New invasive plant plan fights monarch nemesis

By CASEY HULL
Capital News Service

LANSING —  A new invasive species management plan may help state agencies combat intrusive plants — and rescue wildlife at risk.

That’s good news for the monarch butterfly which has declined in numbers and lost its habitat because of  the black swallow-wort. The invasive vine displaces milkweed, the butterfly’s source of food. It is also poisonous to monarch caterpillars.

The vine grows predominantly in Southern Michigan. It has been also reported in a couple of counties in the northern Lower Peninsula and one in the Upper Peninsula. Experts fear it’s spread.

“Invasive plant species in Michigan generally start in Southern Michigan and hitchhike up into Northern Michigan by way of people or being spread by wind,” said Sue Tangora, the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) forest health and cooperative programs section supervisor.

The World Wildlife Fund of Mexico reports that the monarch population has decreased by 15 percent in the past year.

After their winter migration to Mexico, monarchs are more densely clustered, making it easier to count them. In summer, they spread across most of the eastern United States with the majority located from South Dakota to eastern Connecticut.

A group of Midwestern nonprofit and government groups met twice in 2016 in Michigan to plan how to help the butterflies recover, said Mike Parker, of the DNR’s wildlife division.

The pillars of the plan are “habitat conservation, education and outreach, monitoring and research, policy review and promoting collaborative partnerships,” said Parker, the divisions conservation partners specialist.

Creating a sustainable grassland habitat for monarchs requires milkweed and wildflowers.

“Milkweed is the only plant that monarch caterpillars will eat, but adult monarchs eat the nectar that wildflowers provide,” Parker said. “It’s essentially the carbohydrates they need to make their 2,000 mile journey back to Mexico.”

Grasslands are a natural ecosystem for milkweed and wildflowers, but invasive species can overtake a natural ecosystem if there’s nothing there to eat them.  

“There are a lot of invasive species that impact grasslands, but the black swallow-wort is probably the most concerning at this point,” Parker said.

Michigan’s Terrestrial Invasive Species State Management Plan is a partnership among the DNR and departments of Agriculture & Rural Development and Environmental Quality.

The plan outlines the need to collaborate to quickly prevent, detect and remove new species early.

Black swallow-wort grows quickly and is toxic to both caterpillars and mammals. It produces seed pods similar to milkweed seed pods, said the DNR’s Tangora.

And monarchs lay eggs on the black swallow-wort.

“Unlike milkweeds, swallow-wort does not provide the same nutrition for caterpillars that milkweed does,” Tangora said.“The eggs hatch, but they are unable to feed on the black swallow-wort and don’t survive.”

Swallow-worts also push out indigenous milkweed, removing habitat for monarchs to lay eggs. “Any place where you have swallow-wort, it has a tendency to dominate that system,” Tangora said.

She said a combination of herbicides and plucking seed pods before they open is the best way to control its spread.

Regional cooperative invasive species management areas are working to prevent the spread of invasive species.

“We’ve been lucky that we haven’t found any black swallow-wort in this area,” said Vicki Sawicki, the coordinator for the North County Cooperative Invasive Species Management Area which covers Lake, Mason, Mecosta, Missaukee, Osceola and Wexford counties.

“Right now we’re just getting the word out regarding what it looks like,” Sawicki said.

She believes it’s  likely that black swallow-wort is in the area but hasn’t been spotted yet.

“I’ve seen it in fields from other areas and it’s very nondescript. If you don’t know what it looks like you’ll look right past.”

Black swallow-wort has also been reported in Delta, Grand Traverse, Emmet and Cheboygan counties, according to the Midwest Invasive Species Information Network and the University of Michigan Herbarium.

Tangora said the monarch isn’t on the endangered list but is a species of greatest conservation need. A species of greatest conservation need has low or declining populations and needs human intervention and sometimes legal protection.

Campaign against plastic straws picks up speed

By AGNES BAO
Capital News Service

LANSING – People like plastic straws, but they’re not good for the environment, experts say.

Using plastic straws “cause problems in a variety of aspects,” said Mick DeGraeve, the director and senior environmental scientist at the Great Lakes Environmental Center based in Traverse City.

“Straws are small, and people just inadvertently or intentionally leave them lying on the sidewalk,” said DeGraeve, adding that they not only spoil natural beauty but also harm wildlife. Animals might ingest plastic straws that aren’t digestible.

