Daily Press (Escanaba). Jan. 21.
Play it safe when snowmobiling
Plentiful snow this winter in Delta County and the rest of the Upper Peninsula have have put smiles on the faces of snowmobilers. Many mild winters in recent years — and the lack of snow — made snowmobiling difficult at best.
Plentiful snow means more opportunities for snowmobiling, more snowmobilers, and more activity on the trails. It also increases the risk of a snowmobile accident. Here's a few suggestions that will make your snowmobile outing a safe one.
— Be aware of the conditions and slow down at night. Check out the weather forecast prior to riding. Slow down at night, especially around frozen water.
— Be smart. Use the proper signals to identify your intentions to other drivers around you. Keep your speed in line with the conditions and with your level of experience.
— Be prepared. Always bring a first-aid kit and survival items such as a flashlight, knife, compass, flares, and a fire starting kit.
— Don't drink and drive. There is a misconception that alcohol will keep you warm. In reality, it increases your risk of hypothermia and also slows your reaction time and decreases your ability to make good decisions.
— Don't ride solo. Snowmobiling is more fun when you can enjoy the adventure with friends and family. If you decide to ride alone, be sure to tell someone where you are going and when you will return.
— Dress properly. Wear protective gear such as a safety-certified helmet, warm gloves, a windproof outer layer and boots.
— Know the laws and regulations. State laws and regulations may vary; therefore, you should check with the local Department of Natural Resources or law enforcement agencies to familiarize yourself with the rules in your area.
— Know you're protected. Be sure you have proper insurance coverage to protect your vehicle and provide liability coverage in case someone gets injured or property is damaged during the use of your machine.
— Maintain your snowmobile. When you pull your sled out of storage, perform a thorough check to make sure that everything is working properly. Before each ride, it is important to follow a checklist in your owner's manual.
— Tread lightly and respect nature. Ride only in areas where it's permitted. Wait for enough snow to cover vegetation, avoid running over trees and shrubs and don't disturb wildlife around you.
Grand Haven Tribune. Jan. 23.
Returning vets deserve better than this fiasco
Imagine returning home after serving your country in a combat zone. You have suffered debilitating injuries — some physical, others mental — and you're trying to adjust to life outside the uniform.
Finding a job has been tough — after all, loud noises make you duck for cover, and you can't stand on your feet for long because of injuries from too many parachute jumps. You go to your local VA clinic — some of them hundreds of miles away, depending on where you live. They diagnose you, get you some meds and send you on your way.
But then the bills start piling up. You still can't find a job given your various ailments.
So, you apply for disability benefits through the Veterans Administration.
And wait. A week goes by, then a month, then six months.
You call. Several times. Each time you get someone different who tells you to send in a different form, to a different place. They tell you they didn't receive the last forms you sent or they can't find your medical records. They ask you to send them in again, to a different place.
You call back. You're more desperate now. "Oh," the VA employee says, "we got one of the forms, but now we need you to send in a different form."
It's frustrating and has been a years-long process for some vets. Many give up.
VA officials have acknowledged that "the ball was dropped," and have vowed, for years now, to reduce the wait time and make it easier for vets to apply for the benefits that are rightly theirs to claim.
The VA now has a new computer system that may help eliminate delays and reduce some of the "disappearing document" problems that stall valid disability applications.
By 2015, VA officials are promising to process all claims within 125 days.
That's not soon enough, but the VA is at least marching in the right direction.
Our legislators need to continue putting pressure on the VA to get this mission completed. Because no man or woman who has served our country should ever be left behind.
Lansing State Journal. Jan. 23.
URC compares well to peer groups
Michigan is blessed with three major research universities, and an annual economic report once again highlights their contributions to the state's economy and its future prospects. Michigan State University, Wayne State University and the University of Michigan — banded together as the University Research Corridor — together generated $16.6 billion in economic activity in 2012, according to the report by Anderson Economic Group of East Lansing. They helped support 66,000 direct and in-direct jobs.
The report benchmarks URC against other university clusters across the country, including the Research Triangle Park in North Carolina and Massachusetts' Route 128 Corridor. The URC schools ranked second in an innovation power ranking compared to the seven other research clusters. They were first in the number of graduate and undergraduate degrees conferred in 2012, at 32,483. The URC ranked first in talent, fourth in research and seventh in commercialization of its research — an area where more can be done, obviously.
The URC has an increasingly high profile and continues to provide economic stimulus for the state. The Facility for Rare Isotope Beams at MSU, which will generate $1 billion in economic activity in this first decade of development, is just one example. Michigan must continue to nurture and leverage the resources at its URC institutions.
Traverse City Record-Eagle. Jan. 23.
Sleeping Bear tree plan would attack bad bugs
The National Park Service may take some heat if visitors to the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore see crews cutting down what appear to be healthy beech and ash trees.
But the Park Service is faced with a difficult choice; do they take down some trees now in an effort to to save others later, or let nature take its course?
Right now beech trees in the park are under attack. Minuscule, cottonlike scale insects are gnawing away at the bark of some healthy beeches, opening them to Beech Bark Disease. A fungus can form a canker, or wound, and eventually kill the tree.
The Park Service is hoping to head off widespread infection with a more aggressive policy of cutting down infected trees and creating a restoration program.
What's happening in the park is part of a wider assault on northern Michigan forests by insect pests. Many ash trees across the state are infected by the emerald ash borer, a beetle that eats the sensitive layer underneath the bark, disrupts the flow of nutrients and eventually kills it.
The park's oak trees, though currently healthy, could soon fall victim to oak wilt, a fungal disease that's been reported in Benzie County.
The Park Service is asking the public to give input on a new Hazard Tree Management Plan. Park neighbors and concerned citizens can submit suggestions and input online until Feb. 15.
Beech, ash and oak trees are major parts of the area's forests, and the insect infestation has a lot of people worried that losing large numbers of those trees could significantly dim the blazing fall color change that is so much a part of northern Michigan.
The Tree Management Plan will need to pass an environmental assessment and several other hurdles before it's implemented.
The emerald ash borer is already rampant in the park and there are early signs of beech bark disease; there are no reports yet of oak wilt.
On a more positive note, there may be an upside to the numbing cold that has gripped the region. Scientists at the U.S. Forest Service's Northern Research Station in St. Paul, Minn., say up to 80 percent of the ash borer population there could be eliminated by the deep cold. That's reminiscent of the cold snap that greatly reduced a tent caterpillar infestation in northern Michigan in the 1990s.
To read and comment on the Hazard Tree Management Plan, go to http://parkplanning.nps.gov/projectHome.cfm?projectID=45319.