New Copper Mine in the U.P.?

  • Lake of the Clouds, in Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park. The proposed Copperwood Mine would be near the edge of the park. (Photo courtesy of

You can listen to today’s Environment Report above or read an expanded version below.

There could be a new copper mine in the Upper Peninsula…

This is the Environment Report. I’m Rebecca Williams.

The company Orvana Resources is one step closer to getting the approval it needs to build a new mine. The Copperwood Mine is proposed for a site north of the town of Wakefield in the western U.P. The state is reviewing the company’s final environmental permit.

The Department of Environmental Quality has already given the company mining, wastewater and air permits.

Steve Casey is the District Supervisor for the DEQ’s Water Resources Division.

“We’ve reviewed the application, put conditions on the mining operation that if followed, will be protective of water and air quality and also other natural resources.”

This final permit is the wetlands, inland lakes and streams permit.  Orvana withdrew its original application for this last permit and re-submitted it to address concerns from multiple parties.

The DEQ explains the action this way:

In response to comments from the public, Native American tribes, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and DEQ, the applicant made numerous improvements to its original submittal. The withdrawal and resubmittal of this application allows regulators to consider a single permit application instead of the original application with multiple corrected documents, and was necessary because of a pending deadline for resolving EPA concerns with the original application.

Major improvements to the original submission include:

  • An improved analysis of alternatives for reducing environmental impact, including a detailed review of the feasibility of placing tailings back in the mine.
  • Utilizing natural channel design (versus ditches) for channels diverting existing streams around the proposed tailings basin.  The new design incorporates wetland creation in the floodplain of the new stream channels.
  • Raising the height of the tailings basin to reduce its footprint.
  • Modifications of facilities to slightly reduce wetland impacts.
  • Adding two preservation tracts totaling 820 acres to the wetland mitigation plan.
  • Improving the stream mitigation plan by the creation of 10,500 feet of natural stream channel and replacement of a culvert on Two Mile Creek that is blocking brook trout passage on a tributary to the Wild and Scenic Cisco Branch of the Ontonagon River.
  • More accurately characterizing the length of streams impacted by the tailings basin.

The mine plan calls for a 320-acre tailings basin. It’s similar to a landfill that will hold water and ground up rock that the copper has been removed from.  Steve Casey says the company will build over about 58 acres of wetlands and three miles of small streams.  He says when they do that, the law requires that they try to replace the wetlands.

“The major issue yet to be resolved is what mitigation will be appropriate for the resources that will be unavoidably taken by this project.”

Overall, this mine has been less controversial than the Eagle Mine near Marquette.  A lot of people in the area want the mining jobs.  But environmental groups and tribes have still been voicing concerns.

Doug Welker is on the board of the Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition.

“The community basically is fairly desperate for any kind of economic stimulus in the Ironwood and Wakefield area, and as a result, the company’s been able to push the ‘jobs, jobs, jobs’ argument without a lot of resistance.”

He says there are a number of issues with the mine plan that he thinks haven’t been adequately addressed, including potential water pollution, possible subsidence of the ground surface and the potential for catastrophic events.

Chuck Brumleve is the environmental mining specialist for the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community.

“The Copperwood Mine, by design, there’s a number of problems. It’s located very close to the shores of Lake Superior. It’s right on the edge of the Porcupine Mountain Wilderness Area State Park.”

He says the tribes are especially concerned the mine could pollute Lake Superior and hurt the fisheries.

“We already have a problem with mercury, and fish advisories in Lake Superior; we’re all very concerned that we could be adding other metals to some of these fish advisories.”

One of the sticking points is how wastewater from the mining operation would be treated.

Dave Anderson is with Orvana.  He says the company believes their facility will exceed environmental standards.

“The wastewater treatment facility is designed for zero discharge for seven years. We know that if for any reason that facility should have any trouble, we have the ability to recycle water and hold water for extended periods of time, years, if necessary, so there’s no opportunity for an accidental release.”

He says, after those first seven years, the mine will release treated wastewater into a stream that flows into Lake Superior.

The mine is expected to operate for up to 15 years.

Anderson says wastewater from the tailings basin will continue to be treated for 3 to 5 years after the mine closes. After that, he says they’ll take the water out, and cap and close the basin.

Chuck Brumleve with the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community says he’s concerned that if the cap on the tailings basin leaks, there could be problems.

“Anybody that knows landfills and worked around landfills that have caps on them: they don’t last forever. What happens in 50 years or further down the road, is that this thing will become a permanent source of contaminants to Lake Superior.”

The DEQ has approved the company’s plan for treating the wastewater from the tailings basin – and says it’s consistent with good environmental protection.

