Environment & Environmental Organizations

Walking on the Beach with Loreen Niewenhuis

“I’d rather do 20 miles on soft sand than 10 miles on the side of the road. There is something about being where water meets land. I feel very clicked-in there. I feel like I can go forever.”

~Loreen Niewenhuis

USA Today has a feature on Loreen Niewenhuis, a Battle Creek resident who has hiked a good deal of the shorelines of all the Great Lakes. As to why, she explains:

“Our older son had gone off to college. The nest was emptying. I’d gotten my” master’s of fine arts degree … “but I felt I could stack up novels and not have an agent and be in my office writing novels forever,” says Niewenhuis, 49. “So I thought, let me do something completely different and get out of my office.”

So she put on her hiking boots. She got out the office.

Boy, did she ever.

Click through to read more about her journey and what she learned along the way. You can keep up with Lorraine’s latest including a planned walk on 1000 of Michigan islands on her Facebook page and at laketrek.com.

This photo is “Footprints”, Twelvemile Beach, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore by Michigan Nut. Twelve Mile is certainly one of the state’s best beaches. See John’s photo out on black and see more in his My Favorites slideshow.

Lakes MichiganHuronSuperior & Erie? Michigan in Pictures has them and all kinds of beach photos!

The impact of record low Great Lakes levels

This post originally appeared on Michigan in Pictures.

Low water levels, West Arm Grand Traverse BayOn Michigan in Pictures I usually blog beautiful things, but today I’m featuring an ugly thing that we in Michigan should all be concerned about. Traverse City based Circle of Blue has an in-depth feature on the record-low level of Lake Michigan-Huron:

The latest numbers released by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on February 5 show that both lakes Michigan and Huron — which are two connected lakes — are experiencing their lowest point since records began in 1918. Water levels were an average of 175.57 meters (576.02 feet) for the month of January, approximately 2.5 centimeters (1 inch) lower than the previous record set in 1964.

“Not only have water levels on Michigan-Huron broken records the past two months, but they have been very near record lows for the last several months before then,” said John Allis, chief of the Great Lakes Hydraulics and Hydrology Office at the Corps, in a press release. “Lake Michigan-Huron’s water levels have also been below average for the past 14 years, which is the longest period of sustained below-average levels since 1918 for that lake.”

The low water levels, which the Corps attributes to: below-average snowfall during the winter of 2011-2012, last summer’s drought, and above-average evaporation during the summer and fall of 2012, have the potential to hurt the Great Lakes’ shipping industry.

…For the water levels on Lake Michigan-Huron to reach even near-average water levels again, the Corps said it will take many seasons with above average precipitation and below-average evaporation.

Read on at Circle of Blue for much more including the struggles that wildlife are having with the changing climate. You can also view the release from the Army Corps of Engineers and see historic Great Lakes levels back to 1918. From the Army Corps, I learned that at 1 1/2 ft below normal, ships are losing 8-10% of their carrying capacity.

Beyond harm to the multi-billion dollar shipping industry which feeds countless industrial endeavors, the low lake levels are making many of our recreational harbors inaccessible. These feed our multi-billion dollar sport fishing industry and  this has prompted Gov. Snyder to endorse a $21 million emergency dredging plan, $11 million of which would come from Michigan’s general fund. With over a half a million jobs in Michigan alone tied to the health of the Great Lakes, getting a handle on the threats that impact them are likely to be at the center of our policy and spending for a long time.

In a curious bit of synchronicity, you can see just how vital the Great Lakes are to Michigan in Michigan Sea Grant’s reports on Economic Vitality and the Great Lakes. View this photo bigger and see more in their Grand Traverse Bay Low Water slideshow.

Lots more Lake Huron and Lake Michigan on Michigan in Pictures.

Releasing a River: Boardman River Dam Removal Begins

Brown Bridge Dam by Happyhiker4
Brown Bridge Dam by Happyhiker4

The Boardman River watershed encompasses 291 square miles and flows 179 miles from its origin in Kalkaska County to West Grand Traverse Bay in Traverse City.

Last Wednesday, the process of removing three no longer used hydro-electric dams from the Boardman began at Brown Bridge Dam. The removal of the three Boardman River dams (Brown Bridge, Sabin & Boarman) will be the largest dam removal project in Michigan’s history, and the largest wetlands restoration in the Great Lakes Basin. It will allow the Boardman to return to a more natural state as a free-flowing, cold-water river. The Boardman River website explains that:

The Boardman River played a vital role in the economic growth of the region as it was cleared of debris in order to drive logs downriver to the mills. This process fueled a growing city but was devastating to the river’s aquatic habitat, contributing to the extirpation of Michigan Grayling in the river. After the logging era, several dams were constructed to provide power for the growing needs of Traverse City. These hydroelectric dams originally supplied a large percentage of the city’s electrical needs, but this declined over time. Before being decommissioned in 2005, these dams only provided 3.4% of the power used by Traverse City Light & Power customers each year.

