State agencies unite to reduce mental illness in jails

By JACK NISSEN
Capital News Service

LANSING — Up to 64 percent of county jail inmates in Michigan have some form of mental illness.

And while lawmakers discuss ways to reduce that number, law enforcement officers have put their own solutions to the test.

“Police chiefs are saying, ‘We’re spending tons of time with individuals with severe mental illness in the community and then we’re bringing them to jail,’” said Ross Buitendorp, a board member of the Mental Health Diversion Council.

Jails have become mental health hospitals, said Blaine Koops, the executive director of the Michigan Sheriffs’ Association.

Koops estimates between 45 and 65 percent of county jail inmates receive some form of psychotropic medication for mental illness, and 90 to 95 percent have some type of substance abuse problems.

Jails are not the best places to treat people with mental illness, Buitendorp said, so agencies are working together to identify and treat those who need help.

Law enforcement agencies are tackling the problem by increasing use of a decades-old program called Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training, Buitendorp said. The 40-hour class trains officers to better identify people with mental illness, and intervene in a smarter way.

A CIT-trained officer can recognize symptoms that someone who is suicidal, bipolar or schizophrenic might show during times of stress.

“What the officer does is look at the behavior of the person in front of them, and run it against the symptoms they’ve been trained in,” said Rafael Diaz, a lieutenant with the Kalamazoo Public Safety Department. “So when they see these things, they can separate the conduct driven by a mental health crisis as opposed to criminal conduct.”

The goal after recognizing those symptoms is slowing things down. Officers have time on their side, Diaz said.

“They’re going to try to open lines of communication using a set of skills called ‘active listening,’” Diaz said.

Active listening is an effort to hear what the person is saying. That can take time because many mentally ill patients have thought-process problems. But a successful attempt can calm the individuals instead of further agitating them.

In addition to keeping people with mental illness out of jail, CIT training also emphasizes diverting patients already behind bars to a mental care facility. Officials without such training are much less likely to move a person with a mental health crisis to an appropriate facility.

While Michigan doesn’t keep track of the reduced number of injuries during these interactions, other cities like Memphis, Tennessee, where CIT training has been in wider use, show the training works, Diaz said.

So Michigan agencies are doing more of it. The Community Mental Health Board of Clinton, Ingham and Eaton Counties reports 95 cases of the method used in the last year. lt expects to have 160 officers trained before 2018.

Buitendorp is also the director of substance abuse at Network180, a community health agency in Kent County that has helped train 80 officers.

“The police departments and the emergency departments are our biggest fans and our biggest partners,” Buitendorp said, “because we all serve the same clients.”

The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan says the increased training is a great first step to addressing larger issues like mass incarceration of undeserving individuals.

“Recognizing that mental health issues are at the base of a lot of these criminal charges is so important,” said Shelli Weisenberg, ACLU’s political director. “Putting the resources for the training, creating those collaborations even though we don’t have resources in place, it’s a fabulous first start.”

The money comes from grants distributed by the federal government and the jail-diversion committee, donations from organizations like the National Alliance for Mental Illness and increased commitments from police agencies willing to send officers to be trained.

For example, Oakland County has a mental crisis center, called Common Ground, designed for people needing immediate mental help. It’s an important stop for many police officers who need to drop off a mentally ill person, said Jeff Kapuscinski, the director of business development at the agency.

“We think that the programs and services we provide for people in those situations are not only more appropriate for the care they might need at that moment, but it’s also less costly for taxpayers than sending them to jail,” Kapuscinski said.

Kapuscinski says Common Ground is one of only a handful of agencies of its kind in the country. The agency diverted 431 people from jail in 2015, saving Oakland County more than $5 million.

The savings represent progress, Kapuscinski said, but it’s not more than money is necessary. A lack of material resources, like available beds in hospitals, is a serious problem for mentally ill patients.

“Frequently, it’s been our experience that folks experiencing mental health issues or a mental health crisis are lower in terms of the priority of being served in an emergency department,” Kapuscinski said. “That’s when emergency department boarding becomes an issue.”

Both Koops and Kapuscinski agree it’s not uncommon for inmates to wait weeks for an open spot.

“The number-one issue up here is not training, it’s the availability of bed space for mental health patients,” said Cheboygan County Sheriff Dale Clarmont. “We had a violent offender with mental issues a little while ago who waited three days before we got a bed for him.”

