Snyder vs. Bernero on the Environment

  • Democrat Virg Bernero and Republican Rick Snyder are running for governor in Michigan.

Michigan’s next governor will have a lot of influence over what happens to our farms and lakes and state parks. Today we’re taking a look at the two major party candidates for governor, and how they compare on some of the big environmental issues.

Virg Bernero’s environment page

Rick Snyder’s environment page


Republican Rick Snyder and Democrat Virg Bernero actually agree on a few things. They both say the Asian carp is bad and the Chicago shipping locks should be closed to keep them out of Lake Michigan. They both want to limit urban sprawl, and they both want Michigan to become a manufacturing hub for wind and solar power.

In a surprise move, the non-partisan group Michigan League of Conservation Voters endorsed both candidates in their respective primaries.

“This was the first time the Michigan LCV has ever endorsed a gubernatorial candidate on the Republican side of the ticket.”

That’s Ryan Werder. He’s the groups political director.

“We endorsed Rick in the primary because he demonstrates real commitment to Michigan’s environment and he has a standing history of working on conservation issues.”

Werder admits it can be hard to evaluate someone who’s never held public office. He says Virg Bernero, on the other hand, voted in step with the LCV’s positions 87 percent of the time when he was in the legislature.

Bernero calls himself one of the greenest mayors in the state.

“I’m not going to put up with long term damage of the environment for short term gain. Whether it’s factory farms or mining or anything else. We’re going to look at the long term implications of every use of our environment.”

The League of Conservation Voters has not endorsed either candidate in the general election.

Other groups have clearly favored one candidate over the other. Virg Bernero’s gotten the endorsement of the Sierra Club and Clean Water Action.

Rick Snyder has been endorsed by the Michigan Farm Bureau’s political action committee.

Wayne Wood is the Farm Bureau’s president. He says he likes that Rick Snyder is in favor of the current program of voluntary environmental standards that’s in place for farmers.

“His support of that recognizes we can do more for the environment by creating incentives than we can by using the stick if you will.”

During a call-in program on Michigan Radio, Rick Snyder said the regulatory system in Lansing is broken.

“My goal is to switch that system from penalizing people and using it as a back door revenue source to saying how do you treat people as if they’re good honest people and how do you help them win compliance, and then the bad people, you really go after those people.”

But Snyder’s position on regulation worries some environmental groups.

Anne Woiwode is the state director of the Sierra Club. She says she’s concerned about pollution from the state’s several hundred concentrated animal feeding operations – sometimes called factory farms. She says they’re already poorly regulated.

“We’re extremely nervous that Mr. Snyder’s position right now appears to be one of rolling back protections of public health, food and water quality and air quality that would be the result of moving to a voluntary system for regulating agriculture particularly for these massive operations.”

Repeated attempts to schedule an interview with Rick Snyder were unsuccessful.

Another controversial issue is whether to build new coal fired power plants. The Detroit Free Press reported Rick Snyder wants to fast track permits for new coal plants.

Bernero says Michigan needs to be more energy efficient, but he won’t rule out new coal plants as long as they’re cleaner than the old plants.

“The real question is if we can’t get enough with reduction and with different renewable energies are we better off with newer coal technologies than the old plants?”

What either candidate would actually do as governor is still not entirely clear. The environment has not been a strong campaign issue on the stump. In their one and only general election debate, the environment did not come up at all.

Rebecca Williams, The Environment Report.

The Kudzu of the North

  • Vern Stephens wrestles a strand of dog-strangling vine. It's part of his job to spray a targeted herbicide on the invasive plant to kill it. (Photo by Rebecca Williams)

If you’ve ever lived in the south, you know kudzu. It’s an invasive plant that grows like crazy. Covers highway signs and telephone poles and anything that doesn’t run fast enough. There’s a plant in Michigan that’s getting a little crazy too. It’s not kudzu-crazy yet, but experts say we need to get a handle on it.

It has a memorable name: dog-strangling vine.

Pictures of the plant

A Wiki post on the plant

More from the invasive species atlas


It’s also sometimes called swallow-wort.

