Michigan Lawmakers Debate Future of Fracking

  • A gas drilling rig in Appalachia. (Photo by User Meridithw / Wikimedia Commons)

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

Hydraulic fracturing is getting some attention this week in Lansing.  You’ve probably heard it called fracking.  It’s a method of drilling for natural gas.

Drillers use fracking to get to the gas that’s trapped in tight shale rock formations below the water table.

Fracking pumps a mixture of water, sand and chemicals into a well under high pressure to force open the rock and extract the gas.

In Michigan, drillers have used the fracking method for more than 50 years and the state regulates the industry. 

But what’s new… is that drillers want to turn their drills and dig horizontally along the shale rock.  That makes the well site much more productive.  But it also uses a larger amount of chemicals and much more water – anywhere from a few million gallons of water to as much as eight million gallons of water per well.  After it’s used, that water is usually disposed of in deep injection wells.

Right now in Michigan, there are two experimental wells that are using the horizontal fracking method.

This week the Michigan House of Representatives’ Subcommittee on Natural Gas put out a report encouraging more natural gas production in the state.

Rick Pluta is the State Capitol Bureau Chief for the Michigan Public Radio Network and he joins me now.  Rick, there’s been a lot of talk about fracking in the capitol this week.

Rick Pluta: "Yeah, there has.  Governor Rick Snyder did an online town hall yesterday, and he pointed out that there are thousands of wells in Michigan that have been fracked – using the traditional method.

'So I don’t foresee us having major issues over fracking. There are some other states that have had major problems because I don’t believe they have the same regulatory environment and the same business environment to make sure it was being done as well.'

The governor and many Republicans say more natural gas drilling in the state will be good for the economy." 

Rebecca:  One of the reasons fracking has been controversial is that drillers use a variety of chemicals.  There are more than 500 kinds of chemicals in use in various formulas.   

A 2011 Congressional report found these chemicals can range from things considered harmless like salt and citric acid to chemicals that can pose serious health risks.  Things like benzene, formaldehyde and lead.   But that report also found that many of the chemicals were listed as trade secrets and did not have to be revealed. (You can learn more from this ProPublica site: What the Frack is in That Water?)

In Michigan last year the state Supervisor of Wells issued new permitting instructions for drillers. Drillers will have to give the state Department of Environmental Quality safety information about the chemicals they’re using – but they do not have to report anything that’s considered a trade secret. 

Rick, this week, Democrats in the state House are discussing a package of bills that would add some additional restrictions to fracking.

Rick Pluta: "Yes, that’s right. Democrats want a moratorium; it would probably last for a couple of years while some state regulatory agencies conduct a study on the environmental impact of fracking.

State Representative Aric Nesbitt is the Republican chair of the House Subcommittee on Natural Gas. He opposes any moratorium on fracking.

'We’re hanging ourselves out to dry if we think we can remain competitive by shutting off a supply of energy here in Michigan.'

Representative Lisa Brown is a Democrat from West Bloomfield in Oakland County. She says the legislation that Democrats are calling for allows for public comment – on the whether a permit that would allow fracking is given to a driller.

'But it also protects trade secrets as well.  And along with another bill I introduced months ago this would actually help the companies doing the fracking to say here’s the list of chemicals we’ve used. If there is a problem, if there is a contamination somewhere, we didn’t use that chemical. It didn’t come from us.'"

RW: What kind of chance do you think this package of bills from the House Democrats stands?

Rick Pluta: "Well, almost zero. The benefit for Democrats in this is probably more of a political one – a wedge issue. But Republicans have substantial majorities in the House and the Senate. We have a Republican governor who supports the regulatory structure pretty much as it stands. So this is not going to be heading to Governor Snyder’s desk anytime soon."

Okay, thanks Rick.

Rick Pluta: "Oh, my pleasure, Rebecca."

Rick Pluta is the State Capitol Bureau Chief for the Michigan Public Radio Network.

