A new study calls for more investment in public transit to reduce commutes and congestion. (Photo by James Lin)
More and more cities are experiencing serious traffic congestion. A new report looked at travel data from 2003 and found that, without massive investment, our daily commutes are likely to increase. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Shawn Allee has more:
More and more cities are experiencing serious traffic congestion.
A new report looked at travel data from 2003 and found that, without
massive investment, our daily commutes are likely to increase. The
Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Shawn Allee has more:
The new study from the Texas Transportation Institute suggests the nation
would have to build five thousand miles of new roads every year just to keep
pace with the growth in car traffic.
Alternatively, they say massive investment in public transit could keep the
problem from getting worse. But co-author Tim Lomax says we’re not paying enough through
gasoline or other taxes to make those big investments.
He says one reason is that we often don’t calculate the cost of what he
calls the “congestion tax.”
“It should be pretty clear that we are paying for congestion right now.
We’re sitting in our cars. We’re not spending time with our businesses or
our families. We’re wasting gas because the operation of our vehicles is
The Texas researchers say those costs add up, to the tune of about three
point five billion hours worth of traffic delays each year. The study also recommends that traffic engineers raise tolls in some cities and work to curb suburban sprawl in less developed areas.
A new report says that sewage systems respond inadequately to sewage spills. (Photo by M. Vasquez)
According to a new report, from an environmental advocacy group, city sewer systems around the Great Lakes are failing to meet federal Clean Water Act standards. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Steve Carmody
According to a new report, from an environmental advocacy group,
city sewer systems around the Great Lakes are failing to meet federal
Clean Water Act standards. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Steve
The Environmental Integrity Project analyzed data from federal, state and
other sources to compile its review of municipal waste water systems in the
EIP’s Michelle Merkel says researchers found most municipal waste
water sewage systems failed to meet standards to prevent untreated sewage
spills; failed to adequately report the spills when they occurred; or had
inadequate plans to prevent such spills in the future.
Merkel adds, due to a lack of state and federal oversight, the problem may
actually be worse:
“The true extent of the problem is really unknown because the states just aren’t doing a good job of tracking it and making the cities track it.”
To address the problem, The EIP wants the EPA and state regulators to
enforce combined sewer overflow rules, require public notification of spills
within 24 hours and arrange for more federal-state financing for future
sewer improvement projects.
Gijsbert van Frankenhuysen helps kids not only appreciate art, but nature as well. (Photo by Chris McCarus)
Van Frankenhuysen's artwork has appeared in many childrens' books involving the outdoors. (Photo by Chris McCarus)
Van Frankenhuysen on his farm. (Photo by Chris McCarus)
A children’s book illustrator is taking his art to schools around the region. Through his illustrations, he’s teaching students about respecting the environment. But they also get excited about learning in general. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Chris McCarus reports:
A children’s book illustrator is taking his art to schools
around the region. Through his illustrations, he’s teaching students
about respecting the environment. But they also get excited about
learning in general. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Chris McCarus
30 children are sitting on the floor with sketch pads in their elementary school classroom. They’re watching artist Gijsbert van Frankenhuysen. He’s standing at an easel, drawing animal shapes.
(Sound of magic marker)
“So we’re gonna make an oval shape right here, with 2 ears on it. And then you can color it black and you give him 4 short black legs. Make sure you make em black. That’s what they have. Look at that. One sheep.”
The children look up at the easel, then back down at their sketch pads, then up at the easel again. They’re comparing drawings to see whose come closest to the artist’s drawing, and they want Van Frankenhuysen to show them how to add body parts to the sheep.
“What do you want me to show?”
Van Frankenhuysen has spent the whole day at this school.
(Sound of applause)
He gets this kind of response everywhere he goes, and he visits about a hundred schools a year. This student, Emily has just seen, step by step, how the artist turned blank pages into the beginnings of a book. He’s already illustrated childrens favorites like Adopted by an Owl, the Legend of Sleeping Bear and 16 other books.
