The Edmund Fitzgerald sank just off Whitefish Point in Lake Superior. Diving to the site has now become controversial. (Photo by John Allen)
The doomed ore carrier Edmund Fitzgerald lies in the Canadian waters of eastern Lake Superior. Now, the Ontario government is strongly discouraging expeditions to the shipwreck. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Mike Simonson reports from Superior:
The doomed ore carrier Edmund Fitzgerald lies in the Canadian waters of eastern Lake Superior. Now,
the Ontario government is making expeditions to the shipwreck off-limits. The Great Lakes Radio
Consortium’s Mike Simonson reports from Superior.
Twenty-nine men were lost in hurricane-force winds November 10th, 1975 in Lake Superior. For years,
families of the crew have asked that the ship be left alone. None of the bodies were recovered and
are believed to be in or around the ship.
Ministry Spokesman Guy LePage doubts they’ll grant any more permits for expeditions to anyone.
“Given that the tragedy didn’t happen all that long ago and there are living next of kin, we’ve not
supported diving on the wreck.”
Even though this is the 30th anniversary of the loss of the Edmund Fitzgerald, LePage says no one
Everybody has basic needs: food, water, and shelter. A study says that these needs are rapidly changing the earth we live on. (Photo courtesy of NASA)
Some scientists contend that land use by humans has become a top threat to the planet’s ecosystems. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Chuck Quirmbach reports:
Some scientists contend that land use by humans has become a top threat to the planet’s ecosystem. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Chuck Quirmbach reports.
People in cities and towns often spend hours debating local land use issues, but a group of scientists says there should also be a focus on the larger topic of widespread conversion of natural landscapes to uses like urban development and agriculture.
Jonathan Foley is a climatologist at the University of Wisconsin – Madison and lead author of a new study published in the journal Science. He says the Midwest sees its share of large land use changes.
“We grow a lot of corn and soybeans and other crops. But we do so, unfortunately, with quite a bit of damage to some of our environment: water quality, leaching of nitrogen and phosphorus into our lakes and groundwater and streams.”
Foley says the Midwest could look at changing farm subsidy programs to help farmers use better environmental practices. Globally, he says six billion people are competing for food, water, and shelter, and their land use decisions are transforming the planet.
A new bill aims to prevent new invasive species from entering our country. (Photo courtesy of USGS)
Many states are asking the federal government to take a new approach in fighting aquatic invasive species. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Shawn Allee has more:
Many states are asking the federal government to take a new approach in fighting aquatic invasive species. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Shawn Allee has more.
Currently, federal agencies try to control invasive species after they start disrupting ecosystems in U.S. waterways.
But now the U.S. Senate is considering a measure that calls for testing species for potential harm before they’re allowed into the country. Allegra Cangelosi is with the Northeast Midwest Institute, a regional advocacy group.
“Believe it or not, the door’s been wide open. So anybody in any state, unless the state has a law, can make a decision to bring a new organism to our waters, cultivate it, let it get loose and do whatever.”
If passed, the law would put new restrictions on the pet industry. Federal agencies would decide whether it’s too risky to import a specific fish or other aquativ species. The act would also beef up inspections of ships that might carry invasive pests.
Backyards and nature collide, even in Alaska. (Photo courtesy of US Department of Justice)
Over the last couple of decades, a lot of small cities have grown rapidly. They’ve pushed their city limits closer to wilderness areas. That’s caused some city dwellers to connect to nature in unexpected ways. And just like in the lower 48 states, the same things happening in an area often thought of as the country’s last frontier. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Aileo Weinmann is visiting Alaska this summer and brings us this audio essay:
Over the last couple of decades, a lot of small cities have grown rapidly.
They’ve pushed their city limits closer and closer to what used to be
natural areas. They’ve spread out to bump up against wildlife habitat.
That’s caused some city dwellers to connect to nature in unexpected ways.
The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Aileo Weinmann says, just like in the lower 48, that’s happening
in Alaska too.
(Sound of insects and birds)
I can see why Bill Sherwonit calls his backyard one of his favorite urban wild places.
(Sound of creek)
Birds sing. Insects buzz around. They’re backed by a gurgling creek. In the foothills bordering
Alaska’s biggest city, the sounds mingle with fresh scents of grass and wildflowers. It awakens the
senses to the wildness of nature. This place feels closer to the nearby mountains than Alaska’s
urban center, Anchorage.
We sit in a grassy spot still damp with dew. Sherwonit is a freelance nature
writer who writes a monthly column for the local newspaper.
He’s dressed in a weathered, blue Iditarod sweatshirt. His strong posture
and gentle face make him seem younger than his salt-and-pepper whiskers
would indicate. Sherwonit beams as he explains why he thinks wildness is
essential to being human.