I’m Rebecca Williams.




Climate Change & Extreme Weather

  • A mesocyclone tornado. More than two-thirds of Americans surveyed by researchers believe global warming made several recent extreme weather disasters worse. That's according to a new report by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication and George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication. (Photo courtesy of NOAA)

You’ve probably noticed we’ve had a strange spring.

This March – the warm temperatures broke 15,292 weather records across the country.   And last year… there were 14 weather-related disasters that each caused $1 billion – or more – in damages.

A new study finds a large majority of Americans are now connecting specific extreme weather events to climate change.

The study is part of a long-term project called Climate Change in the American Mind.  It’s by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication and George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication.

Ed Maibach directs George Mason’s climate change center and he joins me now to talk more about this.  Professor Maibach, you found that 82 percent of Americans personally experienced one or more types of extreme weather or natural disaster in the past year.  How are these experiences affecting people’s understanding of climate change?

Ed Maibach: “We know that most Americans believe the climate is changing, and now, this latest survey shows us that a lot of people are connecting the experience of the extreme weather they’re experiencing to the fact that the climate is changing.”

RW: How many people do you think understand the difference between weather and climate?

Maibach: “Not too many. Weather and climate tend to be confused as being one and the same. Of course, climate is defined as the average weather over a long period of time, often 30 years. Weather is by its very nature variable, but climate change is making weather even more variable and even more extreme and people are clearly picking up on that.”

RW: What happens to Americans’ belief in climate change when there’s an unusually cold winter or record snowfalls?

Maibach: “So, extreme weather events that fall outside of our expectations of global warming such as particularly cold or snowy weather will tend to undermine our belief in climate change. Whereas those unusual or extreme weather events that fall within our expectations of what a changing climate should look like, such as a drought or an extreme heat event, heat wave, those will tend to support or reaffirm our belief that the climate is changing.”

RW: So how does the way that meteorologists and TV weathercasters present what’s going on affect people’s beliefs?

Maibach: “Most TV weathercasters don’t spend much time talking about climate change and its relation to the weather. Although we have surveyed America’s TV meteorologists twice over the past two years and we found that a lot of them would like to start educating their viewers about the difference between climate and weather and about the ways in which climate change is affecting their weather. It’s a difficult thing to do, in the short period of time that weathercasters have on the air each day, but I think you’re going to start seeing it more and more as we go forward.”

RW: What are you seeing happen with the political divisions around the subject of climate change over time?

Maibach: “Yeah, unfortunately, the political divisions seem to keep deepening.  And the real question is, what are we going to do to try to bring Americans of all political parties back together onto the same song sheet, so we can stop debating something that the scientists answered a long time ago, which is – is climate change real? – and we can start talking about what we want to do about it.  The most serious misperception about climate change in America today is the belief that there’s a lot of disagreement among the climate scientists about whether or not climate change is real and human caused. Virtually all climate experts are in agreement that it is both real and human caused. Yet only about one out of three, maybe as much as 40% of Americans understand that to be the case.  So America’s climate scientists have got to do a better job of conveying the fact that they have in fact reached consensus.”

RW: Ed Maibach directs George Mason University’s Center for Climate Change Communication.  Thank you for talking with me!

Maibach: “Thank you, Rebecca.”

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

Stopping Hitchhikers in Ballast Tanks

  • Entry to a ballast tank in a ship's cargo hold.(Photo courtesy of the Great Lakes NOBOB Team)

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

Ships entering the Great Lakes can carry water from foreign ports. That water is held in their ballast tanks. It helps stabilize the ship.

Now, anytime you hear the term ballast water… do your eyes glaze over… maybe you start thinking about what you’re going to make for dinner? Okay, so it’s not the sexiest topic. But it matters because sneaky little invasive species can hide in the ballast water… and catch a ride across the ocean.

