CNS Budget – March 30, 2018

March 30, 2018 – Week 10

To: CNS Editors

From: Sheila Schimpf & Perry Parks

http://news.jrn.msu.edu/capitalnewsservice/

For technical problems, contact CNS technical manager Tony Cepak at (517) 803-6841; cepak@msu.edu.

For other matters, contact CNS Director Eric Freedman at (517) 355-4729 or (517) 256-3873; freedma5@msu.edu.

Here’s your file:

RURALGRANTS: New grants for rural projects are going to Marquette, Ludington, Escanaba, Elk Rapids, Negaunee, White Pine, L’Anse, Newberry, Pentwater and the Michigan Blueberry Commission in Fennville. This story looks at how grants awarded last year are being used by the Marquette Watershed Partnership and two local business in Grand Traverse. By Riley Murdock. FOR LUDINGTON, MANISTEE, MARQUETTE, SAULT STE. MARIE, PETOSKEY, TRAVERSE CITY, BAY MILLS, OCEANA, HOLLAND, GRAND RAPIDS BUSINESS  AND ALL POINTS.

w/RURALGRANTSPHOTO: Members of the Great Lakes Conservation Corps (GLCC) have assisted Upper Peninsula communities with a wide variety of nature tourism projects thanks to grant support from the Michigan Department of Agriculture (MDA).  Credit: The GLCC is a program of the Superior Watershed Partnership (SWP).

DOGSINCOURT: New legislation proposed by a Potterville representative would allow a trained  “courtroom support dog” to accompany witnesses when they testify. Leelanau and Calhoun counties already use dogs in victims-witness program. We speak with advocates about advantages and challenges. By Colton Wood. FOR LEELANAU, TRAVERSE CITY, LANSING CITY PULSE AND ALL POINTS.

ROADFUNDING: Road construction funding is the elephant in the room no one wants to talk about in an election year, despite a poll that shows it is the first concern of voters. All measures right now are simple band-aids for a runaway problem, according to recent transportation reports. Candidates for state office this year appear to be barely addressing the road issue. By Riley Murdock. FOR ALL POINTS.

STEMDIVERSITY: There is a nationwide push to recruit more women for jobs involving science, technology, engineering and math. But it’s tough to achieve change. We look at efforts around Michigan to overcome barriers such as peer pressure and lack of exposure to role models. By Agnes Bao. FOR GRAND RAPIDS BUSINESS, LANSING CITY PULSE AND ALL POINTS.

SELFDRIVINGCARS. How can a state that can’t patch potholes make roads smart enough for self-driving cars? Experts and the state’s transportation director discuss what it will take to prepare infrastructure for a human-driverless future. By Gloria Nzeka. FOR ALL POINTS.

REVENUESHARING: Cuts to local police typically get all the attention when cities and counties complain that the state doesn’t send them enough money. But what about impacts to parks and other less high profile programs? Benton Harbor is one city that took a hit. We look at services that local governments are whittling down as a result of the miserly revenue sharing practices of the Legislature. By Maxwell Evans. FOR THREE RIVERS, STURGIS, GRAND RAPIDS BUSINESS AND ALL POINTS.

LIBRARYUSE: As Internet technology use expands in everyday life and education, libraries’ free internet access has become an increasingly valuable service – especially in rural areas where access is limited. We talk to libraries in Presque Isle, Grand Traverse County and Alpena about their services. By Casey Hull. FOR CHEBOYGAN, MONTMORENCY, ALCONA, TRAVERSE CITY, CRAWFORD, HARBOR SPRINGS, PETOSKEY AND ALL POINTS

SEX&MERCURY: Sex hormones might be the secret for lowering mercury levels in fish and maybe humans, say researchers at Grand Valley’s Robert B. Annis Water Resources Institute in Muskegon and the Great Lakes Science Center. States often issue consumption limits in areas with high concentrations of mercury in fish, which can cause illness and are especially harmful to unborn children. Researchers now believe that male fish are able to shed mercury, thanks to their testosterone. By Stephen Maier. FOR LUDINGTON, MANISTEE, HOLLAND, TRAVERSE CITY, OCEANA, PETOSKEY, HARBOR SPRINGS, CHEBOYGAN, ALCONA, ST. IGNACE, SAULT STE. MARIE, MARQUETTE, BAY MILLS AND ALL POINTS.