“It’s who we are. One of the great things about getting out, you know, wherever it is, the
so-called open spaces or natural spaces in Anchorage. You get out and you exercise your body and
you start to feel yourself in your body. You sweat a little bit. You know, you smack mosquitoes,
you feel your muscles. Our bodies our wild things.”
This wildlife refuge doesn’t get a lot of traffic because the paths to get
here are disappearing due to a housing boom on the bluffs above the
The simple park sign says nothing of the refuge. But we walk down a short
grassy path. Its edges are bordered by alder-willow thickets and yellow and
indigo wildflowers. Soon, we’re standing on a spit of land overlooking sedge marsh and mud
Houses pack the wooded bluff tops. But where we’re standing, we can see a
narrow strip of forest that still forms an important wildlife corridor for
birds, moose, and even an occasional bear. It’s a gorgeous panoramic view of
the Refuge, the surrounding mountain ranges looming in the distance.
“Most of what we can see from here is very natural and much of it is
wild, and some of it is indeed wilderness. I don’t know if you’re feeling it
too, but there’s a change in the energy here; it just seems much calmer.”
A path leads us to the sedge marsh and mud flats below, where Sherwonit says
it’s safe to walk during low tide. That is, as long as you watch out for
low points where the mud is softer. It’s a good idea to check a tide table
before heading out.
(Sound of water)
This morning we don’t venture too far out onto the mud flats because the
tide is rising. It’s already high enough to begin lapping at our boots. Sherwonit says watching the
wild places close to home, and seeing their seasonal changes is the best way
for people to experience wilderness.
“You actually begin to develop a relationship with a place. I like to think
of the birds and the bears and the moose and even the trees and the
wildflowers and these other – like here, the sedges and other coastal plants;
really they’re our wild neighbors.”
The visit with Bill Sherwonit inspired me. I’ve returned to the Refuge many
times on my own. At low tide, I can wander farther onto the rippled silt
and mud. I’ve seen fresh moose tracks, and I’ve heard up close the
loud, prehistoric bugle of sandhill cranes near the sedge marsh. I try to
go at different times of day, find something new each time. But, even
though I’m close to the city and the encroaching suburbs, I never see
another human along this sliver of Alaska’s coast. So for now, it’s still
wild, even with the city nearby.
Dick Roosenberg, founder of Tillers International, has made it his business to teach people how to farm without expensive farm equipment. (Photo by Tamar Charney)
Marco and Polo, resident oxen at Tillers International. (Photo by Tamar Charney)
Dick Roosenberg milks a cow, a skill that today, few posess. (Photo by Tamar Charney)
Ox-team driving, blacksmithing, and timber framing might seem like really out of date skills, but there is a place that is still teaching them. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Tamar Charney pays a visit to Tillers International near Scotts, Michigan:
Ox-team driving, blacksmithing, and timber framing might seem like
really out of date skills, but there is a place that is still teaching
them. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Tamar Charney
pays a visit to Tillers International near Scotts, Michigan.
The sun is blazing straight down and the humidity is oppressive, flies are
buzzing left, right, and center, and I’m standing next to two enormous oxen
named Marco and Polo. Marco’s horn is right next to my eye. I’m told he
won’t try to gore me.
“I mean you have to give them leeway, because their head weighs 150 pounds,
and if they going for that fly and you happen to be in between… yeah.”
(Sound of ox snorting)
Dick Roosenberg hands me a stick called a goad and I’m supposed to now
(Sound of clinking)
ROOSENBERG: “Come up easy. Whoa.”
CHARNEY: “So if I want them to go forward I bring it up here?”
ROOSENBERG: “No, that’s stop. You keep it back here and say Marco, Polo, come!”
CHARNEY: “Marco, Polo, come! Wahhh… As they step on me.”
They take off, but they’re not heading where I want them to.
CHARNEY: “Whoa, whoa, whooooaaa…”
ROOSENBERG: “Marco, Polo, whoa.”
They make a beeline off the path.
(Sound of laughing)
CHARNEY: “Oh this is good grass.”
ROOSENBERG: “They say, ‘We see alfalfa blossoms and we are going…'”
CHARNEY: “And we have a novice in charge.”
ROOSENBERG: “‘Cause we can tell we can get away with this.”
CHARNEY: “How would I get them to back up?”
ROOSENBERG: “Probably, from the alfalfa, you have a challenge.”
Dick Roosenberg had a similar experience back in the 1960’s when the Peace
Corps sent him to West Africa. His job was help people there move from farming with a hand hoe to
farming with animal power.
Tse tse flies had infected cattle there with blood parasites. Those parasites
kept the oxen from having the endurance to do work. But new medicines changed that. However, by
that time, no one knew how to use an ox team.
