Feral swine decreasing but still pose threat

By Katrianna Ray
Capital News Service

In 2011, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) declared feral swine to be an invasive species and banned their possession.

Since then the population has steadily fallen, due to the ban and to hunting.

While the total number has gone down, the threat of diseases and agricultural damage persists, according to Shaun McKeon of the Michigan United Conservation Clubs. McKeon spearheads MUCC’s education and outreach about feral swine.

“They’re harmful to agriculture and general forest health. They’re pretty destructive as far as the amount of food that they eat and the game species and the non-game species that they impact and compete with,” McKeon said.

“They also are pigs, and pigs can spread diseases that can jump to humans pretty easily, so there’s always that kind of disease worry,” he said.

Feral swine can host parasites and diseases that can transfer to humans, livestock and wildlife. While the transfer of diseases from pigs to humans is rare, diseases such as influenza A and foot and mouth disease can still spread.

“We work really hard to make our pigs healthier and keep them healthy,” said Mary Kelpinski, the chief executive officer of the Michigan Pork Producers Association, based in East Lansing.

“We have changed the way we raised pigs. Now most of the pigs are raised indoors, so we can block access to feral pigs. The pigs running at large are disease vectors to the domestic flocks,” she said.

African swine fever has wiped out nearly one-quarter of the world’s population of swine, increasing the price of pork and causing Michigan’s yearly total exports of soybeans for pig feed to fall, according to the Michigan Economic Development Corp.

The disease can be caught from infected wild animals.

“Many of the countries dealing with African swine fever have identified it in their feral pig populations,” Kelpinski said. No cases have been reported in the $500-million-a-year hog industry in Michigan.

Controlling a disease in wild pigs is difficult, she said.

Some farmers build a wall around their farms. “Unfortunately, research shows pigs can usually find a way up, under or over most walls,” she said.

Feral pigs have been reported in 70 of Michigan’s 83 counties.

“Back in 2011, there was a coalition of people working to get that invasive species order passed,” McKeon said.

Top pork-producing counties in Michigan. Image: National Agricultural Statistics Service.

“Conservation organizations, as well as the pork industry and its lobby groups, made sure to get ahead of the game, compared to states down south that have major problems with feral swine populations, like Texas and Alabama,” McKeon said. “They’re almost impossible to get rid of because they’re so many running around their state now.”

One way for farmers to protect their swine is to improve their biological security.

Formerly raised outdoors in muddy pens, domestic pigs have been moved indoors. Increased measures are in place to ensure that people who come in contact with domestic pigs have not been exposed to feral hogs.

“We’ve tried to eliminate all the feral swine we’ve found out there,” Kelpinski said. “They’re extremely smart animals and they’re nocturnal, so many people don’t see them and realize that we do have a problem with them. It’s not as big as it was, but we really want to monitor it so it doesn’t spring back.”

Hunters with a deer hunting license can kill wild pigs. The DNR has been researching and tracking them. People who see signs of them or kill one can report to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services at 517-336-1928.

Featured Image: Feral swine. Image: Michigan United Conservation Clubs.

Warmer weather, new pests threaten vineyards, wine industry

By Katrianna Ray
Capital News Service

Michigan’s wine industry generates $2.1 billion in direct annual economic activity and over 27,930 jobs, according to a report for the Michigan Craft Beverage Council, with a $5.4 billion overall impact.

But climate change is damaging Michigan’s wineries and threatening those jobs, a Suttons Bay winery expert says.

Wine quality is hugely sensitive to changes in the weather, with sudden frosts “lulling the plants into a false sense of security,” according to Peter Laing, the operations manager of Mawby Vineyards and Winery.

However, unexpected frost isn’t the biggest climate-related worry facing wineries in the state.

“The pest pressure is the most notable,” Laing said. “More wet, warm weather means a tougher fungal pressure, and warmer weather extends the range of more pests and heightens activity from native insects.”

In the warmer months, yellowjackets are predators that consume other insects. When the weather gets colder, they switch to eating the sugary grapes.

As the temperature increases and the weather gets wetter, pests like yellowjackets can survive more readily, according to Nikki Rothwell of the Northwest Michigan Horticultural Research Center near Traverse City.

They’re hardy and hard to catch, and many wineries are trying combinations of control approaches, called integrated pest management. These include inspecting fields for pests prior to planting and canopy management.

“There’s always insecticides, new fungicides, but we try to use other techniques to combat pests as much as possible,” Laing said. “There’s never a silver bullet — it’s a combination of approaches.”

