Possessing more than 3,000 miles of Great Lakes
shoreline, 11,000 inland lakes, abundant forests and diverse wildlife,
Michiganders have reason to pride themselves on their surroundings. Protecting
the state's natural resources is of great concern for many Michigan residents.
Fortunately, Michigan is doing relatively well on the environmental front,
according to the 2008 first triennial report on the state's environment.
Published by the Michigan departments of Natural Resources and Environmental
Quality, the report examines indicators that reflect biological, chemical and
physical aspects of the environment.
Michigan has some of the most diverse forests in the United States, with
more than 75 different tree species. Between 1980 and 1993, maple, birch and
beech trees have increased by nearly 1 million acres, and are expected to
increase based on existing conditions. The report concludes that standing
timber volumes tripled since the 1950s, which means that Michigan is regaining
much of the mature forest lost from fires and logging in the 1800s and early
1900s. Furthermore, the report states: "This expanding volume also indicates
that more growth has been continuously added to the forest than what has been
removed or died through natural causes. Annual growth has steadily increased
over the past 50 years."
According to the report,
water levels in the Great Lakes Basin normally fluctuate between 12 inches to
24 inches in a single year. By this standard, water levels remained relatively
The population of wolves
in the Upper Peninsula has shown a steady growth since 1989, and from 1994 to
2007 the population increased at an average annual rate of 19 percent, which
the report claims "is a positive indicator of ecosystem health." Similarly, the
bear population has shown a general increase.
Over the last 25 years, grassland species of birds and transitional
species have declined in numbers in favor of more generalist species such as
the house finch, northern cardinal, house wren and eastern bluebird, all of
which have increased significantly in population. This shift has been
attributed to changing habitat conditions, including human activity and the
continued maturing of Michigan's forests.
The bald eagle population is a success story in Michigan. From just 50
nests in 1961, 2007 yielded a record number of 526 nests, of which 67 percent
produced young, up from 42 percent in 1961. Because the bald eagle is at the
top of its food chain, its population is also a good indicator for monitoring
changes in levels of contaminants in the environment, such as PCBs
(polychlorinated biphenyls) and mercury. In general, the levels of PCBs in the
blood of bald eagles were dramatically lower in the 1999-2004 period compared
to a decade ago for both the Upper and the Lower Peninsulas. This is in spite
of the fact that Michigan has more PCB-contaminated hot spots than any other
Great Lakes state, an issue that is being addressed with both federal and state
The population of
walleye fluctuates heavily since their presence is strongly related to annual
variation in reproductive success. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, their
presence was low, after which it peaked in 1989. From 2000 to 2003, their
abundance declined to the lowest level observed since 1978, but rebounded in
2004 to the highest level in a decade and has since declined again.
Lake trout populations,
on the other hand, are nearly rehabilitated to pre-1940s levels in all areas of
Lake Superior except Whitefish Bay. Lake trout populations decreased
significantly in the 1940s and 1950s due to commercial over-fishing and
parasitism by sea lamprey. Successful programs to restock lake trout
populations and control sea lamprey in the 1970s and 1980s sparked a rebound in
trout populations, which is considered a positive indicator of the overall
health of Michigan's Great Lakes ecosystem.
Since the 1970s, efforts
to control pollution have resulted in a significant reduction of contaminants.
PCBs in lake trout from the Great Lakes have decreased dramatically.
The potential incursion
of Asian carp into the Great Lakes is perhaps the biggest threat to the Great
Currently, 46 exotic plant and animal species are known to have invaded
the Great Lakes Basin. One of the most serious of these threats is the emerald
ash borer, native to Asia. It has destroyed millions of ash trees across the
Lower Peninsula. Efforts to stop the spread of and eradicate the pest are
underway, from implementing quarantines and an inspection station at the
Mackinac Bridge to forming the Emerald Ash Borer Task Force, which has begun
using an insecticide that kills all of the borers when injected through the
bark at the base of ash trees.
