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Thursday, April 15, 2021

Michigan expanding use of monoclonal antibody therapy in fight against COVID-19

Governor Gretchen Whitmer and Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, chief medical executive and chief deputy for health, give a COVID-19 Update on April 14, 2021, during a press conference. (Photo courtesy Michigan Executive Office of the Governor)

LANSING -- Governor Gretchen Whitmer and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services announced on April 14 that the state is working to expand the use of a medical intervention designed to significantly reduce hospitalizations and deaths due to COVID-19. This involves additional doses of monoclonal antibodies being made available to providers and requests to providers to expand the number of infusion sites in the state.

"We are using every mitigation strategy, every medication, and every treatment option to fight the virus here in Michigan," said Governor Gretchen Whitmer. "These antibody treatments could keep you out of the hospital and save your life, and my administration and I will continue working with the federal government to make sure we are using all the tools in our toolbox to keep you and your family safe and get back to normal sooner." 

Monoclonal antibodies (mAb) are laboratory-produced molecules that can restore, enhance or mimic the immune system's attack on cells. mAb targets different parts of the virus and prevents the virus from bonding with cells in the body, effectively neutralizing it. Clinical trials have shown promising data that this therapy works for the treatment of COVID-19 in patients who are at high risk for progressing to severe symptoms and/or hospitalization, including older Michiganders. To date, preliminary data suggests more than 6,600 Michiganders have received this treatment with 65 percent reporting feeling better with two days of treatment and less than 5 percent of them requiring hospitalization following treatment.

Gov. Whitmer joined Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, chief medical executive and chief deputy for health, and Dr. Adnan Munkarah, executive vice president and chief clinical officer, Henry Ford Health System, in a press conference on COVID-19 updates Wednesday, Apr. 14.*

"When administered to non-hospitalized patients within 10 days of symptom onset, monoclonal antibodies may reduce symptoms and the risk of hospitalizations and emergency room visits associated with the virus," Dr. Khaldun said. "Michiganders who contract COVID-19 should ask their health care providers about receiving this treatment, and I urge providers to assess if their patients qualify. We have seen successful use of this therapy in long-term care facilities and even in home use by EMS providers. This therapy can help save the lives of more Michigan residents as we work to vaccinate 70 percent of Michiganders age 16 and older with the safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine as quickly as possible."

This slide from the Governor's April 14 COVID-19 Update illustrates what people should do if they test positive for COVID-19 (at left) and, if not, the importance of getting vaccinated and continuing to mask up and social distance for prevention. (Photo courtesy Michigan Executive Office of the Governor)

Dr. Munkarah noted success in treating patients with monoclonal antibodies over the last five months.

"This treatment has the potential not only to help patients who are suffering from the severe effects of COVID-19, but also to ease the burden on our hospitals and caregivers," Dr. Munkara reported. "At the same time, we must stay vigilant by getting vaccinated and following the safety measures we have in place."

The therapy has been used successfully to help address COVID-19 outbreaks in Michigan long-term care facilities and to treat patients at home. In seven long-term care facility outbreaks, 120 vulnerable patients with high mortality rates were treated with mAb. Only three of those patients needed to be hospitalized, with one death.

Michigan was also one of the first states in the nation to issue an EMS protocol to allow paramedics to administer this medication to further increase access. In St. Clair County, Tri-Hospital EMS treated 50 patients at home over a nine-day period. The state is also using EMS to provide paratransit or ambulance transport to infusion clinics for patients who don’t have access to transportation.

The therapy is administered through an intravenous infusion and is designed for people who have tested positive for COVID-19 and have mild to moderate symptoms. It is not intended for hospitalized patients. These treatments are allowed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) under an Emergency Use Authorization. According to the FDA, mAb therapy is effective against the B.1.1.7 (UK) variant, the predominant form of COVID currently seen in Michigan.   

The National Institutes of Health recently recommended that patients with mild to moderate COVID-19 who are at high risk of worsening disease should be treated with combination therapy -- either Lilly or Regeneron. 

Michigan continues to monitor and track patients within 14 days of COVID-19 antibody treatment administration to assess the impact of COVID-19 antibody treatments on the state’s COVID-19 hospitalization rate. Additionally, the state is now conducting follow-up phone interviews conducted by volunteer medical and pharmacy students to more effectively assess patient response to mAb.

During the Apr. 14 press conference some reporters questioned Gov. Whitmer on why she has not added new restrictions on travel, restaurants, etc., since the state now has a very high rate of COVID-19 positivity -- recently called the highest in the U.S.

Gov. Whitmer replied that people are tired and are abandoning protocols of protective behavior, dropping their guard, while new variants of the virus are easier to catch. This necessitates prioritizing vaccinations. She said the state is now emphasizing three things: 1) vaccinations, 2) masking up, hand washing and social distancing, and 3) monoclonal antibody therapies available to those who test positive and are at high risk. The Governor stressed there are still public health laws in place to mitigate the spread of COVID including a mask mandate, capacity limits on indoor gatherings, and mandatory testing for sports.

"Don't eat inside of a restaurant," the Governor added.

She advised getting take-out or eating outside if possible. That was one recommendation she made last Friday, Apr. 9 -- along with urging high schools to shift to remote learning and recommending youth sports suspend in-person activities for the next two weeks.**

Additional information on monoclonal antibody therapy can be found at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Combating COVID website and Michigan.gov/COVIDTherapy.

Michigan residents seeking more information about the COVID-19 vaccine can visit Michigan.gov/COVIDvaccine. Information around this outbreak is changing rapidly. The latest information is available at Michigan.gov/Coronavirus and CDC.gov/Coronavirus.

Editor's Notes:

*
This Apr. 14 press conference and COVID-19 Update is available on YouTube HERE.

** See: "Gov. Whitmer calls on Federal Government to surge more vaccines to Michigan, urges voluntary 2-week suspension of some activities."

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Western UP Health Department pauses use of Johnson and Johnson vaccine

BARAGA, GOGEBIC, HOUGHTON, KEWEENAW and ONTONAGON Counties -- Western Upper Peninsula Health Department (WUPHD) is pausing all use of the Johnson and Johnson COVID-19 vaccine until more is known. The FDA and CDC have recommended this pause, and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) has confirmed it. There is no impact on the use of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines.

The homebound visits that were scheduled for today, Apr. 13, in Houghton County have been postponed.

The vaccination clinic scheduled for Thursday, Apr. 14, at Michigan Tech’s Student Development Complex (SDC) will operate and will offer the Moderna vaccine. Individuals with appointments will be contacted and offered the Moderna vaccine or be rescheduled as soon as possible.

"We are stopping all use of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine until we have more information on the few incidents of concern and clear recommendations on future use," says Robert Van Howe, MD, MS, FAAP, medical director with the Western Upper Peninsula Health Department (WUPHD). "This does not change the fact that COVID-19 vaccination overall is safe and effective. Millions have been vaccinated."

The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) is scheduled to meet Wednesday, Apr. 14. Pending the Committee recommendation, all scheduled Johnson and Johnson clinics are tentative. In addition, all current scheduling for vaccine appointments with the WUPHD is paused while staff assess supplies and contact those scheduled today.

The risk of the side effect for people who got the Johnson and Johnson vaccine more than a month ago is very low. People that received the vaccine within the last few weeks should be aware of any symptoms. If you have received the vaccine and develop severe headache, abdominal pain, leg pain, or shortness of breath, you should contact your healthcare provider and seek medical treatment.

This side effect has not been seen in the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines. People who are scheduled to receive either of these vaccines should continue with their appointments.

Residents can visit https://coppercountrystrong.com/vaccine to locate a vaccine provider in their area. Those without computer access should call 211 or their healthcare provider for assistance in scheduling an appointment.*

For more information on COVID-19 please visit wuphd.org, michigan.gov/coronavirus, or cdc.gov/coronavirus.

*Editor's Note: The Copper Country Strong vaccine locator may indicate Johnson and Johnson vaccine availability in some places because the page has not been updated.