Every day, Americans use 500 million plastic straws — enough to fill over 125 school buses — according to a report from the Eco-Cycle, a nonprofit recycler based in Boulder, Colorado.

“The plastic straws are kind of sturdy because they hold together for long time,” DeGraeve said. “If they end up in the Great Lakes or in the environment, they’re going to be there for a decade at least.”

However, environmental problems caused by plastic straws aren’t easily fixed by recycling, said Kerrin O’Brien, the executive director of the Michigan Recycling Coalition.

“There is no program that I know in the state that actually will recycle the straws,” O’Brien said. The reasons could be the shape of straws and that they’re too small to separate from other types of plastic and easily fall through the sorting mechanism.

Because plastic straws are hard to recycle, O’Brien suggested reusable ones instead.

And automatically providing a plastic straw should be a thing of the past, she said. “I would like to see eating and drinking establishments ask first before they assume people want to use a straw.”

In response to the problem, the Last Plastic Straw Committee TC, a group in Traverse City, has launched a campaign that calls on the public to reduce the use of straws.

A similar campaign is also operating in Ann Arbor organized by Stop the Straw, a student activist group from the University of Michigan.

Jeffery Elsworth, an associate professor in the School of Hospitality Business at Michigan State University, said restaurants are putting more effort into moving away from plastic straws and informing customers about their negative impacts.

Instead of automatically bringing customers plastic straws, more restaurants provide straws when customers ask, Elsworth said.

However, some customers complain about the absence of plastic straws in restaurants, he said. “It’s a habit for them to use straws, and they use them for different reasons.”

Therefore, providing paper straws could be a solution, but price is another concern, Elsworth said.

While a paper straw costs about 1 to 2 cents apiece, a plastic straw costs less than half a cent, he said. “If you are buying 20,000 straws in a case, it’s essentially a difference in price.”

To raise public awareness of plastic pollution caused by straws, the Great Lakes Environmental Center’s DeGraeve suggested improving education about environmental protection in schools and homes, as well as posting informational signs in public areas.

In addition, DeGraeve said a ban could be an effective way to deal with plastic straw pollution.

European wine shortage might not affect price of Michigan wine

By RILEY MURDOCK
Capital News Service

LANSING – While poor weather in Europe appears poised to raise wine prices worldwide, Michigan’s own grapes might grow unhindered.

According to the International Organisation of Vine and Wine, wine production hit a historic low in 2017, spurred by poor weather in the European Union and other important producers.  

However, Michigan vineyards might not raise their prices just to fall in line, according to Chateau Grand Traverse Winery President Eddie O’Keefe.

Most smaller wineries depend on direct-to-consumer business, such as in-person tastings or mail order sales, rather than retail stores, where they compete side by side with higher-priced European wines, O’Keefe said. That’s why many Michigan wineries won’t see price spikes from market forces.

Most U.S. wineries are “mom ‘n pop” operations, O’Keefe said: Global issues indirectly affect them, but in a way a lot of the small wineries are oblivious to them. There’s always competition, but smaller wineries have easier ways to determine their own destinies, he said.

“If it doesn’t affect you directly, most of the time people don’t care,” O’Keefe said.

Chateau Grand Traverse Winery, located near Traverse City, has been in business for 44 years, O’Keefe said, and was the first commercial winery and vineyard in Northern Michigan. Now, a large number of wineries cluster the Leelanau and Old Mission peninsulas north of Traverse City, and can be found scattered throughout the state.

Northern Michigan wineries had devastating production years in 2014 and 2015, but had good years in 2016 and 2017, O’Keefe said.

Every winery is impacted differently by a different year’s success, O’Keefe said. On average a really bad year where costs are high could take one and a half years to recover from, while two bad years in a row can really adversely affect business.

Most Michigan wineries are now stocked with product in their inventories, so he doesn’t see any reason for prices of local wines to rise. A bad year for Europe weather-wise might not mean a bad year for Michigan.

“That’s agriculture — you take the good with the bad. Some years you have bumper crops, other years you have to suck it up,” O’Keefe said.

Wineries that compete for shelf space might be a different situation.

Potential tariffs could also impact wine prices, O’Keefe said.

