Fish Battle Drought & Plant Zones Shifting

  • The USDA came out with a new interactive Plant Hardiness Zone Map (when you click on Michigan, you can see the more detailed map above). But new research suggests our warming climate has made even this new map out of date. (Image courtesy of USDA)

With this year’s drought, fish in northern Michigan are fighting low water levels and hot temperatures as they head upstream to spawn.  As Linda Stephan reports – the drought is causing major problems for one river, in particular:

The state Department of Natural Resources is about to take very rare action and ban fishing near the mouth of the Betsie River, near Frankfort.

Fisheries biologist Mark Tonello says if people stay away from the area, there is enough room for the fish to swim up river.

“Even when they’re not intending to, a lot of times they’re spooking the fish and the fish wind up beaching themselves and dying.”

Officials are trying to avoid a mass salmon die-off on Betsie Bay. For now, the request that people stay away from exposed bottomlands near the mouth of the river is voluntary.

It’s one of a handful of rivers where salmon are not stocked and must reproduce naturally to survive.

For The Environment Report, I’m Linda Stephan.

(music bump)

This is the Environment Report.

If you’re thinking of planting trees or shrubs in your yard… the U.S. Department of Agriculture has guidelines for what to plant depending on where you live. It’s called the Plant Hardiness Zone Map.  It’s based on average minimum winter temperatures.  So you can use it to decide if the kind of tree you want to plant will make it through the winter without freezing to death.

This past January, the USDA updated this map for the first time since 1990. 

But one researcher argues it’s already out of date.

Nir Krakauer is an assistant professor of civil engineering at the City College of New York. He says the USDA used the annual minimum temperatures between 1976 and 2005 to make their map.  He updated that map with more recent data.

“In general, a lot of Michigan might be a half zone less cold than the USDA map would show.”

In other words – he says – our winters have been warming faster than other seasons… and that’s shifting those plant zones north.  That means plants that used to only survive in warm southern climates are doing well farther north.

Krakauer says you might be able to experiment with growing plants that do better in warmer places.

Experts say one of the things that’s striking is how much warmer our winters have gotten on average.

Jeff Andresen is the state’s climatologist and an associate professor of geography at Michigan State University.

“If we look at our changing temperatures, Michigan is warmer now than it has been in the past, but it turns out much of the warming that has occurred, especially in the last few decades, has occurred during the winter season and the spring season as well, and overnight: minimum temperatures have increased in some cases 5 to 10 degrees F in the winter in just the last 30 years. Those are very, very significant changes.”

He says the USDA plant zone map is still a reliable guide for what to plant in your yard.

Unless you really love taking risks.

“It’s like dating in high school, people want what they can’t have, they want to go for that next one up.”

Bert Cregg is an associate professor of horticulture and forestry at MSU. (You can read his blog post to find out why he was excited when that new USDA hardiness zone map finally came out).  He says a lot of people want to try to plant things that really won’t survive in Michigan.

“I go to these gardening shows and whatnot and see Tshirts: Been There Killed That or You Don’t Really Know a Plant Until You’ve Killed it At Least Three Times.  People are always wanting to push their hardiness zones.”

Cregg says the trouble is… even in a warming climate, we can still get very cold winter events.

“Yeah, on average, the winters are getting warmer, but that extreme event is still potential and of course that’s what’s going to take your plants out.”

Cregg says you might’ve heard fall is the best time to plant trees.  But he actually recommends waiting until spring… because if it gets cold early this fall, it could be hard for those young trees to get established.

I’m Rebecca Williams.

Investing in Asian Carp (Part 5)

  • Mayor Tom Thompson and Lu Xu Wu, CEO of Wuhan Hui Chang Real Estate (speaking through an interpreter). Wuhan Hui Chang is a part investor in American Heartland Fish Products LLC., based in Grafton, IL. (Photo by Adam Allington)

As the nation’s civic leaders search for a permanent solution to keep invasive Asian carp from spreading, other parts of the country are betting on the carp’s future.  Across the Mississippi Valley, fishermen and exporters are teaming up to develop the market for carp, and carp products.  In the final episode of our series on Asian carp, Adam Allington reports how some people hope that selling carp might be the best method for checking their expansion:

When the French explorer Père Marquette traveled down the Illinois River in 1673, his journal tells of encounters with “monstrous fish” so large they nearly overturned his canoe.   

