The emerald ash borer has been destroying ash trees in Michigan, Ohio, Ontario, Virginia and Maryland – and the bug is spreading. Now, agricultural officials in Michigan are developing an early warning system. By detecting the insects early, they hope to slow or even prevent their spread. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Tracy Samilton reports:
The emerald ash borer has been destroying ash trees in Michigan, Ohio,
Illinois, Maryland, and Ontario – and the bug is spreading. Now,
agricultural officials in Michigan are developing an early warning
system. By detecting the insects early, they hope to slow or even
prevent its spread. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Tracy Samilton
Forestry agents will be designating a number of so-called trap trees in
every township in Michigan. The ash trees will act as sentinels. A
strip of bark will be removed from the trees, which stresses them and
makes them attractive to insects. A sticky substance called tanglefoot
will then be applied to the trees to catch the borers. Kara Bouchay is
with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.
“Part of the struggle with having a borer that you can’t see most of
time because it’s underneath the bark, is when it’s in a low level
population, it basically flies under the radar. So the trap tree is a
way to bring it to a single location to detect it.”
If borers are found on a tree, all ash trees within a half-mile will be
destroyed to contain its spread. Bouchay says if the early detection
system proves itself, it will likely be implemented in other states as
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Tracy Samilton.
Giant Canada Geese, Belle Isle, Detroit. (Photo by Celeste Headlee)
In just thirty years, the Giant Canada Goose has gone from near extinction to a now-thriving population. Hundreds, sometimes thousands, of geese gather on golf courses and in state parks, often causing problems for their human neighbors. As the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Celeste Headlee reports, some property owners have found a unique solution to the problem:
In just thirty years, the Giant Canada Goose has gone from near
extinction to a now thriving population. Hundreds, sometimes thousands, of geese
gather on golf courses and in state parks, often causing problems for
their human neighbors. As the Great Lake Radio Consortium’s Celeste
Headlee reports, some property owners have found a unique solution to the
A year ago, dozens of families flocked to Pier Park in the Detroit suburb
Grosse Pointe Woods for an annual Easter egg hunt. Children rushed
grass with their brightly colored baskets and then stopped abruptly when
they found themselves surrounded by Giant Canada geese and their
Park manager Michelle Balke says local residents decided
the geese had to go.
“They left droppings everywhere. You couldn’t walk on the grass. They’re
aggressive. If kids start going up to them, they start hissing back and it
got really annoying. They were everywhere.”
It hasn’t always been like that. The Giant Canada goose was so rare 30
years ago that many scientists thought it was extinct. But a few of the
large birds were spotted in the 1960s. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources began
an aggressive recovery program and there are now three and a half million Canada geese in the
Conservation agencies say the birds cause hundreds of thousands of
dollars in damage every year because of accumulated droppings, overgrazing,
attacks against people and threats to aircraft.
(sound of geese)
Tom Schneider is the curator of birds at the Detroit Zoo. He trades
glares with a large male bird that has taken up residence on a lawn at the zoo. The
big black and grey goose honks at Schneider, warning him to stay away
from his chosen territory. Schneider says one aggressive bird can be a bit of
a problem, but a large crowd of them is unacceptable.
“People tend to like them until they get to be a certain number where they
become a nuisance, and when they become a nuisance, they don’t want
any geese. So, you might have a lake that has five pairs on there and that’s
great, but if you have 50 pairs of geese on there, it’s not so good
Schneider is a member of the Canada Goose Coalition. The group
includes representatives from the government, hunters, scientists and animal
welfare organizations. The coalition deals with the large population of Canada
Geese in the Great Lakes region. Schneider says one of the problems
with the birds is that they eat grass. Most birds don’t.
“The problem is they don’t have very efficient digestive systems. So they
have to eat a lot of food to get their nutrients, so as a result they
produce a lot of fecal material.”
Schneider says property owners have struggled to deal with large
groups of geese and the droppings they leave behind. One adult goose produces
about a pound and a half of droppings every day. When there are a hundred
birds on a piece of property… well… you can imagine. But the birds are federally
protected. So there’s not a lot that you can do.
(sound of geese)
But…one guy got an idea and called Barbara Ray. Ray had for years
been training border collies to drive sheep when she got a call from a man
looking for a dog to herd birds.
