Technology Unsalted!

The Grand Traverse Bay Area has become the technology hub for Northern Michigan. And we have both the data and the videos to prove it!

Earlier this year, I completed a research and science communications project for the Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce ( and their economic development group, Venture North. I found literally hundreds of advanced manufacturing and technology companies. Lots of them are leaders in their fields, with patents and copyrights on logistics systems, laser technologies, precision machine tools, database designs, and lots more.versus_technology_demo_300high

I loved working on this project. Building the website content and interviewing our region’s technology leaders and young entrepreneurs was both enlightening and fun. Their personal stories of challenge and success are simply inspiring. If you’re interested in learning more about Technology Unsalted, take a look at:

And I send out my special thanks to those great people who have shared their personal experiences for my Technology Unsalted interviewstrantek_welders_300high_2, including:

  • Dale Westerman, RJG, Inc.
  • Jeff Pattison, TranTek Automation
  • Fernando Meza, OneUpWeb
  • H.T. Snowday, Versus Technology
  • Jay Mueller, MacUpdate
  • Craig Tremp, Tellurex
  • Marty Lagina, Heritage Sustainable Systems
  • Janese Horton, OneUpWeb
  • Xiomara Cordoba, Heritage Sustainable Systems
  • Kevin Lizenby, TranTek
  • Michael Kent, MacUpdate
  • Marta Trimble, MacUpdate
  • Bonnie Deigh, Versus Technology
  • Maureen Berger, Electro-Optics Technology
  • Elaina Dodds, OneUpWeb

Meet Mixed Media Artist: Bill Allen

Creating video-based narratives is one of my great joys. Working with creative, engaging artists like Bill Allen makes it even better. (The video is for his website.)

With a studio tucked into the hills of Leelanau County, Bill Allen has been creating amazing sculpture forMain_Street_Animals over 30 years. The animals and other creatures are sometimes lifelike, sometimes more fanciful, but always engaging and beautiful.

Over the years, Bill has developed beyond the familiar animal sculptures. His creative drive took him to New York for several years, where he explored new art forms. He began express himself in paintings and wall hangings. Back in Leelanau County, he developed a form of unique mixed media art, including colorfully painted structures that incorporate materials found along the beaches of Lake Michigan.

A man of great integrity and creative drive, BIMG_0684ill is also one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. Creating a video presentation callensouthseasshrineof the man and his work was a real pleasure.

Take a good look at Bill’s website to get a feel for his newest work. Of course, you won’t want to miss his animal sculpture either on display at the Main Street Gallery, Leland, MI as well as Shidoni Gallery in Tesuque, New Mexico and Bier Gallery, Charlevois, MI.

Helping the Leelanau Conservancy in “Saving the Palmer Woods”

Over the past 40 years or so, Dr. Daniel Palmer and his wife, Helen, purchased more than a dozen adjacent parcels of forest land to create the largest privately held tract of forest in Leelanau County.Morel All this time, the land has been carefully managed for sustainable timber production with the guidance of professional forester, Richard Cooper.

Last week, the Leelanau Conservancy announced their intention to purchase about 700 acres of the Palmer Woods to create a special forest reserve. The Conservany’s goal is to preserve this working forest and open it to the public for passive recreation such as hiking and cross-country skiing. The fund-raising effort is now in full swing.woods_hikers_small

To support that effort, I was asked to develop a video that would very briefly explain what this project is and why it’s needed. My work included helping to develop the script, shooting all the video, collecting audio, editing, and post production work. A special thanks to my friend, Jim Anderson for getting me up in the air and safely down again for those aerial shots. You can find the video, “Saving the Palmer Woods” in HD on YouTube here.

A more detailed description of the effort to create the Palmer Woods Forest Reserve can be found on the Leelanau Conservancy’s website.

In addition to protecting a large part of the Glen Lake Watershed, the Palmer Woods will give all of us a very visible example of what sustainable forestry looks like in this time of increasing rapid climate change.

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.

Michigan’s Forests, Clear Cuts & Diversity

Recently, I was invited by Eric Ellis to look over a forest clear-cutting operation a few miles east of City of Cheboygan and just a little south of Lake Huron’s shoreline. Eric is a wildlife biologist for the Ruffed Grouse Society and helps guide habitat restoration and management projects in Michigan, Ohio and other locations. The contradiction inherent in a dedicated wildlife conservationist helping to guide a forest clear cut suggested the right kind of dissonance for the opening of a radio story. The story was on Interlochen Public Radio recently. There’s a link to the audio file here:

For many of us, the term forest clear cut raises some horrifying images of denuded mountain slopes or those thousand-acre scenes of tree stumps and slash. Referring to sites in California, the Sierra Club said, “Clearcutting is an extreme form of logging that replaces natural forests with tree plantations . . . ” And, of course, that can be all too true.

