A new report indicates a commonly used pesticide is linked to public health problems. The GLRC’s Lester Graham reports the findings contradict government assessments in the U.S and Canada:
A new report indicates a commonly used pesticide is linked to public
health problems. The GLRC’s Lester Graham reports the findings
contradict government assessments in the U.S and Canada:
The herbicide 2,4-D is found in hundreds of pesticide mixes for lawns
and crops. For 60 years it’s been the most widely used herbicide in the
world. It’s cheap and it’s effective.
Its impact on human health has been studied again and again. While
there have been suspicions about its affects on health, the US and
Canadian governments have maintained that 2,4-D can be used safely on
lawns and crops if the label directions are followed. But a report in the
journal, Pediatrics and Child Health, contradicts the governments’
The Canadian authors of the report say 2,4-D is “persuasively linked” to
cancer, neurological damage and reproductive problems. The report
specifically points at Canadian government studies on animals. They say
those animal studies miss the problems that physicians are finding among
children who play on lawns and other people exposed to 2,4-D.
Pat Lindemann is the drain commissioner for Ingham County, Michigan. He uses “low-impact design” in drainage reconstruction projects. Behind Lindemann, work crews are digging one of several rain gardens that will be installed in this suburban neighborhood. Rain gardens serve as retention areas for storm water, and are a natural filter for pollution. (Photo by Erin Toner)
Homeowners in this Lansing, Michigan, neighborhood used to have flooded basements after heavy rains. Now, storm water is trapped and cleaned in a series of retention ponds. The wetland area also serves as a neighborhood park. (Photo by Erin Toner)
In the middle of Lansing, Michigan, wetlands were built to manage storm water. The project was half the cost of installing concrete pipes from the neighborhood to the river. (Photo by Erin Toner)
Many communities throughout the country are rebuilding their sewer systems to comply with federal pollution regulations. Nationwide, the work is costing taxpayers billions of dollars. But in some communities, a concept called “low-impact” design is making the projects cheaper and better for the environment. The GLRC’s Erin Toner reports:
Many communities throughout the country are rebuilding their sewer
systems to comply with federal pollution regulations. Nationwide, the
work is costing taxpayers billions of dollars. But in some communities, a
concept called “low-impact” design is making the projects cheaper and
better for the environment. The GLRC’s Erin Toner reports:
Dump trucks, black plastic pipes and huge piles of dirt line the streets of
this suburban neighborhood. It was built on very flat land and water
doesn’t run off. It used to be covered in ponds of wetlands. Now, that’s
causing big problems for people who live here. Their basements are
nearly always flooded and after it rains, they have pools of water in their
backyards for weeks, or months. Many run sump pumps all day and all
Jesse Ramos lives in a white ranch house in the neighborhood.
“Actually, this past couple of months I’ve had a lot of problems with
water in my basement. I’ve actually already been through one sump
pump and I’ve went out and purchased another, just so I could keep up
with that. Right now that it hasn’t rained I’m okay. So, I’m a little
nervous when it starts to rain.”
Fixing these problems the traditional way – with concrete pipes, curbs
and gutters – would have cost 20 million dollars, and it would have
sent polluted storm water straight to the river, but Pat Lindemann wanted
to do the project differently. He wanted to save people money and clean
up the environment. Lindemann often sounds more like the head of a big
environmental group, than what he actually is – the county drain
commissioner for this neighborhood near Lansing, Michigan.
“A lot of people argue that if I own the wetland, I should be able to
destroy it, but you shouldn’t because… what you do on your property
affects the river, every time you over fertilize your lawn, every time you
do not pick up your domestic pet waste… this country has such a vast
amount of beautiful resources, and for 150 years, we’ve done everything
that we could to beat up on it.”
In Jesse Ramos’ neighborhood, Lindemann’s using low-impact design to
rebuild the drain system. It’s costing half as much as concrete curbs and
“In the case of low-impact design, we force the water to go through soils,
to interact with plant roots, to stay on the land slightly longer and
become treated before it leaves to make its way to the river.”
