Two species – one to preserve, one to control – challenge dam removal

By IAN WENDROW

Capital News Service

LANSING — A proposed dam removal along the Grand River faces significant delays due to its potential to disrupt river ecosystems. The environmental risks involve the fate of two species: sea lamprey and snuffbox mussels.

One needs to be kept out while the other needs to be protected.

The Sixth Street Dam in downtown Grand Rapids was installed in the mid-1800s to help ship milled logs downstream by controlling the water’s height and flow. It drowned the river’s naturally occurring rapids, allowing logs to float over them.

Eventually log transportation no longer relied on the river, but the dam remained.

Years of inadequate maintenance began to pose a hazard to kayakers and swimmers. In 2013, firefighters rescued two kayakers after the bumped against the dam and capsized. This and other accidents motivated city and state agencies to get the removal process going in earnest. Continue reading

Lawmakers want citizen oversight of environmental decisions

By LAINA STEBBINS
Capital News Service

LANSING — Bills introduced by House and Senate Democrats would establish citizen oversight commissions to restore a layer of accountability in environmental enforcement – commissions which have not existed in Michigan for a quarter-century.

The boards would allow public input and oversight over the Department of Environmental Quality’s air quality, water quality and oil and gas operations throughout the state.

Rep. Sheldon Neeley, D-Flint, the House sponsor of one bill, said high-quality oversight like this is necessary to ensure that incidents like the Flint water crisis will not happen anywhere else in the state.

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Tough choice: Fight insect invaders or protect pollinators

By IAN WENDROW
Capital News Service

LANSING — Neonicotinoids, a class of insecticides frequently used in agriculture, get plenty of bad press for killing pollinators like honeybees.

But they’ve also emerged as an important combatant of the emerald ash borer, an invasive insect that has devastated ash populations all over the United States with the highest risk in the Midwest and the northern half of the Eastern seaboard.

For pollinator protectors in Michigan, that’s a problem.

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State gets “fair” rating — or worse — in environmental survey

By MARIE ORTTENBURGER

Capital News Service

LANSING — The Michigan public is dissatisfied with state government’s handling of environmental issues.

That’s what the latest State of the State Survey finds.

The telephone survey of more than 1,000 Michigan residents explored how they feel state and local government officials are doing on the environment and asked them to rate officials as “excellent,” “good,” “fair” or “poor.”

State government is responsible for regulating air and water quality, parks, hunting and fishing, wildlife, land development and alternative energy, among other environmental  topics.

The largest group of residents surveyed (42 percent) rated Gov. Rick Snyder as “poor” in carrying out environmental responsibilities, and 32 percent rated him “fair.” Only 2 percent gave him an excellent rating for his efforts on environmental matters.

State agencies and the Legislature generally received “fair” ratings for their roles in environmental regulation. For agencies, 45 percent of those surveyed gave a “fair” rating and 28 percent said “poor.” For the Legislature, survey responses were 46 percent “fair” and 34 percent “poor.” Continue reading

Can cormorants help control Great Lakes invaders?

By ERIC FREEDMAN
Capital News Service
LANSING — Double-crested cormorants are the bane of many Great Lakes anglers, devouring prize game fish and damaging the sport and commercial fishery.

At least that’s a widely held belief about these birds — and a generally wrong one, Northern Illinois University researchers say.

Cormorants’ fish-stealing rep may be a bum rap — and the truth is more complex, as the first dietary study of cormorants in southern Lake Michigan shows.

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Cormorants at a southern Lake Michigan colony. Credit: Patrick. Madura.

Even better news: The cormorants are chowing down instead on invasive species — mainly alewife, round goby and white perch — which together accounted for 80 to 90 percent of their diet.

“Because this is the first such study to be completed in southern Lake Michigan, its results will help to inform discussion among local stakeholders and will provide valuable data to other researchers studying cormorant diet in the region,” said lead author Patrick Madura, who led the study as a master’s student.
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Private land finds home in Qualified Forest Program

By DAVID POULSON

Capital News Service

LANSING — A state program that more than tripled the private land managed for forestry in just three years earns unusual praise from both forest products producers and environmentalists.

If there is one thing the two groups agree on, it’s that both of their preferred uses “are better than subdivisions,” said Marvin Roberson, a forest ecologist with the Michigan chapter of the Sierra Club. “If you got 160 acres and your only choice is to sell to a subdivision because you can’t afford the taxes, this keeps it in forested land.”

The Qualified Forest Program gives tax breaks to landowners who agree to manage their forests under a plan developed by a state-certified forester. The plans help them harvest their land sustainably, but they also can consider how to better provide for wildlife or keep invasive species from overtaking the land.

Industry officials agree it’s been a success.
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Environmentalists frustrated with perceived lack of plans for carbon emissions reductions

By JOSHUA BENDER
Capital News Service

LANSING — Some  environmental advocates are frustrated with what they say is a broken promise by the state’s governor to address carbon emissions from Michigan’s coal plants.

In response to the EPA’s proposed Clean Power Plan regulations on carbon emissions, Gov. Rick Snyder promised greater use of more environmentally friendly power sources, said Dorothea Thomas, environmental and climate justice organizer for Michigan United, an  advocacy group.

The EPA proposed regulations were recently put on hold by the U.S. Supreme Court, said Judy Palnau, a communications officer for the Michigan Agency for Energy. As a result, the state has delayed plans for implementing them.

“The court stay does introduce a substantial amount of legal uncertainty, so it was deemed wise to hold back,” she said.
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Report raises concerns about well-being of forests

By JOSHUA BENDER
Capital News Service

LANSING – The recently released Department of Natural Resources (DNR) 2015 forest health report has some forestry experts worried about the state’s future ecological well-being.

“The most concerning thing to me is how many of the diseases and insects are spreading,” said Tara Bal, a forestry expert and research assistant professor at Michigan Technological University’s School of Forest Resources and Environmental Science.

Pests such as the invasive hemlock wooly adelgid bug and the spruce budworm, combined with the warming climate, threaten several tree and animal species, some experts warn.
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Debate continues on how to get the lead out – of ammo

By BROOKE KANSIER
Capital News Service

LANSING – Hunting is killing Michigan wildlife – and not just in the way you think.

It’s because a toxic metal – lead – has been a hunting staple for centuries. Despite being removed from products like paint, gasoline and pesticides, lead remains popular for shot and bullets due to its malleability and tendency to fracture, making for bigger wound tracks and faster kills.

That fracturing has its downsides, however. Lead fragments in gut piles – left behind when hunters lighten the load to carry their kill out of the woods – can put wildlife at risk of ingesting remnants of the toxin, according to the U.S. Geological Survey National Wildlife Health Center in Wisconsin.
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