Orvana’s final permit application is open for public comment until December 18th. If the permit is approved, and the company decides to go forward with the mine, construction could begin next year.

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

Debate Continues Over Michigan Wolf Hunt

  • There are an estimated 700 wolves in the state of Michigan. (Photo courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

This is the Environment Report. I’m Rebecca Williams.

The Michigan Legislature is moving closer to allowing a hunting season for gray wolves.  The state Senate voted to designate the wolf as a game species last week. Now, the bill goes to the House. There are around 700 wolves in Michigan, mostly in the western Upper Peninsula.

If the Legislature makes the wolf a game species, then wildlife officials will still have to justify that a hunt is necessary and that it won’t harm wolf recovery.  Bob Allen reports:

Under state law, there can’t be a recreational wolf hunt for any old reason.

Wildlife officials would have to show that a hunt is warranted and that it would meet the goal of reducing wolf-human conflicts.

Adam Bump is a wildlife biologist with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

“We’ve never had a wolf hunt in Michigan. We don’t know this is exactly what will happen if we do the following steps.”

DNR has a lot of information about wolf numbers, pack sizes and locations.

Wildlife officials also track incidents when wolves attack and kill or wound livestock or pets.

That’s referred to as depredation.

But some question whether a hunt is the best way to deal with it.

Jimmie Mitchell is head of Natural Resources for the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians in Manistee.

“The tribes oppose the wolf hunt based on the absence of information related to wise management practices. We don’t know whether or not the amount of depredation events that are occurring are enough of a reason to initiate a hunt.”

Mitchell speaks on behalf of five tribes that are part of a legal agreement with the state over treaty hunting and fishing rights.

DNR will have to consult with them before a wolf hunt is approved, and if the tribes aren’t satisfied there’s a good reason for it, they have the option of going back to federal court.  (You can learn more in this recent Environment Report story)

Senator Tom Casperson from the Upper Peninsula sponsored the measure to classify wolves as a game animal.  He recognizes that the state and private landowners have the authority now to kill wolves that are causing problems.

But he says that still isn’t good enough to control the population.

“I think the hunting community plays a key role in helping us get there. And to exclude them from the process, I think is a mistake.”

Casperson is hearing from hunters who complain that wolves are killing too many deer.  And he points to reports about wolves coming right into people’s back yards in the far western U.P.

He says it may make sense just to target a few counties there instead of a full blown hunt.

The Natural Resources Commission decides if there’s to be a hunt and what the rules will be, not the Legislature.

What researchers do know is that wolves will respond to any decrease in their numbers.

Wildlife biologist Rolf Peterson has studied wolf behavior on Isle Royale for more than 40 years.  He says a public hunt could split the animals into smaller packs and actually increase reproduction.

“It’s sort of if you kill one wolf, two come to the funeral. I mean that’s just a common sense way of expressing the ability of wolves to respond to any sort of increase in mortality.”

Peterson says a hunt designed to reduce conflicts with humans could work, depending on which wolves were killed and how many.  But he thinks it would have to be in a very small area.

But Peterson says over the last decade trained professionals have shown that they can move in quickly and get rid of problem animals.

“Wolf hunting by the public is not about solving problems, for the most part. It’s about people’s desire to kill wolves for whatever reason that might be.”

The law requires the DNR to manage according to best science that is available to them.  And in this case, DNR biologist Adam Bump says, the agency doesn’t know for sure how even a targeted hunt would change pack behavior or solve conflicts with humans.

“We can look at a lot of those things. But some of those questions you’re just not going to have concrete solid answers for before you move forward.”

If a public hunt is approved, he says, the DNR would monitor closely what happens and adapt to changes over time.

For the Environment Report, I’m Bob Allen.

Gov. Snyder Gives Energy, Environment Address

  • Gov. Rick Snyder (Photo courtesy of the Office of the Governor)

This is the Environment Report. I’m Rebecca Williams.

Governor Rick Snyder gave what his office calls a “special message” on the environment yesterday: Ensuring our Future: Energy and the Environment. He touched on all sorts of topics: renewable energy, brownfields, land and water, timber and mining and many others.

But his main point: you can’t separate economics from energy or the environment.

“There’s not two separate worlds. There’s not a world of just environment, nor a world of energy or economics. It’s a symbiotic relationship and they tie together.”

Snyder said when it comes to energy, there are three main issues: reliability, affordability and protecting our environment.

“The smartest thing we can do to begin with, is how do we do better at not needing the energy to begin with because we’re doing better practices?”

There’s a law on the books that requires utilities to be more energy efficient. They have to meet an energy efficiency savings goal of one percent of their total sales per year. Governor Snyder said he wants to see that goal increased.