Child: “I learned about aminals.”
McCarus: “What about them?”
Child: “That they’re cool to make.”
McCarus: “Do you ever see any of the animals out in nature outside?”
Child: “I see horses and cows and owls at night. And I hear ’em by my house.”
(Sound of sheep)
Back at his home on a farm in central Michigan, Van Frankenhuysen’s wife Robin walks through the barnyard past the sheep and horse the artist uses for painting. She roams the property trying to call him in to the house for dinner.
(Sound of whistling)
But he doesn’t hear her. Since they bought this farm 25 years ago they planted thousands of trees and made 3 ponds. There are lots of places to hide. But it’s not like the couple is trying to get away from people and be alone in nature. They’re happy putting them into one big mix.
It wasn’t until a couple days later that we finally caught up with van Frankenhuysen. He doesn’t miss the chance to show kids the wonders of nature. He says learning about it can make classroom lessons easy.
“I have boys, young boys, that normally don’t do any journaling, because they thing it’s for girls. And then they see what I do. And I write down the stuff that happens on the land. If I find a birdnest, I make a drawing of it, I put it in my book, I write it in. A deer, a fox, anything that I see. And now those stories are kind of turning in to books that we sell. And I’ve had several kids that now they’re doing it. And I don’t know if in the back of their mind, they’re thinking maybe I can make a book out of this when I grow up. It doesn’t matter! They’re paying attention. They’re writing this stuff down. I think it’s all good stuff.”
Many states are cutting education budgets. Often art is the first program to go. But state education association spokeswoman Margaret Trimer-Hartley says parents demand art. Learning it creates interest in science, literature and even math. She says van Frankenhuysen makes children better students overall. He supplements what regular teachers might not be able to provide.
“His work has given all of us an appreciation for nature and the flora and the fauna around us. Now his lessons can give us all a greater appreciation for the issues of conservation and protection of that environment.”
The warm, playful illustrations in his books touch both children and parents. In person, van Frankenhuysen is just as disarming. He’s modest when he explains why he goes into classrooms to teach kids to draw year after year.
“It’s the only thing I know how to do. I don’t know anything else. It’s painting. It’s fun.”
It really isn’t the only thing he knows how to do. His drawings are just the beginning. The trick he’s mastered is to get kids to start thinking about themselves and their environment.
Environmentalists are happy to see that sandhill crane populations are increasing. Some farmers, however, are not. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)
At this time of year, one of the nation’s most exotic birds is nesting, and many wildlife lovers are rejoicing. Once close to extinction, the Eastern population of sandhill cranes has grown dramatically. In fact, their numbers are so big that they’re becoming a problem in some places – and there’s talk of starting a hunting season for cranes. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Sandy Hausman has the story:
At this time of year, one of the nation’s most exotic
birds is nesting, and many wildlife lovers are rejoicing. Once
close to extinction, the Eastern population of sandhill cranes
has grown dramatically. In fact, their numbers are so big that
they’re becoming a problem in some places – and there’s talk of
starting a hunting season for cranes. The Great Lakes Radio
Consortium’s Sandy Hausman has the story:
(Sound of marsh and birds)
It’s a cool spring morning, just before dawn. Brandon Krueger is watching a stretch of marshland along a country road in Central Wisconsin. Krueger works for the International Crane Foundation. He’s taking part in the annual Midwest crane count. Celebrating its thirtieth year, thousands of volunteers have fanned out across parts of Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota, Illinois and Iowa to look and listen for sandhill cranes.
“It’s a great sound to hear when you’re waking up. This is usually the earliest that I ever get up during the year. It’s a real struggle, but it can be worth it – for some of the things that you hear and the opportunity to see cranes.”