The main way that happens is through rain gardens, one of the main
features of low-impact design. They’re bowl-shaped gardens planted
with native flowers and grasses. Native plants have long roots that draw
water deep into the ground and provide a natural filter for pollution.
Rain water collects in the gardens and becomes cleaner before eventually
reaching the pipe that takes it to the river.
Lindemann’s installing more than seven acres of gardens in the
neighborhood. He says people will have a few hours of standing water in
rain gardens, instead of weeks of water in their backyards.
Jesse Ramos is hearing this good news for the first time today…
“…now you’ll be flooded for about an hour and a half…an hour and a
half…that’s wonderful…and it’s pretty flowers…”
There’s another low-impact design project across town. Drainage
problems were causing backups in peoples’ homes. So, Drain
Commissioner Pat Lindemann built 20 acres of wetlands – right in the
middle of the city.
“It dawned on me, why take the water anywhere, why not just keep it. If
I can find a place to store it, put it and manipulate it, and not take it
anywhere, than I could manage it.”
This site is technically a series of retention ponds, but it’s really more
like a park. A paved walking path weaves around ponds and trees and
over bridges. It’s a place you’d bring school kids to learn about frogs
and birds and about being good to the environment.
This low-impact design project, like the one in Jesse Ramos’
neighborhood, was about half the cost of installing new concrete pipes
from the neighborhood to the river.
Low-impact design projects are happening all over – in Chicago and
Seattle, to more rural communities, and they’re likely to become more
common as cities consider how to cut non-point source pollution – the
leading cause of poor water quality. Non-point source pollution is a lot
of things – the fertilizer we use on our lawns or bacteria from animal
Pat Lindemann says his philosophy is that our dirty rivers will recover if
we start developing the land or rebuilding it the right way – one rain
garden or wetland at a time.
The pesticide diazinon is being phazed out by the EPA for being hazardous. Some gardeners are still buying it despite health warnings. (Photo by Scott Schopieray)
A powerful pesticide that’s popular with gardeners
and homeowners will no longer be sold starting in January, but that
hasn’t stopped people from stocking up on the chemical before it’s
pulled from shelves. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Chris Lehman reports:
A powerful pesticide that’s popular with gardners and homeowners will no longer be
sold starting in January. But that hasn’t stopped people from stocking up on the
chemical before it’s pulled from the shelves. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s
Chris Lehman reports:
Diazinon, at one time, was the most widely used pesticide on lawns. It can
still be sold through the end of the year. But there’s no deadline for homeowners
to use up their supplies. So that’s led some people to stockpile the product. The
decision to ban diazinon was made during the final weeks of the Clinton Administration.
But the Environmental Protection Agency gave diazinon producers four years to phase it out.
Jay Feldman is director of the environmental group Beyond Pesticides. He says the EPA
should have banned diazinon outright instead of phasing it out gradually.
“When the agency identifies a hazard such as this, one that is particularly problematic
to children, it ought to institute a recall, get the product out of commerce, make sure
that people do not continue to use the product unwittngly.”
Officials at the EPA say over-exposure to diazinon can affect the nervous system. They
also say it poses a risk to birds.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Chris Lehman.
Heavy cleanup crews from the Genesee County Land Bank use chain saws, wood chippers, tractors and brute force to move piles of debris on the lot of an abandoned house on the north side of Flint, Michigan. (Photo by Chris McCarus)
Up until three years ago, rundown homes and abandoned lots were multiplying in the city. With the creation of the Land Bank, some people believe the city's image is beginning to turn around for the better. (Photo by Chris McCarus)
A next door neighbor to the abandoned house visits the cleanup crew. She has had to bear the eyesore and health risk next door for several years. The Land Bank currently has custody of about 2,800 properties like this in and around Flint. (Photo by Chris McCarus)
One community is fighting its problems of abandoned lands and unpaid property taxes. Those problems have led to a decaying inner city and increased suburban sprawl. The new tool the community is using is called a “land bank.” It uses a unique approach to try to fix up properties that otherwise often would be left to deteriorate. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Chris McCarus reports:
One community is fighting its problems of abandoned lands and unpaid property taxes.
