Interview: Big, Nasty Fish

  • Some biologists worry the Asian Carp will destroy the four-billion dollar fishing industry in the Great Lakes if it gets in. (Photo courtesy of the US Fish and Wildlife Service)

There is a man-made canal that connects
the Mississippi River system with the Great
Lakes. The Chicago Ship and Sanitary Canal
makes shipping cargo between the waterways
possible. It also makes it possible for invasive
pests in the water to invade both systems.
The big concern right now is a big, nasty group
of fish known as Asian Carp that’s already
invaded the Mississippi and some of its
tributaries. An electric barrier has been built
in the canal to try to stop the fish from getting
into the Great Lakes. Lester Graham talked with
Jennifer Nalbone about the problem. She’s the
Director of Navigation and Invasive Species with
the environmental group Great Lakes United:

Transcript

There is a man-made canal that connects
the Mississippi River system with the Great
Lakes. The Chicago Ship and Sanitary Canal
makes shipping cargo between the waterways
possible. It also makes it possible for invasive
pests in the water to invade both systems.
The big concern right now is a big, nasty group
of fish known as Asian Carp that’s already
invaded the Mississippi and some of its
tributaries. An electric barrier has been built
in the canal to try to stop the fish from getting
into the Great Lakes. Lester Graham talked with
Jennifer Nalbone about the problem. She’s the
Director of Navigation and Invasive Species with
the environmental group Great Lakes United:

Jennifer Nalbone: They are just incredible eaters, and they get as big as 3 to 4 feet, 80 to100 pounds when mature. And they are just prolific. Some species, the females can produce over 1 million eggs in their lifetime. So the fear is, like they’ve done in the Mississippi River Basin, they’ll get so big, they’ll have no predators, they’ll eat so much food, and there’ll be so many that they’ll basically take over the ecosystem. In some areas, where they’ve invaded, upwards of 90% of the river’s biomass is carp.

Lester Graham: You’ve probably seen this fish on videos or something like that – they’re the ones that as a boat passes by, they’ll jump out of the river, and sometimes even hit the boaters.

Nalbone: I admit, the first time I saw a video of the jumping silver carp, I was so startled I laughed at it. But there’s nothing funny about 50, 60, 70 pounds of fish flying at you when you’re going 20 miles an hour. It could kill someone.

Graham: Now, there’s this electric barrier in place that actually shocks the water so the fish is discouraged from coming into the area. But now there’s concern that the fish has invaded a nearby river, the Des Planes River, that’s very close to this canal. So, why’s that a problem?

Nalbone: Our concern is with flooding. Just last year, we saw major floodwaters in the Des Planes River, where floodwaters connected the Des Planes and the Chicago Sanitary Ship Canal in streams of water several feet deep. And carp could be carried into the Chicago Sanitary Ship Canal in those floodwaters.

Graham: So, what are you proposing? How could we stop the fish from going any further?

Nalbone: Well, the long-term solution is hydrologic separation of the Mississippi River Basin and the Great Lakes Basin. Army Corps of Engineers has been authorized to study that problem, but that’s a multi-year project. Right now, what we’re concerned about are floodwaters this fall. We are pressing that the Army Corps of Engineers put in place sandbags or berms in the low points between the Des Planes and the Canal. And also fill in some of the culverts in the IMN Canal that connect to the Chicago Sanitary Ship Canal.

Graham: Now, I’ve watched this situation for years – long before the Asian Carp invaded the Mississippi River system – and I’m wondering, even if further millions of dollars are spent, to try to put up barricades or stop this fish, whether it’s simply inevitable that this fish will get into the Great Lakes.

Nalbone: Well, this is a battle against time right now. If we can block the future floodwaters from the Des Planes – which is probably our biggest hole in our defense right now – and plug the culverts in the IMN, we can buy ourselves some good time. But we won’t be out of the woods until we separate the Mississippi and the Great Lakes Basin. But we can’t let this invasion happen. It would be, perhaps, the greatest anticipated ecological tragedy of our time. So, I don’t think that inevitable is an option. We have to get it done.