AuSable Valley Community Mental Health, which covers Iosco, Ogemaw and Oscoda counties, averages three to four such individuals a year. Northern Lakes Community Mental Health, which covers six counties in the northwest part of the Lower Peninsula, diverted 30 people people from jail.

Clarmont requires that all of his officers receive training every 24 months, but those training sessions are less in-depth than some that are hosted further south.

“We can train them for the very short term,” he said. “But we are not mental health officials. To be frank, we don’t have the medication or facilities.”

Despite the mountain of barriers many sheriffs and community health officials have begun to climb, other public figures involved in the conversation are on the move. In July, 2017 the MiLegislature created the House C.A.R.E.S. task force made up of 14 lawmakers. The group is charged with addressing the growing issue of mental health, and that includes mental health reform in the criminal justice system.

“We’ve identified through the first meetings of the task force, perhaps we can do a better job of communication when someone enters the corrections area,” said Rep. Dave Pagel, R-Berrien Springs, a member of the task force. “We have to find the best way to care for these folks.”

For Koops, of the Sheriffs’ Association, the pivot toward more help for the mentally ill is a welcome first step toward solving an old problem.

“From a personal perspective, I’ve been doing this for 42 years,” he said. “And this is the first time in 42 years I’ve actually seen some coalitions come together to see this issue and want to work and make it better.”

Commission moves to lift liquor store location requirements

By KALEY FECH
Capital News Service

LANSING – The state Liquor Control Commission is pushing to allow liquor stores to locate closer to each other, saying an existing rule prevents competition and denies opportunities for small business owners.

The commission recently voted to repeal the current restriction, in effect since 1979, which prohibits stores from being located within a half mile of each other, said David Harns, public information officer for the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs. The Legislature’s Joint Committee on Administrative Rules must agree to the change for the repeal to go into effect.

Rep. Steven Johnson, R-Wayland, who chairs that committee, said he supports eliminating the half-mile restriction.

“To say a company can’t operate within half a mile of another that sells liquor is anti- free market,” he said.

Harns agrees.

“The artificial half-mile boundary has stifled competition in an industry that should be open and free for small businesses to serve their local communities,” he said.

But the move has generated some opposition from existing retailers fearing competition and legislators concerned about having too much liquor in one place.

“I don’t see a reason for it,” said Joshua Botsis, owner of Southside Party Store in Holland. “It will only negatively influence the stores that already exist.”

Sen. Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge, introduced a bill in June to make the half-mile rule a law. If the rule were to become a law, the Liquor Control Commission would be unable to rescind it.

“The rule for 40 years was that liquor stores had to be a half mile from each other,” Jones said. “Now an unelected board can change that rule.”

The Senate Regulatory Reform Committee has sent an amended version of the bill to the full Senate.

Jones said his concern is the potential increase in the number of liquor stores in a certain area.

“Cities are nervous about having a liquor store on every corner,” Jones said.

But Harns said such fears are unfounded. The Liquor Control Commission cannot increase the number of licenses allowed. The commission can issue one license for every 3,000 people in a city, incorporated village or township.

“The false claim that there will be a liquor store on every corner is absurd on its face,” Harns said. “It is impossible by law to have a liquor store on every corner unless the Legislature passes a law that would create more licenses.”

Jones contends that the change will impact small, locally owned stores.

“Families could lose their life savings,” he said. “When they opened their stores, they expected to not have any competition for half a mile. With this rule, a store could open right next to them and take away their business.”

Jeff Dobler, owner of the Beverage Company in Traverse City, said the rule benefits only large stores like Meijer.

“With this, a Meijer can build right next to a Costco and compete for their business,” Dobler said. “Small stores benefit from having a little bit of distance.”

Small stores will not be able to compete with big ones, Jones said. “This allows big box stores to run out the little guys.”

Holiday season underway for Christmas tree growers

By CARL STODDARD
Capital News Service

LANSING — The holiday season is set to begin for Michigan’s Christmas tree growers, who are hoping to at least match last year’s sales.

By the end of October, Michigan tree farmers will be harvesting trees and shipping them to stores and Christmas tree lots in several states. That’s all in preparation for the day after Thanksgiving, the unofficial start of the Christmas tree-buying season.