Saturday, April 10, 2021

Gov. Whitmer calls on Federal Government to surge more vaccines to Michigan, urges voluntary 2-week suspension of some activities

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, chief medical executive and chief deputy for health, give an update on vaccines during a press conference on Apr. 9. (Photo courtesy Michigan Executive Office of the Governor)

LANSING -- At a press conference in Lansing on Friday, Apr. 9, Governor Gretchen Whitmer announced that Michigan would hit more than five million vaccinations by the end of the day. However, while vaccine supply has increased dramatically since the Biden Administration took office, the state is currently experiencing a serious spike in COVID-19 cases that is putting pressure on Michigan hospital systems. To slow the spread of the virus and protect more Michiganders, the governor renewed her call for the federal government to surge additional vaccines to Michigan, while also urging high schools to shift to remote learning, encouraging diners to choose outdoor dining or takeout instead of indoor seating, and recommending youth sports suspend in-person activities for the next two weeks.

"Administering more than five million doses of the safe and effective COVID vaccine in under four months is a big deal, but we’ve still got a lot more work to do," said Governor Whitmer. "Right now our numbers are alarming, and we all have a role to play to get our state moving in the right direction again. That’s why I’m renewing my call on the federal government to surge additional vaccines to our state. And it’s why I’m urging high schools and youth sports to voluntarily suspend in-person activities for the next two weeks. This is a team effort. It's on all of us to do our part by masking up and getting vaccinated to protect ourselves and our families, so we can get back to normal. Let’s get it done."

To date, Michigan has administered more than five million vaccines, moving the state closer to its goal of equitably vaccinating at least 70 percent of Michiganders ages 16 and older as soon as possible.

While many states across the country have dropped basic health protocols altogether, the State of Michigan continues to implement smart health policies and mitigation measures to slow the spread of COVID-19, including a statewide mask mandate, limits on indoor social gatherings larger than 25 people, expanded testing requirements for youth sports, and dozens of pop-up testing sites across the state. 

Dr. Joneigh Khaldun -- chief medical executive, chief deputy for health, and a parent and former student athlete herself -- joined the Governor in urging parents and young athletes to avoid COVID-19 risks.

"We’ve seen that the younger population has played a significant role in transmission during this most recent spike," Dr. Khaldun said. "I urge youth sports organizers to pause in-person activities for the next couple weeks, and as always, mask up, wash your hands, social distance and get your safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine as soon as you are able."

Over the last few weeks, Michigan has tracked outbreaks associated with youth sports. To prevent additional outbreaks, Governor Whitmer is urging youth sports on both school-sponsored and non-school-sponsored teams to suspend in-person activities, like games and practices, for the next two weeks. The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) requires testing for youth sports between the ages of 13-19, and provides testing assistance through the MI Safer Sports testing program, which expanded weekly testing protocols for athletes and teams. For all youth sports, participants must test on at least a weekly basis for COVID-19, and also before any unmasked activity.

"MSYSA appreciates Governor Whitmer providing us the opportunity to review our specific risk mitigation strategies and return to play guidelines," said Thomas Faro, Executive Director of Michigan State Youth Soccer Association, Inc. "We acknowledge the need for our members to continue to do their part with the consistent use of facial coverings and social distancing so that children can play soccer."

In addition, Governor Whitmer is asking high schools to utilize virtual instruction for the next two weeks to slow the spread of COVID-19. MDHHS issued guidance to schools strongly encouraging them to enroll in the department’s testing program if they are open to in-person instruction. Additionally, the state is offering 56 pop-up sites located throughout Michigan as part of the special program in an effort to increase access to testing for Michiganders returning from Spring Break. For more information on additional test sites, visit Michigan.gov/Coronavirustest

Governor Whitmer is also urging Michiganders to avoid dining indoors and avoid gathering with friends indoors for two weeks. The unfortunate nature of this deadly virus is that it spreads quickly when people are gathered indoors without masks for an extended period of time. By opting to dine outdoors or order takeout, restaurants can remain open while operating safely to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.*

For the latest information on Michigan’s response to COVID-19, please visit Michigan.gov/Coronavirus. You may also call the COVID-19 Hotline at 888-535-6136, or email COVID-19@michigan.gov.

* Editor's Note: According to the latest Briefing from Copper Country Strong, Houghton County has the highest rate of COVID-19 positivity, 7.5 percent, and the lowest percentage of vaccine coverage for the population over 16, 23.23 percent, in the 5-county area covered by the Western UP Health Department. Click on Copper Country Strong in our right column to see the latest numbers and announcements.

Wednesday, April 07, 2021

Hancock City Council approves MNRTF grant application, following public support; City Council to meet TONIGHT, Apr. 7

By Michele Bourdieu

This new City of Hancock logo was approved at the March 30, 2021, Special Hancock City Council meeting. (Image courtesy City of Hancock)

HANCOCK -- At a special meeting and public hearing on March 30, the Hancock City Council heard comments from local residents on their proposed Resolution 21-05 Submission of the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund (MNRTF) Acquisition Grant application for the Navy Street Trail.

Several comments were received during the public hearing supporting the application for this grant, which, if received, would allow the City to purchase 1000 feet of the Navy Street Trail and allow public access to the waterfront trail that is now owned by Carmody Lahti Real Estate and Finlandia University.*

The green line on this map shows the Navy Street Trail in Hancock, along the Portage Waterway. The City of Hancock hopes to acquire public access to this waterfront property through a Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund (MNRTF) land acquisition grant. (Keweenaw Now file photo courtesy City of Hancock)

During the March 30 meeting, following the public hearing, the Council voted and unanimously approved the Resolution to submit the grant application.

Thanks to Joshua Vissers, editor and publisher of Late Edition, the video recording of that virtual meeting, including the public hearing, is now available on YouTube HERE.

Residents, community leaders support MNRTF grant application

During the meeting, Hancock City Manager Mary Babcock also read a list of names of several persons who sent letters in support of the grant application. Here are some excerpts from those letters:

Kurt Rickard, Hancock Planning Commission chairperson, confirmed that the Planning Commission voted unanimously on March 22, 2021 to support the grant application.

"This project meets the City's planning needs, identified in the Master Plan, by continuing the goal to connect the Portage Lake Lift Bridge on the east to the Maasto Hiihto on the west side Hancock," Rickard states in his letter to Hancock Mayor Paul LaBine.

Finlandia University President Philip Johnson sent the Council a copy of his statement of support to the Trust Fund, noting the following:

"The acquisition of 1,000 feet of waterfront property at this location will allow the City to begin linking existing recreational facilities with a single, multiuse recreational trail. A successful application will advance the City's master plan to achieve the following:
1)    increase community connection to the waterfront;
2)    develop the area's trail system;
3)    expand safe recreational biking;
4)    invest in general outdoor recreational development; and
5)    acquire, when possible, properties along the waterfront that hold promise for such plans."

Jay Green, Keweenaw Nordic Ski Club president, sent a letter of support from KNSC, stating in part, "We feel this would be a great opportunity to ensure the use of the waterfront trail for years to come. The trail adds to the enjoyment of the City's natural amenities. Connecting to the Waterfront Porvoo Park enhances the experience for both local residents and visitors enjoying the City. Porvoo Park adds amenities of bathrooms, seating, and a pavilion that the trail can take advantage of.

"Currently the trail is popular as a daily walking destination for dog walkers, fishermen and bird watchers along with the general public. Several years ago it was the route taken for the Chain Drive mountain bike race heading from the bridge to the Maasto Hiihto Trail System."

John Diebel, KNSC treasurer, spoke at the hearing and also sent a letter of support, noting his own observations of wildlife on the waterfront trail: "There is currently an active beaver lodge on the property. My pre-dawn dog walks there are often enlivened by the sound of beavers slapping their tails on the water at my approach. Nor is it unusual for my headlamp to catch the reflection of fox eyes ahead of me on the trail. Just yesterday from the second floor of our house my wife spied a bald eagle cruising over the proposed acquisition looking for open water. During the summer along the snowmobile trail near the property and the waterfront walking trail my wife and I have seen Baltimore orioles, American redstarts, brown thrashers, pileated woodpeckers, great horned owls, bald eagles and a variety of song birds. Once back in the late 1980s a moose even wandered down the snowmobile trail one summer morning and swam to the south side of Portage Lake from the area before continuing his journey up to South Range. Though a relatively small and narrow green space, it provides the opportunity for users to encounter a variety of wildlife."

Lisa McKenzie, former Hancock mayor, also sent her support for the Waterfront Trail and acquisition of parcels.

"Over the years, the City of Hancock Council and various Commissions have planned and worked to develop and promote community access to the waterfront," McKenzie writes. "I support the acquisition of any parcels for accessibility and recreational development opportunities for our community."

