Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Reindeer program gets wide publicity

Rip the reindeer on a visit to a high school science class
It’s Christmas and the media’s mind turns to reindeer. Each December UAF’s Reindeer Research Program Manager Greg Finstad can expect phone calls from reporters looking for a cute angle about the animals who allegedly pull Santa’s sleigh.

This year was no exception. Last week, Associated Press writer Betsy Blaney contacted Finstad to ask whether "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer" was male or female. Blaney linked the Reindeer Research Program website to her story, which ran in newspapers across the country.

In the AP article, "Wildlife experts ponder gender of Santa's reindeer," Finstad suggests that Rudolph was likely a castrated male (steer). His theory was that females would be pregnant at Christmastime and if Santa was good at animal husbandry he would not hook up expectant moms to a sled.

By Friday, Finstad was fielding calls from newspapers, radio stations, TV stations, and receiving numerous e-mails. Radio talk show hosts queried him about spending tax dollars researching the sex of Santa’s reindeer. “You wouldn’t believe all the phone calls,” Finstad said. “I got a lot of grief.”

Finstad tries to use these occasions to educate the public about the reindeer industry in Alaska, the economic importance of the animals, and the healthy benefits of eating reindeer meat. He also points out the real research his program does, including meat science, range management and nutrition, educational outreach, animal health, radio and satellite telemetry.

The wave of grievance phone calls was exhausting. “I was not so cheery by the end of the day,” Finstad said. But he was glad that the situation was not as bad as the year he shared with reporters his family tradition of cooking a reindeer hindquarter on Christmas Eve. When he jokingly referred to the dish as “rump of Rudolph” media representatives were not amused. “You eat Santa’s reindeer?” was the astonished reaction.

Reindeer Pot Roast
1 3-pound reindeer pot roast
1/4 lb salt pork
1 1/4 c water
salt and pepper to taste
1 bay leaf
4 carrots, peeled and cubed
4 turnips, peeled and cubed
4 potatoes, peeled and cubed
6 small onions
Wipe meat with damp cloth, then. Rub with flour, salt, and pepper. Fry salt pork (or bacon) in dutch oven over medium heat. Brown meat on all sides in the fat. Remove meat. Brown 2 tablespoons flour in fat. Set meat on low rack in dutch oven. Add water and seasonings. Cover and simmer for about 3 hours, or until meat is nearly tender. Place vegetables around and over meat and continue cooking for about 30 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Serve roast, sliced, surrounded with vegetables. Thicken the gravy if necessary with 2 tablespoons flour blended with 2 tablespoons butter and serve with meat. Serves 4.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

UAF deciding fertilizer recommendations

Researchers from UAF’s School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences, the Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station and outreach specialists and agents from the Cooperative Extension Service met in Anchorage Dec. 22 to determine unified fertilizer recommendations for farmers. The scientists will review current recommendations, bring them up to date, and publish any new results, once they are determined.

The university representatives seek to assist Alaska growers who face challenges due in part to the depletion of the state’s sole supply of urea and a 300 to 400 percent increase in fertilizer prices. The problem surfaced when Agrium Inc. closed its urea plant in Nikiski a year ago. Urea, a white crystalline solid containing 46 percent nitrogen, is widely used in the agricultural industry as fertilizer. A dwindling supply of the product remains but Alaska farmers are beginning to order fertilizer from out of state and will have to pay associated shipping costs. There are nitrogen fertilizer sources within the state, but world economic factors have resulted price increases in most fertilizer components. These price increases and the new price volatility have increased risk for commercial agricultural producers.

Associate Director of the Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station Milan Shipka said committees with specific areas of expertise were formed. “We are going to review what publications we have now and get a handle on what’s out there,” he said. The participants will come up with recommendations for specific crops and identify what research needs to be conducted. Hay crops, turf grass, grains, and vegetables will be included in the recommendations. When farmers have the best information it helps them plan better and run their businesses more efficiently, Shipka explained.

Tying together the work of the agriculture school and experiment station with CES was another outcome of the session. “We are working at greater collaboration to better benefit Alaskans,” Shipka said.

Publications featuring past fertilizer research:
Agroborealis Vol. 28, No. 1, Spring 1996, p. 12, "Agronomist discusses nitrogen biological nitrogen fixation" by Stephen D. Sparrow
Agroborealis Vol. 16, No. 1, January 1984, p. 9, "What Happens to Fertilizer Nitrogen?" by Stephen D. Sparrow, Charles W. Knight, Larry D. Hinzman; p. 43, "Do Slow-Release Nitrogen Fertilizers Have an Advantage for Lawn Fertilization in Southcentral Alaska?" by W.M. Laughlin
Agroborealis Vol 15, January 1983, p. 15, "Planting and Fertilizing Options in Barley Production" by Charles Knight
Agroborealis Vol. 14, January 1982, p. 69, "Nitrogen: Transformations and Availability in Alaskan Soils" by George A. Mitchell, Joseph R. Offner

Further reading:
"Alaska farmers face fertilizer shortage," Fairbanks Daily News-Miner article, Jan. 4, 2009, by Rena Delbridge
"Factors to Consider in Selecting a Soil Testing Laboratory" CES Publication FGV-00045, October 2006, by Peter Bierman, Tom Jahns (PDF)
"Small Farms Series: Animal Manure as Fertilizer" CES Publication LPM-00340, August 2005 (PDF)
"Fish waste enriches Alaska soil" Sept. 17, 2008 blogpost by Nancy Tarnai
Fertilizer price follow, Anchorage Daily News blog "Talk Dirt to Me," Jan. 14, 2009, by Fran Durner

(updated January 5, 2009)

Friday, December 19, 2008

Forestry professor included in new climate change book

The work of Glenn Juday, UAF professor of forest ecology and expert on the relationship of tree growth to long-term climate change, is included in a recently published book that seeks to explain climate change to children and young teens.

How We Know What We Know about Our Changing Climate: Scientists and Kids Explore Global Warming by Lynne Cherry and Gary Braasch compiles a wide range of scientific study relating to the environment and presents the work in short vignettes.

