Tag Archives: Michigan

Deer CWD.

The first case of chronic wasting disease suspected in Jackson County

A doe carcass may be evidence of Jackson County’s first case of chronic wasting disease.


A healthy doe.
Image via Maxpixel.

State officials report that a 3-year-old doe in Jackson Country is suspected to have died from chronic wasting disease, a condition that creates the so-called “zombie deer”. If confirmed, this would be the first recorded case of the disease in the county.

Deerly departed

A press release from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) reports that landowners in Spring Arbor Township contacted the agency earlier this month about a deer that died on their property. The deer looked ill, they said. DNR staff arrived at the location and examined the deer to determine the cause of its death. As part of the procedure, they sent three tissue samples to the Michigan State University Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory.

Initial tests came out positive for the disease. The samples have since been forwarded to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Veterinary Services Laboratory (NVSL) for confirmation. The DNR is currently waiting for the results. If confirmed, this will be the first recorded case of chronic waste disease in Jackson County.

“We are committed to maintaining healthy Michigan wildlife for current and future generations,” said DNR Director Keith Creagh. “One of our chief goals is to slow the spread of chronic wasting disease to other areas of the state.”

“That’s why we’ve taken strategic action, in partnership with local communities, hunters and others, to best address CWD in Michigan’s deer population.”

Chronic waste disease is very similar to the mad cow disease. It’s an incurable, fatal neurological condition that afflicts white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus), mule deer (O. hemionus), elk (Cervus canadensis) and moose (Alces alces). During its early stages, the disease isn’t even outwardly evident — infected deer look just as perky as their healthy counterparts. Its later stages, however, are quite horrific; animals in these stages have been described as ‘zombies’, being sickishly thin, unalert, and unafraid of humans.

Deer CWD.

Deer showing obvious signs of chronic wasting disease.
Image credits Terry Kreeger / Wyoming Game and Fish and Chronic Wasting Disease Alliance.

Over 31,000 deer have been tested for the disease since May of 2015. Chronic wasting disease already has been confirmed in Clinton, Ingham, Ionia, Kent and Montcalm counties. If the NVSL confirms that we are looking at a case of chronic waste disease, this would mark the 58th recorded case in Michigan.

Although the case is not yet confirmed, deer farms in the area have already been notified to take extra precautions.

Alarmed by this possible spread of the disease, the DNR is asking for help from hunters and the wider public. If you see any deer that’s unusually thin and lethargic, with drooping ears and head, report the sighting to your local wildlife office or via this online form. Animals that are exhibiting unusual behavior — most notably those that act tame around people and let humans approach them — should also be reported.


Find a 2.2-pound-chunk of the Michigan meteorite and you can win $20,000

If you’re out hunting pieces of the meteorite that shook Michigan on Tuesday 16, Darryl Pitt, curator of the Macovich Collection of Meteorites, has an offer you can’t refuse: be the first to bring him a 2.2 pound (1 kilogram) chunk of the space rock, and he’ll pay you $20,000.


Dashboard picture of the meteorite over Michigan.
Image via WeekFacts.

Pitt is taking inspiration from video games and sending Michiganians out on a quest for fame, glory — and fortune. Pitt, who’s also a meteorite consultant for auction house Christie’s and one of the largest private collectors of meteorites in the world, is putting up a reward of $20,000 for the first man, woman, or child who can bring him a 2.2-pound or more of the meteorite that crashed in Michigan three days ago.

He described the yet-to-be-retrieved space rock as a “winning extraterrestrial lottery ticket,” adding that the time is now for would-be treasure hunters to turn their efforts into a handsome profit.

Starter quest

“It’s better to go out there and find them sooner, because the longer they’re on the ground, the more they tend to blend in with Earth rocks,” said Pitt. “I really want this to be found and the only way that’s going to happen is if there are more boots on the ground.”

Preliminary NASA estimates place the meteorite that struck Michigan at around 6 feet in diameter (1.8 meters), and the force of its impact roughly around 10 tons of TNT. However, until we get our hands on a sample of the rock, we won’t be able to refine these estimates or determine exactly where it came from.