w/SEX&MERCURYPHOTO: Sea lamprey provided a clue for researchers searching for the secret behind male fish’s ability to expel mercury from their bodies. Image: Joanna Gilkeson, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

ENVIRONMENTALLAWS: A Port Huron angler once told Ethan Shirley that a fisherman’s job is to break the law as much as possible without getting caught. That’s a challenging attitude to overcome when enforcing environmental laws. MSU researchers say involving local residents in explaining and understanding conservation laws earns compliance better than simple enforcement. By Lauren Caramagno. FOR ALL POINTS.

CNS

Libraries continue to evolve in a technological age

By CASEY HULL
Capital News Service

LANSING — As online technology has crept into everyday life and education, free public access to computers and internet has become an important attraction of public libraries.

“There’s a divide between families that have technology available and those who don’t,” said Gail Madziar, director of Michigan Association of Libraries. “If you’re a student that needs to do their homework, sometimes a library is the only place that you have to access information in a safe place.”

Many libraries serving rural populations report significant demand for their online services. For instance, internet services at the Presque Isle district libraries were accessed over 14,000 times in 2017. The county has a population of 13,000.

“We have internet access at all five of our locations,” said Amber Clement, director of Presque Isle District Library. “Besides us as a library, McDonald’s is the next best bet for free internet.”

One big use of the service is by high school students who are dual-enrolled with Alpena Community College, which requires internet access.

“A lot of these kids live out in rural areas without internet access and so they rely on either the school or the library to provide that,” Clement said.

On the other side of the state, more of Grand Traverse County has access to broadband internet than in Presque Isle County, but the Traverse Area District LIbraries still see use of its internet.

The district’s six libraries have recorded 3,477 users spending 11,289 hours on library computers this year.

Libraries also provide a basic technology education.

The district sees a large turnout for technology information classes, said Brice Bush, adult services coordinator for Traverse Area District Libraries.

“We’re working on creating a senior summer camp series designed for older patrons,” Bush said. “The programs would be focused on social media literacy and decoding your device. … Anyone is welcome to bring the technology you use to the session and we’ll be there to help.”

Involving the community can be done in other ways as well. In Alpena, the focus of Tinker Tuesdays is less on education and more on experimentation.

Tinker Tuesdays at Alpena Public Library are an opportunity for students and adults to play with new technologies.

“Kids are coming in with their parents, and pretty soon their parents become interested and start participating,” said Nancy Mousseau, technology specialist for Alpena Public Libraries.

“We have a 3-D printer and 3-D printing pens, along with low-tech projects as well like Legos and K’nex.”

In Traverse City, Bush is committed to opening the tech world to patrons.

“Public libraries are staying relevant in the technological world we’re living in by the dedicated free access to computers and internet connection,” Bush said.

 

Are Michigan roads ready for self-driving cars?

By Gloria Nzeka
Capital News Service

LANSING – If you drive or travel on Michigan roads, you know that they’re not in the best of shape. As discussions about automated vehicles increasingly appear in the news, cars and tech enthusiasts may be wondering: If we can’t build roads without potholes, how do we build them for automated cars?

Or: Are Michigan roads ready to accommodate self-driving cars?

“On one level, yes, the roads are ready because those vehicles will have to work on the roads that we have,” said Richard Wallace, director of the Transportation Systems Analysis group within the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor.

“The driver has to be capable,” Wallace said, referring to the computer system that will pilot automated cars through artificial intelligence, or AI. “That’s why you have driving tests, and we will need some sort of equivalence for AI systems.”

In 2013, Michigan became the fourth U.S. state to regulate the testing of automated vehicles. The legislation was updated in 2016 and manufacturers and suppliers of automated vehicle technology could now test pilot automated cars on public roads. Since then, GM and Google’s automated cars unit – Waymo – have been testing some of their automated vehicles in Michigan.