You can read all about the dam removal and also read the a Boardman River Prosperity Plan that will seek to turn a solid environmental decision into a sound economic one was well.

Also listen to a feature on IPR News Radio. We’ll take you out with a cool video about the dam removals produced for The Grand Vision Natural Resource Network by Miles Chisholm of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians. The video includes some great old photos of activity on the river.

Michigan is the 2nd fastest warming state

Old Barn by big_cat7575
Old Barn by big_cat7575

The Great Lakes Echo reports that the first five months of 2012 were the warmest on record for many Great Lakes cities:

Folks around the Great Lakes are around or within one of the most unusual temperature episodes that we’ve seen in the U.S. since we’ve been keeping track of things,” Arndt said.

The unusually high temperatures in March caused fruits and vegetables in the region to start growing earlier. Unfortunately, the frost that followed the early spring start caused serious economic problems for farmers. Michigan lost 80 percent of its sweet cherry crop and 90 percent of its tart cherries because of the weird weather.

Over the past 43 years, Michigan is the second fastest warming state in the country, according to a map from Climate Central, a nonprofit news and research organization that analyzes and reports on climate science. It used data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to make the comparison.

…The data center also measured the unusualness of the temperature hikes for 2012, making it easier for people to understand how drastic the changes are. The unusualness is based on how much each city’s 2012 temperature deviates from its long-term average.

Muskegon, Mich. has the highest unusualness rating of the Great Lakes record breakers at 3.6 and has an average temperature of 44.7 degrees for 2012.

Read on for much more including some graphs and also see our coverage of the extreme March 2012 Heatwave.

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    Tour the Lake Winds Energy Park at the 2012 Michigan Energy Fair

Tour the Lake Winds Energy Park at the 2012 Michigan Energy Fair

Every year the  Great Lakes Renewable Energy Association (GLREA) holds their annual Michigan Energy Fair (MEF). The Energy Fair takes place June 22-24, 2012 and it’s at a new location, the Mason County Fairgrounds in Ludington.

The location will allow the MEF to feature tours of Consumers Energy’s Lake Winds Energy Park that is currently under construction. This 100-megawatt installation will hold over 50 wind turbines, and the tour will give you a unique opportunity to see wind turbines as they are being constructed.

This is exactly the kind of opportunity to get up close and personal with the technology and people who are creating Michigan’s new energy economy that MEF offers. With a focus on Michigan’s energy future options and how Michigan’s businesses and families can save energy and money, the Energy Fair will feature over 50 workshops and 40 exhibitors of energy technologies and sustainable products for homes and businesses, including how to finance renewable energy projects.

For more information, please contact Samantha Keeney at Samantha.keeney@glrea.org or 517-646-6269 and get details at www.glrea.org. Also don’t miss this interview with John Sarver, Executive Director of the GLREA about the Michigan Energy Fair.

Great Lakes ice coverage down 71% in past 40 years

March 2012 Ice on the Great Lakes (NOAA)
March 2012 Ice on the Great Lakes (NOAA)

In Continued ice loss on the Great Lakes may cause widespread change in ecosystems at the Great Lakes Echo, Jennifer Kalish writes that a lack of winter ice is increasing evaporation which can harm our economy by affecting shipping and can also pose big problems for species like whitefish that rely on ice cover for spawning. A new study by Research Ice Climatologist Jia Wang has found that Great Lakes ice coverage has decreased by 71% in the past 40 years. Lake Ontario is tops with a reduction of 88% since 1973 with Superior not far behind at 79%.

National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration research ecologist Henry Vanderploeg explains that while it’s clear there are impacts, a lack of research on the topic leaves a lot of unknowns. Our very mild winter raises the level of concern:

“We’ve never seen water this warm this soon, ever,” said Vanderploeg. “We’re into a new temperature area that we’ve never seen before. We don’t know whether the fish will benefit from it or not.”

Less ice allows the water to warm earlier, speeding growth of invasive species like zebra mussels and quagga mussels. Mussels are sensitive to temperature changes. Just a few degrees change in temperature can cause them to eat phytoplankton twice as fast, Vanderploeg said.