China tacked on an additional 15 percent tariff on U.S. wine exports in early April in response to escalating trade tensions. American wine exports might be priced out of Chinese markets, and larger U.S. wineries would have to repurpose those exports, potentially flooding U.S. markets with cheap wine and lowering domestic prices, O’Keefe said.

This year’s wine production hasn’t started because there’s still snow on the ground, but if there’s no frost through May, O’Keefe said 2018 could be a good year for wine production in Michigan.

Wine continues to be a growing industry in Michigan, and O’Keefe said he sees no reason why it won’t continue to grow.

“The only thing that would mess with that is good ‘ol Mother Nature,” O’Keefe said.

 

Catch more trout–if you can!

By KALEY FECH
Capital News Service

LANSING — Anglers fishing for brook trout in the Upper Peninsula this season can tackle portions of 36 streams where the daily bag limit has been increased to 10 fish.

The season just opened and runs until Sept. 30.

“It’s been an evolving issue,” said George Madison, a Baraga-based fisheries manager for the Department of Natural Resources (DNR). “For many years, the daily possession limit was 10 brook trout. After a while, there was concern from sport anglers and groups that the limit could be too much on streams that receive a lot of fishing pressure.”

In 2000, all of the state’s Type 1 trout streams changed to a five-fish bag limit, Madison said. However, some people felt there were a lot of streams that didn’t receive much fishing pressure, and the 10-fish limit could still be in effect in those areas.

Most streams in the state are Type 1.

“Several years ago we did some experimental streams with the 10-fish limit to evaluate if the people catching 10 fish would truly impact the populations or not,” Madison said. “The evaluation went on for four years, and every summer was different. We couldn’t really tell if populations were being impacted by the 10-fish limit.”

Phil Schneeberger, the Lake Superior Basin coordinator for the DNR, said brook trout populations have a high variability from year to year due to environmental factors, with or without an increase in the bag limit.

“There was some evidence of a decrease in population in some streams with an increase in the bag limit, but I wouldn’t call it compelling,” he said. “The population also decreased in some streams that did not have a increase in the bag limit. There are just so many other factors that can make the population fluctuate.”

However, Madison said the study did show that many remote streams in the U.P. get little to no fishing pressure,.

In 2016, the Natural Resources Commission decided to open more streams to the higher bag limit, he said. “All in all the decision was supported by the public. They recognized this would diversify fishing opportunities across the U.P. areas.”

All but one of the U.P.’s 15 counties has at least one stream on the list of those with a 10-fish bag limit. The sole exception is Menominee County.

“I think it’s a good opportunity for the anglers,” Madison said. “We’ve selected streams throughout the U.P. so that whatever county you’re in, you have an opportunity nearby to have a stream that would have a higher possession limit.”

One reason the DNR is increasing the limit is because it’s not seeing as many stream anglers.

“At one time, it was very popular. Years ago there would be anglers packed along the river. Nowadays, you don’t see that as much,” Madison said. “Anglers have become a little more sedentary where they like to fish out of boats for walleye or bass.“

One problem is that some anglers, especially those who are unfamiliar with an area or stream, may be confused because only a portion of some streams has the higher limit.

However, Madison said DNR maps try to make the boundaries clear-cut, such as a county road “so people would know that the waters upstream from this road are 10-fish possession limit and waters below the road are five-fish possession limit,” he said.

Another problem for the DNR is the difficulty of enforcing the regulation. For example, if a conservation officer comes across an angler near one of the boundaries with 10 fish in his or her cooler, the officer has no way of knowing on which side of the stream the angler caught the fish.

Schneeberger said,“We realize that with the proximity of some of the increased bag limit streams so close to the five-bag limit streams, it’s going to be almost impossible to enforce it rigorously.”

However, Madison said most anglers are pretty good at following the rules.

“Most of our regulations are based on an honor system. Ninety-nine percent of the anglers follow the letter of the law.”

Based on the DNR’s creel census studies, most people catch between three and five fish, Madison said. “Although there are people that fish hard and are good anglers. They know where to go and they can catch 10 fish.”

There’s a surge in fishing from the season opener through early summer, “and then it kind of wanes after that,” Madison said. “People move on to other activities. We see a little bit of an uptick in September because people get out for the fall colors.”

