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Posts from the ‘land use’ Category

Talking trash: overhauling Michigan’s landfill-first waste policy

From Faygo to Vernors, Michigan is great at making beverages. We’re also a leader at recycling those bottles.

Michigan launched its bottle deposit program in 1976 to protect our rivers and streams from litter, and it’s been a huge success. Ninety percent of the pop and beer cans and bottles sold in the state are recycled, but that’s where the buck stops with recycling in Michigan.

Aside from bottles and cans, our recycling rate is abysmal.

We have the lowest recycling rate in the Great Lakes region — that’s right, Ohio has us beat.

Actually, most states have us beat. Only Mississippi and Oklahoma rank lower.

Read more

Life on the edge: Shoreland Stewards program provides conservation tools for lakefront property owners

With Memorial Day fast approaching, many Michiganders are preparing to re-open cottages on the state’s more than 11,000 inland lakes. If you’re lucky enough to have a summer place on the water or live lakeside year-round, the way you landscape and manage your property can have a big impact on water quality and lake-dwelling wildlife.

Enter the Michigan Shoreland Stewards program. Launched last year by the Michigan Natural Shoreline Partnership, the program recognizes property owners who are using healthy property management practices to protect their inland lake and recommends steps they can take to further improve shoreline health.

“Our goal is to not only educate people about the issues our inland lakes are facing, but to give them some easy ways to work toward protecting their lake,” says Eli Baker, education and outreach specialist with Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council, a Petoskey-based member group of MEC and of the shoreline partnership.

When it comes to the life of an inland lake, the real action is near the shoreline. Bass, bluegills and other popular game fish species spawn in the shallows, as do frogs, toads and salamanders. Mayflies burrow into the nearshore sediment. Ducks, loons and other water birds make their nests on the banks. Minks and raccoons stalk the shoreline for a meal.

Along with providing important habitat for fish and wildlife, natural shorelines also filter out excess nutrients, keep the water cool by providing shade and stabilize banks by minimizing erosion from waves and ice.

Unfortunately, the shorelines of Michigan’s inland lakes are threatened by development. Property owners are replacing more and more of this important habitat with seawalls, turfgrass lawns and impervious surfaces like driveways and buildings.

Ten years ago the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency conducted its first-ever National Lakes Assessment. Working with the state Department of Environmental Quality, the EPA found that 40 percent of Michigan lakes had poor shoreline habitat and loss of that habitat was the biggest stressor on the health of our inland lakes. Read more

First #HowYouDune summit celebrates Michigan’s coastal treasures

More than 60 scientists, natural resource professionals, outdoor recreation enthusiasts and others gathered in Muskegon on Monday for the Freshwater Dune Summit, organized by MEC and our partners at Heart of the Lakes and West Michigan Environmental Action Council.

The first-time event was made possible with funding from the Michigan Coastal Zone Management Program, Office of the Great Lakes, Department of Environmental Quality; and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The planning committee took a creative approach to the summit by building in opportunities to meet local outdoor recreation leaders and get out and learn about the local community assets alongside local partners, such as the Run Muskegon running club, and Guy’s Ultimate Kayak Service.  Guests arriving Sunday took their pick between running or biking in the dunes or kayaking down the Muskegon River, followed by a showing of outdoor films with a side of local pizza and beer. Monday’s participants had the option to take a morning field trip to the dunes in P.J. Hoffmaster State Park and return for afternoon sessions, or to participate in morning sessions.

The centerpiece of the event was the announcement of a new survey of dune users to be launched May 29. (Once it’s live, you can find it at howyoudunesurvey.com.) Michigan State University professors Sarah Nicholls and Robert Richardson—who has been very busy with media interviews lately—introduced the survey during a lunchtime keynote address. The online tool will ask participants to identify where they recreate in Michigan’s coastal dunes, what activities they do there and how much they spend, along with questions about the noneconomic values of dunes. Read more

Michigan farms among those most at risk from wild bee decline, study shows

Seven agriculture-heavy Michigan counties are among the nation’s most likely to be impacted by the loss of native pollinators, according to the first study to map wild bees in the United States.