They’ve led to a decaying inner city and increased suburban sprawl. The new tool the
community is using is called a “land bank.” It uses a unique approach to try to fix up
properties that otherwise often would be left to deteriorate. The Great Lakes Radio
Consortium’s Chris McCarus reports:
(sound of work crews operating wood chipper)
Cleanup crews are sending downed branches through a wood chipper on a vacant lot.
They’re also removing tires, used diapers, car seats, sinks, old clothes and dead animal carcasses.
The workers are from the Genesee County Land Bank in Flint, Michigan. They’re trying to
make abandoned property useful again. Dan Kildee is the Genesee County Treasurer and the brains
behind the land bank. He thinks this new approach can recover unpaid property tax money and help
improve the Flint Metro area.
“The community gets to make a judgment on what we think we should do with this land. We get
to take a deep breath.”
Empty lots and rundown homes have been multiplying for a generation. That’s left the city of
Flint in a terrible economic state. But the land bank is beginning to change things.
Until just three years ago, Michigan was like most other states. No one had come up with
a solution. The state would auction off a city’s tax liens. Then conflict between the tax
lien buyer and the property owner could go on for up to seven years. In the meantime,
properties were left to neglect and often vandalized.
Under this new program, the treasurer’s office forecloses on a property and hands it over
to the land bank, which acts as the property manager. The land bank might then demolish
a house; it might throw out the owner and let a tenant buy it; or it might auction it off
to the highest bidder. A private investor can’t just buy a tax lien. He has to buy the
property along with it and take care of it.
The land bank is financed in two main ways: through fees on back taxes and through sales
of the few nicer homes or buildings the land bank acquires that bring in relatively big
profits. Treasurer Dan Kildee says it makes sense to take that revenue to fix up old
properties and sell them to people who deserve them.
“There is no system in the United States that pulls together these tools. Both the
ability to quickly assemble property into single ownership of the county, the tools
to manage it and the financing tools to develop that property.”
The land bank program hopes to change the perception of Flint. As thousands of abandoned
homes, stores and vacant lots become eyesores, people and their money go other places,
usually to build more sprawling suburbs. The perception that people are abandoning the
inner city then speeds up that abandonment. Many people who can afford to leave the city do.
And those who can’t afford to move are left behind.
According to data gathered by the research group Public Sector Consultants, Flint has the
state’s highest unemployment and crime rates and the lowest student test scores.
Art Potter is the land bank’s director. He thinks the downward spiral can be stopped.
When it is, those folks in the central city won’t have to suffer for still living there.
“Even though the City of Flint has lost 70,000 people in the last 30 years, the people who
are still here deserve to have a nice environment to live in. So our immediate goal is to
get control and to clean these properties now.”
Urban planning experts are watching the land bank approach. Michigan State
University’s Rex LaMore says Flint is typical of Midwestern cities whose manufacturing
base has shrunk. Private owners large and small have left unproductive property behind.
As the land bank steps in, LaMore says it’s likely to succeed and become an example that
other municipalities can follow.
“They can begin to maybe envision a city of the 21st century that will be different than
the cities of the 20th century or the 19th century that we see around the United States.
A city that reflects a more livable environment. So its an exciting opportunity. I think
we have the vision; the challenge is can we generate the resources? And the land bank model
does provide some opportunity to do that.”
But the land bank is meeting obstacles. For example, the new mayor of Flint who took over
in July canceled the city’s existing contracts. A conservative businessman, the mayor is
suspicious of the city’s past deals. They included one with the land bank to demolish 57
homes. This has slowed the land bank’s progress. Its officials are disappointed but they’re
still working with the mayor to get the money released.
(sound of kids chatting, then lawn mower starts up)
The weeds grow rampant in a neighborhood with broken up pavement and sometimes
no houses on an entire block. It’s open and in an odd way, peaceful. Like a
century-old farm. It’s as if the land has expelled the people who invaded with their bricks,
steel and concrete.