Invasive quaggas carpet Lake Michigan bottom, scientists say

By KATE HABREL
Capital News Service

LANSING — Scientists using GoPro cameras in Lake Michigan have found the lakebed coated in invasive quagga mussels.

The GoPros are attached to a small dredge used to sample the lakebed in what’s called a “grab.” Called a Ponar dredge – the device has long been used to research lake bottoms. It takes a scoop of sand, mud and mussels for analysis. The addition of the camera helps guide the grab.

“The mussels get more sparse as you get deeper, but it’s like a continuous carpet across the lake,” said Ashley Elgin, a benthic ecologist at the Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory. “It’s not just this one patch where you dropped your camera down. It’s continuous.”

Since Ponar grabs to measure mussels started in the 1980s, scientists have seen a boom in quagga mussels. The numbers peaked and then declined, but are still relatively high, Elgin said.

Quagga mussels arrived in the Great Lakes in ships’ ballast water. They affect the environment by filtering water to eat phytoplankton, microscopic plants that make prime food for the base of the food web. A single mussel can’t filter much water, but together they make a much larger impact.

They’ve largely displaced another invasive species, the zebra mussel.

There’s no way to re-shoot the video once the dredge is done. Murky water, bad weather and blocked camera lenses make visibility difficult.

Getting a sense of scale is also difficult, Elgin said.

But the benefits outweigh the challenges, according to Ron Muzzi, another member of the lab operated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Getting visual data on the mussels is helpful in figuring out where they pose the greatest risk.

Researchers do three grabs at each sampling location to make sure their readings are accurate. The cameras help them see if the grabs they take are good representations of the area.

“A Ponar is a blind pinprick,” Elgin said. “You could drop your Ponar into one of the open patches, come up with almost no mussels and get an incorrect view of the density down there. You just get one grab, and you don’t know what else is around it unless you have that video.”

Cameras are also used in other aquatic research. For example, one is set up near Muskegon and takes a video every hour to track mussels and fish.

Kate Habrel writes for Great Lakes Echo.

Fate of Michigan rivers, Chinese soybeans tied to emerging research concept

By LAUREN CARAMAGNO
Capital News Service

LANSING — What do Chinese soybean farmers have in common with the health of Michigan’s rivers?

While their relationship may not seem obvious, both are now studied through an emerging concept in scientific research called telecoupling.

That’s when researchers connect the science of human behavior with the study of ecology to better understand how the world is connected. It’s a technique that can help experts predict future natural disasters and environmental needs.

“This is a novel way of approaching problems in which humans and environment in one area are connected to humans and environment in another area,” said Anna Herzberger, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife at Michigan State University.

Scientists are increasingly optimistic that understanding these connections can provide more accurate predictions of environmental disasters, Herzberger said. That allows the creation of policies to better balance people and the environment.

The idea of coupled human and natural systems isn’t new. The new aspect of this framework is finding connections among systems around the world.

The concept is exemplified by Chinese soybean farmers switching to grow corn and rice due to the large amount of imported soybeans from the United States and Brazil.

The change in crops could reduce soil quality, Herzberger said.

That environmental effect has the potential to cause China to buy more corn and rice from U.S. farmers, Herzberger said.  

Or the exact opposite: It could cause the Chinese government to create incentives to grow soybeans again, therefore needing less from the U.S.

Understanding that relationship could help stabilize global effects of farmers in the world soybean trade, Herzberger said.

In the case of the health of Michigan’s rivers, the telecoupling framework combined ecological data gathered from Michigan anglers and the Department of Natural Resources representatives to better predict trout distribution in a changing climate.

Andrew Carlson, another doctoral candidate in the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife at MSU, developed a computerized system that brings together social and environmental data to predict climate changing effects on Michigan’s trout.

The tool is based on local data, but the goal is to gather information globally to better predict what affects trout locations in and beyond Michigan, Carlson said.

Future research will focus on how people interact with the environment, perceive fish management and encounter natural resources via angling or tourism, Carlson said.

“The telecoupling framework connects human systems and ecosystems in ways that have never been identified before,” Carlson said.

People study fisheries on a local scale, but this framework challenges scientists to look at the bigger picture to study worldwide influences as well, Carlson said.

Others have already made similar connections. For example, MSU researcher Jiangua “Jack” Liu discovered how promoting conservation of pandas in zoos around the world increased conservation efforts of their habitats in China.

