Michigan Sen. Stabenow: Stop the Asian Carp

  • Michigan Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow says we need to move quickly to stop the threat of the Asian Carp on the Great Lakes' eco-system. (Photo: Kate Gardner, Flickr)

By now, you’ve probably heard all about the Asian Carp.

The invasive species is making its way up the Mississippi River and there’s concern that if the fish are able to get into the Great Lakes that they could drastically change the waters’ eco-system.

Michigan Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow and Michigan Republican Congressman Dave Camp introduced the Stop the Asian Carp Act last year. The legislation required the Army Corps of Engineers to create a plan to permanently separate the Mississippi River and Lake Michigan.


Stopping the Carp

I spoke with Senator Stabenow this week and asked her where things stand with the Army Corps of Engineers’ plan. “The Army Corps of Engineers is working on a plan to give us specific recommendations on how to separate the waters… The problem is they say they won’t have this done until 2015. And, so, what we’re trying to do is push them to get this done much quicker,” Stabenow explains.

The Mississippi River: Not the only entry point for the Carp

A lot of attention has been paid to the Mississippi River as the main entry point where the Carp could get into the Great Lakes. But, Stabenow explains, “We also, now, are looking more broadly than just the Illinois River and the Mississippi River going into Lake Michigan. We’ve found that there have been some fish seen going across Indiana – in the Wabash River. At certain times, during the year, it connects to the Maumee River in Ohio and then actually goes into Lake Erie. And, so, this is a real challenge for us. There is, I believe, nineteen different tributaries and ways to get into the Great Lakes – that’s my biggest worry.”

Chicago shipping interests

Recently, we’ve been hearing more about the idea of permanently separating the waterways rather than a temporary solution. “I believe that we ought to be closing the [Chicago] locks until we get to a permanent solution. But, there is a lot of pushback from Illinois and Chicago,” Stabenow says. Those who work in commercial shipping in Chicago are against the idea of closing the locks. They say it would hurt their multi-million dollar business interests. “Personally, I’d say the other side’s interests are – not that we don’t respect them – but they’re small in terms of economic impact compared to what could happen having the fish go into the Great Lakes.

How to pay for it?

A question remains regarding closure of the waterways: who would pay for a permanent solution?  

“No one knows exactly how much it would cost to shut down the Chicago shipping canals and replace them with something else. But, the price-tag would be big, it could run into the billions of dollars, “Rick Pluta, Lansing Bureau Chief for the Michigan Public Radio Network explains.

Michigan Republican Congressman Dave Camp, Chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee told Pluta, “I think there’s enough money certainly in the Great Lakes Restoration Fund that we could use to help with that problem.”

As Pluta explains, the Great Lakes Restoration Fund is used for, “Great Lakes cleanup, dredging and pollution prevention. Camp’s idea could divert funding from those purposes. But, environmentalist groups say restoring a physical separation of the two water systems, and eliminating the danger of non-native species back and forth between them, just might be worth it."

Illegal Wolf Kills Spiking in Michigan’s UP

  • Some hunters in Michigan's upper peninsula say the wolves' "sacred cow" status is causing more animosity toward the animals. (Photo courtesy of www.isleroyalewolf.org)

No other wildlife species, it seems, causes such extremes of emotion as the wolf.

Some people want to protect it at any cost.

Others want to shoot the animal on sight.

And in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula illegal wolf kills are spiking.

Wildlife officials say they can defuse the situation if they can just get gray wolves removed from the endangered species list.

Bob Allen reports.

More about the history of wolves in Michigan

More about removing Michigan wolves (included in the western GL wolf population) from the Endangered Species List

Michigan’s Wolf Management Plan

More on Michigan’s Isle Royale Wolves (the longest study of any predator-prey system in the world)


The return of gray wolves to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula more than twenty years ago was not cause for alarm, at first.
But that’s changed drastically in the last few years as more sportsmen are convinced wolves are now decimating the white tail deer population.

Larry Livermore manages the 35,000 acre Hiawatha Sportsman’s Club, about an hour’s drive west of the Mackinaw Bridge.

LIVERMORE: “There was no hatred of wolves until people created the hatred by not allowing them to be managed.”

As long as the wolf is under federal protection it can only be killed if it’s causing imminent threat to human life.
The wolf population in Michigan is more than six times the goal set for them under the Endangered Species Act.