In all likelihood the fish Marquette was talking about were channel catfish, but nearly 340 years later fisherman Josh Havens says it’s bighead carp… and silver carp which now harass boaters on the Illinois (silver carp are the jumpers).

“Oh everybody hates ‘em, except for people that shoot ‘em and stuff like that.  I hate ‘em when I’m trying to tube with my kids, but then when we’re trying to shoot ‘em I like them.  So it’s a love-hate thing.”

Bow-fishing for jumping carp is fun, but the sheer volume of carp is crowding out native fish, so much in fact that in parts of the river 8 out of every 10 fish is an Asian carp.

A fact which some Illinois officials believe could be an asset.

“We should be thinking about these invasive species as opportunities for us to focus on economic development.”

Marc Miller is the Director of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.  Speaking to residents in the tiny river town of Grafton Illinois, Miller says he’s bullish on carp in part because of companies like Grafton’s American Heartland Fish Products.

“I mean who else can take lemons and turn them into lemonade, like providing an opportunity for 39 jobs here in this community, that’s what we’re doing with the Asian carp.”

Earlier this summer, a group of Chinese investors announced a partnership with American Heartland Fish to ship 35 million pounds of carp to China over the next three years.

The Illinois Department of Commerce kicked in 2 million dollars to help build the processing plant…a down payment which Grafton Mayor Tom Thompson says is money well spent.

“It’s going to produce jobs, it’s going to revive our local fishing industry and it’s a very important catalyst in trying to solve the environmental problem of carp in the river.”

Carp are considered too boney for American tastes.  But they’re wildly popular in China, where pollution has made many fish unsafe to eat.  The fish caught here are sold as “upper Mississippi wild-caught” carp, with “so much energy they can jump.”

Still others say the Chinese market is a longshot to solve America’s invasive carp problem.

“These guys, I hear all kinds of things about investors, they’re going to have all these multi-million dollar deals with China…and they don’t materialize I’m telling you.”

Steve McNitt is the Sales Manager for Schafer Fish in Northwest Illinois.  He says they’ve shipped millions of pounds of carp to China, but the margins are just too slim.

“I bet we’ve had 30 or 40 Chinese customers come through here and they’re going to buy every fish we can produce and everything…and they would if you give them to ‘em, but they’re not going to allow you to make any money.”

Fishermen are paid about 15 cents a pound for Asian carp, and many ecologists warn that building an industry based on an invasive species might only further establish the carp in American rivers.

But Ben Allen of American Heartland fish says he expects to not only control the population of carp, but ultimately beat it back.

“We want to move these fish out of the river.  And we’re going to attract people that have large boats and want to go out and work hard and bring in a lot of weight.”

In addition to selling the carp as food, Allen says new rendering patents will also allow his company to tap into the booming markets for fishmeal, used in animal feed and Omega-3 fish oil.

For the Environment Report, I’m Adam Allington.

What if Asian Carp Make a Home Here? (Part 4)

  • Silver carp (top) and bighead carp (bottom) are easy to confuse. (Photo courtesy of Asian Carp Regional Coordinating Committee)

Some places in the Great Lakes might be better for Asian carp than others…

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

Let’s take a second and play a game.

When I say “Asian carp” what’s the very first thing you think of?

Maybe… it’s this:

“They’re jumpin’ pretty good, look at that!  Ohhh that one may have hurt… Ohhh!”

Those are silver carp.  They’re the jumpers.  And if there are a lot of them packed in shoulder to shoulder in a river channel… it can be dangerous.

Duane Chapman is a leading carp expert. He’s with the U.S. Geological Survey in Missouri. 

“They’ve hurt a lot of people – I’ve been hurt by them – I’ve seen a couple of broken jaws, people have been knocked off boats.”

Asian carp were imported to the U.S. in the 1970’s and used in research ponds and fish farms.  At some point, they escaped, and they’ve been making their way up the Mississippi River system ever since.

The question that’s on a lot of people’s minds now, is what will happen if Asian carp get established in the Great Lakes. 

John Dettmers is a senior fishery biologist with the Great Lakes Fishery Commission.  He’s also one of the authors of a new peer-reviewed risk assessment.

“The risk of Asian carp establishing themselves and having measureable consequences to Great Lakes fish and aquatic communities is pretty high especially in Lakes Michigan, Huron and Erie.  A little bit less of a risk in Lake Ontario and a bit less risk than that in Lake Superior.”

