Acid rain isn’t a new threat to the environment. But its effect on trees and soils has been a point of debate. Now, a new study supports the theory that acid rain can deplete nutrients in forest soil. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Corbin Sullivan has more:
Acid rain isn’t a new threat to the environment. But its effect on trees and soils has
been a point of debate. Now, a new study supports the theory that acid rain can
deplete nutrients in forest soil. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Corbin Sullivan
Acid rain is caused by emissions mostly from coal-fired power plants. It’s linked to “dead”
lakes and streams that have become too acidic for fish and other organisms.
But a new study published in the Soil Science Society of America Journal says the
addition of even a small amount of acid to forest soils can deplete minerals needed for
plant and animal survival.
Ivan Fernandez is the lead author of the study. He says the study showed the loss of
several nutrients, but he’s most concerned with calcium loss.
“Calcium both reduces the toxicity of bad things as well as being a required essential nutrient.
If you lose too much calcium, you can have direct nutrient deficiencies.”
Fernandez says when minerals like calcium and magnesium are lost the result is
slower plant growth. He also says the loss of these minerals can lead to poor water quality.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Corbin Sullivan.
Two-hundred years ago this May, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark started up the Missouri River on a two-year journey into the American West. As America commemorates the bicentennial of the expedition, hundreds of volunteers are cleaning up the Missouri. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Kevin Lavery reports:
Two-hundred years ago this May, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark started up the
Missouri River on a two-year journey into the American West. As America
commemorates the bicentennial of the expedition, hundreds of volunteers are cleaning up
the Missouri. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Kevin Lavery reports:
A troupe portraying Lewis and Clark’s Corps of Discovery is retracing the explorers’
path. The real journey starts when they leave Illinois and take their keelboat up the
Missouri River as it meanders through the state of Missouri.
But…the Missouri is not as clean as the day Lewis and Clark first saw it. With the re-
enactors and their flotilla coming, some local volunteers want to do some cleaning up
ahead of time. They’re launching what could be the biggest clean-up ever on the Big
(sound of lapping water)
John Brady and Jeff Barrow are with Missouri River Relief, a grassroots nonprofit that
began cleaning the banks of the Missouri three years ago. Now, they’re embarking on
their most ambitious project yet: eight massive daylong cleanups that will stretch into
June. The idea is to stay two weeks ahead of the flotilla, clearing away any eyesores
along its cruise upriver.
Barrow says they’ve seen their share of garbage clogging the Missouri:
“Everything from cars and truck bodies, you find a lot of freezers and refrigerators, you
find tons of Styrofoam, plastic…we found a piano once.”
(sound of boat motor starting)
Barrow and Brady are scouting the river in search of places where debris piles up. As the
advance team, their job is to place markers in heavy trash areas so the coming clean-up
crews know where to start. Just a few hundred yards out, Brady spots a small pocket of
trash. But he knows that what he sees on the shore is only a fraction of what’s hidden in
“So, when you go out scouting you spot the obvious stuff that you can see from the
riverbank, and then you go to the spots where you know that it’s more likely that stuff
accumulates. For example, brushy spots on the outside of bends. And you get out and
look, and if it’s a good heavy spot, you schedule a crew to come in there and work it.”
Barrow guns the motor and heads for the spot where the Missouri flows into the
Mississippi. The two currents blend into a broad waterway. On the far bank of the
Mississippi, green trees give way to rusty machinery and industry on the Illinois bank:
Barrow: “Do we have our passport for Illinois here?” (laughs)
Barrow says this area will get special attention:
“Right here is where they’re going to kick off the Lewis and Clark flotilla. See this gravel
beach? So they’re expecting 2,000 people to be here, and we’re going to be cleaning up
this area, get all this driftwood out of there…you see the trash that’s up there.”
Preparing the site for that many people will take a small army of volunteers. But the
excitement of the Lewis and Clark bicentennial should make that an easier job than usual.
Evan McFarland belongs to the River Kids…a non-profit group made up of some 40 St.
Louis fourth-graders that began cleaning local creeks last fall. He’s enthusiastic about the
environmental benefits of a cleaner river. But Evan also sees a public relations benefit.
With potentially thousands of foreign tourists coming to the U.S. for the bicentennial
events, Evan thinks the time is right to showcase the Missouri:
“Well, I hope that they would be very excited and maybe compare where they came from,
maybe a river or a lake to the Missouri River…and maybe if they’ve already been here
before, see how it’s improved, and say hey…this is a pretty clean river.”
