Michigan Energy & Environment

IPR brings you the stories and sounds of nature Up North. Hear about our changing natural world, and the challenges northern Michigan faces with a growing economy and a fragile ecosystem.

Firefighters take on wildfire in Marquette County

Jul 31, 2015
Department of Natural Resources

A wildfire has spread to roughly 70 acres at a logging operation in Marquette County. Department of Natural Resources and township firefighters had the fire 60 percent contained by Thursday night. 

Containment efforts will continue today. The cause has not been determined.

The danger of wildfires is high to extremely high in Michigan right now. 

There’s a bloom of cyanobacteria in Lake Erie right now. Scientists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration are predicting it could become the second worst on record.

Lake Superior is the largest freshwater lake in the world by surface area, and it has something the other Great Lakes don’t — stable populations of mostly native fish species.

But scientists say a key fish in Superior’s food web is now in trouble because of mild winters and an appetite for caviar in Europe.

Five years ago today, an oil pipeline near Marshall, Michigan split open, starting the biggest inland oil spill in U.S. history.

The heavy tar sands oil came from Enbridge Energy's pipeline 6B. The oil flowed into Talmadge Creek and then into the Kalamazoo River.

The biggest inland oil spill in U.S. history happened right here in Michigan. Now that five years have passed, we checked in with people who were affected by the spill.

Enbridge Energy’s Line 6B broke open on July 25, 2010. The massive oil spill changed life for a lot of people in the small town of Marshall and along the Kalamazoo River.

Five years ago, on July 25, 2010, an Enbridge Energy pipeline burst, causing the biggest inland oil spill in U.S. history.

One of the rumors you can still hear about the incident is that the company must have dumped a surfactant into the Kalamazoo River to help break up the oil. The chemical is called corexit, and it can be harmful to humans.

Regulators and Enbridge deny corexit was ever used for the Kalamazoo spill. But that hasn’t put the rumor to rest.

David Cassleman

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette says the days of an energy pipeline running beneath the Straits of Mackinac are numbered. But, a task force led by Schuette does not recommend that day should come anytime soon.

You might’ve heard about cougars being spotted in Michigan. There are also cougars out west and there’s the Florida panther. But what we’re talking about here is something called the eastern cougar.

Especially in the early years of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, soldiers burned their waste in big, open-air pits. They burned everything from tires, batteries, and plastic to human and medical waste.

Curtis Gibson is an Air Force veteran. He served in Afghanistan in late 2011.

“I’d see things floating in the air — burned papers you see them floating through the air so you know you’re taking something in,” Gibson says.

Scientists study chemicals for their potential to cause cancer, but usually they examine them one at a time.

And yet, we’re exposed to mixtures of different chemicals every day.

If you ever get a chance to meet a sea lamprey, you won’t forget it.

They look like an eel but they’re actually a fish. They have a suction cup for a face, with hundreds of razor sharp teeth.

Michigan Department of Natural Resources

A tiny worm is causing big problems for spruce trees in northern Michigan.

The state Department of Natural Resources says an infestation of spruce budworms is attacking balsam fir trees, as well as white and black spruce. The inch-long worms consume the trees’ needles from the top down.

DNR forester Ron Murray says it’s been decades since Michigan has seen such a large outbreak.

“The spruce budworm is a cyclical pest that comes around about every 30 to 50 years," says Murray. "We’re looking at this as potentially being the beginning of the next one.”

A pot of money used to clean up abandoned pollution sites in Michigan is just about gone. So in Antrim County, where a plume of contamination threatens drinking water, commissioners recently decided to spend $250,000 on the problem to partially match $750,000 the state offered in return.

It's a deal that could signal a new approach to environmental clean up for the state.

When you think about rattlesnakes, you might picture Arizona. Or Texas. Somewhere out in the desert. But one snake’s rattle doesn’t come from the deserts of the Southwest. It’s from the pine forests of Michigan.

In fact, Michigan is a stronghold for the eastern massasauga rattlesnake.

The decision on a nuclear waste storage site near Lake Huron has been kicked down the road a bit.

The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that between 25,000-30,000 new oil and gas wells were drilled and hydraulically fractured annually in the U.S. between 2011 and 2014.

A feature article in the journal Health Affairs says the body of research on the potential health effects of all this fracking is "slim and inconclusive."

Peter Payette

The Michigan Court of Appeals has upheld the state’s ban on Russian boar and other breeds of exotic swine.

Michigan banned several strains of boar as invasive species because they breed prolifically, endanger other wildlife, and ruin woods and farmland.

An Upper Peninsula hunting ranch sued, saying the state got it wrong – that the law is impossible to enforce because there’s little to no difference between strains of swine, especially when they escape into the wild.

Honey bees are under attack from a lot of threats.

Researchers say varroa mites are the biggest threat. They suck blood from bees, and can kill entire colonies.

Zachary Huang is an associate professor at Michigan State University. He says these mites use a special skill to attack bee hives. They can change how they smell, so the bees don’t know they’re there. They can actually mimic the smell of a honey bee.

Michigan Radio

Fisheries managers in Michigan are enlisting fishermen in the fight against Asian carp infestation. The state Department of Natural Resources is asking anglers to inspect their live bait for juvenile Asian carp.

The small fish look very similar to minnows and other common types of bait but their eyes are set lower on their bodies. DNR Resources Manager Nick Popoff says their eyes are “sub-terminal.”

Peter Payette

The State of Michigan is weighing whether to open the door to commercial fish farming in the Great Lakes.

Millions of rainbow trout are raised for food by Canadians every year in Lake Huron and promoters of the business say Michigan should follow suit and could even become a world leader in aquaculture.

State officials are trying to figure out what the risks are and the idea is likely to face opposition from sport fishing groups and other conservationists.

A serious health threat to state’s wild deer population has been detected in mid-Michigan. 

A six-year-old doe found in Haslett last month has tested positive for chronic wasting disease. 

The neurological disease is always fatal.  The disease is transmitted through saliva and other bodily fluids.   The disease is fatal to deer, elk and moose. 

Researchers with the U.S. Geological Survey want to find out where Asian carp eggs will have the most success.

They’re using a model nicknamed FluEgg to predict which rivers in the Great Lakes region are the most suitable for Asian carp to reproduce. The fish are not established here yet, but scientists want to be ready in case they do get in and get comfortable.

Tom Carr

The largest coal-fired passenger ship still operating in the United States is the S.S. Badger in Lake Michigan. It’s a beloved 1950s car ferry that sails between Ludington and Manitowoc, Wisconsin.

For years it was the subject of an environmental controversy because it was polluting the lake.

This year, that’s changed.


Time to break out the long pants: tick season is back!

The past couple of years we've had a tick boom along the west side of the state and it's happening again this year.

Rich Keith spends a lot of time with ticks. He’s the director of the Kalamazoo Valley Bird Observatory. He and his wife Brenda have been doing tick surveys every year since 1997 for university researchers in Michigan and elsewhere.

Monarch butterflies need milkweed to survive, but some plants you buy for your garden could be toxic to them.

There’s been a big drop in the monarch butterfly population. By some estimates, they’ve declined by more than 90 percent over the past 20 years.

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