The governor also said he wants to see the state’s current renewable portfolio standard increased.  Right now, utilities have to get 10 percent of their retail sales from renewable sources by the year 2015.  The governor campaigned against Proposal 3, which would have bumped the standard up to 25 percent renewable energy by 2025.  At the time, he said that was partly because he opposed putting that kind of energy policy in the state constitution.  In yesterday’s address, Governor Snyder said he wants to see the legislature increase our renewable standard.

“Let’s celebrate some of our successes, let’s set some new goals for beyond 2015, but let’s do it together and let’s do it in a thoughtful way and do it through the legislative process, the way we should.”

Michigan’s biggest utility says the state should stick with its current energy policy for now.

Len Singer is a spokesman for DTE Energy. He would not say whether DTE would support legislation to increase the renewable portfolio standard.

“It’s been proven that renewables can be cost competitive under the right circumstances.  I think it’s important that this be looked at in whole and studied closely to make sure there aren’t any unintended consequences of the move in that direction.”

Singer says the governor’s push for a higher energy efficiency goal would probably be a move in the right direction. But he says there would need to be careful consideration there too.

In his address yesterday, the governor called himself bullish on natural gas.

“We have strong assets here and we can do more with natural gas. Why am I bullish on natural gas? It’s because compared to coal, it’s a much better alternative.”

He proposed that the state create a strategic reserve of natural gas.  The governor also announced a partnership with the University of Michigan’s Graham Sustainability Institute. Researchers will study the environmental and social impacts of hydraulic fracturing for natural gas in Michigan.

The governor also said the state needs a strategic plan to manage state land… and he said he wants to see stronger leadership on Great Lakes issues.

Hugh McDiarmid Jr. is the communications director for the Michigan Environmental Council. He generally found the governor’s address encouraging, but he says the devil’s in the details.  He says he was not surprised to hear the governor push for more fracking for natural gas.

“Michigan has done a better job than many other states in regulating fracking and we acknowledge that, but we think that we need a wider discussion and a more detailed examination of what this new wave of fracking means to communities throughout the state and what the increase in fracking chemicals and water withdrawals is going to mean to Michigan’s ecosystem in the future.”

Enbridge Pipeline Project & Michigan Parks Report

  • Sections of Enbridge's new pipeline ready to be installed. (Photo by Rina Miller/Michigan Radio)

Living in the path of Enbridge’s new pipeline…

This is the Environment Report. I’m Rebecca Williams.

Enbridge Energy has been in the news a lot lately. Sarah Alvarez updates us on the ongoing controversy surrounding the company’s new pipeline project:

Enbridge Energy has a bit of a bad reputation in Michigan.  In 2010, one of the company’s pipelines burst. More than a million gallons of oil have been cleaned up so far from the Kalamazoo River. Last winter, there was a small leak near Sterling in the northeast part of the state.

But Enbridge is planning for growth. They’re replacing the pipeline that burst – Line 6B – and they’re building some new sections as well. The company hopes to double the amount of oil they can move from Canada to refineries in Michigan and Ohio (we’ve previously reported that an Enbridge spokesman said the main product in the new pipeline will be from Alberta’s tar sands region. The EPA says the nature of tar sands oil made the Kalamazoo River spill much more difficult to clean up).

Enbridge has been running a public relations campaign to try to improve its image. But some landowners along the pipeline route are not impressed.

One of those people is Stacy Bradley.  She lives in Stockbridge.

“They’ve planned the pipeline to be right through my backyard, between the deck and where the swing set is. In order to have enough workspace, since they’re coming so close to the line, all the trees will be completely clear cut.”

Enbridge is using a Consumers Energy easement for the pipeline. It’s a strip of land Consumers Energy controls because there are power lines there. But the Bradley’s have been paying Consumers Energy to plant their gardens on that land.  And as far as they’re concerned, it’s their backyard.  Stacy Bradley says she isn’t just concerned about the construction process for the pipeline.

“It’s crude oil, so we’re really worried that something is going to happen to our adjacent wetlands, and our well, about ten feet off where the line is going to be. So we do have concerns.”

Bradley says Enbridge told her there will be compensation for property damage, but she says her family would rather have the trees.

Enbridge responded in an email to a request for comment. A spokesman said the company understands the Bradley’s concerns and are reviewing their construction plans to see if there are any modifications to reduce impact. Enbridge expects construction on this part of the pipeline to begin soon. In the meantime, a loosely organized group of residents has sprung up to ask a lot more questions about the project.

For the Environment Report, I’m Sarah Alvarez.

This story was informed by the Public Insight Network.

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This is the Environment Report.

Governor Rick Snyder is considering whether to make some changes to Michigan’s parks. 