The band of volunteers will start at the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi before
the flotilla sets sail May 14th. They’ll steadily move upstream, capping their efforts with
a grand finale cleanup in Kansas City in June.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Kevin Lavery.
The Bush Administration has been under a lot of pressure from environmentalists, hunting groups, and state agencies to do something about wetlands protection. On Earth Day, President Bush responded by announcing a new initiative that he says will take wetlands protection to a higher level. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Mark Brush takes a closer look at the President’s latest proposal:
The Bush Administration has been under a lot of pressure from
environmentalists, hunting groups, and state agencies to do something about
wetlands protection. On Earth Day, President Bush responded by announcing a
new initiative that he says will take wetlands protection to a higher level.
The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Mark Brush takes a closer look at the
President’s latest proposal:
In the last thirty years, urban sprawl and farming have destroyed millions of
acres of wetlands. Because of that, the past two Presidents called for a
policy of “no net loss of wetlands.” The current Bush administration says it also
supports that goal. And says it wants to go a step further.
On Earth Day, the President unveiled his latest plan to protect and restore
“The old policy of wetlands was to limit the loss of wetlands. Today, I’m going to
announce a new policy and a new goal for our country: instead of just
limiting our losses, we will expand the wetlands of America.”
(Applause – fade under)
The Bush administration says its policy will restore, improve, and protect a
total of three million acres of wetlands in the next five years. In his speech, the
President gave a general outline of the plan, saying he’s going to increase support for a
number of programs already in place.
Ben Grumbles is an Assistant Administrator at the Environmental Protection
Agency. He heads up the water and wetlands programs for the EPA. He says
the President has called on many agencies to implement the new plan:
“The heart of the President’s new goal and commitment is to use
collaborative conservation-based programs to gain three million acres of
wetlands and to do so through USDA, Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service, conservation programs and
partnerships with the private sector.”
While environmentalists approve parts of President Bush’s new plan, many of
them say it’s the wrong first step to take. Julie Sibbing is a wetlands
policy specialist with the National Wildlife Federation.
“Although it’s a great thing that they’re going to get a million acres of
wetlands restored, and a million acres enhanced, and a million acres
protected, it’s only a drop in the bucket compared to what’s currently at
risk due to their policies on protecting wetlands under the Clean Water
And that’s the main criticism – environmentalists and some hunters say the
Administration is not doing its job in enforcing current federal laws. Laws that protect
rivers, lakes, and wetlands – and worse – they say the administration has
actively weakened laws that protect millions of acres of smaller, isolated
wetlands. These critics see this latest announcement by the Bush Administration
as an attempt to shore up its dismal record on the environment in general…
and on wetlands in particular.
The National Wildlife Federation’s Julie Sibbing says the Administration
would make better use of taxpayers’ money by reviewing some of its policies
and protecting wetlands that already exist:
“It’s just too hard to build new wetlands for us to ignore protecting what’s
there right now. We love the programs that restore former wetlands, but the
most important thing is to try to protect those wetlands that we still
Officials in the Bush Administration say they are serious about enforcing
the law. And they say they are protecting wetlands. They say they’re just
taking a different approach.
In his speech, President Bush said good conservation will
happen when people don’t just rely on the government to be the solution to
the problem, saying more people should look to private sector land trusts
and voluntary efforts by landowners to get the job done.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Mark Brush.
A mallard duck hen sitting on her eggs in a strip mall tree planter in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Ducks Unlimited researchers have found that recent declines in duck populations are partly due to a lack of corridors between grasslands where ducks nest and wetlands where they thrive. (Photo by Rebecca Williams)
When this mallard hen's ducklings hatch, they'll have to cross a parking lot and busy intersections to get to water. (Photo by Arthur
Another view from the nest. (Photo by Rebecca Williams)
Researchers with the hunters’ conservation group Ducks Unlimited are reporting they’ve found some of the reasons the duck reproduction rate is falling in the Great Lakes region. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:
Researchers with the hunters’ conservation group Ducks Unlimited are reporting they’ve
found some of the reasons the duck reproduction rate is falling. The Great Lakes Radio
Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:
(sound of birds, a duck quacking and a truck door slamming)
YERKES: “Load in.”
