Interview with Christopher Hoving, Adaptation Specialist


A couple of months ago, I found myself waiting in the drafty security area that sits between the two halves of Constitution Hall in Lansing while a guard called Christopher L. Hoving to come down and escort me into the building. The two halves house Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and Department of Natural Resources (DNR). In the Wildlife Division of the DNR, Chris is the Adaptation Specialist who works with counterparts in other Great Lakes States in assessing how best to manage wildlife. He is also the lead author of a report issued nearly two years ago called Changing Climate – Changing WildlifeThe report describes the results of an effort to assess the vulnerability of Michigan’s best known wildlife species to the impacts of climate change.

Ruffed Grouse

Ruffed Grouse

Chris had agreed to talk with me about the report and the implications of what he is learning. Though the conference room was a bit noisy and I am a novice at managing my own video equipment for interviews, we both gave it a go. What follows is short summary of our one-hour discussion with links to a few short video clips from the interview.

The Interview

Working with a number of different experts in the DNR and the Michigan Natural Features Inventory (, Chris helped to characterize the vulnerability of individual wildlife species to the various impacts of climate changes now overtaking Michigan. The methodology for this assessment was provided by NatureServe, a respected conservation science group with many partners. In general, vulnerability can be seen as a combination of a creature’s sensitivity to changes in a specific environmental factor such as heat together with that creature’s ability to avoid exposure to unacceptable factors, such as moving to cooler locations. Other vulnerabilities arise when sources of food and shelter change or are lost as climates shift. Ultimately Chris and his colleagues pulled together the information and completed climate change vulnerability assessments on 400 of Michigan’s wildlife species. As Chris describes in the first video segment, the DNR’s vulnerability assessment addresses the risks of population decline by mid-century due to changes in Michigan’s climate. Given the amount of carbon dioxide already in our atmosphere, there will be a 5 degree Fahrenheit increase in average temperatures and a drying of many soils across Michigan by mid-century. The vulnerability assessment shows that many our wildlife species will not be able to cope with these changes. VIDEO – SEGMENT 1

Other climate changes are also already underway, with more anticipated. For example increases in the frequency and severity of extreme storm events have been measured over the past couple of decades and climate models indicate a continuing increasing storminess in the decades ahead. Although these storms include severe downpours, the water runs off quickly to cause flooding downstream, but fails to return lasting moisture to the soils.

Blanchard's Cricket Frog

Blanchard’s Cricket Frog

Some examples of climate-vulnerable wildlife species are frogs, toads and salamanders. Chris points out that these species tend to breed in temporary spring ponds that often dry up in the summer. However, temperature increases and highly variable storm events, as well as human development, are already reducing these temporary breeding ponds. Population decline is already evident with some species like the Blanchard’s cricket frog. VIDEO – SEGMENT 2

In fact, about 2/5ths or 40% of the 400 wildlife species evaluated are significantly vulnerable to the climate changes expected over the next 20 to 25 years. Chris provided a number of other examples of wildlife species that are considered vulnerable and not likely to be able to cope with the new climate of mid-century Michigan, including ruffed grouse and moose.

Young Aspen Forest

Young Aspen Forest

In some cases, the vulnerability of a species is to the loss of habitat caused by climate change. Chris pointed out that ruffed grouse depend on young aspen forest habitat in Lower Michigan. However, young aspen forests are threatened by drying soils. With less habitat, there will be far fewer grouse. VIDEO – SEGMENT 3

The extent of wildlife changes predicted in the report by mid-century in Michigan was quite stunning to me.  But, as Chris reminded me, these changes are only the beginning. If discharges of carbon dioxide, methane, and other greenhouse gases continue at current levels, our state’s climate will be similar to present day Arkansas by the end of this century or sooner. Under those circumstances, there will be no northern wildlife species in Lower Michigan. VIDEO – SEGMENT 4