Last year, the Governor appointed a panel on state parks and outdoor recreation.  Their mission was to come up with a vision for the future of Michigan’s parks and state forests.

Erin McDonough is the executive director of the Michigan United Conservation Clubs. She was co-chair of the panel.

“We looked at what future generations are going to be looking for in terms of state parks, we looked at how to best use our parks as economic drivers, we looked at what resources are currently available for investment and we talked about an investment strategy for how we most successfully use those dollars.”

The panel made seven main recommendations in their report.  For example, they recommended that the state should invest more in regional trail networks… and create what they call “signature parks” in urban areas.

“Creating opportunities for people to recreate close to their home is just as essential as protecting and creating opportunities up north.”

McDonough says they also recommended changing the state’s Recreation Passport to raise more money for parks. At the moment you have to check a box when you renew your license plate registration – and pay 10 dollars to access all of the state parks.  The panel suggested changing that, so you’d have to opt out if you didn’t want to pay the fee. 

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

Underground Storage for Nuclear Waste Near Great Lakes?

  • The blue pin indicates the municipality of Kincardine, Ontario. Kincardine has signed a hosting agreement demonstrating its willingness to host Ontario Power Generation's proposed low and intermediate level nuclear waste repository. (Credit: Google Maps)

This is the Environment Report. I’m Rebecca Williams.

The Bruce Nuclear Power Plant sits on the Ontario side of Lake Huron. It’s across the lake from Michigan’s Thumb region.

Ontario Power Generation owns the plant.  They want to store the lower level nuclear waste from all of their plants underground, near the Bruce plant.  They’re proposing to dig almost a half mile underground to build the facility. It would be a little more than half a mile away from Lake Huron.

It’s called a deep geologic repository. It would store low and intermediate level waste from the company’s 20 nuclear reactors.  Just to be clear: spent nuclear fuel would not be stored in this proposed site.

Marie Wilson is a project spokesperson for OPG. She says the low level waste includes things like clothing, mop heads and paper towels with very low levels of radioactivity. She says intermediate level waste includes things such as filters from the reactors’ water systems.

“About 80 to 90 percent of what is going to go in OPG’s DGR is low level waste, so it will be the majority.  After about 300 years, all of that waste for the most part will have decayed.  With respect to the very small volume of intermediate level waste, which would be about 10 to 20 percent, most of that waste will be gone after about 100,000 years.”

Wilson says they’ve conducted more than four years’ worth of studies, taking a close look at the conditions of the rock at the site.

“The conclusion is that there will not be any significant adverse effects to the environment or human health.”

But other people who’ve looked at the proposal say it’s hard to know what the effects will be.

MURPHY: “We’re talking about timelines that go incredibly far into the future, farther into the future than we have pyramids going back into the past.”

Brenda Murphy studies nuclear waste management at Wilfrid Laurier University in Brantford, Ontario. She says there has been a lot of research on deep geologic repositories, but she says it depends what parameters you put into the models and how you tweak those models.

“One of the things for Canada is that most of our models that have been done over the last 40 years have been for igneous rock, which is the rock on the Canadian Shield.  It’s not been for the sedimentary rock.  And so, Kincardine, where they’re looking at the low and intermediate level facility, is going to be in that sedimentary rock.  The difference being: the sedimentary rock is much softer, it’s more porous, it’s more prone to fracture – all of those things, compared to the harder rock of the Canadian Shield.”

In an email, a spokesperson for Ontario Power Generation said two decades of international research says otherwise. He wrote that sedimentary bedrock settings can provide favorable conditions for the safe, long-term management of radioactive wastes.

This proposal to bury low and intermediate level waste is dividing some communities in Canada.

Cheryl Grace is the spokesperson for Save Our Saugeen Shores. It’s a citizen’s group that’s against the repository.

“I mean, there’s definitely a lot of tension because a lot of people earn their livelihood from Bruce Power and Ontario Power Generation. They’re very loyal, and you know, I can totally understand that.”

But she says people are concerned that burying nuclear waste deep underground could end up contaminating the water.

There’s also an even more controversial proposal in play.  21 communities in Canada have expressed interest in hosting a deep geologic repository for all of the country’s highly radioactive waste. (You can read this related article in The National Post for more information.)

More than a dozen of these sites are near one of the Great Lakes.

Cheryl Grace says it’s clear we have to do something with the waste.  But she says her group doesn’t want to see it buried near the Lakes.

“It’s too precious a resource to fool around with and build an underground facility to store highly radioactive nuclear waste.”

The siting process for the high level waste repository is in the early stages.

I’m Rebecca Williams.