Scientists are the most concerned about bighead and silver carp.  Both species eat plankton.  Those are tiny plants and animals at the base of the food chain that a lot of other things like to eat.

Duane Chapman with the USGS also worked on the risk assessment.  He says between 1995 and 2000, three bighead carp were caught in Lake Erie.

“Those fish were extremely robust. They were very fat.”

Biologists think those three carp were put in the lake intentionally… and Chapman says there’s no evidence yet that there’s a reproducing population in Lake Erie.

But he says Lake Erie would be very well suited for carp, and especially the western part of the lake because there’s a lot of plankton there.

“That would be better habitat than just about any place in the Great Lakes for Asian carp growth.  It also tends to be habitat for important fishes like walleye and yellow perch. That’s a little bit scary.”

He says there could also be some negative impacts on salmon at certain stages of their lives.

Other fish experts have questioned how well carp would do in the Great Lakes.

Gerald Smith is a professor emeritus in the Museum of Zoology at the University of Michigan.  He was not involved in the new risk assessment.  He says he agrees with the report overall… but:

“I think they left out the importance of predators.  All carp start out as eggs, juveniles or larvae. They have to grow up through a food chain that includes more large predators than Asian carp face anywhere else in the world.”

He says it’s uncertain how well little carp would do against those predators.

Duane Chapman says baby Asian carp might be able to escape a lot of those predators. He says there are many shallow wetlands in the Great Lakes region where baby carp could hide.

All of the scientists made a point of saying that we should keep Asian carp out of the Great Lakes.  And Duane Chapman says… even if a few carp do turn up down the line… it’s not time to give up.

“I want to make it real clear that there’s a sense you get a couple of fish, a male and a female, and it’s game over. That’s absolutely not the case.”

He says typically in a big system like the Great Lakes, it takes a large number of fish to establish a reproducing population. So he says it makes sense to try to keep the numbers of carp in the Lakes low.

Special thanks to Long Haul Productions for their jumping carp audio.

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

Our series wraps up tomorrow with a look at people who are trying to make some money by selling carp. 

Other Pathways for Asian Carp (Part 3)

  • The 8 foot tall fence at Eagle Marsh is intended to keep adult Asian carp from swimming toward Lake Erie during floods. (Photo by Mercedes Mejia/Michigan Radio)

Today, we continue our week-long series on Asian carp and the Great Lakes.

Most of the efforts to keep bighead and silver carp out of the Great Lakes are focused on the shipping canals in the Chicago area.  But there are other ways the carp could get into the Great Lakes.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is looking at more than a dozen other possible watery routes carp could take.

A couple weeks ago, I went to see the site that many scientists consider the 2nd highest risk pathway for carp.  It’s a sleepy little place called Eagle Marsh.  It’s more than 700 acres and it’s bone dry right now, with not a carp in sight.

So it’s a little strange when you first see the 8 foot tall chain-link fence. It stretches from one side of Eagle Marsh to the other.

“This fence is designed to stop Asian carp but as you can see when you pan around and look at the rest of this fence the fence is built on dry ground.”

Doug Keller is with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources.

“This is an area that floods when the Wabash and Maumee systems, they can flood together, and this is the area they flood together and this is the potential pathway that Asian carp can move from the Wabash River up toward the Maumee River.”

Keller says there are bighead carp about 20 river miles away from this marsh in the Wabash River.  The concern is – if carp get into the Maumee River, they could swim right to Lake Erie.  

“There have been many people that have assessed the risk of Asian carp getting into the Great Lakes system, and certainly should they get into Lake Erie almost any expert would agree that’s probably the place in the Great Lakes they would do the best.”

This fence is a temporary barrier. It was built to block adult carp from getting through… but not baby carp. 

“Any fish that’s probably six inches or less, of any kind of fish, is going to be able to slide right through this fence, but the juvenile Asian carp live in backwater areas.  So they’re going to hatch and go off into those backwater areas in the middle and lower Wabash River and they’re going to be 100 miles, easy, from here.”

Keller says even if Asian carp laid eggs in the upper Wabash River… those eggs would get sent on a 60 mile drift downstream, far from this spot in Eagle Marsh.

So far, the fence has lived up to at least one big test. 