I’m on Michigan State’s campus and I’m here with Vern Stephens. He’s a senior wildlife assistant with the Department of Natural Resources and Environment.

Rebecca Williams:We’re out here so you can show me this stuff. Does it live up to its name?

Vern Stephens: Yes, it does. It’s a horrible plant. In fact if we look at it a little more we’ll see it’s actually a series of ropes and vines that entangle upon themselves, and if we try to walk through it we won’t get very far.

(sound of Stephens pulling on vine)

And you can see the rope that’s formed, it’s growing up this high bush cranberry. But you can see that the plant is easy to identify if you know what it looks like because it’s a very glossy leaf. It stands right out and it’s very waxy. It can go anywhere. It can adapt. And on some of the sites it was only a small patch for five years. And then the plant acclimated. And then it exploded. And now it’s taken over 20 acres of woodlot. When we say taken over, it’s at least chest high. Vines that look like this inch think rope everywhere. You can’t even walk through it. So it makes it very difficult.

RW: Before you pointed this out to me, I wouldn’t have known what it was. It just looks like any other Michigan plant.

VS: Right. And that’s the problem. This actually is a plant that becomes a biological trap for monarchs. They go to it because it’s in the milkweed family. And then lay their eggs on it and either the eggs don’t hatch or the butterflies, the caterpillars, die, because it’s toxic to them. Nothing feeds on it because it’s toxic to cattle. It’s toxic to horses or any animal that grazes on it. So if it gets into a pasture it becomes a problem.

RW: How long has this plant been in Michigan and how did it get here?

VS: We don’t know exactly how long it’s been in Michigan but back in the 1850’s is when it came to the United States. We suspect it was brought in through botanical gardens and escaped. It doesn’t take very many pods to all of a sudden populate an area.

RW: So we see pictures of kudzu in the south where it’s covering trees, telephone poles, cars…

VS: That’s what this looks like in Springfield Township. On the corner of Davisburg Highway and Dixie Highway. It’s just columns. Going up the guide wires to the poles, going up the trees, covering the trees. It’s unbelievable.

RW: How widespread could this get in Michigan?

VS: If it’s made it to Petoskey and it’s on the west side of the state, we’ve found some in Grand Rapids, and it’s on the southeast side of the state, it’s just a matter of time before it’s everywhere. If we don’t do anything at all. I’m not convinced we don’t have populations in the UP. I don’t know that we’re on top of it, but I know we have a good idea on where it’s at and what its capabilities are.

RW: Vern Stephens is a senior wildlife assistant with the wildlife division of the Department of Natural Resources and Environment. Thank you very much.

VS: You’re welcome.

RW: If you want to find out what dog-strangling vine looks like, you can go to our website, environment I’m Rebecca Williams.

New Rest Stops for Midwest Birds

  • Ben Preston hunts ducks in Michigan. Duck hunters are worried about what will happen to migratory ducks when they fly to the Gulf. (Photo by Brian Preston)

As the temperature drops, millions of birds are heading south. Biologists are worried the birds will find their usual hang-outs have gone through some serious changes since the BP oil spill, but some people are working to create new habitat to help the birds.


The Mississippi Flyway is the most happening route of migration for Midwest birds. It stretches from north of Michigan all the way down to the Gulf of Mexico. Species such as blue green teal, herons and egrets, wood ducks, and scaup are already on the move.

Mark Robinson says it’s a long journey south.

“By the time they’ve migrated down to the Gulf they’re absolutely exhausted.”

Robinson is a birdwatcher & zoologist. He says the food birds eat in the Gulf is essential to their survival.

“If they travel on further then they’re gonna need it to cross down into South America. Or to replenish their energy if they just stay in the Gulf to travel back up north in the spring again.”

Robinson and other scientists are worried about the birds’ habitat in the Gulf. He says most of the visible oil has been cleaned up. But there is still a lot of submerged oil in wetlands and soils that can’t be seen. And the fish, plants, and insects that birds eat could be affected for years to come.