According to author Lynne Cherry’s press release, “The book depicts scientists at work; teaches children the language, methods and process of science; imparts knowledge of technological tools and data collection; provides methods and ideas for school and home projects about weather and climate; describes and encourages participation in citizen-science programs; shows how each child can immediately reduce their carbon footprint and inspires them to do so by showing the effects of many kids working together already influencing communities to change.”

Juday, who has been a faculty member at UAF’s School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences since 1981, specializes in forest biodiversity, climate change assessment, climate change and forest growth, and old-growth forest ecology. He holds a doctorate from Oregon State University. The section of the book about his work details his involvement with rural Alaska high school students, who assisted Juday in taking tree core samples and tree growth measurements with a goal of understanding how boreal forests respond to climate change.

According to Cherry’s press release, the citizen-science projects described in the book allow students to see how they can contribute to understanding global warming and, “by seeing how scientific information leads to informed decision-making, students will understand the excitement, utility, and practical applications of careers in science.”

The book is a finalist in the AAAS/Subaru Best Science Book Award, and was named a School Library Journal’s Best Books of 2008. It won the 2008 National Parenting Publications Association Gold Award (Ages 9 to 12), the Publishers' Weekly 2008 - Green Books For Kids Selection, and the National Best Books 2008 Award/ Young Adult Education USA Booknews. It is included in the National Science Teachers Association Recommends list and was endorsed by the International Polar Year.

Further reading:
"People on the front lines of climate change," Fairbanks Daily News-Miner article, July 25, 2008
"Boreal Forest Biodiversity Meets Climate Change," Defenders of Wildlife conference, Washington, D.C., Sept. 27, 2007 (slide show by Glenn Juday)

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Researchers study holiday plants

Poinsettias brighten a dark Fairbanks winter
On the west side of America’s arctic university is an oasis of warmth and greenery—a place where researchers and students can get their hands in the dirt year around. During the darkest season of the year, when the outside of the UAF Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station greenhouse is coated in snow and icicles the inside blooms in a sea of brilliant red and creamy white poinsettias.

Under the direction of Professor of Horticulture Meriam Karlsson, the poinsettias are part of the Introduction to Applied Plant Science course. Her research concentrates on environmental plant physiology as it applies to commercial horticulture at high latitudes, with special attention on understanding relationships of temperature, light, and environmental conditions for whole plant development, growth, morphology, and flowering.

As well as being used for research and educational purposes, the poinsettias help set the holiday scene for campus events, including the chancellor’s Christmas party. Although the poinsettias take center stage in the greenhouse, they are not alone. Black-eyed Susans, exotic pepper plants, tomatoes, corn, thyme, mint, parsley, and some houseplants used in various studies fill the shelves.

Surprisingly, the researchers find the lack of light in a Fairbanks winter undaunting. In fact, it gives the advantage of allowing pure research to be conducted. With virtually no sunlight to contend with, the horticulturists have total control over the amount and type of light the plants receive and can conduct tests accordingly. Various light and temperature treatments are experimented with and the students learn about plant identification, nutrition, and responses to the environment.

Even farther west on campus, at the Fairbanks Experiment Farm, the Controlled Environment Agriculture Laboratory (CEAL), directed by Karlsson, is a state-of-the-art horticulture facility where growing techniques are evaluated and developed. Production systems, crop lighting, irrigation technologies, climate management, crop and variety selections, and the sustainable use of alternative energies are researched. CEAL staff work with greenhouse operators, high school students, farmers’ market producers, and other businesses in exploring and advancing the relevance of horticulture science and controlled environment agriculture throughout Alaska.

As with most research facilities, the SNRAS greenhouses are not open for viewing, but during the summer, tours are given at the Pike’s Waterfront Lodge greenhouse and Chena Hot Springs Resort greenhouses, two local businesses with which SNRAS researchers are developing guidelines and protocols to support efficient crop production in greenhouse, modified, or controlled environments.

Under Karlsson’s direction, graduate student Yosuke Okada will begin working with Chena Hot Springs Resort greenhouse tomatoes in the spring semester. Several undergraduate student assistants work in the greenhouses with Karlsson and researcher Jeff Werner during the summers.

Further reading:
Agroborealis magazine Fall 2006, Vol. 38 No. 1 articles, "Controlled Environments in Alaska," page 26 by Doreen Fitzgerald and Meriam Karlsson, and "Greenhouse tomato production for Alaska," page 27 by Meriam Karlsson (PDF)

"FFA hydroponics program offers education, hope for sustainability," Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, Aug. 31, 2008 by Erica Goff

Friday, December 12, 2008

Graduate student assigned to Paraguay

Matthew Helt with new friends in Paraguay
Even though it is extremely hot and humid, Matthew Helt is learning to like Paraguay. Helt is a SNRAS graduate student enrolled in the Peace Corps Master’s International program. Helt is the second student from the school to participate in the cooperative master’s degree program that allows students to integrate graduate studies with international development experience.

After months of intensive Peace Corps training in Paraguay Helt is now assigned to a village of 150 people outside Ybycui. In e-mail messages to Associate Professor of Resource Planning Susan Todd, chair of the SNRAS graduate program, Helt expressed satisfaction that his village has a working farmers’ group, youth group, and women’s group. “I am truly excited to spend the next two years working on community development and empowerment in this community,” he wrote.

During his training period, Helt learned to deal with cold water showers and to request more vegetables for dinner. Even though surrounded by lettuce fields, his host family was more accustomed to serving meat dishes. Helt attended sessions on agroforestry, crops, beekeeping, and environmental education, and he went to workshops on culture, health, safety, music, religion, and learning styles. He has grafted citrus and mango, planted a garden, and worked on a tree nursery.

Helt noted that deforestation is a major problem in Paraguay, with large plantations growing cotton, soybeans, and sugar cane for export on land that used to be forests. His assignment is to work with the local farmers who only have a few acres.

