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Defining moments: Salmon, sausage and strategy at MEC’s membership meeting

From left: Jeff Cranson, John Truscott, Deb Muchmore and Dave Waymire.

There were a number of potential defining moments from MEC’s overnight membership meeting last week:

Peter Sinclair’s sobering presentation on disappearing Arctic ice.

— The all-star panel of communications and messaging experts (John Truscott, Deb Muchmore, Dave Waymire and Jeff Cranson) telling member groups that relationships matter – so keep your friends close and your opponents closer!

— State Rep. Wayne Schmidt, explaining how sausage is made in the legislature.

— Salmon, spawning everywhere in the Pere Marquette River flowing through the Barothy Lodge grounds. And Michigan Trout Unlimited’s Dr. Bryan Burroughs’ riverside field trip.

But for me, this was the key moment:

The all-star panel had just counseled the audience to nurture alliances with unlikely bedfellows.  Environmentalists and conservationists need talk to more than just ourselves.  We must broaden outreach to the business community, conservatives, faith groups and other nontraditional allies if we’re to impact on the political and policy process.

This was good advice, offered by people (Muchmore and Truscott, particularly) who represent companies, industries and groups that we often lock horns with at the state Capitol. In essence, they were advising us on how to beat their clients! Or, perhaps, work better with them, rather than always against.

When Q&A time arrived, Dr. Grenetta Thomassey of the Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council said her organization works closely with the business and conservative communities in their area – lots of partnerships, shared goals and “agreeing to disagree” on issues where they share no common ground.

“We’re doing everything you say. But when we go to Lansing and talk to our elected officials,” she said, “it’s like a different world. They shut us down. They don’t seem to care that we’re working so inclusively with so many of their friends and supporters back in the district. How can we change that?” (paraphrasing here)

“Do you bring those people with you when you visit Lansing?” asked PR guru Waymire.

Thomassey paused. Blinked. “No. But I guess we should!”

Heads nodded all around, and you could see the light bulbs go off.

Thomassey said later that she had planned to visit Lansing with Tip of the Mitt’s business allies, dropped the idea temporarily over logistical hurdles, and then forgot all about it. Until last week.

It encapsulated for me the value that MEC’s 60-plus member organizations get for being part of the state’s largest and most successful environmental coalition. We’re the proxy for small member organizations that don’t have the staff or time to keep track of shenanigans at the State Capitol. But we’re also a convener of people, a clearinghouse for timely information and a conduit for the best and most effective practices in influencing policies affecting Michigan’s natural resources. There is strength in numbers, and in diversity.

Waymire’s tip – have your allies and people who your elected officials can’t ignore at your side – was not groundbreaking. But it was important. Sometimes it takes someone from the outside looking in to see what should be obvious.

When Thomassey knocks on a legislator’s door with business owners and conservative allies at her side, her organization’s voice will resonate with new vitality and impact. When dozens, or hundreds, of small strategies like this are added up it makes a difference. And that’s what we’re all about.

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State’s wildlife council should be broader than hunters and anglers (think, CraneFest!)

We wrote here a few weeks ago about legislation restructuring Michigan’s hunting and fishing license fees to put more conservation officers and wildlife biologists in the field. Governor Snyder signed the measure into law a few days later. The changes take effect in March.

Included in the law is a $1 surcharge on licenses to support public education about how hunters, anglers and trappers contribute to conservation and wildlife management in Michigan.

As Michigan United Conservation Clubs Executive Director Erin McDonough told MLive,

Many people don’t understand that most money for natural resource management comes from the sale of hunting and fishing licenses…Everyone can enjoy ‘Pure Michigan’ because of the investment that Michigan sportsmen and women make. We’re proud to provide that legacy for the rest of the state.

That investment is significant. In 2011 license fees created $44.1 million in revenue for conservation in Michigan. The state expects the new fees to generate another $12.8 million in 2014, and close to $20 million more in subsequent years. That’s real dough, and provides an opportunity for Michigan to celebrate and promote our amazing natural assets.

Legislation outlining how the state should implement the public-education campaign, House Bill 4993, recently was introduced by Rep. Jon Bumstead, a Newaygo Republican. The bill calls for a nine-member Michigan Wildlife Council to oversee the campaign. The panel must include four hunters and anglers, the owner of a business closely tied to hunting and fishing, and someone representing rural areas of the state whose economies depend on hunting and angling. It also specifies roles for someone representing agriculture, a media or marketing pro, and the DNR director or his designee.

We’re enthusiastic about the tremendous hunting and fishing economy in the state, and appreciate hunters and anglers supporting  habitat projects and wildlife management. Read more

Wednesday Linkaround!

Wednesday linkaround!

Here’s a fascinating story from the Metro Times about the deadliest storm ever to pound the Great Lakes, 100 years ago this November – one with the same dynamics as “The Perfect Storm” that author Sebastian Junger made famous.

The Environment Report is doing a weeklong series on fish in the changing Great Lakes. Here is the first story and here is a link to the series to date.

Also from Michigan Radio, more on the proposal to store nuclear waste near Lake Huron. MLive has a longer story.

Again from Michigan Radio, a Dept. of Community Health  report finds no long-term health effects from the Kalamazoo oil spill. Long-term may be the key, but it is still interesting to compare it to an earlier DCH report on the acute effects of the spill that found 58% of 550 people surveyed near the site said they had headache, trouble breathing, vomiting, dizziness or other symptoms.

Finally, here’s some good news from the State House. Long overdue tweak to how Michigan cyclists should indicate a right-hand turn.

 

 

Yes, the earth is still warming despite tortured interpretations of today’s IPCC report!

Has the earth stopped warming? You might think so, reading or listening to climate skeptics putting their unique spin on the 5th Assessment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report that is scheduled for release today.

It will say that global surface warming has slowed since the last assessment released six years ago. Kind of like easing up on the accelerator.  That’s really all the skeptics (we’re being kind, and not using the term ‘deniers’) need to crank up the disinformation campaign that has been so effective at creating doubt among the public about the reality of climate change.

So when you hear these folks on the radio or see them on the hopeless editorial page of the Detroit News, here are a few relevant pieces of data that you can be sure they will ignore:

— The draft states that the rate of surface warming from 1998-2012 was 0.05 degrees. The earth is still warming.

— August, 2013 was the 342nd consecutive month!  with global surface temperatures above 20th century averages.

— The oceans, which hold roughly  93% of the earth’s trapped heat, have warmed dramatically , including significant warming at depths below 700 meters – a development unprecedented in the last 50 years.

— Sea ice continues to shrink, despite what you may hear from data cherry pickers about a growing Arctic ice cap. More good stuff debunking the junk science on polar ice here.

— Finally, we give you Dr. Patrick Michaels, the climate skeptics’ go-to source for bashing the IPCC report. Dr. Michaels, unlike most other skeptic darlings, is an actual climatologist. In 2008, he addressed a Heartland Institute audience of climate skeptics, and in an unusual moment of candor warned them against using the “no global warming since 1998” argument, because, frankly, it was indefensible. You can hear him in this video starting at about the 1:20 mark. Or just take our word for it: “You’ve all seen articles saying global warming stopped in 1998. With all due respect that’s being a little bit unfair to the data,” Michaels says. The largest El Nino – bubbling up of heat stored in the ocean – in recorded history occurred in 1998, skewing global temperatures upward. Cherry picking 1998 is indefensible, said Michaels: “I want to tell everybody in this audience, make an argument that you can get killed on, and you’ll kill us all.”

Clearly, the skeptics are not even listening to their own scientists. Surprised?

Thanks to Peter Sinclair of Climate Crock for compiling much of this information.

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Industry experts: Legislature must support, not undermine Michigan’s alternative fuel vehicles

Lawmakers and others attended the luncheon.

Alternative fuel  vehicles are smart investments in Michigan’s economic recovery and environmental protection, several presenters said at a legislative luncheon hosted by the Michigan Environmental Council and the Clean Energy Coalition in the State Capitol.

The presenters encouraged Michigan legislators to position our state as a leader in clean automotive technologies. Propane was heavily endorsed as a cost-effective, safe, and low-maintenance fuel for both small business and industry fleets. Electric vehicles were presented as a fast-growing and viable option. Key issues raised by presenters included return on investment, risk mitigation, local permitting, and incentives.

David Rhoa, President of Lake Michigan Mailers, Inc., spoke for all presenters when he appealed to legislators in the room to take a leadership role in supporting the alternative fuel vehicle industry.

To realize this opportunity, Michigan can look to other states that have impressive incentive programs. Illinois offers rebates of up to $4,000 for new or converted alternative fuel vehicles; Virginia is transitioning its State vehicles to alternative fuels; and Florida offers biofuel investment tax credits, natural gas and propane vehicle rebates and attractive electric vehicle supply equipment financing. Michigan can regain its competitiveness in the alternative fuel industry by following these state’s leads.

At the same time, Michigan cannot afford to pass legislation that could hinder the growth of the alternative fuel industry, such as past efforts to raise registration taxes on hybrid or electric vehicles. These vehicles only amount to less than one percent of all registered vehicles, would likely amount to a minimal recovery of transportation funds, and would essentially punish clean automotive technologies. Michigan needs to avoid legislation of this type, and encourage rebate and incentive programs that will establish the state as a leader in the alternative fuel vehicle industry.

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Dark skies: We’ve got ‘em, officially, here in Michigan!

A piece on Wired.com caught our attention last week because it has something to do with a wild and beautiful corner of Michigan.

It’s a Q&A with journalist Paul Bogard, author of a new book called The End of Night: Searching for Darkness in an Age of Artificial Light.

Astronomers say people should be able to see about 2,500 stars with the naked eye on a clear night, but in most suburbs only 200-300 are visible. In large cities you might see a dozen stars. As many as 80 percent of people have never seen the Milky Way, by one estimate. The reason is light pollution.

We need lights at night, of course. But dark-sky advocates say about a third of outdoor lighting spills outward or up into the sky—a waste of energy that dims the stars and costs the United States upward of a billion dollars each year, according to the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA).

There are other costs, according to Bogard. The increase of artificial light harms nocturnal animals and may contribute to some health problems in humans, he noted. He also discussed the psychological importance of dark skies where stars shine bright:

When we can’t see the sky, it’s tempting to think we’re the most important thing, that there isn’t a universe out there that dwarfs us.

When you have that firsthand, it can make you feel small, but it can make you grateful for what we have here, too. You realize the beauty we have on Earth is tremendous, and there’s no other place to go. The night sky makes this clear. Read more

Michigan hunting, fishing license fee hike (first since 1997) will put more biologists, conservation officers in the field

More wildlife biologists and conservation cops soon will be in the field thanks to legislation approved Tuesday by the State House of Representatives. The bill raises about $20 million for natural resource conservation and management by increasing fees for hunting and fishing licenses.

We’re glad to see this much-needed measure headed to Gov. Snyder’s desk, where he’s expected to sign it—the fee restructuring was part of his 2014 budget proposal. After approving an earlier version in June, the House on Tuesday voted 72-36 to OK Senate changes to the bill.

Michigan’s license fees haven’t increased since 1997 and are among the cheapest in the country. At MEC we’re of the mind that it’s worth paying a little extra to make sure Michigan’s natural resources are protected, and we’re glad our state’s hunters and anglers voiced their willingness to invest in conservation. It ought to cost at least as much for a deer license here as it does in New Jersey. Sorry, New Jersey, but let’s be real.

The bill also streamlines a system that has grown to 227 different types of license fees, cutting that number to about 40. While most fees will increase, there still will be discounts for seniors, young hunters and members of the military. The changes take effect in March 2014.

For more on the legislation and details on the proposed license fees, check out this statement from the folks at MUCC, who deserve a lot of credit for pushing the bill across the finish line.

