Current UPEC issues

 

 

Here are some of the issues we are currently working on.

Recent Sign-Ons

UPEC is often asked to sign on to letters on a variety of environmental topics. The Board considers each one before deciding whether to sign on. Here are ones we’ve signed on to in recent months.

  • Opposing Trump Administration rollback of National Environmental Policy Act

  • Supporting Paw and Fin Act, to restore provisions of the Endangered Species Act rolled back by Trump Administration

  • Opposing proposed nuclear storage site near Lake Huron

  • Calling on Department of the Interior to suspend public comment periods during the Covid-19 crisis

  • Opposing unconditional bailouts of the aviation industry

  • Urging Congress to consider illegal wildlife trade as root cause of Covid-19

  • Supporting a tax credit for all taxpayers, not just itemizers, in the coronavirus relief bill

  • Requesting extension of public comment periods for all Forest Service projects during Covid-19

  • Urging Congress to increase funding for monarch butterfly conservation

  • Endorsing UP Energy Task Force Committee Recommendations on Propane Supply

  • Requesting that the Office of Management & Budget pause all rulemaking, permitting, and comment periods for oil, gas, and mining for the duration of the COVID-19

  • Opposing bailouts of marginal uranium companies

  • Requesting that Governor Whitmer put the Line 5 permitting process on hold

  • Asking for various clean water priorities in Covid-19 relief packages

  • Opposing Covid-19 relief bills that bail out Big Oil

Select UPEC Position Papers

(list under development)

 

 

For 45 years, UPEC has adopted carefully considered positions on a wide range of environmental issues facing Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Below are links to our latest position papers, as well as a summary of sign-on letters we’ve endorsed recently.

We also post daily to Facebook, so please visit and like the UPEC Facebook page to see issues that concern the Upper Peninsula and the Great Lakes area!

If you know of an issue you think we should also be aware of and haven’t seen us post anything about it, please contact us and let us know.

Position Papers & Comment Letters (to be posted soon)

  • 2018 Year in Review for UPEC issues (Mar 2019)

  • UPEC comment to DEQ Dir on Back 40 mine (Jan 2019)

  • UPEC comment on Proposed Tunnel under the Mackinac bridge (Dec 2018)

  • Sign on to Wildlife Corridor Legislation Dec 2018

  • UPEC position page on Summit Wind Towers

  • UPEC position page on Michigan Senate Bills 652-654

  • Comment Letter on proposal to add mining as a covered sector under FAST-41  (March 2018)

  • Comment Letter on Osisko and Aquila-Resources’-Back-Forty-mining (February 2018)

  • Line 5 Alternatives Analysis

  • Net-Pen Aquaculture in Michigan

  • Sylvania Wilderness bicycle trail

  • Water diversion from the Great Lakes, Waukesha

  • Great Lake Fisheries Research Authorization Act -March 2016 

  • Net Pen Aquaculture Nov 2015

Great blue heron • Courtesy Russell Johnson

Birding Helps To Keep Us Healthy (And It’s Fun)

 

by Jeff Towner, Chairman, Laughing Whitefish Audubon Society, & UPEC Board Member

 

Probably everyone would agree that we modern humans are subjected to a lot of environmental stress. The stressors are too numerous to name, but depending on an individual’s circumstances they may include environmental contaminants, including polluted air, water, and soil, poor diet, economic instability, lack of exercise, noise, interpersonal relationships, political instability, a deluge of media, including social media, and disease, including the current COVID-19 pandemic. Some spend considerable time and money looking for ways to reduce their stress load and deal with the physical and mental effects of stress. So, what does birding have to do with this? The answer is “A lot.”

 

The term “biophilia”, literally “love of life” may have been coined by the psychologist Erich Fromm, but it was popularized by Harvard biologist Edward O. Wilson in his 1984 book Biophilia. Wilson proposed that humans have an innate attraction to nature that is genetically predetermined and the result of evolution, and that humans have an urge to affiliate with other forms of life.This thesis posits that people who are best attuned to the living world around them have an adaptive advantage, and that they will have a reproductive advantage over others who are not as well attuned. It is easy to see the correctness of this notion being manifested during the long hunter-gatherer phase of human evolution. People who were best at recognizing when and where edible plants and animals were available, survived and reproduced more successfully than those who were not as good at this.