That’s why along the main cruising strip, biologists from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, and Ducks Unlimited are creating new pit stops, so migrating birds can rest up and fuel up.

Bob Dew is with Louisiana’s Ducks Unlimited. He’s about 15 miles from the open waters of the Gulf.

“Just off in the distance there’s a ridge with a lot of old live oak trees. In between where we’re standing is an old rice field.”

They’ve flooded what used to be a rice field and turned it into a wetland.

“You see flocks of blue winged teal of 50 to 100 to 150 birds flying around the fields and know that they’ve made a journey of over 1000 miles to get here. That’s very rewarding and very encouraging as well. Because we know that we have a very large fall flight this year and we’re expecting a lot of birds to be here.”

Dew says birds are flocking to these rice fields turned wetlands because they can find great things to eat. Like leftover rice grain and plenty of bugs.

Hundreds of farmers are getting paid to allow their fields to be flooded in the off season. These projects are funded in part, by BP.

The money is coming from the profits BP is getting from selling the spilled oil.

Organizers hoped to flood around 20 thousand acres this fall. But the response from farmers has been huge. More than 75 thousand acres have been turned into bird friendly wetlands.

But we won’t know until next spring if the project’s successful. Scientists will have a better idea after they count the birds returning home.

But if fewer birds and ducks return from the Gulf next year, it could impact Michigan’s conservation efforts. That’s because the bulk of conservation dollars comes from hunting related fees.

Brian Preston is a duck hunter in Michigan. He says his family spends their extra money on hunting. He says a lot of other duck hunters do the same.

“Buying gas, getting restaurants, buying hotels so they can sit in a marsh in the UP for two days. Then they’ll come home, go to work, and do the same thing again the next weekend.”

He says if the duck populations decrease or if the birds return unhealthy, his family might have to find new hobbies until things improve. Project organizers along the Mississippi flyway hope they’ll continue to see large numbers of birds stopping by.

Nikki Motson, The Environment Report.

Keeping Electronics Out of the Trash

  • Although China banned electronic waste, illegal operations still take American waste to retrieve precious metals. (Photo by Ted Land)

A lot us recycle, but what about that “less-than-smart-phone” you just replaced with the latest model? What about those batteries in the clock? As Tanya Ott reports, sometimes it’s hard to know how to recycle electronics.

Photos of where our electronic cast asides can end up

Where to recycle rechargeable batteries and cell phones

Where to recycle other electronics

Where to recycle single-use batteries


Up to half of all Americans say they recycle common materials, like paper, plastic and glass, “all of the time.” Husband and wife Don Dickman and Kathleen McEvvit live in Laingsburg, Michigan.

“Well, we recycle glass, we recycle metal, we recycle plastic, magazines, paper. I’m trying to think if we recycle any electronics. I don’t think we have. No, not lately.”

When it comes to electronics, many of us need a little nudge… say, from the kids from the television hit Glee.

Clip from Glee: “Test, test one… oh hold on we got a dead mic (batteries clanking in trash can) you know you’re not supposed to throw batteries out, right?”

A new survey
from the consumer electronics marketplace Retrevo finds that more than 60% of respondents nationwide don’t recycle their old electronic gadgets.

Clip from Glee: “Does it count as recycling if you collect old batteries to throw at clowns?”

Many people say they don’t know how to recycle electronics, or that e-recycling isn’t available where they live.

Most people recycle their old cell phones and batteries at retail outlets like Radio Shack, Home Depot and Staples. Jeff Morris owns the Cartridge World franchise in Ann Arbor.

“We take in batteries for recycling and then they get sent off. Usually I send them over to the local batteries plus store or there are some local charities that can actually make a little money with them if we send them there.”

Morris says he’s lost track of how many batteries and toner cartridges his shop recycles each year. It’s a lot.

Lisa Pollack is with the nonprofit group Call2Recycle, a free rechargeable battery and cell phone collection program in North America. Since 1994, Call2Recycle says it has diverted more than 50 million pounds of rechargeable batteries from landfills. Still, says Pollack, that’s just a drop in the bucket. Does this sound familiar?