“Invasive species, scientists think, are the worst problem facing the Great Lakes. They threaten the Great Lakes health, they threaten to crash the ecosystem, they threaten our economy.”

That’s Andy Buchsbaum. He directs the Great Lakes office of the National Wildlife Federation. He says when ships dump their ballast water in the Great Lakes, the invaders can get out.

“And if they find each other and fall in love, you have families of those critters and you actually have some real population problems like zebra mussels going wild in the Great Lakes.”

Zebra mussels have caused all kinds of havoc with Great Lakes ecosystems. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates 30 percent of the invasive species in the Great Lakes have come in through ballast water.

The EPA and the Coast Guard have been trying to solve this problem. One of the main approaches is for ships to exchange ballast water with saltwater before entering the Great Lakes.

“It kills some of species in that ballast water but not all of them.”

So… now, the Coast Guard and the EPA are taking things a step further. The Coast Guard has issued a final rule… and the EPA has proposed a new standard. They both require ships to install on-board technology to treat ballast water to kill invasive species.

It might be a chemical treatment, something like chlorine. Or they could use ultraviolet light on the critters and then starve them of oxygen.

Andy Buchsbaum says…these new regulations are a good start. But he says they’re still too weak.

“If you have a thousand critters in your discharge which is allowed by some of these standards, you certainly could have a breeding population. It’s not good enough to be close to protective you actually have to be protective. You have to get down close to zero critters in your discharge before you can really protect the Great Lakes.”

But a spokesperson for the Coast Guard argues they had to start somewhere. Lorne Thomas is with the Ninth Coast Guard District based in Cleveland.

“We need to get a standard out there that industry can meet now. It’s probably better to get the treatment systems on ships right now instead of putting a higher standard, be it a hundred or thousand times standard out there and then postponing the implementation of that standard by several years until that technology was ready.”

It’s worth noting there’s an exemption in the rules. Ships that stay within the Great Lakes are called Lakers. Those ships can also move invasive species around in their ballast water. But under the new federal rules, they don’t have to treat their ballast water.

“All the Lakers carry quantities of ballast water ten to twenty times what’s normally carried on other vessels. So there aren’t that many systems in fact there might not be any that can handle the ballast carried aboard the thousand footers, which can be upwards of 30,000 tons of ballast.”

Lorne Thomas says he expects the Coast Guard will require some kind of ballast treatment on Lakers… when there’s technology that will work.

The shipping industry generally likes the new federal regulations.

Stuart Theis is the executive director of the United States Great Lakes Shipping Association. He says the industry wants one clear standard.

“You know, there are eight Great Lakes states and we’ve had to deal with what you’d call a crazy quilt of regulations that every time a ship went to a different port, whether it was Ohio or Michigan or Minnesota, each of the states had their own requirements.”

But shippers might still have to work with a patchwork of rules. States with stricter standards on the books can keep them.

The Great Lakes states have until the end of June to decide whether they want the EPA’s ballast water rules to have more teeth.

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

Electric Vehicle Emissions & Champion Trees

  • Clones of the Buckley elm - the first tree that David Milarch cloned. (Photo by Peter Payette)

Do electric cars run cleaner than hybrids?  It depends on where you live.

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

A new study says electric cars produce fewer global warming emissions than hybrids – in some regions.  Tracy Samilton reports:

The Union of Concerned Scientists says electricity in California and New York isn't as reliant on older, coal-burning power plants as other regions.

"Driving an electric vehicle in those areas has lower global warming emissions than even the best, most fuel efficient hybrid gasoline vehicles that are currently on the market."

Don Anair wrote the report.  He says in other regions, electric cars are at least as clean as the most fuel-efficient regular cars.  But other studies predict low consumer demand for electric cars for a long time, because they can’t go that far before they have to be recharged, and they cost more.

For the Environment Report, I'm Tracy Samilton.

(music bump)

This is the Environment Report.