When I asked about what’s being done to address these concerns, Chris described DNR’s efforts to better manage wildlife habitat under changing conditions, including efforts to protect habitat. For example, the state built a series of dams many years ago to create flooded and wet wildlife areas. Given the increasing severity of storms and the age of these dams, substantial improvements are needed to protect the habitat. Chris also described a difficult policy discussion now underway in the DNR about the possible re-location of wildlife species. The question is, should wildlife managers move or transplant endangered species areas in the south to new locations further north to help them survive the changing climate. For example, existing populations of massassauga rattlesnake are unlikely to survive without intervention. But it they are to be moved, when and where? The so-called translocation of species is becoming a very hot topic among conservation scientists. VIDEO – SEGMENT 5

In closing our discussion, Chris said there are lots of outdoor enthusiasts from hunters and fishermen to birders and hikers who are raising their voices of concern. He described an effort to bring together a large number of conservation organizations to help wildlife management efforts in coping with climate change – Beyond Seasons End ( Repeating the words of Dan Ashe, Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Chris said that climate change presents humankind the challenge of our century.

Winter Solstice on Sleeping Bear Point

Marking that point of passage on earth’s elliptical path around the sun, the physics of it reaches deep into our bones. Maybe it’s time to say thanks in some pagan way to natural cycles and the drift of things as our sidereal year slips into the deep.20141218-snow_sand_drift

For human traffic, these are quiet times on Sleeping Bear Point. A lone walker pushes up a trail past the ghost forest and on along the secondary dunes. Winter’s austerity settling in, the unrelenting wind mixes sand with snow, sculpting sweeping shapes in variegated colors, muted yellows and browns.

Sometimes a long walk is a form of reverence. You understand that along the carved edges of massive dunes, or feeling the cold wind and spray off of Lake Michigan, or simply staring into the dark blue water surrounding the Manitous. Walking away from the voices of my own monkey-mind, I can feel the connections to a place return.DSC_2241_Walker_Story_File

Those connections are essential if we are to be fully present in the skins we’ve been given. How can we notice a community change or build relationships, if we don’t move slowly through the neighborhood from time to time? How do we know the richness and beauty of monarchs on milkweed, if we don’t slow things down and quiet the voices? 20141218-Sleeping_Bear_Bay

Yes, it’s great to be networked, connected, and globally aware. The data comes pouring in. I take a smart phone everywhere. My attention is splintered and parsed by the advertisers and marketers as well as my own need to be engaged in all things. Too often, I am simply disembodied.

Moving carefully, intentionally along the city streets or taking a lap or two at the local park, can20141218_Milkweed slow it down and bring us back to place. In Michigan, we’re never far from a river or lake; close enough to study the swash marks, waves or riffles. To feel the wind and sand, the shells of milkweed, the sleeping aspen on a sandy slope requires only a little exertion, a little time.

These small things remind me to be grateful at this winter’s solstice, while standing on our somewhat flattened sphere. We fly along this grand ellipse, 93 million miles out from the sun (average) and traveling 67,000 miles per hour; it’s no wonder we’re dizzy. Even with feet firmly planted on this earth, you can feel the axial tilt looking for the sun so far south.

Thankfully, earth’s tilt stays close to 23.4 degrees as we make a year-long journey around the sun. The differential heating along our elliptical path has given us the seasons and relatively steady climates across the world. Without these steady climates, the diversity of living things we know could not exist.

So, I’m going to celebrate this moment of solstice (6:03 p.m. on some human clock); grateful that the sun is on its appointed path across the celestial sphere and the days are getting longer. In this winter chill, I know more sun and warmer walks will arrive soon enough.20141218-Driftwood_Manitour_overlook

December Reflection

The gentle exhalation of Lake Michigan is caught up this morning in hoarfrost and rime, ghosting weedy stems and low shrubs and the jagged bright lines of tree branches. From here, Bohemian Valley appears in delicate patterns, like receding layers of white and brown feathers.


Taking a break, I’m glad to be away from my desk for a while; glad to wander in the woods and fields close to home. With so little daylight in December, there never seems to be enough time to wander.

These days, I spend hours reading reports and papers on atmospheric chemistry, climate change and the loss of species in the inevitable shift of ecosystems. And there are long conversations with the researchers working to prepare us for what’s next. They say things like adaptation, assisted migration.