On Dec. 5 Helt was sworn in as a Peace Corps volunteer at the U.S. Embassy in Asuncion. “It’s not every day that one is able to do such a thing so it was rather exciting for most of us,” he said. “To put icing on the cake, at the end of the ceremony the Charge D'Affairs extended us an invitation use the pool when we're in Asuncion on business.”

Helt earned a B.A. from George Mason University before enrolling in graduate studies at UAF.

Students may pursue several areas of interest within the UAF Natural Resources Management M.S. degree, including horticulture, soil science, agronomy, animal science, forest ecology, silviculture, resource economics, land planning, parks/recreation management, and resource policy. The university provides a six-credit tuition waiver for Peace Corps Master’s International students, and allows them to maintain their active student status during their assignment. Contact Susan Todd at or Tony Gasbarro

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Doctoral student focuses on forest future

Doctoral student David D'Amore stands next to an epikarst feature on Prince of Wales Island. Epikarst is the eroded surface of limestone bedrock.

What will the next 100 years of forestry bring? USDA Forest Service Soil Scientist Dave D’Amore is trying to answer that question…but cautiously. “You have to be careful making predictions.” Restoration of forests and streams and climate change, including the adaptation of plants, biomass energy, and hydrology, are on the horizon, he said. As glaciers recede and snowpack melts, D’Amore said there are uncertainties about the consequences of such changes on the watersheds, including the large coastal temperate rainforest of southeast Alaska. The decline of yellow cedar is one example of the impact of changing precipitation patterns due to decreased snowpack.

D’Amore, a UAF SNRAS doctoral student studying with Associate Professor of Soils Dave Valentine, presented his research findings at a graduate student seminar at UAF in November.

The Coastal Temperate Rainforest (from northern California to Prince William Sound) is D’Amore’s focus, particularly the Tongass National Forest. Southeast Alaska is best known for its old-growth forests dominated by western hemlock, and large deposits of woody debris on the ground. The Tongass National Forest features six major tree species, fire is rare, and woody debris accumulates leading to large amounts of stored carbon in the forest.

Looking at the region historically, aboriginal use of the forest was limited and of very low intensity. In the early twentieth century logging was selective and limited to the shoreline and valley bottoms. The level of logging increased during the two world wars and concentrated on Sitka spruce due to its value as an aircraft wood. The 1950s found the pulp mill industry conducting extensive clearcutting. As a result, today there are 263,250 hectares of young-growth forest on the Tongass. The rapid regeneration of trees and lack of understory have become a problem for the wildlife and understory diversity in these types of stands, D’Amore said.

Another issue of importance is the abundance of water in Southeast Alaska. With 3,000 to 5,000 millimeters of precipitation per year, there is no lack of moisture. The area has plentiful bogs, forested wetlands, and scrub forest that form a mosaic with more productive forest overstory, D’Amore said. “It’s not all the same forest.”

Remarking on the decline of yellow cedar, he said there are 200,000 hectares of dead trees standing in the Tongass. Even yellow cedar that has been dead for sixty years still has high quality wood. Integrating the need for restoration with getting use out of the wood is important. Determining how to harvest dead trees and plant new yellow cedars will create a template for how to manage other types of trees in a changing climate.

Understanding the role of dissolved carbon is another priority for D’Amore. He and his colleagues at the Pacific Northwest Research Station in Juneau are working to establish predictive models for carbon flux in the watersheds of the coastal temperate rainforest. “Southeast Alaska has the highest area of weighted dissolved organic carbon flux in the world,” he said. Carbon flux is the transfer of carbon from one pool to another. Quantifying the movement of carbon dioxide into and out of the atmosphere is important for understanding carbon sinks and sources.

Most of D’Amore’s work has been accomplished with colleagues in forest pathology and aquatic ecology at the Juneau Pacific Northwest Research Station. “I implore you to create creative partnerships and get out of your shell,” he said. “Establishing partnerships has helped me expand understanding of fundamental components of coastal temperate rainforest ecosystems.”

For further reading, see:
"Arctic soil reveals climate change clues," SNRAS Science & News, 9/10/08.

Carbon and carbon research (PDF), SNRAS/AFES Miscellaneous Publication 2004-09.

"Classification of Forested Histosols in Southeast Alaska", by David V. D'Amore and Warren C. Lynn, Soil Science Society of America Journal, 66:554-562 (2002).

"Soggy Soils and Sustainability: Forested Wetlands in Southeast Alaska" (PDF), by Sally Duncan, Science Findings, issue 41, February 2002.

Monday, December 8, 2008

UAF and Chinese Academy of Sciences pursue partnership

From left, Professor Guodong Cheng, SNRAS Dean Carol Lewis, Youfen Zhang, doctoral student Ruixia He, Professor Huijun Jin pause in their dicussions of an exchange program to exchange gifts.

This week representatives from the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing are visiting UAF to plan a student and faculty exchange and research program.

Two professors and a doctoral student from the Cold and Arid Regions Environment and Engineering Research Institute will meet with representatives of the School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences and the College of Engineering and Mines. The visiting academic delegation members’ disciplinary focus is in geocryology, the study of frozen soils. They will be meeting with UAF soil scientists as well as visiting some local sites that demonstrate road stability research. The UA Museum of the North, a permafrost tunnel, and the Trans-Alaska Pipeline are also on the itinerary.

The Chinese Academy of Sciences, China's comprehensive research and development center in natural sciences and high-tech innovation, attaches great importance to the academic exchange and cooperation with international science and technology communities. The center works with more than 60 countries, carrying out various kinds of collaboration with its foreign partners, such as joint investigations, ventures, laboratories, young scientist groups, workshops, training courses, and seminars.

International cooperation has made significant contributions to the improvement of science and technology standards, training of talents, upgrading of experimental conditions, acquisition of foreign investment, and exchange of information, according to the CAS website.

UAF Professor Chien-Lu Ping, who is involved in the proceedings, is internationally known for his soils research. UAF Associate Professor Mingchu Zhang and UAF Assistant Professor Jingjing Liang, both originally from China, are involved in the process also.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

CESU supports cooperation between university, federal agencies

Kennecott mill buildings
Coordination of research efforts is the focus of the North and West Alaska Cooperative Ecosystem Studies Unit. This collaboration makes it possible for vital research to be conducted as smoothly and efficiently as possible, assisting public land managers in making decisions based on solid information.