“A highly automated vehicle can travel across the country, and it uses its sensors to detect pavement markings, signs, physical objects along the road and compares it to its [high-definition] map for comparison to assure itself of its location,” said Kirk Steudle, director of the Department of Transportation.

Steudle said automated vehicles can drive on Michigan’s roads as they are today. However, he said, new technologies should be added to new infrastructure projects.

Wallace said infrastructure needs to adapt to the way automated cars will navigate, because our current signage and lane markings have all been built on the premise of human drivers.

“The way to tell an automated vehicle that the speed limit is 65 is probably not a big white sign with black letters that says 65 on it, that’s not optimal for computer understanding,” Wallace said.

To help meet new automation needs, “public agencies can initially focus on pavement marking quality and technology upgrades to traffic signals when they are being replaced to allow for future adaption,” Steudle said.

Wallace suggested that one way to communicate with automated vehicles on the road will be to put a readable code on the side of the road, or a digital signature emitting a pulse that can be read wirelessly, telling an automated car that 65 is the speed limit.

“At some point, five or 10 years from now, while we have both human and computer driving vehicles, we will need both the sign that says 65 and the digital signature that says 65 to the computer,” Wallace said.

In addition to making roads ready for automated vehicles, Wallace said we need to be sure automated vehicles are ready to be on the road. Wallace said the technology has a ways to go.

“I don’t think we are completely ready to have empty vehicles out there. We’re still testing them with humans to see whether they’re ready and unfortunately that’s not perfect either,” Wallace said. “I don’t think it’s going to happen tomorrow but it might happen in one year.”

Wallace also said our regulations, law and liability regime are not ready either. Referring to a recent accident in Arizona, where an Uber automated vehicle crushed a pedestrian, he said:

“We don’t really know who’s going to get the liability here. Is it Uber, the driver that was behind the wheel but didn’t react? Some people are saying it’s the woman’s fault, did she jaywalk? I think our legal frameworks are going to have to change.”

How soon automated cars show up on our roads will largely depend on lawmakers. The federal government is working on a certification of Artificial Intelligence systems for driving vehicles, but Wallace said progress is slow.

One of the things that proponents of automated vehicles champion is safety. Steudle said in order to achieve those safety and congestion benefits, the vehicles will need to communicate better with each other and the infrastructure.

Cities, counties still losing out on revenue sharing money

By MAXWELL EVANS
Capital News Service

LANSING — It’s no secret that Michigan municipalities aren’t getting much help from the state — since 2002, the Legislature has withheld more than $8 billion in funding earmarked for local governments.

This means local governments have had to make cuts across the board, from services like public safety and public health to institutions like parks, according to Chris Hackbarth, director of state affairs for the Michigan Municipal League.

Revenue sharing distributes a portion of the sales tax collected by the state to local governments, according to the Department of the Treasury.

There are two types of revenue sharing: constitutional and statutory. Constitutional revenue sharing, funded by ten percent of the state sales tax revenues, is guaranteed.

The state constitution calls for about one-seventh of sales tax revenues to go towards statutory revenue shares. However that amount can be — and consistently has been — lowered through the Legislature’s appropriations process.

For example, Benton Harbor saw nearly $1 million diverted from its projected revenue share in 2016, according to the Michigan Municipal League, which lobbies on behalf of cities and villages.

To lighten the load for struggling cities, the state began awarding grant funding in 2015 to financially distressed cities, villages and townships. This year’s grants, totaling $5.4 million, were awarded in March.

The Treasury’s focus for the 2018 round of grants was to improve critical infrastructure and equipment and improve street lighting, according to its website.

Benton Harbor was awarded $799,500 through the program in 2018, marking the fourth year in a row that it received the grant. Many of the 2018 recipients have received grants in past years — despite the program’s stated goal of “moving [municipalities] toward financial stability.”

This $5 million is useful for emergency projects, but is far from sufficient to solve cities’ continuing problems, said Hackbarth of the Municipal League.

In 2016 — the year Benton Harbor’s revenue share was about $1 million below expectations — the city received $425,000 in grant funding for water main replacements and improvements to its police camera system, according to state records.