Two years ago, we went out in the field with biologist Tina Yerkes and other Ducks
YERKES: “Every day these guys go out and they track the birds and that’s basically how
we figure out what they’re doing. ”
(sound of newly hatched ducklings peeping with hen hissing)
At the time, they were tracking mallard hens, watching them nest, and watching them as
they moved their ducklings from the nests in the grass to nearby wetlands and lakes.
After three years of study, they found some of the reasons duck reproduction rates are
down. We recently had a chance to sit down and talk with Tina Yerkes about the study.
She says, surprisingly, they found that egg production and nesting are good, despite nests
being destroyed by mowers and predators eating the eggs.
TY: “The problem is duckling survival. We have very poor duckling survival in this
area. And, that leads us to believe that we need to alter habitat programs to actually start
doing more wetlands work.”
LG: “So, what’s happening is the ducks are able to nest, they’re able to hatch out the
ducklings, but then when they move from the grasslands where the nesting is to the
wetlands where the ducks feed, they grow, they’re not surviving. What’s killing them?”
TY: “What we’re seeing is that hens, once they hatch their young, they move right after
the first day into the first wetland and it’s a dangerous journey. Basically, because our
habitat is so fragmented that they’re moving these ducklings through non-grassed areas,
across parking lots, roads. It’s dangerous. And, a lot of the ducklings either die from
exhaustion or predators kill them on the way. A lot of avian predators get them at that
LG: “So, we’re talking about hawks and not so much domestic animals like cats and
TY: “Ah, cats are a problem, yeah. It’s hard to document exactly what is getting them,
but feral cats and domestic cats are a problem. Hawks and jays, sometimes…”
LG: “Blue jays?”
TY: “Blue jays can be mean, yeah. But, it’s interesting to note that if you put those
corridors back between nesting sites and wetlands, it’ll be a much safer journey for
LG: “So, what are you proposing?”
TY: “I would look more away from urban areas where those infrastructures are already
intact. We would not certainly expect anybody to tear that type of stuff up. But, outside
the cities and urban areas there are lots of opportunities to look at areas where there is
grass existing or wetlands existing and then piece the habitat back together where we
LG: “There are places, for instance in Chicago, where they’re working to do exactly that.
Do you see that kind of effort in most of the states you studied?”
TY: “Yes, actually we do. Some states like – Chicago’s a very good example. A very
strong park system not only throughout the city, but out in the suburbs as well and we do
see that in a lot of different places. That’s a positive thing.”
LG: “Where are the worst places for duckling survival?”
TY: “The worst duckling survival was the site that you were at two years ago in Port
Clinton, Ohio. And, if you think about what that habitat looks like, what you have is a
few patches of grass and an area that’s heavily agriculturally based, but all the wetlands
have been ditched and drained so that when a bird has to move from an area where it
nested to get to a nice, safe wetland habitat, they have to make a substantial move across
a lot of open fields that don’t have a lot of cover on them. So, here you’re looking at
maybe piecing cover back between the wetland areas and still being able to maintain farm
operations at the same time.”
LG: “What can farmers do to help duck survival?”
TY: “Oh, let’s see. Leave some patches of grass along the fields, especially if they have
wetlands in their fields. Leave a nice margin around the wetland, a nice vegetative
margin around the wetland because the ducks will nest right in that edge as well. Then
they don’t have to move very far to take the ducklings to a nice food source and a nice
LG: “Now, this is not just about making sure that mallard ducks reproduce. What’s this
going to mean for the ecosystem as a whole?”
TY: “Every time we replace a wetland or replace grass on the landscape, we’re
improving the water quality because those types of habitats remove nutrients and
sedimentation from runoff. So, there’s all kinds of benefits. There are benefits to any
other species that depends on grasslands to nest in or wetlands to either nest in or even
for migratory birds. So there’s just a suite of benefits beyond ducks.”
Tina Yerkes is a biologist with Ducks Unlimited. She says the group will be working
with states to develop programs to encourage development of corridors between the
grasslands where the ducks nest and the wetlands where they thrive.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Lester Graham.