Both honeybees and wild pollinator populations are shrinking, a trend that’s been linked to habitat loss, parasites, pathogens, pesticide exposure, climate change and other factors. A global assessment of pollinators published last February found a growing number of them threatened with extinction.

Scientists say more than $3 billion of the country’s agriculture economy depends on the free services provided by native pollinators, including more than 4,000 species of wild bees. That’s on top of the $15 billion impact from European honeybees raised to pollinate crops and produce honey.

The study, led by the University of Vermont with contributions from Michigan State and other universities, paired expert knowledge with models of land-cover change to estimate that wild bee abundance in the contiguous U.S. decreased by 23 percent from 2008 to 2013. The results also show that 39 percent of croplands that depend on pollinators face a widening gap between the demand for pollination and the supply of wild bees, suggesting that successful future harvests in those areas may depend more and more on managed honeybees.

“The shortfall is most dramatic in areas that focus on specialty crops like apples and berries, which are especially reliant on pollinators,” the Christian Science Monitor reported. That’s particularly worrisome news for Michigan growers, who produce the country’s second-most diverse array of food, including many pollinator-dependent specialty crops. Read more

Former MEC staffer is driving force behind ambitious plan for regional transit in Southeast Michigan

Ben Stupka is tired. That’s no surprise—he and his wife, Laura, have a two-year-old son and a daughter born in August.

But there’s another reason Stupka yearns for a nap. When he isn’t changing diapers or reading bedtime stories, he has another baby to nurture.

As Planning and Financial Analysis Manager for the Regional Transit Authority (RTA) of Southeast Michigan, Stupka led the development of a master plan to finally provide coordinated, high-quality public transportation for Metro Detroit, which today is widely recognized as one of the most transit-poor major cities in the country. A ballot measure in November will ask voters in Macomb, Oakland, Washtenaw and Wayne counties to fund the plan with a 1.2 mill property tax over 20 years.

Now Stupka—along with MEC and many partners in Southeast Michigan—is working to engage and educate the public about the benefits of rapid, reliable, regional transit.

Obvious need

That part is relatively easy, Stupka says, because the shortcomings of the current system are so clear.

Metro Detroiters spend $69 a year per capita to support public transportation. In Atlanta, it’s $119. Cleveland and Minneapolis-St. Paul spend $177. Seattle: $471. “We have fundamentally underfunded transit in this region,” Stupka says. “The results of that are pretty obvious.”

Nearly three quarters of people who work in the City of Detroit live outside the city limits, yet direct bus service between downtown and the suburbs is available only for six hours on weekdays, and not at all on weekends. The lack of coordination between the region’s transit providers means some commuters have to change buses at county lines. Detroit and Ann Arbor are completely disconnected by transit. The list goes on.

Ben Stupka

Ben Stupka

“Anybody who’s been anywhere with a good transit system looks around and says, ‘It’s so strange that we don’t have this,’” Stupka says

Some residents say they won’t use the improved transit services, but Stupka sees a light bulb go on when he tells them to think about their aging parents who might not be able to drive much longer, or nurses working third shift at Beaumont Hospital without a car. Others start to pay attention when he notes that transit projects typically return $4 for every $1 invested. “And frankly, with some people it’s, ‘Wouldn’t you love to go to a Tigers game and have a couple beers and not worry about driving home?’” Read more

With spring in the air, MEC is shaping a plan to protect pollinators

Editor’s note: This post is by MEC intern Teha Ames.

A serious problem that should not be overlooked by the state of Michigan and its residents is the decline of pollinator populations.  Pollinators include bees, butterflies, beetles, hummingbirds and other animals that help flowering plants reproduce by transferring pollen from plant to plant. Pollinator population declines have been linked to habitat loss, parasites, pathogens, pesticide exposure, climate change and other factors. A global assessment of pollinators published in February found a growing number of pollinators are threatened with extinction.