(Sound of crane call)
Krueger hears a breeding pair a half a mile away – exchanging what’s known as a unison call. The birds are big – up to five feet tall. A hundred years ago they made easy targets for hunters. In the 1930’s, naturalist Aldo Leopold lamented the loss of cranes – nearly hunted to extinction in Wisconsin. He knew of only 25 breeding pairs of sandhills in the state. But the federal government made it illegal to hunt cranes, and the state started working to restore bird habitat. Today, crane lovers celebrate an impressive comeback.
“I’ve talked with our leading field ecologist and he’s estimated upwards of forty-thousand sandhill cranes in the Midwest area.”
This year’s crane count is still being tallied, but Krueger heard nine birds and saw three flying by.
(Sound of cranes)
In the county next door, Troy Bartz claims to see many more birds than that on a daily basis.
“I’ll come home and it’s nothing for me to see two, three-hundred cranes in a field in one crack.”
Bartz has been farming for 13 years – growing corn, soy beans and alfalfa on nearly a hundred acres near Nina Creek.
(Sound of plow)
“Plants started disappearing out of the field with crane tracks right next to them. They go right down the row and they pull the shoots out of the ground and eat the kernels off the roots. I lose thousands of plants every year.”
The International Crane Foundation says damage in Wisconsin alone could total $100 million, and for family farmers, a year’s profit could be lost.
Bartz: “On the small acreage that I’m tilling, you can’t lose thousands of plants and not have some kind of an impact. That’s hundreds and hundreds of bushels I’m losing.”
Hausman: “And what’s the cash value on that?”
Bartz: “I figure anywhere between two to three-thousand dollars minimum every year.”
Hausman: “So what do you think the answer is?”
Bartz: “Shoot ‘em.”
There is some talk of having a hunting season for cranes, but that would require approval from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and many critics say the eastern population of sandhills is too small to permit hunting. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources says there are alternatives for farmers – machines called banger guns that make explosive sounds every few minutes. Troy Bartz’ neighbor, Mel Johnson, tried that, but found the birds quickly got used to the noise.
“The DNR warden brought the guns out. He said the best way is to mix a few regular shells in with it, he said, because it won’t scare ‘em away, the guns. He’s been taking them out for years, and he said they won’t scare any wildlife away – them guns.”
They’ve also tried scarecrows and colored ribbons but they didn’t work either. Farmers have had success with a product called Kernel Guard – a pesticide that made corn seeds taste bad to cranes, but this year the manufacturer stopped making it because one of its active ingredients can be toxic. Crane advocates are now asking the EPA to allow use of another chemical that’s already sprayed on golf courses to repel geese, but approval is not expected this year.
(Sound of cranes)
So crane lovers are keeping their fingers crossed – hoping farmers won’t be breaking the law by shooting the birds.
The new energy billing program has members monitoring not only how much energy they use, but when they use it as well. (Photo by Aaron
Most power companies charge customers a single, flat rate for electricity. But one group of volunteers is experimenting with a new system. They say people might save money by changing how they’re charged for power. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Shawn Allee has this report:
Most power companies charge customers a single, flat rate for electricity. But one group of volunteers is experimenting with a new system. They say people might save money by changing how they’re charged for power. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Shawn Allee has this report;
Two years ago, the Illinois-based Community Energy Cooperative, struck a
deal with Com-Ed, the local power company. Instead of getting charged a single rate, members pay more when the energy supply is tight, like on a hot summer’s day.
In exchange, they get a break when there’s less demand. Co-op manager Kathryn Thowlin says a website warns members when power prices rise.
“They can see when it’s the most expensive, when its least expensive.
So somebody who really wants to fine-tune their energy use based on price has
some really easy-to-use tools to do that.”
Thowlin says it’s paid off: consumers have saved about 11 percent on their
The experiment is the most comprehensive of its kind offered to residential
customers. Environmentalists say the program works best when consumers cut their
overall demand, not just shift when they use power.
When foraging bees find food, they fly back to the hive and dance. (Photo by Jenny W.)