Graham: Jennifer Nalbone is with the group Great Lakes United. Thanks, Jennifer.

Nalbone: Thank you, Lester.

Related Links

Orphaned Bear Cubs Find Refuge

  • Sally Maughan and her assistant John Knight (Photo by Sadie Babits)

Many state wildlife agencies can’t
or won’t take in injured or abandoned
critters. They rely on a lot of volunteers
to do the job. One woman in Idaho has made
it her life’s work to give orphaned bear
cubs throughout the West a second chance.
Sadie Babits brings us this profile:

Transcript

Many state wildlife agencies can’t
or won’t take in injured or abandoned
critters. They rely on a lot of volunteers
to do the job. One woman in Idaho has made
it her life’s work to give orphaned bear
cubs throughout the West a second chance.
Sadie Babits brings us this profile:

Sally Maughan used to be known as the “squirrel lady.” As a wildlife
rehabilitator, she took in weasels, foxes, raccoons and a lot of
squirrels.

She had no intention of working with bears until one day the
Idaho Fish and Game Department called.

“And they kept calling because nobody else had an enclosure that could hold a bear.”

Maughan named that first bear cub Ruggles. That was twenty
years ago.

So far, she’s helped 189 orphaned bear cubs from around the
West. She runs a non-profit in Boise called the Idaho Black Bear
Rehabilitation Program.

(sound of outdoors and cars passing)

It’s a chilly afternoon but it’s sunny. So Maughan, her helper John Knight
and I sit outside on her front steps. It’s hard to ignore the smell as
we talk. You know that musty smell of animals and straw and well, bears. It’s kind of an
animal barnyard smell out here.

This place used to be surrounded
by pasture. Not any more. On one side there’s an upscale subdivision.
And on the other side, there’s another large subdivision. Maughan says
her neighbors don’t mind the bears and sometimes she’ll let them come
visit.

“We don’t want bears seeing people any more than they need to.
John just comes in and feeds and comes back out. And I do the bottle
feeding which is when they really attach so once they are weaned he
pretty much takes over from there.”

(sound of gate opening)

Sadie: “So who’s that?”

John: “That is one of the Oregon bears.”

The cub makes a bee line for his house the minute he spots us. Maughan’s
assistant John Knight explains this bear and two others are the only
ones here at the center.

The bear pokes his head out then ducks right
back inside as I check out the roomy enclosure. There are logs to play
on and green apples to eat.

John: “That’s their swim tub.”

Sadie: “They have a swim tub.”

John: “Yep. They like to break it often.”

Sadie: “Will they get in there during the winter?”

John: Yeah. Some bears do. It’s odd. One bear last year was in it everyday. It was
snowing – 30 degrees. He was in it.”

These cubs are orphans. We don’t really know what happened to their
mothers. They may have been killed by licensed hunters or even illegally killed.

Each year more orphaned cubs show up at Maughan’s place. She’s one of only
a few bear rehabilitators in the West.

Jon Rachael works for the Idaho Fish and Game as a wildlife manager. He says they have
to turn to people like Maughan.

“We simply don’t have the personnel or resources to handle all
of that.”

Just in the last year, Sally Maughan took in 53 bears. It was a bad
year
for berries and there were a lot of wildfires around
the West.

“What are you going to do? Say, ‘I’m sorry I can’t take you – just die?’ Uh-uh. Can’t do
that. So, hopefully, eventually, there’ll be some more rehab-ers
for bears. It’s a lot of money, a lot of time, a lot of energy.”

The World Society for the Protection of Animals covers most of Maughan’s
expenses. She relies heavily though on donations. It’s still not enough.

Anything left from her paycheck as a travel agent goes back to the bears.
She’s even wiped out her retirement just to get these black bears back
into the wild where they belong.

For The Environment Report, I’m Sadie Babits.