Across the nation, CESUs are structured as working collaborations among federal agencies and universities. Each CESU focuses on a biogeographic region of the country. Alaska’s North and West region is coordinated by UAF, under the direction of Associate Professor of Outdoor Recreation Management Peter Fix. “The CESU facilitates research that might not be undertaken otherwise,” Fix explained.

Types of research include arctic and subarctic anthropology, ecology, archeology, and physical and biological sciences. Current projects across Alaska are studying black bear ecology, permafrost temperature measurements, nutrition of arctic ungulates, and landslide hazards in Glacier Bay National Park.

The National Park Service’s Lois Dalle-Molle, NWA-CESU research coordinator, said the advantage of this collaboration is the ability to work together on projects from start to finish. “CESUs make working cooperatively possible,” she said.

“We value the opportunity of working with the UA system. We have benefited a lot from their expertise, especially concerning northern ecosystems and climate change modeling. That long-term perspective is valuable to us.”

SNRAS Dean Carol Lewis said “Participating agencies enjoy the advantage of university resources, which in turn gain financial support and enhanced personnel. The idea behind the CESU partnerships is that sharing resources and expertise serves all the interests involved.”

Partner universities and institutions are:
University of Alaska Anchorage
University of Alaska Fairbanks
University of Alaska Southeast
University of New Hampshire
Alaska SeaLife Center.

Cooperating federal agencies include:
Bureau of Land Management
• National Park Service
Natural Resources Conservation Service
US Fish and Wildlife Service.

One example of how the NWA-CESU facilitates research is the 2004 visitor preference study at Kennecott Mill Town, Wrangell-St. Elias National Park. Working with the National Park Service through a CESU cooperative effort, Peter Fix conducted on-site surveys that linked visitor motivations, trip characteristics, demographics, information preferences and evaluations, and time of visitation. Park managers are using the information to assist them in making decisions regarding park interpretation. Fix’s research is helping the managers design interpretive programs and services that target visitor groups most likely to participate, while taking into account how other groups might respond.

The park service does not have the staff to do this kind of research, Dalle-Molle explained. Without the cooperative effort provided by the CESU it would be much more difficult for the parks to obtain the expert information they need to serve the public. “University of Alaska researchers provide us with the best information about Alaska parks from an Alaska research institution,” Dalle-Molle said.

Further reading:
Agroborealis article, "Kennecott Mill Town" (pdf)
"Visitor Preferences for Interpretation in the Kennecott Mill Town, Wrangell-St. Elias National Park"(pdf)

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Agriculture department takes new name

Corn research is an ongoing summertime project at the Fairbanks Experiment Farm.

The Department of Plant, Animal, and Soil Sciences, or PASS, has a new name – High Latitude Agriculture.

Dr. Milan Shipka (below), department chair, said most people did not understand what PASS meant or what activities and research were included in the disciplines contained in the department. “With the concept of global climate change looming large in Alaska, it is most appropriate to have the word agriculture in a department name at UAF,” Shipka said. “Our faculty members are the primary force of agriculture at UAF.”

After the PASS faculty voted in September for the name change, it was approved by SNRAS Dean Carol Lewis, Provost Susan Henrichs, Interim Chancellor Brian Rogers, and President Mark Hamilton. The new name became official Dec. 2, 2008.

High Latitude Agriculture provides statewide education, research and outreach in agriculture, soils, revegetation, and bioremediation through UAF at the Fairbanks Experiment Farm, Georgeson Botanical Garden, the Palmer Research and Extension Center, the Matanuska Experiment Farm, the Delta Junction Field Research Site, Nome, the Seward Peninsula, and other locations across the state. The Department of High Latitude Agriculture faculty provide instruction in Fairbanks and Palmer, as well as through the Bristol Bay Campus, for undergraduate and graduate degrees in Natural Resources Management with an emphasis on concepts based on agricultural sciences. Non-credit short courses are also offered through the Georgeson Botanical Garden.

Examples of High Latitude Agriculture research include:
  •  reindeer research at Nome and Fairbanks
  •  reproductive performance in domestic ruminants
  •  the role of light in high latitude crop production
  •  controlled environment plant growth
  •  cultivar selection of vegetables in Alaska
  •  potato disease
  •  management practices for forage and turf grass
  •  peony cultivation and marketing
  •  arctic and subarctic soils.
For more information about the department, visit the High Latitude Agriculture web page.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Researchers talk climate change in Venetie

Residents of Venetie welcomed ten researchers from the UAF Bonanza Creek Long Term Ecological Research program on Nov. 21 for an open discussion about climate change and its implications to rural villages and their subsistence livelihoods.

Nearly 35 people showed up for the forum in Venetie, located on the East Fork of the Chandalar River, 45 miles northwest of Fort Yukon. The population of Venetie is 181. Community leaders from several neighboring villages of the Yukon Flats region also attended, including Fort Yukon, Circle, Beaver and Arctic Village.

“We went to hear about climate change by learning from local residents who have a rich knowledge of the land and animals of that region,” said Gary Kofinas, associate professor at UAF’s School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences and Institute of Arctic Biology. Kofinas is also the director of UAF’s Resilience and Adaptation Graduate Program. LTER researchers presented findings in Venetie about their research on fire and moose ecology, rural-urban moose hunting and climate change scenarios .

“Those of us from UAF were impressed with the firsthand observations on climate change by local harvesters, and pleased at the excellent exchange of ideas between researchers and residents.” Kofinas said. “People were hungry for information and eager to share their stories.”

The project with Venetie began last year when 19 active subsistence harvesters from the community were interviewed to document local observations on climate change and how people are responding to it. The session began with a presentation of the results from those interviews. Two UAF research projects will continue with Venetie for at least the next three years.