In letters to City Manager Mary Babcock, Sue Ellen Kingsley and her husband, Terry Kinzel, active supporters of the Maasto Hiihto and Churning Rapids trails, both expressed their support for the grant application. Kingsley writes, "Even though I live in Hancock Township, as a cyclist/pedestrian who frequently spends time in Hancock, I have often longed for a waterfront trail to enjoy. This seems like a grand opportunity for the City of Hancock to enrich the lives of present and future residents and visitors of not just Hancock, but all of Houghton County. We have all seen how our quality of life has improved with the walking/biking waterfront trail in Houghton, a trail that is heavily used for both recreation and commuting. A similar facility in Hancock would immeasurably add to the city's -- and the county's -- appeal for residents and tourists alike."

Jeff Ratcliffe, executive director of the Keweenaw Economic Development Alliance (KEDA) states in a letter to Babcock that the project furthers KEDA's Strategic Plan goals in addition to the City's: "Developing amenities such as this waterfront trail and park system is critical to our ability to attract and retain talent for our universities, hospitals, manufacturing and technology companies. The City of Hancock is to be commended for pursuing development of this project."

Jeannie DeClerck, coordinator of the Hancock Beautification Group, notes, "It's a lovely spot. Few cities are fortunate enough to have such an extended stretch of undeveloped land along a waterfront. With little public investment, it already draws anglers, pedestrians, dog walkers, and visitors who enjoy 'forest bathing' from spring until winter. Purchasing it for public use will assure that the people of Hancock will continue to take advantage of this unique natural sanctuary for decades to come."

Local resident Mary Eckhart, who belongs to a women's hiking group, also told Babcock of her support for the project: "Our group is just a small representation of many people who are outdoor enthusiasts. I believe that this trail would be appreciated and well utilized. I see it as an economic asset to the community. The trail has the potential to bring outdoor enthusiasts to the community in addition to supporting opportunities for leisure, health and fitness to the residents of Hancock."

Dan Dalquist, representing the Keweenaw Trekkers -- a mountain bike group that has used the Maasto Hiihto-­Churning Rapids trails for over 30 years and started the former Chain Drive bike race in Hancock -- states, "This section will help the bicycling community with legal access to transit thru Hancock. Walkers and runners will also benefit."

Longtime Hancock resident Emily Dekker-Fiala also sent a letter on the importance of acquiring this trail for hikers and bicycle enthusiasts. She asked the City to be pro-active in acquiring this trail for the public, noting, "Since the pandemic stay-at-home order of last March, I have noticed an upsurge in the use of all of our trails. Some people are just discovering their community trails and others are getting out and walking more often for the fitness and therapeutic values. I expect that some of this new use will continue after we find our 'new normal.' The Navy Street route is a hidden gem that many people have not discovered, but it has walkers of all ages enjoying it and it will grow in popularity. Nonmotorized access along the waterfront is a huge asset for residents and visitors alike."

Hancock City Council to meet April 7

The Hancock City Council will hold a meeting at 6 p.m. tonight, April 7, in the City Council Chambers in Hancock. The meeting will also be on Zoom. Click here for the agenda. You can access the meeting on Zoom here:
https://us02web.zoom.us/j/82969366390
+1 312 626 6799 US (Chicago)
Meeting ID: 829 6936 6390

*Editor's Note: See our March 30, 2021, article, "TODAY City of Hancock to hold PUBLIC HEARING on MNRTF acquisition grant application for Navy Street Trail access."

Thursday, April 01, 2021

Proposed industrial rocket launch site at Granot Loma threatens pristine Lake Superior shoreline

This photo shows an overview of the proposed Granot Loma/Thoney Point launch site on Lake Superior in Marquette County as seen from the overlook on bareback mountain at Harlow Lake. (Photos courtesy Citizens for a Safe and Clean Lake Superior board members)

By Dennis Ferraro*

Most of us coming to Lake Superior’s beautiful southern shoreline to live, to study, or to visit feel a deep connection to its wild and pristine coastal habitat. Whether hiking trails, hunting, skiing, fishing, kayaking, or just wandering the beautiful coastline from Pictured Rocks to the Porcupines, we feel this connection to nature that recreates our bodies, refreshes our minds, and replenishes our spirits.

One particularly beautiful stretch of coastline -- pictured above as an overview and shown below as a water view -- is the Thoney Point promontory at an area known as Granot Loma, just 10 miles north of Marquette. Unfortunately, a Detroit lobbyist, the Michigan Aerospace Manufacturers Association (MAMA), now wants to create a heavy industrial zone at Granot Loma for launching purely commercial rockets into space.

Here is a view from the proposed rocket launch site seen from the water about 2 miles south on the Hiawatha Water Trail.

As bait, early in 2019, MAMA publicly promised hundreds, if not thousands, of local jobs at a proposed horizontal launch site at the industrially developed KI Sawyer Airport; but then secretly, behind closed doors, made the switch to a vertical launch site, for a mere handful of jobs, on the pristine and ecologically sensitive Lake Superior coastline at Granot Loma.**

Now that Oscoda-Wurtsmith airport has been chosen for the horizontal launch site, and Chippewa County chosen for the "spaceport" command and control center, instead of gaining many jobs, Marquette County will end up with only a handful. For example, the Kodiak Alaska Aerospace site, when launching rockets like those proposed for Granot Loma, only employs five people.

Moreover, instead of a spaceport located at an already industrially developed site, this switch to the pristine and ecologically sensitive lakeshore at Granot Loma will create an extremely intense industrial use zone:

  • which will be built on fragile wetlands within hundreds of feet of the lakeshore;
  • where risk of explosion at launch will require evacuation of at least six nearby family residences;
  • where, after even successful launches, rocket parts will fall to the lake and ground, causing both hazard and pollution below;
  • where lightning and water towers will pollute the view;
  • where extensive clear cutting will strip plant and animal habitat;
  • where a deluge shock suppression system will draw tons of water from groundwater tables and/or the already eroding lakeshore;
  • where each launch blast will be seen and heard for miles around, just like the Wallops Island VA launch site, where The Washington Post notes that flights of rockets, like those planned for Granot Loma, "are visible up and down the Atlantic Coast."

This water view is within a mile of the proposed launch site.

This is a bad bargain, one that will degrade the quality of life which draws people here. Lake Superior’s coastline is not any one private or public landowner’s front or backyard. It is truly our collective lakeshore, a resource we must protect and sustain, regardless of municipal, township or neighborhood borders.

Just consider Granot Loma’s proximity to coastal areas which enhance the quality of life for all our citizens. For example, the proposed launch site would be located as follows:

These venues for outdoor recreation connect people with nature, recreate and refresh us, and promote sustainable economic growth in the UP.

Marquette already ranks as one of the the top 25 places for millennial job seekers because of the excellent quality of life provided by our beautiful UP wilderness and our pristine southern Lake Superior shoreline.

This Lake Superior shoreline view shows the pretty sandstone cliffs at the proposed Granot Loma/Thoney Point launch area.

Best Value Schools lists Northern Michigan University among the "Top 50 Outdoor Colleges" because our students "are surrounded by nature…close to Lake Superior, Marquette Mountain and other beautiful locations."

Reader’s Digest praises Marquette as up-and-coming for its quality of life created by its wilderness features and waterfront.

People come here for the beauty and connection with our still wild natural environment and the quality of life it offers. They do not come seeking an industrial hub. Creating an intense industrial zone for rocket launches, and the slippery slope into further erosive industrialization of Lake Superior’s shore, will not promote further sustainable growth. It will irreparably harm it.

This photo shows the rare black granite outcroppings at the proposed launch area.

There is simply no compelling need to locate a purely commercial, industrial launch site next to the largest surface area of freshwater on earth. Many thoroughly developed commercial rocket sites already exist elsewhere, like Kennedy Space Center’s  LC-48 complex which can launch 52 per year, Kodiak Island, or the new Wallops Island, VA, spaceport, referenced above. Rocket Lab, whose rocket is touted by MAMA, has only launched 20 rockets (2 failures) from its base in New Zealand, despite obtaining a license in 2016 allowing a launch every 72 hours for 30 years.

Spreading misinformation, and withholding facts, MAMA counts on the silence and inaction of the public, while solidifying its plans behind the scenes.