Betsy Yankowiak is the Director of Preserves and Programs at the Little River Wetlands Project. Her group is one of the owners of Eagle Marsh, and they have a contract to inspect and maintain the carp fence.  She says a year ago in May there was so much rain, she had to take a canoe out to the fence.

“When we got out there, these common carp were swimming on both sides of the fence and I got out of the canoe, and I have my big knee-high boots on but still, common carp mouths… and they were floating around by my feet and I was like oh, man.”

Common carp have been in the U.S. since the late 1800’s… so they’re not the kind of carp they’re trying to stop here.

But Yankowiak says she’s keeping an eye on the carp fence… just in case any bighead or silver carp make a run for it in the future.

“If Asian carp cross, it’s on me. So I want to make sure we’re doing the best job we possibly can.”

But even if the carp fence works… or the carp never get close to Eagle Marsh… biologists say there are other ways carp could get into the Great Lakes.

People still move live Asian carp around the region even though it’s illegal. It’s possible those fish could get into the Lakes.

And… experts say baby Asian carp look a lot like bait fish called gizzard shad… so fishermen could release them accidentally.

Our series continues tomorrow with a look at what might happen if carp get comfortable in the Great Lakes. 

Industries Worry About Basin Separation (Part 2)

  • A sightseeing boat on Lake Michigan near Chicago. Barge and tour boat operators, among other businesses and industries, are concerned about proposals to permanently separate the Great Lakes from the Mississippi River system. (Photo by Rebecca Williams/Michigan Radio)

The issue of keeping Asian carp out of the Great Lakes has implications for a variety of industries.  Midwest officials are weighing a range of options, including severing the connection between the Mississippi River and Great Lakes basins.  In the second part of our series on Asian carp, Adam Allington examines the potential economic implications for keeping the carp out of the lakes now, and in the future:

It’s a scorching hot day in East St. Louis, Illinois.  Down by the Mississippi River a tugboat is pushing a flotilla of six light green barges. This 70-mile stretch of river is one of the busiest inland ports in America—a place where grain, aggregate and steel are loaded and shipped up and down the river.

“We operate about 200 barges in all parts of the inland waterways, anything that’s connected to the Mississippi.”

Mark Fletcher runs Ceres Barge Lines.  At any point roughly a quarter of his business is tied up moving freight in and around the Chicago area.  As far as he’s concerned, any carp mitigation strategy that closes or slows shipping on the Chicago canals would be a disaster for his business.

“It would affect us terrifically and it affects the whole industry terrifically because you’ve got so much tonnage that does move up the Illinois River trying to get into the steel mills of Burns Harbor, Indiana, Indiana Harbor, south of Chicago.”

In addition to impacts on manufacturing and shipping, Fletcher says one barge can hold the equivalent of 60 semi-trucks or 40 rail cars.

Mark Biel is the Director of the Chemical Industry Council of Illinois.  He says closing the Chicago canals would add roughly a half million more trucks to roads and freeways, posing a real threat to the environment.

“Particularly when it comes to some of the petroleum products and chemical products, the safest way to move those products is to move them by barge.  In many cases you don’t want to put them on rail cars or put them on trucks and then move them through neighborhoods.  The preferable way to move this product safely is to move it through the barge.”

But severing the physical connection of the Great Lakes to the Illinois and Mississippi rivers isn’t necessarily an “either-or” scenario for industry.

Tim Eder is the Director of the Great Lakes Commission.  The best solution, he says, would make it impossible for Asian carp to move upriver but would also provide a workaround for cargo.

“It would be a physical structure in the water, it would be a land bridge made out of concrete and earth.  It would include a terminal, where barge traffic would meet on either side of the barrier.  There could be superfast unloading elevators and cranes that moved goods from one side of the barrier to the other.”

The Army Corps of Engineers is set to deliver a progress report to Congress in mid-October, including a ballpark cost for basin separation.

Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow says anything less than basin separation is a non-starter, but she’s also confident that a workable solution in within reach.

“We have, in fact, a $7 billion fishing industry and a $16 billion boating industry in the Great Lakes.  But we know that there are other important commercial interests and we need to make sure we find a solution that works for both.”

Still, no matter what the Army Corps recommends, some say the issue of carp getting into the lakes may ultimately have nothing to do with infrastructure.