“The day after Thanksgiving, we will open the doors and there will be people waiting in line,” said Mel Koelling, who with his wife Laurie owns and operates Tannenbaum Farms in Mason, south of Lansing. “We are always optimistic.”

Koelling has been growing and selling Christmas trees for about 40 years. In that time, he said, sales have steadily increased.

About 80 to 100 of the farm’s 160 acres are planted with Christmas trees, and nearly all will be sold to individuals, primarily customers who want to cut their own trees, Koelling said.

“We certainly promote the experience,” he said. “We try to make it into an enjoyable, memorable experience.”

It is not unusual to see two or three generations show up together to get a tree, Koelling added. He encourages customers to make the selection of a tree a family tradition because Christmas is the “most significant of all American holidays.”

Also preparing for the season is Dutchman Tree Farms in Manton, which  owns and leases a total of 7,000 acres. Dutchman, owned by Joel Hoekwater and Chris Maciborski, is considered the largest Christmas tree farm in Michigan and sells nearly all of its trees to the wholesale market, said Pam Vanderwal, its office manager.

She said the farm expects an increase in sales this year, in part due to Christmas tree shortages in North Carolina and on the West Coast. Workers at the farm, which is near Cadillac, already are busy preparing for the upcoming Christmas season.

“We are in full gear here now, taking orders, trying to figure out how many trees we need,” Vanderwal said.

According to its website, the farm started by selling one variety, Scotch pine, at a farmers market in 1972. Today it offers nine varieties of cut trees, ranging from 3 feet to 50 feet tall.

Dutchman Farms also offers balled and container-grown evergreens, seedlings, wreaths and other Christmas greenery.

Tannenbaum and Dutchman are among the many farms that place Michigan third in the nation in the number of Christmas trees harvested, supplying about 1.7 million fresh trees to the national market each year, according to the Michigan Christmas Tree Association.

Michigan also grows and sells more than nine major Christmas tree species on a wholesale level, which is more species than any other state, the association said.

In all, Michigan has about 27,000 acres in commercial Christmas tree production, with an annual net value of more than $27 million.

The industry makes an additional $1.3 million in the sales of wreaths, cut boughs, garland and other related items, according to the association. And, for every Christmas tree harvested, Michigan growers plant three new trees for future harvests.

While there will be plenty of trees for available for holiday decorating, the association warns that particular varieties might be hard to come by.

Amy Start, executive director of the 172-member Durand-based industry association, said years ago, Scotch pine Christmas trees were the top sellers in Michigan, but they have since been edged out by the increasingly popular Fraser firs. In fact, the Frasers are a little too popular.

“Fraser firs will be hard to get,” Start said. “There’s not enough to harvest.”

Tannenbaum Farms’ Koelling, who was a forestry professor at Michigan State University for 35 years, said about 25 percent of Michigan’s  growers produce trees for the wholesale market, shipping trees to stores and lots as far away as the Gulf Coast.

Most of those growers are in the less populated areas of the state, and together they produce about 75 percent of the trees sold in Michigan each year.

The majority of tree farms, he said, are in the more populated parts of the state, sell mostly to individual customers. However, they account for only about 25 percent of the  trees sold in the state each year.

Around the country, some 350 million Christmas trees currently are growing, according to the National Christmas Tree Association. The average growing time of a Christmas tree is seven years.

The national association says the top Christmas tree-producing states, in order, are Oregon, North Carolina, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Washington.

Michigan farmers encouraged to help fight water pollution

BY STEVEN MAIER
Capital News Service

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Baneck said there’s been a mindset change.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Steven Maier is a reporter for Great Lakes Echo.

Lynx could survive if returned to Isle Royale, study suggests

By ERIC FREEDMAN
Capital News Service

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Here is your file:

HOTWEATHER: The record-breaking temperatures in late September combined with the lack of rainfall throughout the summer is drying out Michigan crops and cows. On the plus side: The heat produces better wine. We talk to commodity groups and farmers from Mason and Alma. By Kaley Fech. FOR TRAVERSE CITY, PETOSKEY, LEELENAU, LANSING CITY PULSE, GRAND RAPIDS BUSINESS, HOLLAND, OCEANA, BLISSFIELD AND ALL POINTS