“They really are one-time dollars,” Hackbarth said. “It’s not like you can fund police officers with those dollars, because you don’t know if they’ll be there the next year.

In total, the financially distressed cities grant represents 0.4 percent of the state’s total 2017-18 revenue sharing funding to date.

“And again, $5 million doesn’t go very far,” he said.

Most cities have seen declining revenue shares without the benefit of that grant, including Holland — whose 2016 shares were $1.2 million below full funding — Marquette, with a $956,000 reduction, and Sturgis, underfunded by $441,000.

While cities and townships struggle to make ends meet, counties face special challenges based on the way state money is distributed, said Deena Bosworth, director of governmental affairs for the Michigan Association of Counties.

Cities receive both statutory and constitutional funding — a benefit not awarded to county governments, Bosworth said. Counties receive funds only from the statutory pool.

Michigan has spent $807 million in constitutional revenue sharing for the 2017-2018 fiscal year, compared to the $220 million counties have received to date, according to the nonpartisan Senate Fiscal Agency.

From sheriffs to treasurers to public health departments, there is a “base level of service” counties must provide despite the disparity in funding between counties and cities, Bosworth said.

“Cities, villages and townships don’t have to pay for the abused and neglected kids in the system,” Bosworth said. “They don’t have to pay for the public health department. Cities serve 100 percent of the population and counties serve 100 percent of the population.

“No one can explain to me why counties are funded at such a lower level,” she said.

Statutory revenue sharing fell by 61 percent from 2002 to 2016, according to Mitch Bean, former director of the House Fiscal Agency.

Such a drop was made all the more frustrating given that local governments gave up local taxing authority in exchange for revenue sharing, Bosworth said.

In addition, the 1978 Headlee Amendment to the state constitution limited annual property tax increases to 5 percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is less — making it more challenging for local governments to recover after a financial crisis like the Great Recession.

“The state can actually recover their revenue a lot faster than locals, because they’re dependent on sales tax, use taxes, income taxes, business taxes — which are not limited,” Bosworth said. “It would be nice if they were actually helping us in recovery as well.

“It’s tragic that the state is not investing in local units of government,” she said.

Michigan educators push for more science and math opportunities for girls


By AGNES BAO
Capital News Service

LANSING – The push is on in Michigan to increase gender diversity in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math.

But gender imbalance in what are called the STEM fields isn’t easy to fix, experts say.

In 2016, Michigan had 639,405 STEM jobs, which is expected to increase by 11 percent over the next 10 years, according to the 2017 STEM and Innovation Report Card from the Alliance for Science and Technology in America, based in Washington, D.C.

Although job opportunities are increasing, only about 15 percent of female high school students expected to graduate in 2018 are interested in STEM fields, compared to 47 percent of male students, according to the report card.

Lots of STEM programs in the Kent Intermediate School District put efforts into increasing gender diversity and girls’ interests, said Allison Kaufman, the district’s director of communications and marketing.

One such program is Kent Girl Coders, which exposes girls to science by inviting guest speakers in the field, Kaufman said.

The program aims at inspiring girls’ interests in science and helping them succeed in traditionally male-dominated careers, according to the district.

“A much greater proportion of girls in middle school say they are interested in STEM, but they tend to lose that interest by time they reach high schools,” said Gary Farina, the executive director at the Michigan STEM Partnership, which promotes statewide STEM education and workforce development.

Some reasons girls lose interest in STEM fields include peer pressure, lack of confidence in their abilities in math and science, and low awareness of career opportunities, Farina said.

“There have to be greater efforts in terms of career counseling and other kinds of activities to address whatever the causes are for that,” he said.

To inspire and keep female students’ interests in STEM fields, Women and Minorities in the Physical Sciences, a graduate student organization at Michigan State University, connects and exposes children in K-12 to physics.

The traditional social impression that “science is for boys” could be the another reason for the lack of gender diversity in STEM fields, said Terri Poxon-Pearson, the organization’s president.