Michael Borgstrom is the President of Wendella Sightseeing, which has had boats on the Chicago River for over 75 years.

“I just don’t know where the urgency is.  I mean, they’re all over the country so… there’s other ways for them to get into the lakes as well.”

Borgstrom thinks the true threat of carp getting into the lakes won’t hinge on barriers, but rather the very real possibility of humans simply taking live carp and dropping it in the lake.

For the Environment Report, I’m Adam Allington.

Tomorrow, we’ll hear about ways carp could get into the Great Lakes besides the Chicago shipping canals. 

Asian Carp & the Great Lakes: Separating the Basins (Part 1)

  • The way things were, circa 1900 (before the construction of the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal). (Image courtesy of the Great Lakes Commission)

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

Earlier this spring… the Obama administration ordered the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to speed up a five-year study of options to block invasive Asian carp from entering the Great Lakes.  Many biologists say the best solution would be complete separation of the Great Lakes from the Mississippi River watershed.  But as Adam Allington reports in the first story of our five-part series, basin separation comes with its own multi-billion dollar price tag… and it would require re-plumbing the entire City of Chicago:

This story begins with a nice round number, and that number is 1900… the year the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal was complete. 

Back then, the canal’s opening was touted as one of the biggest civil engineering feats of the industrial age—significant, for completely reversing the flow of the Chicago River away from Lake Michigan and taking all the sewage from the city of Chicago with it.

Over 100 years later, that canal is still doing the same job.

“On any given day, depending on the time of year, approximately 60-80 percent of the volume of the Chicago River is treated municipal wastewater.”

Dave Wethington is a Project Manager with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.  He’s charged with completing the Corps recommendations to Congress for keeping Asian carp out of the lakes now, and in the future.

“The Corps believes we have the issue of Asian carp dealt with appropriately at this point in time.  It’s a very complex challenge that we’re looking at because of the multiple uses of that system.” 

In addition to storm and wastewater, Wethington says the canals are also important shipping routes moving freight in and out of Chicago and the Great Lakes. 

He says an electric barrier located 30 miles downstream is keeping the carp out of the Chicago canals, and breeding populations haven’t been detected within 100 miles.

Still, samples taken this summer on Lake Calumet, a mere 6 miles from Lake Michigan, did test positive for Asian carp DNA.

“It’s a warning sign that Asian carp are present in the system.”

Tim Eder is the Director of the Great Lakes Commission, based in Ann Arbor.  He says the tests are proof the electric barrier isn’t working.

“Whether they’re a live fish present on the wrong side of the barrier now, or whether they will be at some point in the future, I think it’s a warning sign that we’ve got to take this very seriously and move with the utmost haste.”

Eder says best solution for keeping carp out of the lakes is complete hydrologic separation of the Mississippi and Great Lakes basins. 

But doing that won’t come cheap, with some estimates running as high as $4 billion.   John Goss is the so-called “Asian Carp Czar” appointed by the White House to coordinate the federal response to the carp threat.

“In the current budget situation, with the federal government, the State of Illinois and the other states don’t have a lot of funding to contribute.  So certainly, if hydrologic separation is the only solution, then that requires finding the funding.”

BRAMMEIER: “Talking in billions for major infrastructure projects that impact the lives of tens of millions of people is not out of the ordinary.” 

Joel Brammeier is the President of the Alliance for the Great Lakes.  He says protecting the multi-billion dollar Great Lakes fishing and tourism industry is too important to risk on half-measures, which themselves cost hundreds of millions of dollars each year.

“Whether the carp are 100, 50, 20 miles from Lake Michigan, the right solution is the same, and that’s separating these two systems.  So we don’t have to worry about this anymore and so we don’t have to keep dumping millions of dollars into temporary fixes that aren’t going to solve the problem.” 

The Army Corps is not set to deliver its list of options to Congress until the end of next year. Yet to be determined is how a permanent barrier would impact shipping and water treatment, and who would pay for it.

For the Environment Report, I’m Adam Allington.

Tomorrow, we’ll hear what concerns industry groups have about separating the basins.

Palisades Open House & Bill McKibben on Climate Change

  • The Palisades Nuclear Power Plant near South Haven, MI. (Photo courtesy of Entergy Corporation)

The Palisades nuclear power plant is hosting an open house tonight in South Haven. Lindsey Smith reports it’s a rare opportunity for people to ask detailed questions about the plant:

Because of security reasons, it’s impractical to host the open house at the plant. Instead it’ll take place at the same conference center where the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has held a number of public hearings this year about the plant’s poor safety rating. In fact, the NRC will host a public meeting next week at the same place to discuss those safety concerns in detail.

