Farmers, Great Lakes benefit from cover crops

By ANDREW BLOK
Capital News Service

LANSING – Good Stead Farm in Hope is trying to do something special year-round: bring fresh produce and meat to some of its neighbors. Sarah Longstreth, Good Stead’s farmer, delivers to restaurants, farmer’s markets and her neighbors through community-supported agriculture shares. People purchase a share at the season’s start and receive veggies every week from the farm north of Midland. Along the way they get to know their farmer, too. Longstreth knows each bit of food she successfully raises starts with the soil.

Small streams have large impact on big lake

By KALEY FECH
Capital News Service

LANSING — Very little is known about the smallest tributaries that flow into Lake Superior. Several researchers at Michigan Technological University in Houghton are starting to change that. Their recent paper in the Journal of the American Water Resources Association asks how these small streams impact the ecology and biochemistry of Lake Superior. “This is a paper that was very much intended to ask questions,” said Amy Marcarelli, the lead researcher and an ecosystem ecologist at Michigan Tech. “We wanted to throw questions out there to get people interested.”

Answers, for now, are few.

Corn yield higher as temperatures warm

By ERIC FREEDMAN
Capital News Service

LANSING – A changing climate has contributed to higher maize yields in Michigan and other Corn Belt states, a new study has found. It attributes more than one-quarter – 28 percent – of the region’s higher crop yield since 1981 to trends toward overall warmer conditions, cooling of the hottest growing-season temperatures and farmers’ climate-related earlier planting and choice of longer-maturing varieties. The climate trend accounts for 15 percent of the total yield gain, said lead author Ethan Butler of the University of Minnesota Department of Forest Resources. Maize is “an important food, feed and fuel crop in the Midwest that is both highly productive and strongly influenced by temperature,” according to the study. It includes corn used as grain for processed food, sweeteners and alcohol, animal feed and ethanol but not sweet corn.

State tries to boost recycling rate but critics argue it won’t be enough

By LANCE COHEN
Capital News Service

LANSING — The Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) is offering up to $500,000 in grants to improve local recycling programs and boost Michigan’s recycling rate. Critics argue that this isn’t enough to pull the state up from one of the lowest recycling rates in the nation. The goal is to assist with recycling infrastructure including public space recycling, bin-to-cart transitions and public drop-off recycling locations, said Elizabeth Garver, a DEQ recycling specialist. Public space recycling is when bins are placed in public parks and city streets to encourage people to properly dispose of recyclables rather than throwing them in the trash.  

Eligible applicants include cities, villages, townships, charter townships, counties, tribal governments, municipal solid waste and resource recovery authorities, school districts, health departments, colleges or universities, and regional planning agencies.

Remove Line 5 or put it in a tunnel? Michiganders divided 46 to 35 percent

By KARA HEADLEY
Capital News Service

LANSING —  Michiganders said the health of the environment is more important than economic gain, a recent poll revealed

The Healthy People-Healthy Planet Poll surveyed 1,000 Michigan residents about issues Two-thirds — 67 percent — rated environmental protection as more important than economic gain. “There are a lot of environmental issues in the state,” said Daniel Bergan, the study’s lead author. “Michigan voters are in tune to environmental issues. They see the natural beauty of the state, which inclines people to protect the coastline and the Great Lakes.”

The poll was conducted by the Health and Risk Communication Center at Michigan State University. It sought to identify Michigan residents’ attitudes towards climate change to explore how the subject and its risks can be better communicated.

Infrared cameras will track PFAS contamination from Wurtsmith

By LANCE COHEN
Capital News Service

LANSING — A wireless all-weather infrared camera system will be placed around Van Etten Lake in Oscoda Township to detect PFAS discharge from the former Wurtsmith Air Force Base. It’s the latest addition in a high tech monitoring of the contaminant that has already included the use of drones. State officials expect to increasingly use such technology in pollution investigations. PFAS compounds — per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances — are a group of harmful contaminants used in thousands of applications globally including firefighting foam, food packaging and many other consumer products. Research conducted by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry found that PFAS leads to an increased risk of cancer and learning defects among children.

Phragmites: friend or foe?

By WHITNEY McDONALD
Capital New Service

LANSING — When life gives you lemons, you make lemonade. That’s the outlook First Nations people of Walpole Island in Canada are taking on phragmites australis, an invasive plant that crowds out native ones in wetlands in Michigan and throughout the Great Lakes. The plant has been the subject of intensive eradication efforts. But rather than fighting it, elders within the community suggested a new approach, said Clint Jacobs, the natural heritage coordinator for Walpole Island in Ontario. They think the plant is here to teach us something, Jacobs said.

Photon farms don’t qualify for land preservation tax credit

By QUINN ZIMMERMAN
Capital News Service

LANSING — Farming and land preservation tax breaks for solar energy don’t mix, according to the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. Michigan farmers who lease land for solar farming are no longer eligible for tax credits under the state’s Farmland and Open Space Preservation Program. The state started the program in 1975 to preserve farmland. Farmers must sign a minimum 10-year contract agreeing that the land will be used only for farming. In return, they receive income tax benefits and exemptions from certain assessments, said Richard Harlow, program manager.

Poll: Indigenous people more aware of threats to Great Lakes

By ANNTANINNA BIONDO
Capital News Service

LANSING — A recent International Joint Commission poll revealed stark differences between indigenous and non-indigenous people in their reactions to threats to the Great Lakes. The poll asked about 4,000 people about their attitudes toward regulations on the Great Lakes, the biggest threats to them and whether there even are threats. For the first time the survey included 300 Native Americans and other indigenous groups of people proportional to the region’s population. “Traditional indigenous knowledge has a lot to offer as far as how to approach environmental issues and so we really wanted to try and reach out to that,” said Sally Cole-Misch, a public affairs officer for the binational commission that works with the United States and Canada to manage shared lakes and river systems along the border. “By adding this additional demographic data, it really allowed us to see more of the breadth of diversity that makes up the basin,” said Kelsey Leonard, the engagement workgroup co-chair for the Great Lakes Water Quality Board, which worked with the commission on the poll.

New report discloses how much toxic coal ash Michigan utilities produce

By NICK KIPPER
Capital News Service

LANSING — Michigan electric utilities in 2016 generated nearly 1.5 million tons of coal ash, a waste material that can threaten water with arsenic, lead and mercury, according to a recent report. The toxic ash is often placed in landfills and waste ponds next to power plants and can  contaminate nearby groundwater, according to a Michigan Environmental Council study of data reported for the first time this fall by the state’s 13 coal-fired power plants. Federal air quality standards in 2015 required utilities to monitor groundwater near their coal ash ponds and publicly post the data. That data was released by individual utilities last January. “For decades, utilities were essentially allowed to dump this toxic coal ash sludge — which has mercury, arsenic, lead and a whole host of other toxic metals in it — next to coal plants,” said Charlotte Jameson, the author of the report.