In the middle of all the vacant lots, Katherine Alymo sees possibilities.
“I’ve bought a number of properties in the auctions from the land bank and also got a side
lot acquisition from them for my house. My driveway wasn’t attached to my house when I
bought it. And it was this huge long process to try to get it from them. But they sold it
to me for a dollar. Finally.”
And since then, she’s hired people to fix the floors, paint walls and mow the lawns.
She’s also finding buyers for her properties who want to invest in the city as she has.
Together, they say they needed some help and the land bank is making that possible.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Chris McCarus.
Reporter David Hammond's yard. He has the vague notion that not bagging grass clippings is more environmentally friendly. (Photo by David Hammond)
Most of Hammond's neighbors prefer to bag clippings, leaving a perfectly manicured turf. (Photo by David Hammond)
At one point or another, most of us have had to do yard work. If it was one of your chores as a kid, you probably developed a strong aversion to it, but as some of us get older, get married, and move to the suburbs, something interesting happens. Taking care of the yard becomes important, but is there an environmental impact? As part of an ongoing series, called “Your Choice; Your Planet,” the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s David Hammond takes a closer look at his own back yard:
At one point or another, most of us have had to do yard work. If it was one of your chores as a kid,
you probably developed a strong aversion to it. But as we get older, get married, and move to the
suburbs, something interesting happens. Taking care of the yard becomes important. But is there
an environmental impact? As part of an ongoing series, called “Your Choice; Your Planet,” the
Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s David Hammond examines his own backyard.
To bag or not to bag? That is the question. Well, at least that’s my question… on most Saturdays
say about 10am.
(lawnmower sound up far away distance)
That’s when the men of my neighborhood head outside for their weekly call to arms. It’s yard day.
And once the first mower starts, like fruit flies to a banana, everyone heads outside to do their
mowing, edging, and weeding. It’s a procession that lasts all weekend.
(lawnmower sound up close distance, up and under)
This is a new neighborhood… only a couple of years old. Everybody has put in new landscaping,
and everybody spends a lot of time taking care of their lawns. Brian Van Netta is one of my
“It’s the showpiece of the house. It’s the first thing that people see when they drive by and it sets the tone for the rest of the house.”
Around here, that means bagging your lawn clippings. You know the routine. Mow a couple of
strips across the yard. Stop the mower. Take the grass bag and dump it into the compost bag.
Put the grass bag back on the mower. Mow a couple more strips then dump again. Then repeat
I think it’s lunacy… a waste of the weekend. Something keeping me from solving really important
issues like: Does my beer taste great or is it less filling? I’ve also have a vague notion that not
bagging is better environmentally, but I can’t back it up with facts. So I decide to investigate.
(lawnmower sound out)
First stop – Wade Martingdale. He’s a neighbor who’s worked in the landscape business. Around
here, his word carries weight. Unfortunately for me, he recommends bagging.
“If you have a real full turf grass, you know, real thick and full, that when you cut your grass, the
grass clippings are so thick that actually strangles out your grass, its doesn’t let the water get to the
roots, the air, and then what water does get to the roots, it won’t dry so it can promote disease.”
He also says bagging makes a yard look better… usually as he’s looking at my yard.
“You can’t really tell from a distance, but you can tell up close. Just like your grass has a lot of
clumps in it…” (pause… laughter)
I was getting worried. If bagging was really the best environmental and the best neighborly thing to
do, I might actually have to start. No sense getting kicked out of poker night on account of some
grass clippings, but as I looked down my street at all the 30-gallon bags waiting to be picked up, I wondered where all that waste was going.
(sound of trucks picking up waste – up and under)
Canton Waste Recycling handles all of the recycling pickups in my town. Each week, they pick up
yard waste from nearly 20,000 homes, and then haul it to a regional processing center. There it’s
turned into compost and sold to landscapers and fertilizer companies. The only caveat is that the
yard waste collected from the neighborhoods can’t have any debris in it. If there are stumps or
rocks or concrete in the compost bags, then an entire truckload can be wasted. When that
happens, it gets sent to the landfill.