Bee researchers have long believed that honeybees use a special dance to show their hive-mates where food is. A study published in the journal Nature provides direct evidence that the dance works. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Rebecca Williams explains:
Bee researchers have long believed that honeybees use a special dance to
show their hive-mates where food is. A study published in the journal
Nature provides direct evidence that the dance works. The Great Lakes Radio
Consortium’s Rebecca Williams explains:
Honeybees have a complex way of talking about dinner. Forager bees fly out
of the hive in search of pollen and nectar. When they find something tasty,
they fly home to the hive and dance.
Researchers in England caught bees that had watched the dance and tagged
them with tiny radio trackers. Then they followed the bees’ exact flight
Joe Riley is lead author of the study. He says the research relieves some
doubts about how well honeybees interpret the dance.
“The only thing that was missing was a really convincing demonstration that
this happened. And what we saw what happened was they left the hive,
circled for a minute or two to get their bearings and then flew straight off
in this predicted direction and for the distance that was coded in the
Riley says the bees do need a little help once they get close to the food
source: they have to look and sniff around to find the right flower.
A new report publishes how dirty the dirtiest power plants are and where they're located. (Photo courtesy of USGS)
According to a new report by an environmental advocacy group, some of the nation’s “dirtiest” power plants can be found right here in the Great Lakes region. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Steve Carmody has more:
According to a new report by an environmental advocacy group, some of the
nation’s “dirtiest” power plants can be found right here in the Great Lakes region. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Steve
Carmody has more:
Using EPA data from 2004, the Environmental Integrity Project has compiled
its list of the “50 Dirtiest Power Plants” in the U.S. Plants in the region rank high on the list, which compares the plants’ toxic emissions to their electricity output.
The Environmental Integrity Project’s Elain Levine says the result is
unhealthy amounts of mercury in fish and poor air quality in the region.
“All these harms coming out of these power plants are avoidable. Modern pollution controls are available and affordable and are being used today at many plants to significantly reduce these emissions.”
But Dan Reedinger of the Edison Electric Institute, an industry group, says
the EIP report is misleading… insisting plant operators are already
installing scrubbers to reduce toxic emissions at the power plants cited in
Republican Congressman Mike Rogers. (Photo courtesy of house.gov)
Some environmentalists say they’re outraged that a Michigan Member of Congress blocked a bill to permanently ban oil and gas drilling in the Great Lakes. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:
Some environmentalists are outraged that a Michigan Member of Congress blocked a bill to permanently ban oil and gas drilling in the Great Lakes. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:
Republican Congressman Mike Rogers blocked a bi-partisan federal effort to ban drilling in the Great Lakes. Rogers’ office says taking state control away on drilling could lead to taking state control away on other issues such as water withdrawal. He doesn’t want the more politically powerful arid Southwest states using it as a precedent to take federal control of the Great Lakes.
Cyndi Roper is with the environmental group, Clean Water Action. Her group and others say under the guise of protecting the Great Lakes, Rogers is actually exposing the Lakes to new risks.
“By putting a ban on oil and gas drilling in the Great Lakes, this isn’t an issue of control of the Great Lakes, it’s an issue of protecting the Great Lakes.”
There is a moratorium on new drilling on the Lakes that expires in 2007. It will then be up to each individual state to decide whether to allow new drilling.
Some people see living off the power grid as a good way to save money and energy. Others caution that living off-grid is more trouble than it's worth. (Photo by Johnny Waterman)
For most homeowners, electricity requires flipping a switch, plugging into an outlet – and writing a monthly check to the power company. Off the grid homeowners sometimes get to skip writing the monthly check to the power company. But the tradeoff might be climbing a 100-foot wind tower to make repairs. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Cari Noga reports on what it takes to go off the grid and why some people are encouraged to find other ways to be environmentally friendly:
For most homeowners, electricity requires flipping a switch, plugging into
an outlet, and writing a monthly check to the power company. Off the grid homeowners sometimes get to skip writing the monthly check to the power company. But the tradeoff might be climbing a 100-foot wind tower to make repairs. Cari Noga reports on what it takes to go off the grid and why some people are encouraged to find other ways to be environmentally friendly:
In most of the Midwest, both solar and wind power are needed for a home to go off-grid. That’s because the region doesn’t get enough sun in winter, or enough wind in summer. Dave Van Dyke has both. He’s had a 100-foot wind mill tower on his northern Michigan property for nearly 10 years.