CRAFTBEER: Craft liquor distillers and beer makers could tap into a new source of funds for research and promotion under a plan to expand the state wine council’s mandate. A bill already reported out of committee would create the Michigan Craft Beverage Council that would include craft beer brewers, liquor distillers and winemakers. We talk to the bill’s sponsor from Oshtemo Township, representatives of beer, wine and liquor makers and the state. By Jack Nissen. FOR GRAND RAPIDS BUSINESS, MARQUETTE, BIG RAPIDS, LANSING CITY PULSE, METRO TIMES, STURGIS, THREE RIVERS AND ALL POINTS

UPPOET: The unofficial poet laureate of the Upper Peninsula has just published a new collection of poems, many of them heralding the scenery and wildlife of Northern Michigan. We interview Russell Thorburn, who lives in Marquette.  By Kate Habrel. FOR MARQUETTE, BAY MILLS, SAULT STE. MARIE, ST. IGNACE, CHEBOYGAN, PETOSKEY, HARBOR SPRINGS, TRAVERSE CITY, LEELANAU, ALCONA, CRAWFORD COUNTY, CADILLAC, BIG RAPIDS, MANISTEE, MONTMORENCY & ALL POINTS.

        w/POETCOVER: Russell Thorburn’s new collection of poetry, “Somewhere We’ll Leave the World.” Credit: Wayne State University Press

MOOSE: About 500 moose live in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. And as their numbers grow, so does their draw for tourism. There are another 1,600 of the animals on Lake Superior’s remote Isle Royale. With the wolf population there down to two, experts predict the number could double in three to four years. By Carl Stoddard. FOR MARQUETTE, SAULT STE MARIE, ST. IGNACE, CHEBOYGAN AND ALL POINTS

w/MooseSnow: The Department of Natural Resources surveys moose numbers from the air. Credit:  Department of Natural Resources

w/MooseSign: Michigan’s moose population is on the rise. Police reported 18 traffic accidents involving moose in 2016.  Credit: Carl Stoddard

 

Bill would create a council for beer, wine and liquor makers

By JACK NISSEN
Capital News Service

LANSING — Craft beer and liquor makers could soon see some money coming their way that originally only winemakers could access.

A bill introduced in the House would replace a statewide council for winemakers with the Michigan Craft Beverage Council for beer, liquor and wine makers. It’s music to some micro-beverage makers’ ears. The money they receive would go to researching and promoting all three beverages.

“Our bill really says, ‘Hey, this Grape and Wine Council has been a good thing for wine grape growers and small winemakers in Michigan. Let’s see if it can be similarly good for breweries,’” said Michigan Brewers Guild Executive Director Scott Graham.

Currently several winemakers appointed by the governor sit on the council, which is under the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. Non-voting members such as Michigan State University researchers and Michigan Economic Development Corp. members advise the council on the best way to spend its money. The bill would remove those advisors and the department, which is the source of some concern.

“This bill removes us from being a voting member, and I have zero problem with that,” said Matt Blakely, the director of policy and legislative affairs with the department. “But it also removes other departments and people in the state from non-voting status that I feel is important to include in this.”

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Brandt Iden, R-Oshtemo Township, says that the industry has changed and the council needs to reflect that change.

“I took a look at the Grape and Wine Council and said, ‘it’s no longer just that industry in Michigan now,’” Iden said. “As we look at all the craft beverages — from distilling to, obviously, the many breweries that are in my district—I’ve said we really need to expand this. We need to be inclusive of all of this.”

The bill would mandate that the new council spend half its budget on research projects and financial aid programs. Blakley doesn’t like those restrictions.

“In the current Grape and Wine Council, members decide how the money is to be spent,” he said. “I would support letting the industry members as part of this new council choose how this money is to be spent. It’s the council’s money and they should get to decide how it’s spent.”

Last year, the council received $550,000 from small winemaker, brewery and distillery licenses that the Liquor Control Commission passes on. Under the new proposed legislation, the council would receive no additional funds.

But Iden said he hopes to work with the appropriations committee to get extra money for the council.

“That’s the next step, and I need to get the framework in place first and then I can look at some specifics of where those dollars could come from in the budget process,” he said.

The research supported by the council focuses on methods of planting, growing and insect and disease prevention. Adding beer and distillers to the group would mean looking into hop and barley production, a prospect that’s of particular interest to the Michigan Craft Distillers Association.

Local distillers  usually get their ingredients from out of state, said John O’Conner, the president of the distillers group.