The services pollinators provide are essential for feeding the world and for supporting agricultural jobs. In 2014, President Obama issued a memorandum highlighting why honey bees and other pollinators are important in the United States. “Honey bee pollination alone adds more than $15 billion in value to agricultural crops each year in the United States,” it noted. The memorandum also established a Pollinator Health Task Force between several government agencies to combat the problem. In its 2015 strategy to protect pollinators, the task force laid out three clear nationwide goals: reduce honey bee colony losses during winter to no more than 15 percent within 10 years; increase the eastern population of monarch butterflies (which includes Michigan’s monarchs) to 225 million by 2020; and restore or enhance 7 million acres of land for pollinators over the next 5 years.

Since Obama issued the memorandum, several states have joined the fight for pollinator protection. One state that has not created a pollinator protection plan yet is Michigan. Fortunately, MEC and other supporting stakeholders are helping the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development to create such a plan.Honey bee Read more

MEC and Tip of the Mitt highlight policy options worth pursuing in new UM fracking report

The University of Michigan last week released a report three years in the making that offers a comprehensive review of Michigan’s policy options regarding fracking for natural gas and oil.

While fracking has been used for decades in Michigan, new techniques use far greater quantities of water and chemicals and pose greater risks to the environment and human health. Some recent fracking operations in Michigan have used as much as 21 million gallons of fresh water and more than 100,000 gallons of chemicals.

Many of the drilling sites are in pristine parts of Michigan known for their natural beauty, and it’s crucial to put the right policies on the books to protect these fragile areas that are the backbone of our tourism economy.

The Department of Environmental Quality updated its fracking regulations in March. The new rules are far from perfect, but they include some important provisions that reflect input from MEC and our allies during a public comment period on the draft rules. For instance, drilling companies now have to disclose what chemicals they’ll use before they inject them into the ground—not 60 days later, as previous rules allowed. The companies also are required to test water quality before drilling so they can be held accountable if contamination occurs.Fracking graphic

The impressive research project by UM’s Graham Sustainability Institute enlisted experts, decision makers and key stakeholders to outline policy options. It does not recommend any specific course of action, but by presenting a menu of options, including the pros and cons of those options, it offers valuable input that can help Michigan regulators improve the state’s oversight of fracking. Importantly, it also notes that not enough study has been done to quantify the risks of high-volume hydraulic fracking on human health and the environment.

You can read the full report here. It’s a big document with a lot to chew on. Fortunately, MEC Policy Director James Clift and Grenetta Thomassey—a member of MEC’s board and program director for MEC member Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council—served on the advisory board for the study and are well-acquainted with the report and the issues involved.

Using that inside knowledge, James and Grenetta pulled out of the 174-page report some key areas that deserve special consideration by Michigan lawmakers and the Snyder administration. MEC supports each of the following policy options, which we’ve categorized by topic and identified by the number assigned to them in the report and the page on which they appear.

Public notice and involvement

2.3.3.2—Increase public notice. (Page 42.) Pursuing this policy option would expand public notification when the state proposes to lease oil and gas drilling rights on public land. The state now issues public notice in newspapers, sends announcements to local governments and posts information on the Department of Natural Resources website, among other measures. This policy option calls for notifying all adjacent landowners and posting announcements at the parcel itself, if the land is used for recreation. As the report notes, “Expanding public notice offers a relatively inexpensive way to increase transparency about potential state mineral rights leasing and ensure that affected parties have an opportunity to comment.”

2.3.3.3—Require DNR to prepare a responsiveness summary. (Page 42.) Current rules do not require the DNR to respond to public comments on state mineral leases. The basic idea here is to require the department to compile a summary of public comments received, how the department responded to public input and how that input influenced DNR’s decision about whether and how to lease the rights on that parcel. As the report notes, such a requirement would strengthen the state’s accountability to the public. Read more

Green infrastructure is gaining ground in Michigan

Stormwater runoff is a major source of pollution in our waterways. The sediment, nutrients and chemicals that are introduced to our lakes and streams from stormwater are hurting fish populations and affecting human health and safety.