Study: Flame Retardants & Child Development

  • Flame retardant chemicals are in many of the products we use in our homes and offices. Hundreds of peer-reviewed studies suggest the chemicals could be linked to a variety of health problems. (Photo courtesy of Reiner Kraft)

This is the Environment Report. I’m Rebecca Williams.

Polybrominated diphenyl ethers, or PBDEs, are in all kinds of consumer products.  We’re exposed to these chemicals every day. They’re in our couches, our TVs, our cars, our office chairs, the padding beneath our carpets, and the dust in our homes. They’re building up in pets, wild animals and fish. They’re even in some of the foods we eat.

Scientists are finding these chemicals in newborn babies, and the breast milk those babies drink.

A few years ago, I produced a five-part series on PBDEs, looking at our exposure to these chemicals and what it might mean for our health, the politics and policy behind our use of these chemicals, and the alternatives to types that have been phased out… only to find that scientists are digging up problems with the newer flame retardants as well.

We Americans have among the highest levels of PBDEs in our bodies of anyone in the world. Hundreds of peer-reviewed studies over the past decade suggest links to neurological and developmental defects, and fertility and reproductive problems. 

But so far, we have limited studies in humans.

A study out today in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives finds evidence of developmental effects in children.

Brenda Eskenazi is the lead author of this study.  She’s a professor of maternal and child health and epidemiology at the University of California-Berkeley.  She says her team’s previous work has revealed links between flame retardant concentrations in mothers’ blood and decreased fertility, lower birthweight babies and changes in thyroid hormone levels (even after controlling for exposure to pesticides and other chemicals). 

Professor Eskenazi’s new study is the largest to date to examine neurobehavioral development and PBDEs in school age children.

“We measured PBDEs in the mothers’ blood during pregnancy and in the children’s blood when the children were 7 years of age. And we found that there was an association between maternal blood levels, and child blood levels and fine motor coordination, attention, and cognitive problems.  So for example, we found that the children who had the lowest levels of PBDEs in their blood compared to the children with the highest levels of PBDEs in their blood had about a 6 point IQ difference.”

Some kinds of PBDEs have been phased out – but they’re still in a lot of older furniture, carpet padding, and electronics, and the chemicals leach out and get into household dust – and then we can inhale or ingest that dust, and the PBDEs can build up in our fat cells.  Eskenazi says we’re continually being exposed.

“In fact, not only do these chemicals leach out of furniture that we bought before 2005, but newer chemicals have been added even more recently that we know even less about but that are chemically very, very similar to PBDEs.  In addition, these chemicals, the PBDEs that we’re talking about today, have a very long half-life in our bodies and in the environment, which means it will take a very long time for them to leave our body and to leave the environment, but in addition, we continue to be exposed to those same chemicals because they’re leaching out of the furniture we bought a long time ago.”

Experts agree that it’s very difficult to avoid exposure to PBDEs, but there are some things you can do.

“One is: if you have furniture that is falling apart, foam that’s coming out of sofas or chairs, seal them. Whether you use tape or sew it up, try to seal up the foam that’s coming out of the chair. The second thing you can do is wash your hands and wash your child’s hands frequently, especially before eating and food preparation.  The third thing you can do is use a damp cloth on surfaces to remove some dust that might be contaminated with these chemicals, as well as using a vacuum on the floors.  Particularly good is a HEPA vacuum.  It’s best to buy products that have natural fibers such as cotton or wool, especially for things that are going to be used around children.”

Flame retardants are typically added to products with polyurethane foam in them.  Experts I’ve talked to say one rule of thumb is to look for the little white label on furniture and baby products with foam in them that says it meets California TB 117… and then avoid buying that stuff if you can.  But they say that’s not a foolproof guide, because there is no requirement that products containing flame retardants have to be labeled.

So why are we in this situation?

This spring, the Chicago Tribune published an extraordinary investigation of the tobacco and chemical industries called “Playing with Fire.” Here’s an excerpt:

The average American baby is born with 10 fingers, 10 toes and the highest recorded levels of flame retardants among infants in the world. The toxic chemicals are present in nearly every home, packed into couches, chairs and many other products. Two powerful industries — Big Tobacco and chemical manufacturers — waged deceptive campaigns that led to the proliferation of these chemicals, which don’t even work as promised.

The Tribune investigation reveals:

The tactics started with Big Tobacco, which wanted to shift focus away from cigarettes as the cause of fire deaths, and continued as chemical companies worked to preserve a lucrative market for their products, according to a Tribune review of thousands of government, scientific and internal industry documents.

The manufacturers of flame retardant chemicals continue to maintain the safety of their products.

