Wednesday, August 24, 2016

SNRE profile: Agent promotes community development

Karen Petersen gives a mill tour to graduate students. At left is Jim Harrison,
the owner of one of the larger sawmill operations on Prince of Wales Island.

When the Ketchikan Pulp  Co. mill closed in 1997, it left 500 Southeast residents without jobs and the region economically depressed for years.
“Every community saw people leaving like crazy. It was really grim,” said Karen Petersen, who had moved from Ketchikan to nearby Prince of Wales Island shortly before the mill closed.
The pulp company shut down its sawmill in 1999, which greatly affected logging on Prince of Wales. The population of Thorne Bay dropped steadily from 600 to 400 as people lost work.
Extension natural resources agent Bob Gorman hosted community visioning sessions on the island, and Petersen met with him after one of the meetings, in 2002.
As part of a grant project, he asked to offer business development workshops for loggers and solve some of their problems.
While Petersen didn’t know much about forestry, she did know about managing businesses and economic development. She had managed a tourism company’s division in Ketchikan and several small businesses. She helped set up a forest products task force on the island and met with loggers to see what they needed.
Working with community partners and encouraging economic development on Prince of Wales Island has continued to be Petersen’s role with Extension 14 years later. Over the years, she has worked with the sawmill operators on alternate uses for wood waste on the island. She also has encouraged schools and municipalities to use wood heat.
For five years, Petersen has chaired the Alaska Wood Energy Development Task Group for the Alaska Energy Authority. The task group evaluates wood heat grant applications for the state. At the same time, she has worked to promote tourism on the island and organized three Prince of Wales Visitors Summits.
With Gorman’s encouragement, Petersen earned a master’s degree in rural development from UAF in 2010 and she became a community development agent in 2013. Her activities are varied.
 “Everything that falls under community development is legal and kosher,” she said.
This ranges from economic development work to teaching emergency trauma technician (ETT) courses, CPR, first aid and emergency preparedness. Petersen worked with Gorman to coordinate the Alaska Wood Energy Conference in Ketchikan and Fairbanks. She is working with Jasmine Shaw and Meg Burgett to plan the next one, which is in Ketchikan in April 2017.
Petersen grew up in Kirkland, Washington, and she confounded her family by studying agronomy at Washington State University. After she graduated, she served in the Peace Corps in Ecuador.
She was the division manager for Alaska Sightseeing/Cruise West in Ketchikan and managed a Waldenbooks store there before moving to Thorne Bay. She also managed and co-owned liquor stores in Thorne Bay and Coffman Cove until 2010.
In her spare time, she hosts a weekly folk radio show on Ketchikan public radio, KRBD. She has returned to South America four times as a teaching volunteer in El Salvador. Prince of Wales Chamber of Commerce recognized her this spring with its President’s Award for her work on tourism promotion and with the forest products industry.
She has really enjoyed her time with Extension, she said. “I love this job and I like helping people — and that’s all I really want to do.”

Monday, August 22, 2016

Japanese students head home after seminar ends

Wataru Hotta accepts his program certificate from Professor
Masahide Kaeriyama, left, Professor Dave Valentine and Donna Anger
 of UAF International Programs and Initiatives.

SNRE Professor Emeritus Glenn Juday asked a dozen students from Hokkaido University what they thought about Alaska and one of them said “big.”

The Japanese students left to return home late Wednesday night after nine days of lectures and tours at UAF as part of a natural resources seminar. With Miho Morimoto piloting a university van, the students visited Doyon Ltd., the Fort Knox Mine, Northland Wood, the Superior Pellets Fuels plant, Poker Flat, the Division of Forestry and Denali National Park, where they rode the bus into the Eielson Visitors Center and saw bears. They also learned about aurora research, musk ox, permafrost, fisheries, and fire and forest management. The group toured the Large Animal Research Station and the Fairbanks Experiment Farm and to hear about reindeer and other research.

The Hokkaido students and their professors visit the Chatanika dredge.
Interim Chancellor Dana Thomas spoke to the group during a good-bye event at the Georgeson Botanical Garden on Wednesday night. He talked about the importance of being more globally aware and the role foreign travels have in that.