(begin fading truck sound)
So assuming that folks in my neighborhood are not sneaking any dead cats into their yard waste…
bagging seems like a decent bet environmentally. Sure, there is energy used to pick up and
process the yard waste, but the program employs a dozen local people. I had to give it thumbs up.
(truck sound out)
But now, my worry had turned to panic. I could see the rest of my summer out in front of me. No
more pool. No more picnics. No more Sea Breezes at high tea. No, what I saw was a sweat-stained, fat guy lugging 30-gallon compost bags to the curb. That was going to be my summer.
Hell, it was going to be the rest of my summers.
My last hope was The Huron River Watershed Council. They’re a local environmental group and
have developed a lawn care tip sheet. As I read through it, I started to feel the ol’ fun quotient
starting to rise. That’s because the tip sheet recommended not bagging your clippings. That is, if
you mulched them well when you cut them. Laura Rubin is the Executive Director.
“By leaving them there, they are sort of leaching those nutrients right back into the soil. So when
you mulch them, and you leave them, they just naturally put those nutrients back into the ground
and that’s what the soil needs.”
Rubin says that those added nutrients would allow me to save money because I wouldn’t have to
buy as much fertilizer. I also wouldn’t have to buy the composting bags. Rubin added that she’s
not against community compost programs. Just that leaving the clippings was a simpler
“Community-wide composting programs are great and if you have a good one, you can’t go wrong.
It’s just changing the waste stream to a different area, but I don’t want to stress that there’s sort of
a ‘good way’ and a ‘bad way.’ If you send it to a composting program, you are still recycling and composting
that up rather than bagging it, and sending it to the landfill is the worst.”
So in the great bagging debate, it seems that both sides can claim the environmental high ground.
As long as I mulch my lawn clippings well, I can continue not bagging in good conscience. And for
the hardy souls who do bag? You’re good too. In fact, next Saturday, as I watch you schlepping
all those bags to the curb, I’ll tip a glass to you.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m David Hammond.
Several lakefront communities in the region have banned certain lawn fertilizers. Naturally, some lawn care companies are opposed to the ban, and now they’re cultivating a case for court. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Shamane Mills reports:
Several lakefront communities in the region have banned certain lawn fertilizers. Naturally, some
lawn care companies are opposed to the ban, and now they’re cultivating a case for court. The
Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Shamane Mills reports:
(sound of waves)
The 44 lakes in Dane County are one of Wisconsin’s biggest attractions. Also eye-catching are
lawns around the lakes, but officials say fertilizer from these lawns is running into lakes,
causing stinky, ugly, algae blooms. To improve water quality, Dane County has become the latest
community in the region to restrict phosphorus fertilizer.
The Wisconsin Landscape Federation hopes their lawsuit will stop next year’s ordinance from
taking effect. David Swingle is the Federation’s Executive Director. He contends the phosphorus
ban breaks state law and is based on faulty science.
“This was an effort to try to bring attention to area lakes, the problems they’re having from
so many other sources… and lawn fertilizer really was an easy to target to grandstand on.”
County officials are reviewing the ban to see if it will hold up in court…
or whether changes need to be made.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, this is Shamane Mills.
Lawn pesticides are killing a lot more than grubs and weeds, according to the National Audubon Society. They want to let people know that if they use the chemicals, they are unintentionally killing birds. And they’re possibly putting their families at the same risk. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Joyce Kryszak has more on the educational campaign:
Lawn pesticides are killing a lot more than grubs and weeds, according to the National Audubon
Society. They want to let people know that if they use the chemicals, they are unintentionally
killing birds. And they’re possibly putting their families at the same risk. For the Great Lakes
Radio Consortium, Joyce Kryszak has more on the educational campaign:
People throughout the region have been scooping up dead bird corpses and sending them off for
testing since the West Nile Virus first hit. But research shows West Nile is usually not to blame.