But as I found in my reporting in 2010 for my series Is Fire Safety Putting Us At Risk?, the law that is intended to regulate these kinds of chemicals is very weak:

Some people say the EPA’s hands are tied. Deborah Rice is a toxicologist with the Maine Center for Disease Control. She says the chemical industry made sure of that.

“The Toxic Substances Control Act was passed by Congress over 30 years ago and it had major input by the chemical industry, and it hasn’t been reformed since because of major lobbying by the chemical industry. That’s what kept the U.S. unable to really protect the health of its citizens or the environment.”

Rice has direct experience with input by the chemical industry. In 2007, the EPA asked her to chair a panel to help set safe exposure levels for a PBDE flame retardant. The chemical industry felt Rice had expressed bias against the chemical. The industry asked the Bush Administration’s EPA to remove Rice from the panel. The EPA removed her.

To this date, there are no federal bans on any PBDE flame retardant.

Tribes Oppose Michigan Wolf Hunt

  • (Photo courtesy of Tracy Brooks, Mission Wolf-USFWS)

This is the Environment Report. I’m Rebecca Williams.

Michigan lawmakers are considering legislation to make gray wolves a game species. That would make it possible to have a hunting and trapping season for wolves. (You can listen to a related Environment Report story here.)

One version of this legislation cleared a Senate committee late last week.  It now moves to the full Senate. 

But a number of tribes in Michigan are opposed to a wolf hunt and that could hold the process up.  Reporter Bob Allen has been covering this and he joins me now. Bob, who’s opposed – and why?

Allen: Many of the Indian tribes in Michigan are opposed to this legislation right now, and that’s primarily because they feel the wolf has a special status for them. It figures importantly in many of their creation stories. They consider the wolf to be a brother or part of their kin. Here’s what Kurt Perron, the president of the Bay Mills Indian Community, told me about that:

“As we see the wolf returning, or gaining strength, just like we, as Ojibwe Anishinaabe people have, we see that relationship. So that’s what concerns us with the hunt, it’s almost like you’re hunting our brothers.”

Perron also said that by hunting wolves, you really don’t know what’s going to happen in terms of how that affects the pack structure of wolves, since they are pack animals.

Senator Tom Casperson of the western Upper Peninsula, is the primary sponsor of the wolf hunt bill, and he says that he has met a couple of times with the Indian tribes, and heard their concerns, and he recognizes and respects their relationship to the wolf. But he also says that that’s not a value that all of his constituents hold.

“I don’t know how you negotiate that, because that’s a personal belief they have. But at the end of the day, I do think many people don’t hold that same belief, so what do we do. Do we hold fast to it because the tribes say it’s sensitive to them, when many of my citizens don’t hold that same value?”

RW: So is there any chance people can compromise on this?

Allen: I think there’s some chance of compromise, but the Indian tribes are insisting they’re equal partners with the state in managing the state’s resources under a court decree that happened back in 2007 that settled some of the inland hunting and fishing rights.

Jimmie Mitchell, who’s the head of natural resources for the Little River Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians in Manistee, has been meeting with Senator Casperson and some other state officials to talk about this. He thinks that if the state can make the case that a wolf hunt is necessary, that the tribes, if it’s based on sound science, will go along with that or at least part of it. He thinks if it’s necessary, the tribes could go back to federal court, and open up that consent decree again, and make the state abide by the terms of that agreement.

“We’re really hoping not to get there. We want to sit down as co-managers and collaborate in a fashion that we can all share that information. I think whatever wolf management that needs to occur can.”

One possibility that Senator Casperson sees for some compromise on this, is that he’s been talking about limiting a wolf hunt to just a few counties in the western Upper Peninsula, where the problems have been most severe with wolves attacking livestock and pets, and he thinks that would be a way to sort of defuse some of this conflict. But it’s going to be up to the Natural Resources Commission to make that decision. This bill that he’s sponsoring would only reclassify the wolf as a game animal, and any terms of a hunt or whether there would even be a hunt on wolves, would be totally up to the Natural Resources Commission.

RW: Well, and this won’t go anywhere for a couple of weeks, because the state Senate is in recess until the end of the month. Thank you Bob!

Allen: You’re welcome, Rebecca.

Bob Allen is a reporter for Interlochen Public Radio.  That’s the Environment Report. I’m Rebecca Williams.

Proposal 3 Defeat & Great Lakes Water Levels

  • (Courtesy of NASA Goddard Photo and Video, Flickr)

Michigan voters rejected Proposal 3 on Tuesday. The proposal would’ve required utilities to get 25 percent of their electricity sales from renewable sources by the year 2025.  It was controversial partly because it would’ve amended the state constitution.

Howard Edelson is the campaign manager for CARE for Michigan. The group worked to defeat the proposal on behalf of the state’s utilities.