Climate change is expected to harm the wine industry by reducing crop yields, but increasing crop diversity can help stop some of the potential damage, according to a new international study.

“It’s the winter that really damages our wine grapes,” Rothwell said. “What we rely on, since we’re up here in the 45th parallel, is snow cover. That hasn’t always been reliable.

“We think that it is the implication of climate change, that we don’t have the real reliable snowfall that we used to,” she said.

“We used to have these big, beautiful snowfalls, and all these wine grapes would be tucked in nice and cozy for the winter,” she said. “We’ve lost a lot of snow since it’s getting warmer, and anything above the snowline is susceptible to winter injury.”

Vinifera varieties, like chardonnay and Riesling, make up nearly 65 percent of Michigan’s wine grapes, according to the Vineyard Mapping for Michigan study by the Michigan State University’s  College of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

French hybrids struggle to survive in the long term because the grape originated in the warmer regions of Europe, according to the mapping study.

American hybrids, or concord grapes, are much less popular but more winter-hearty.

A hybrid mix of the two is becoming more popular, Rothwell said.
Laing said other tactics to protect and strengthen wine grapes include placing heaters in the vineyard and using sprinklers to keep the temperature above freezing during sudden frosts.

While weather can be predicted, accurately predicting future shifts in climate is difficult.

“It’s a major variable, an unknown,” Laing said. “We are trying to do as much as we can to be ready to handle whatever gets thrown at us.”

“Different pests are not what you’d think of with climate change — you think of weather — but there’s all these other things that go along with that,” he said.

Commercial fishers, sports anglers, at odds over fishing restrictions

A Lake Michigan charter fishing boat. Image: Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

By Danielle James
Capital News Service

Recently introduced bills in the Michigan Legislature are in direct opposition about  the controversial issue of allowing commercial catching of game fish and are causing conflict between commercial fishers and sport anglers.

Recreational anglers like things the way they are, while the industry is pushing for the right to catch and sell game fish like walleye, perch and trout.

A trio of bills in the House would continue the ban on commercial game fish harvest that started in the 1960s. The sponsors include Reps. Jim Lilly, R-Park Township, and Jack O’Malley, R-Lake Ann.

The commercial fishing industry strongly opposes those bills, arguing that they would limit fishers’ ability to support themselves.

“There are not game fish versus commercial fish — there are fish,” said Amber Mae Petersen, the secretary-treasurer of the Michigan Fish Producers Association, an industry group.

Petersen also runs the Fish Monger’s Wife, a market in Muskegon, and her husband is a commercial fisher.

“All these bills do is eliminate commercial fishing,” Petersen said. “If you want to buy Michigan-caught fish, you can’t unless you want whitefish. If you want any other fish, buy a pole and go catch it yourself.”

The bills have support from conservation groups and sport fishing organizations like the Michigan United Conservation Clubs (MUCC).

“Our goal is to support and protect sport fishers and keep game fish out of the hands of commercial anglers,” said Nick Green, the MUCC public information officer. “We are the center of conservation efforts, and commercial fishing pales in comparison to what recreational angler value is.”

However, commercial fishers disagree.

They support dramatically different  legislation that would let them catch game species.

The Senate bill sponsors include Sens. Ed McBroom, R-Waucedah Township, and Curtis VanderWall, R-Ludington. The House sponsors include Rep. Sara Cambensy, D-Marquette.

Their bills take an alternate approach towards regulating the industry.

“The fish belong to the citizens of the state, and they have since before Michigan was a state,” Peterson said. “It was in the ‘60s when we decided to create a sport fishing industry and started limiting how those fish could be accessed.”

The industry-backed bills would legalize commercial catch of game fish subject to a yearly quota determined by analysis of fish population data. That approach would allow the commercial capture of  10% to 20% of the total population.

Peterson said, “Commercial fisheries aren’t asking for firm poundage numbers. We’re asking for a percentage of the total allowable catch.”

“If only 10% is set aside for local fishermen to catch and sell, that still leaves 90% for sport fishermen,” she said.

The economic implications of continuing the restrictions outweigh the loss of revenue for commercial fishers, according to Dennis Eade, the chair of the Michigan Steelhead and Salmon Fishermen’s Association.

The Holland-based association supports the bills limiting commercial fishers.

“Tourism is one of the biggest industries in the state, and recreational fishing brings over 300,000 out-of-state fishermen to fish the rivers, lakes and streams in Michigan,” Eade said. “Recreational fishing represents $4.2 billion for Michigan alone. Commercial fishing is $5 million, 13 families that actively fish and only 51 licenses that are available.”