Related Links

Keeping a Big Fish From Butting In

  • Asian Carp can grow up to 110 pounds (Photo courtesy of the US Fish and Wildlife Service)

There are invasive fish swimming their
way toward the Great Lakes. If they get in,
they could swallow up a multi-billion dollar
sport fishing industry. Mark Brush reports,
officials are investing millions of dollars
to keep Asian Carp out of the Great Lakes:

Transcript

There are invasive fish swimming their
way toward the Great Lakes. If they get in,
they could swallow up a multi-billion dollar
sport fishing industry. Mark Brush reports,
officials are investing millions of dollars
to keep Asian Carp out of the Great Lakes:

Asian Carp were imported by fish farms in Mississippi and Arkansas to control algae.
But the fish escaped during floods. They swam out of the fish ponds, and into the Mississippi
river. And they’ve been moving north ever since.

(sound of boats)

Thad Cook is on a tributary of the Mississippi River in Illinois. This river is more than
400 miles upstream from where Asian Carp first escaped the fish farms.

Cook is looking
for two types of Asian Carp known as Silver and Bighead Carp. It turns out t’s not hard to find them. He dips an electrified pole into the water – and the fish jump right out of the
river and into the boat.

(sound of fish flopping in boat)

Cook is with the Illinois Natural History Survey. His group, along with several others,
has been making trips like this one for years. They’ve been keeping a close eye on where
the fish are going. He takes a guess at how big this fish is.

“No he’ll go… uh.. he’s probably…”

“Hold him out there Jimmy!”

“Yep, six, seven, eight, nine, ten pounds.” (Laughter)

His fish story could have gone a lot further. Some types of these Carp can get up to a
hundred pounds. There aren’t many fish that can compete with an appetite like that.

Biologists are finding that these carp are pushing native fish species aside as they spread
north through the Mississippi River system. And some fear it’s only a matter of time
before they swim their way into the Great Lakes.

David Jude is a fisheries biologist with the University of Michigan.

“I’m very concerned about what impact they would have in the Great Lakes because
they’re planktovores which means they filter zooplankton from the water column. And, they’re just huge fish. And so they have the potential for having
a tremendous impact on our ecosystems.”

He says the silver and bighead carps are filter feeders. They pass up eating smaller fish –
and head straight for the bottom of the food chain.

Jude says if Asian carp get in, it’ll make a bad situation worse. The Great Lakes are
already losing zooplankton from other invasive species. Asian Carp could
destroy a 4 billion dollar a year sport fishing industry.

(sound of canal)

And here is where the battle line is being drawn. The fish have been spotted thirty miles
downstream from this spot on the Chicago Ship and Sanitary Canal. A century ago,
engineers blasted through solid rock to connect the Great Lakes with the Mississippi
River system.

Chuck Shea is with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

“Any type of fish that would want to move between Lake Michigan and the Mississippi
river basin – has to pass through the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal – there’s no other way to swim through. So, they have to come through this body of water we’re standing in front
of right now.”

Shea is in charge of the construction and maintenance of two electric fish barriers along this canal.
When this barrier is online, machines will pulse electricity into the water. The electric current shocks
the fish – making them swim away.

This barrier hasn’t been turned on yet. There have been delays due to funding shortages. And they’re still
doing safety testing with the Coast Guard.

Right now, the only thing that would keep the carp from getting into the Great Lakes is a temporary electric
barrier built six years ago.

The good news is that there still seems to be a little time. Biologists say, so far, Asian Carp haven’t moved any
closer than thirty miles from the barrier for the last couple of years.

For The Environment Report, I’m Mark Brush.

