Monday, October 21, 2019

Invasive species workshop comes to Fairbanks

The Alaska Invasive Species Workshop, Oct. 22-24 in Fairbanks, will highlight early detection and prevention of invasive species.
Although the presence of winter moose tick has not been confirmed
yet in Alaska, it afflicts mule deer in the Yukon, and some mule
deer have migrated to the Interior. A presentation about the risk
of ticks and tick-borne pathogens will take place Thursday, Oct. 24
at the workshop. iStock photo

The annual event kicks off with a public lecture at 6 p.m. tonight at the Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitors Center. Katherine Wyman-Grothem, of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Minnesota, will talk about how to analyze the risk of aquatic invasive species when deciding where to direct prevention efforts. Wyman-Grothem's experience is with the Great Lakes region, which has had more than 100 invasive species.

The University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service and the Alaska Invasive Species Partnership will host the workshop at Pike’s Waterfront Lodge, 1850 Hoselton Drive.

Coordinator Gino Graziano said the workshop helps coordinate invasive species management efforts and makes individuals or agencies aware of new concerns, particularly those that could cause economic or environmental damage.

One relatively new concern is the spread of nonnative ticks and tick-borne pathogens. A researcher from the University of Alaska Anchorage will discuss which ticks are here and which ones have pathogens. The information comes from a surveillance project conducted by UAA, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and the Department of Environmental Conservation.

“There is real concern that moose winter tick is up here,” Graziano said.

Although it has not been spotted in Alaska, Graziano said the tick is present among mule deer in the Yukon, and some deer have migrated to the Interior. The ticks suck substantial amounts of blood and make animals scratch, which causes damage to their insulating winter coats.

Several workshop presentations concern the detection and management of elodea, an invasive aquatic species that aggressively crowds out native species and is difficult to control. Graziano said the plant can grow into places where salmon spawn and present navigation risks to boats and planes.

Other presentations will cover prevention efforts, including watercraft and seaplane inspections, public outreach and wildland fire training. Reports will describe management efforts to control northern pike in Shell Lake and Prunus padus, a type of chokecherry tree that has spread in Fairbanks, Anchorage and other communities.

The agenda and registration information are available at For more information, contact Graziano at 907-786-6315 or

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Fairbanks Experiment Farm sees longer growing season

Rick Thoman has been closely following the lenthening growing season in the Interior and across Alaska.

Based on 109 years of weather information recorded at the Fairbanks Experiment Farm, Thoman said this past summer was the farm's third-longest growing season. Its weather station recorded 129 frost-free days. The fall frost arrived on Sept. 22.

Thoman is a climate scientist with the Alaska Center for Climate Assessment and Policy at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

As Thoman's graph indicates, the growing season at the farm has lengthened by three weeks over the past 49 years, from 1970 to 2019. Seven of the 10 longest growing seasons have occurred since 1990 and the 10 shortest seasons were before 1970.

This past summer also recorded the second highest May-September growing degree day total (GDD), a measure of "accumulated warmth." Some crops require a specific total in order to mature. The growing degree day total in 2004 was slightly higher than in 2019.

Thoman said another UAF scientist is looking at whether changes in accumulated warmth are actually more significant than changes in the growing season length. The issue was referenced in a publication that Thoman and John Walsh published in August, "Alaska's Changing Environment."

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

UAF reindeer herd moves to Delta Junction, LARS

A newborn calf stays close to her mother at the Fairbanks Experiment Farm
this April. UAF photo by J.R. Ancheta
The reindeer research herd at the Fairbanks Experiment Farm has moved to a bison and reindeer farm near Delta Junction.

Thirty-five of the reindeer were transferred two weeks ago, and two reindeer used for outreach, Roger and Olivia, moved Friday to the Large Animal Research Station near the University of Alaska Fairbanks campus.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs, which owns the animals, approved the transfer. The university’s Reindeer Research Program has maintained a herd at UAF since 1997 for research on range management, nutrition and feed rations and for educational outreach.

Roberto Burgess, left, and Steve Hjelm of Stevens
Village look on as Greg Finstad talks about weighing and
handling the reindeer during a 2016 animal husbandry
workshop. Erin Carr and George Aguiar help hold
the reindeer.
Milan Shipka, the director of the UAF Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station, said the transfer reflects a shift in program goals, to focus more on outreach and developing range and business plans for communities interested in establishing a reindeer herd for meat production.

The Delta Junction bison and reindeer farm is owned by the Stevens Village Tribal Council, which has been working with the reindeer program for five years. Representatives have attended reindeer husbandry workshops at UAF and have been developing a herd on the 2,000-acre farm.

“This was an opportunity to help an Alaska Native entity develop a red meat industry,” Shipka said. “This has the potential to be a sizable Native-owned operation on the road system.”