And the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is now trying for the fourth time to remove gray wolves from the protected list in the Upper Great Lakes states.
So far, national wildlife protection groups have managed to block those efforts in federal court.

The groups contend wolves still need to expand into northeastern states before protections are removed.
Larry Livermore says while all this legal wrangling is going on members at the eighty year old Hiawatha Club are giving up their memberships and selling their places because the deer hunting has become pathetic.

LIVERMORE: “You have a whole bunch of honest law abiding citizens who have finally had enough and say, you don’t care about us, you don’t understand our dilemma here and so we will take it into our own hands. And that’s happening here. People who I never dreamed would say I would shoot a wolf are telling me that they will shoot one.”

There was a spike in illegal wolf kills in the U.P. last year.
Wildlife officials found fifteen collared wolves shot out of an overall population pushing near 700.
And the Department says poaching is on the upswing again this year too.

But Brian Roell is not alarmed about it.
He is the go-to wolf guy for the DNR in Marquette.
He says illegal kills are not reducing the overall population.

And Roell says once federal protection is gone people will stop feeling like the wolf is being treated as a “sacred cow”.

ROELL: “Being able to empower people to actually take some control back is going to go a long way in helping people come to live with wolves.”

DNR officials have a management plan ready to go once the wolf is delisted.
The plan would give people the authority to defend against attacks on their pets and livestock.
And it would allow them to cull wolves in places where they’re putting a lot of pressure on deer.

But some sportsmen’s groups want to go further than that.
They want the state to open a hunting season on them.
Sportsmen say if wolves are treated more like bears with limited harvests then the animals will have some value to people.

But Nancy Warren thinks the top predator has its own value in the natural order of things.
In the summertime, she takes visitors out at night to howl with wolves on her property in the western U.P.
She says the number of deer killed by wolves and reported threats to humans are being exaggerated.
But she agrees the state ought to be able to manage problem wolves.

WARREN: “Let people see that the state is able to manage these wolves. And we could get rid of some of these myths and the misinformation and see that, yeah, we can live with wolves.”

Warren fears a return to the bad old days when wolves were considered varmints and poisoned or shot on sight.

But Brian Roell with the DNR doesn’t see wholesale slaughter of wolves coming back into play.
Because once the wolf comes off the endangered species list, he says, no one is going to want to risk having to put it back on again.

Urban Coyotes Make Themselves at Home

  • Bill Dodge is a PhD student at Wayne State University. He's leading a team of researchers looking into the behavior of urban coyotes in Oakland County. (Photo by Rebecca Williams)

Coyotes have been moving into the city. There have been sightings in a lot of American cities, including Chicago and Detroit.

You could potentially see coyotes almost anywhere in Michigan, but not a whole lot is known about the state’s urban coyotes.

There’s a small research team from Wayne State University that’s trying to figure the animals out. They want to find out how many coyotes are living in cities. And they want to know what they’re eating, and how they survive.

More about urban coyotes in Chicago

More about urban coyotes in Los Angeles County

A video of a Canadian and a coyote

Ghosts in the Cities


(sound of traffic whizzing by)

A few weeks ago, one day just after dawn, I met up with the team at the side of a road in Oakland County. We crossed the road to get to a grassy, undeveloped piece of land. The group fanned out to look for evidence of coyotes… that is: tracks, and scat. After just a few steps, we found tracks.

Bill Dodge is a PhD student at Wayne State, and he’s the team leader.

“Coyote tracks are a lot neater than dog tracks, with coyotes usually the trail pattern is pretty straight as if they know where they’re going.”

A minute later… more evidence.

“We’ve got a scat up here.”

The lucky guy who gets to collect that scat is Nick Marengo. He’s an undergrad at Wayne State.

“I’m going to fill out a data form… bag it… and collect it. RW: So is this the job that falls to students mostly? (Nick laughs) Bill: No I’ll pick up scat… RW: it’s not beneath you? (laughs) Bill: It’s not beneath me to pick up coyote scat.”

I’ll spare you the finer details… but basically, they’re finding out what the coyotes are eating. Bill Dodge says people often think urban coyotes are eating garbage and people’s pets… but that’s actually not very common.

“Voles, mice, eastern cottontail rabbits, those are the top three food items.”

He says anywhere there’s green space with a little bit of cover… there are coyotes. Even highway interchanges and Detroit Metro Airport.

They’re also trying to trap coyotes so they can put radio collars on and track them.

