescues.”

Decker said the drop in funding  means fewer deputies on the water.

It’s a concern that Hanson shares.

“At one time we had a marine patrol seven days a week,” he said. “Now we just have a weekend patrol.”

Perceptions of climate change more polarized, study shows

By JACK NISSEN
Capital News Service

LANSING — For those who don’t remember the 2013-2014 winter, it was a season of icy wrath unleashed by the polar vortex.

Well, it appears memories of ice and record-low temperatures weren’t the only things it left behind. A new study shows memories of that event by people in the Grand Traverse Bay region may have impacted what they think of climate change.

Their views are a little different than the national average, according to a recently published article in the Journal of Great Lakes Research.

A survey revealed more people in that region are alarmed or concerned by climate change than the national average. But it also found more people are doubtful or dismissive about climate change than the national average.

Statisticians call a result like this—where a graph showing the data has two peaks separated by a valley—a bimodal distribution. Typically, graphs would have just one peak.

So why do these numbers look different than the national surveys?

“It’s possible that we found that bimodal distribution because of the time of the study,” said Patricia Norris, an agricultural, food and resource economics professor at Michigan State University.

It was conducted in the summer of 2014, after the polar vortex brought with it record low temperatures in the Great Lakes region, including wind chill temperatures in Michigan below minus 20 degrees Fahrenheit.

Because of how fresh the subfreezing temperatures and frozen lakes were in the minds of those surveyed, it was a frequent point of discussion and served as potential bias in the study, Norris said.

How much was the winter of 2013-2014 on the mind of those surveyed? Many of them discussed the bay freezing over and colder temperatures taking place, Norris said.

The study used “Global Warming’s Six Americas”—a survey that identifies six attitudes held by Americans when thinking about climate change: Alarmed, concerned, cautious, disengaged, doubtful and dismissive.

The Grand Traverse Bay region was chosen because of how close it is to the Lake Michigan coast.

Researchers focused on a coastal community because compared to other places, people tend to be more sensitive to little fluctuations in the climate, said Brockton Feltman, author of the study and a former master’s candidate with the MSU Department of Community and Sustainability.

While the extreme winter event may have thrown a curveball in the results, the study confirmed other hypotheses, Norris said.

Norris and Feltman predicted that respondents with less education would care less about climate change and that those that spent more time outside would care more. Both proved to be true.

The connection between being outside and caring more about climate change is the most interesting takeaway, said Edward Maibach, the director of George Mason University’s Center for Climate Change and one of the authors of the study that developed the “Six Americas” used to characterize it.

“This makes perfect sense, but to the best of my knowledge, no one has actually found this before,” he wrote in an email. “It is consistent with other literature about the role of personal experience in convincing people of the reality of global warming, but it is a distinct, useful and interesting finding.”

This information can help us connect with people, depending on how they feel about climate change, Norris said.

Maibach said the study could lead to a long term change in perception.

“It is useful in the sense that lots of folks feel that Americans—especially our kids— don’t spend enough time outdoors,” Maibach said. “If encouraging them to spend more time in outdoor activities, which is good for them in many ways, also makes them more likely to become engaged in the problem of climate change, all the better.”