Being on the road system allows for a USDA-inspected slaughter and greatly improves market opportunities, Shipka said. The farm will get a higher price for the reindeer meat because it will be able to sell USDA-inspected meat.

The reindeer were moved to Delta Junction in enclosed trailers. Greg Finstad, the reindeer program manager, said the farm will be a good location for the reindeer because of its access to the road system and to inexpensive reindeer feed, including hay, barley and oats.

Finstad said said 10 of the reindeer going to the farm will eventually be transferred to the family-owned Midnite Sun Ranch near Nome.
He said the program is working on a memorandum of agreement with the Tanana Chiefs Conference to continue using the research herd for animal husbandry outreach and research as needed.

Finstad said his program is working with other Yukon River communities, and reindeer herders on the Seward Peninsula, and St. Paul and Saint Lawrence islands on developing reindeer production and using hygienic slaughter practices to increase the value of the meat they sell. The program and will continue to provide husbandry and meat production training.

“We still have a lot of work to do,” he said.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

AFES research looks for prime time to harvest firewood

Jessie Young-Robertson is researching when trees have the lowest moisture
content, and how harvesting them at the right point could shorten the drying
time. UAF photo by J.R. Ancheta

While studying how trees take up snowmelt and rainwater, Jessie Young-Robertson noticed dramatic seasonal variations in the water content in the trees, particularly in deciduous trees like birch and aspen.

Most of her research was undertaken between March and September but last year, she extended her research through the winter —and made a surprising discovery.

This three-pronged device measures water content in trees.
UAF photo by J.R. Ancheta
Young-Robertson, a forest ecologist with the University of Alaska Fairbanks, said that scientists believed that trees dried down immediately after losing their leaves. Sensors in birch trees showed, surprisingly, that the trees dumped 70 percent of their water content into the soil in a 24-hour period in late October. The water dump correlated closely with a drop in temperatures. It followed one day in which temperatures were below freezing.

She knew that trees dropped moisture in the fall. “The surprise was how much and how fast,” she said.

The finding could be significant because fall is a popular time to harvest firewood. Depending on the when the trees are harvested in the fall, the wood could be very wet or much drier.

Further research is needed, but she believes that the information being collected may hold a key to reducing wintertime air pollution in Fairbanks caused by residents burning green firewood.

“You can let the trees do a lot of the work of drying the wood for you,” she said.

A birch tree in the Caribou-Poker Creeks Research
Watershed displays a bolted device on the left-hand side that
measures changes in tree girth and a white rectangular device
encloses a water content sensor. The foil-like thermal shield
covers a sap flux sensor that measures transpiration. Photo
by Jessie Young-Robertson

Young-Robertson has studied water uptake in plants for more than 10 years. As part of a National Science Foundation grant, she studied water uptake in several species of trees from March to September for three years. She discovered that deciduous trees have low water content during winter and early spring, become saturated when the snow melts, and lose 20 percent of their water content when they leaf out. Trees refilled their water supply through summer rainfall.

She is trying to pinpoint the time when the moisture content is the lowest and the environmental factors that influence this. If people harvested firewood at the right time, she thinks it would shorten the amount of time needed to season it and reduce the PM2.5 emissions linked to burning wet wood.

The technology Young-Robertson used to measure the water content in trees has evolved since she started her research in the woods northeast of Fairbanks.

She used to walk or ski to her research plots in the Caribou-Poker Creeks Research Watershed, off the Steese Highway. She connected a sensor and her laptop to rods attached to the tree to measure its water content.  Sometimes electricity conducted by the tree shorted out her sensor, or bands measuring tree girth fell down when the trees shed water. The process is now automated and the devices she uses are more reliable.

Young-Robertson will continue to monitor plots in the research area, but will also establish and follow another plot this fall near Smith Lake. It will include birch, aspen and spruce, collecting data on air temperature, soil temperature, water content and tree girth.

One reason for placing the plot near UAF is that she hopes to stream the data to a website so people can track ongoing conditions and watch for the best time to harvest.

Young-Robertson, a researcher for the Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station, will expand the project with additional grant money expected this fall. She hopes to increase the number of plots at the research watershed and to add a plot on Fort Wainwright so she can monitor trees in various conditions.

Jessie Young-Robertson demonstrates how a device measures
water content. UAF photo by J.R. Ancheta
She will also hopes to conduct drying experiments with birch and spruce, the two most popular choices for firewood. The firewood would be harvested at different levels of moisture content.  She will try to determine the difference in drying times needed to reduce the water content to 20 percent or lower, the standard required by the state and the Fairbanks North Star Borough.

Young-Robertson has many interests besides ecohydrology. She is an artist who paints with vivid acrylic colors and creates art with a digital drawing pad. She is interested in the connections between science and storytelling. She recorded a series of conversations with scientists and others as part of a collaboration with StoryCorps, which airs stories on National Public Radio. She also told a story about a disastrous solo hike on Kesugi Ridge as part of the Dark Winter Nights storytelling series. She hails originally from New Mexico, where her father worked as a research physicist.