Related Links

Power Plant Tests Carbon Capture

  • A pipe has been connected to the flue gas duct at We Energies' coal-burning power plant near Milwaukee. The pipe will suck out a small amount of gas and treat it with chilled ammonia, allowing CO2 to be separated and captured. (Photo by Erin Toner)

Coal-burning power plants have done a lot to reduce
pollution that leaves their smokestacks. But the power
industry is not controlling the main greenhouse gas –
carbon dioxide. That could change in the next decade.
One utility is about to begin the first test ever of technology
to reduce CO2 emissions at power plants. Erin Toner
reports:

Transcript

Coal-burning power plants have done a lot to reduce
pollution that leaves their smokestacks. But the power
industry is not controlling the main greenhouse gas –
carbon dioxide. That could change in the next decade.
One utility is about to begin the first test ever of technology
to reduce CO2 emissions at power plants. Erin Toner
reports:


When you think about air pollution, you might think of
power plants with giant brick chimneys pumping dark
smoke into the sky. here’s not as much of that stuff being released
into the air as 30 years ago. That’s because power plants have added equipment to control certain types of pollution:


“Okay, just to give you an idea of what we’re looking at,
this big silver building is where all the particulate is
removed, we’re going from that toward the stacks, so
we’re looking at the discharge emissions control
devices…”


Ed Morris oversees environmental projects at We Energies’
coal-burning power plant in Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin. In
the past few years, it’s installed equipment that’s cut sulfur
and nitrogen emissions by up to 95 percent. Now it’s going
after carbon dioxide, or CO2, the most prevalent manmade
greenhouse gas that no utility has yet controlled.


By the end of the year, the We Energies plant will begin the
first test in the country of a new technology called “carbon
capture:”


“We are designing the technology to achieve up to 90
percent CO2 removal.”


Sean Black is with Alstom, the company that designed the
process. It will inject chilled ammonia into a tiny stream of
boiler gas. This will theoretically allow the CO2 to be
separated and captured. The test will see how much can be
removed before the gas is sent up the chimney.


Black says after the test in Wisconsin, it’ll go on to a full-
scale demonstration at an American Electric Power coal-
burning plant in West Virginia:


“And that will provide the marketplace with the
credibility that this technology is ready for commercial
deployment.”


The coal-burning power industry is trying to get carbon
capture ready because it believes the government will soon
start regulating CO2 emissions.


Kris McKinney manages environmental policy for We
Energies, and its pilot CO2 program:


“Technology doesn’t exist today to capture, let alone
store, the CO2 emissions, reductions that would be
required in the event that federal legislation is passed.”


Power companies have been criticized for moving too
slowly on cutting CO2 pollution. Some environmentalists
say utilities could have been doing more earlier, but won’t
spend the money on new technology if they’re not required
to by the government.


We Energies’ Kris McKinney says they’re wrong about the
status of the technology, but right about the money. He
says that’s because the cost of adding the CO2 reduction
equipment has to be passed on to customers:


“Whatever happens has to happen over a longer period
of time…it needs to be thought out in a way that doesn’t
cause dramatic cost impacts, unanticipated cost
impacts.”


McKinney says rushing to add new pollution controls
would be a huge risk. And in the case of carbon capture,
he could be right.


The government’s
has raised concerns about the chilled ammonia process. A
report that has not been made public says 90 percent CO2
reduction has not happened in early testing, and might not
be possible.


It also says carbon capture could dramatically increase the
energy needed to run a power plant.


George Peridas is a science fellow with the
Natural
Resources Defense Council
, an environmental
organization:


“The publicity that this is receiving is disproportionate
to the actual results that they have achieved. And there
are fundamental scientific reasons to question whether
this can be done.”


Alstom, the company developing chilled ammonia carbon
capture, says it won’t comment on the government’s report
because it hasn’t been made public. Company officials do say they’re confident the technology will work. They’re predicting the full-scale process will be
ready to retrofit existing plants or to build into new ones in
five years.


If so, it’ll be one option for a power industry that’s under
increasing pressure – and likely government mandates – to
clean up its dirty legacy.


For the Environment Report, I’m Erin Toner.