There’s a new book out today about an unusual conservation project based in northern Michigan.  For most of the last two decades, a man from Copemish has been cloning old trees around the world.  David Milarch believes the genetics of these trees are superior and could be useful in the era of climate change.  The author of the book says he might have a point.  Peter Payette reports:

Back in the year 2000, an elm tree not far from David Milarch’s home was diagnosed with Dutch elm disease.  It was not just any elm.  It was the National Champion American elm at the time.  That means it was the largest known elm in the country.

Milarch tried to heal the tree with a soil treatment but it died.  He did manage to clone the Buckley elm.

Today at the Archangel Ancient Tree Archive, there are about a dozen copies of the tree.

"Here’s the Buckley elm, the greatest elm in America.  And it’s living on and it can be utilized. That’s really what it’s all about."

David Milarch is feeling pretty vindicated these days, with the record-breaking warm weather we just experienced in March.

He decided global warming was a dire threat twenty years ago because he thought the forests looked sick.

He thinks what we need are some better trees.

Trees take carbon out of the atmosphere and do a host of other things to regulate ecosystems.

But as Milarch sees it, the trees around today are garbage.

That’s because loggers take the best trees first and places like Michigan have been pretty heavily logged.

"They always went in and took the biggest, straightest, clearest log, and left the crooked, the branchy, the sick or the puny behind.  The money wasn’t in it. So that’s what’s been allowed to reproduce."

That’s why Milarch has spent the last couple decades trying to clone big old trees.  So the genetics will be preserved.

Meryl Marsh runs the day to day operations here, and she sometimes climbs trees hundreds of feet tall to gather buds.  Marsh says old trees are hard to clone.

"It’s like asking your grandparents to produce offspring, or a really old horse to breed."

Archangel has cloned 48 different tree species.  And this work has been big hit with the media.  After all, cloning an ancient tree makes a good story.  And now to the mountain of news clips Milarch can add a book about his project.

Jim Robbins is a regular contributor to the New York Times.  He says forest ecology is not the most well understood science and little is known about tree genetics.

"And David has said, well, since we don’t know, let’s save these proven survivors and let’s plant them and protect them in other places in case something happens. And if those genetics are important, and of course genetics are important in every other field, then we’ll have those protected. And that was a good idea according to a lot of scientists I talked to."

Robbins lays out the science of trees and David Milarch’s story in his new book, The Man Who Planted Trees.

For the Environment Report, I’m Peter Payette.

Crews Search for Oil in the Kalamazoo River

  • This is a stretch of Talmadge Creek that's about a half mile downstream from where the Enbridge Energy pipeline ruptured in 2010. Enbridge diverted the creek, excavated the contaminated creek bed, and reconstructed the creek in this initial phase of restoration. (Photo by Rebecca Williams/Michigan Radio)

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

We’re coming up on two years since a pipeline owned by Enbridge Energy ruptured. More than 840,000 gallons of tar sands oil spilled into Talmadge Creek and the Kalamazoo River.

The Environmental Protection Agency says most of the oil has been removed from the creek and the river. But there’s still oil at the bottom of the Kalamazoo River. This spring, the company, the state and the EPA will be figuring out how much oil is left… and where it is.

(traffic sound, birds singing)

“The pipeline break location was approximately a half mile upstream from here.”

Mark DuCharme is with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. We’re standing on a two-lane road looking out at Talmadge Creek.

“Shortly after the spill, you couldn’t actually even see the creek. If you were down at this location, all you could see is oil. These banks were heavily oiled as well, so just catastrophic damage.”

He says things have come a long way at this site. Enbridge moved the creek out of its normal path… they actually diverted it and ran it through a pipeline. Then, they dug up the contaminated creek bed. Now, the creek is back in place. Enbridge put in clean soil, and then added seeds from native wetland plants.

Little green shoots are pushing up through the ground.

But there’s still a long road ahead. Mark DuCharme says Enbridge has more restoration work to do at Talmadge Creek… and then the DEQ will require long-term monitoring.