“It just goes to show that Michigan voters didn’t want out-of-state special interests, billionaires from out of state, trying to hijack our constitution and put a costly energy mandate in the constitution.”

He says the state’s current renewable standard is working. Utilities have to meet a 10 percent standard by 2015.

But Mark Fisk argues we’re falling behind other states that have higher standards. He’s the spokesperson for Michigan Energy, Michigan Jobs. It’s the group that backed the proposal.

“It’s very important that we not lose these jobs to other states and other countries. We believe Michigan should be a leader in renewable energy and we’re going to keep fighting until we make that happen.”

Fisk would not rule out the possibility of another ballot proposal in the future.

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This is the Environment Report.

Lake Michigan and Lake Huron could hit record low water levels in the next six months.  That’s according to a projection by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

John Allis is the Chief of the Great Lakes Hydraulics and Hydrology Office with the Army Corp’s Detroit District, and he joins me now to talk more about this. 

Lake Michigan and Lake Huron are functionally one body of water – they’re connected at the Straits of Mackinac. They’ve been below their long-term average for more than a decade. What’s happening with Lakes Michigan and Huron?

Allis: Really, it’s just a product of Mother Nature. More often than not we’re seeing drier months and lower supplies of water than we are seeing those wetter months. Anytime we seem to make a gain against the long term average, we see another stretch of dry weather that brings the water levels back down.

Williams: What do we know about how climate change might affect Great Lakes water levels?

Allis: Very little, unfortunately. And that’s not for a lack of effort from a lot of scientists. There was recently an International Upper Great Lakes Study – that was a study commissioned by the International Joint Commission, and they spent a lot of effort looking at different climate change scenarios and seeing how that would impact water levels in the Great Lakes.  A lot of what they concluded was that it was still difficult to tell which way it could go.  I think previous studies suggested a higher chance of lower water levels in the Great Lakes, but their information seemed to suggest that it’s really up in the air.

Williams: There’s also been some controversy around dredging by the Army Corps in the St. Clair River in the 1960s. Are we still seeing effects from that dredging?

Allis: Certainly, yes. And those dredging projects and previous historical projects on the St. Clair River – they caused a permanent 10-16 inch drop on Michigan-Huron, and that’s always going to be there since the 1960s.  But it’s important to point out that since the 1960s, Michigan-Huron have both set record highs as well.  So, it’s not something that’s going to guarantee levels are always going to be low on Michigan-Huron.

Williams: What are the implications of these extremely low water levels?

Allis: Commercial navigation, recreational boating; those interests on the Great Lakes, with this low water, means especially for commercial shipping, that they have to light load their boats, they can’t carry as much in a load. Rec boaters we hear a lot from them as they’re having trouble getting in and out of some of the different harbors and marinas on the Great Lakes.  Certainly it’s impacted a lot of stakeholder groups, having water levels this low.

Williams: John Allis is the Chief of the Great Lakes Hydraulics and Hydrology Office with the Army Corp’s Detroit District. Thank you for talking with me!

Allis: Great, thank you.

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

A Wolf Hunt in Michigan?

  • There are an estimated 700 wolves in the state of Michigan. (Photo courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

This is the Environment Report. I’m Rebecca Williams.

Gray wolves in the Great Lakes region came off the endangered species list this past January.  There are about 700 wolves in Michigan now.  A decade ago, there were just under 300. 

Now, state lawmakers are considering legislation to make gray wolves a game species in Michigan. That would open the door to a possible hunting and trapping season for wolves.

“Wolves are something people are very passionate about one way or another.”

Adam Bump is the Bear and Furbearer specialist with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.  He says most of the wolves are in the western Upper Peninsula and that’s causing some conflicts with people.

“We have residents in the U.P. that would just as soon not see any wolves in the U.P. and would very much like to see a season, and to see wolf numbers reduced. We have others in the U.P. that I think would be very happy if we never implemented any harvest season and didn’t kill any wolves unless absolutely necessary.”

He says the DNR is supportive of making wolves a game species because it would give the agency another tool to manage the animals. 

State Representative Matt Huuki introduced HB 5834 to make the gray wolf a game species. Senator Tom Casperson introduced a similar bill (SB 1350) in the state Senate.

If either of these bills eventually pass, the state would have to take more steps to establish a hunting season.

“Then there has to be discussions at the department level with the Natural Resources Commission, with the public, do we want and need a hunt and if so, what would it look like?”

Wisconsin and Minnesota opened their first regulated wolf hunts this fall.  They’re controversial.  Environmental and animal welfare groups sued to try to stop the wolf hunts.  A number of tribes in the Great Lakes region also oppose the hunts.