Palisades spokesman Mark Savage says the open house tonight will be informal… kind of like a science fair.

“We’ll have tabletop discussions about the variety of things that historically get brought up at these public meetings and so general public is invited round the area here to come and see our wares.”

This is first time Palisades has hosted an open house since Entergy Corporation bought the plant from Consumers Energy back in 2007.

The Palisades open house will be held from 6 – 8pm tonight at the Beach Haven Event Center: 10420 M-140 Highway, South Haven

(music bump)

This is the Environment Report.

More than 28,000 high temperature records have been broken or tied so far this year in the U.S. 

And… the National Snow and Ice Data Center recently reported the amount of sea ice in the Arctic has fallen to the lowest level in the satellite record.  The scientists say the decline in summer sea ice over the last ten years is a strong signal of long-term climate warming.

Bill McKibben has been writing about climate change for the past two decades, and he’s the founder of It’s a grassroots organization that has chapters around the world to urge governments to do something about climate change.  

Bill, thanks for joining me.  You wrote an article recently in Rolling Stone magazine, and in it, you say we are losing the fight to slow manmade warming of the climate.  Why did you say that?

Bill McKibben: “Well, we can tell we’re losing just by looking around us. The Arctic is melting away with enormous speed. We’re seeing exactly the kind of weather phenomenon that scientists told us we could expect. This summer across the U.S. is a pretty good sort of trailer of coming attractions for the global warming movie. This is what it feels like in its earliest stages and it doesn’t feel good.”

RW: So, the vast majority of publishing climate scientists agree that climate change is real, it’s happening now, and it’s mostly human-caused. But there’s a disconnect between the scientific community and our political leaders. Most politicians are not talking about climate change.

McKibben: “Mitt Romney talked about it; he made a big joke about it at the Republican convention. It was his big laugh line of his speech, that he was not going to be trying to heal the planet – instead he was going to be working on behalf of people’s families. But since most families I know live on this planet, that’s kind of an empty boast.”

RW: But you know, a few years ago, we were hearing more serious discussion about climate change in Congress. What’s changed?

McKibben:  “Well, I think what’s changed is a very well organized and heavily funded effort by the fossil fuel industry to keep this issue at bay. So they’ve now managed to persuade a huge, basically one of our parties to say there’s no such thing as climate change. And that’s a big problem. It’s an overcome-able problem if we build a movement large enough and vocal enough to really insist on change.”

RW: Bill, thank you so much.

McKibben: “Well, thanks for talking with me, Rebecca. You have a good day.”

RW: Bill McKibben is an author and the founder of That’s the Environment Report. I’m Rebecca Williams.

Bill McKibben will be speaking at Rackham Auditorium at the University of Michigan on Friday, September 14th at 4:30 pm. The talk will be followed by a book signing.  His talk is titled: “350, the most important number in the English language.”

Changes to Michigan Land Preservation?

  • The Headlands in Emmet County. (Photo courtesy of Emmet County)

by Peter Payette for The Environment Report

For decades, communities in Michigan have been preserving land with help from the Natural Resources Trust Fund.  The Mackinac Headlands, Saugatuck Harbor Natural Area and William Milliken State Park in Detroit were all purchased with the help of these grants.  But now some state senators want to change the way the system works.  Some of the groups that use the trust fund say the changes are radical. 

For years, Acme Township has been trying to make itself more of a destination.

The community along U.S. 31 just north of Traverse City is mostly a place you pass through.

Township Supervisor Wayne Kladder says until recently Acme had just a boat launch and small beach that wasn’t used much.

“We had people in our township didn’t even know our park was here… and they drove by it every day.”

Back around 2008, the township began buying up adjacent properties along the coast.

But waterfront property on East Grand Traverse Bay isn’t cheap.  So the Township has had help from the Natural Resources Trust Fund: 6 million dollars worth.

Kladder says they’re rebuilding their economy around this land.

“This one here is going to create opportunities for residents and people and visitors and spur growth across the street; make people know where Acme is because they’ll associate the park with Acme.” 

