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

‘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

Cows and deer that share salt might also share disease

By BEN MUIR

Capital News Service

LANSING — A popular source of nutrition for cattle is a potential site for transferring disease, according to a recent study.

Salt blocks are potential transmitters of tuberculosis from cow to deer and vice versa, said John Kaneene, the lead researcher of a study by Michigan State University’s Diagnostic Center for Population and Animal Health.

The blocks are commonly placed in pastures for cattle to lick. At night, deer can enter the field and lick the same salt.

The study found that if a deer or cow is infected, it can leave that disease on the salt block for the next animal to eat.

“It’s a big finding,” said Kaneene, who is an epidemiology professor at MSU. “We kept on saying, ‘Despite all these efforts, why are we having repeated infections on these cattle farms?’ That’s how we came to salt blocks.” 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

Ships carry not just cargo, but viruses, into Great Lakes

By LIAM TIERNAN

Capital News Service

LANSING — Ballast water entering the Great Lakes from ships may contain viruses dangerous to wildlife and humans, according to a recent study published by the American Chemical Society.

The water used to stabilize vessels may be transporting viruses from ocean water or foreign lakes to the Great Lakes, according to Yiseul Kim, a postdoctoral microbiology researcher at Michigan State University.

Kim’s research involved sampling and detecting virus-like particles using a method that differs from others previously used to study ballast water. The method, called metagenomics, studies chains of viral genetic material sampled directly from the ballast tanks. The researchers then match them to known viral chains. Continue reading

Invasive species odd hero for native fish

By STEVEN MAIER

Capital News Service

LANSING — A native fish may be poised for a comeback in the Great Lakes, with the help of an invasive species.

Great Lakes cisco, also known as lake herring, are growing in number. Catch rates are increasing in recreational and commercial fisheries, said Kevin Donner, the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians’ Great Lakes fisheries program manager.

Twenty years ago, it would have been notable to catch a single cisco in a year in Lake Michigan. In the bay, they’re now pulled up by the netload.

It’s a similar story in Chaumont Bay on Lake Ontario, where researchers have caught thousands of cisco in recent years, said Curt Karboski, a biologist with the Lower Great Lakes Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office in Amherst, New York. Continue reading

Where people are, wrens aren’t

By JACK NISSEN

Capital News Service

LANSING — That short burst of tweets you hear from wrens might be the best way to tell if they’re near, but it isn’t the only way.

A good way to predict the bird populations in the Great Lakes is to listen not for the songs of wrens, but for the roar of car engines. A recent study in the Journal of the Society of Wetland Scientists shows where humans are and where wren populations should be – but aren’t.

One of the broadest research projects on two species of wrens in the Great Lakes region found that urban development has a primary influence on where the birds live.

For the most part, where you find people is where you likely won’t find wrens. And the Department of Environmental Quality identifies human development, like agriculture and industry, as key factors in the loss of wetlands, the primary habitat for these birds.

“Human development of the landscape proved to be the best model for predicting where these species can be found,” said Hannah Panci, a member of the Natural Resources Research Institute at the University of Minnesota Duluth and the study’s lead researcher.   Continue reading

Proposed WIC cuts unclear for local health agencies

By CAITLIN TAYLOR

Capital News Service

LANSING — Michigan public health officials are uncertain how President Donald Trump’s proposed $150 million cut to a federal women’s food assistance program will impact local agencies.

Trump’s budget allocates $6.2 billion to the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) assistance program, according to the National WIC Association. The association requested approximately $6.4 billion, matching appropriations for the past two years.

“At this point, it would be difficult to give any specifics about what would happen to programs at the state level because we don’t know for sure what the federal changes may be,” Jennifer Eisner, a public information officer for the Department of Health and Human Services, said in an email.

Eisner didn’t provide details about specific agency concerns. In a March interview, department Director Nick Lyon said he would be particularly concerned about any changes affecting WIC. Continue reading

Wetlands mitigation may get cheaper for local governments

By CHAO YAN

Capital News Service

LANSING — A new partnership of state and local agencies is working to set aside state land to make it easier for public entities with expansion needs to fulfill wetlands replacement requirements.

Because wetlands play a vital role in the health of the state’s environment and its tourism economy, the Wetlands Protection Act requires damage to wetlands that happens under a permit be compensated by creating a wetland someplace else.

The Michigan Municipal Wetland Alliance (MMWA) is developing a wetlands mitigation bank system using Department of Natural Resources (DNR) property as bank sites.

“By us using state-owned lands, we are saving on the purchase of lands for the development sites and restoration sites,” Stephen Shine, the wetland mitigation bank administrator for the DNR, said. “And we are creating an added benefit for those state-owned lands by enhancing recreational opportunities for a whole variety of enthusiasts — everything from birdwatchers, people who like to hike, hunters.” Continue reading

Poet researched Great Lakes’ wrecks for new collection

By KATE HABREL

Capital News Service

LANSING — A 200-pound ship’s radiator interrupted a funeral in 1922 when it plunged from the sky and into the Falk Undertaking Parlors on Military Street in Port Huron.

It came from the Omar D. Conger, a ship blown to pieces when its boiler exploded while docked at Port Huron.

“That part is accurate! It happened! And that’s just bizarre!” said poet Cindy Hunter Morgan, an assistant professor of creative writing at Michigan State University. “When I read that, I thought, I’ve got to build a poem around that.”

And she did. From that poem: Continue reading