Other groups argue that wolf hunting seasons are premature.  When wolves were delisted, the DNR was authorized to issue permits to landowners to kill wolves that have a history of preying on animals. 

Nancy Warren is with the National Wolfwatcher Coalition.  She points to a Michigan law that also allows people to kill a wolf in the act of attacking their pet or livestock.

“So we already have all these tools available and so we don’t feel the listing of the wolf as a game animal is needed at this time.”

Warren helped draft the state’s wolf management plan.  The plan went into effect when wolves were delisted.

“And we think we should allow the plan to run its course, allow the plan to be effective. Wolves were just delisted back in January so we’ve only been working with this plan for 10 months.”

The DNR says, so far this year, 25 wolves have been killed under permits or because they were in the act of attacking livestock or a pet.

Nancy Warren says her group’s concerned that the combination of these permitted wolf kills along with a hunting season could hurt the wolf population.

“Wolves are very territorial. Wolves are pack animals, so if you take out the alpha male or alpha female you could cause the entire pack to disband.  Depending on how the hunt is structured it could affect the population growth.”

But supporters of a wolf hunting season argue it would be carefully managed.

Kent Wood is the Legislative Affairs Manager with the Michigan United Conservation Clubs.

“I would firmly believe that a regulated hunting and trapping season for wolves would be just that – it would be regulated.  And it would be the same thing: it would be looked at every year. You know, I think it’s also just sort of the same sort of false mindset that hunters want to get rid of these species. We don’t.  First and foremost the goal is conservation.”

He says the last thing his group wants to see is the wolf going back on the endangered species list.

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

Proposal 3: How Would We Meet It?

  • (Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company/Flickr)

This is the Environment Report. I’m Rebecca Williams.

Proposal 3 would amend the state constitution and require utilities to get 25 percent of their electricity sales from renewable sources by the year 2025.  In the second part of our series, Candice Ludlow looks at how we might reach that goal:

You may start noticing more solar arrays on land and tops of buildings, if Proposal 3 passes.

At the American Waste garbage and recycling center near Traverse City, two electricians are finishing up installation of a solar array on the property.

Consumers Energy will pay American Waste two times the amount the company typically pays for electricity. That electricity is fed straight into the state’s electrical grid, and it’s helping Consumers Energy meet Michigan’s current renewable energy standard of 10 percent by 2015.

Proposal 3 would bump that standard up to 25 percent by 2025.

Skip Pruss is a proponent of Proposal 3. He’s a principal for Five Lakes Energy. Pruss says the future for solar is bright because the cost to install solar is dropping fast.

“The United States Department of Energy has something called the Sun Shot Initiative, which is a strategic cost reduction initiative to reduce the cost of solar PVs, solar photovoltaics, to a dollar a watt by 2017.”

Pruss says that is half of what people pay per watt today. He says solar will continue to grow, but right now wind is leading the charge – when it comes to creating renewable energy in Michigan. Pruss estimates we’ll need about 2,000 more wind turbines to meet the 25 percent mandate.

But utility companies disagree. Roger Morgenstern is a spokesperson for Consumers Energy. He says Skipp Pruss’ estimate on the number of wind turbines is too low, by at least a thousand.

“Our concern is that it would be up to 3,100 wind turbines in almost every corner of the state to meet this type of a mandate. Because in Michigan from a renewable standpoint, wind is more plentiful than solar. Though neither are optimal in a Midwest state.”

But supporters of Proposal 3 say rapid advances in technology are driving the expansion of wind and solar across the United States. Again Skip Pruss:

“Siting windfarms are going to be a challenge. The best wind in Michigan is really in coastal areas. The good news is at higher heights and with improved technology. We now have technologies that can capture lower velocity winds. So that means we could deploy these wind farms in areas where we didn’t think it was economically efficient to do so.”

Pruss says they’re setting their sights on agricultural lands where there should be much less controversy than on the coast.

Still, residents in coastal communities are concerned about wind farms popping up along the lakes. So much so that some people in northern Michigan’s Benzie County have applied for permits to have a heliport on their land – with the hope it will stop a wind farm.

But that’s not the only thing that could challenge wind farm expansion. A lot of what’s made wind competitive is a federal tax credit.

Erick Lupher is with the Citizens Research Council of Michigan. He says a number of states are banking on that tax credit, including Michigan.

“These states have all created these 25-30 percent standards with the idea this infrastructure will be available and cost effective to put in the machinery needed to meet these standards. If tax credit isn’t there it changes the math in major ways.”

The tax credit is set to expire at the end of the year, and it’s uncertain whether it will be extended. For the Environment Report, I’m Candice Ludlow.

You can find the first part of our series here.