Upstream: The health of the Red Cedar River is on the rise

On Sunday, September 25, the MSU Fishing and Wildlife Club, the Outdoors Club and the East Lansing Rotary Club joined forces for the “Red Cedar Cleanup.” Over 50 students and community members volunteered to help remove debris from the river.

The cleanup event has been held every spring and fall for more than 50 years. Organizers said volunteers have found an odd collection of items over the years: bottles and cans, tailgate tents, cones, MSU police barricades, engraved signs, wallets and plenty of bicycles and electric scooters.

Dr. Joe Lattimore, an outreach specialist with the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife, did his doctoral work on red cedar at MSU. Thanks to events like the cleanup, she said, the river is in “good shape,” especially given its relatively urban setting.

Improvement Opportunities

While they agree the river is much healthier than many students would assume, cleanup organizers still believe the Red Cedar can be improved.

Fisheries and Wildlife Club President Sarah Nautin believes MSU students can make an impact on the river through their everyday actions.

“We all have to go to different places, there’s trash everywhere, tons of people walking around,” Nautin said. “As a regular student, it’s really easy to just take what you see.”

President Molly Engleman pointed out sustainable infrastructure methods that could help the river if adopted by MSU or East Lansing.

She praised existing projects, such as the high-drain porous parking lots at IM West and the green roof at Wells Hall. But she believes more can be done.

Engleman says the abundance of impervious concrete on MSU’s campus exacerbates the river’s frequent flooding.

“Red Cedar has been known for its flooding over the years,” Engleman said. “A lot of these floods are exacerbated by urbanization, so it’s not really the individual students as much as they are the result of an urban environment.”

Dr. Lattimore said improving the Red Cedar simply starts with students seeing the river as a valuable part of the campus.

“Remember, we’re lucky we have this really beautiful, healthy river that runs through our campus,” Lattimore said.

Worrying Trend

This year’s cleanup pulled eight bicycles and a dozen electric scooters from the river.

When asked how many arrests or investigations related to the trend have occurred since the start of the new academic year, MSUPD spokeswoman Dana White said in an email that the department “has not received any reports of people throwing bicycles or electric scooters at Red Cedar. “

MSUPD has pursued the theft of bicycles and scooters. However, the department struggles to arrest scooter thefts because companies like Spin and Bird often do not press charges against scooter thefts.

In an email to The State News, a spokesperson for the popular electric scooter company Spin responded to the scooters found in the river, writing that they “strongly discourage riders from leaving scooters anywhere except in approved parking areas.”

Dr Lattimore worries the scooters pose a threat to the river’s health, as corroding batteries can release pollutants into the water.

The environmental impact of bicycles is more complex.

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Engleman, Naughtin and Dr. Latimore explained that when large, oddly shaped objects like bicycles are released into the river, they disrupt the natural habitats of its inhabitants. However, over time, wildlife began to use the large sites as habitat. This means that when items are removed in events like Sunday’s clean-up, these animals’ habitats are disrupted again before things return to normal.

Insects like Indicators

On Thursday, September 22, the Fisheries and Wildlife Club had a Red Cedar Sampling event where Dr. Lattimore taught students to test the health of the river by sampling the macro-invertebrates that live in it.

The students looked for indicator species and made inferences about the health of the river based on the ecological tolerances of the organisms found. Dr Lattimore said Thursday’s sampling had found a number of sensitive species, indicating the river was in good health.

According to Dr. Lattimore, natural techniques such as invertebrate sampling can be even more effective than chemical tests because chemical tests effectively capture a still image of the river when being tested, while the organisms living in it can serve as indicators of river health over time.

“If we take water samples, that’s whatever it was at the time you took that water sample,” Dr Lattimore said. “But the insects have to live in it for weeks, months, even years.” So they integrate the conditions over time.”

Annoying Pests

Despite the general optimism surrounding the river’s health, there was one obvious problem: invasive species.

These organisms, which are not native to the Red Cedar ecosystem, are spreading rapidly and creating hazards such as reducing biodiversity.

Dr. William Budnick, a postdoctoral researcher who specializes in invasive species, spent Thursday’s sampling session teaching students about Rusty Crabs, an invasive species that is quickly taking over Red Cedar.

The species is native to southern Ohio, but according to Dr. Budnick, their popularity as bait for bass anglers has spread them throughout the Midwest.

Dr Lattimore said during Thursday’s macroinvertebrate sampling she noticed the invasive Asian clam “everywhere”. She says that when she wrote her doctoral dissertation on Red Cedar just 15 years ago, this was not the case.

These invasive species present a challenge to conservationists because their propensity to reproduce makes anything but systematic removal from the entire ecosystem ineffective.

Dr. Budnick said those concerned about the river should report sightings of invasive species to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. The department’s website provides Michiganders with tools to identify and report a citation online.

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