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People, towns, businesses, farms and gardens all grow in Michigan soil.


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Great Stress on the Lakes

The map highlights the relative collected stress on various areas within the Great Lakes Basin.

The map highlights the relative stress on various areas within the Great Lakes Basin.

J David Allen of the School of Natural Resources and Environment at the University of Michigan led a team that compiled information about all the stressors to the Great Lakes.

According to their analysis, “Current restoration efforts have targeted high-stress sites almost exclusively, but generally without knowledge of the full range of stressors affecting these locations or differences among sites in service provisioning. Our results demonstrate that joint spatial analysis of stressors and ecosystem services can provide a critical foundation for maximizing social and ecological benefits from restoration investments.” You can read the complete article here.

The article highlights how intermingled and independent the sources of stress can be. It’s not one bad thing, it’s thousands of bad things that combine over time and geography to create very big problems. If the Great Lakes can be helped, it will require a multi-faceted effort from many perspectives.

The map provided by the Great Lakes Environmental Assessment and Mapping Project (http://www.greatlakesmapping.org) emphasizes the relative strength (a negative measure) of the cumulative stresses through color coding with red being the areas with the most negative impacts.

I’m not a scientists but I can see that problems flow downstream. The more heavily impacted areas are shipping centers (Chicago), the mouth of rivers (Maumee), agricultural areas (Michigan’s thumb), larger cities, and popular recreational areas. The lakes furthest downstream (Erie and Ontario) are the most stressed. Lake Superior is furthest upstream and in better condition that the others.

The scientists in the study want governmental and environmental collectives to work together to understand and alleviate the stressors and to “clean up” affected areas with a better understood list of priorities.

As individual citizens, we can interpret this map and see that every little bit helps. This is our city asking us not to use nitrogen fertilizer on the lawn. This is our watershed safekeepers asking all of us not to dump pollutants into the storm drain. This is the Do Not Litter signs on the highways. This is the State DNR setting clean river water requirements for local water treatment plants which increase our water bills.

We rely on government to watch over industry and big business and to enforce the laws they enact for our protection. We benefit from the work of the Great Lakes Council of Governors who work to protect our water rights and keep a spotlight on Washington to encourage the federal government to do the right things. We can’t wait for government to solve all the problems.

There are improvements each of us can make that will combine over time and geography to remove some of the stress. We can start and participate in conversations about clean water. We can change the way we live at home to stop pollution in our own yards and neighborhoods.


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Taxing the Family Farm to Death

Photo by Kevin Dooley via Flickr

Photo by Kevin Dooley via Flickr

When Democrats talk about increasing the estate tax, they talk about “rich people” and not the family farm. But the family farm is impacted. When was the last time you heard someone accuse a small farmer of being rich?

President George W Bush enacted a temporary tax cut that set the estate tax on inherited assets at 35 percent after a $5 million exemption.

President Barack Obama wants to raise the rate to 45 percent after a $3.5 million exemption.

If no changes are enacted before year-end, the Bush rates expire. The estate tax rate prior to the Bush tax cuts was 55 percent after a $1 million exemption.

A recent article from the Michigan Farm Bureau reports that the average price of Michigan agricultural cropland is $3,500 per acre.

Using that benchmark, 285 acres is worth $1 million. If you add in the home, outbuildings, and equipment, the value zooms upwards.

Based only on land value, it would take 1000 acres to reach the $3.5 million and 1450 acres to reach the $5 million threshold.

Are you in favor of forcing the sale of family farms to pay estate taxes? What should Congress and the President be doing to protect the family farms?

A spouse may be able to inherit the farm without paying an estate tax. It’s different when children or other family members (and non-family) inherit. Estate tax law is complicated. Michiganders pay a federal estate tax, but no Michigan estate tax. It is always a good idea to consult a tax expert before making decisions on tax planning.


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Street Trees

Image courtesy of wikipedia.

Image courtesy of wikipedia.

Social scientists say that parks, trees, and landscaping help us remain calm and peaceful. They add a layer of quality to life.

I think neighborhood trees say permanence, strength, and quality. I squint at the skinny trees in new subdivisions. Given a choice, how many of us would buy the house with stately old trees, rather than 15-foot trees? Older houses come with older trees. Both need maintenance.

I remember shopping at Sloan Tree Farm near Howell. There are two 170-year-old maples in the front. They wall off the house from the road, but they say stability. They have survived. One shows scars from a lightning strike, but they are both very alive.

The street trees in the subdivision where I live are oak, tulip popular, maple, and sycamore. All of these were standard choices in the 1950s when the subdivision was built.

I have an American Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis). The bark peels to show off shades of brown, taupe, and green. It sheds more in some years than in others. The seed pods can be 2 inches in diameter and fall green during the summer and brown during the early spring. Productivity varies from year to year. In good years, the leaves are 12-18 inches wide.

My tree is over 50 years old, and has a life span of three times that long. It’s in poor health. The survey taken by the city a few years ago graded the tree’s health as fair.

The litter includes seed pods, leaves, branches, and twigs. The leaves open late, maybe mid-May, and fall early, starting mid-June. I clean up everything and complain only to myself. All trees are messy. I would rather have an old, tall messy tree than something that will look this good in another 30 years.

The city owns the street trees. I can’t take one down without their permission. Even with their blessing, I could pay the entire cost, and they have a list of what they’d allow me to plant in its place. Instead, I have planted two maples in my front yard. One is a Paperbark Maple (Acer griseum) I bought from Sloan’s. The other is a Red Maple (Acer rubrum) that came up as a weed tree in the garden and was carefully tended in a pot for three years before being permanently installed.

Trees take many years to die, even when they are weak. The sycamores will shade the street for many more decades. By the time they fall over, my maples will have an impressive height and spread.