But a well organized public and vocal opposition can fight back now to influence local decision makers; and, in any future Federal Aviation Administration permitting process, it will be crucial that a large citizen coalition be already prepared to participate in public comment and hearings to argue cogently and forcefully to defeat the launch plan.

So please join us now, at citizensforasafeandcleanlakesuperior.com, or at our more easily remembered handle, everybodysbackyard.com. Protect our lakeshore!***

* Guest author Dennis Ferraro is President of Citizens for a Safe and Clean Lake Superior.

** Click here to read "The Bait and Switch Behind the Granot Loma Launch Plan."

*** Dennis Ferraro's recent presentation, "Save Our Shoreline: Everybody's Backyard!" is now posted on the Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition's (UPEC's) You Tube channel HERE.

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Letter: Michigan voting bills not helping

By Valorie Troesch*

To the editor:

Thirty-nine bills were recently introduced in the Michigan Senate that will suppress voting rights, all done under the false premise -- aka "The Big Lie" -- of securing elections in a state where there has not been a single documented and verified instance of individual or voting machine fraud. Republicans created a phantom problem in order to pass legislation designed to curb voter turnout.

Michigan is not alone. These types of bills are being passed in Republican-controlled legislatures across the country and are targeted to make voting more difficult, especially for minority populations. However, if Senator McBroom -- who co-sponsored some of these bills -- wants to honestly represent the best interests of his constituents in Michigan’s rural western Upper Peninsula, he will exercise independent judgment and not follow in lock-step with Michigan Senate Republicans. The best interests of McBroom’s constituents are in direct opposition to what these bills will do.

For example, Senate Bill 285 will require that voters present an original or a copy of a specific type of photo ID to the clerk in order to request an absentee ballot. Think about what this means. An elderly person living in a rural area who cannot drive and who wants to vote by absentee ballot will now have to figure out how to get this ID and how to make a photocopy of it to submit with a mailed-in application for an absentee ballot. Alternatively, that voter will have to either mail in the original ID or go in person to apply for the absentee ballot. This all flies in the face of the rationale for absentee voting in the first place -- to help enfranchise voters who cannot easily leave their homes.

Senate Bill 287 will remove prepaid postage for absentee ballots and require voters to pay their own postage. On its face, this may seem fair, but this is a risky provision. In the November 2020 election, absentee ballots in their envelopes weighed slightly more than one ounce, greater than the allowed weight covered by a single first-class stamp. Voters who wrongly assume that one stamp will always cover the postage risk having their ballots not delivered by Postmaster General DeJoy’s USPS and, thus, not counted. Pre-paid postage negates this risk and is a common-sense solution.

In their overzealousness to tamp down minority voting, Republican legislators -- especially in the Upper Peninsula -- will needlessly disenfranchise their own constituents.**

Editor's Notes:

* Valorie Troesch, author of this letter, is a Copper Country resident.

** Voters Not Politicians (VNP) of Michigan will hold a virtual Voter Suppression Resistance Update w/ Letter Writing Workshop at 7 p.m. EDT TONIGHT, Wednesday, March 31. You can join from anywhere by registering here. VNP will present a statewide volunteer update on Senate Bill package 273 - 309 and the Rescue Michigan plan. Immediately following is a letter-writing workshop with tips for messaging your representatives on this important issue.

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

TODAY City of Hancock to hold PUBLIC HEARING on MNRTF acquisition grant application for Navy Street Trail access

The green line on this map shows the Navy Street Trail in Hancock, along the Portage Waterway. The City of Hancock hopes to acquire public access to this waterfront property through a Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund (MNRTF) land acquisition grant. (Photo courtesy City of Hancock)*

HANCOCK -- The City of Hancock will hold a special City Council PUBLIC HEARING and Meeting at 6 p.m. TODAY, Tuesday, March 30, via Zoom, to consider the MNRTF (Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund) acquisition grant application for the Navy Street Trail. 

"The City of Hancock is  applying for the MNTRF acquisition grant to purchase 1000 feet of the Navy Street Trail," said Mary Babcock, Hancock City Manager. "The grant will allow public access to the waterfront trail that is currently unavailable. This property is owned by Carmody Lahti Real Estate and Finlandia University."

Should the City receive the grant, the trail would be non-motorized, Babcock added.

This map shows the location of the Navy Street Trail along the Hancock waterfront. At far right is the Portage Lift Bridge. Hancock Beach and Campground are pictured at far left of map. Downtown Hancock is indicated by the light blue rectangle above the trail. (Photo courtesy City of Hancock)*

Members of the public wishing to participate in the meeting and Public Hearing will need to call 312626- 6799 and enter the meeting ID (821-7759-0700). Please hit *9 to raise your hand to make a comment.

Join Zoom Meeting: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/82177590700 Meeting ID: 821 7759 0700
Dial by your location
+l 312 626 6799 US (Chicago)
Meeting ID: 821 7759 0700

AGENDA

6 p.m. PUBLIC HEARING: MNRTF Grant Application

Regular Meeting
•    Call to order and pledge of allegiance
•    Roll Call and verification of quorum
•    Review and approval of agenda

Public Comment -- Anyone wishing to address the council will be recognized by the Mayor at this time. Please hit *9 to raise your hand to make a comment via ZOOM.

Old Business
1.    Consider approval of Resolution 21-05 Submission of the MNRTF Acquisition Grant application for the Navy Street Trail.

New Business
1.    Consider approval of lot split for 444 Hancock Avenue to reconcile the legal description to the property card.
2.    Consider approval of City of Hancock proposed logo design.

Public Comment -- Anyone wishing to address the council will be recognized by the Mayor at this time.
Please hit *9 to raise your hand to make a comment via ZOOM. 

Adjourn

* Editor's Note: We regret being unable to fit the entire map and labels in our column.

Thursday, March 25, 2021

MDHHS issues precautionary consumption guideline for Lake Superior smelt

Logo for Michigan's Eat Safe Fish guidelines. (Logo courtesy michigan.gov)

LANSING -- The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) has been notified by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) of elevated perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) levels in Lake Superior rainbow smelt. In order to be protective of public health, MDHHS is matching WDNR's guidance and issuing a precautionary Eat Safe Fish guideline recommending that individuals limit Lake Superior smelt consumption to one serving per month.

For the MDHHS guidelines, a serving is considered to be an 8-ounce portion size for adults and 2- or 4-ounce portion size for children. The precautionary guidelines take effect immediately and replace the existing Eat Safe Fish guideline for Lake Superior smelt issued due to mercury. MDHHS will update the smelt guideline once additional Michigan data is available later this year.

"This precautionary guideline is based on data shared by Wisconsin, which shows elevated levels of PFOS in Lake Superior rainbow smelt," said Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, MDHHS chief medical executive and chief deputy for health. "PFOS is a perfluoroalkyl substance (PFAS) associated with harmful effects in people, including reduced fertility, thyroid disease and liver damage. We will update this guideline once the department has additional data."

MDHHS is coordinating with the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE); Michigan Department of Natural Resources; and other agencies to collect smelt from Lake Superior, Lake Huron, Lake Michigan and some inland lakes. MDHHS will then analyze these samples for contaminants, including PFOS. Once this data is available, MDHHS will update existing smelt consumption guidelines for these waterbodies as needed.

MDHHS Eat Safe Fish guidelines are not regulatory. MDHHS makes this information available to help Michiganders make safer choices when it comes to choosing and eating fish. For more information, visit the Eat Safe Fish program website or call the MI-TOXICS hotline at 800-648-6942.

Thursday, March 18, 2021

An Uncertain Future for Michigan Wolves

By Nicholas Wilson*

The Gray Wolf, recently removed from the Endangered Species List, is now in danger of a potential wolf hunting and trapping season in Michigan. (Photo © Wolf Conservation Center, Salem, NY, and courtesy Nancy Warren)

On January 4, 2021, the Gray Wolf was officially removed from the Endangered Species List. Delisting eliminated the federal protections provided to wolves by the Endangered Species Act and returned management authority to the states. Now, Michigan is considering a wolf hunt.

State Senators Ed McBroom and Jon Bumstead introduced a non-binding resolution to the Michigan Senate (Senate Resolution 15) urging the Natural Resources Commission (NRC) to authorize, and the DNR to organize, a wolf hunting and trapping season in 2021. The NRC Consists of seven members appointed by the Governor, and has "exclusive authority to regulate the taking of game and sportfish, and is authorized to designate game species and authorize the establishment of the first open season for animals through the issuance of orders."