The Bonanza Creek LTER, a National Science Foundation LTER program site, focuses on the importance of understanding long-term consequences of changing climate and disturbance regimes in Alaska’s boreal forest. LTER is moving toward a greater focus on the human dimension in its efforts, Kofinas stated. “Climate change requires that we consider the challenges and opportunities it presents to people. If we are going to make that link, we have to study how social and ecological systems interact.”

Friday, November 21, 2008

Alaska Division of Agriculture strategic plan

The state Division of Agriculture has just released its draft strategic plan for public comment until 15 December. The plan, "Challenges and Opportunities for the Future While Meeting the Needs of Today" (PDF), covers ten strategic goals and means:
• Agricultural development and marketing
• Board of Agriculture & Conservation
• Plant Materials Center: facilitating the development and sustainability of appropriate plant materials for Alaskan agriculture
• Agricultural Revolving Loan Fund
• Sustainable agricultural resources and services
• Outreach, education and recruiting
• Planning: encouragement of best practices
• Existing and emerging technology and research
• Energy
• Infrastructure
This is your opportunity to comment on community-based local production, sustainable practices, policy on genetically modified organisms, food security and supply vulnerability, etc. Send comments to:

Monday, November 17, 2008

Geier releases study of missile defense economics

Research and Extension Instructor Hans Geier recently released a study (PDF) which states that missile defense work in Alaska added $246 million to the state's economy in 2007. Missile defense locations are at Fort Greely near Delta Junction and on the Aleutians. Geier conducted the research for the Boeing Co., the prime contractor for missile defense in Alaska. The figures include $52 million in payroll and $9.6 million in state and local government tax revenue. For the most part, the benefits are felt in rural areas where career opportunities are limited. Boeing is a major contractor for the U.S. Missile Defense Agency's Ground-based Midcourse Defense program, the nation's defense against long-range ballistic missiles. Fort Greely is home to twenty-two interceptors in underground silos. By 2014 the MDA plans to have forty interceptors in place in Alaska.
Further reading:
• Anchorage Daily News article, "Missile defense site bolsters economy"
• Fairbanks Daily News-Miner article, "Boeing missile work funding Alaska's economy"

Friday, November 14, 2008

Career advice shared with students

Graduate student Ellen Trainor chats with Steven Krohn of ExxonMobil at the career fair

According to a panel of experts at the Natural Resources, Fisheries, and Sciences Career Day Nov. 13 at UAF, the top two things employers in those areas prize are field work and excellent communication skills.

The ability to handle critters while working out of a remote camp is also a plus.

While computer skills are definitely crucial to any science position, it’s also valuable to employers to know that a person has good decision-making skills and some work experience. Charles Swanton, Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Sport Fish Division, said, “We’re looking for motivated people with strong outdoor skills, who know about fishing, boat handling and have the ability to swat mosquitoes in field camp.”

ABR’s Steve Murphy advised the students at the session to complete their master’s degrees. “That is our entry level,” he said. “We are looking for people with good field skills. If they have spent all their time in front of a computer it won’t work. They need to be able to identify plants and animals.” Strong analytical skills, computer expertise, and good writing and speaking techniques are also strongly valued, he said.

National Park Service representative Carol McIntyre echoed the importance of hands-on experience. “They can’t be hesitant to go into the wilds and work at remote camps for weeks at a time with grizzly bears nearby. I can’t overemphasize how important field skills are.”

Internship opportunities were discussed, as well as long-term careers in natural resources, fisheries, and sciences. Students interested in researching the options should contact UAF Career Services and register with UAF Career Connect (simply log in with student ID number).

Over 30 exhibitors participated in the career fair, including government agencies, private businesses, Native corporations, and educational representatives. SNRAS Director of Enrollment Management Dave Veazey manned a booth, and the statewide and collegiate FFA program was represented by Research Professional Jeff Werner.

Friday, November 7, 2008

UA geography student earns research award

Kristen Shake in the chemical oceanography lab (photo by UAF School of Fisheries & Ocean Sciences)

Senior geography student Kristen Shake has been awarded a Flint Hills Resources undergraduate research award of $2,300 for her work in oceanography. Shake, who grew up in Anchorage and Girdwood, has had a lifelong interest in natural sciences. She chose UAF after being accepted at several other universities because she was so impressed by the faculty.

“This is what students can do at UAF,” she said. “You can work within schools, figure out what you want to do and do it.” For Shake, this meant conducting ocean and fisheries research even though she is a geography student. Her undergraduate research, under the direction of Jeremy Mathis, assistant professor of chemical oceanography, is about carbon profiling in the Gulf of Alaska. It is titled, “Synthesize Carbon Data Using two Analysis Systems to Better Understand the Carbon Biochemistry of the Gulf of Alaska.”

In the spring Shake worked on an oceanographic cruise in the Gulf of Alaska, collecting carbon biogeochemistry data. She hopes to travel to the Bering Sea next summer. “That’s the best part of learning, going out there and submerging yourself in what is going on,” Shake said. She plans to pursue a master’s degree in chemical oceanography at UAF after graduation in May, and eventually to earn a doctorate, then teach, and do research.

In her free time Shake enjoys soccer, cross-country and downhill skiing, sledding, snowmachining, hiking. She was on the UAF volleyball team her freshman year.

Shake’s is one of ten undergraduate awards presented to UAF students by Flint Hills Resources. Recipients will present their findings at a research symposium in April 2009. The top three presenters will receive cash awards.

The UA Geography Program is part of the UAF School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

SNAP makes climate prediction maps available to public

Alaskans can now access the same statewide maps of future climate scenarios that the Governor’s Climate Change Subcabinet is using to assist statewide planning efforts. This same data is also being used to develop best management practices for community relocation planning under a National Commission on Energy Policy effort spearheaded by UAF’s Alaska Center for Climate Assessment and Policy.

These new maps use the free global mapping program Google Earth to display data from the Scenarios Network for Alaska Planning, a collaborative network that includes the University of Alaska, state, federal, and local agencies, non-governmental organizations and industry partners. SNAP is the policy and research component of the University of Alaska Geography Program, under the umbrella of the UAF School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences.