“Girls don’t learn to identify as ‘good’ at science or math and ‘leak’ out of the STEM pipeline,” Poxon-Pearson said.

The overall number of women physics majors and grad students has stalled at about 20 percent, and it seems hard to push past that percentage.

The Kent Career Tech Center also faces a gender imbalance problem in certain STEM fields and is trying to recruit nontraditional students in those areas, said John Kraus, the principal of the center.

“Our diesel technology program probably has 98 percent males, and the information technology program also has many males,” Kraus said. “Our overall percentage of students across the center is probably about 60 percent male and 40 percent female.”

To increase gender balance in STEM areas, Kraus suggested bringing women representatives in those areas to meet students at an early age to break gender stereotypes.

Inforum, a nonprofit organization based in Grand Rapids and Detroit, provides female role models to existing STEM programs for K-12 and post-secondary girls, as well as young women.

“We believe that exposure to successful women in STEM can help give girls and young women the confidence to prepare for STEM careers,” said Cindy Goodaker, the organization’s vice president of signature programs and communications.

After inspiring more girls to get into STEM fields, a further challenge is giving them the support to stay there, experts said.

“Many workplaces, particularly in academia, do not have well-defined, or very supportive, parental leave policies, which disproportionately disadvantage women in the field,” Poxon-Pearson said.

Most women in STEM workplaces have also experienced gender discrimination, according to a Pew Research Center national study conducted in 2017.

“Women are given less support, and have to ask more often than men for raises and promotions,” Goodaker said.

 

Election season might delay any road-funding fixes

By RILEY MURDOCK
Capital News Service

LANSING — Michigan’s crumbling roads — long the subject of jests, memes and most of all, pain — are now voters’ highest priority. And the future of the issue might depend on which candidates they choose in 2018.

According to a Marketing Resource Group poll released March 27, 49 percent of voters said Michigan’s roads were one of up to two issues they’re most concerned about. Education beat out jobs and the economy for second place.

The poll states this is the first time in more than a decade that the economy was not voters’ No. 1 concern.

Heading into the 2018 midterm elections, when Michigan will elect a new governor, some action has been taken: Gov. Rick Snyder signed a bill providing an additional $175 million in road funding from Michigan’s general fund.

However, even with a $1.2 billion package signed by Snyder in 2015 that will continue to roll out in coming years, a nonpartisan commission convened by Snyder, the 21st Century Infrastructure Commission, concluded in 2016 that Michigan will need an additional $4 billion in infrastructure funding, including $2.2 billion annually for roads, highways and bridges.

Sen. Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba, chair of the Senate Transportation Committee, said he doesn’t see further changes to road funding or Michigan’s gas tax being made in an election year. Road funding has been a contentious issue in the past, Casperson said, so action might be postponed with legislators focused on their campaigns.

“You’re heading into the election season. I don’t think either side is gonna want to do that,” Casperson said. “In fact, I would argue that at this point a lot of people running for office are hoping that that $175 million and the extra money coming from the increases that were put in place start hitting the roadways so people can see that they’re getting value for their money.”

A longstanding issue for road funding in Michigan is the state’s 6 percent sales tax, which also applies to fuel sales. According to the Tax Foundation, a non-profit that advocates for “smarter, simpler” tax policy, Michigan pays the fifth-highest gas tax in the country at 40.44 cents per gallon as of January 2017. According to MDOT, only a flat 26.3 cents per gallon of that is tax intended for road funding.

Michigan Department of Transportation Director Kirk Steudle said Michigan collects about $1 billion a year in sales taxes on gas, but all that money is directed toward schools and cities by the Michigan constitution. While not enough to meet the state’s projected funding needs, that revenue — if directed at road repair — would mark a significant increase.

“There will be the claim Michigan is a high gas tax state, but you have to ask, ‘But, what about the sales tax? Who else includes sales tax?” Steudle said. “There’s only, I think, three or four states that collect sales tax on motor fuels.”

Steudle said a gas tax fix was on Snyder’s radar in 2011, and improvements were made as part of the 2015 package: The flat 19 cents per gallon gas tax and 15 cents per gallon diesel tax were raised to 26.3 cents per gallon, and the taxes were tied to inflation starting in 2022. However, Michiganders still pay a 6 percent sales tax on gas that does not help fund roads.