That’s the main reason Pitt issued his reward for the meteor. Furthermore, he’s a Michigan native who grew up in Southfield and studied at the University of Michigan and has a strong interest in space rocks. He remarked how unique it is for bystanders to witness an impact firsthand, saying that the event heightened public awareness and helped make central lower Michigan a hotbed for meteorite hunters.

He adds that it isn’t very common for him to offer a reward for meteorites, simply because there aren’t many known meteor events where the public is aware of its specific trajectory and location.

“Earth is bombarded regularly by materials, but two-thirds of those materials end up in the ocean, and a very large percentage lands in uninhabited areas and places where you can’t find it,” Pitt said.

The fate of this meteorite is still far from settled, however. William Cooke, the head of NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office in Huntsville, Alabama, says that the meteorite was spotted after 8 p.m. on Tuesday. He estimates that the meteor fragmented about 20 miles (32 kilometers) above the surface “give or take 5 miles.” You can see it happening here:

Those are about the only clear answers we have so far. NASA couldn’t reliably track the rock after that, as the material released as it broke apart screened the rock from radar.

On Wednesday, the agency released a narrowed-down impact area to the west of Hamburg Township in Livingston County (which seems to be pretty accurate). A better-defined search area would give residents a relatively solid chance of finding meteorite material, Pitt says, although the likelihood, as usual, remains fairly small.

Aspiring questees should take heart, however, and not falter in the face of unfriendly odds. We don’t know what the Michigan meteorite is made of, Pitt explains, but it could teach us a lot about the universe.

“We know that there are many meteorites that contain amino acids or building blocks of proteins of life that have never been seen before on Earth. They’re very important, fascinating objects.”

In the end, both Pitt and Cooke would like to remind everybody they must always ask permission from the owners if their search leads them to private properties. You can contact Pitt via his email or at 917-213-8265.

Teddy bear vaccine.

Michigan cut vaccine waivers by 35% by exploiting parents’ laziness

Since evidence and well-argument facts fail to convince parents to vaccinate their children, Michigan state authorities have taken up a more convincing approach — by requiring extra effort to get a vaccine waiver.

Teddy bear vaccine.

Image via Pixabay.

So most people agree (with the science, that is) that we should vaccinate our kids. But the perks of wiping out horrible diseases isn’t enough to convince everybody, for some reason. Granted, some kids need to steer clear of vaccines because they’re allergic to them, or due to a host of immunodeficiency conditions. I don’t think anybody wants to force them to take the shots. But the vast majority of parents opt out of vaccinations based on religious or philosophical reasons, and I guess we’ll have to get used to that until facts aren’t a make your own adventure type of thing any longer.

Or… do we? Michigan says ‘haha, no.’ The state set a pretty nifty system in place to gently, passively, stealthily persuade parents that maybe, just maybe, they should get their kids vaccinated. And it’s surprisingly simple: they just added more red tape to the process of getting a waiver.

So to get your child off those hidden-agenda vaccines and just go on faith (sorry kid), you need a little slip of paper known as a vaccine waiver. Between 2013-2014 Michigan had the fourth highest rate of children entering kindergarten with a vaccination waiver in the US, around 22%. This came down to how easy it was to get the waiver — over the Internet, the phone, or simply by mailing a form. But following outbreaks of whooping cough and measles in the state, legislators added the ‘inconvenience factor’ in December 2014, requiring parents to consult with a health educator before they would be granted a waiver. With this extra bureaucratic step, which parents have to do in person, the state has managed to bring this rate down by 35% in one year’s time.

Vaccination rates also rose accordingly. The percentage of children who took the state-required fourth round of immunizations for diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis in the state rose from about 78 to 85% during this time. Rates of unvaccinated children dropped from 22 to 15% — bringing Michigan to about the national average for this vaccination metric.

“The idea was to make the process more burdensome,” Michigan State University health policy specialist Mark Largent, who has written extensively about vaccines, told KHN.

“Research has shown that if you make it more inconvenient to apply for a waiver, fewer people get them.”