“Can we replace it to the exact condition it was prior? Probably not. Can we go back and put something back that will be an acceptable ecosystem? That’s the expectation.”

DuCharme says tar sands oil is very heavy, and very thick – and that has made the cleanup more difficult.

“We’re writing the book on how to clean up oil sands out of cold water streams in freshwater systems. We’ve been looking elsewhere, we’ve been trying to find other examples – they’re just not there.”

The work crews have had an ongoing struggle of trying to find – and remove – oil from the bottom of the Kalamazoo River.

Ralph Dollhopf is an on-scene coordinator with the EPA.

“We can tell there are smaller and smaller amounts of submerged oil in the river. We just need to be careful that as we continue to tease that out of the river that we don’t hurt the river or the river sediments or the animals and plants of the river any more.”

Talmadge Creek and parts of the Kalamazoo River are still closed to recreation. The local county health departments hope to reopen portions of the river sometime this spring or summer.

Ralph Dollhopf says the EPA estimates more than 1.1 million gallons of oil have been removed from the creek and the river. That includes oil that soaked into soil and covered plants. Now – that number is quite a bit higher than what Enbridge says was initially spilled: which is roughly 843,000 gallons.

“But I can’t comment on that difference, because the amount that was estimated to have been released is the subject of a number of ongoing investigations.”

The EPA has an official investigation. And the National Transportation Safety Board is also investigating.

Enbridge has its own investigation into the cause of the pipeline break.

Jason Manshum is a company spokesperson.

“We have not released those results. You know, everything really is hinging on the results of the NTSB study which has been delayed until later this year.”

He says Enbridge won’t release those results until after the federal government issues its findings.

Manshum says Enbridge is committed to trying to get the area back to the condition it was in before the spill.

The cleanup… restoration… and monitoring could continue for several more years.

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

Hard Freeze Hurts Michigan Cherry Crop

  • Cherry blossoms arrived early this year. To look for damage, researchers cut into the flower parts to look at four fruit buds in each blossom. Each bud is capable of forming a cherry. (Photo courtesy of Northwest Michigan Horticultural Research Station)

by Bob Allen for The Environment Report

A hard freeze has wiped out a big portion of the cherry crop in Northwest Michigan this spring.  The area produces more than half the state’s cherries that end up in desserts, juice and as dried fruit.

An historic early warm-up in March left fruit trees vulnerable to frost once the weather turned cooler again.

Temperatures broke records for the month of March across the Great Lakes region.

Climate researchers say there’s never been anything like it going back more than a hundred years.

“We’re seeing history made before our eyes at least in terms of climatology.”

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

“And in some ways if we look at where our vegetation is and how advanced it is, it’s probably a month ahead of where it typically is.”

Andresen is careful to point out that this year’s early warm-up is an extreme weather event.

He says it far outpaces the previous warmest March on record in 1945.

He can’t say it’s a direct result of climate change.

But it fits the predicted long term pattern of change that includes extreme fluctuations.

During one period, there were several straight days of above 80 degree daytime highs and nighttime temperatures in the 60's.

At the time, Nikki Rothwell was checking the cherry trees at the Northwest Michigan Horticultural Research Center in Leelanau County.

And she was seeing day-to-day changes in the fruit buds that are highly unusual.

“It’s just been uncanny. When I go out and look at those trees I look at what we saw yesterday in development and then I look at what we saw today in development and it actually looks like it kinda jumped to the next stage of development.”

Normally, that kind of growth would take weeks to occur.

But, Rothwell says, it’s hard to tell what’s normal anymore.

There’s a trend over the last 30 years of earlier spring warm-ups by as much as seven to 10 days, on average.

But the last date for a killing freeze has not moved earlier to keep pace.

Jeff Andresen at Michigan State has done a lot of that research.

With the extremely early warm-up this year, the fruit buds advanced to a stage of development that left them very vulnerable to temperatures below freezing.