If researchers could look for ways to more profitably grow those ingredients in Michigan, that would be great, he said

“We’ve had no seat at the table in the past, so we just appreciate getting tacked onto it,” he said.

New to the craft industry, the distillers association started in 2014 and now has about 30 members.

The Michigan Beer and Wine Wholesalers Association, which represents distributors, likes the proposal but remains officially neutral.

“Expanding the scope to include all of the craft manufacturers is probably a good thing,” said Spencer Nevins, the group’s president.

The distillers association hasn’t analyzed its Michigan revenues. Michigan wine generates $4.9 billion in economic activity, reports WineAmerica, a national industry analyst. Michigan’s beer industry is worth $10.5 billion, according to the National Beer Wholesalers Association and the Beer Institute.

Michigan has almost 200 craft breweries and 195 wine producers.

The bill has been referred to the House after the Regulatory Reform committee voted it out.

Dry summer, hot September stress farmers

By KALEY FECH
Capital News Service

LANSING — The record-breaking temperatures in late September combined with the near- drought like conditions throughout the summer is drying out Michigan crops and cows.  

On the plus side: the heat produces better wine.

“With the heat we’ve had, and we’ve only gotten about six-tenths of an inch of rain since July, it’s only making things drier,” said Matt Cary, an Alma soybean farmer.

These hot, dry conditions cause soybeans to mature earlier, according to Mark Seamon, the research coordinator with the  Michigan Soybean Promotion Committee.

“The heat and the dry weather sped up maturity, which means farmers can harvest earlier,” he said. “But it’s also causing the beans to be drier.”

That’s a problem that could cut into profits.

Nearly 30 percent of Michigan experienced abnormally dry conditions by the end of September, and 3 percent was hit with moderate drought, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The weather has pushed soybean harvests up by a couple of weeks, said Kate Thiel, a field crops specialist with Michigan Farm Bureau. But growers are ready.

“Farmers are the ultimate risk-takers,” she said. “There are so many elements out of their control, like the weather. They have to be prepared for anything.”

Usually the soybean harvest runs from the beginning to the middle of October, Cary said. “We’re one and a half to two weeks ahead of previous years.”  

Dave Cheney, a farmer from Mason, began harvesting Sept. 22. “This is the earliest our farm has ever started harvesting,” he said.

The optimal moisture level for soybeans is right around 13 percent, Thiel said. Too  much moisture and farmers have to pay to dry their beans so they don’t get moldy.

But if they are too dry, it will take more beans to make up a 60 pound bushel. That cuts into profits.

High temperatures in late September could reduce the moisture by as much as 2 percent in a day, Thiel said. That creates a short window for farmers to harvest.

Soybeans are sold by weight — one bushel weighs 60 pounds, Seamon said. The more soybeans it takes to reach 60 pounds, the fewer bushels a farmer can produce and sell, resulting in a loss of revenue.

“Some of the ones that are ready are too dry,” Cheney said. “They’re coming out at 9 or 10 percent.”

He said that can equate to a $10 to $15 loss per acre.

Carry expects his yield to suffer.

“Last year I had between 60 and 62 bushels per acre,” he said. “This year I’ll be happy with 40 to 43.”

Dairy farmers are also hurting.

“The heat makes cows lethargic and their appetite wanes,” said Ken Nobis, president of the Michigan Milk Producers Association. “When they don’t eat as much, they don’t produce as much milk.”

He estimated the decline in milk production to bottom out at nearly 8 percent. Production should return with cooler weather, he said.

The news isn’t all bad. Vineyards and wineries have benefited from the late season heat.

“As a grape grower, I’m delighted,” said Charles Edson, owner and winemaker at Bel Lago Vineyards and Winery. “Grapes need a certain amount of heat to ripen. We had a cool summer on the Leelanau Peninsula, so the hot temperatures really moved it along.”

Cheney, who operates a farm that’s been in his family for generations, said things could be much worse for soybean farmers. It’s better to have too little rain than too much rain, he said.

“A dry year will scare you,” he said. “But a wet year will starve you.”

New poetry collection showcases beauty of Northern Michigan

By KATE HABREL
Capital News Service

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

on the carryout menu: egg rolls, noodles.

She shows him a table in the corner, not

understanding why a fox would want Chinese

at this hour.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kate Habrel writes for Great Lakes Echo.

Michigan moose on the loose — and on the rebound

By CARL STODDARD
Capital News Service

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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