The cause of this runoff is the mass amount of impervious surface in our cities, approximately 15 percent of Southeast Michigan is covered with impervious surface, mostly pavement. We have attempted to remove water from our properties and streets and funnel it to treatment plants, without realizing that nature had been diverting and treating stormwater for millennia. The green infrastructure movement is all about getting our modern day infrastructure and technology to do what nature always did before we altered it.

What makes infrastructure green is not some advanced technology. It is instead simply a new way of thinking about an old problem. The old design of storm drains and pipes that pushed stormwater to the nearest body of water simply made those bodies of water unfit for human use. Prior to human intervention in the process, most rain was absorbed into the ground and filtered through the earth to recharge groundwater, or filtered through a wetland before draining, clean, into a main body of water. Green infrastructure is designed to put water through that process again. This means fewer pipes and impervious surfaces, and more rain gardens and permeable pavement.

Many companies and municipalities are already making a commitment to green infrastructure. While at the Department of Environmental Quality’s Northern Michigan Green Infrastructure Conference this month, I had the opportunity to tour two such projects and hear about many more. Read more

Q&A: Legal scholar proposes world’s longest walking trail around Great Lakes

Here’s a figure to impress the guests at your next cocktail party: The Great Lakes shoreline in the United States and Canada is more than 10,000 miles long—nearly half the circumference of Earth.

Now imagine a walking trail around that shoreline. It would be longer than the Appalachian, Continental Divide and Pacific Crest trails combined. In fact, it would be the longest public walking trail in the world.

Such a footpath is more than a hypothetical idea. Melissa Scanlan, director of the Environmental Law Center at the Vermont Law School, proposed a Great Lakes Coastal Trail in a recent article in the Michigan Journal of Environmental and Administrative Law. Scanlan argues that the trail would provide a tangible way to restore the public’s coastal history and build local tourist economies.

Intrigued, we checked in with Scanlan by email to learn more about her ambitious vision for the trail.

MEC: Why does someone in Vermont care so much about the Great Lakes? What’s your connection to the lakes?

Melissa Scanlan: I grew up in the Lake Michigan Basin of Wisconsin, founded and directed Midwest Environmental Advocates, where I worked as a lawyer to protect the Great Lakes, and have spent many hours enjoying the lake shores, so I understand what a precious and beautiful resource they are for the region. I also saw through my prior work that we need to focus the public’s attention on the significance of the lakes for the region as a cohesive, binational whole. To address this need, build on existing water and property law, and engage the public, I’ve created a blueprint to establish a Great Lakes Coastal Trail on the shores of the Great Lakes. The trail will link together 10,000 miles of coastline and provide the longest marked walking trail in the world. Unlike other National Scenic Trails where most of the trail required new easements, this one will demarcate an already existing, yet largely forgotten, public trust easement. You don’t have to be born rich to be a beneficiary of this trust fund; the Great Lakes Coastal Trail will allow the public to enjoy their common heritage in the lakeshore, which is held by the government in trust for them. Read more

White River Township seeks funding to purchase lakefront land at center of dune debate

One of MEC’s most-read blog posts was a 2013 analysis that pointed out serious flaws in—and helped build the opposition needed to block—a controversial proposal to develop a road through a public dune preserve on the Lake Michigan coast.

If a new fundraising effort succeeds, the piece of private lakefront property at the center of that debate could soon be open for public enjoyment.

Public attention turned to the two-acre parcel when a developer proposed building a home on the property with an access road through the White River Township Barrier Dunes Sanctuary. The proposal represented the first test of a 2012 law that gutted key provisions of Michigan’s Critical Dunes Act.

Thankfully, the Department of Environmental Quality rejected the proposal from Bro G Land Company, echoing MEC’s arguments that what the proposal called a driveway was, by the state’s definition, clearly a road—one that would have fundamentally changed the scenic character of a public sanctuary carefully preserved and managed by thoughtful leaders.

Following the permit denial, Bro G filed a lawsuit against the township seeking a judgment that it had the right to build the road. That suit ended last month in a settlement that gives White Lake Township 18 months to purchase the property for $900,000. Read more