On March 9, the Senate adopted Senate Resolution 15 (SR15), bringing Michigan one step closer to a wolf hunt. Following this adoption, the Michigan DNR reiterated its position on wolf hunting and trapping. The DNR affirmed that before considering a wolf hunt Michigan’s Wolf Management Plan should be updated, a new wolf public attitude survey should be conducted, and Native American tribes should be consulted.

Wolfwatchers' Nancy Warren dispels myths about wolves

On February 25, the Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition (UPEC) held a virtual event featuring Nancy Warren, Executive Director of the National Wolfwatcher Coalition (NWC). Warren’s presentation -- titled "The Big Bad Wolf; Or is it?" -- provided scientific information on the Gray Wolf and discussed the consequences of delisting and the potential for a 2021 Michigan wolf hunt. After sharing background information on wolf physiology, behavior, and identification, Warren addressed several common myths about wolves.

Nancy Warren's slide presentation for UPEC questions myths about wolves and presents scientific facts. (Photo © and courtesy Nancy Warren)

The first of these myths is that wolves are dangerous to people. Warren explained that, despite frequent media portrayals of wolves as aggressive and violent, in reality the majority of animal-related human fatalities are caused by livestock, dogs, insects and deer rather than wolves. Human hunters are actually far more dangerous to people than wolves are.

This slide illustrates Warren's explanation of why wolves are mostly afraid of people. (Photo © and courtesy Nancy Warren)

"100 people are killed annually in the country by hunters," Warren said. "We’ve had two fatal attacks by wolves in all of North America in the last century and none in the continental United States." Inset photo: Nancy Warren. (Keweenaw Now file photo by Allan Baker)

Many people also believe that wolves are a great risk to livestock and domestic animals. But again, the data says otherwise. In 2018, 2019, and 2020, the total number of cattle taken by wolves in the UP was 6, 5, and 6 respectively.

"The risk to livestock is extremely low especially when compared to other losses experienced by producers such as weather and medical issues," Warren explained.

In this slide Warren notes how humans can take responsibility to keep wolves at a distance and respect their habitat. (Photo © and courtesy Nancy Warren)

Additionally, Michigan law guarantees that the State will compensate farmers for missing livestock if the farmer has any prior verified wolf depredation.

Another common misconception is that wolves are overpopulated in the Upper Peninsula and the Midwest. Warren presented DNR data on wolf populations in Michigan and Wisconsin from 1980-present. This data indicates that there are between 1018 and 1041 wolves in Wisconsin, and about 700 wolves in Michigan (found almost exclusively in the UP). Warren explained that the Michigan wolf population has remained stable for the past 10 years.

She also dispelled the myth that wolves are devastating the UP deer herds.

"Even though our number of wolves has gone up, the number of deer killed is staying pretty consistent. It’s weather not wolves that has the greatest impact on deer populations," Warren said. "I believe, and the statistics show, and the science shows, that there are enough deer on the landscape for both wolves and human hunters." 

Warren cited statistics to show that UP deer herds are not being devastated by wolves. (Photo © and courtesy Nancy Warren)

Despite their often-negative public perception, wolves play an important ecological role. Wolves manage the beaver population (their second favorite food), and strengthen the deer herd by eliminating the weak, sick, and injured. In doing so, wolves may also help to prevent diseases like CWD (Chronic Wasting Disease) and EHD (Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease) from establishing in the UP deer population. By keeping deer herds moving, wolves also create better habitat for plants and animals of all kinds.

Warren shows in this slide how wolves actually strengthen the health of the deer herd. (Photo © and courtesy Nancy Warren)

"They alter the deer movements -- which allows forest and habitat regeneration simply because the deer spend less time in one place," said Warren. "It creates a rippling effect throughout animal and plant communities."

Wolves can also provide an economic benefit to the areas that they inhabit.

"In Minnesota, the International Wolf Sanctuary adds about $3 million to the local economy and created the equivalent of 66 full-time-jobs," Warren noted.

Ojibwe cultural views of the wolf

In addition to ecological and economic value, wolves have great cultural significance to the Ojibwe people. Dr. Jonathan Gilbert, Director of the Biological Services Division at the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission (GLIFWC), explained the importance of wolves in Ojibwe culture.

"The Ojibwe people think about Ma’iingan, the wolf, as a brother or sister. Their stories say that whatever happens to one of them will happen to the other," Gilbert said.

"When we think about wolves and wolf management in our modern-day view, we talk about population goals or objectives. We talk about potential for harvest seasons. That’s our western science way of looking at it," Gilbert continued. "But when you put that into the cultural context of the tribes, you start to think: what should your population goal be for your brothers and sisters, for your family? What should your harvest quota be for your relatives? How many of your relatives should we kill?"

The Keweenaw Bay Indian Community recently issued a Resolution opposing Senate Resolution 15 and calling for consultation with tribes according to the 2002 Government-to-Government Accord. The Resolution states, in part, the following:

WHEREAS: The Keweenaw Bay Indian Community believes the gray wolf is not an appropriate species to harvest for subsistence purposes, its numbers cannot withstand a rapid depletion by recreational hunting and trapping without danger of being relisted as threatened or endangered, and depleting numbers of wolves will upset the ecological balance between predator and prey; and ...

WHEREAS: The 2002 Government-to-Government Accord gives Michigan and the twelve Federally Recognized Indian Tribes the right to consultation, which provides the opportunity for tribes to provide input and recommendations on proposed actions to governmental officials responsible for the final decision, and also provides the right to be advised of the rejections (and basis for any such rejections) of such recommendations, and the state of Michigan has yet to provide the tribes the chance for meaningful consultation regarding issues surrounding a 2021 gray wolf hunt; and

WHEREAS: Michigan law already contains adequate means to address and remediate depredation and conflict involving gray wolves; and

WHEREAS: Ma'iingan, the wolf, is our brother. We believe our lives are parallel to one another, a shared destiny, as the wolf and the Ojibwe people have suffered the same fates. What shall happen to one of us shall also happen to the other. Each of us will be feared, respected and misunderstood by the people that later joined the Earth. History has proven that both Ma'iingan and the Ojibwe have lost our lands; we both have been persecuted and pushed close to destruction and hunted for our hair.

NOW THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED THAT: The Keweenaw Bay Indian Community Tribal Council formally states their opposition to Michigan Senate Resolution No. 15 and any change in the laws of the State of Michigan by which a 2021 wolf hunting and/or trapping season is allowed.**

Wisconsin wolf hunt: "outright slaughter"

In neighboring Wisconsin, a 2021 wolf hunt already occurred. Unlike Michigan, Wisconsin has a law that mandated that a wolf hunt be conducted as soon as the species was delisted. Despite objections from Native American groups, widespread opposition from the public (a majority of public comments submitted to the Wisconsin Natural resources board opposed the hunt), and legal challenges, Wisconsin approved the hunt after the group Hunter Nation won a legal battle that effectively forced the state to do so. On February 22, the Wisconsin wolf hunt began.

Wisconsin’s DNR set a quota of 119 wolves for the weeklong hunt, but ended the hunt early after 216 wolves -- about 20 percent of the state’s total wolf population -- were killed in just 3 days.

"It was an outright slaughter," said Warren. "Every zone was exceeded. 119 was the quota and they went over it by almost 100 wolves."

Notably, the Wisconsin hunt occurred during the wolf breeding season.

"As a biologist, I would never advocate for having a wolf season during the breeding season. That just doesn’t make any sense," said Gilbert. "They arbitrarily put a hunting season into place. The science was definitely not followed and they did not honor their obligations to talk with the tribes."

Gilbert noted GLIFWC members reported at a recent meeting that half the wolves killed in the Wisconsin hunt were female.

"They were talking about mothers and babies being killed," he added.

SR15 would allow 2021 Michigan wolf hunt

With delisting and the introduction of SR15, Michigan now may implement its own wolf hunt. The Michigan DNR Wolf Management Plan stipulates that hunting and trapping can be used  "as a management tool for addressing conflicts that cannot otherwise be resolved" and recommends "evaluating local situations on a case-by-case basis, and then applying the assistance of hunters and trappers, as prudent to reduce wolf-related risks to acceptable levels."

