The European Starling, an invasive species, has been pushing woodpeckers out of their nests and preventing them from breeding. The Migratory Bird Treaty Reform Act will help reduce populations of non-native bird species. (Photo by Louis
The National Audubon Society is praising Congress for strengthening protections for American migratory birds. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Erin Toner reports:
The National Audubon Society is praising Congress for strengthening protections for American migratory birds. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Erin Toner reports:
The U.S. Migratory Bird Treaty Act was passed in 1917 to protect native birds, such as the woodpecker, the Baltimore Oriole, and the American Black Duck. But a court ruling earlier this year changed the law, by extending protections to all birds, including non-native species. National Audubon Society spokesman John Bianchi says invasive species like the European Starling are pushing out native birds.
“That is hard for people to understand, but the equation there is that pushing out means killing. A European Starling pushing a woodpecker out of its nest means that that woodpecker will not breed that year.”
As part of a recent spending bill, Congress amended the law to once again only protect native migratory birds. That provides millions of dollars a year for protection efforts, which can include trapping and removing non-native birds, or killing them.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Erin Toner.
Once hunted nearly to extinction, the gray wolf has recently rebounded under the protection of the Endangered Species Act. Now, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing to take the wolf off of the Endangered Species List and hand wolf management back to the states. (Photo by Katherine Glover)
A captive wolf at the Wildlife Science Center in Minnesota. (Photo by Katherine Glover)
Peggy Callahan, Executive Director of
the Wildlife Science Center in Minnesota. Callahan works to minimize conflicts between wolves and people. (Photo by Katherine Glover)
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wants to remove the eastern population of the gray wolf from the Endangered Species List and turn over wolf management to state control. But not everyone thinks the states are up for it. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Katherine Glover has the story:
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wants to remove the eastern population
of the gray wolf from the Endangered Species List and turn over wolf management
to state control. But not everyone thinks the states are up for it. The Great Lakes Radio
Consortium’s Katherine Glover has the story:
(sound of wolves howling)
The image of the wolf has always had a powerful effect on people. Wolves seem dangerous,
mysterious, romantic. They are a symbol of the untamed wilderness. Before Europeans came
to America, wolves roamed freely on every part of the continent. In 1630, the colony of
Massachussetts Bay started paying bounties to settlers for killing wolves. Over the next
300 years, wolf killing spread across the country, until all that was left was a few small
pockets of surviving wolf packs.
When the Endangered Species Act passed in 1973, the only wolves left to protect in the
Midwest were in Northern Minnesota. By some estimates, there were as few as 350 of them.
Today, Minnesota has a healthy wolf population of around 2400 animals, and smaller populations
are growing in Wisconsin and Michigan. Becaue of this success, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
has proposed removing the animals from the Endangered Species List. This would mean wolves would
no longer be federally protected – it would be up to the states.
(sound of gate opening)
Peggy Callagan works with captive wolves at the Wildlife Science Center in Minnesota. She’s the
Center’s co-founder and executive director. She and her staff research ways to minimize
conflicts between wolves and people. Callahan is looking forward to seeing the wolf taken off
the Endangered Species List.
“It’s a good thing for the Endangered Species Act, to take a wolf off or an eagle off or a
peregrine off when it has recovered. The act was not established to provide a permanent
hiding place. It was established to protect a species until such time that they could be
managed in a different way.”
Wisconsin and Michigan have wolves because young born in Minnesota have migrated east to start
their own packs. Callahan says how Minnesota manages its wolves will affect wolf numbers in the
Midwest. And she isn’t crazy about Minnesota’s current wolf management plan, which has different
rules for different parts of the state.
“Now, there’s a boundary; there’s a boundary called a wolf zone, and there’s a boundary that’s
called the ag zone. And nobody likes it. We went backward.”
In Northeastern Minnesota, where the majority of wolves are, landowners can only kill wolves
if they can demonstrate an immediate threat to pets or livestock. In the rest of the state, where
there is more agriculture and more people, the rules are more lenient. On their own property,
landowners can kill any wolf they feel is a danger, without having to prove anything to the state.
The Sierra Club is opposed to taking the wolf off the Endangered Species list, largely because
of Minnesota’s management plan. Ginny Yinling is the chair of the Wolf Task Force of the Sierra
Club in Minnesota.
“They’ve pretty much given carte blanche to landowners, or their agents, to kill wolves
pretty much at any time in the southern and western two thirds of the state; they don’t even
have to have an excuse, if a wolf’s on their property they can kill it. Instead of this being
what should have been a victory in terms of wolf recovery and the success of the Endangered
Species Act, instead we’re afraid it’s going to turn into something of a disaster.”
Yinling is also concerned with the protection of wolf habitat, such as den sites, rendezvous
sites, and migration corridors.
“The current management plan protects none of those areas; it leaves it entirely up to the
discretion of the land managers.”
