Old dams threaten downstream life

By LAINA STEBBINS
Capital News Service

LANSING — Since Michiganders drive on them every day, roads and bridges are often the first things that come to mind when it comes to the condition of Michigan’s infrastructure. Less visible – but just as hazardous if not properly maintained – are the state’s 2,500 dams.

Just as deteriorating roads and bridges can cause significant damage, aging dams in high-hazard locations have the potential to do great harm to the environment and to human life.

The Otsego Township Dam on the Kalamazoo River is one such dam. It’s in poor condition and located in an area that would see serious consequences if the dam were to collapse. Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Director Keith Creagh said his department is removing the dam in conjunction with the federal Environmental Protection Agency. Continue reading

Giving new life to road kill

By KAREN HOPPER USHER

Capital News Service

LANSING — Taxidermy is about movement.

Dead animals will never again do so much as twitch a tail feather. But it’s up to the taxidermist to make it look like an animal is suspended in action, frozen as it turns or soars or strikes.

Jonathan Wright is pretty good at it.

The 32-year-old native of Mesick is a past world champion of taxidermy and is the go-to taxidermist for the Lakeshore Museum Center in Muskegon.

“I can’t say enough good things about Jonathan Wright,” said Krista Menacher, the museum’s exhibit curator.

That relationship between Wright and the museum started in 2014 with a snowy owl road kill.

Wings of Wonder, a raptor sanctuary and rehabilitation program in Empire, and the museum sprang into action to extend the dead bird’s life in another way: through taxidermy. Continue reading

40 percent of households struggle in Michigan, study shows

By CHAO YAN

Capital News Service

LANSING — While state officials celebrate the plunge of Michigan’s unemployment rate from its 14.9 percent peak in 2009 to around 5 percent today, more than a million families are missing the party.

Some 40 percent of Michigan households, or 1.53 million, are considered as either living in poverty or among the state’s working poor, according to a new report from the Michigan Association of United Ways.

That group includes both the 15 percent of households living beneath the federal poverty level and the 25 percent of struggling households that earn too much to meet poverty standards but not enough to afford basic household needs.

The United Way, a nongovernmental health and human services provider, reached these conclusions after studying income and employment in the state from 2007 to 2015. Continue reading

Prehistoric hunting grounds found deep in Lake Huron

 

By ERIC FREEDMAN

Capital News Service

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

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

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

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

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

Bill would allow clergy to refuse to marry couples

By CAITLIN TAYLOR

Capital News Service

LANSING — Some religious leaders are questioning the necessity of a House bill aimed at further protecting their First Amendment rights.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Jeffrey Noble, R-Plymouth, would allow ministers, clerics and other religious practitioners to refuse to marry couples who violate the religious beliefs of the clergy. Noble, who is a minister, declined to be interviewed.

Co-sponsor Rep. Tom Barrett, R-Potterville, said he feels that the First Amendment already provides these protections to religious leaders, but some legislators want statutory protections to go beyond religious freedom.

“I feel that religious institutions have come under assault in the past,” Barrett said. “We didn’t want to see a situation take place where people were forced to perform wedding ceremonies that would not meet the qualifications of their religious faith.” Continue reading

Do Michigan lawmakers know enough about the law?

By LAURA BOHANNON

Capital News Service

LANSING — Legislators work every day to make and amend laws, but how many have a background in the field

Thirteen lawmakers — of 148 in both House and Senate — have worked as lawyers, according to the State Bar of Michigan. That accounts for less than 10 percent of the Legislature. It’s a slight drop from 17 lawyer-legislators in 2013-14, and 22 a decade ago.

Rep. Peter Lucido, R-Shelby Township, is one of the 13 lawyers currently serving, and he said he believes more lawyers should be roaming the Capitol.

“You don’t need a prerequisite to be a lawmaker,” Lucido said. “There is no formal education, there is no formal training. There is no expectation other than to come up to the State House, attend your committees and to vote out bills from committee to the floor.” Continue reading

Computer model bolsters sustainability, production for dairy farms

By IAN WENDROW

Capital News Service

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

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

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

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

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

Public child support calculator can reduce conflict

By ISAAC CONSTANS

Capital News Service

LANSING — Michigan has launched a free child support calculator to help parents determine what their unique child care responsibilities are.

The public online tool, which existed earlier through several private websites, lets parents enter a number of variables into the state formula for child support and returns a payment estimate. The result is the same as would be determined by Department of Health and Human Services staff although missing or misentered figures could lead to variations.

State officials said they hoped the calculator would help reduce the conflict between parents that can come from child support settlements, helping both parents understand how support payments are determined and improving the chance for dependable and prompt payments. Continue reading

If you want to find all the cops, they’re buying all the doughnut shops

By CARL STODDARD

Capital News Service

LANSING — What started as a simple rescue mission for nine Clare police officers has turned into breakout business success.

The nine officers, who made up Clare’s entire police force, learned that a longtime bakery and doughnut shop in their hometown was about to close. So they joined forces and bought the business in 2009.

Today it is called Cops & Doughnuts and is drawing customers from all over the world. The company also has rolled out other shops, called “precincts,” in Ludington, Gaylord, Bay City and South Bend, Indiana.

This summer, a fifth precinct is expected to open in Mt. Pleasant, according to Alan “Bubba” White, vice president of the Cops & Doughnuts chain. Continue reading