Studies done on about eighty thousand dead birds found in New York state showed aesthetic
lawn care products were the leading killers.
William Cooke is a regional coordinator for the Audubon Society. He says the toxins from these
common product rivals the chemicals used on golf courses and farms.
“We’re going to have our kids play on this, we’re going to have the dog play on this, and then come
into the house? People are not connecting between the pesticides they put down and the impacts.
And we’re doing this for a green lawn?”
Cooke says the national educational campaign hopes to alert more than a million people to the
dangers of pesticide use. It will also tell people how to find and use organic alternatives to
maintain a healthy lawn and environment.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Joyce Kryszak.
Landscape Manager Jeff Culbertson sprays a Scots pine with thief repellant containing fox urine. The smell isn't too noticeable outdoors... but when a thief drags a conifer indoors, the repellant heats up and makes for a memorable Christmas. Photo by Nanci Ann McIntosh, University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
Evergreen trees grace forests, campuses, and lawns around the region. Much to the dismay of landscapers and gardeners, some of those trees disappear this time of year, stolen by someone who may not quite get the idea of Christmas cheer. But some universities have found a way to fight tree rustlers. It involves a foul-smelling concoction that makes thieves regret taking a tree. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Rebecca Williams has the recipe for this nasty, yet effective repellant:
Evergreen trees grace forests, campuses, and lawns around the region. And much to the dismay of landscapers and gardeners, some of those trees disappear this time of year, stolen by someone who may not quite get the idea of Christmas cheer. But some universities have found a way to fight tree-rustlers. It involves a foul-smelling concoction that makes thieves regret taking a tree. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Rebecca Williams has the recipe for this nasty, yet effective repellant:
About fifteen years ago, landscape managers at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln had a big problem. Tree thieves were cutting down the best conifers on campus. And the landscapers were getting calls from local residents, whose trees were also disappearing. Dennis Adams is a forester at the University of Nebraska.
“It’d be, you know, trees that have good Christmas tree form, so blue spruce, concolor fir, some of the pines – white pine, scotch pine.”
Some thieves were easy to track. Jeff Culbertson is a landscape manager at the university. He says students were stealing trees during Thanksgiving break… and they weren’t always perfect criminals…
“We’ve had instances where the students, I guess didn’t do a good job or didn’t think anybody cared, but you could find the dragged marks of the tree through the snow to their fraternity or dormitory or something like that so in those cases I think it was pretty easy for them to figure out where the tree went.”
Campus trees are worth hundreds of dollars, so the university was eager to find a solution. Dennis Adams discovered a solution… literally. He found the recipe in an old magazine… 1 part glycerine, 10 parts water, and 2 parts… fox urine.
Jeff Culbertson says the fox urine makes Christmas tree thieves think twice…
“It doesn’t really smell like skunk. Maybe like an extremely strong cat urine sort of smell. Or dog, something that’s very concentrated. But you know normally you’re not going to smell that. So it’s pretty pungent.”
Culbertson says since the University of Nebraska began spraying conifers in the 80s, they haven’t lost many trees. He sprays 50 to 100 Christmas-tree size evergreens each year. He used to wear a plastic spray suit, but now he just keeps the wind at his back.
“When I do the fox urine, I don’t have many volunteers that want to help me with that. So I take on upon myself to do it. They mostly stand away from me, and they probably don’t talk to me too much that day either.”
Culbertson says there is one problem with this technique… when it’s cold out, you don’t notice the smell. So he started adding a dye… he sprays blue or red stripes on the trees where he sprays the fox urine. He says it makes the trees that much less attractive, and serves as a warning. And each year, the university lets the local papers know they’re spraying fox urine again.
But if a thief still chops down a tree and drags it into his house … Culbertson says he won’t likely do it again.
“It would be a smell that you’d have a hard time getting rid of.”
Culbertson recommends the method to anyone with a lot of trees to protect. He says the repellant is pretty affordable, and normally wears off after the Christmas season. Most of the supplies, sometimes even fox urine, can be bought at a garden store.
