Invader Watchlist & Highway Work Unearths Remains

  • Dikerogammarus villosus aka killer shrimp. (Photo courtesy of S. Giesen, NOAA Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory)

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

More than 180 non-native species have made a home in the Great Lakes basin… and more could make their way in…

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

Scientists and government officials have their eyes on a watchlist of 53 species. It’s a list of the species that are most likely to become established in the Great Lakes region if they get in.

Take for example: killer shrimp.

Rochelle Sturtevant is a Regional Sea Grant Specialist for Outreach at NOAA’s Great Lakes Environmental Research Lab in Ann Arbor.

“This is a species that shreds its prey. It is also cannibalistic, it will eat its own young; it will eat other closely related shrimp.”

She says killer shrimp are native to Europe but they haven’t been found in the U.S. yet.  Sturtevant and her colleagues recently launched a searchable online database – with pictures of the potential new invaders, and fact sheets about them, drawn from the available peer-reviewed research on the species. She says it’s a work in progress – in some cases there’s not much scientific literature available on a particular species – or it’s in foreign language and needs to be translated first.

She says scientists are always on the lookout for new potential invasive species in the lakes. But she says usually – scientists are not the ones who first find them.

“It’s by a fisherman or recreational boater or someone who has a cottage on the lake – so we really wanted to make the information on ‘how do you know when you catch something that you should report it to somebody?’ much more publicly available.”

She says you can report sightings of non-native species to the U.S. Geological Survey online or by phone: 1-877-STOP-ANS.

Sturtevant says it’s good to note the date, location where you saw the critter or plant and either a photo or specimen.

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This is the Environment Report.

Earlier this year, a road crew in Oscoda, Michigan found some bones while they were resurfacing a stretch of U.S. 23.  Chris Zollars reports scientists have recently confirmed the bones are Native American remains:

In May, a road crew dug up the bones while backfilling a trench along U.S. 23.

James Robertson is the Michigan Department of Transportation’s senior archaeologist.

He says Oscoda’s U.S. 23 road project had federal funding.  So a 1990 law called the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act went into effect.

This provides a process that returns human remains, valuable or sacred objects, and objects of cultural significance to Native American tribes.

These items are occasionally dug up around the state’s former Native American lands.

But Robertson says MDOT’s 2 staff archaeologists use a variety of tools to try and avoid disturbing sites at all.

“We use historical maps, previously known site locations and a whole battery of information to do our risk analysis. But our first priority is to avoid impacts whenever possible.”

When they are human bones, Robertson says there are three steps.  First, they work with local authorities to determine if it’s a recent event.  If so, local law enforcement takes over.

If not, MDOT works with Michigan State University’s Forensic Science lab to determine the bones’ origin.  MSU’s team identified the Oscoda remains as Native American.  So James Robertson is working with the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe.

William Johnson is the curator for the Ziibiwing Cultural Center for the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe.

“The relationship between the Michigan Department of Transportation and the federally recognized Indian Tribe is strong.”

Johnson is the lead for these kinds of situations. The center has been working closely with MDOT to rebury native remains – since 1996.  He says that final step is an important honor for their tribal members.

“The ceremonies normally start in the morning with the lighting of the sacred fire. The use of all the medicines like sage, sweet grass, and tobacco and cedar are used in the ceremonies. The ancestors are spoken to in the language, especially if those are ancient ancestors like many of them are.”

Johnson says his tribe feels it’s a privilege to take care of the elders who provide the path that they follow today.  For the Environment Report, I’m Chris Zollars.