“I had a golf course superintendent who just had an idea about trying to
use these dogs to herd the geese… not chase them because the dog
needed to be under control. We certainly can’t have a dog that catches the geese
and shreds them like other breeds would be prone to do. But one that is
simply jazzed by staring down and moving birds in a specific direction.”
Ray says it was easy for the dogs to learn how to drive geese and one
dog can cover several hundred acres. She says border collies naturally
intimidate prey without barking or attacking, so they’re perfect for this
kind of work.
“What they’re using is a ‘let’s make my day’ kind of approach where the
stock believes if they don’t move as the dog quietly approaches, staring at
them in this intimidating fashion, that they’re probably going to follow up and
do something more demonstrative.”
Ray has built a business around training goose dogs and has so far
sold more than 500 of the dogs. One of those border collies ended up at Pier Park
in suburban Detroit. Manager Michelle Balke says it’s been a year since
the dog, Kate, arrived and there is no longer a problem with geese at the
“She had just gotten rid of them, whether they sense her being here or
what, but they just stopped coming around. They were going next door, they
were hanging out on Lakeshore Road out there, but they just weren’t coming
into the park.”
(ambient sound of geese fade in)
Tom Schneider says goose dogs are an effective, humane way to deal
with Canada geese on private property, but it’s not a permanent solution to
the problem of overpopulation.
“The problem with that program… in many ways, it shifts those problem
geese to a different location, so maybe they may no longer be a problem on
this golf course but now they’re a problem on that golf course. While that
does provide some remedy for the people in those situations, it doesn’t really
solve the bigger, overall picture.”
Schneider has led a goose management program for over a decade at
the Detroit Zoo that involves destroying eggs. That program has cut the
number of geese on zoo grounds from between 500 and a thousand to 50.
This year, Schneider’s team will travel to other places to destroy eggs
and encourage thousands of geese to move on. But you have to have a
permit to do that which is not that easy to do. Schneider thinks goose dogs might
be the best alternative for private landowners.
(ambient sound out)
Goose dogs have become so popular that more than a dozen
companies around the U.S. now train and sell border collies to chase the Giant Canada
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Celeste Headlee.
Terry Miller, of the Lone Tree Council, is
one of the few Bay City residents trying to protect
wetlands sprouting up along the beaches of Saginaw
Bay. Many of his neighbors prefer beaches with
less vegetation. Photo by Steve Meador.
With water levels below-average in the Great Lakes, emergent wetlands are flourishing in many large, protected bays. This thick vegetation, a few hundred yards wide at most, fringes the shoreline of exposed lakebeds. Scientists and government officials say emergent wetlands are valuable resources worth protecting. Others say the vegetation is a nuisance and want it destroyed. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Steve Meador has more:
With water levels below-average in the Great Lakes, emergent wetlands are flourishing in
many large, protected bays. This thick vegetation, a few hundred yards wide at most,
fringes the shoreline of exposed lakebeds. Scientists and government officials say
emergent wetlands are valuable resources worth protecting. Others say the vegetation is
a nuisance and want it destroyed. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Steve Meador
There’s a dull gray sky over Saginaw Bay, a large, shallow arm of Lake Huron. A brisk
wind blows off the bay toward Bay City State Park.
“This is the area that bathers come to in the summer, and as you can see, there is only a
small portion of the beach left, that much of the rest has reverted to fairly high levels of
vegetation…cattails…bulrushes… lots of vegetation.”
Terry Miller heads an environmental organization in Bay City called the Lone Tree
Council. These days, Lone Tree is an appropriate description of Miller. He’s one of the
few locals trying to protect emergent wetlands. These wetlands remain mostly out of
mind during cycles of high water. However, with Lake Huron near its lowest level in
decades, thin bands of emergent wetlands now flourish along the shores of Saginaw Bay.
Scientists call these wetlands some of the most productive in the country because they
provide critical habitat for fish and birds. Yellow perch and northern pike use them as
breeding areas, and waterfowl feed and nest there. The wetlands also reduce coastal
erosion by anchoring shoreline sediment during storms.
Terry Miller sees the value of emergent wetlands and is fighting to protect them. He also
accepts that some people are less concerned with how wetlands benefit an ecosystem than
they are with clean, sandy beaches or an unobstructed view of Saginaw Bay.