“Often times we hoard them. We keep them in our drawers or they sit in our closets or our attics, instead of bringing them in for recycling, and the fact that they sit there means we know we’re not supposed to throw them away, but we’re not necessarily sure what we are supposed to do with them.”

For some products, like cell phones, it’s important to recycle them as soon as possible. The longer you wait the harder it is for recycling companies to make money off them, because they get outdated. If you want to find a place to recycle your phone and rechargeable batteries, Call2Recycle has a network of 30,000 collection sites nationwide, including 740 sites in Michigan.

Pollock says this year there’s been a sharp increase in rechargeable battery recycling in the American south, a place where recycling has been slow to take off. She says it’s not clear why that’s happening. Michigan is in the middle of the pack, but there’s been a very slight decrease in battery recycling, about 1%. So far this year, Michiganders have recycled just over 71,000 pounds of rechargeable batteries through Call2Recycle.

Tanya Ott, the Environment Report.

Host:The Consumer Electronics Association says the average household has about 24 different types of electronic devices. Most of these TVs, computers and cell phones eventually end up in the garbage.

Special thanks to Suzy Vuljevich for her production help on this story.

Rebecca Williams, the Environment Report.

Habitat for Humanity Fixes Up Foreclosures

  • House leader Steve Denman helps Kallista Walker build a knee wall in the attic of this house. Walker is putting in part of her 300 hours of sweat equity so she can qualify for a house of her own. (Photo by Rebecca Williams)

Michigan has consistently been on a top ten list nobody wants to be on. That’s the list of the top highest home foreclosure rates in the country, but for some people this means opportunity.

The group Habitat for Humanity typically builds new homes, but now, some of the chapters in Michigan are taking advantage of all the foreclosures around the state. They’re buying foreclosed homes and renovating them, instead of building new.

The group says it’s less expensive to renovate an existing home than it is to build a new one. It can save resources, but it can also mean dealing with a few surprises.

Detroit Habitat for Humanity

Map of foreclosures in Michigan

A bike ride through Detroit with David Byrne


(sawing sound)

This yellow ranch house in Ypsilanti Township has been gutted, stripped down to the studs. Up in the attic, there are a bunch of volunteers in hard hats and face masks.


Sam Moore is a volunteer. He says they’re making the house more energy efficient.

“We’re just building knee walls inside this attic to hold loose fill insulation on top of the house so it won’t blow all over the place.”

This house was built in the 1950’s and it had basically zero insulation.

Steve Denman is in charge of overseeing this renovation for the Washtenaw County Habitat chapter. He says their main goal is making the home more affordable for its new owner.

“We want the homeowner to not pay so many bills in energy. She’s going to have a tremendous amount of less money to pay.”

These renovated homes are being sold to low-income families at cost, with a zero interest mortgage. And they’re usually first-time homeowners.

The Washtenaw County chapter switched over to just doing renovations a couple years ago when the market went south.

Megan Rodgers is with Habitat. She says buying and fixing up foreclosures costs about two-thirds of building a brand new home. So they can do more of them in a year, and get more families into homes.

But Rodgers says there’s no question building new is easier.

“In new builds we had five specs of homes, you could build the wall in a warehouse, and have it delivered. With a renovation you just really never know what you’re getting into, how long that task might take.”

Rodgers says they’ve come into houses that have been stripped of all the electrical wiring and all the copper. Sometimes the siding is gone. And there can be bigger problems.

“A lot of these homes have lead. Lead abatement is extremely expensive to do, so we have chosen to have several members of our construction team go through lead abatement training.”


Kallista Walker is one of the people who’s buying a renovated foreclosure from Habitat. She’s here working, putting in some of the 300 sweat equity hours she needs before she can close on her house in a different neighborhood.

“This will be my first time ever owning my own home where I can paint and put colors on my own walls. That’s the thing I’m most excited about and having a garage of my own and a back yard, so I’m excited, I’m really really excited.”