But this week, I said goodbye to a dear friend in a Lansing hospice and the feeling of it pulls on me. I see light flicker across the hillsides and ridges furry with maples and remember her last visit here. We spent an August evening celebrating fifty-something, her last birthday, watching the orange and crimson light ripple across the water and up the slope into some beech trees. She wanted to talk about how to save more of it, to preserve the trees and openings of Leelanau County.

As old friends do, we talked of families and friends, recent trips, and the surprising passage of time. A simple conversation turned poignant. We did not talk of death and dying, the ephemeral nature of life. There was still business to be taken care of, a legacy to consider.

From that perspective, I think, one separates from the day-to-day complaints, wants, and disappointments. Our institutionalized system of consumption and greed is laid bare; maybe we finally rise above it to see humanity within the context of real earth systems. Of course, it is an inescapable truth that all life is dependent on these distinctly limited systems; but the meaning of that truth seems so brightly lit at the end of day.

DEMONSTRATION: to make a public exhibition of group feelings

Last Friday night, about 100 people gathered on the corners of Union Street and Grand View Parkway in Traverse City to stand together and to wave, hold signs, and shout out as thousands of cars passed by.20141205-corner_scene_small_file 20141205-Streetside_small_filePeople of different ages and different circumstances. People of different colors. They did not all know each other, but shared some sense of outrage that required expression.

Their signs
declared agreement with demonstrators in many other cities across our land:  something is very wrong in community policing. There is no moral explanation for the death of so many black people at the hands of police.20141205_one_person_small_file The guns and brutality of force so heavily focused on minorities, demands redress. The racism and bigotry that drive these monstrous acts must be excised and healed.

The truth is, demonstrations are 20141205_street_scene_2_small_fileuncomfortable. We are mostly quiet and polite here in northwest Lower Michigan; conservative in most things. And we are mostly white. To stand up and shout or march with strangers in a declaration of common cause with all minorities is something truly rare in Traverse City.

But on that night, in that place, a determined and very diverse group of residents took a risk and raised their public voices. They did not join the throngs of shoppers around a Christmas tree. They stood apart, bearing witness to our shared humanity. They reminded us that when one person is oppressed, we are all oppressed. If justice is not shared equally, there can 20141205_Front_Street_small_filebe no justice.

On that Friday night, because of that group, Traverse City expressed the real spirit of the season: compassion. For a time, our community seemed more connected to a national discussion and just a little more diverse.

November Reflection

This morning, Leelanau County and much of Northern Michigan woke up under a blanket of mist and fog. The fast melting snow and suddenly warmer temperatures reminding us that we live at the triple point, water in all forms; and in a region where there’s plenty of weather to talk about.20141124_bohemian_valley_1

Taking a little time before rushing on to work, I watched a small patch of rising fog lift, dodge and drift across the tops of trees below my hilltop house. Once a smokejumper in Idaho told me those little clouds can be mistaken for rising smoke by the uninitiated fire watcher, but they’re just water dogs. It stuck. I’ve called them water dogs ever since.20141123_Shalda_Creek

Of course, the best part of such mornings is stepping out to wander, even if only for a few minutes. Something just a little mysterious or fantastical in the drift and slide of things, hidden and revealed. There’s always something new, some encounter offered up if I’m watchful and open to it. Like a new pattern of rifles in Shalda Creek or some color shift in the light across Bohemian Valley.

Every so often, there’s an encounter that just seems odd. Like this slug making its way across a lingering patch of snow. This little shell-less gastropod looked completely out of place and a bit disturbing. Caught for a moment in that lingering childhood fascination with things slimy and weird, that sense of wonder returns. How many millions of slugs were pulling their way through the leaves on that small hill in Leelanau right at that moment?20141123_Ice_Snail_small

Not familiar with their names, I can’t say if this was one of Michigan’s many invasive or non-native species (examples: Then again, are any of them truly native? The glaciers left this land scraped clean 8,000 years ago; what little crawler survived? And they are mostly big pests to growers everywhere, damaging fruits, vegetables and flowers. Still, slugs are another part of nature’s big recycling system – both as detritus munchers and food themselves.

Ah, but this morning, that little creature brought me a moment of pause and reflection. Slowing my pace just a little to wonder how an egg-laying, hermaphrodite revived to foot about at such a strange time.