So far… they haven’t caught any. You know that thing you’ve heard about coyotes being wily? Bill Dodge says that’s true.

“They’re resilient. We’ve been trying to eliminate them for about 100 years and they’re still around and they’ve actually done well and prospered in urban areas.”

Both coyotes and wolves were bountied and killed for decades in Michigan. Bill Dodge says coyotes really rebounded in the 1980s. And he says it appears that coyotes have been moving into Michigan cities over the last decade or so.

“Territories outside urban areas are full so they’re moving into urban areas where there’s marginal habitat but it’s habitat in itself.”

And he says that’s making some people worried that coyotes might eat their pets. He says problem coyotes might have to be killed. But he says relocating coyotes won’t work.

“It’s kind of futile. We could remove the coyotes in this area and the void would just be filled by other coyotes.”

He says coyotes are just here now… and people will need to learn to co-exist with them.

He says there haven’t been any reported attacks on people in Michigan. But there have been a few reports of pets being attacked.

Research suggests that conflicts are more likely to happen when coyotes lose their natural fear of people. And that happens when people feed coyotes – either on purpose or accidentally.

Holly Hadac is volunteering for the coyote research project.

“With coyotes, it’s all about the food. That’s why we say a fed coyote is a dead coyote.”

She says it’s a good idea to bring pet food indoors, and secure compost piles with a cover. And never feed a coyote directly. She says even though coyote attacks on pets are rare, you should still keep an eye on your pets.

That’s the Environment Report. I’m Rebecca Williams.

New Rest Stops for Midwest Birds

  • Ben Preston hunts ducks in Michigan. Duck hunters are worried about what will happen to migratory ducks when they fly to the Gulf. (Photo by Brian Preston)

As the temperature drops, millions of birds are heading south. Biologists are worried the birds will find their usual hang-outs have gone through some serious changes since the BP oil spill, but some people are working to create new habitat to help the birds.


The Mississippi Flyway is the most happening route of migration for Midwest birds. It stretches from north of Michigan all the way down to the Gulf of Mexico. Species such as blue green teal, herons and egrets, wood ducks, and scaup are already on the move.

Mark Robinson says it’s a long journey south.

“By the time they’ve migrated down to the Gulf they’re absolutely exhausted.”

Robinson is a birdwatcher & zoologist. He says the food birds eat in the Gulf is essential to their survival.

“If they travel on further then they’re gonna need it to cross down into South America. Or to replenish their energy if they just stay in the Gulf to travel back up north in the spring again.”

Robinson and other scientists are worried about the birds’ habitat in the Gulf. He says most of the visible oil has been cleaned up. But there is still a lot of submerged oil in wetlands and soils that can’t be seen. And the fish, plants, and insects that birds eat could be affected for years to come.

That’s why along the main cruising strip, biologists from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, and Ducks Unlimited are creating new pit stops, so migrating birds can rest up and fuel up.

Bob Dew is with Louisiana’s Ducks Unlimited. He’s about 15 miles from the open waters of the Gulf.

“Just off in the distance there’s a ridge with a lot of old live oak trees. In between where we’re standing is an old rice field.”

They’ve flooded what used to be a rice field and turned it into a wetland.

“You see flocks of blue winged teal of 50 to 100 to 150 birds flying around the fields and know that they’ve made a journey of over 1000 miles to get here. That’s very rewarding and very encouraging as well. Because we know that we have a very large fall flight this year and we’re expecting a lot of birds to be here.”

Dew says birds are flocking to these rice fields turned wetlands because they can find great things to eat. Like leftover rice grain and plenty of bugs.

Hundreds of farmers are getting paid to allow their fields to be flooded in the off season. These projects are funded in part, by BP.

The money is coming from the profits BP is getting from selling the spilled oil.

Organizers hoped to flood around 20 thousand acres this fall. But the response from farmers has been huge. More than 75 thousand acres have been turned into bird friendly wetlands.

But we won’t know until next spring if the project’s successful. Scientists will have a better idea after they count the birds returning home.

But if fewer birds and ducks return from the Gulf next year, it could impact Michigan’s conservation efforts. That’s because the bulk of conservation dollars comes from hunting related fees.

Brian Preston is a duck hunter in Michigan. He says his family spends their extra money on hunting. He says a lot of other duck hunters do the same.