And, as Andresen says, it was highly likely that temperatures would return to more springtime norms.

“There has never been a spring season, April, May or June, in which we have not observed freezing temperatures, or actually hard freezes. It’s never happened.”

And sure enough, on the last Sunday night in March, there was a prolonged freeze with strong winds and temperatures in the mid-20's.

It hit the heavy fruit growing areas in Leelanau County particularly hard.  

Frances Otto manages Cherry Bay Orchards north of Suttons Bay.

“I’d say we’ve got at least a 90% crop loss.” 

The official numbers for the Northwest region are losses of tart cherries in the 50 to 70% range.

Southwestern Michigan and the areas midway up the west coast haven’t been hit as hard.

But there have been more overnight frosts around the time of the full moon that continued to do significant damage to other fruits as well, such as apples, peaches and plums.

And there are other concerns besides a freeze.

Nikki Rothwell of the Horticultural Research Center says growers had to start spraying orchards to kill fungus that was released early because of the warm-up.

“There’s going to be a challenge to fight off more insects, more generations of insects and a longer season of fighting those pathogens.”

And there’s another problem for farmers who still may have a crop.

The fruit blossoms have a short window for pollination.

But now that more normal spring temperatures are back, it’s too cool for honeybees to fly.


Designing Buildings for a Changing Climate

  • (Image courtesy of U.S. Forest Service)

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

A group of planners and designers is arguing that we need to rethink the way we make our buildings. The U.S. Green Building Council and the University of Michigan recently put out a report. It’s called Green Building and Climate Resilience.

It says design teams should start making buildings that are better suited to a changing climate. That could mean redesigning heating and cooling and stormwater systems, and it could mean changing landscaping.

Larissa Larsen is the lead author of the report. We met up on a corner in Ann Arbor to take a look at a new high rise apartment building that’s going up…

(construction sound)

“This looks like a fairly traditional apartment building and that’s completely fine. We want to start thinking that this building is going to be inhabiting conditions that are different than what has been in Michigan for a long time.”

RW: “One of the things that stood out to me was when you wrote ‘while climate has always been integrated into building professions, our codes, standards and practices typically assume the future will be similar to the past.’ What do you mean by that?”

The report: Green Buildings and Climate Resilience

Great Lakes Climate 101

Climate change indicators from the EPA


LL: “In architecture, they use something called the typical meteorological year, and it’s a way to understand what we think are going to be the needs of the building from a heating, and cooling perspective, a consumption perspective, really. And it’s based on information from 1970. Well, we know in Ann Arbor, that in 1970, spring came about a week to 14 days later than it comes now. So we’ve got to make sure that the information we’re feeding into the models to generate what are the right sizes of equipment and capacity of those systems? We need to change that up. And so we actually anticipate not only what it is today, but looking ahead, what is it going to be in 2040, 2070, the end of the century?”

RW: “How is the climate expected to change in the Great Lakes region?”

LL: “In this region, we’re expecting warmer temperatures; more extreme heat events. Now, depending on what happens with emissions scenarios, people are thinking Michigan could emulate more of a situation like Kentucky all the way to the most extreme emissions scenarios, say, it might even be like northern Texas, which is a little amazing to me. So we’re going to see an increase in the number and size of drought prone areas, so we’ve got to need to be thinking pretty strategically how we want to use water in our buildings and equally as important, outside our buildings for landscape purposes.”

RW: “How do design teams hedge their bets and design for an uncertain future?”

LL: “One of the things we came upon in this report is a lot of the techniques we’re encouraging people to do are good things to do no matter what. One of the things I’m interested in is reflective surfaces. They don’t trap, hold and re-emit the heat, but they actually bounce it back. Another strategy is pervious pavement. That’s pavement that is very similar in appearance to asphalt but it actually has pores. That allows water to move through it. Not only is that good for stormwater or on-site water management, but we also think then it allows for evapotranspiration. Some of the water from the soil can actually move back through the pores and be a cooling effect on the surrounding area.