Available maps and data include projections of average summer and winter temperatures by decade, as well as month-by-month projections for every year from 1980 to 2100. Maps are available for three different greenhouse gas emission scenarios representing low, midrange and high emissions. All maps are at 2 kilometer resolution, which allows users to pinpoint regions and communities at an unprecedented fine scale. Google Earth features allow users to select scenarios, zoom in and out, pan across the landscape and animate selected time series.

These data represent scaled-down model outputs from models used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. SNAP’s goal is to assist in informed decision-making by applying new or existing research results, integrating and analyzing data, and communicating information and assumptions to stakeholders. Further information on SNAP as well as climate scenarios in Google Earth (KML) or GIS (ASCII) format are available at SNAP's website.

Further reading:
Fairbanks Daily News-Miner article, "Mapping 21st century climate change in Alaska"

Monday, November 3, 2008

Career Day set for Nov. 13

Natural resources, fisheries, and sciences Career Day is Thursday, Nov. 13 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the UAF Wood Center. Anyone interested in learning more about exciting career opportunities in these fields is welcome. Summer jobs and internship opportunities will also be discussed. Bring a resume and be prepared to talk to federal, state, and private employers. For more information, visit UAF Career Services ,call 474-7596, or email The event is sponsored by Career Services, College of Natural Science and Mathematics, School of Natural Resources & Agricultural Sciences, School of Fisheries & Ocean Sciences and the UAF Alumni Association.

A workshop featuring a panel of employers is planned for 1 to 2 p.m.

Seniors give thesis presentations

Senior thesis presentations are scheduled for Nov. 14, 21, and Dec. 5. Sessions are held from 2:15 to 4:15 p.m. in room 183 of the Arctic Health Research Building.

Friday, Nov. 14
Larsen Hess: Non-destructive Testing of Alaska Birch Stems for Decomposition Using Acoustics

Matthew Sprau: Estimating Stand Heights for the Boreal Forest Using Airborne Light Detection and Ranging and Conventional Field Methods

Friday, Nov. 21
Jennifer Kapla: Rumen Microbial Proprionate Production as an Intermediary Toward Ethanol Production Using High Cellulose Feedstocks

Nicole Swensgard: A Sustainable Off-Grid Greenhouse Design for Interior Alaska

Cody Maxwell: Growth of Hydroponic Lettuce After Pre-Treating Seedlings with CO2

Friday, Dec. 5
David Ellsworth: Long-term Effects of Reindeer Grazing on Vegetation Species Composition and Soil Characteristics of Grassland Pastures

Mia Peterburs: Recent Trends in Furbearer Management, Trapping Participation, and the Fur Industry of Interior Alaska

Jessica Guritz: Mapping of 14 Non-native Plant Species and Recommended Management Strategies for the UAF Campus

For more information, call 474-7188.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Researcher seeks energy answer in biofuels

A vial of bio-oil in Soria's laboratory

Juan Andres Soria, assistant professor of wood chemistry, is immersed in research to better understand how biofuels can help meet the energy needs of Alaskans. Soria, based at the Palmer Research and Extension Center, spends his time in his lab surrounded by multitudes of glass jars filled with black, stinky liquid. “It looks like oil,” Soria said. And that is the gist of Soria’s work: Can wood be converted to a useful fuel in a cost-effective, safe, and clean manner?

“Nothing is going to trump oil,” Soria said. “But we are consuming our petroleum hydrocarbon resources and the time will come when the supply is low.”

His approach is multifaceted, yet practical. “Because we live in a liquid fuel economy (extraction, transportation, processing, storage, and utilization) the production of liquid fuel is the first logical step,” he said. “We need a new way of looking at biomass. We need to start with the fundamentals.” Alaska has large amounts of woody biomass that could be used in value-added product applications.

Ideally, those forest stands that are merchantable with straight trees of good diameter (eight inches or more at breast height) exhibiting good strength, easily accessible, and able to be processed by machine can be used to rebuild the near- decimated forest products industry in the state. One possibility that has been overlooked in the past is timber stands that have been killed by fire or beetles, or stands that are not ideal candidates for making the boards and fiber products that end up in homes, although using this biomass requires extra steps to remove damaged bark prior to processing.

Soria has been analyzing different woods in locations that were burned between 2000 and 2006. This covers 5.4 million acres in Alaska. “Salvaging the wood will require a new way of looking at things,” Soria said. He has analyzed spruce, birch, and alder, with a variability in moisture content ranging from 6 to 45 percent.

wood samples

In addition to forest stands, there are also brushy, woody species that grow quickly and that can be agricultural crops, managed under intensive conditions for the production of biomass. One drawback in Alaska is that there is no major forest products industry, nor an established technology to use the produced biomass, other than using it as a heating fuel.

Soria cautioned that not all biomass is created equal. “We know we have large amounts of biomass but not all of it is the same,” he said. “We are still learning the fundamentals of Alaska biomass from a chemical standpoint.” Using the same “recipe for cooking” the biomass, Soria has noted more than 300 individual chemicals produced in the liquid biomass. “We have to learn not to treat biomass as the end-all be-all word. Each species has different concentrations of chemicals.”

For the most part, bio-oil research is traditionally focused on pyrolysis, which gives the operator no control over most processing and products. Pyrolytic bio-oil has been proven to power generators and space heaters.

Another approach is liquefaction of biomass using supercritical fluids. Unlike pyrolysis, supercritical fluids can be tweaked to control yields of chemicals and they have much higher liquefaction levels (95 percent). Also, they have greater chemical production and recovery, but the downside is that it is still in the research and development phase and engineering needs for scale up have not been addressed.