"If a problem on a farm can’t be resolved in any other way, then we could use hunters on a case by case basis," Warren clarified. "But it wasn’t quite applied that way when we had our only wolf hunt."

In 2013, wolves were temporarily delisted and Michigan held a 45-day wolf hunt during which 23 wolves were killed in the Upper Peninsula. 

"One (wolf) was killed within 5 miles of a farm that last had a depredation in 2011. Three were killed 5 miles from a farm that last had a depredation in 2012," Warren explained. "When there is a depredation it needs to be addressed timely. Killing an animal 5 months after the event is not going to resolve that farmer’s problem."

Although the 2013 hunt was initiated largely because farmers alleged that wolves were killing their livestock, many of the reported wolf depredations were questionable. One farmer, John Koski, accounted for 96 of the total 147 livestock losses that were used to justify the wolf hunt. But later investigations revealed that Koski failed to utilize good animal husbandry practices and did not properly dispose of animal carcasses. Multiple unburied cow carcasses as well as deer limbs were found on Koski’s farms. Koski received thousands of taxpayer dollars and over 2,500 hours of DNR support to help avert wolf attacks. In 2014, Koski was charged with animal cruelty for starving three guard donkeys that were provided to him by the DNR to deter wolf attacks.

Senate Resolution 15 also frames the potential 2021 hunt as a population management tool, saying, "A managed wolf hunt in the state is a viable means of ensuring stable wolf population numbers." But this claim, and several others in the resolution, are not based on science.

Dr. Rolf Peterson, Michigan Tech Research Professor and the principaldic investigator of wolf-moose relations on Isle Royale National Park for 50 years, responded to some of the claims made in SR15.

"Wolf numbers in Michigan have been stable for the past decade, in the absence of significant managed wolf hunts (with the exception of one year)," Peterson said. "It is likely that a managed wolf hunt would actually reduce stability by affecting wolf density, age structure, territorial relationships, and reproductive rate."

SR15 states, "Wolf hunting allows the wolf population to be kept at levels that ensure the overall survival of the animal but limit potential wolf and human conflicts."

Peterson disagreed, saying, "It is contrary to logic that wolf hunting will ensure…survival of the wolf. The 2015 Wolf Management Plan stipulates that the basis for a wolf harvest should be to reduce conflict. There is no indication that that goal was achieved by the one legal hunt held in Michigan several years ago."

SR15 also suggests that there is no need for a statewide public attitude survey or study before initiating a hunt.

Peterson replied, "Worldwide, public attitudes about wolves are one of the most polarizing issues in wildlife management. The stated intent of the Department of Natural Resources is to assess current public attitudes about wolves, which would be an obviously prudent next step. There is no wolf population crisis or pressing human need that would argue toward anything but an informed, measured process."

Dr. Peterson also recommended that interested individuals read the principles of the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation, which is frequently used by states in making wildlife management decisions. Inset photo: Dr. Rolf Peterson (Photo courtesy Michigan Tech University)

Friends of the Land of Keweenaw (FOLK) recently noted in their Spring 2021 Newsletter that they signed a Resolution in Opposition to a Michigan Wolf Hunting/Trapping Season, presented by Nancy Warren to the Michigan DNR and Natural Resources Commission (NRC) in February. FOLK's Annual General Membership Meeting will be held via Zoom from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Thursday, April 15, with the International Wolf Center in Ely, Minnesota. The program will be "How to live with Wolves."***

At the March 11 meeting of the Michigan Natural Resource Commission (NRC), the commissioners listened to almost two hours of public comment regarding wolf hunting and management. Many of the comments came from hunters and trappers in support of a wolf hunt. These proponents cited a variety reasons for an imminent hunt. Several commenters claimed that wolves are overpopulated, that they are detrimental to the deer herds, that human-wolf conflicts are increasing in Michigan, and that an imminent hunt is necessary to preserve a healthy ecological balance. These claims are not supported by data or scientific studies.

Several commenters voiced opposition to the wolf hunt, noting the positive ecological and economic impacts of wolf populations. Some commenters also advocated for collecting more data and public input before implementing a hunt.

Jeffrey Towner, a resident of Negaunee Township and a wildlife biologist, who served as field supervisor for the North Dakota U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service field office from 2002 to 2014, objected to Senate Resolution 15 calling for a wolf management plan but also calling for a wolf hunt before that plan can be completed and without allowing public input from the people of Michigan.

"There is no credible scientific study I am aware of that indicates a wolf hunt is necessary to the effective management of the gray wolf population of Michigan. Wolves are a keystone species in an ecosystem that serves to improve the fitness of prey populations such as white-tailed deer," Towner said. "Also human-wolf conflicts are extremely rare."

Towner noted DNR Director Daniel Eichinger has said a revised wolf management plan should be completed by June of 2022.

"That is a responsible timeline. There should be no rush to judgment on a wolf hunt," Towner said. "The DNR should be encouraged to carry out their work, including data collection, analysis, public input and informed management decisions."

During the same March 11 NRC meeting, Molly Tamulevich, Michigan State Director of The Humane Society of the United States, also expressed opposition to wolf hunting and trapping as well as her concerns about the Michigan United Conservation Clubs (MUCC) being selected to represent conservation groups on the Wolf Management Advisory Commission.

Commenting on the recent wolf hunt in Wisconsin, Tamulevich said, "Michigan truly cannot afford to become the next Wisconsin. Following the delisting decision, our DNR stated that before a hunt would even be considered, 'the legal status of wolves should be more permanently settled,' and the agency plans to update the state’s 2015 wolf management plan, hold a public opinion survey and consult with tribal nations. Michigan must hold true to those commitments of transparency, public input, and consulting sound science."

Tamulevich added, "Allowing wolf hunting and trapping at any level has dire consequences like destroying pack structure and leaving yearling pups to starve."

As for the MUCC, Tamulevich pointed out that they really do not represent conservation groups, since most of their member organizations are hunters and anglers.

"Their website specifically states that they are, 'the foremost power in Michigan protecting the rights to hunt, fish and trap,'" she noted. "There is no reason why this wolf advisory committee should be so disproportionately represented by an organization that has repeatedly stated that its objective is to override the clear mandate of Michigan voters and open a wolf hunting and trapping season in our state."

Warren shared her own comments with NRC committee members, noting there is no scientific basis or need for hunting and trapping wolves in Michigan: "The Michigan DNR has made it clear that before a wolf hunting season will take place, they want to update the Wolf Management Plan using the best available science, conduct a public attitude survey (even though Michigan voters, by an overwhelming majority, said no to a wolf hunt) and consult with the tribes. This resolution (SR15) circumvents the DNR’s planned actions and contradicts the current wolf management plan. There is no scientific need for a wolf hunt. Livestock losses have been extremely low. The population has remained steady for the past 10 years and weather, not wolves, has the greatest impact on deer survival."

Like Tamulevich, Warren also expressed her concerns about the imbalance of representation on the Wolf Management Advisory Commission, since not one wolf organization is represented -- although they were in the past -- and MUCC is essentially a pro-hunting organization.

The members appointed to the present Commission are the following:

Dick Pershinske -- Farm Bureau
Bee Friedlander -- Attorneys for Animals
Miles Falik -- GLIFWC
Amy Trotter -- MUCC
Mike Thorman -- Hunting Dog Federation
Dan Kennedy -- DNR

Warren concluded her UPEC presentation saying, "We need science-based management decisions, not management through legislation based on fear and misinformation."****

Editor's Notes:

* Keweenaw Now guest writer Nicholas Wilson is a Keweenaw resident and free-lance journalist.

** For the full text of the KBIC Resolution, see the Anishinaabek Caucus Facebook page post by Andrea Pierce.

*** Watch for a future announcement on how to access the April 15 FOLK meeting.

**** Click here for a video recording of Nancy Warren's UPEC presentation.

Concerned citizens opposed to SR15 are encouraged to contact State Senator Ed McBroom by phone at (517) 373-7840 or by email via his Web site.

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Local COVID-19 vaccination eligibility expanded as vaccine supply stabilizes

HANCOCK -- Providers across the western Upper Peninsula are expanding the number of groups eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine. The expansion is made possible by a more stable and slightly increased weekly vaccine supply to the area.