“As you can see, some of this vegetation is taller than we are, and if you’re a homeowner
sitting back in your coffee hutch looking out and not seeing water but greenery, some
may find that pleasant, but more than likely they would prefer to see the water.”
One local resident who doesn’t like the wetlands is Ernie Krygier. He says the vegetation
reduces property values and prevents access to the water. Worst of all, he says it ruins
sandy beaches, like the one at Bay City State Park.
“This park used to be just jammed, you see all the parking lot space that’s out here, you
couldn’t find a spot back when we had beaches. Now you could shoot a gun through here
and not hit anybody.”
Krygier wants the vegetation along the park’s shoreline removed. He says the place for
wildlife is in the nearby Tobico Marsh, away from park users.
“This is where people belong, that’s where nature belongs.”
Krygier’s issue with the park is part of a larger conflict with government regulators that
also involves private property. The dispute has been dubbed the “weed war” by a
property rights group called Save Our Shoreline, or SOS, that Krygier heads up.
SOS members say they have the right to remove vegetation below the ordinary high
water mark. That’s land the state and federal government says is publicly-owned
bottomland. Government regulators protect this land by requiring permits for
mechanized activities like plowing or grading. This helps preserve the dense root mat
that anchors the shoreline.
Some less destructive techniques for controlling vegetation are allowed without a permit,
including mowing, weed-whacking, and hand-pulling vegetation. Nevertheless, many
property owners have used tractors and other heavy machinery to destroy vegetation on
public land without a permit. Government regulators say this is a violation of the Clean
Water Act. They’ve sent “cease and desist” letters to many property owners, including
one state legislator.
Krygier’s main contention is that property owners have ownership rights to the water’s
“The government, the state of Michigan wants to take ownership of our property, and that
is wrong. We feel we have the law on our side.”
Some law experts say Krygier’s interpretation is wrong. Chris Shafer is a professor at
Thomas M. Cooley School of Law in Lansing. He’s had some experience in this area.
He ran the Great Lakes Shorelands program for the Michigan Department of Natural
Resources for more than 15 years.
“I think the law is real clear on this, that all of the land we’re talking about below the
ordinary high water mark on the Great Lakes is owned by the state of Michigan. It’s held
in trust for all nine million citizens of Michigan.”
Shafer says that while property owners have some legitimate concerns, they don’t own
the land out to the water’s edge as they believe. They have a right to access the water, but
no right to destroy vegetation on public land.
Shafer says that, unlike the sand dune shores of Lake Michigan, it may be unrealistic to
expect sandy beaches throughout Saginaw Bay. Dr. Thomas Burton agrees. He’s a
professor of fisheries and zoology at Michigan State University who studies wetland
Burton says emergent wetlands have always been an important part of Saginaw Bay, and
that they naturally grow and recede as water levels fall and rise. He says wetlands are a
vanishing resource along the Great Lakes, and that the small portion of coastline that’s
not sandy beach should be protected. Burton says property owners are missing the bigger
“To call it a ‘weed war’ to me is very short sighted, and really says that the person doesn’t
either, A. understand the importance of these wetlands, or B. they just don’t care about
nature at all, and are willing to destroy it just so they have a sandy beach in front of their
house, and my own opinion is that that’s a pretty lousy way to look at nature.”
Back in Saginaw Bay, Terry Miller says his crusade to protect emergent wetlands is a
lonely one, especially when neighbors tell him he’s one of the most hated people on the
beach. He says these wetlands are held in the public trust to benefit everyone who uses
the bay, and hopes that some day the effort expended by property owners will be
“And the sad thing, the thing that I find very frustrating is that, from an environmental
perspective, our Saginaw Bay is hurting. There are a host of environmental problems that
this energy could be directed at, but it’s not.”
For now, property owners are putting their energy into changing state law. A bill before
the Michigan legislature backed by SOS would allow unpermitted destruction of wetland
vegetation on publicly-owned lands.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Steve Meador.
A Michigan Department of Natural Resources proposal to lease Great Lakes bottomlands for oil and gas development has prompted a lot of discussion regarding the risks and benefits of drilling near the Great Lakes. As Great Lakes Radio Consortium commentator Michael Barratt explains, those resources can be developed now in an environmentally safe manner:
A Michigan Department of Natural Resources proposal to lease Great Lakes bottomlands for oil and gas development has prompted a lot of discussion regarding the risks and benefits of drilling near the Great Lakes. As commentator Michael Barratt reveals, those resources can be developed now in an environmentally safe manner.