Processing can be costly, and is often cited as a criticism for research in biofuels. “What we fail to realize is that we do not pay a single dime for the processing responsible for creating petroleum. Nature has taken care of this over millions of years. In biomass, we have to pay to process biomass into hydrocarbons.” Soria said. He described biofuel production as a race to recreate a process that took nature millions of years to one that takes place in a matter of minutes. Unfortunately, because we rely on petroleum hydrocarbons for the production of not only fuels, but plastics, resins, fertilizers, and solvents among thousands of additional products, alternatives are extremely limited. Other renewable energy sources are not capable of producing complex hydrocarbons (solar, wind, hydro, geothermal, nuclear, and hydrogen produce electricity or hydrogen—not hydrocarbons) so even as we move toward a more diverse mixture of energy, we will have to invest in biomass as the single most effective way of producing those hydrocarbon alternatives to petroleum, Soria said.

Other research that Soria is conducting is in creating a gaseous mixture that can compete with natural gas, and even in internal combustion engines. To produce this requires temperatures as high as 900˚C. “It takes high temperature, air and biomass to generate a gaseous mixture—producer gas,” Soria said. He is currently researching gasification using a downdraft gasifier, analyzing the products from hemlock, yellow cedar, red cedar, and Sitka spruce.

Soria believes small decentralized reactors for both gasification and liquid fuel production will be the best approach in Alaska, once the right technology is found based on the biomass characteristics and niche markets are developed. The challenge of infrastructure is a constant for Alaska, especially the challenges of transportation and storage of biomass. In the meantime, he would like to make the processes fit the current infrastructure and develop a liquid that is closer to the raw petroleum base product. “I’m not trying to reinvent the wheel. I’m trying to find the best of both worlds.” By following this approach, biomass can enter the same infrastructure in place for petroleum, capitalizing on the existing technology, and enabling a renewable source to be introduced in mainstream fossil fuel use technology.

See also:
"Alaska woody biomass,” SNRAS Science & News, July 23, 2008.
• "Biomass for biofuels: not all trees are created equal," by J. Andres Soria, Agroborealis 39(2), winter/spring 2008 (PDF), p. 7.
Biomass Energy, Alaska Energy Authority webpage on energy from biomass, including links and references on biodiesel, municipal waste, and wood and wood waste.
• UAF Forest Products Program, Valerie Barber, director

Soria's research papers on the subject:

Mitchell, B.K., L.L. Ingram, Jr., J. A. Soria, P.H. Steele, D.A. Strobel. (2008) Chemical and physical characteristics of bio-oils from pine and oak feedstocks. Forest Products Society Proceedings. Woody Biomass Utilization: Challenges and Opportunites. pp. 33-38.

Soria, J.A. McDonald, A.G, Shook, S.R. (2008) Wood solubilization and depolymerization using supercritical methanol. Part 1: Process optimization and analysis of methanol insoluble components (bio-char). Holzforschung, Vol. 62 (4), pp. 402–408.

Soria, J.A., McDonald, A.G., He, B.B. (2008) Wood solubilization and depolymerization by supercritical methanol. Part 2: Analysis of methanol soluble compounds. Holzforschung, Vol. 62 (4), pp. 409–416.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Google Earth maps teleconference planned

Google Earth maps of projected climate change in Alaska are now available from the Scenarios Network for Alaska Planning. A teleconference is planned for Wednesday, Nov. 5 from 10 to 11 a.m., presented by the University of Alaska Geography Program, with Alaska climate change projections available for download in Google Earth format. These maps show projected changes in temperature, precipitation, growing season length, freeze-up dates and thaw dates, and include documentation of uncertainties. Join this demonstration of newly available maps and a discussion of how SNAP's work can be most useful.
How to participate in the Alaska Climate Teleconference:
1) Call 1-800-893-8850.
2) When prompted, enter the PIN code: 7531823.
Please mute your phone during the presentation. The audio is very sensitive and external conversations and typing can be heard by other participants.

To view the presentation during a teleconference:
1) Point your web browser to:
2) Click on the blue Join a Meeting button on the left side bar.
3) For Presenter ID enter:
If you do not see anything on your screen, click on the refresh button on the top bar.

ACCAP statewide climate teleconferences are designed to promote dialogue between scientists and people in government, land and resource management, industry, and individual residents who need information related to climate change in Alaska to make well informed decisions. The goal is to create a forum for discussion and information exchange of the current state of knowledge about specific aspects of climate change in Alaska that is accessible to people statewide and identifies existing information gaps and how best to fill them. The conference starts with 15-20 minutes of presentation followed by discussion and questions from participants.

Pre-registration is not required but is strongly encouraged. For further information and to register please contact: Sarah Trainor, ACCAP Coordinator and Research Scientist, (907) 474-7878,

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

SNAP featured before governor's cabinet

Sharing informed research with policymakers requires much more than bumper stickers, UA President Mark Hamilton said Oct. 28 while addressing Gov. Sarah Palin’s cabinet at UAF. “As we see urgency in climate change this cabinet in this state today shares the responsibility of being at the head of the curve,” Hamilton said.

SNAP was one of the research highlights presented to the group. Associate Professor of Forestry and SNAP Director Scott Rupp told the cabinet about Scenarios Network for Alaska Planning. Under the UA Geography Program, SNAP is a way of getting all the players together to provide scenarios of what future landscapes will look like, Rupp explained. “This will improve your ability to make decisions and understand the uncertainties.”

SNAP can have a big impact on many state and national issues, Rupp said. “We are harnessing high-latitude research from the university system and making projections. How cold will it be? How wet? How warm? What will be the growing season lengths?

“This is where the rubber meets the road. We’ve got something that works well.”

By using data sets and maps, SNAP works to project future conditions for selected variables, and comes up with rules and models that develop projections based on historical conditions and trends. Among the topics SNAP focuses on are the frequency of intense storms, the risk of wildfire or flooding, and habitat and wildlife changes associated with such events. Scientists are examining the effects of climate change on biophysical processes, then studying the effects of physical changes on society. SNAP is a useful way for university researchers to convey the societal significance of their research to Alaska’s decision makers and other stakeholders, making current climate change research more recognizable regionally and more relevant globally.

SNAP receives no state funding, Hamilton said. “It is supported with BP and ConocoPhillips dollars.” He urged the cabinet members to recommend state funding. “We are the canary in the coal mine,” he said. “We need long-range public policy decisions based on research. We cannot pass this on to the next generation.”