Eade says that sport fishers would be hurt by commercial game fishing.

“Game fish are being stocked and raised in Michigan, and all these fish costs are being paid by license costs for sports fisherman,” Eade said. “Commercial fishermen aren’t contributing anything besides the cost of their license, and there are only 13 of them.”

“We believe it’s not fair for them to take a large portion of game fish when they’re not paying for the costs to keep this resource,” he said.

Petersen said the approach that sports fishing groups favor would be a huge blow to commercial anglers.

“It’s a slow bleed to commercial fishermen. It doesn’t even give us the dignity of a quick death,” Petersen said. “Eventually we will no longer be able to survive.”

In addition to the economic impact, recreational fishers say they worry about the impact of commercial fishing on conservation efforts.

Lake trout in particular have been badly affected by invasive species and overfishing, according to Bryan Burroughs, the executive director of Michigan Trout Unlimited in DeWitt.

“Lake trout were basically wiped out of Lake Michigan and Huron, and they were brought back by a federal program,” Burroughs said. “After about 50 years of trying to restore lake trout, we’re seeing the first positive signs of some success, but they are not yet a self-sustaining population.”

According to Burroughs, opening up game fish to commercial fishers would take that resource away from sport anglers.

“While we’ve been restoring the trout population, recreational anglers have been allowed to have some access, but the bag limit is very low,” Burroughs said. “If commercial fishermen enter the equation, they are going to be allocated a certain number.”

“You can’t allow commercial fishermen to take a percentage of that population without limiting sport fishermen. It’s putting a demand where there isn’t a supply,” he said.

Petersen said the Fish Producers Association continues to work to pass legislation to help commercial fishers stay in business.

“We’re waiting to see what the House bills do,” Petersen said. “We are a small grassroots industry, so we have to take and divide people where we best can.”

The bills are pending in committees.

Nutrition assistance programs for the elderly are failing, federal report says

10 counties with the highest proportion of residents 65 or older. Source: U.S. Census Bureau.

By Joshua Valiquette
Capital News Service

Federal guidelines for nutritional programs fail to adequately address the needs of elderly adults, according to a new Government Accountability Office (GAO) study done in  Michigan and three other states.

The report called for more oversight over nutritional guidelines for seniors at a time when the state is getting older. By 2030, one in five Michigan adults will be over 65, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

In response to the report, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said it intends to incorporate the unique needs of older adults into its guidelines but doesn’t have written plans yet to do so.

Sherri King, the nutrition service program leader for Aging and Adult Services in the state Department of Health and Human Services, says that registered dietitians under her supervision haven’t expressed concerns about the current dietary guidelines.

“I am very confident in their skill levels to meet the changing dietary needs,” King said.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service, most older adults have conditions associated with bad nutrition like diabetes or heart diseases.

The need to address nutrition guidelines and programs will grow in the coming years because of the rising age of Michigan residents, according to the U.S. Census.

The GAO, a nonpartisan Investigative arm of Congress, did the study in Michigan, Arizona, Louisiana and Vermont to examine how federal nutrition guides address older adults’ needs, how these guidelines are overseen; and the challenges programs face in meeting their nutritional needs.

GAO staff visited Evart, Baldwin, Grandville, Detroit and Troy as part of the study, according to Kathryn Larin, the lead staffer on the report and a director in GAO’s Education, Workforce and Income Security Team.

Although the nutritional needs of older adults can be different than for younger ones, guidelines for them produced by the federal government are similar to those given to much younger individuals, according to the report.

Lynn Cavett, the supervisor for child and adult food programs at the state Education Department, explained that the only difference in nutrition guidelines for the elderly is that “portions are larger and they are able to substitute milk for yogurt.”

Many adult care centers in Michigan use Meals On Wheels to provide food service for the elderly.

Erica Snyder, the nutritionist for Lansing-based Senior CommUnity Care of Michigan, has been using the service since 2015 and said the service follows the nutrition guidelines set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Overall, Snyder said, beneficiaries’ response to the service is “generally positive.”

Many counties now have almost 30% of their populations over the age of 65, Census data shows.

Alcona County residents are the oldest on average in the state, and the nine others with the highest average ages are in the Northern Lower Peninsula and the Upper Peninsula.

Despite the rising average age of Michigan residents, the demand for programs that feed the elderly or disabled while their caregivers work is still low, according to the Education Department’s Cavett, who oversees the state’s six facilities offering these type of services.