“We certainly didn’t know how to train them to respond to gee and haw
and all of those things and you know, the harnessing and everything was a
big challenge for us, and we didn’t understand the fine physical dynamics
of something like that.”
There weren’t books about it and ox driving sure wasn’t taught in ag
school. Small groups of people who did historical reenactments still had the
skills, but there was no place to go to learn the old ways. Dick Roosenberg decided to change that.
So he started Tillers
ORR: “I’m going to go check for eggs.”
(Sound of clucking and peeping)
Maurya Orr is an intern at Tillers. She’s been learning how to plow with
an ox team, take care of animals, and build a barn. And she helps to keep
Tillers demonstration farm going.
“Not enough for an omelet.”
Students and visitors can come here to see that farming can be done with
out modern expensive equipment. Tillers also runs formal workshops and
classes. People from all over the world come here to take an ox driving
class, learn how to forge their own tools, and build things by hand.
Chuck Andrews is one of those people. He had been a chemical engineer but
was always fascinated by blacksmithing. He took a class about it, and today
teaches it at Tillers. He says there are a variety of reasons people want
to learn what Tillers has to teach.
“We have people interested in reenacting. We have people from low-capital agricultural environments
like homesteaders, we have
international students, and we have people that are interested in these
skills for organizations like the peace corps and for missionary work.
“Many of these skills like we see the oxen being driven up the lane
right now even 100 years ago that particular need in this area was fading,
but yet we here are capturing that knowledge base and somebody has to be
there to preserve them and to keep these traditions going in a sense.”
Dick Roosenberg has his head pressed into the side of a cow. He’s milking
her by hand. But not everything at Tillers is old fashioned.
Roosenberg is always looking for modern techniques that are inexpensive
and sustainable – things like solar water pumps – that they can combine
with techniques of yesterday and use to help small farmers.
Resistance to the proposed sulfide mine project is strong in Big Bay, Michigan. It's the largest town (population 500) near the area. (Photo by Chris McCarus)
Some environmentalists and Lake Superior residents worry about acid mine drainage. It can kill fish and wildlife and pollute water. (Photo courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)
Jon Cherry, Project Manager for Kennecott Minerals Corporation, has a polite relationship with Michelle Halle, the National Wildlife Federation lawyer trying to prevent the mine from being built. Here she helps him show the company's design at the wooded, rocky site north of Marquette, Michigan. (Photo by Chris McCarus)
A multinational mining company is planning to mine for nickel near the shore of Lake Superior. But some mining experts and the community don’t want the mine to be built. They say there’s no way to make sure the mine won’t damage the environment. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Chris McCarus reports:
A multinational mining company is planning to mine for nickel near the shore of Lake Superior. But some mining experts and the community don’t want the mine to be built. They say there’s no way to make sure the mine won’t damage the environment. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Chris McCarus reports.
The price of nickel has tripled in recent years. It’s needed for electronic produces such as computers. It’s used to produce cars. And nickel is even used in air pollution control equipment. If it’s approved, this would be North America’s only active nickel mine.
Kennecott Minerals Corporation says it’ll mean 120 jobs for local workers over a 10-year period. The state of Michigan has been lagging behind the rest of the nation in job recovery and in the northern reaches of the state good jobs are really hard to find.
The mine will cost 100 million dollars to set up. But the value of the nickel ore in the ground is somewhere between one and three billion dollars. So the company could make hundreds of millions in profit.
Scientists and activists say that this nickel mine could be even worse than the iron and copper mines of the past.
That’s because it would require mining through sulfide minerals. When they mix with water and oxygen, they can become sulfuric acid, just like battery acid. The industry calls the problem acid mine drainage. It can kill fish and wildlife and pollute water.
Michelle Halle is a lawyer for the National
Wildlife Federation and a local resident. She’s got one question.
“I’m always interested in the answer to the question about whether he believes that a mine can exist with 100% perfect track record.”
It’s a rhetorical question. She’s confident that the company won’t be able to meet the newer, stricter standards for getting a permit to mine.
“No human error, no design flaws, no natural disasters that are going to cause an impact… I don’t think that any company can say yes to that honestly.”
The mining company says there’s always some risk. John Cherry works for Kennecott Minerals Corporation. Cherry insists the company’s design is the best, and the safest. Although he says it’s impossible to guarantee against accidents at the mine.
“We can get in a crash on the way home today too. You design it with a safety factor built into your design. You have a very robust design. That’s your first step. You make your system as structurally competent as you can. Make it as bulletproof as you can.”
Cherry says the next steps are to install a monitoring system to detect the smallest problems. And if there are any problems, the mine will have a contingency plan with the right materials and properly trained people on hand.