Casperson said he hasn’t heard of anyone trying to revisit the gas tax recently, but it’s been an issue he’s faced in the legislature since 2003. Casperson served in the House from 2002 to 2008. He has served in the Senate since 2010.

“We could never come up with a consensus, and it didn’t seem to matter who was in charge,” Casperson said. “Whether the Democrats controlled things or the Republicans, neither side wanted to take it on.”

Casperson said the 2015 package was a good start, but wasn’t quite what a lot of people were hoping for.

“Our gas tax is high, but 6 percent of it is the lion’s share of the tax on gases and none of it is going to the roads,” Casperson said. “If we don’t deal with that for the future, I think it’s going to plague us continually.”

Bill would put more service dogs in courtroom

By COLTON WOOD
Capital News Service

LANSING — Those who are in need of a support dog in court may soon get the opportunity to request one.

A bill introduced by Rep. Tom Barrett, R-Potterville, would permit a witness who is called to testify in court to have a courtroom support dog close by.

This pending legislation is progress for those who have any type of service, therapy or facility dog, service dog, advocates say.

“Especially for those with really bad anxiety, the comfort of being able to have that animal there to be able to comfort them is great,” said Cynthia Smith, owner of Michigan Service Dogs, LLC.

In Michigan, only two dogs are accredited. Both come from the K-9 Companion program, which trains these dogs to comfort those who are testifying or going through a forensic interview in their respective courtrooms.

One of the two dogs, handled by Laurie LaCross, victim-witness coordinator at Leelanau County Prosecutor’s Office, comforts any type of witness while the other dog is used for sexual assault services in Calhoun County.

LaCross’ facility dog, Gunther, has been by her side since May 2015.

“He’s down at your feet for hours and doesn’t move or bark or disrupt anything,” she said. “There’s just a lot of training involved.”

Not all dogs who start the training are able to finish.  “And with the other dogs that are released, there’s a reason they are released. They may be mellow, but they might have other distractions. There has been some work to formalize some type of accredited facility dog to be in the courtrooms,” LaCross said.

LaCross said the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys feel that accredited facility dogs that are professionally trained should be allowed in the courtroom, so she hopes this bill will help improve the use and accessibility of dogs in the courtroom.

Studies have shown that having a dog in stressful situations severely decreases anxiety, Smith said.

“So that would be huge for those who have to testify, especially in tense situations when what you’re testifying isn’t necessarily pleasant,” she said.

For Corey Galesk, owner of Blue Cord Service Dogs in St. Johns, he rarely has any issues taking his dog, which he uses to help his PTSD, in public.

“When I do have problems, I usually educate them on the law, and it’s dropped right then and there,” he said. “There are a few people that are against having a dog out in public. No matter what, you’re always going to get that one person in the grocery store that’s glaring at you.”

Unfortunately for handlers of service dogs, they won’t be able to use their own dog in court, as various agencies will be the only authorized distributors of service dogs in court, and they must receive approval from their participating prosecutor’s office.

The bill is now pending in the House Judiciary Committee.

Making environmental laws more effective

By LAUREN CARAMAGNO
Capital News Service

LANSING — A Port Huron angler once told Ethan Shirley that a fisherman’s job is to break the law as much as possible without getting caught.

It’s a challenging attitude to overcome when enforcing environmental laws, said Shirley, a law student at Michigan State University who is researching ways to encourage people to obey conservation laws.

“The Great Lakes are too large to be regulated at all times. Therefore conservationists depend on local people to comply with rules,” he said. But “fishermen admit to not complying with fish size regulation laws.”

Shirley does his research in Brazil, but he says the concepts can be applied broadly across the world.

One solution is for scientists to better explain the need for limits on fishing and for other environmental regulations, Shirley said. Another is for those who enforce laws to build trust with the community that needs to obey them.

Police need to make themselves members of a community that is joining together and explaining rules to protect the environment, rather than implementing rules by sheer force, he said. “Many fishermen do not have a biological grasp of why laws are critical to follow.”