This approach removed messy debates over vaccines with opponents, Largent added, because “by heightening the burden, you change some of the [parents’] incentives” in the first place.

“Moral claims and ideology don’t matter as much when it’s inconvenient,” he explains.

Michigan’s biggest energy provider will phase out coal, despite Trump

The coal industry seems to be singing its swan song, despite political efforts to save it.

The Simon Power Plant at Michigan State University. Image credits: Michael P. Kube-McDowell

President-elect Trump has vowed to end the ‘war on coal’ but the electrical industry isn’t really swayed. DTE Energy, Michigan’s biggest electricity provider has announced that it will phase out coal regardless of the political direction of the country. CEO Gerry Anderson said they’ve already shuttered three coal-fired units and will close another eight by 2030.

“All of those retirements are going to happen regardless of what Trump may or may not do with the Clean Power Plan,” said Anderson in an interview.

He went on to explain that while a new coal plant is set to last until the 2030s, that will probably be the last coal plant Michigan – or even the US – ever builds. Coal plants are expensive to build and maintain, while other sources of energy are becoming cheaper and cheaper.

“I don’t know anybody in the country who would build another coal plant,” Anderson said.

However, it’s not all good. While renewables play a key role in the future, natural gas is still a priority in Michigan (and in much of the US). Natural gas prices in the United States are low right now, much cheaper than coal. According to a February report from the Michigan Public Service Commission, the construction of a new coal plant cost $133 per megawatt hour, while natural gas is two times cheaper. Wind comes in at $74.52 per megawatt hour, which is competitive with natural gas, but it’s not quite there yet. But the thing is consumers want renewable energy and support subsidies for clean energy or carbon tax for dirty energy. Many are willing to even pay an extra bit for renewables.

This idea is becoming more and more popular with policy makers as well. According to Vox, a surprising number of Republicans in Congress, including Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), are actually in favor of those renewable tax credits. So all in all, despite heavy lobby and a future president who made this industry a central point of his campaign, coal seems doomed. Hopefully, that gap will be filled by sustainable sources and not natural gas.

Science cafés – making science lectures fun and accessible

While in a bar, sipping a nice refreshing brew, it is not uncommon for people to engage in all sorts of discussions, ranging from Monday night football, to Kim Kardashian, to…science! You don’t need to be a scientist to talk about science either, and in Michigan a praising new phenomenon has emerged, science bars and cafes.

The grassroots movement has been steadily gaining in popularity in the state, forming in communities like Jackson, Okemos, Muskegon, Lansing, Ann Arbor and South Bend, encouraging people passionate about science to participate in the meetings, where various very interesting lectures and group interactions take place.

“You can drink alcohol while listening to the lecture. It is not in a classroom. Be casual,” said biology professor Laura Thurlow at Jackson Community College and science liaison for the city’s science café.

In all started back in 2009, Thurlow relates, and since then three or four lectures per semester are held in the cafes – and it’s growing and growing!

Lectures attract around 60 people per talk with 10 to 15 minutes of small group discussion led by a short presentation by Jackson Community College science students and a guest speaker from a local university of someone active in the community. According to Meg Gower, the owner of Gower Design Group and the initiator of Jackson science café, topics ranged from stem cell research and the atom smashing cyclotron to the expanding universe, health care and climate science.

The local establishments are looking at this with fine eyes as well, since they’ve graciously funded the various cafes in Michigan, helping pay for rent, scientific speakers and other necessities.

“We break the barriers for people so that it’s more accessible to the general public and they can listen to the informal lecture at the end of the day in a relaxed atmosphere,” says Thomas Hamann, a chemist at Michigan State University, who recently started a science café in Okemos and got funded by the International Year of Chemistry.

I can only agree. I know I’ve skipped tons of classes before, so I can go to bars, but only because I thought they were boring, and at all presented in a manner that’s meant to keep a modern day ADD student attentive. So maybe in the future, if students skip science for bars, then science might come to the bars for you.

For our Michigan readers – in Ann Arbor, the next science café will be in Conor O’Neill’s Traditional Irish Pub and the topic is “Water, Oil and Energy.”