Related Links

Returning Quality Food to Urban Areas

  • Chene Street, on Detroit's east side, was once a thriving retail corridor. Now, it's a decimated stretch of crumbling and burned-out buildings. (Photo by Marla Collum)

Finding a big supermarket is next to impossible in many inner-city
neighborhoods. That means a lot of people do their shopping at convenience
and liquor stores, where there’s rarely fresh produce. The Great Lakes
Radio Consortium’s Sarah Hulett reports on one group’s efforts to get around
the grocery store problem – and help revitalize a neighborhood:

Transcript

Finding a big supermarket is next to impossible in many inner-city neighborhoods. That means a lot of people do their shopping at convenience and liquor stores, where there’s rarely fresh produce. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Sarah Hulett reports on one group’s efforts to get around the grocery store problem and help revitalize a neighborhood:


(Sound of traffic)


Up and down this street as far as the eye can see are crumbling and burned-out buildings. This used to be a thriving business district. It’s where Vlasic Pickle, White Owl Cigar, and Lay’s Potato Chips grew into national brands. Today, the most evident sign of commerce is the prostitutes walking the street. Smack in the middle of this is Peacemaker’s International. It’s a storefront church where Ralph King is a member.


“Now if you look at it you see that there’s no commercial activity, no grocery stores within a mile of here. And our concern was that people had to eat.”


There are about seven liquor stores for every grocery store here on the east side of Detroit. Some people can drive to the well-stocked supermarkets in the suburbs, but many families don’t have cars, and King says the city busses are spotty.


“So they’re buying food at convenience stores or gas stations. And quite frankly, it just doesn’t seem a good fit that a community has to live off gas station food.”


That means processed, high-starch, high-fat diets that lead to illnesses like heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure. Those are all problems that disproportionately hit African Americans, and public health researchers say those higher rates of illnesses are linked to the food availability problems in poor black communities.


Amy Schulz is with the University of Michigan, and she’s studied the lack of grocery stores in high-poverty neighborhoods.


“What we found, in addition to the economic dimension was that Detroit, neighborhoods like the east side that are disproportionately African American are doubly disadvantaged in a sense. Residents in those communities have to drive longer, farther distances to access a grocery store than residents of a comparable economic community with a more diverse racial composition.”


In other words, if you’re poor and white, you have a better chance of living near a grocery store than if you’re poor and black. Ralph King and the folks in this neighborhood want to get around that problem. So about three years ago, they decided to try and reopen a nearby farmer’s market. They turned to Michigan State University Extension for help. Mike Score is an extension agent.


“I thought it would just be the process of organizing some people, helping them buy some produce wholesale, setting up in the neighborhood, selling the food, and generating a net income that could be reinvested. And I was really wrong.”


The farmer’s market was a flop. Score says produce vendors set up in the neighborhood, but the fruits and vegetables sat all day, unsold. He says the problem was they were using the wrong currency. Most people in this neighborhood have very little cash on hand, and they need to use their food stamp cards to shop for groceries.


So, Score helped develop a plan for a neighborhood buyers’ club that can negotiate low prices by ordering in bulk. His business plan also calls for job training for people in the neighborhood.


“It’s going to give people who are chronically unemployed but who have some entrepreneurial skills access to food at a lower cost, and that enables them to think about starting restaurant businesses or smaller retail businesses. So that’s an important part of this project: in addition to getting people groceries, it also creates some job opportunities.”


It’s been a struggle to get the program off the ground. It took a long time to get approval from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for a machine to read peoples’ food stamp cards. People have stolen some of the project’s meager resources, but Mike Score and Ralph King say they’ll stick with it until families in this neighborhood can put decent food on their tables. And they say they hope it can be a model that other low-income communities around the country can use.


For the GLRC, I’m Sarah Hulett.

Related Links

The Color of the Environmental Movement

  • Many hope that the future generations of envionmentalists and conservationalists will include more minorities. That's why the National Wildlife Federation now has a program to encourage youth and adult minorities to learn about and adopt careers in environmental fields. (Photo by Hans-Günther Dreyer)

The environmental movement and conservation agencies tend to be very white. There are relatively few people of color involved in environmental activism or getting jobs in resource management. If one man has his way, that will change in the coming years. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:

Transcript

The environmental movement and conservation agencies tend to be very white. There are relatively few people of color involved in environmental activism or getting jobs in resource management. If one man has his way, that will change in the coming years. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:


If you happen to go to a national conference of environmentalists, or conservation-minded organizations, you probably wouldn’t see a lot of black faces… or Latino… or Asian. Oh sure, a few sprinkled here and there, but mostly, it’s white folks.