“I’d guess there’s hundreds up in northern MI. They’re not so well known because they are small. Unless you’re in a place to see them, you don’t even notice them. Like mine. We’ve had one there since 96, and some of my neighbors in Maple City still don’t know it’s there, until I said something.”
Van Dyke and his wife first used solar panels and then added the small wind generator for their home’s energy needs. More recently, they started a farm business on their 31 acres and
bought a more powerful wind generator.
“Right from the start we’ve been interested in renewable energy. We
were just homesteaders, basically trying to figure out how this off the
grid homestead was going to evolve. It turned into a farm just three years
Van Dyke uses wind and solar power because it’s environmentally friendly. But he says there are disadvantages to going off-grid. His first generator was problem free, but still required at least a yearly climb to maintain the tower.
The second generator has had a lot of mechanical problems. It was once down for eight months. The Van Dykes had to install a backup line connecting them to the grid. So it’s meant some work and inconvenience for them.
Jackie Ankerson lives near the Van Dykes. Two years ago she and her
husband installed a wind and solar system. She said because their 5-acre property is in a remote area, it helped justify the cost of between 15 and 17-thousand-dollars to go with the alternative generation system.
“Because of where we chose to live, it would have cost us almost as
much to bring in grid power as it did for our off-grid system.”
The desire to live in a remote place where power lines don’t run is a
common reason people install alternative energy systems. Another is a green conscience. John Heiss says he likes working with those homeowners. Heiss owns Northwoods Energy. Based in northern Michigan, he travels nine months of the year installing alternative home energy systems.
Heiss has customers in Michigan, Wisconsin, Indiana and even Mexico. Some want to control their own energy supplies, instead of relying on the power grid. Some are die-hard do-it-yourselfers. Others want to protect themselves from rising energy prices and diminishing supplies. They want to do their part to conserve fossil fuels.
“There’s a big consciousness. Right now we’re listening to our president tell us about an energy plan, and it’s not hitting any of these issues, and there’s people calling me every day asking about these issues, wanting to do something about it. They’re saying, well this is nuts.”
It’s a big change from 1992, when Heiss started his company. The first few years, business was slow. Today, his phone rings steadily.
“Somebody calls every day for something. I can really pick and choose who I do projects for, besides the fact that I have over 200 systems installed right now that I’m maintaining and servicing and keeping those alive, cause that’s a full time job at times..”
But Heiss winds up talking a lot of potential customers out of installing alternative energy. Maintenance is one reason. Others don’t realize how much power they use, and get sticker shock at the cost of a comparable alternative system. Instead of going off the grid, Heiss says those homeowners can help in other ways. He suggests they choose more efficient appliances and lighting. That minimizes the amount of power they need.
“It’s much easier not to spend as much money by changing lifestyle, and doing it without sacrificing, just making good choices.”
If homeowners still want alternative energy, they might need permits. More townships and counties are setting regulations, especially for wind towers. Some homeowners think it will all be worth it when they can sell surplus power back to the grid. But Heiss says they’re mistaken.
“A large percentage of people are misled, and think that they can make money selling renewable energy, power to electric companies. You’re not going to make it. You’ve got to realize at best it’s going to be a break even proposition.”
If a customer is not only willing to accept all that, but does so with a passion and enthusiasm, Heiss says he’s found someone he can work for.
