Michigan streets to get bike friendly, Saginaw Valley to get greener

Notice I said Saginaw Valley. I can’t find the Great Lakes Bay on a map. I can, however, smile when I see my youngest daughter riding her bike on two wheels. She learned earlier this year, a little later than her older sister. Today, she was riding with a neighborhood boy, a nice little guy. It will be a few years before I have to start telling him “I’m not afraid to go back to prison” and quote verses from “Cleaning This Gun.”

Hopefully, it will be sooner before there are better places to ride your bike in the Saginaw Valley (there it is again) and people here will be more aware of what’s going on with the local environment (as in green, not development).

News came today that “Complete Streets,” a nationwide campaign to make America’s streets more bicycle- and people-friendly, has passed the House and is headed to the Senate. Michigan, being an auto state, is historically unfriendly to the nonmotorized, and it’s made us fat and helped fuel urban sprawl.

Also coming down the road in my neck of the Saginaw Bay woods is a new “Green News Network” at Saginaw Valley State University. Coverage of environmental news around here just ain’t what it used to be (shameless plug), but this should help spread awareness, and keep important environmental issues like beach muck and coal-fired pollution on people’s minds. A better informed populace equals a cleaner environment, in many cases. Remember all the harping about beach muck and how it eventually got the attention of state leaders? Although the public needs to start squeaking about that again.

The GNN (like a green CNN) will be funded with a $2,522 grant from the school’s Student Research and Creativity Institute. The grant went to sisters Julie and Lisa Luce, both professional and technical writing majors from Bay City, and will be used to report on enviro news at SVSU. That includes buying video equipment and building a Web site. Up to five students will report for the network.

Not bad. Just what our bay needs, more eyes and ears. Like Complete Streets, it’s a path to improvement (clever, huh?).

Were government flies released to combat caterpillars?

My bug bites have bug bites. After four days in northwest Michigan near Traverse City, I’m home, inside, and enjoying the air conditioning. One thing is still bugging me, though. The story that my brother, Scott, told me about black flies. Word in the woods is that the flies, which land on you every 3 seconds this time of year, were released by the Michigan DNR (now DNRE) to control tent caterpillars.

Sounds like a rumor. But usually rumors start out as truths, if you get my drift. According to a posting on UpNorthLive, with a Traverse City dateline, there’s an increase in black flies this year due to an increase in caterpillars. Black flies eat caterpillar larvae.

Which makes you wonder, what’s causing the caterpillar population to grow? And would the DNRE admit to releasing black flies for caterpillar control if the project went haywire (as in, annoying the hell out of people)?

David Lemmien, a DNRE unit manager, says his Traverse City office has been getting lots of calls about the fly-caterpillar scandal, but the DNRE hasn’t released flies to manage the outbreak of forest tent caterpillars.

Let’s take David at his word. Other words in this story aren’t as believable, such as “In fact, the DNRE doesn’t even have the means to raise flies.” Really? That’s laughable. Anyone with a checkbook has a means.  The story also circulated in New York in 2007, though, so it seems pretty mythical.

And there is a way to control black flies — a tip that comes courtesy of the nice cashier at the Village Market in Alden. Rub a dryer sheet on your skin and they’ll stop landing on you. It works. Too bad you can’t rub sheets on trees.

— Image via  Fat Man of the Mountains.

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Asian carp almost ruined my weekend

photo great lakes torch lake

Ray Jr. walks on the water of Torch Lake.

Where is Mr. Great Lakes? The biggest story of the year just broke. One Asian carp caught in Illinois. Yawn. I already wrote that story, more than once. It’s about as surprising as a sunrise. On to bigger things, like global warming and climate change. I’m going this weekend to some family property near Torch Lake. And my brother-in-law Ray is bound to be shirtless. It’s a sign that global warming needs more attention.

Oh no. Not the same old global warming story. No, this is about “Days of Ray,” as in days Ray (and Ray Jr.) will be shirtless, in years to come, because of rising temperatures brought on by human-induced climate change. If you think one Asian carp is bad, try thinking about the impending effects of climate change on the Great Lakes (and try seeing Ray shirtless).

Don’t just believe me. Believe the scientists. Oh, most of them are just in it for the money, and more research dollars, right?

It turns out that scientists who oppose government policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions generally lack the expertise of scientists who warn that human activity is causing global warming, Yale 360 recently pointed out.

Researchers at Stanford University analyzed the publishing background of close to 1,400 academics. Almost all, 97 percent, of published climate scientists agree that human activity is responsible for a warming climate. The scientists who have signed public statements opposing efforts to stave off the worst effects of climate change just don’t have the expertise. Would you hire a transmission guy to fix your brakes? Not me. You’d be able to keep going full-speed ahead, but you’re eventually going to crash.

The findings are consistent with surveys in 2009 and 2004. Remember the warnings galore about Asian carp invading the Great Lakes?

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Buy a Dolphin, Help Clean the Gulf, Give Props to Larry King

My eldest daughter (eldest? she’s not that old) has been busy on the home computer lately. I know, I know. She should get outside more. She does. But when it’s 90 degrees like it is today, I can hardly blame her. So I’m thinking of buying her a dolphin. A virtual dolphin. We don’t have a real pool, just a little kiddie one, and I poked a hole in it when I got the bikes out of the shed for the summer.

Back to the dolphin, the good folks at the National Wildlife Federation are working with “social games leader” Crowdstar to save animals devastated by the BP-Deepwater Horizon oil gushing disaster, according to none other than softball CNN interviewer Larry King (who I love anyway). There are plenty of threatened animals that need help, as my daughter noticed on a recent cover of Time magazine. Sad.

Here’s the deal with Crowdstar. The company runs Facebook games, and more than 50 million people play them. So Crowdstar is selling special virtual animals in crazy popular games like “Zoo Paradise,” “Happy Aquarium” and “Happy Pets.” Too bad there’s no “Wizards 101” option; that’s my daughter’s favorite online game.

In the games, you can buy animals like a sea turtle, sea duck or dolphin, care for them and see 100 percent of the proceeds go to ongoing efforts by NWF to help animals affected by the disaster. A disaster that’s just as much your’s and my fault as it is BP’s, by the way. Do you drive? Well there you have it. My daughter doesn’t drive, yet.

One more positive: This could make those annoying “I just fed my fish/puppy/monkey” status updates on Facebook a little less annoying. A little.

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Dig Your Beach, and Bug Your Leaders

Whether you prefer inland or (superior) Great Lakes beaches, you need to educate yourself when it comes to beach testing.

Michigan's BeachGuard system at http://www.deq.state.mi.us/beach.

Beach testing in Michigan, for instance, occurs usually from Memorial Day through Labor Day. There aren’t enough funds to test all the state’s public beaches. And there aren’t enough decent media outlets that know how in the hell to inform the public about beach closings. Yeh, it’s a pet peeve of mine.

First off, the state maintains a database of beach testing by health departments. Your local health department probably doesn’t publicize that. They send out nice, carefully worded news releases to the media saying the water at Beach A “didn’t meet state water quality standards for full-body contact recreational activities” or something like that.

Then they say another notice will be issued when bacteria levels subside. Ah, nothing to worry about folks. Just wait. The bacteria will go away eventually. There will be another weekend. And summer is like, six weeks long in Michigan!

Where does this mystery bacteria come from? People and animals, usually, as in wastewater plants, septic systems that don’t work correctly, or farms. Michigan uses E. coli bacteria to indicate the presence of disease-carrying organisms.

OK, so here’s how the database works. It shows a map of the state with beaches that are closed or under advisory. As of this writing, there are eight beaches closed in Macomb, Gladwin, Roscommon and Arenac counties. But that’s all you need to know, don’t read any further.

Thanks for staying with me. You need to dig further to find out the good stuff, or in this case, the straight poop. Let’s take South Higgins Lake as an example, since I spent many of my formative years there.

Click on the tab that says “Sampling Results” and look at the numbers. There are Daily and 30-day values. But all you have to know is that the daily standard is 300 colonies of E. coli and the 30-day standard is 130 (read the .pdf if you want). The Daily Mean for South Higgins on June 16 was 665.72, more than double the standard. More than double the level that’s considered safe, with bacteria levels that won’t make you sick. Say it with me, diarrhea. Just in time for the weekend.

The reason I get into this level of detail is because just saying “the beach is closed, and bacteria levels will subside” isn’t good enough, folks. The law requires health departments to report this E. coli reading info, but they don’t advertise it. Bad for tourism, people. No crap. I mean, lotsa crap is bad for tourism.

The next time you’re planning a trip to the beach, check the database. And call your health department if the data isn’t posted online. And bug your county commissioner, state representative and state senator, if necessary, if you don’t get a good answer. Better yet, call them even if the data is online. Use your outdoor voice.

Trust the (Rifle) River — GLRI Money is on the way

When Mr. Great Lakes was younger, he and his high school friends used to make an annual trip to Sterling, to camp in tents at White’s Canoe Livery and tackle the Rifle River on a Saturday morning. That was before most of us got married and had little ones.  I went down the Rifle with my wife and two kids in June, maybe for the last time. The river was too low, the canoe was too heavy, and I felt like The Skipper when a three-hour tour turned into a seven-hour nightmare. Which brings me to my (roundabout) point. The federal government is stepping up to help the Rifle. No, they won’t be putting in more water or helping people drag their canoes. But they’re putting up money to reduce runoff into the river, which is a good thing, especially if you happen to fall in.

Tim Bohnhoff, district conservationist for the Natural Resources Conservation Service in Standish, says the Au Gres-Rifle River Watershed is receiving a share of $8.9 million from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative for improving water quality by reducing non-point source pollution from agricultural operations. (I hate the term “non-point” because we all know where the stuff is coming from, but that’s the bureaucratic speak).

Practices eligible for assistance in the watershed include cover crops, filter strips, field borders, residue management, nutrient management and prescribed grazing.

Keep the money coming, EPA, for projects that bring physical improvement, not more studies. Let’s not forget that farmers need to take steps to keep runoff from running off in the first place, too, GLRI or not.

For more on what’s eligible for the Saginaw Bay watershed, see www.mi.nrcs.usda.gov/programs/glri.html.

Thanks for the tip, Tim. And here’s another tip: “Trust the river” is an old saying from my post-high-school canoeing days at White’s. It refers to just sitting back and enjoying nature, hoping that the current will magically carry you out of harm’s way, and the rocks and tree limbs that cause your canoe to turn over. It doesn’t always work.

— Image via Flickr.

Welcome — I am Mr. Great Lakes

That’s my new name. I used to be The Mudpuppy. But those days are gone. And that’s fine by me. I’m on a new path here. On my own, as an environmental journalist, sans newspaper, working for a number of clients. I’m doing the writing and reporting thing, and communications work and social media consulting. The world is my oyster, you might say. Except that’s a cliche, and cliches are frowned upon in my biz. And lots of oysters are covered in oil these days.

Anyways, since I’m a writer, sometimes I think of things I want to say that just don’t have a place in my day-to-day work. And since my life can be so damn interesting, I figured I shouldn’t deprive anyone of Jeff Kart Uncut any longer. So here I go:

I spent Father’s Day weekend at Harrisville State Park. The water in Lake Huron was cold. Cccold with three Cs. But it was refreshing. I hung out with my two lovely daughters and my lovely wife (who’s been waiting on me today. Too bad Father’s Day is only 24 hours long).

I love Lake Huron. I prefer it to the so-called better lake, Michigan. Probably because I live on the Huron side of Michigan. Also because Huron just doesn’t get the love that Lake Michigan does. I don’t know why. Disgusting Saginaw Bay could have something to do with it. There, I said it. Saginaw Bay is disgusting.

So disgusting that folks in my region have been spending tons of money and effort to rename the area as the “Great Lakes Bay Region.”

There are even plans to begin pumping drinking water from Lake Huron near Au Gres, rather than Saginaw Bay. You see, Saginaw Bay water is so dirty, and takes so many chemicals (and so much money) to clean up, that local leaders want to start with cleaner water. I agree. I’d like to have cleaner water. Saginaw Bay water, even cleaned up chemically, doesn’t taste great. Unless you like the water in a swimming pool.

But calling it the Great Lakes Bay, and getting our drinking water from beyond the bay, near Au Gres, won’t do anything to help Saginaw Bay become great again. We might as well write it off.

When I said the water in Lake Huron was refreshing, I meant to add that it enrages me that I had to drive 90 miles to get to a decent beach. I live five miles from Saginaw Bay, and the Bay City State Recreation Area. There’s a beach there, but I wouldn’t swim in it. I wouldn’t step in it with a pair of waders. The beach there is plagued by muck, or dead algae. The shoreline there stinks like you know what. That’s nothing against the folks who run the state park, or local groups who’ve spent lots of time trying to clean up the beach, hauling away the muck, raking the sand. The sand there is beautiful, by the way. But the water sucks.

Ah, this feels good. Being able to say sucks. It’s kind of a low-brow word, but it describes this situation perfectly. Another cliche is good to use here: Garbage in, Garbage out. The folks in the Saginaw Bay Region have been abusing the bay for too long. Too much industry and too many antiquated sewer systems have been allowed to dump too much junk into the bay for too long.

My wife had a brilliant thought this weekend as we sat on the beach in Harrisville, marveling at the beauty of Lake Huron, 90 miles north. “Why don’t the leaders in Bay County spent more time on cleaning up the bay, and bringing in tourists, like they have in Traverse City,” she said. “We spend too much time trying to attract industry and manufacturing to Bay City. I can’t believe that’s more lucrative at this point for the community.”

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