But that’s beginning to change. Jerome Ringo is the chair-elect of the National Wildlife Federation. He will be the first African-American to head up a major environmental organization. He says times are changing.


“We are seeing a reversal of the trend. We’re not where we want to be with respect to minority involvement in conservation, but I can guarantee you we’re not where we were. Years ago when I got into the environmental movement, there were very, very few minorities involved.”


Ringo is working to keep the trend reversed. Through the National Wildlife Federation’s youth program, Earth Tomorrow, he’s encouraging young African-Americans and other minorities to learn about the environment and conservation.


And a few young people are listening. Kenneth Anderson is a college student, studying to be an ornithologist. He’s something of a rare bird himself. He grew up in the city – in Detroit – where he says a lot of his friends and neighbors are not all that interested in nature and the environment.


“Really, I mean I can understand why people wouldn’t because throughout most of their life, they’re in this urban setting away from as much wildlife or forests or anything like that so they don’t look at the environment as something of importance because in a way it’s already been taken away or hidden from them. So, that’s why you don’t have a lot of people of color or minorities involved in environmental fields.”


Being cut off from nature is only one obstacle. There are others. Kiana Miiller is a high school student in Detroit. She says a lot of kids are worrying about more pressing problems…


“People of color are in urban areas and urban areas have a lot of different problems like financial issues, stuff like that. So, environmental issues may not be number one on their priority list.”


Kiana Miller and Kenneth Anderson are among a handful of young people of color who are at a meeting to hear from activists and people working in wildlife management about getting involved in environmental issues… and getting jobs.


Like a lot of the kids, many of the speakers at this meeting grew up in the city. For example, Monica Terrell says she didn’t know anything about nature until someone took her on a camping trip when she was a kid. Now, she’s with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources working with state parks all over. She’s at this meeting recruiting.


“People of color and also women need to be made aware of the career opportunities. When you look at different fields, you usually look at people that you know who are already in those fields. You may have a father who is a doctor, a friend who is an attorney, teachers, plumbers, what have you. But we don’t have very many people of color and women who are already in those fields. And so, that’s why it’s so important for us to go out to recruit, select, hire these folks, mentor them, make sure they have a comfortable, successful experience in natural resource management fields.”


Getting the message of environmental involvement doesn’t stop at getting young people thinking about their options. The National Wildlife Federation’s Jerome Ringo says it also means getting grown-ups, especially the poor and people of color, to get active in their community when there are environmental problems. He says he first got involved in environmental activism because he knew of chemical releases that were being emitted from a refinery, and some of those chemicals could cause health problems for the people who live nearby – most of them low-income African-Americans.


“We have to readjust our priorities from just quality of life issues like where next month’s rent is coming from, how do we feed our family. Environmental issues have to be within our top priorities because, as I tell the people in ‘Cancer Alley,’ Louisiana, what good is next month’s rent if you’re dying of cancer? So, we’ve got to be more involved in those quality of life issues and make environmental/conservation issues one of those key issues in our lives.”


Ringo says whether it’s fighting pollution, or a desire to preserve a little of the remaining wilderness, people of color need to take hold of environmental and conservation issues, and make them their own.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, this is Lester Graham.

Related Links

African-American Hypertension Study

High blood pressure is called ‘the silent killer’ because – if leftuntreated – it can lead to heart attack or stroke.The condition is also linked to kidney disease…and African-Americansare at a very high risk. Now, a study is underway to figure out thebest way to manage high blood pressure and kidney disease in thisparticularly sensitive group. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s JoanSiefert Rose reports: