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

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

Ships carry not just cargo, but viruses, into Great Lakes

By LIAM TIERNAN

Capital News Service

LANSING — Ballast water entering the Great Lakes from ships may contain viruses dangerous to wildlife and humans, according to a recent study published by the American Chemical Society.

The water used to stabilize vessels may be transporting viruses from ocean water or foreign lakes to the Great Lakes, according to Yiseul Kim, a postdoctoral microbiology researcher at Michigan State University.

Kim’s research involved sampling and detecting virus-like particles using a method that differs from others previously used to study ballast water. The method, called metagenomics, studies chains of viral genetic material sampled directly from the ballast tanks. The researchers then match them to known viral chains. Continue reading

Where people are, wrens aren’t

By JACK NISSEN

Capital News Service

LANSING — That short burst of tweets you hear from wrens might be the best way to tell if they’re near, but it isn’t the only way.

A good way to predict the bird populations in the Great Lakes is to listen not for the songs of wrens, but for the roar of car engines. A recent study in the Journal of the Society of Wetland Scientists shows where humans are and where wren populations should be – but aren’t.

One of the broadest research projects on two species of wrens in the Great Lakes region found that urban development has a primary influence on where the birds live.

For the most part, where you find people is where you likely won’t find wrens. And the Department of Environmental Quality identifies human development, like agriculture and industry, as key factors in the loss of wetlands, the primary habitat for these birds.

“Human development of the landscape proved to be the best model for predicting where these species can be found,” said Hannah Panci, a member of the Natural Resources Research Institute at the University of Minnesota Duluth and the study’s lead researcher.   Continue reading

Poet researched Great Lakes’ wrecks for new collection

By KATE HABREL

Capital News Service

LANSING — A 200-pound ship’s radiator interrupted a funeral in 1922 when it plunged from the sky and into the Falk Undertaking Parlors on Military Street in Port Huron.

It came from the Omar D. Conger, a ship blown to pieces when its boiler exploded while docked at Port Huron.

“That part is accurate! It happened! And that’s just bizarre!” said poet Cindy Hunter Morgan, an assistant professor of creative writing at Michigan State University. “When I read that, I thought, I’ve got to build a poem around that.”

And she did. From that poem: Continue reading

Rain, evaporation make predicting lake levels tricky

By STEVEN MAIER

Capital News Service

LANSING — Predicting water levels in the Great Lakes isn’t as straightforward as it would seem.

A warm winter has led to lower ice coverage — just 5 percent of the Great Lakes was covered with ice as of March 1. The average coverage at this time for the last 40 years has been 43 percent, according to the Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory in Ann Arbor.

Less ice means less protection from evaporation and, theoretically, lower water levels, said Jacob Bruxer, a senior water resources engineer with Environment and Climate Change Canada.

But it’s not quite that simple. And not the case now.

That’s because water levels are a function of many factors, Bruxer said.

“Everyone wants to make that into a big story — about how ice cover is affecting water in the lakes,” Bruxer said. “I would just stress that evaporation is very complicated.” Continue reading

Sentinel spiders are new superhero to scientists

By NATALIE SPRATT

Capital News Service

LANSING — Scientists have discovered an environmental contaminant in a creature that many people would like to avoid: spiders.

That discovery made in the Upper Peninsula puts spiders in the role of environmental sentinels — guardians that help scientists understand where to concentrate cleanup efforts.

A study published in the journal Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry looked at a heavily polluted area of the Manistique River. Scientists studied spiders there because of their place in the food web and their ability to accumulate PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) in measurable quantities without harming themselves.

The findings suggest that spiders living along riverbanks “may be useful sentinels of relative PCB availability to aquatic and riparian food webs in aquatic ecosystems like rivermouths,” the study said. Continue reading

Hardwood trees one way to stop Detroit scars, film argues

By MORGAN LINN
Capital News Service

LANSING — Blight harms Detroit residents every day.

It lowers the perceived worth of a community and makes residents feel unsafe walking in their own neighborhood.

That’s why John Hantz, a finance mogul and long-time Detroit resident, decided to help replace that blight with the world’s largest urban farm.

He promised $30 million of his own money to renovate 10,000 acres of Detroit.

“It’s an investment in a livable neighborhood,” said Mike Score, a Detroit native and the president of Hantz Farms, Hantz’s company.

But Hantz met unexpected resistance from some local residents who saw the move not as charitable, but as a grab for land by a wealthy, white business executive.

The project also led to the release of the new documentary “Land Grab,” about the creation of Hantz Woodlands and the political uproar surrounding it.

Director-producer Sean O’Grady had heard about the controversy and wanted to find out why residents opposed a project that could benefit them.

O’Grady, who grew up in Saginaw, previously produced two other documentaries, “In a World” and “Big Sur.” Continue reading

Childhood interest in Great Lakes freighters grew into book

By NATASHA BLAKELY

Capital News Service

LANSING — Power is clear in every curve and edge of the freighters that cut through the blue-gray waters of the Great Lakes.

It’s a familiar sight to those living within view of the shipping industry that plays such a key role in the region’s economy.

And it’s one that fascinated Frank Boles, who grew up in Lincoln Park and fed his interest in large cargo ships during childhood trips to Bishop Park on the Detroit River.

“I realized early on that I did not have the stomach to be a good sailor,” Boles said. “Roller coasters persuaded me of that. I admired them from afar.” Continue reading