People around the Great Lakes have seen quantum jumps in the price of energy within the last few months. Gasoline prices in Michigan for example are approaching $2.00/ gallon, natural gas prices have increased 40-60%, and propane prices have increased markedly.
Since Michigan only produces 4% of its crude oil demand and 30% of its natural gas demand, we need to find ways to both conserve and maintain our energy supply.
The Michigan Department of Natural Resources has proposed to lease land under the Great Lakes for the purpose of drilling wells from onshore locations. The proposed procedures require new wells to be located at least 1,500′ from the shoreline. They also require that sites be screened, and no drilling is to be permitted in dune areas, floodplains, or environmentally sensitive areas.
Additional wells drilled under Great Lakes waters may encounter significant reserves to help Michigan have a secure energy supply. Using a safe and proven technology known as directional drilling, it is possible to reach and produce these reserves with little to no effect on the surrounding areas. There have been 13 wells drilled under Great Lakes waters from onshore locations since 1979. Seven of those wells, which are still producing, have produced 439,000 barrels of oil and more than 17 billion cubic feet of gas. There have been no spills, accidents, or incidents associated with the wells since they have been drilled.
New wells drilled under Great Lakes waters, if drilling is allowed , could produce an additional 90 billion cubic feet of gas, and 2 million barrels of oil; enough to heat more than 1 million homes and fuel 157,500 cars for a year. We now have a window of opportunity to use existing infrastructure associated with the currently producing wells to develop some of the additional reserves under the Great Lakes. Drilling pads, roads, pipelines, and production facilities are in place that can be used to drill new wells under the Great Lakes.
Besides energy security, the people of Michigan benefit from royalties paid to the State of Michigan. That money is put into the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund to develop and extend parks, and to purchase wetlands and other environmentally sensitive areas. The seven wells currently producing have contributed more than $16,000,000 to the Fund. Additional wells drilled under the Great Lakes could contribute another $85,000,000-$100,000,000
Let’s develop the State’s Bottomland resources now in a safe and environmentally friendly way to ensure that Great Lakes waters and shorelines can be enjoyed by future generations and also to make sure we have the energy supplies here to maintain our quality of life.
As the debate on a national energy policy intensifies, the hunt for more places to drill and dig for new energy is escalating. States are now turning their attention to prospecting in one place that hits close to home: the Great Lakes. As Great Lakes Radio Consortium commentator Cameron Davis of the Lake Michigan Federation explains, drilling under the continent’s largest body of fresh surface water is not something to be taken lightly:
As the debate on a national energy policy intensifies, the hunt for more places to drill and dig for new energy is escalating. States are now focusing their attention on prospecting for one place that hits close to home: the Great Lakes. As commentator Cameron Davis of the Lake Michigan Federation explains, drilling under the continent’s largest body of fresh surface water is not something to be taken lightly.
No matter which estimate you believe – that there’s only enough oil and gas to power a Great Lakes state for 2 minutes or 8 weeks – opening the Great Lakes to new oil and gas drilling is simply not worth the risk. Hydrogen sulfide, known to exist in lakebed oil and gas reserves, can escape during drilling causing far-reaching human health problems. Wellhead and pipeline leaks can contaminate groundwater and surface water in streams, often without adequate cleanups by the state agency responsible for drilling oversight. And, drilling can damage some of the most fragile fish and wildlife habitat known, habitat that exists along Great Lakes coasts.
The argument that drilling means more royalties to states doesn’t even hold up. One state Auditor General recently found that oversight of leasing and royalty payments from drilling operations continues to be lax. What does this mean? It means that taxpayers aren’t getting the financial benefits from drilling that they’re supposed to get.
Last, it’s not unusual for the same state agency to serve as subjective promoter of drilling while at the same time supposing to be the objective regulator. States such as Michigan, which is leading the charge for new drilling, can’t have it both ways and maintain their credibility. If they try to have it both ways, it’s inevitable that Congress will step in – as it did this summer with its own legislation.
President Bush, legislative leaders from both sides of the aisle, and a majority of citizens have all said that Great Lakes oil and gas drilling isn’t worth the risk. So why does a bad idea keep moving forward?