But wildlife managers say these are not critical for a large wolf population
like Minnesota’s. Mike DonCarlos is the wildlife program manager for the Minnesota
Department of Natural Resources.
“As you look at the range of species that are threatened by habitat change, ironically the wolf
in Minnesota is not one of them. As long as there’s a prey base that continues, wolves should
do just fine. The key is mortality rates and availability of food.”
In Wisconsin and Michigan, where there are fewer wolves, state laws will continue to protect
wolf habitat. Peggy Callahan says she has faith that the wolves will be fine, even if the
Minnesota state plan is not perfect. But at the Sierra Club, Ginny Yinling says they have
plans to challenge wolf delisting in court.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Katherine Glover.
Stands of pine like this have been clear-cut to demonstrate an option that forest owners can take to manage their property. (Photo by Keran
Most forests in the Great Lakes region are privately owned. That concerns the U.S. Forest Service because the agency says many forest owners don’t know how to properly manage their woodlands. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Julie Grant reports that a new education project that demonstrates tree-harvesting techniques has angered some residents:
Most forests in the Great Lakes region are privately owned. That concerns the U.S.
Forest Service because the agency says many forest owners don’t know how to properly
manage their woodlands. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Julie Grant reports that a
new education project that demonstrates tree-harvesting techniques has angered some residents:
(sound of chain saws)
Workers are cutting down trees in a fifty-year-old pine crop. At the same time, state
foresters are leading a botanist, a private tree farmer, and a reporter through this forest
education site. One of the foresters, Rick Miller, is directing the chain saws to show what
needs to be cut for what’s called a “crop tree release.”
“This one here we selected out with the orange flags, the trees that show the best form and
dominance in the crown. They have a nice big healthy crown. And then what we’re doing is removing
any trees that are touching the crowns of those ones that are orange, and just opening it up
to give the crown more room up there to spread out and possibly increase their growth and their
A forest owner who wants to make money off his pine stand might do a crop tree release to
improve the quality of the remaining timber. The bigger the tree, the more money it’s worth
to a logging company.
Heading deeper in, a crop of pine trees lined up like soldiers trails to our right, and wilder
hardwoods shade us from the left. There are signs to demarcate different timbering techniques:
improvement cut, understory removal, selective cut. Project manager Frank Corona stops at one
section of oaks, maples and cherries.
“You have small trees, medium trees, some larger trees. Trees are probably selectively
harvested in here and you have all different ages of trees in this stand…”
The cool shaded path abruptly opens up. The lush canopy is replaced by harsh sunlight.
GRANT: “Oh wow, so this is the clear-cut…”
CORONA: “This is the clear-cut.”
The forest is gone… cut to the ground. All that remains are the 120 hardwood stumps on
the torn-up dirt. Botanist Steve McKee suports construction of the demonstration site.
But he also loves trees.
GRANT: “What do you think when you see that clear-cut?”
MCKEE: “Well, clear-cuts are never pretty, ya know? So, uh, I think the most shocking thing
for me is I’ve walked in this my whole life and it was surprising. But I knew it
was coming too, so…”
But some people in the community say they didn’t know the demonstration project would include
clear-cutting older trees. Anne McCormack hikes the Mohican nearly every day, clearing trails,
cleaning garbage, or enjoying the woods. The education site has been roped off from the public
during construction. But she found out there was a clear-cut demonstration in an old growth
section of the forest.
“So, I just was… I was just shocked. I mean I can’t say anything more. I just felt
terrible for… I felt terrible for the trees that stood there since before white settlers
were even in Mohican. And there they just were bulldozed and chain cut for education.
I mean, it doesn’t add up.”
McCormack’s not the only one who’s upset. A lot of people didn’t realize this is what
the Forest Service had in mind. Back at the clear-cut site, Corona says many trees suffer
from disease when they mature to 120 years. He says it’s a good age for private land owners
to consider the clear-cut option.
“This was a time where before they would rot out or anything and we see more damage, more
susceptibility health-wise in the entire stand, we could make a harvest in here and utilize
those trees and start this whole new cycle of growth in here.”
The foresters and forest owners say clear-cutting is a viable option, and just one of the
many examples at the demonstration project in the Mohican forest.
Tree farmer Scott Galloway says people need to understand that owning a forest is another
form of family farming. For instance, he got a call recently from a man who inherited 30
acres and needed money right away. He doesn’t know how to manage his tree crop.
“Where does he go? How do you make the right decisions quickly? The faster he can make
decisions, in his lifetime with his forest, the sooner he’ll be able to enjoy the benefits
of those decisions. It’s all about forestry, wildlife, natural resources. So the more education he
can get, the better those decisions will be and the better off all of us are environmentally because of it.”
The Forest Service says a demonstration project is needed because forest acreage is getting
cut up into smaller and smaller parcels. That means the forests are owned by more and more
people who need to know how to manage their timber. The Forest Service hopes this project
will help them make better decisions.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Julie Grant.
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.