What Eric wanted to show me was nothing like the single-purpose, forest clear cut of environmentalists’ nightmares. Rather, this is a pattern of 7 – 10 acre cuts in different locations through a large tract of woodland designed to re-create patches of young forest habitat. It’s a big project with the costs split between the land owner and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS).

Eric Ellis & the Habitat Machine

Eric Ellis & the Habitat Machine

The problem, Eric says, is that American Woodcock populations are declining all across the country and have been since 1968 (1% each year). And the cause of this decline is loss of adequate habitat – specifically, young forest habitat. Woodcock, yellow-winged warblers, chestnut-sided warblers and many other migratory birds look for dense stands of young alder and aspen to rest and feed in during their migrations. Young forests also offer year-round cover and food to ruffed grouse. Warblers, woodcock and a host of other animals (including deer) are rely on this habitat seasonally.

As described by Heather Rawlings, a wildlife specialist with the USFWS, the cut is designed to create or re-create the kind of habitat American woodcock, grouse and many species of warblers need. Dense stands of young alder and aspen (3- 15 years old) provide cover and protection from predators as well as lots of food opportunities, from the tree buds and catkins to an abundance of insects.

Heather Rawlings

Heather Rawlings

Heather described the project as involving a pattern of six patches this year, followed by a new set of clear cuts in neighboring locations five years later. Then, another set of cuts next to those after another five years have passed. The result will be a mix of forest age classes, many composed of aspen and alder. While other stands of older hemlock will be left in place to age toward a mature or climax forest.

As the pictures suggest, this requires some heavy equipment. What the Ruffed Grouse Society has called their Habitat Machine is designed to take down most of the smaller trees and shrubs, turning them into a woody mulch. The bulldozer-like machine has a whirling drum of big metal teeth mounted on the front that grinds down everything in its path. The sound is deafening.

Why cut everything? While some individual trees may be left behind, the goal is to open up large areas to the sun. The open sunny conditions are necessary to allow the alder and aspen to regenerate. As Heather pointed out, aspen sprout from their roots and alder sprout from their small stumps densely and prolifically – if they get the sun. When that sun shines in, these trees can be well on their way within a few years, reforming that very dense young forest.

Grinding a Clear Cut

Grinding a Clear Cut

The primary purpose of all this work is to enhance forest diversity, encouraging a diversity of tree species as well as a diversity of forest age classes. That’s one path to maintaining a diversity of forest habitats supporting a wide variety of wildlife. Heather and Eric encourage forest land owners to work with a certified forester to develop a management plan. That plan might include selective logging for profit, but might also include improvement to wildlife habitat.

As we ended our interview, I asked Eric and Heather what they thought of a recent research Habitat_Machine_3report from the U.S. Forest Service that says on-going climate change threatens the continued viability of birch-aspen-alder forest complexes throughout Lower Michigan. Eric pointed out that this type of habitat is essential to preserve some of Michigan’s favorite and iconic birds like woodcock, ruffed grouse and many warblers. And that’s why this work has to continue, even in the face of climate change. Diversity of all kinds will give us the best chance of adapting to the change that are coming.

Before ending this short report, I need to note that Michigan’s forests remain a work-in-progress. It wasn’t all that long ago, as forests go, that European settlers cut almost all the trees across the state. After that first cut in the mid to late 1800’s, additional cuts have been made. Some foresters seem to be encouraging selective cuts every decade or so. When I look around, I can’t find a fully mature or climax forest, except in isolated places.

As Eric and Heather pointed out, Michigan is short on young forest habitat. So it appears we lack diversity at both ends of the age spectrum. Apparently, gaining diversity in age classes will require careful management and lots of restraint.

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.

Tollgate Farm Education Center – Strategic Planning Process Begins

Recently, I was invited to help program staff members and building management personnel at the Tollgate Farm Education Center through a strategic planning process.Tollgate_Office_House_1 Jointly held by the Americana Foundation and Michigan State University, the Tollgate Farm Education Center is an incredible resource for food and farming education in an urban setting. As I see it, Tollgate is poised to teach the basics of urban agriculture and food-systems management for greater community resilience across Southeast Michigan.