“Buying gas, getting restaurants, buying hotels so they can sit in a marsh in the UP for two days. Then they’ll come home, go to work, and do the same thing again the next weekend.”

He says if the duck populations decrease or if the birds return unhealthy, his family might have to find new hobbies until things improve. Project organizers along the Mississippi flyway hope they’ll continue to see large numbers of birds stopping by.

Nikki Motson, The Environment Report.

This Little Piggy Went Wild

  • The Wild Boar (Sus scrofa) is the wild ancestor of the domestic pig. (Photo by Richard Bartz)

State wildlife officials say there’s a new invasive species in Michigan – Wild hogs. They are hunted on game ranches all over the state, but they can sometimes escape and officials say they can permanently alter any landscape they make their home. Peter Payette visited a man who raises pigs for his hunting ranch.

More on wild hogs, or feral swine, from MDNRE

USDA on wild hogs

How to spot pig tracks in the wild


Wild is not the first word that comes to mind when you see Harvey Haney’s pigs.

Haney: Which one would you like me to pet?
Hunting ranches refer to these animals as Russian boars. They’re brown and hairy and the males have small tusks.

“We even find women don’t really care to shoot a pretty looking deer but they will shoot a hog because they’re so ugly lookin’”

We’re actually not at a hunting ranch right now. Haney raises boars at his home north of Bay City for his hunting ranch an hour north. This winter he’ll release them into 200 acres of woods surrounded by a ten-foot fence. He says once on the loose in the woods the pigs will become more wild and aggressive.

You can shoot one for $550. That’s about the cheapest hunt available from Heritage Trophy Hunts. Deer and elk cost $1,000. Haney expects to turn away pig hunters this winter.

“It seems like there’s a lot of hunters out there with 500 dollars to have a good time with all their friends. It’s generally a group activity. You can have groups as big as ten guys at one time doing a pig hunt.”

Russian boars are not native to North America. They were brought from Europe and are common in the southern United States, but state wildlife officials say there are now a few thousand on the loose in Michigan, mainly because they’ve been escaping from hunting ranches. A report from the Department of Natural Resources and Environment says nearly 50 were shot last year.

“Pigs are essentially four-footed Asian carp.”

Russ Mason heads the wildlife division at the Department of Natural Resources and Environment. His staff recommends declaring wild pigs an invasive species. They tear up forests and farmland and destroy habitat for other animals. Once established, pigs are all but impossible to get rid of because they’re smart and multiply quickly.

Mason says it’s possible to keep pigs fenced in, but you need something more than the standard 10-foot high game fence most ranches use.

“Maybe double fencing. Ten foot high fence goes two feet into the ground, bevels in six feet to prevent digging, maybe anchored in concrete and a hotwire on top that will make bacon if you try to cross it. Plus clearing vegetation for twenty yards on either side so nothing can knock it down. That’s an expensive fence.

At least 40 hunting ranches in Michigan sell boar hunts, and they have some support in Lansing. Michigan Farm Bureau came out in favor of allowing the existing ranches to operate as long there are some rules. At the moment there are no regulations for wild pigs.
Earlier this month singer and gun rights advocate Ted Nugent was more outspoken about hogs. Nugent owns a ranch near Jackson. He told the Natural Resources Commission hunting is an important part of the state’s heritage and economy. He says boars seldom escape and when it happens they’re quickly rounded up.

“The hog hunting and high fence operations in this state are a win win win. And I challenge those who claim there are 5,000 to 7,000 pigs out there to show me one. I’ve got the boots let’s go find it. They’re not there.”

The director of the DNRE could declare wild pigs an invasive species at anytime. Then it would be illegal to have one anywhere even on a private ranch. Michigan lawmakers wouldn’t have to approve that decision, but for now the department will meet with the industry to discuss other solutions.

State officials say there are compromises, like requiring hunted pigs to be sterilized, but if wild pigs are regulated the next question is who pays for inspections and enforcement.

There is a precedent in this region – the state of Wisconsin has declared feral pigs an exotic species. There, it’s open season on the pigs year round.

Peter Payette, The Environment Report.