Cavett says that the goal for the upcoming year is to “push to find more adult care programs to come in and use our facilities and resources.”

One reason Cavett pointed to for the lack of interest in such programs is the willingness of younger people to take responsibility for their elders.

USDA does provide some details to help programs ensure meeting the needs of special cases, like individuals with diabetic problems, according to the GAO report.

The report said many food service providers feel that more constant sf interaction with the USDA and more detailed meal plans for the elderly would be helpful.

Lunch shaming pushes senator to reintroduce bill

This story originally appeared on Great Lakes Echo.

By Carol Abbey-Mensah

A Michigan lawmaker is renewing an effort to prohibit schools from stigmatizing students who owe lunch money or lack enough to buy a school meal.

This practice, known as lunch shaming, sometimes involves kitchen staff throwing away students’ hot lunches and offering them cold sandwiches.

While the purpose is to push parents to settle the debts of their wards, it also embarrasses the kids because they are identified and sometimes picked on by their peers.

To curb lunch shaming in Michigan school districts, Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich, D–Flint, has reintroduced The Hunger Free Students Bill of Rights.

“Sometimes students will receive a substandard lunch, or they are forced to perform chores or wear a stigmatizing wristband,” Ananich said.

His bill aims to prevent these acts by ensuring that school boards not publicly identify or stigmatize students who cannot pay for a school meal or owe a lunch debt.

“No child should be publicly embarrassed in front of their peers due to a low balance,” Ananich said. “Matters of lunch account balances should be taken up with students’ parents.”

All of the Great Lakes states have introduced and passed legislation and programs to tackle lunch shaming. Minnesota was the first to pass a lunch shaming law in 2014.

Apart from preventing the stigmatization of students, the bill would require school boards to ensure the confidentiality of pupils who qualify for free and reduced meals.

A similar bill was unsuccessful in 2018.

Often it requires years of work and introducing a bill several times to finally get it over the finish line, Ananich said.

He predicts that as more parents, students and teachers share stories of lunch shaming policies they see in their schools, more legislators will have an interest in working with me on this legislation.

Poll: Have you or has anyone you know experienced lunch shaming?

Harmony Lloyd who lives in Grand Blanc, Michigan, inspired Ananich’s legislation. She became interested in lunch shaming in 2018 after she heard of a local child’s lunch thrown away due to lunch debt.

“I vaguely recollected hearing stories of kids having lunch debt,” Lloyd said. “But it wasn’t until my son came home and told me the story, that I really began researching the issue.”

Lloyd called a woman in the school cafeteria to check out the story.

“She confirmed that this was the policy and that it happened often,” Lloyd said. “She also shared that the cafeteria workers hated to do it, but were told they would be fired if they gave away any lunches.”

After bringing the issue up at a school board meeting and having a friend donate some money to support the kids in debt, Lloyd was contacted by other parents who shared stories of this still happening.

“This is when I reached out to the media and to Sen. Ananich,” Lloyd said.

Lunch shaming is not new news.

In a New York elementary school about 10 years ago, Tate Wyatt could not afford a hot lunch.

He was embarrassed by the cafeteria staff and got picked on by friends.

“Everyone else would get their lunch and I would get pulled out of the line and told I would get a sandwich and a juice box,” Wyatt said.

Wyatt is not the only one.

At age 15, Evan Lane, then a student in the Fort Wayne Community schools in Indiana, said he went through a similar ordeal, where he would rather go hungry than receive a frozen peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

“It gives me a sour taste in my mouth whenever I think of it,” said Lane, now a senior at Ball College in Indiana. “It ruined entire years of my education, as I was more focused on the fact that I was starving rather than on class.”

It felt as if the school wanted to make profit off of me, rather than actually creating a safe learning environment, Lane said.

Although a bill like this could help with this issue, there must also be good communication and understanding, between parents, school districts and food service workers, said Lori Adkins, a child nutrition consultant with Oakland Schools in Michigan.

“The food service workers must understand what the policies are, so that they will be able to deal with issues like this appropriately,” Adkins said.

When it comes to communicating with parents, school districts are already putting in effort.

“School districts send emails to parents telling them about balances, but sometimes the parents can’t pay because they have fallen on hard times,” Adkins said.

Lloyd also believes that awareness could also help.

As more people become aware of the issue, I think Michigan has a good opportunity to pass common sense, bipartisan legislation that is good for our kids, Lloyd said.

“I have high hopes this will be the year we make it happen,” Lloyd said.