The emerald ash borer is rapidly destroying ash trees around the Midwest, impacting not only forests but humans as well. (Photo courtesy of invasivespecies.gov)
The emerald ash borer is an invasive beetle that has killed millions of trees in the Great Lakes region. As if that weren’t bad enough, the borer is now starting to threaten Native American customs. For them, the ash trees are more than just landscaping. They’re also used for making traditional ash baskets, canoe paddles, and medicine. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Melissa Ingells has the story:
The emerald ash borer is an invasive beetle that’s killed millions of trees in the Great Lakes region. As if that weren’t bad enough, the borer is now starting to threaten Native American customs. For them, the ash trees are more than just landscaping. They’re also used for making traditional ash baskets, canoe paddles, and medicine. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Melissa Ingells has the story:
When I first saw Walpole Island, it was green and misty, out in the middle of the St. Clair River.
I had to take a ferry to get there. Walpole Island sits between the U.S. and Canada, but it doesn’t really belong to either one. It’s owned by the tribes. And they’ve lived there for close to six-thousand years. The island’s full of beautiful old trees, and has a lot of native plants and animals. Quite a few of which are rare.
After the ferry ride, it’s not too far to the Walpole Island Heritage Center. Inside, Kennon Johnson shows off the collection of baskets at the center. He’s the supervisor of the island’s Resource Protection Program.
“These would’ve been working baskets, this would’ve been used for collecting berries, mushrooms, all sort of things, and then some would’ve been for storage, and that’s typically your smaller ones.”
These baskets aren’t just museum pieces. People still make them and sell them. The stronger ones carry food and laundry, and the brightly colored ones are for gifts.
Reta Sands still makes the baskets. She’s a tribal elder. She learned basket making from her grandmother. The wood to make the baskets came from ash trees.
“My grandmother, when she needed money, that’s the time she decided she would go into the bush and chip, the ash trees that were there. She took a chunk out of the tree and looked at it and some way, somehow, she figured out which ones were good, which ones were the best ones to make whatever kind of baskets she was going to make.”
But now the basket-making tradition might be in trouble. The black ash trees in the Great Lakes region are being attacked by the emerald ash borer. The ash borer is an invasive pest that has shown up within the past decade. And it’s spreading like wildfire.
The insect hasn’t invaded Walpole Island yet, but the island is near some infested spots in Michigan and Canada. Kennon Johnson is already thinking about the possible effects of the bugs, when they arrive on the island.
“So we’re talking about some pretty scary issues here if we do get emerald ash borer, if it does what they say it does, if it’s going to wipe out all the ash trees five, ten years down the road, we’re looking at some more scary issues in that we’re going to be culturally impacted.”
Kennon says the tribes don’t know if they’ll have to end their tradition of making the baskets, or if they’ll be able to find a way to fight off the pest. Controlling the ash borer is a work in progress. There hasn’t been enough research on the pest and no one really knows how to get rid of it.
The native people want the freedom to try some of their own solutions on their land—not just at Walpole Island, but other places the tribes manage the forest. Nick Reo is trying to help the tribes be part of the decision making. He’s the American Indian Liason for Michigan State University’s Extension program.
“Basically tribes have been left out of the process, and we’re used to that, I mean that’s the way things happen. People tend to work around us not with us, and I don’t think I’m overstating that. So, I’m trying to get us to the table. Somebody has to push the issue. That’s not just me, but I could be one of the people that’s pushing the issue.
Where the progress is really happening is within the tribal communities. Those are the people who are really going to make a difference.”
Reo says the native communities have centuries of experience with the trees. He says they know the ashes better than anyone else, and he feels someone ought to take advantage of that expertise.
“We have sophisticated natural resource and environmental departments in our tribal communities, we have cultural departments and historic preservation departments, we have basket makers and traditional folks who are going to be the champions, hopefully, in helping to factor in to figuring out solutions for this problem.”
For now, the tribes are waiting, and watching to see the extent of the damage as the emerald ash borer moves through the region. They’re brainstorming some of the ways they might fight the pest as the invasion gets worse.