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Freight vs passenger rail? No, experts say the two complement one another in Michigan

By Dan Sommerville, Policy Associate, Michigan Environmental Council

Rail, not roads, is the best way to meet rising demand in freight transport in Michigan, said experts at the Michigan Rail Conference recently. Improving freight rail efficiency opens the door to simultaneous upgrades in passenger rail services – improvements that will continue the momentum that has resulted in record ridership on Amtrak routes throughout Michigan.

 Conference panelist, Libby Ogard, president of PrimeFocus LLC, told conference attendees that our highway system cannot meet the growth in freight demand. Other speakers including former congressman Joe Schwarz; director of OneRail, Ann Canby; and Amtrak Board Member Tom Carper, also highlighted last year’s record high passenger rail ridership in Michigan and nationwide.  Collaboration between passenger and freight rail actors can maximize rail infrastructure investment from each other and from federal and state sources, creating a better network for moving both people and goods.

Passenger and freight rail players must come together and collaborate for the mutual growth of both, attendees and panelists agreed.

Read more

Au Sable River gets a checkup: Good health, but threats loom

Editor’s note: The Anglers of the Au Sable report mentioned below has been taken temporarily offline for revisions. We will update this post when the report is again available. Our apologies, and thanks for reading!


Our friends at the Anglers of the Au Sable have the enviable task of protecting and restoring one of the country’s most beautiful and best-loved trout streams. If you’ve spent any time there you know it’s a special place. With good reason, part of the river is called the Holy Water.

Still, it’s been more than a decade since someone stepped back to take a big-picture snapshot of how the Au Sable is faring. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources published its comprehensive, 148-page assessment [PDF] back in 2001. A lot has happened since then.

Being smart folks—they are an MEC member group, after all—the Anglers decided it was time the river had a checkup. They tapped Jeff Alexander, a respected Michigan environmental reporter and author, to assess the state of the Au Sable and the outlook for its future.

You can view the report here [PDF].

All in all, it’s an encouraging read. Alexander reports the river’s water quality and aquatic insect populations remain in great shape. Despite record heat in recent summers, much of the river is staying plenty cool for trout. Erosion control and habitat improvement projects are paying off. And after a population decline in the 1990s, the fish themselves are making a strong comeback. Consider this excerpt from the report:

Evoke a mental image of a football field, a rectangle of grass covering roughly one acre of land, and envision it submerged under three feet of translucent water. Then imagine tossing in 2,187 trout—mostly small browns, brookies and rainbows—into that imaginary pool.

With 20 trout per square foot, it would be quite the fishing spot. It would also be a mirror image of the trout fishery in a segment of the Au Sable River’s legendary Holy Water.

Still, the Au Sable and those working to protect it face real challenges in the years ahead. Further climate change and warm discharges from dams will put added stress on trout in parts of the river. Pollution is leaking from riverside septic tanks. Meanwhile, zoning loopholes are allowing large new homes to be built on the river’s banks. And with the watershed’s first deep shale gas well having been drilled recently, concerns about fracking’s potential impacts on the Au Sable never have been higher.

You can be sure MEC is eager to help meet those challenges. We’re partnering with the Anglers, Trout Unlimited and other groups to make sure Michigan has strong policies in place to protect and improve this truly world-class resource, along with the state’s other 36,000 miles of rivers and streams.

As retired DNR fish biologist Steve Sendek told Alexander, “The Au Sable is a crown jewel but you’ve got to keep polishing it.”

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Here comes the legislature! Keep a close eye on your biodiversity!

Dr. Bradley Cardinale is among 133 Michigan scientists poised to tell Gov. Rick Snyder that the anti-biodiversity Senate Bill 78 is a terrible idea for Michigan’s natural resources and for science-based decision making.  We talked with him recently in this blog entry. If you liked that, you’ll love his appearance on WKAR’s Current State where he discusses the damaging legislation in more detail.

Remember, legislators have begun filtering back to Lansing following summer recess. Conventional wisdom says hang on to your wallets….but this fall we need to keep a close eye on our biodiversity as well! Stay tuned.

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