“I use a small, 3 gallon bottle sprayer, typical sort of garden sprayer people would purchase at the hardware store, garden center… And I try to use hot water. The glycerin is very syrupy kind of like corn syrup. So it helps to loosen it up, heat it up and make it less thick. I mix it up, take it out, and just spray the trees by hand.”
Both Jeff Culbertson and Dennis Adams think thieves are just looking for a cheap tree. But Adams still finds the thefts a little unbelievable.
“I think people have to be pretty desperate to steal a tree for Christmas. That seems like it’s kind of in the anti-Christmas spirit to steal.” (Laughs)
Other campus managers, meanwhile…have cooked up their own people repellant. The University of Idaho adds a few ounces of skunk scent. It makes their mix even more memorable.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Rebecca Williams.
In a narrow swath of
grass in a roadside ditch, a mallard hen nests her second brood of the
season, a rare event for these ducks. Her first ducklings were killed
by a predator.
Researchers Tina Yerkes
and John Simpson track the mallard hens by radio transmitters. They've
found many of the ducks are killed by agricultural pursuits such as
mowing. Lawnmowers can kill hens that
are nesting in grass.
John Simpson 'candles' an
egg, looking at the silhouette of the developing duckling to see how
near it is to hatching.
In the last decade or so, ducks in the Great Lakes region have not been reproducing as well as they have in the past. The number of ducklings hatching out and surviving to adults has dropped by about 25 percent. Researchers are trying to figure out why this is happening and what can be done about it. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham went into the field with researchers and has this report:
In the last decade of so, ducks in the Great Lakes region have not been reproducing as well as they have in the past. The number of ducklings hatching out and surviving to adults has dropped by about twenty-five percent. Researchers are trying to figure out why this is happening, and what can be done about it. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham went into the field with researchers and has this report.
(sound of quack, quack overhead / cross fade to truck doors and engine startup/ bed of gravel sounds)
Mallard ducks are the most common duck found throughout the Great Lakes states. You’ll see them on farm ponds, college lagoons, and even in big city parks. But recently the mallard’s population hasn’t been growing as fast. The duck’s rate of reproduction has been falling off in the region since the mid-1980’s. Researchers with the sportsman’s conservation group, Ducks Unlimited, are involved in a three year study of mallards to find out why the ducks are not surviving in as great of numbers.
Tina Yerkes heads up the project. In a truck with something that looks like a TV antenna on top, fellow researcher John Simpson and she are in northwest Ohio, near Lake Erie, headed out to find some of the mallard hens. Tiny transmitters were surgically implanted in the ducks earlier this year and the antenna tracks the signals.
“So, this is the whole gizmo setup here. Everyday these guys go out and they track the birds. Each bird has a unique beep, if you will, uhm, a frequency. And that’s basically how we figure out what they’re doing. We started with 57 and you’re down to 38?
JS: Thirty-eight, roughly. And, eleven? JS: Twelve. Twelve have actually been killed, either by predators or farming operations on this site.”
(Truck sound under)
As the truck gets close to the last sighting of one of the mallard hens they’re tracking. John Simpson flips on the tracker and turns the antenna.
(beep beep sound)
He’s pulled over along a fairly busy road, and starts looking around in the roadside grass.
“So, she’s actually nesting in the ditch?”
“Yeah. I’m not entirely sure where her nest is here, so we’ve got to be careful.”
(sound of grass rustling)
It’s hard to believe a duck could find a place for a nest here. Most of the roadside is mowed except for a little strip of grass where we’re looking. She’s one lucky duck. A mower would kill her and destroy her nest.
“There she is right there. See her sitting on her nest?”
The mallard hen is three feet away and she’s still hard to see. John
Simpson has to flush her so that he can take a look at the eggs in the nest.
(Sound of flapping wings)
“There she goes.”
“She’s got a pile of eggs too. That’s her second nest.”
“That’s her second nest?”
“Yeah. She had a pile in her first nest.”