“They shape our perspectives for the rest of our lives,” he said. Thomas also gave the visiting Hokkaido University faculty, Masahide Kaeriyama and Xiao Lan, a letter to convey to Hokkaido University President Keizo Yamaguchi marking the 30th anniversary of the signing of the cooperative agreement and thanking the faculty and staff for their leadership in making the seminar happen.

SNRE Director of Academic Programs David Valentine, who organized the tour with Morimoto, said he hoped they had learned something about natural resources in Alaska. “We hope this will encourage you to come back as an exchange student,” he said. Several research efforts and internships have been facilitated by the agreement between UAF and Hokkaido University, but this is the first time a student group has come to UAF just to study natural resources management.

Among other things, the students said they liked seeing bears and caribou in Denali. They also liked the university museum, aurora research and the wood pellet plant.

Moe Ota, who studies animals, said she really enjoyed seeing the caribou in Denali. “Caribou were larger than I thought,” she said.

Yumeho Nakekanishi, who also studies animals, said the livestock species in Japan are different and include chickens, pigs, sheep and cattle.

Alaska was a lot warmer than she thought it would be. “I have a lot of sweaters and mufflers and I didn’t really use them,” she said.

Engineering student Ren Nishakata said he was most interested in the aurora research and would like to return to go dog mushing.

During Wednesday’s event, Donna Anger, the director of UAF International Programs and Initiatives, also encouraged the students to return. She and Valentine handed the students certificates for their participation in the noncredit Alaska Natural Resources Sustainability Field Seminar.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

SNRE hosts seminar for Japanese students

The Japanese exchange group and professors gather with Dave Valentine and Miho
Morimoto on the first day of their seminar.

A dozen students from Hokkaido University and two visiting professors are learning about Alaska natural resources management, courtesy of the School of Natural Resources and Extension.

The Japanese contingent arrived late Monday night and is attending lectures at UAF and touring destinations relevant to the natural resources theme. SNRE Professor Dave Valentine and Miho Morimoto, a postdoctoral researcher who earned a Ph.D. from UAF this summer but is from Japan, cooordinated the nine-day tour, which is officially known as the Alaska Natural Resources Sustainability Field Seminar.

Valentine describes the seminar as similar to the NRM 290 field course but it will be based in Fairbanks since participants are staying in university dorms. The noncredit seminar will combine lectures on campus with field lectures and tours around the Interior. The group is traveling in a university van.

UAF lectures will cover forest health, permafrost, sustainability, fisheries and recreation, and field lectures will address climate change, forest field sampling, agriculture and Alaska livestock. Several SNRE professors will meet with the students, including Jenifer McBeath, Pete Fix, Milan Shipka, Glenn Juday, Valentine, Steven Seefeldt and Jan Dawe. Students will also tour Morimoto’s forest research plots and take core and soil samples, and they will learn a little about her research in forest regeneration.

The group will also visit Doyon Ltd. to talk about Native corporations and the Division of Forestry to talk about wildfires and forest management. Participants will learn about mining at the Fort Knox Mine, aurora research at the Poker Flat Research Range, geothermal energy at Chena Hot Springs, and research at the Fairbanks Experiment Farm and the Large Animal Research Station. They will also travel to Denali National Park to hear about how the park is managed for tourism and for conservation.

Valentine said Hokkaido University is known for its international exchanges and representatives have wanted to bring a group to UAF for several years. He traveled to Hokkaido University in Sapporo last November to arrange the seminar. Morimoto, who grew up in Japan, earned undergraduate and master’s degrees in forestry at Hokkaido University.

The students all speak varying degrees of English but Valentine said he would never have attempted the seminar without Morimoto because of potential language challenges. “I’d be lost,” he said.

Morimoto first came to UAF on an exchange from Hokkaido University. She was working on her master’s degree and said UAF was the only institution that was available then that would accept her limited fluency in English. Despite language challenges, she persevered, and came back to earn her doctorate in natural resources and sustainability through SNRE.