Eel fisherman John Rorabeck near his home
and fishery on Point Traverse, near Kingston on northeastern Lake Ontario. He says these waters were once practically boiling with eels. One night, he caught 3 tons of eels. Today he's lucky to catch one eel. (Photo by David Sommerstein)
The American eel in this tank is 30 inches long, about the size of a baseball bat. Scientist John Casselman
estimates it is more than 15 years old. (Photo by David Sommerstein)
Research scientist John Casselman in his "wet room" lab
at the Glenora Fisheries Station of the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources. He has two American eels in the tanks for research purposes. (Photo by David Sommerstein)
For centuries, the American eel dominated the waters of parts of the Great Lakes. Only fifty years ago, the snake-like fish accounted for half of the biomass of Lake Ontario. Today, it has all but disappeared. Researchers and fishermen see the decline as a shrill warning about changes in climate and the environment. And they say now is the time to do something about it. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s David Sommerstein reports:
For centuries, the American eel dominated the waters of parts of the Great Lakes. Only
fifty years ago, the snake-like fish accounted for half of the biomass of Lake Ontario.
Today, it has all but disappeared. Researchers and fishermen see the decline as a shrill
warning about changes in climate and the environment. And they say now is the time to
do something about it. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s David Sommerstein reports:
Before you say, who cares about a slimy critter like an eel, hear me out. Eels are
They spawn in the Sargasso Sea – the Bermuda Triangle. But no one’s ever caught them
in the act.
“There is a mystery that we haven’t solved. We have never seen them spawn.”
After they’re born, they’re like tiny glassy leaves. They float thousands of miles north
and west on ocean currents. Then they wiggle up rivers and streams from Florida to
“The eel is a fish that we should be looking at very closely.”
They live up to 20 years in freshwater before they start the long journey to the Sargasso
The problem is their offspring are not coming back.
“A very important native species of the Great Lakes, that we’re at serious risk of losing.”
As you can hear, a lot of people are worried about the eel, and not just in the Great Lakes.
European eel young are down 99% from the 1970’s. The Japanese eel is down 80%. In
Lake Ontario, the fish is all but gone. And the people who rely on it feel like they’re
(sound up of waves)
Just ask fisherman John Rorabeck. He grew up here by the lighthouse on Point Traverse,
a peninsula that juts out into northeastern Lake Ontario.
Rorabeck’s been fishing these waters for more than thirty years. Eels were his prime
catch. He points past the lighthouse.
“I remember when I started fishing there were nights on that south shore, the most fish
that was in there would be eels at certain times and there was literally tons of them on
that south shore. Now you could go back and you’ll find nothing.”
He stopped fishing eels three years ago because it just wasn’t worth it.
“That eel is telling man we better smarten up because this is happening all over the
Now Rorabeck dedicates his fishing time to science. He catches specimens for leading
eel expert John Casselman, who examines them in his lab.
“It is truly a crisis. A crisis of concern.”
Casselman’s a scientist at the Glenora Fisheries Station, run by the Ontario Ministry of
Natural Resources. In 1980, at a point on the St. Lawrence River in mid-summer, he
counted more than 25,000 eels a day. Last year, there were scarcely 20 a day.
Casselman ticks off a host of possible causes – overfishing, dammed-up rivers, erosion,
pollution, invasive species, and perhaps most troubling, a climactic change of cooling
“There is an interrelationship between what’s going on in the ocean and the recruitment of
And he says we’re mostly to blame. The problem is, Casselman and other researchers
don’t know exactly how all the factors relate or which is worse. And they say there’s no
time to find out. Last summer eel experts from 18 countries made an unusual statement.
In what’s now called the Quebec Declaration of Concern, they urged more action, not
“I’m a research scientist and of course, I love data. At this stage, you don’t want me.
Don’t ask me to explain what’s going on here because by the time I get it figured out, it
may be too late.”
The Great Lakes Fishery Commission has issued an emergency declaration of its own. It
represents commercial fishermen and anglers in the region. Spokesman Mark Gaden
says it’s calling on the U.S. and Canada to do everything they can to reduce eel deaths in
the Great Lakes.
“We’re committing ourselves, our resources to working to make the recovery of the
species a reality.”
Last month, the province of Ontario halted commercial eel fishing for the foreseeable
(sound up at beach)
Fisherman John Rorabeck supports that plan. He stares out across the waters he’s trawled
for decades. He says he’s behind anything to bring the eel back to Lake Ontario for
“And hopefully we can. But…I don’t expect to see it in my time. When I… (crying)
…when I think of all the times that we’ve had out in the lake and my forefathers and see
what’s happening here, it breaks you down.”
Rorabeck says when he thinks of the eel nearing extinction, he feels like he and his way
of life are becoming extinct too.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m David Sommerstein.