People are only beginning to understand the interactions among coupled human and natural systems in fisheries and wildlife, Carlson said. New and helpful ways to apply that understanding are likely to emerge as more is learned about them.

“The telecoupling framework allows us to create predictive models to better design environmental policies with knowledge of their effects on people and the environment,” he said.  The real benefit could be an increased quality of life with less risk to persons and property.

Lauren Caramagno writes for Great Lakes Echo.

Honk, honk, ribbit, ribbit in protected wetlands

By ERIC FREEDMAN
Capital News Service

LANSING — What’s good for the goose – and the duck and the swan – is good for the frog.

At least when it comes to wetlands management.

That’s the lesson from a new study that found wetlands conservation projects designed to benefit waterfowl also provide a boost other critters.

“The biggest take-home message for folks is that these wetlands that we’re managing for waterfowl come with this other suite of benefits for other species of birds and frogs,” said lead author Doug Tozer, a program scientist at Bird Studies Canada.

Management of publicly and privately owned wetlands includes measures such as diking to regulate water levels and control of invasive species.

The study said wetlands are good for sequestering greenhouse gases, commercial fishing, flood control, mitigating pollution, recreation and other ecological and societal benefits. “Most importantly, they are critical hotspots for biodiversity conservation.”

Ducks Unlimited estimates that 60 percent of historic wetlands in the Great Lakes region have been lost for reasons that include poor water quality and invasive species.

“In Michigan,” for example, “breeding mallard numbers have dropped 50 percent,” the organization says.

“Wetlands are not important only for ducks but also for water quality,” said Chris Sebastian, the Ann Arbor-based public affairs coordinator for Ducks Unlimited’s Great Lakes/Atlantic region.

The new study published in the “Journal of Environmental Management” compared 42 wetlands managed under the North American Waterfowl Management Plan with 52 similar unmanaged wetlands. Most are in southern Ontario and the rest are in Michigan.

“All of the Michigan wetlands considered in the study were unmanaged wetlands, paired with nearby managed wetlands just across the border in Ontario,” Tozer said. “Quite a few of the surveyed locations for these unmanaged wetlands were Great Lakes coastal locations just south of the St. Clair Flats State Wildlife Area around the edge of Big Muscamoot and Little Muscamoot Bay, within the St. Clair River delta of Lake St. Clair.”

The observations and counts of bird and frog populations came from citizen-scientists working with the Great Lakes Marsh Monitoring Program.

Compared to unmanaged areas, the number of non-waterfowl species, including at-risk and “priority conservation concern” species such as the black tern, common gallinule, least bittern, sora and Western chorus frog, “was higher in conservation project wetlands.

However, not all non-waterfowl species appeared better off in managed wetlands.

Among the 22 bird and frog species studied, Tozer said mute swans and Eastern great tree frogs were the only two  with a predicted occupancy rate higher in unmanaged wetlands, “but not significantly higher.”

Occupancy estimates the actual proportion of sites where a species is present. There’s a distinction between occupancy and occurrence because a species can be present but unobserved during a survey because it didn’t call or show itself, observers missed it or it was temporarily away from the site during the survey, he said.

“It’s not wonderful for everything,” Tozer said of managed wetlands. “The main message is that our existing dikes and managed wetlands have these benefits, but that doesn’t mean we should do this in every wetland across the landscape.

“Some groups of animals won’t benefit as much, such as fish,” he said. For example, water control structures can restrict fish access, and diking can be bad for wet meadow communities.”

Meanwhile, conservation groups in Michigan are working on wetlands projects. Last year, Ducks Unlimited and its partners completed projects on 1,164 acres in 17 counties, including Lenawee, Manistee, Mason and Newaygo.

Among them were restoration of 24 acres of wetlands and 58 upland acres on nine private parcels in Lenawee County and restoration of 29 acres of wetlands and 34 upland acres on five parcels of private land in Mason County. Both projects received North American Wetlands Conservation Act grants.

Major projects in 2016 included replacement of a pump that enables the Department of Natural Resources to control water levels at Manistee Marsh in the Manistee River State Game Area and the Maankiki Marsh restoration project that converted former farmland into wetlands in the Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge near Saginaw Bay.   