Students participating in the seminar are sophomores and juniors at Hokkaido University, according to Morimoto. They study a wide variety of disciplines, including engineering, education, agriculture, literature and forest science.

Masahide Kaeriyama, one of two professors from Hokkaido University accompanying the group, said the students want to learn about wildlife in Alaska and the science behind the natural ecosystem. They will also learn about potential exchanges to UAF. Keriyama, who is also senior advisor to the Office in International Affairs at Hokkaido, said, “I hope they want to return to UAF.”

The other professor, Xiao Lan, is from China but has lived in Japan nine years. She plans to return to Alaska with future student groups.

Activities will wrap up with a closing ceremony from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Aug. 17 at the Georgeson Botanical Garden.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Alaska Agriculture Appreciation Day set Aug. 4

Kids dig for potatoes at last year's Alaska Agriculture
 Appreciation Day. 
The Matanuska Experiment Farm in Palmer will host Alaska Agriculture Appreciation Day at the Farm from noon to 5 p.m. Aug. 4.

The free annual event has the atmosphere of a country fair with educational presentations and a number of kids’ and family activities, including hayrides. Presentations will be provided on eliminating hornet and wasp nests, improving soils, beekeeping and trail etiquette. The Cooperative Extension Service will offer cooking demonstrations that feature local Alaska produce.

Demonstrations will feature the MAT+SAR K9 dog rescue, spinning and weaving wool, goat milking and more. Kids’ activities will include vegetable bobbing and searching for “gold nuggets” in a haystack. Digging for potatoes, which was popular last year, has been expanded to become “Kids Read and Dig Veggies.” Extension staff will read a book about making vegetable soup at 2 p.m., then the kids can harvest and dig for several vegetables, including potatoes, beets and broccoli. 

Also new is a Dress as Produce or Farm Animal Contest to be judged at 4 p.m. New and returning vendors this year will showcase a variety of food and non-food products.

The farm, at 1509 S. Georgeson Road, provides research facilities, classroom space and offices for University of Alaska Fairbanks research and Extension. Call Theresa Isaac at 907-746-9450 for more information.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Western soil scientists coming to UAF for workshop

Eighty soil scientists from Western states and Washington, D.C., will gather in Fairbanks July 25-28 for the Western Regional Cooperative Soil Survey Workshop. The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and SNRE will co-host the biennial workshop at Wedgewood Resort.

SNRE Soils and Agronomy Professor Mingchu Zhang is co-chairing the biennial event with Cory Cole, the state soil scientist with the NRCS in Palmer. The workshop theme is “Importance of Soil and Ecological Inventory in a Changing Climate.”

Zhang said this is the first time since the 1990s that the workshop has been hosted in Alaska. He said participants will hear about others’ research and will identify areas for further study.

Workshops topics will include climate change, carbon stocks in the Arctic, soil mapping, permafrost, soil and ecological site inventory and soils surveys. A tribal leadership panel will discuss soil surveys on tribal lands and there will be a presentation about the “Between Earth and Sky” climate change documentary that was inspired by Chien-Lu Ping’s arctic soils field tour.

Field trips are planned July 27 to the permafrost tunnel, the pipeline viewpoint, the Creamer’s Field thermokarst, Smith Lake, the boreal forest and a tussock tundra permafrost site. On July 28, an optional field tour will be offered to the Fairbanks Experiment Farm to see field and reindeer research and the botanical garden. “We want them to see what we are working on up here,” said Zhang.

See more workshop information. For additional information, contact Zhang at or 907-474-7004 or Cory Cole at or 907-761-7759.

Zhang is grateful for the assistance, particularly, of Deb Gonzalez in the Business Office in organizing help for the workshop. Cory Cole is, incidentally, a SNRE graduate student and Mingchu chairs his graduate committee.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

SNRE Profile: John Yarie to retire Aug. 31

After 38 years with the University of Alaska Fairbanks, John Yarie will begin a phased retirement on Aug. 31.