And then just good, honest site planning. Thinking about the floodplain. Our floodplains may be expanding and many communities right now are redrawing their floodplains to look at this. We don’t want to be putting buildings in those places if we’re anticipating that we may have more intense rain events.”

RW: “Larissa Larsen is an associate professor in the urban and regional planning program at the University of Michigan. Thank you so much.”

LL: “Oh, thank you, Rebecca.”

Tracking Coyotes in the City

  • Coyote tracks in the dirt. (Photo by Holly Hadac)

Coyotes have been making themselves at home in cities all over the country.    They’ve been showing up in big cities like Chicago and Detroit, and in a lot of suburban areas. 

But we don’t know a whole lot about Michigan’s urban coyotes.

A small research team from Wayne State University is trying to find out as much as they can.

But to do this… they have to act like urban coyotes… and become nocturnal.  Bill Dodge is a PhD candidate at Wayne State.  He heads up the research team. 

“They’ve found in other studies that coyotes especially around humans become much more nocturnal than say, out West.”

Dodge invited me to tag along on their 6pm to midnight shift one Friday night a few weeks ago. 

I met up with the group in a parking lot in northeast Oakland County. 

Bill Dodge puts on a headset and pulls an antenna and a mess of cables out of his trunk.

“I’m getting a signal on him but it’s really weak…”

They’re tracking a radio collared coyote that they trapped last summer.   

“We’ll go down the road a ways and take a listen to see if he’s closer.”

The team takes precautions to keep from being spotted by other people… as they cruise around these neighborhoods.

Holly Hadac volunteers with the coyote study.  She’s also a retired sheriff’s deputy.  She points out the red cellophane covering her car’s interior lights.

“My interior lights don’t go on when I start the car up.  I’ve got all the lights in my car blocked out, and that way keeps me incognito with what I’m doing.  So we keep our coyote safe so nobody knows where he is.”

“If someone doesn’t like coyotes, they might look for him.”

She says they’re worried someone might kill their research subject.

We drive around for a few hours… stopping to listen.

Usually… you’ll hear scientists refer to their study subjects by number.  But they’ve given this coyote a nickname.  They call him Lance.

When they get a clear signal from Lance’s collar they take compass bearings.  When they have three good points they can triangulate his location.

The team rarely sees Lance… and they don’t hear him very often either.  But halfway through the shift… we’re out in a big open field… when we hear him.  And he’s not alone… he has a mate.

“Yeah those are coyotes.  That’s definitely them.”

We listen for a long time, out in the dark. 

The night turns quiet again and we pile back into the cars.

We stop at a fast food restaurant and Bill Dodge pulls out his tracking equipment.  They’re mapping Lance’s movements to get an idea of what kind of habitat he likes.  So far, he moves around a lot at night… crossing a backyard here or there to get to a wooded patch or a wetland.

“We have found that he does cross major highways.  He has also used quite a few power line corridors.  So there’s a lot of connectivity in this area between these different habitat patches that he’s been using.”

And Dodge says urban coyotes spend a lot of the night hunting for food.  But he says they’re finding coyotes are not eating pets (but he does recommend keeping an eye on cats and small dogs when you let them outside, especially at night).

“Most of their diet consists of small rodents such as mice and voles they also eat rabbits a lot and we have found deer hair.”

And he says in Michigan, coyotes tend to be afraid of people.

“The ones we catch are just so afraid of us that they fall over when we approach them.  They’ll stay away from people.  Nobody has to worry about their small children.”

After my visit, the team caught and radio collared three more coyotes.  They’re hoping to get a better handle on how coyotes are surviving in the city… because like it or not, they’re part of urban life.

You can learn more about urban coyotes in this report on the "Ghosts in the Cities," a large long-term study of coyotes in the Chicago area by Ohio State University.