Taking such an approach to law enforcement could lead to more law-abiding anglers, said Shirley.

He and other researchers recently presented such ideas at the International Congress of Conservation Biology.

Successful wildlife management throughout the Great Lakes states requires a high level of compliance with environmental laws, said Shirley, a candidate for a master’s in Fisheries and WIldlife and a Juris Doctor in MSU’s College of Law. That means it’s important for people to understand them.

Julie Viollaz, a criminology researcher at MSU and colleague of Shirley, said it’s also important to demonstrate that laws have a purpose by allowing communities to be a part of the law-making process. That increases the perception of legitimacy.

“Every person in a community has a role to play in the environment to protect wildlife, and if everyone plays that role, ecosystems would be balanced and more productive,” Viollaz said.

Shirley said two things determine compliance: One is massive enforcement, which can be expensive, and the other is whether citizens believe the law is right.

Nobel Prize-winning economist Elinor Ostrum found participatory management of natural resources is better than making laws and expecting people to follow them, Shirley said.

In a top-down system, scientists and politicians put into place rules that focus on ecological needs or human needs and do not balance the two. Participatory management minimizes conflict between ecological needs of wildlife and the human needs of natural resources.

It’s a problem if biologists can’t communicate with local people about conservation, Shirley said. It leads to distrust and becomes a reason for disobedience.

Science is undermined when the public doesn’t believe research, he said. In many cases, it’s an issue of unnecessarily injecting politics into science. That results in a lack of trust, which is seen in controversial topics such as climate change and vaccine denial.

Lack of communication has caused a rift between scientists and communities.

However, there’s a push to make such connections through National Science Foundation grants, Shirley said. The grants now have a broader impact section that requires scientists to explain how they’ll connect their research to the needs of communities.

One positive trend is when fisheries researchers work directly with fisheries regulators who in turn work with anglers, Shirley said.

Viollaz said accommodating people’s needs for conservation increases their compliance with the law. “However, sometimes it’s not necessarily about giving people what they want, but letting them be heard.”

Lauren Caramagno writes for Great Lakes Echo.

Mercury’s match? Sex hormones

By STEPHEN MAIER
Capital News Service

LANSING — Sex hormones might be the secret for lowering mercury levels in fish and maybe humans, researchers say.

States often issue consumption limits in areas with high concentrations of mercury in fish. The contaminant causes sickness in the people who eat them, and mercury poisoning is especially harmful to unborn children.

Not much is known about how contaminants like mercury and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) affect fish, said Rick Rediske, senior program manager at Grand Valley State University’s Robert B. Annis Water Resources Institute in Muskegon. They harm reproduction in ways that aren’t well known.

Researchers now believe that male fish are able to shed mercury, thanks to their testosterone.

Male fish accumulate higher contaminant concentrations than females, but also eliminate mercury more efficiently, according to a study published in 2016 in a scientific journal. They probably have testosterone to thank, said Rediske, who helped write the study.

Male fish have higher resting heart rates, are more active and tend to swim faster – -they therefore eat more and take in more contaminants like PCBs and mercury, said Charles Madenjian, the study’s lead author and a research fishery biologist with the Great Lakes Science Center in Cleveland.

Food is the greatest source of these contaminants in fish.

When the team tested for pollutants in Great Lakes fish, they found the males’ PCB concentrations were 17 to 43 percent higher than in females,’ he said. They expected to find a similar pattern for mercury. Instead, they found similar levels in both sexes.

“We were scratching our heads to figure out: why the difference between the two contaminants?” Madenjian said.

Sea lamprey offered some clues. Lamprey males had the sort of higher mercury levels researchers had expected to find in the other fish, indicating that they weren’t able to eliminate mercury as efficiently, he said.

Lamprey, which are an invasive parasite, are an older species with more primitive sex hormones in place of testosterone, he said. Testosterone may be the missing key that allows some fish to somehow eliminate mercury.

If true, that finding could change how scientists study mercury contamination.

“We think those characteristics apply not only to almost all species of fish, but also up to birds, reptiles, all the way up to the full gamut of vertebrates,” Madenjian said.

Rediske said researchers still need to explore that possibility. In the meantime, the study’s findings could also affect how mercury advisories are issued.

The Department of Natural Resources may want to start setting those limits more conservatively, he said. Although male fish in the Great Lakes are able to expel mercury, their intake is still high enough to leave them with higher concentrations than the females.

“It’s just a confounding factor when we set the fish advisory limits,” he said. “It would just suggest that there’s more variation than what the current models are set up to look at.”

Stephen Maier writes for Great Lakes Echo.

Trails built, growers boosted with rural development grants

By RILEY MURDOCK

Capital News Service

LANSING — A nonprofit in Marquette is improving trails and promoting sustainable tourism.

A distillery in Grand Traverse is buying a second still to contract whiskey distilling using Michigan ingredients.

And a pasta company in the same town plans to improve seed processing to further promote the Michigan agriculture industry.

These are among the organizations that won Rural Development Fund grants from the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development in 2017.

The development grants fund projects to help industries that make use of local land, create jobs and support infrastructure that benefits rural communities. The department’s 2018 grants were announced in mid-March.

The grants are very competitive, said Heather Throne, an outreach specialist for the department’s Agriculture Development Division.

“We received 86 proposals requesting more then $6.4 million” for 2018, Throne said. Eleven were awarded for $891,905 in projects, including in Escanaba, Marquette and Ludington.

Of 73 applicants for 2017, 17 received grants, including Grand Traverse Distillery and Grand Traverse Pasta Co. in Traverse City and the Superior Watershed Partnership in Marquette.

The watershed partnership received a $75,200 grant for its Tri-County Nature Tourism Project, according to the department.

Carl Lindquist, the executive director of the partnership, said the grant has allowed the nonprofit to fund improvements for local tourism and maintenance of its natural spaces.

“It’s been an amazing grant,” Lindquist said.

Marquette and nearby Upper Peninsula communities have seen such an increase in tourism that they’ve incurred some of its negative effects, including trail erosion, Lindquist said.

A lot of local governments don’t have the resources to address costs related to tourism and maintain their sites, he said. The grant helped the watershed partnership make trail improvements and better maintain local sites.

It also helped fund a Great Lakes Conservation Corps crew to work with local governments and small businesses in Marquette, Alger and Delta counties to enhance nature tourism opportunities. The crew helped to build new trails and restore historic structures. The work also gives young adults the opportunity to gain experience in local government and conservation, Lindquist said.

Grand Traverse Distillery owner Kent Rabish said his grant will help purchase a second still that will allow him to contract out whiskey distilling. He said this will allow other companies to produce a product that is 100 percent made in Michigan, as more than half of all craft distilleries are purchasing starter ingredients from large companies rather than local ones.

“Just because a customer sees something distilled in Michigan doesn’t mean there’s an ounce of Michigan grain in it,” Rabish said.

Instead of buying ingredients from out-of-state and “repackaging” them, Rabish said his contract distilling will allow Michigan breweries and distilleries to support Michigan agriculture. Rabish buys grain and other ingredients directly from a neighboring farm for the company’s lineup of alcohols.

The equipment must be ordered 12 months in advance, and the new still is expected sometime over the summer. The company is operating at full capacity, and because of seasonal finances the upgrade would have been three to five years down the line without the grant, Rabish said.

“It’s been wonderful,” Rabish said.

William Koucky, the owner of Grand Traverse Pasta Co., said his company easily fit the profile for the grant. The company buys grain right from local farmers, mills it and makes it into pasta, he said.

The company received a $75,250 grant last year to purchase equipment to improve its processes, according to Agriculture and Rural Development.

The company plans to use its grant to improve the efficiency and infrastructure for seed cleaning and conditioning, which will promote the local grain industry, Koucky said.

However, the grant hasn’t been implemented yet. Koucky said the grant will reimburse  him, so the company must have the money to spend on improvements first.

“If I bought a $10,000 piece of equipment, the state would cover $7 (thousand) of it,” Koucky said.