 

Birders can recognize the feeling of satisfaction that comes from spending time outdoors observing birds and other wildlife in their natural surroundings, in other words that “urge to affiliate with other forms of life”. One doesn’t even need to birdwatch to benefit from spending time outdoors. (Although why wouldn’t you want to?) A 2018 report published by the University of East Anglia on data gathered in 20 countries revealed that exposure to greenspace reduces the risk of type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease, premature death, preterm birth, stress, and high blood pressure. There is a greater body of work linking time spent in green spaces to lower risks of these maladies, as well as obesity, asthma, mental health problems and overall mortality, and to greater rates of health, happiness and cognitive development in children. There is even research on the minimum amount of time that is needed to be spent outdoors to show measurable benefits--two to three hours a week.

 

One of the major environmental stressors is human-generated noise. Those of us who are fortunate enough to live in the Upper Peninsula are not subjected to the high levels of noise as folks who live in the world’s big population centers, although we certainly have our share. I live two blocks away from US 41 in Negaunee Township; there are only a few very early morning hours when there is not a constant drone of vehicular traffic. Anyone who has walked down a busy street in a big city knows how ear-splitting the noise of traffic and human chatter can be and how it can affect your mental state. When you combine that with shops that like to blast music onto the street, you have an environment that virtually precludes the ability to think clearly.

 

 This noise pollution has real, measurable impacts on human and animal behavior and health. High and persistent noise levels can lead in humans to high blood pressure, heart disease, heart attacks, stress and insomnia. The World Health Organization issued a report in 2011 which concluded that 340 million Western Europeans (roughly equivalent to the U.S. population) lost at least one million years of healthy life each year because of traffic-related noise.

 

With regard to the effect of high ambient noise levels on birds, one interesting example is described in the January-February 2016 issue of Behavioral Ecology. This study found that male White-crowned Sparrows in San Francisco who occupied noisier territories produced songs at higher minimum frequencies, but with reduced bandwidth and lower vocal performance. This study concluded that lower vocal performance of birds on territories with high levels of human-generated noise could result in fewer mating opportunities and more challenges in males defending their territories. In other words noise reduces these male birds’ evolutionary fitness.

A recent study conducted by researchers at Queens University Belfast analyzed data from many other studies covering 109 species of animals, including amphibians, reptiles, fish, birds, mammals, arthropods, and molluscs. They found that the majority of species studied respond to human-generated noise, and that noise pollution can threaten the survival of many species. The readers of this newsletter are also probably aware of the effects that underwater man-made noise has on the ability of whales and other marine mammals to communicate, find food, etc.

Another study recently published in Germany and summarized in Science Daily found that a high biodiversity is as important for life satisfaction as income. All across Europe, the individual enjoyment of life was found to correlate with the number of surrounding bird species. An additional 10% of bird species therefore increases  Europeans' life satisfaction as much as a comparable increase in income. Nature conservation thus constitutes an investment in human well-being.

In Japan there is a practice called “forest bathing”, or “shinrin-yoku” in Japanese.  Dr. Qing Li describes it this way: “First, find a spot. Make sure you have left your phone and camera behind. You are going to be walking aimlessly and slowly. You don’t need any devices. Let your body be your guide. Listen to where it wants to take you. Follow your nose. And take your time. It doesn’t matter if you don’t get anywhere. You are not going anywhere. You are savoring the sounds, smells and sights of nature and letting the forest in. The key to unlocking the power of the forest is in the five senses. Let nature enter through your ears, eyes, nose, mouth, hands and feet. Listen to the birds singing and the breeze rustling in the leaves of the trees. Look at the different greens of the trees and the sunlight filtering through the branches. Smell the fragrance of the forest and breathe in the natural aromatherapy of phytonicides. Taste the freshness of the air as you take deep breaths. Place your hands on the trunk of a tree. Dip your fingers or toes in a stream. Lie on the ground. Drink in the flavor of the forest and release your sense of joy and calm. This is your sixth sense, a state of mind. Now you have connected with nature. You have crossed the bridge to happiness.”

Acoustic ecologist Gordon Hempton defines real quiet not as the absence of sound, but as the absence of noise from modern life. He has spent 45 years recording the sounds of nature, and searching for quiet areas of the Earth. Listen to some of his recordings and you’ll feel your stress level coming down. You’ll also experience that stress-reducing effect when you take a hike, a bike ride, or a muscle-powered paddle, with or without binoculars. Our brains are also stimulated when we take in the sights, sounds, and smells of nature, and when we look for and identify birds using our knowledge, the knowledge of an experienced guide, bound bird guides, or a birding ID app. Those activities help to stave off cognitive deterioration, which is a good reason in itself to get outdoors. But I suspect the main reason most of us go birding is because we simply love birds and their natural habitats, and that’s reason enough.

© 2021 UPEC