And phytoplankton are the foundation of the food web, producing energy for many Great Lakes species.

The earlier mussels feed on phytoplankton, the quicker the rest of the food web will be robbed of their fair share, he said.

Read on for more, and also watch this great video from NOAA about how our changing climate can impact the Great Lakes.

Building reefs for sturgeon in the St. Clair River

Sturgeon, and mustaches, used to be more common in the Great Lakes region. Photo: Brian Bienkowski (of a Michigan Sea Grant archive photo)

In New St. Clair River reefs to spur sturgeon spawning on the Great Lakes Echo, Brian Bienkowski writes:

Michigan organizations and agencies are building nine rock reefs in the Middle Channel of the St. Clair River to bolster native fish spawning and restore habitat. The Middle Channel of the river connecting Lake Huron to Lake St. Clair supports one of the largest remaining populations of sturgeon in the Great Lakes.

Led by Michigan Sea Grant, the team will finish the nine reefs this week. Each will be about 40 feet wide, 120 feet long and 2 feet high. Made of angled limestone and rounded fieldstone, the reefs are an effort to return the river to a spawning hotspot – just like in the good ol’ days.

“This gives us a chance to bring back the sturgeon numbers … without stocking,” said Mike Thomas, lake sturgeon coordinator with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, which is a project partner.

About a century ago, the St. Clair River and the Detroit River – which is between Lake St. Clair and Lake Erie – were straightened, widened and deepened for shipping. This harmed the places where fish spawn, as limestone and other rocks were displaced and damaged.

Read on for much more about this project, check out the history of Lake Sturgeon in Michigan on Absolute Michigan and watch a brief video with the DNR’s Mike Thomas below.

Earth Day 2012 in Michigan

Untitled by Brooke Pennington
Untitled by Brooke Pennington

Sunday (April 22) is the 42nd Earth Day. Here’s some highlights from this morning’s Earth Day post on Michigan in Pictures - don’t miss the CBS News segment on Albion featuring Walter Kronkite from Earth Day 1970 below!

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    Making A Splash — 2nd Annual Benzie County Water Festival Promises Family Fun

Making A Splash — 2nd Annual Benzie County Water Festival Promises Family Fun

by Aubrey Ann Parker

Springtime at the Betsie River by forestlady
Springtime at the Betsie River by forestlady

Did you know that the average American uses 150 gallons of water per day, with 60 percent being used outside to water our lawns and wash our cars? The entire United States withdraws about 350 billion gallons of fresh water every day — which is about how much water runs over Niagara Falls for 23 days straight — and about 80 percent of that is used for agriculture to grow our food and by industry to cool the electricity-generating power plants that keep our lights on. So, whether you are watering your lawn or buying groceries or leaving your lights on, most of the decisions you make every day ultimately relate back to water.

Last year’s Benzie County Water Festival — a family-oriented celebration and education event — attracted more than 300 attendees, and this year’s festival seeks to follow last year’s example. On Saturday, April 14, 2012 the Water Festival will again feature world-class Michigan musicians, panel discussions, speeches from water luminaries, interactive multimedia projects and presentations, artisan foods and beverages, visual art, children’s activities, as well as connections to local campaigns and projects, all at the Frankfort-Elberta High School. (click for schedule)

The Michigan Pages: Spring Peepers

Mike aka Mr. Toad shot the video above and wrote to us: I am glad you enjoyed my video of spring peepers. It is worth noting that video was taken at the University of Michigan’s ES George Reserve. There are several other frogs that begin calling very early in Michigan, including the wood frog and the chorus frog. A few videos and more information on these frogs can be found at my blog.

Peeper on a Leaf by Jamuudsen

There are few more signature sounds in Michigan than a chorus of spring peepers calling. While the peepers fired up early and then stopped during our incredible heatwave, they are back out in force as temps have become more normal. Regarding pseudacris crucifer (Northern Spring Peeper), the Michigan DNR begins:

Spring peepers are one of the earliest callers among the dozen frog species found in Michigan. During the first warm evenings of spring in late March or early April through May, their distinctive single note, high pitched “peep” is considered a harbinger of spring. The intensity of calling increases and can become a deafening chorus during humid evenings or just after a warm spring rain when many males congregate.

Only the male frogs call. They establish territories near the edge of permanent or ephemeral wetlands. They may call from elevated perches of submerged grass or shrubs near the water. The faster and louder a male sings, the more likely he is to attract a mate. (sort of like American Idol I guess)

Spring Peeperpedia