“Twelve eggs? Is that right?”
(Ambience remains under)
The duck lost her first brood to a predator. Since she had nested close to a subdivision, it could have been a dog or cat. But the researchers say in this case it was probably a wild predator, maybe a raccoon.
“And, once we’re finished, we’ll just cover the nest so the predators don’t see it and we leave.”
It’s very rare that a mallard hen tries twice to raise a brood, But in this area the ducks are adopting a lot of unusual behaviors. Since there’s almost no grassland to nest in, hens have nested in hay fields where they’re usually killed at mowing time. One hen made a nest in a large flowerpot. At our next stop we found a duck in the backyard of a mobile home, and her eggs had just hatched.
(Peep, peep, peep of the ducklings)
The owner mowed around the duck’s nest, giving the mother and her eggs a chance to survive. Now that they’ve hatched, they’ll head to the water nearby. Tina Yerkes says development pressures have hurt the ducks here.
“In Ohio, we’re looking at pretty bad brood survival which tells us that probably we need to alter the landscape by putting wetlands back—by restoring wetlands and managed marshes for the broods. And then, probably also coupling that with some grassland habitat, ’cause as you can see, there’s not a lot of grassland habitat for them to nest in here. We need to improve that.”
The Ducks Unlimited researchers are getting some indications about what kinds of things are hurting the ducks ability to reproduce. Besides the loss of wetlands the researchers are finding that farming practices such as frequently mowing ditches and urban sprawl taking up grasslands are all contributing to a high mortality rate among ducklings and sitting hens. But the researchers haven’t collected enough information yet to make any solid conclusions. It’ll be two more years and many more sites before the Ducks Unlimited researchers have enough hard data.
Robert Payne is the Curator of Birds at the University of Michigan Museum of Zoology. He says while to researchers it might seem pretty clear that people are causing the lower rates of production in the duck population. Information like the Ducks Unlimited group is gathering will be helpful.
“Well, it seems to be common sense: the more people, the more development you have, the fewer places there are going to be for birds. But the people in our society who make the decisions like to have some data out there. (They) Like to know how many ducks, how much land, and so on. Otherwise, these people can’t really figure how much land the really should set aside for the ducks. No data, no well informed decisions.”
(sounds of birds and bullfrogs)
But some people might find data that are supposed to help ducks gathered by a group that’s chiefly supported by people who kill ducks for sport might be a bit of a conflict, or at least very self-serving. Ducks Unlimited researcher Tina Yerkes says there’s a larger purpose here than merely making hunters happy.
“The purpose is not necessarily to create more ducks to shoot, but the purpose is to alter and affect the landscape in a positive way for all the species that need the landscape. So, we’re trying to take a step back and determine what the wildlife needs and help put it back on the ground for the wildlife.”
Predictions are that the human population around the Great Lakes will steadily increase for the foreseeable future, and if the researchers’ early indications hold, it’ll likely affect the duck population even more. This study, when it’s complete, might give policy makers the information they need to find a balance between the needs of people and the needs of wildlife as the conflict between the two grows in the Great Lakes region.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, this is Lester Graham.
Mallards are the most common duck in the Great Lakes region, but their numbers have been declining during the last few years. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:
Mallards are the most common duck in the Great Lakes region, but their numbers have been declining during the last few years. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s
Lester Graham reports.
The sportsmen’s conservation group, Ducks Unlimited is involved in a three year study, trying to learn why mallard duck populations are not increasing in the same numbers they once were. Tina Yerkes is a research biologist with the organization. She says starting in the mid-1950’s mallard flocks were growing at a pretty rapid rate.
“In the Great Lakes area, after the mid-80’s until now the production ratio has dropped and it’s dropped pretty sharply. And that for us is a warning bell, if you will, that something is going on in this area that’s causing birds not to do well.”
Yerkes and a team of biologists in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Ohio are tracking mallard hens and their broods. Early indications are that loss of habitat is beginning to affect the duck populations in the region. For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, this is Lester Graham.