VIDEO: Pig Problem in Texas

Fixing a Broken Ecosystem

  • Steve Dahl is a commercial fisher on the North Shore of Lake Superior. When he's fishing for herring, Dahl pulls his gill net up and passes it across his boat, plucking herring from the mesh. (Photo by Stephanie Hemphill)

For decades, exotic species have been invading the Great Lakes and mixing up the ecosystem. A few years ago the constant changes led to the collapse of the food web in Lake Huron. That event has gotten people interested in restoring native fish with the hope that they’ll be more stable, but as Peter Payette reports, not everyone wants the food web in the Great Lakes to look exactly like it did a century ago.
The Herring Replacements: the Beloved Alewife
Say it together now… “Coregonus artedi”
More from the Wisconsin Sea Grant


Once upon a time, every Great lake was stuffed with lake herring. Trout would feast on them and so would people all over the Midwest, sometimes smoking or pickling the white flaky meat. Herring can grow more than two feet long. Every year commercial fishing nets would haul tens of millions of pounds of herring out of the lakes.

Fisheries biologist Mark Ebener says herring, or cisco, would lay so many eggs in the fall it was a food source for other fish. Ebener says it still is in Superior.

“You go into parts of Lake Superior in December and the whitefish are just gorged on cisco eggs.”

But herring largely disappeared from the lakes in the middle of the last century for a variety of reasons including overfishing. Biologists like Mark Ebener thinks restoring the fish should be a top priority. He’s with Chippewa Ottawa Resource Authority.  It’s a tribal fishing agency based in Sault Ste. Marie. Some Michigan tribes have commercial fishing rights on the Great Lakes that date back to treaties signed in the 19th century. They’d like the states to be more aggressive about restoring native species. Ebener says if we want a stable ecosystem in the lakes, herring are crucial. 

“It was the prey species. So if you want to restore the connectivity of the lakes and the historic predator-prey dynamics, why would you ignore herring”

 While nobody would admit to ignoring the fish, figuring out exactly what happened to lake herring has not been a priority, but that’s changing.

Grand Traverse Bay is the only place herring are still known to breed in Lake Michigan. State fisheries biologists have been coming to this breeding ground near Elk Rapids for three years. The Department of Natural Resources and Environment wants to know why this remnant population doesn’t expand. Randy Claramont is the team leader. He says the primary suspect is an invasive fish that eats new born herring. They just picked one up in the net.

“There’s our predator. There’s a rainbow smelt. Right in where the cisco are, we also got an adult rainbow smelt.”

It’s not likely that a large scale effort to restore herring as the main prey fish in Lake Michigan would have universal support. That’s because the state is also responsible for managing the lake’s popular salmon fishery. Salmon are not native to the Great Lakes but are generally considered to be the most exciting sport fish to catch. Lots of anglers come up north to do this, so politically speaking, the salmon has clout.

 Jim Dexter, the Lake Michigan basin coordinator for the Michigan DNRE, doesn’t think salmon like to eat herring.

 “One thing that’s important to remember is that if you have a huge herring population,  I don’t think you’ll be able to maintain the type of salmon sport fishery that we currently have.”

But it’s a different story in Lake Huron where the salmon disappeared in 2004. That was after the food web, dominated by exotic species, crashed. The upheaval has sparked interest in rebuilding a more stable ecosystem, and that’s why the Michigan Steelhead and Salmon Fishermen’s Association actively supports efforts to reestablish the herring in Huron. The state planted 40,000 herring there last year. Managers of the project think they’ll need to plant a million fish a year for a number of years to reestablish the species in the lake. That would cost millions of dollars.

For the Environment Report, I’m Peter Payette.

Replumbing Chicago to Keep Carp Out

  • These fish get big. They eat a lot, and if they get into the Great Lakes, people worry they'll swallow up the food web. (Photo by the USFWS)

You might recall that Michigan got a kind of asian carp scare a few weeks back. Biologists found one asian carp near Chicago, past an electric barrier that was supposed to keep them away from Lake Michigan. They worry if carp make it to the Great Lakes and rivers in Michigan, they could crowd out native fish. Congress worries the barrier might not be enough and it wants a more permanent solution. Shawn Allee reports that won’t happen anytime soon.

“Eco-Sep” – The Corps of Engineers’ Study

Brush up on your Asian Carp Knowledge

More on the Electric Barriers


Joel Brammeier’s with the Alliance for the Great Lakes, an advocacy group. When I meet him, I expect him to be completely freakin’ out, since just a few weeks ago biologists found one live Asian carp on the Great Lakes side of the electric carp barrier. That’s the, um, wrong side of the barrier, since we want Asian carp to stay on the other side, the side closer to the Mississippi. Anyway, Brammeier’s is either a good actor, or maybe he actually feels OK, since now other people, the right people, are freakin’ out, too. Those would be people in Congress.