As lovely as the shoreline is here, this sort of project is nothing special for the Natural Resources Trust Fund.

Every December a list of projects is recommended that protect the most stunning pieces of land across the Michigan.

But legislation pending in Lansing could make big changes to how it all works.  One proposal would restrict what a community like Acme could do in the future if it wants help from the fund.

It says local governments can’t solicit the landowner.

So if a township wanted to buy a piece of land to make a park, officials couldn’t ask if the owner would be willing to sell. Neither could a land conservancy. Those are non-profits that specialize in this work.

The conservancies are a little perplexed by these proposals.

Glen Chown, executive director of the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy, says the system has been working well.

“If we need to tweak things and improve things, that’s fine, that’s one thing, but to radically change what’s worked so well for decades makes no sense.”

Chown is particularly incensed about another bill that has been drafted but not submitted.

It would take away a conservancy’s tax exemptions if land isn’t opened up for any recreational use including motorized vehicles.

Chown says they’re not opposed to motorized vehicle where they’re appropriate.

“And for the legislature to dictate the types of uses on our conservancy preserves through this bill is ludicrous.”

Glen Chown worries the whole business of land preservation becomes much more political under these bills. 

One would reorganize the trust fund board to be more accountable to elected officials.

And State Senator Tom Casperson says that’s the way it should be. He has drafted some of this legislation.  Casperson is a Republican from Escanaba and he thinks it’s better for elected officials to be in charge rather than department officials.

“People can have their comments about it, but at the end of the day it’s the process we have and it’s a good one because I personally can’t be king for the day, I have to convince the majority of the senators and ultimately a majority of the House members and then hopefully get a governor to go along with me.”

What the current governor thinks will be an interesting question if this legislation makes it to his desk.  Gov. Snyder was formerly on the board of the Michigan chapter of the Nature Conservancy, the state’s largest.

Gas-To-Oil Pipeline and Carp DNA in Lake Erie

  • A bighead carp at the Shedd Aquarium. The most recent water samples from western Lake Erie turned up 20 positive hits for silver carp DNA. (Photo by Rebecca Williams/Michigan Radio)

A Texas company wants to convert a gas pipeline to carry crude oil…

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

A pipeline that supplies much of Michigan’s natural gas could be shut down … and converted to carry crude oil. That’s sparked a number of concerns from business and government. Rina Miller reports.

Natural gas is plentiful and cheap right now.

That’s why a Texas company filed a request with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission — or FERC —  in July to shut down 770 miles of transmission lines across several states. It would either abandon them … or eventually use the pipes to carry crude oil.

And that could affect how much a lot of people in Michigan will pay to heat their homes and businesses.

The pipeline owned by Trunkline Gas Company crosses into Branch County from Indiana. That’s where Consumers Energy connects to it … and distributes the natural gas to 45 counties in the Lower Peninsula.

Dan Bishop is a Consumers Energy spokesman. He says Consumers depends on Trunkline for 60 percent of the gas it supplies to 1.7 million customers in Michigan.

Consumers Energy has filed an objection to Trunkline’s plan.

“Trunkline has certain contractual requirements with Consumers, and our belief and concern is that if this proposal is approved, there could be serious reliability and service issues following that.”

Bishop says Consumers wants Trunkline to withdraw its proposal as a bad idea.

“If they don’t do that, ideally FERC would deny the request. If they don’t deny this request, we’re asking FERC to conduct a comprehensive hearing, an evidentiary hearing on Trunkline’s request.”

Governor Rick Snyder, the Michigan Public Service Commission and a coalition of large businesses, called ABATE have also filed objections to the proposed pipeline shutdown.

Tamara Young Allen is a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission spokeswoman.

She says converting gas pipelines to crude oil isn’t unusual, but she couldn’t comment specifically on the Michigan case … because the matter is still pending.
“But I can tell you generally that the Commission will take all comments into consideration before making a decision. The Commission is comprised of five presidentially appointed members who serve five-year terms.”

Young Allen says FERC does not regulate the siting of oil pipelines. She says states make those decisions.

Trunkline Gas Company did not respond to requests for comment.

For the Environment Report, I’m Rina Miller.

(music bump)

This is the Environment Report.

There’s new evidence that Asian carp could be in western Lake Erie.