State law requires the company to pay all of its accident insurance up front. They can’t just pay in installments. That way, the company will pay to clean up any mess, not the state or the community. Minnesota has a similar law. And In Wisconsin, People Against Mining got the state to establish a moratorium on sulfide mining
David Chambers used to work as a geologist for a mining company. And now he works for the Center for Science in Public Participation. He says, at the nickel mine planned in Michigan, groundwater contamination is possible and would be dangerous.
“Probably the most likely event is an accidental release from the mine. All mines have problems. It’s likely that somebody won’t turn a valve the right way or a big storm comes and there’s an overflow.”
Chambers says a mine collapse would be the most destructive. But, he says, even for the accidents that will not devastate the environment, the company and the community should plan, because they will happen.
(Sound of trucks)
On the road leading into the wilderness area where the mine would operate, local road crews are doing routine maintenance. Right now, most people who use the road are hikers, kayakers and fishermen. The pristine waters of Lake Superior and surrounding lakes and streams attract them here.
Kristy Mills is a store owner. She thinks a sulfide mine would only mean heavier traffic of trucks carrying away nickel ore. She says it wouldn’t bring in the tourist dollars the area needs.
“We don’t like to see that kind of growth. I think it’s a poor way of investing into our future. You know, we need to encourage tourism and visitation, not mining and hauling ore around in big trucks. It’s gonna be interesting.”
Many local residents and environmental activists feel the area should have learned lessons from the region’s past mining heritage. The precious ore is removed. People somewhere else get rich. And the legacy of pollution is all that remains when the mines are closed. So now, they’re hoping if it comes, this mine will be different.
The Karner blue butterfly is an endangered species. (Photo courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)
There are several groups in the region working to protect and restore the endangered Karner blue butterfly. Now these efforts could be helped by a new computer mapping and statistical modeling technique. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Chuck Quirmbach has more:
There are several groups in the region working to protect and restore the
endangered Karner blue butterfly. Now these efforts could be helped by a
new computer mapping and statistical modeling technique. The Great Lakes
Radio Consortium’s Chuck Quirmbach has more:
Habitat maps for endangered species can be based on broad general
estimates. But some scientists hope a combination of computer
software and data such as soil type and vegetation will lead to
more accurate information on where the Karner Blue butterfly lives.
David Mladenoff is a professor of Forest Ecology at the University of
Wisconsin – Madison. He says having a better idea of the butterfly’s
habitat might save companies money on things like surveying costs.
“In other words, if they say we’re planning on doing work on this utility
right away or potentially harvest this area of forest, is this even
a place we have to be concerned about for the Karner Blue butterfly
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, a state agency, and some power
companies are funding a computer mapping project in Wisconsin.
Scientists say the same technique could be used in other states.
Nine cities in the Great Lakes region are teaming up to fight global warming. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Rebecca Williams has more:
Nine cities in the Great Lakes region are teaming up to fight global warming. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Rebecca Williams has more:
The cities are banding together for two years to come up with ways to cut down on greenhouse gases and air pollution. Each city is aiming to have local projects in place by the end of the second year.
For example, Chicago’s looking at more energy-efficient streetlights, Toronto wants to use more renewable energy, and Duluth intends to upgrade its steam plant. The project’s organized by the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives.
Susan Ode is the group’s spokesperson. She says local officials are starting to notice effects of climate change: things like shifts in growing seasons and more unpredictable weather.
“It’s really one thing to understand the damage and the danger, but there has to be an action element or people get paralyzed, and that’s why cities are so important in this: they are taking action.”
Ode says cities across the country have recently stepped up their efforts to cut down on greenhouse gases in response to the U.S. not signing onto the Kyoto Protocol.
The Government Accountability Office is urging Congress to give the EPA help in assessing chemical safety. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Government Printing Office)
A government report reveals that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency cannot assess the health risks of most of the chemicals in the products we use. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:
A government report reveals that the U.S. Environmental Protection agency cannot assess the health risks of most of the chemicals in the products we use. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:
The investigative arm of Congress, the Government Accounability Office, found the EPA didn’t have the authority or the funding to properly review 85% of the chemicals in use today.
Chemicals that have been in use for years have not been properly reviewed because the EPA only has access to limited information. The laws, as they are written now, protect a chemical or other company’s secrets over public knowledge of the health risks.
Independent studies have indicated many of the close to eighty thousand chemicals in use might be threats to human health. The GAO report also indicates the EPA “…lacks sufficient data to ensure that potential health and environmental risks of new chemicals are identified.”
The GAO recommends that Congress give the EPA more authority to improve its ability to assess chemical risks.