“We’ve seen over the past few months, more energy devoted to predicting and preventing a crisis to the Great Lakes than I’ve ever seen in my life.”

Brammeier says Congress doubts that electric barriers, poisons, or other gadgets will keep the carp out of Lake Michigan for good, so there’s talk about the mack daddy of Asian carp prevention: hydrological separation. This just means cutting off canals that connect Lake Michigan to rivers that head west. That’d make it impossible for carp to swim to the Lake.

“I think what folks are realizing now is that the only way to achieve that is physical separation between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River. That’s easy to say, but it’s incredably difficult to conceptualize how that happens.”

Brammeier says the good news is that back in 2007, Congress already asked the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to figure all this out. The bad news is that the study’s moving too slow for Congress. The Army Corps was planning to finish its proposal in, say, five years. Tomorrow, a U.S. Senate committee will debate asking the Corps to speed things up. They want the study finished in less than two years.

“Twelve to eighteen months with the right people, the right funding and leadership strikes me as a generous amount of time to get the answers we need.  It’s simply a matter of prioritization.”

“To do that in 18 months in my and my team’s opinion is not a reasonable assumption.”

This is Dave Wethington. He’s in charge of the study for the Army Corps of Engineers. Wethington says the real issue isn’t whether the Corps can propose some way of separating Lake Michigan from rivers that head west. He says it can do that. It’s that that there’s a lot to consider.

“What kind of impacts could there be to commercial shipping, passenger boats, recreational boats. What kind of flood risk could there be, to the Chicago area specifically.”

None of this is enough for some Michigan congressmen. Representative Dave Camp is from the 4th district.

“The problem is that it’s taking far too long. This will speed that up. What we’re trying to bring is this sense of urgency to the problem that, frankly, the bureacrats don’t get.”

Camp admits even if he gets his study eighteen months from now, he’d still have a problem. Re-jiggering the water canals around Chicago won’t be cheap, and there’d probably be a fight over that, too. Still, he says he’d rather have that fight sooner rather than later. After all, we might still have time to stop the carp’s invasion, but we’re pressing our luck if we wait too long.

For The Environment Report, I’m Shawn Allee.

By the way, we still don’t know where that carp that was caught beyond the electric barrier came from.  Scientists are using DNA tests to figure out whether it just swam through the barrier or whether someone released it into the wild. Biologists say that happens from time to time.

That’s the Environment Report. I’m Rebecca Williams.

Invasive Bugs Still on the March

  • Adult emerald ash borer (Photo by David Cappaert, Michigan State University, courtesy of the Michigan Department of Agriculture)

The emerald ash borer is still chewing its way through the state’s ash trees.

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

The emerald ash borer is a very expensive pest. It’s an invasive beetle from Asia that was first discovered eight years ago, near Detroit. It has killed more than 50 million ash trees just in Michigan alone. The beetle has also infested 13 other states and two Canadian provinces, and it has cost the state of Michigan millions of dollars.

That’s your tax money, and you might have also had to pay to have dead trees removed from your own yard.

More information on the invasive bugs

How to identify the bugs and larvae

A related TER story


Deb McCullough is here with me and she’s a professor of forest entomology at Michigan State University.

What’s the prognosis for Michigan’s ash trees?

“We’ve lost a lot and we’re going to lose even more. For example, Lansing and East Lansing – we’re right in the thick of it now, lots of dying trees, trees that died either last year, this year or will be dying in the next couple of weeks. In the meantime, Grand Rapids had some infestations get started and they’re seeing a lot more dead and dying trees and it’s kind of rolling from the west to the east out of Grand Rapids. All these pockets that got started by firewood that was transported or infested ash nursery trees back before anybody knew about emerald ash borer. There are pockets of emerald ash borer in places like Traverse City and over by Alpena and Alcona County. We know that there are a number of localized and very spotty kinds of infestations in the Upper Peninsula as well.”

How much success do you believe that scientists like yourself, city managers, other people who are working on this… how much success have you had in slowing the beetle’s spread?