More people moving to some rural areas

By CRYSTAL CHEN
Capital News Service

LANSING – Some rural counties are seeing more people move in, Governing magazine data shows, but some experts remain skeptical of a possible trend.

The data shows some counties, such as Isabella, Wayne, Missaukee and Grand Traverse, have lost more residents than they gained while rural counties like Crawford, Lake, Antrim and Leelanau showed growth.

However, numbers in both directions in the 12 months ending in July 2017 were small.

The “net domestic migration rate” refers to the number of people moving in versus those moving out per 1,000 population, according to Governing.

Erich Podjaske, the economic development coordinator of Crawford County, said he doesn’t see a significant number of people moving in, although the county does have plans to attract more workers..

“We are holding development summits, and we have new businesses that are opening, particularly in the trucking and manufacturing area,” Podjaske said.

But the county faces a labor shortage. “We just don’t have enough employees to fill all the positions in every area. Not just engineering, but also soft skills,” he said.

One of the problems is a lack of “nice quality housing,” Podjaske said. “People are moving here and not finding the homes or rentals that they would like.”

It’s difficult to find contractors to build single-family homes, especially because homes in Crawford County aren’t increasing in value and contractors won’t make money on them, he said. To help tackle this dilemma, the county is working on things like multifamily housing, where state assistance could potentially offset some costs.

Recreation is drawing people to some rural counties, according to Rep. Triston Cole, R-Mancelona, who lives on a farm.

He said Northern Michigan, which is typically considered rural, has roughly 4.5 million acres of public land, and “it’s fantastic place to recreate.”

“People want to get away from the hustle and bustle in urban environment, and they would rather look at slowly bubbling creek,” Cole said. “It’s a huge draw to Northern Michigan.”

Northern Michigan has hundreds of lakes and streams for fishing, boating and swimming, and some of the most phenomenal lakeshore for recreation, he said — “whether just sitting in the lawn chair, enjoying the sand in the sun, or if you want to swim in the freezing cold water of Lake Superior.”

As for whether public services meet the needs of incomers, Cole said people don’t require public services to survive. “Many folks just desire to be self-sufficient.”

Teresa Bertossi, an adjunct assistant professor at the Department of Earth, Environmental and Geographical Sciences at Northern Michigan University, said it’s important to be cautious when looking at large-area data in an attempt to understand movements with or between counties.

Urbanization is still a trend, according to Bertossi.

“The overall statistics support that people are still moving to more urban areas, generally speaking, on the planet than ever before,” she said. “Outmigration continues to remain a persistent challenge for many less-developed or more rural places.”

However, Bertossi said her research has demonstrated an apparent pattern of a “sort of” rural gentrification in some non-agriculture-based, rural Lake Superior coastal communities.

“So in a way that does lead to a strain on public services, whereby working class people are forced out of their communities because they can’t find affordable family starter homes,” she said.

Another example of rural gentrification is that within some rural areas with major amenities, like Lake Superior, people are moving from larger cities and building second and third homes in rural places, Bertossi said. That trend contributes minimally to the local economy, leading to higher land values that push working class and lower income people farther away from the lake.

Jeroen Wagendorp, an associate professor at the Department of Geography and Sustainable Planning at Grand Valley State University, said the positive migration rate for rural counties may be due to movement from one rural county to another and not as much from urban to rural counties.

The cost of living in rural counties can be lower than in urban counties.

“If you live in the country, your lifestyle is subsidized by taxes paid by the people living in the city,” Wagendorp said. “The taxes in the city sometimes are twice as high as living in the country.”

Zoos hoping to breed large animals again

By CRYSTAL CHEN
Capital News Service

LANSING – Michigan zoos would again be allowed to breed large carnivores such as tigers and bears under a recently introduced bill.

Since 2000, zoos must take their large carnivores, including lions, leopards, cougars, jaguars, panthers and cheetahs, to states that allow breeding.

The law now prevents animals from mating as they would in nature, said Peter D’Arienzo, the chief executive officer of the John Ball Zoo in Grand Rapids, citing an unintentional drafting error in the 2000 law.

The zoo has already had to move two male breeding-age Amur tigers to facilities in Wisconsin and South Dakota to breed because of the error in the current state law, he said.