"We are currently vaccinating people age 65 and older, those age 50 and older with underlying health conditions, and caregivers of children with special health care needs," said Kate Beer, Health Officer for the Western Upper Peninsula Health Department (WUPHD). "Providers across the district are seeing their waitlists shrink. We are hopeful that we will be able follow the state plan and begin vaccinating people age 50 and over beginning March 22 and those age 16 to 49 by April 5."

WUPHD has piloted a plan to provide mobile vaccinations to those who have difficulty obtaining transportation or are homebound across the five-county district. The Johnson and Johnson one-dose vaccine will be used for this purpose. The project is expected to take several weeks, with any remaining doses being released to the public only after its completion. Additional doses of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine are not expected until late April.

Residents can visit coppercountrystrong.com/vaccine to locate a provider in their area. Those without computer access should call 211 or their healthcare provider for assistance in scheduling an appointment.

For more information on COVID-19 please visit wuphd.org, michigan.gov/coronavirus, or cdc.gov/coronavirus.

Friday, March 12, 2021

Michigan expanding COVID-19 Vaccine access to Michiganders ages 16 and older with medical conditions, disabilities starting March 22

This image shows the provisional schedule for vaccination priorities in Michigan. Click on image for larger version. (Image courtesy michigan.gov)

LANSING -- To continue progress toward state’s goal of vaccinating 70 percent of Michiganders over age 16 and bringing a quicker end to the COVID-19 pandemic in Michigan, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) officials today announced the state is expanding vaccination eligibility for Michiganders ages 16 and older with disabilities or medical conditions that put them at high risk of negative COVID-19 outcome beginning Monday, March 22.

The state is also announcing that beginning Monday, April 5, all Michiganders age 16 and up who were not previously eligible will be eligible to receive a vaccine. 

With the expanded vaccine eligibility, providers are still encouraged to schedule appointments and allocate vaccinations to residents based on highest risk, including older residents, essential workers, and frontline workers. The most recent vaccine prioritization guidelines can be found on Michigan’s COVID-19 website. 

"The safe COVID-19 vaccine is the most effective way to protect you, your family and others from the virus," said Governor Whitmer. "It will help the country get back to normal and help the economy. Nearly one million Michiganders of all races have already been safely vaccinated. I urge all eligible Michiganders to get one of the three COVID-19 vaccines. It is essential to getting our country back to normal, so that we can all hug our families, get back to work, go to restaurants, send our kids to school, play sports and get together again. And as always: mask up, practice safe social distancing and avoid large indoor gatherings where COVID-19 can easily spread from person to person. We will eliminate this virus together."

This is in addition to a recent announcement that MDHHS was moving forward with vaccination of Michiganders age 50 and older with medical conditions or disabilities and caregiver family members and guardians who care for children with special health care needs as of Monday, March 8. Also beginning Monday, March 22, vaccine eligibility is expanding to include all Michiganders 50 and older.

According to Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, chief medical executive and chief deputy for health at MDHHS, "Over 2.7 million doses of the safe and effective COVID vaccines have been administered in Michigan, and we are well on our way to vaccinating 70 percent of Michiganders age 16 and up."

Even with the increase of COVID-19 vaccinations, Khaldun urges everyone to continue to practice preventative measures such as properly wearing masks, social distancing and frequent handwashing to reduce the spread of the virus until the vast majority of people have been vaccinated.
   
Visit coppercountrystrong.com/vaccine to learn what vaccine is available, hear about the benefits of the vaccine, learn who is currently eligible and learn how you can sign up to get on a waiting list. Anyone who is eligible is urged to make a call as waiting lists are much shorter than they were when the vaccine immediately became available.

Sunday, March 07, 2021

KORC: Community Action for Permanent Public Land

By Nicholas Wilson*
With photos by guest photographers

Mountain biker Ben Ciavola rides the "On The Edge" trail along the Brockway Mountain ridge. Click on photo for larger version. (Photo © and courtesy Nathan Miller)

The Keweenaw Outdoor Recreation Coalition (or KORC for short) has attracted public interest from Keweenaw residents and outdoor enthusiasts of all kinds. You may have received a KORC letter in the mail, seen social media content on Facebook or Twitter, or heard about the group’s work at High Rock Bay and Schlatter Lake. So, what is this organization all about?

KORC was founded in 2019 when a coalition of community organizations, local businesses, outdoor recreation interests, and Keweenaw residents came together to pursue a common goal: securing permanent public access to at-risk land in Keweenaw County.

With over 600 members and more than 15 different organizations represented on its steering committee, KORC has united a wide variety of recreation interests and Keweenaw institutions.

"We all decided to get together and develop a coalition to provide for all types of outdoor recreation, where all of the different voices are represented," said Gina Nicholas, a member of KORC’s Steering Committee. "We are working together to keep the land base intact for everyone, so that whether you’re a berry picker or an ATV rider, you have a place to go." Inset photos: At left, a midsummer snack of bilberries along the Copper Harbor Trails. (Photo © and courtesy Devin Leonarduzzi) At right, ORV riders enjoy Keweenaw’s fall color. (Photo © and courtesy Nathan Miller)

KORC’s recreation interests range from self-powered activities like hiking, camping, biking, kayaking, skiing, and snowshoeing, to motorized sports like ATV/ORV riding and snowmobiling. KORC also represents hunting, fishing, berry-picking, and bird watching as well as environmental, geological, historical, and cultural heritage interests. KORC wants to secure permanent public access and provide land use opportunities for all of these varied interests.

KORC Steering Committee member and Eagle Harbor Township Supervisor Rich Probst described the importance of this coordinated effort.

"The biggest thing is the collaboration with all the groups," Probst said. "We are all in this together, getting it done with everybody’s input for the good of the whole."

KORC members are working together to secure land access because much of Keweenaw’s real estate is at risk to fragmentation and loss of public access. Today, a significant portion of the land in Keweenaw County is controlled by an absentee corporate owner.

During the Keweenaw’s copper mining boom in the late 1800s and early 1900s, mining companies amassed ownership of the majority of the land in Keweenaw County. Over time, these companies and the land that they controlled were consolidated under the Calumet and Hecla mining company. But as the industry declined and the mines closed in the latter half of the 20th century, Calumet and Hecla and other mining companies sold off their land.

Since then, this Keweenaw land has changed hands between a string of corporate owners who buy and sell the land as an asset for timber harvest and value appreciation. Today, approximately 120,000 acres of Keweenaw land are owned by the New York based hedge fund complex, The Rohatyn Group (TRG), and overseen by a land management consulting firm called American Forest Management (AFM). Prior to TRG, most of Keweenaw County’s land was owned by another international hedge fund complex, GMO (Grantham, Mayo, Van Otterloo and Co., LLC). GMO is the name that appears in the most recent plat book.

Because this land has mostly been controlled by one owner at a time, much of it has remained intact with largely uninhibited public access. But although TRG and its predecessors have generally been tolerant of public recreational access, they care little for the land’s well-being (other than the return on investment it generates) and do not guarantee that the public will always be able to enjoy it. TRG holdings are often aggressively harvested for timber, sometimes to the detriment of the native ecosystem and land quality. Logging also disrupts the trail systems and roads that provide access to remote areas. Inset photo: Keweenaw deer hunters. (Photo © and courtesy Gina Nicholas)

The biggest risk to public access on this land is fragmentation. Hedge funds are almost always ready to sell parts of their holdings for the right price. If pieces of TRG’s holding are sold, and the land is sectioned off into pieces controlled by many private owners, public use may be restricted, trail systems may be forced to re-route or be removed entirely, and Keweenaw residents could lose access to land that they have enjoyed for generations.

Fragmentation is already occurring. In 2000, a forest products company called International Paper owned approximately 175,000 acres of Keweenaw County land. Today, only 120,000 acres of this land are still controlled by a single corporate owner (presently TRG). The difference between these two figures, 55,000 acres of Keweenaw land, has been sectioned off and sold by hedge fund owners over the past two decades. While some of this land was purchased by local conservancies and units of government and is still open to the public, some prime lakeshore properties and other desirable areas have been sold to private owners and are now developed or inaccessible to the public.

Skiers and snowshoers trek up Mount Baldy. (Photo © and courtesy Nathan Miller) 

"We had the privilege for almost 100 years of using this land that we didn’t own and we didn’t pay taxes on -- we just used it because the owners didn’t care," Nicholas noted. "But it wasn’t a right; it was always a privilege. We can’t rely on privileges any longer. We have to find a way to secure access in a legal and respectful manner."