Hemmed in by the 12-Oaks Mall, the City of Novi, all that Oakland County sprawl, there’s a 160-acre farm that dates back to Michigan’s beginnings. ducksMoving to the property in 1836, John Basset later built the farm house that still stands on Meadowbrook Road at the Tollgate Farm Education Center. Adolph and Ginger Meyer bought the farm in the 1950s and preserved it as a working farm and educational resource held in trust by the Americana Foundation.

Thanks to an unusual partnership between the Americana Foundation and Tollgate_Goat_edited-1Michigan State University (MSU), the bucolic and picturesque Tollgate Farm Education Center remains an important historic resource for people throughout Michigan. Tollgate now offers a variety of facilities, programs and support to an array of groups, including a 4H youth group, science and farming summer camps for youth, bee-keeper education and catered business group meetings.

Alan Jaros is the new director for educational programming under Michigan State University Extension (MSUE) at Tollgate. Hitting the ground running, Alan has been pushing to build urban agriculture training opportunities, enhance educational resources on site and increase visitation. All of which add new demands on the facilities and staff members and requires inter-organizational and inter-agency cooperation.

Thankfully, his colleagues at MSU, the Americana Foundation and a number of community-based organizations have agreed to joinTollgate_classroom_1_small_file Alan in a discussion about the future. And all agree that Tollgate is a critical resource for natural resources, agriculture, and food-systems training in Southeast Michigan. With some work and thoughtful dialogue, there will soon be a plan for coordinated action that provides a clear vision and achievable goals for immediate and long-term development of Tollgate Farm Education Center

A Note on FacilitatorsTollgate_Greenhouse_1

Sometimes long-standing and mature organizations need to occasionally to re-evaluate their mission and goals, assess progress, and consider changing conditions. Facilitated discussions can help managers and program staff reaffirm effective relationships and respond creatively to the opportunities emerging from change.

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.

BOOK REVIEW: Behind the Curve by Joshua P. Howe

Some 26 years ago, another State of the World Report published by the World Watch Institute hit my desk. That volume included a description of a growing concern about the world’s changing climate. About the same time, James Hansen of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies made his first appearance before a major Congressional Committee. He described the natural heat-trapping characteristics of earth’s atmosphere and how the burning of fossil fuels and other human activities were resulting in increased levels of carbon dioxide and greenhouse gases. The changes in atmospheric chemistry were, predictably changing the world’s climate.

As the new science and technology research director for the Michigan Legislative Service Bureau, I had been aware of this discussion, but now I was alarmed. My office completed a scan of the published research and recent reports from other organizations; then, we generated a brief for the legislature calling attention to the challenges of climate change. That research paper hit the floor with a thud.Behind_the_Curve

The fact that a legislative research paper on climate change delivered in 1990 was completely ignored would come as no surprise to Joshua P. Howe. He is the author of Behind the Curve – Science and the Politics of Global Warming (, a new book just published by University of Washington Press. A professor of environmental studies at Reed College, Howe offers a thoroughly documented historical review of the entangling of scientific research and funding priorities with national and international politics.

The curve in this book is the plot of atmospheric carbon dioxide measurements taken at the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii by Charles David Keeling (and others). As part of a larger climate monitoring effort, Keeling first measured atmospheric carbon dioxide at an average of 315 parts per million (ppm) in 1958. Tracking with the increasing levels of fossil fuel use and global energy production, carbon dioxide concentrations have continued to rise since 1958, hitting 401.75 in May of this year. (For more, see:


Keeling’s measurements (i.e., Keeling’s curve) and others have been gathered with the extensive climate research conducted, refined and confirmed over the past 50 years. As noted in this year’s National Climate Assessment (, human-caused discharges of greenhouse gases are resulting in climate changes that threaten our way of life. And yet, a national response has been mired in political posturing, delay, and obfuscation.

Howe offers a detailed, but accessible review of how budgetary debates and political agendas dating back to the Cold War helped to polarize this topic. Ultimately, he says, the rise of economics as the key rubric for environmental decision making completely changed the discussion about climate and all environmental issues. Economic globalism has required a commitment to sustainable development or, more accurately, sustained development.

Without a doubt, Howe’s work is a valuable contribution to the history of science. Thoroughly researched and well documented, the book breaks down the interplay between the proponents of unbridled economic development and the narrow interests of bureaucrats and politicians. From Keeling’s scientific research on climate right up to today’s combative and nonsensical politics, we continue to fall behind in addressing the challenges of climate change. Perhaps by better understanding the past, we will discover ways to move beyond the politics of denial and begin the real work of adapting to a changing climate while reducing carbon emissions.