Last month, crews took 150 water samples from Sandusky Bay and the Sandusky River.  They were testing for traces of genetic material from Asian carp. The results just came back this week.  20 of those samples tested positive for the presence of silver carp.

Now, these positive samples could indicate there are live carp in the lake.  But biologists say the genetic material could’ve also come from dead carp, or fish-eating birds or boats that came into contact with Asian carp.

Duane Chapman is a fisheries biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey.  He says if there are live carp in Lake Erie, there probably are not very many of them.  And he says silver carp are especially hard to catch.

“They avoid nets more than our native fishes. It will be very, very difficult for a crew to go out and intentionally capture an Asian carp in an area where they are very rare. In a place where they’re very rare, it’s going to take an extremely high level of effort and a lot of luck to be able to catch one.”

Crews from the federal government and the states of Ohio and Michigan have been searching for live carp in Lake Erie.  But they haven’t found any yet.

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

Life in Delray

  • The Delray neighborhood in southwest Detroit hopes to benefit from the New International Trade Crossing. (Photo by Lester Graham/Michigan Radio)

This story was reported and written by Suzanne Jacobs.

Delray is a neighborhood in southwest Detroit.  People who live here are surrounded by heavy industry. A proposed new bridge to Canada is planned to land in the Delray neighborhood.  The construction could change how the neighborhood looks.  It’s estimated that thousands more trucks will pass by the neighborhood every day.

(sound of kids)

A bunch of kids are climbing on a playground. Two of them are playing tag, laughing and running themselves breathless.

But just past the red and yellow playground are two tall smoke stacks. If you look closely, you can see a green haze creeping out of them.

Simone Sagovac is with Southwest Detroit Environmental Vision. The non-profit group has been working to clean up southwest Detroit for 20 years.

“People who come to visit here from the EPA, from around the country say that it’s one of the worst places they’ve ever been to.”

Those stacks above the playground are part of the wastewater treatment plant. The plant serves about a third of Michigan’s population. And it burns some of the waste that enters the facility using 1940s incinerators.

Next to the plant is a composting facility.  But those aren’t the only industrial sites nearby.

Rachel Burke has lived in Delray for 9 years.

“I have a Boasso trucking company at the end of my block. On the other side of my block I have Zug Island. Behind me I have a public lighting facility. Over here on the other side of Zug Island, I have the waste water treatment plant and St. Mary’s Cement, so I’m like smack in the middle, and you’ve got all these different pollutions (sic) that’s surrounding you.”

Burke says between the heavy industry and constant truck traffic, it’s not unusual for the neighborhood to smell.

“And sometimes the smell is so rotten, it will pour through the walls of your house. You can spray what you want. You can do whatever, the smell is so foul, it’s stomach-turning.”

The industries and neighborhoods in southwest Detroit grew up around each other.

Simone Sagovac says Delray has been zoned for heavy industry for decades.

“Industry after industry can apply for a permit, and so long as they say they’re going to only pollute within a certain range, they’re going to be granted a permit, and there’s no accounting for how many of these permits is too many, how much pollution is too much pollution in the air.”

Delray’s population has dropped dramatically. At its peak in the 1930s, the neighborhood had about 30,000 residents. In 2010 there were fewer than 3,000. But many people in Delray can’t afford to move. Others don’t want to.

Fannie Barber has lived here for more than 65 years. Her house is across the street from a rail yard. It looks worn from the outside, but the inside is pristine.

“I love Delray. I don’t care if it do look like a… a throw-ed away something. I still love it because everybody get along out here. We don’t have no problems, you know. I just love Delray (laughs).”

But Barber says she’s worried about what the proposed new bridge would do to the neighborhood.

If it’s built, houses would come down; businesses would be relocated. Some people would be paid to relocate… but others would not be bought out.  They’d have to live with the bridge.

Fannie Barber: “Ain’t nobody gonna wanna be living out here with all the noise all night and the pollution from the trucks and everything ’cause so far, the ones I’ve talked to said, ‘No I ain’t goin’ back there.’”

But some people here welcome the bridge.

In June, Michigan and Canada agreed that the people of Delray should get community benefits if the bridge is built.  Some people are hopeful the benefits package will mean good things for the community… like better jobs.  But it’s not clear what will happen in Delray, because there are no concrete plans yet.

You can learn more about the new international bridge debate in Michigan Watch’s recent five part series by Lester Graham.