Working with Michigan DNR

KORC hopes to secure this access by collaborating with the State of Michigan to help manage existing State land and to assist the State in acquiring more Keweenaw County land.

In 2002-2003, the State of Michigan purchased roughly 6,300 acres of land on the tip of Keweenaw using money from the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund. The initial Tip purchase was made possible with help from The Nature Conservancy (TNC). Over time, TNC, Keweenaw Community Forest Company, and other organizations have helped the Michigan DNR (Department of Natural Resources) add additional parcels and eliminate inholdings. Today the DNR owns 8,999 acres at the Keweenaw Tip and 822 acres at Fort Wilkins.

Dana Richter photographed this view of Manitou Island from High Rock Bay in 2004 during a tour with members of the Keweenaw Point Advisory Committee and DNR staff, following the initial Keweenaw Tip purchase. Remains of a campfire can be seen in the foreground. (Keweenaw Now file photo © 2004 Dana Richter. Reprinted with permission.) 

In 2005, representatives from the community collaborated with the DNR to produce a management plan for this land. But in the years since, management and stewardship actions have been limited. Visitors to the Keweenaw Tip land are increasingly impeded by poor roads, and they often find these beautiful places damaged by garbage dumping and other misuse.

Community partnerships for management

"The land has huge recreational value and potential, but it is underutilized and undermanaged," noted Aaron Rogers, owner and president of Rock Solid Trail Contracting and a KORC Steering Committee member. "The only way to improve management is with more community involvement. We can do this locally -- not only by advocating for the purchase of more land, but by actively helping to manage it ourselves." 

A smiling woman mountain biker heads down one of the Keweenaw's challenging trails. (Photo © and courtesy Nathan Miller)

In the spring of 2020, KORC representatives began working together with the DNR to improve public access and clean up this land. KORC and its partner organizations purchased and installed bear-proof trash receptacles at High Rock Bay, and will be funding and constructing a vault toilet to be installed at High Rock in 2021. KORC will provide services for trash collection and vault toilet maintenance by funding partners with local employees.

Trash receptacle installed at High Rock Bay in the summer of 2020. (Photo © and courtesy Gina Nicholas) 

KORC also raised money to improve the West Schlatter Lake Road. During the summer of 2020, KORC members raised funds to retain Mike McMahon through JE Hendrickson Excavating to repair the road, enabling safer public access for camping and other recreation at Schlatter Lake. KORC also helped Keweenaw County raise money to improve amenities at the Gratiot River Park in Allouez Township. 

Summer camping at High Rock Bay. (Photo © and courtesy Jim Vivian III)

"I see KORC as a mechanism to allow all the local interest groups to work together to utilize this land," said Mark Ahlborn, Calumet Keweenaw Sportsmen’s Club member and KORC Steering Committee member. "It’s how we are all going to get together to serve everyone who wants to come and visit us."

Businesses and tourism economy

KORC members also believe taking care of Keweenaw’s land and providing positive experiences for visitors are crucial for the local economy. Many of Keweenaw’s restaurants, hotels, shops, and other local businesses depend upon tourism revenue. Visitors are drawn to the Keweenaw for a variety of reasons, from the area’s unique geological features to its mountain biking trails. But these features, and the tourists that they attract, are dependent upon wise management and sustained public access to Keweenaw land.

"Historically we’ve always had it -- it’s always been viewed as a recreational asset for the community, not only for personal use but for tourism and generating tourism dollars for the region," said Rogers. "If it gets sold off and it disappears, it will have a significant impact on tourism and the local economy."

Runners race along the Point Trail during the Run the Keweenaw event. (Photo © and courtesy Nathan Miller)

Don Kauppi, KORC Steering Committee member and co-owner of The Mariner North in Copper Harbor, reflected on the economic impact of Keweenaw’s growing tourism industry. Since the 1970s, tourism-based jobs in the Keweenaw have increased dramatically, largely due to outdoor recreational attractions like snowmobiling and biking. Don explains that despite little change in the year-round populations of Houghton and Keweenaw counties, today there are 35 more restaurants in the two-county area than there were in 1978.

A snowmobiler traverses the rugged terrain. (Photo © and courtesy Rich Probst)

Don also described how the recently growing interest in outdoor recreation during all four seasons has extended the months of profitable tourism business in Copper Harbor.

"The terrain is our product," he said. "Now, we’re going to try to save Keweenaw jobs by saving the terrain that brings people up here."

For many KORC members, protecting the local economy means protecting a way of life.

Steering Committee member Jim Vivian III points out that 70 percent of Keweenaw jobs are tourism-based.

"If we lose access to the land, I think it will take decades for our local economy to recalibrate," Vivian said. "It’s to protect our way of life and our economy."

For Keweenaw business owners, promoting the area’s economic vitality goes hand in hand with protecting land and securing public access.

"KORC represents an underlying goal of why I got into business 20 years ago," explained Sam Raymond, Steering Committee member and the owner of Keweenaw Adventure Company. "I thought that trails and outdoor recreation could result in the preservation of the Keweenaw for permanent public access and utilization of all of the wonderful resources that we have. KORC is the vehicle to get us there right now."

Kayaking in blue Lake Superior Waters. (Photo © and courtesy Chris Guibert)

KORC seeks public support for State land ownership

KORC is now supporting the DNR’s effort to acquire approximately 15,800 acres of additional land by using the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund or other methods to bring this acreage into permanent State ownership. This land includes the actual geographic Keweenaw Point, much of the Mandan road, and portions of the motorized trail system.

If the State purchases this land, it will ensure permanent public access for all to the "Keweenaw Tip Recreation Area." It will secure the main motorized trail corridor ("the rail road grade") from Mohawk to the Tip, and could expand trail systems and other outdoor recreation opportunities. This acquisition would also connect the ecosystems found on the Tip to the larger Keweenaw Coastal Wildlife Corridor by linking the Tip to township and conservancy lands along the Brockway Mountain ridge to Eagle Harbor and Eagle River.

This map shows the potential Keweenaw Tip Recreation Area that State land acquisition would allow. Click on map for larger version. (Map courtesy KORC)

KORC is conducting outreach using mailings, email blasts, and social media to raise awareness and gain public support for this project. Additionally, KORC has collaborated with the Keweenaw County Road Commission to collect data on public use of the Mandan Road from the end of US 41 in order to help build the case for land acquisition. KORC encourages anyone who supports this acquisition to submit a nomination form either electronically or through the mail to tell the State why acquiring this land is important.

"Over the years the State never really had the chance to see what we have to offer up here, but now I think that we can prove to them that we are such an asset," said Peg Kauppi, Steering Committee member and co-owner of the Mariner North. "Here we are with this unreal piece of real estate that juts out into Lake Superior. We have so much to offer: the largest vertical drop east of the Rockies, the wildflowers, the rocks, it goes on and on."

Brockway Mountain Summit west vista, showing Lake Superior and Keweenaw Coastal Wildlife Corridor, Eagle Harbor Township. A Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund grant allowed Eagle Harbor Township to acquire the Brockway summit in 2012. That purchase added to the Keweenaw Coastal Wildlife Corridor for conservation and recreational access.(Keweenaw Now file photo courtesy Eagle Harbor Township)

"I think that if we don’t take control of this property now so that it can’t be segmented off, then we lose that ability forever," Peg concluded.

KORC and its partners intend to keep working to secure access to Keweenaw land for outdoor recreation, for the local economy, for conservation, for Keweenaw’s cultural heritage. Their hope is that everyone can experience and enjoy this land forever. Gina Nicholas expressed this wish for future generations.

"I’ve always loved Keweenaw, and I want my child and my future grandchildren to have the same thing that I feel is one of the most important things in my life," Nicholas said. "I have to fight for posterity."

Aaron Rogers noted his belief that everyone who has a life in the Keweenaw region can support the KORC mission of securing public access to this land.

"I would encourage people -- if they have any questions about KORC, its mission, and what it stands for -- to reach out and gain an understanding of what we are trying to do," Rogers said. "All of our communities stand to benefit from what KORC is doing."

More information on KORC and its initiatives can be found on the KORC Website, and on KORC’s Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter pages. KORC encourages interested individuals to become members and support the group’s efforts to secure permanent public access to Keweenaw land.

* Editor's Note: Keweenaw Now guest writer Nicholas Wilson is a Keweenaw resident and free-lance journalist.