D’Arienzo said the bill sponsored by Rep. Thomas Albert, R-Lowell, would  provide a regulatory framework that will require all Michigan zoos to maintain high standards, meet specific breeding criteria and help zoos preserve endangered specifies for future generations.

“Conservation breeding programs are a key part of ensuring the preservation of endangered species and large carnivores, including tigers, bears and lions,” he said.

Valid reasons exist for the prohibition, said James Averill, the director of the Animal Industry Division at the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.

There were issues with large carnivores being owned by people as pets and having issues where they would get away from their owner and killed people,” Averill said.  

Under the bill, an applicant for a license from the department would need to meet specific requirements, including being an organization focused on showing animals for education or exhibition purposes.

The Detroit Zoo, one of the five American Association of Zoos and Aquariums-accredited zoos in the state, argues that the bill would put too much responsibility on the state for oversight, which was being handled appropriately by the AZA, according to a statement on the zoo’s website.

Matt Blakely, the director of policy and legislative affairs at Agriculture and Rural Development, said the proposed license is a way that qualified institutions could breed large carnivores in the state.

It does add responsibility to the state, he said, but “I would not say that’s too much responsibility.”

Blakely said the department and Gov. Rick Snyder have no position on the bill. He said allowing breeding can be good for conservation of endangered species.

The bill wouldn’t have any impact on wild animals, said Sarah Cummins, the legislative and regulatory specialist at the Wildlife Division of the Department of Natural Resources.

In current times, we do not allow people to, for example, catch a deer in Michigan and put it in the zoo,” she said. “Any animals that are game animals, or are threatened to endangered, they would not be able to capture them in the wild and put them in the zoo.

But there might be a case where a seriously injured endangered or threatened animal could end up in a zoo permanently for educational purposes, Cummins said.

Averill, of Agriculture and Rural Development, said he doesn’t think the bill would have any impact on animal health.

“From my conservation standpoint, my hope is it will help encourage genetic diversity,” he said.

The bill is now in the House Agriculture Committee.

Boating is up, and so are accidents

By AGNES BAO
Capital News Service

LANSING – Are Michigan waters getting less safe for boaters, with or without motors?

The number of recreational boating accidents in the state increased from 92 in 2013 to 125 in 2016, and deaths increased from 21 in 2012 to 38 in 2016, according to the latest report from the U.S. Coast Guard.

Accidents are happening on inland waters and on the Great Lakes. Last year, for example, on July 22, a 45-year-old woman was critically injured after a boat crash near Grand Haven.

On Aug. 6, a 23-year-old woman died from injuries caused by being thrown from a tube into another boat on Sand Lake in Clare County.

And on Sept. 17, a 23-year-old Holland man died in a personal watercraft accident on Lake Michigan.

One factor in the rising accident toll is the increasing popularity of paddle sports  — participation is up about 7 percent annually, experts say.

Over the last five years,  the number of powered vessels and paddle craft has grown steadily, said Dennis Nickels of Grand Haven, the chair of the state’s Waterways Commission.

There are more than 600,000 paddle sport vessels in the state, according to the Coast Guard.

“In three years, the number of paddle crafts in Michigan water will exceed the number of powered vessels,” Nickels said.

As a paddling enthusiast for over 40 years, Nickels said he’s  “extremely excited about promoting the paddle sports in Michigan, but we’ve got to find a way to keep them safe.”

July and August are the heaviest boating months, said Jeff Pendergraff, Crawford County’s undersheriff in charge of the Marine Division.

To make sure of boaters’ safety, the Marine Division strengthens its workforce from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend, Pendergraff said. “Some officers retired from other places, and they come and work here [for the Marine Division] in the summer to do marine enforcement.”

“Generally, there was an accident and alcohol was involved,” he said, adding that many people aren’t aware they cannot operate a boat well while drinking.

The general things that Crawford County’s Marine Division looks into include whether boaters wear life jackets, checking that they’re not drinking too much and making sure jet skis don’t get too close to swim areas, boats and anchors, Pendergraff said.

Chris Dekker, the chair of West Michigan Offshore, said that to improve boating safety, the Hudsonville-based powerboat club provides members with safety videos and a code of conduct to educate and regulate boaters’ behaviors.

The big factors that cause boating accidents are excess speed and alcohol, Dekker said. “Just staying on the basics and having a healthy fear of what can happen on the water is the key.”