“I don’t know that we’re working really hard on that. I think the funding is pretty limited in terms of slowing the spread of the main infestations. The one area where we are trying some different approaches to slow the rate of the beetle in terms of its population growth and possibly to slow the spread is a pilot project that is underway in the Upper Peninsula to try to use a combination of insecticides and girdled ash trees and some targeted ash removals and harvests and so forth to slow the rate that the population spreads and slow down the progression of ash mortality out of these spots.”

So we’re in camping season now and moving infested firewood is one of the biggest ways we’ve been spreading the beetle. What do we need to know about moving firewood this summer?

“I do a lot of camping and we go fishing and we go hunting and in years past I always took firewood with me and I don’t do it anymore. It’s one of those things where we’re all just going to have to change our behavior because there are many of these outlier spots of emerald ash borer that we know got started from infested ash firewood that people took to an area. They left it. They didn’t burn it. The beetles came out and it only takes a couple of beetles to get a whole new infestation started. ”

“It’s illegal, you’re not allowed to take firewood across the Mackinac Bridge from Lower Michigan into Upper Michigan. You can’t take firewood across the southern border of Michigan. So we’re really asking people to get their firewood locally. A lot of times you can collect it locally or you can buy it from a supplier and just not start any more problems like these.”

Deb McCullough is a forest entomologist at Michigan State University. Thank you so much for talking with us.

“Okay, thank you.”

And that’s The Environment Report. I’m Rebecca Williams.

Asian Carp Found in Lake Calumet

  • The Bighead Asian Carp found in Lake Calumet. The first physical specimen found beyond the USACOE's electric barrier. (Photo courtesy of the Asian Carp Regional Coordinating Committee)

A Bighead Asian Carp has been found in Lake Calumet in Illinois. This is the first carp to be found beyond the U.S. Army Corps of Engineer’s electric barrier system. Shawn Allee has been covering this story for us and Rebecca Williams caught up with him:




The elusive Asian carp, not so elusive now.

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

Two species of Asian carp have been moving east, closer and closer to the Great Lakes. There’s a system of electric barriers in a canal near Chicago that are supposed to be the last line of defense. But scientists have wondered whether these carp already swam past that barrier and are breeding in or very close to Lake Michigan. They got that hunch because last year they detected Asian carp DNA in rivers and streams connected to the lake. Now, their fears are confirmed. They found an Asian carp past Chicago’s electric barrier. Shawn Allee reports for us in Chicago and Shawn is here to bring us up to speed.

So where did they find this carp?

Shawn: They found a single 20-pound male Asian carp in Lake Calumet, that’s just west of Lake Michigan.

Why is this location important?

Shawn: Well, I talked to a scientist about that. His name is John Rogner and he’s with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. He tells me that Lake Calumet is open and it connects to a small river that is also connected to Lake Michigan. And there’s more on this too:

“When you look at Lake Calumet it does appear to us to be ideal habitat. These fish prefer quiet waters in large river systems. You’ll find them in the backwaters and side channels and so Lake Calumet really fits that model to a tee.”

Shawn: But, here’s the thing Rebecca. Commercial fishermen found this Asian carp in Lake Calumet and federal scientists and contractors had already looked there for Asian carp so now they have to go back again.

So why does it matter if the carp is there?

Shawn: Well, these two species of Asian carp are voracious if they’re in the right kind of environment. Basically, they can overtake a food system. They breed so much and they eat so much that there is not enough food for other species of fish to eat. That sort of thing has already happened in the Illinois River system. That’s a river that goes between the Mississippi River in the west all the way to Lake Michigan in the east. And John Rogner tells me that they’re still trying to figure out if this Asian carp is the only one in Lake Calumet or if it’s got a lot of company in there. So they’re going to be using nets and poisons to find that out.

“What we’re trying to determine now is does this fish might represent an individual fish in the lake or might it be part of a larger population and that’s what our intensified sampling over the coming days and maybe even weeks is intended to tell us.”

Shawn: Rogner tells me that they’re going to be testing this particular fish’s DNA down in Springfield, Illinois to see if the fish grew up in the wild or if someone may have moved that fish from somewhere else and maybe just dropped it into Lake Calumet.

Okay, so what are they going to be doing next?

Shawn: They’re going to be going back over places that they have already looked because it’s obvious that they’ve missed at least one fish and they think that maybe they’ve missed some more. The other thing they’re going to be doing is studying whether this kind of carp could breathe in the lake, as Rogner mentioned before. But, one thing they will not be doing is this. They’re not going to be closing the locks that connect Lake Calumet and the rivers in that area to Lake Michigan.