The air quality in
Michigan has improved significantly over the last 35 years. Six criteria
pollutants are routinely monitored: carbon monoxide, lead, nitrogen dioxide,
ozone, particulate matter and sulfur dioxide. In 2008, all areas of Michigan
were in compliance with the EPA's criteria pollutant standards except for ozone
and particulate matter less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter, for which the EPA
implemented new standards in 2008.
Michigan's on-road motor
vehicle sources account for 69 percent of the state's carbon monoxide
emissions, whereas non-road vehicle sources, such as aircraft, marine vessels
and railroads, account for 28 percent. Only 2 percent of emissions come from
Michigan's industries. There has been a 50 percent decrease in the average carbon
monoxide levels every 10 years since 1984, even though the number of vehicle
miles driven has increased.
Currently, smelters and battery plants are the major sources of lead
worldwide. Since the 1970s, lead levels in gasoline have been controlled, and
since then, concentrations of lead in the air have decreased steadily. In the
Detroit area in 2006, the average air quality concentration for lead was 98
percent lower than the high in 1983. Average quarterly lead levels across
Michigan are about 50 times below the air quality standard.
Nitrogen dioxide levels
in Michigan have remained near the 0.02 parts per million level since 1992,
less than half of the amount deemed unsafe by the federal government.
naturally between 10 and 30 miles above the Earth's surface forms a protective
layer against harmful solar rays. In the Earth's lower atmosphere, however,
ground-level ozone is a pollutant formed when solar activity initiates a
chemical reaction with air pollutants. This usually occurs during warm summer
months from reactions between nitrogen oxides (NOx) and volatile organic
compounds (VOCs). Within Michigan, 63 percent of the ozone-producing pollutants
are emitted by vehicles, whereas the remaining 37 percent come from combustion
of fuels, chemical and petroleum manufacturing and natural vegetation such as
terpene emitting from resin. In July 2005, the EPA designated 25 Michigan
counties as being in "non-attainment" with a new, more stringent ozone standard
called the eight-hour standard. This standard was updated in March 2008. Currently, 30 counties are in non-attainment under the
Particulate matter is a
broad classification for material that consists of solid particles, fine liquid
droplets or condensed liquids absorbed into solid particles. Particulates with
a diameter of less than 10 micrometers are referred to as PM10, whereas very
fine particles, equal to or less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter, are referred
to as PM2.5.
Michigan is in
attainment with the PM10 standards5; often well below at most locations. Seven counties in
Michigan are in nonattainment with the PM2. standards, which are new since 2006.
Sulfur dioxide often comes from coal-burning power
plants. Levels of sulfur dioxide have fallen to one-fourth of the annual
Greenhouse Gas Emissions
and Air Toxics Release
The report states that total greenhouse gas emissions
in Michigan increased 9 percent in 2002 over the 1990 emissions baseline.
Conversely, the Air Toxics Chemical Release Inventory reported a decrease of 8
percent from 2005 to 2006, which the authors stress does not indicate either an
upward or downward trend, since many levels are self-reported. These may be
estimates rather than actual measurements, and do not include all industries
active in the state.
'Teams targeting poison in the River Raisin' by Tina Lam, Detroit Free Press,
July 2, 2009.
air quality standard for lead is 1.5 micrograms per cubic meter.
 EPA National Ambient Air Quality Standards list 0.053
ppm as the average 24-hour limit for NO2 in
original standard was based on concentrations exceeding 0.12 parts per million
during one hour. The stricter standard from 2005 is based on concentrations
exceeding 0.08 ppm over eight hours. The newest standard from March 2008 is
based on concentrations exceeding 0.075 ppm over the course of eight hours.
PM10 standard is 150 micrograms per cubic meter over the course of 24 hours.
PM2.5 standard is 35 micrograms per cubic meter over the course of 24 hours.
annual standard for sulfur dioxide is 0.03 ppm.
Total greenhouse gas emissions in Michigan during 2002 amounted to 62.59
million metric tons carbon equivalent (MMTCE) in comparison to the 1990 baseline
of 57.42 MMTCE.