The Washtenaw County Habitat group has been fixing up several foreclosures in the same neighborhoods, to try to add some stability to the neighborhoods. Kallista Walker says she thinks that’s a good idea.

“I love it because that means you’re changing the face of the community, you know what I mean? When you drive through and see houses where no one’s living in them, no one’s lovin’ on them, no one’s doing the yards and all the other houses are sorta nice. I mean, it changes the feeling and it draws different things to it.”

She’s hoping to move into her new home with her two sons and her mom in a few months.

The Washtenaw Habitat group says they’ll keep buying and fixing up these homes as long as they can continue to afford them.

Rebecca Williams, the Environment Report.

Interview: Adapting to a Warmer Climate

  • Researcher Don Scavia says most climate models show further drops in water levels for the Great Lakes. (Photo provided by the SeaWiFS Project, NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center, and ORBIMAGE)

When you think of climate change, maybe you’re thinking of something that’s 50 years away, or maybe 100 years away. But scientists are telling us that things are already changing in the Great Lakes region.

Michigan State University and the University of Michigan have just received $4.2 million in federal money for a new research center to help us understand how things might continue to change, and how we can get ready.

Don Scavia is an aquatic ecologist at the University of Michigan and he’s one of the leaders of
the new center.

Great Lakes water levels from 1918 to 2009

Learn more about the new center

More about Don Scavia


Professor Scavia, how has climate change affected our region so far?

Scavia: Well, you know, it’s interesting. There is a lot of discussion about whether or not the climate is changing or will change in the future. But the climate in this region has already changed. We’re already seeing less ice cover on the lakes, we’re seeing our precipitation, rain and snow, coming in more intense storms than it has in the past, and it’s warming. People that try to run winter-oriented sports in the northern part of the states are certainly recognizing it. People that are seeing the lake levels dropping are recognizing it. And the farmers that are actually trying to deal with the intensification of the storms are feeling it as well.

RW: How are things expected to continue to change?

Scavia: Well, we’re expecting it to be warmer, we’re expecting the winters to be warmer, we’re expecting more of the rain to come in these very intense storms as opposed to the nice gentle rains we’re used to in the summer. A lot of the rain will come in late winter/early spring rather than during the middle part of the summer. Most of the models are suggesting the lake levels will continue to drop into the future.

RW: So what are you most concerned about?

Scavia: I’m concerned about a number of things. I’m concerned about agriculture. I think the warmer temperatures are going to force our farmers into different kinds of crops. Of course, farmers are used to adapting to changing weather but changing on this scale may not be something they’re used to.

RW: How might tourism be affected?

Scavia: Well, winter tourism for sure will be affected if we get less snow and if the lakes don’t freeze solid enough to have our tip-up towns up north. But summer tourism, much of that is around the lakeshores. And as the lake levels decline, marinas become stranded and we have to sort of work on ways to adjust to that.

RW: And you’re talking about adapting to climate change. Is it too late to stop what’s already in motion?

Scavia: Oh no. And there was a while five years ago when no one wanted to talk about adaptation because that they felt that was giving up on mitigation. We now realize that we have to do both. And mitigation is the absolute essential thing to do. We have to stop the increase in emissions, we have to stop the increase in CO2 and the increased effects of global warming overall. But there’s a lot of changes that are happening right now and even if we stopped all the emissions we’re just going to slow down the change in climate for a while.

RW: You know, a lot of people are pretty worried about their jobs right now, health care, maybe education for their kids. How do you make climate change a priority when there are so many other things that seem really pressing?

Scavia: Well, the way the climate is changing affects our daily lives and we need to address that. You know, not all the solutions, not all the adaption strategies are very costly. There are things we can build into our existing processes and existing decision making to prepare us for the future in ways that don’t necessarily cost us an awful lot of money.

Don Scavia is one of the leaders of a new research center on climate change and the Great Lakes. Thank you very much for coming in.

It was a pleasure.

Don Scavia says his center is going to be working with cities and businesses and farmers to try to get ready for a warmer climate in Michigan.

That’s the Environment Report. I’m Rebecca Williams.