Why not?

Shawn: Well we got one answer from the Army Corps of Engineers. That’s the federal agency that runs the locks. Here’s Mike White:

“At this time we see no reason relative to the threat that’s been identified to take any step for permanent lock closure.”

Shawn: White says the real reason that they’re not really all that worried at this point is that there is just one live fish that they’ve found and it would be expensive to stop barge and boat traffic just for that.

But nobody knows for sure whether there are any Asian carp past the barrier.

Shawn: Not at this point.

Alright, thank you Shawn.

You’re welcome, Rebecca.

That’s The Environment Report. I’m Rebecca Williams.

Decades Spent Battling the Sea Lamprey

  • John Stegmeier electro-shocking for lamprey in Sand Creek. Stegmeier is one of the many people who go out every year to find where lamprey are spawning. (Photo by Dustin Dwyer)

What has rows and rows of sharp teeth…. sucks blood and rings up a 20 million dollar tab?

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

If you were thinking shark… or maybe blockbuster vampire movie… nope! It’s actually the sea lamprey.




It’s an invasive parasite found in every one of the Great Lakes.  It invaded the Lakes in the early 20th century, and no one’s been able to get rid of it.  It’s a fish with a round mouth like a suction cup.  It latches onto big fish like lake trout and salmon…. and gets fat drinking their blood.

Fishery managers in the U-S and Canada work to keep this parasite in check.  It costs them 20 million dollars a year.  Those are your tax dollars, by the way.

Marc Gaden is with the Great Lakes Fishery Commission.  It’s the commission’s job to protect the multi-billion dollar fishery.

Gaden says the lamprey control program has beaten back the lamprey’s population by 90 percent.  And he says for now, humans are winning.

“The threat from lampreys at the moment is like a coiled spring.  As long as you have your thumb on it you’re going to be okay.  But the moment you let up on that control they’re going to spring back pretty quickly out of control.”

Gaden says they’re using a combination of weapons against the parasite.  They include a targeted poison to kill lamprey larvae, traps and barriers and sterilizing male lampreys. 

He says we are probably stuck with the lamprey forever.  That means we’ll be continuing to spend millions of dollars… every single year.

(music sting)

This is the Environment Report. 

So we’ve been wrestling with the sea lamprey for decades… maybe you’re wondering who’s actually out there in the trenches?  Dustin Dwyer caught up with one of the lamprey hunters:

John Stegmeier stands in a shady stretch of Sand Creek near Grand Rapids, looking like a Ghostbuster. He’s wearing waterproof waders, and has a metal box strapped to his back, with wires and knobs sticking out.

I meet him in the middle of the stream, where he’s prowling for sea lamprey larvae. But he tells me to stay up on a log out of the water, because he’s packing a charge.

“That’s giving little pulses of electricity into the water. And then if one comes up, then we give them a fast pulse, and that would keep them from being able to swim and we’re able to scoop them up with our paddles here.”

 They go into a bucket alive, then they’re counted for a survey. These surveys help determine where the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service decides to dump a poison targeted specifically for sea lamprey.

Stegmeijer is one of just a dozen people on a survey team that’s responsible for testing every stream and river in the entire Lower Peninsula, plus the southern shores of Lake Erie.
On days like this one in the gentle stream of Sand Creek, he says, it’s a fun job.

“But there are days on little trout streams in beautiful woods and there are days in agricultural ditches next to dairy farms that might smell a little, and there’s some industrial ditches.”

In short, he has to go wherever the sea lamprey larvae go, and sometimes they go to some inconvenient places.

It’s all part of the battle to keep the sea lamprey in check, and Steigmeyer says it’s not exactly a losing battle.

“We’re kind of winning it, but it’s only a kind of win because we can’t get rid of them.”

What they can do is control them – keep the population low.
Stegmeier says if they weren’t doing this, sea lampreys could devastate the multibillion dollar fishing industry in the Great Lakes, but even with the treatments, every year, sea lampreys make it farther up Michigan’s rivers to spawn. And every year, there’s more area for his small team to cover, and more places that need chemical treatment – treatment that can get extremely expensive.
Still the battle must be fought.

For the Environment Report, I’m Dustin Dwyer in Grand Rapids.

You can take a look at a sea lamprey’s ugly little face… and see photos of what the lamprey does to fish at environment report dot org. 

I’m Rebecca Williams.