She likes her work with trees and their mysteries. She discovered they conduct electricity and they even pick up radio stations. Trees conduct sound when they’re full of water, she said. She could pick it up with specialized sensors that measure changes in pressure that she converted to sound.

“I feel like at every turn, we find something new,” she said.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

ASRA summer camp focuses on Alaska foods

Call it a food finale or a dessert smackdown. High schoolers with the Alaska Summer Research Academy group on Alaska foods prepared desserts made solely with local ingredients and asked the archaeology group to choose its favorite.
Sable Scotten of Galena prepares to bake king salmon as Glenna Gannon looks

The taste test lineup was enticing: serviceberry/blueberry pie with a barley flour crust, sourdough barley rolls with a raspberry filling and raspberry/strawberry sorbet topped with edible wildflowers and blueberry gummies made from scratch. The gummy gelatin was rendered from caribou bones.

Heidi Rader, who coordinates the two-week UAF camp, told the high school judges to taste everything before filling out the judging forms. She also asked for comments as they sampled the fare, while seated at a picnic table on lower campus.

“The bread was good. It was just a tad bit dry,” one volunteered.
Zoe McIntyre poses with her serviceberry pie.

After tasting the sorbet, another student said, “I can’t be the mean judge on this.”

“The pie’s really good,” one judge said. “It’s a bit tangy I guess.”

It was a blind tasting. The tasters did not know who prepared what, and the chefs stood by and listened to the feedback.

Cooking desserts is just one of many activities for participants in the camp module called, “What’s for Dinner? Why We Eat What We Eat in Alaska and What it Means for Our Health.” Participants toured the Georgeson Botanical Garden, learned about the vegetable variety trials there, and about food policy, healthy diets and career opportunities in agriculture. They also foraged for wild foods.

“It’s all about food,” said Rader, a tribes Extension educator who ran the camp with help of graduate students Glenna Gannon and Sheri Coke, and UAF Professor Liz Hodges Snyder.

Shea Gunter works on raspberry
Students spent a fair amount of time in the commercial kitchen at the Extension state office building, preparing kale salad, sautéing and baking salmon, making cauliflower muffins and cake, and other Alaska foods. They also canned jam with serviceberries and raspberries. The camp was focused on cooking healthy and with vegetables.

Zoe McIntyre, the architect of the serviceberry pie, said she signed up for the camp because she was interested in Alaska foods. She particularly liked tasting her first serviceberries.

Shea Gunter, who will be a high school sophomore this fall in Tetlin, said, “I really liked the baking.”

The winning dessert was the raspberry/strawberry or “strawsberry” sorbet made by Sable Scotten of Galena. The science academy ends on Friday.

The camp emphasized healthy eating and vegetables.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Tickets on sale for Georgeson Wine and Peonies event

The Georgeson Botanical Garden will pair wine and peonies for its annual fund-raising gala on Friday, July 26.

Wine and Peonies will run from 5:30-7:30 p.m. at the UAF botanical garden. The event will feature peonies, wine from New Zealand and other locations and piano music by Victoria Salmon. Each participant will receive wine, hors d’oeuvres, a bouquet of fresh-cut peonies and a garden tour.

Garden program coordinator Mathew Carrick describes the event as an elegant evening that celebrates the garden’s peony connection with New Zealand. A couple from New Zealand, who toured the garden in 2004, encouraged horticulturist Pat Holloway to help develop a peony industry in Alaska because of the opportune time that peonies bloom here. Holloway had started variety trials at the garden three years earlier. The couple also hosted several Alaska growers who wanted to learn more about growing peonies.

The Georgeson Botanical Garden Society hosts the gala to support operations of the garden. Tickets are available at They are $40 when purchased by 5 p.m. July 19 or $50 when purchased later and at the door. Attendees must be 21 or older.

The garden is located at the Fairbanks Experiment Farm, 117 West Tanana Drive. For more information, contact Mathew Carrick at at 907-474-7222 or at

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Peonies blooming at Georgeson Botanical Garden

The Hermione variety of peony can be seen at the Georgeson.
The UAF Georgeson Botanical Garden invites the public to enjoy its peonies in full bloom.

The garden will host Peonies in Bloom July 1-12, an opportunity for visitors to enjoy the big, showy “wedding flower” at the height of its bloom. The flowers emerge from buds by mid- to late June in Fairbanks.

The garden has about 150 varieties of peonies in a rainbow of colors, including white, pink, yellow and red. Most were planted as part of research and variety trials undertaken at the garden, beginning in 2001. The research has helped contribute to a successful industry and horticultural export for Alaska.

The garden is open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily through Labor Day weekend. Admission is $5. For more information, contact Mathew Carrick at 474-7222 or