The SNRE silviculture professor plans to continue working half time for nine months, to further his research and teach one forestry class a semester. Yarie also has several papers he’d like to write on the results of his forest research, and he is part of a team that is applying for a National Science Foundation grant to study the carbon dynamics and regrowth of forested areas that have burned more than once in the past 50 years. The grant will require fieldwork during the summer of 2018.

When that’s over, he’s definitely retiring, he said.

Yarie, who grew up in a Cleveland suburb, said he was a typical undergraduate, changing his mind and colleges multiple times before settling on forestry as a major. Other possibilities included math and PE instruction. He ended up earning a doctorate, he said, because the job market was dismal each time he earned another degree.

After submitting his dissertation to his University of British Columbia committee for review, he went on a six-week road trip to Alaska in 1977. He had worked a summer in a Thorne Bay logging camp as a college student, and he wanted to see more of the state and check out the job market.

UAF had no openings for research foresters, but as a result of talking with several folks on campus (Keith Van Cleve and Ted Dyrness), Yarie was offered a research position to work cooperatively with the U.S. Forest Service inventory and analysis folks in the Porcupine region. Following the inventory work, he received funding from the Department of Energy to research woody crops like poplars and willows in the Palmer, Bonanza Creek and Caribou/Poker Creek areas. By 1983, he had become an assistant professor of forest ecology and silviculture at UAF. Silviculture is the science of managing forests for desired outcomes.

John Yarie cooks hamburgers for the SNRE back-to-school barbecue.
Over the years, he has taught undergraduate classes in natural resources measurements, forest ecology and silviculture. He became the first instructor for the school’s GIS class, in 1992, and he worked with the university and Legislature to buy the necessary equipment for a lab and to hire a GIS expert (Dave Verbyla). He has also taught the graduate seminar and graduate courses in research methods and forest ecosystem sciences.

Yarie has enjoyed teaching but his primary focus has been research, particularly studying the effects of changing environmental conditions on forest ecosystems and successional processes following forest fires. He has worked on several long-term projects. A 25-year project that ended recently looked at the effect of drought on forests, using rain exclusion platforms and removing snowpack in the spring.

He is also studying the decomposition of all types of wood in several plots to determine how carbon is released. He recently completed the first 20 years of what is planned as a 100-year study.

Yarie has had a leadership role in the school and served as department head for the former Forest Sciences Department for a dozen years. He has also been an enthusiastic participant in the annual lumberjack competition, the SNRE Forest Fest. His specialty is being the timekeeper for the log-rolling competition.

Retirement plans include woodworking projects and travel to places he has wanted to go, including Chile’s Easter Island. Yarie also expects to spend more time on the slopes of Western downhill ski resorts and with his daughters, who live in Portland, Oregon, and Virginia.

He is the thankful for his time at UAF. “I think I have had a really enjoyable career surrounded by good colleagues,” he said, including Keith Van Cleve, Glenn Juday and John Fox, who have already retired.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Eight SNRE students receive scholarships

Eight outstanding undergraduate students with the School of Natural Resources and Extension will receive scholarships for the 2016-2017 academic year. 

The scholarships and their recipients included:

Crisp Scholarship: Kimberly Diamond, Jessica Herzog, Jenny King and Trevor Schoening all will receive $2,475. The scholarship is awarded to undergraduate and graduate SNRE students.

Paul and Flora Greimann Memorial Scholarship: Zoe Marshall received $700. The scholarship is awarded to any SNRE major, but students studying agriculture are preferred.

Richard E. Lee Scholarship: Jessica Landry will receive $5,500. The scholarship alternates between students studying environmental science at SNRE and students with the UAF College of Engineering and Mines.

Bonita J. Neiland Scholarship: Kelly Schmitz will receive $800. The scholarship is awarded to students in the natural resources management degree program who study the biophysical aspects of forestry or agriculture, or whose studies emphasize biology or ecology. The scholarship honors Dr. Neiland, who was director of instruction and taught natural resources management  and botany at what was then known as the School of Agriculture and Land Resources Management.

Liu Huang Chou Scholarship: Samantha Knutson will receive $500. The scholarship is awarded to students who study plant pathology, plant biology or agriculture.