Calling SNAP the centerpiece for cooperation, Hamilton told the panel not to look to other states to see how this type of program is operating because Alaska is the leader in this research.

Buck Sharpton, vice chancellor for research at UAF, called Tuesday’s forum the first stop on a long and fruitful journey. Panels addressed energy, engineering, climate impacts, health research, and life sciences. In a Fairbanks Daily News-Miner guest opinion, "State, university can cooperate in research," Sharpton stated, “This is the first step in developing a state research coalition that is greater than the sum of the parts. Ultimately, however, Alaska needs a state research and development plan that identifies state research and development priorities, lays out effective and efficient approaches to addressing these priorities, establishes measurable ways to benchmark success, and finds ways of sustaining and growing research at a time when it is sorely needed.”

Further reading:
Alaska Center for Climate Assessment & Policy
Gov. Palin's Sub-cabinet on Climate Change
"Alaska researchers, policymakers seek cooperation on climate issues" Fairbanks Daily News-Miner

Monday, October 27, 2008

Geothermal energy development: geyser threat?

Castle Geyser with geyserbow, Upper Geyser Basin, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming--photo courtesy Kenneth Barrick

Upon the announcement last week ("Government expands geothermal energy leasing") that the Interior Department plans to make available 190 million acres of federal land for geothermal energy development, it is worth visiting the research of Kenneth A. Barrick, UAF associate professor of geography. Barrick has extensively studied the extinction of geysers following energy development. Below is a brief summary of Dr. Barrick's geyser work.

Geyser basins are rare composite resources that provide an important array of recreational, scientific, cultural, national heritage, and economic benefits. For centuries, hydrothermal recreation has supported tourism—from “geyser gazing” to the “taking of the waters” in spa thermal pools. However, geysers are relatively fragile geologic features that are subject to irreversible damage and quenching from nearby human development activities. Geyser basins have been damaged or driven to extinction by geothermal well withdrawal (home heating and/or electricity production), alteration of adjacent riverbeds or river discharge relationships, filling of hydroelectric reservoirs, and exploration for precious metals. Over the past few decades, various energy development projects have permanently quenched about 260 geysers, which reduced the worldwide geyser endowment by about 23 percent (or 40 percent of all geysers located outside of national parks and reserves). About 100 geysers were quenched in New Zealand (75 percent of the local endowment), and about forty six in Iceland (75 percent of the local endowment). In the U.S., two geyser fields in Nevada were quickly driven to extinction by geothermal wells at Beowawe (all 30 geysers), and Steamboat Springs (all 26 geysers).

The world’s few remaining geyser basins are exceptionally rare. However, the increasing demand for alternatives to fossil fuel will likely increase the prospects for geothermal energy development. Therefore, the sustainability of the world’s remaining geyser basins requires that environmental managers and engineers understand the threat that geothermal wells pose when developed on the same hydrothermal field with geysers and important hot springs. Geysers almost always occur in association with other surface hydrothermal features, including hot springs, fumaroles, mud pots, and steaming ground. When geysers and associated hydrothermal features cluster around a common watershed and geothermal heat source, they constitute a composite resource—often referred to as a “geyser basin” (in New Zealand, “hydrothermal area”). Technically, a geyser is a hot spring that intermittently becomes unstable and erupts (usually upwards) a turbulent jet of water and steam.

The Earth’s natural endowment before the geyser extinctions caused by energy development projects was about 1,194 geysers. A total of about 260 geysers have permanently ceased to play as a result of nearby development activities. Today, most of the remaining geysers are found in only five major clusters, including: (1) Yellowstone National Park (about 500 geysers); (2) Dolina Geizerov, “Valley of Geysers” in Russia (about 190 geysers); (3) El Tatio in northern Chile (about eighty geysers); (4) the Taupo Volcanic Zone in New Zealand (about 30 remaining geysers); and (5) Iceland (about 16 remaining geysers, not all active).

The most serious concern for the future sustainability of the world’s remaining geyser basins is the prospect of nearby geothermal energy development. Several factors are conspiring to increase the prospects for geothermal energy. First, the search for alternative energy resources will accelerate with the increasing cost of fossil fuels. Second, technological advancements have reduced the size of geothermal power plants to 5 megawatts (MW), and lowered the cost of developing geothermal fields through staged development. The next generation of technology, called “Enhanced Geothermal Systems,” is expected to make large-scale “heat mining” possible through deep-drilling and reservoir stimulation techniques (1 to 50 MW). Enhanced geothermal systems will push development from the relatively restricted domain of high-temperature geothermal fields (in the U.S., mostly limited to the western states) to all landscapes. Third, emerging centers of expertise in geothermal engineering (like those in Iceland) are maturing into export industries.

Geothermal energy production requires wells that extract large amounts of hot water, steam and/or heat from the hydrothermal reservoir. Geothermal well withdrawal is capable of quenching natural overflow features like geysers. When geothermal wells lower reservoir pressure, the discharge can be reduced to the point where geysers cease to play. The often fatal resource competition is best understood as the “geyser paradox.” The thermal energy required to trigger the eruption of a geyser (150ºC or higher) indicates a shallow magmatic heat source, which is a reliable indicator of a potential geothermal energy resource. Moreover, geysers are nonrenewable resources—they almost never recover when quenched by geothermal well withdrawal. It is suspected that underground cooling clogs the geyser’s plumbing with mineral precipitates. The scarcity of the world’s remaining geysers has greatly increased their preservation value. The sustainability of the remaining geyser basins will require an integrated environmental management approach based on a comprehensive knowledge of the values and benefits that society derives from them; a sober accounting of the known risks of competition for heat and/or water from the hydrothermal reservoir that supplies them, and effective protection legislation.

Further reading:

Geyser Observation Study Association

•Aguilar A (1996) "Extremophile research in the European Union: from fundamental aspects to industrial expectations." Federation of European Microbiological Societies Microbiology Reviews 18:89-92

•Barrick KA (2007) "Geyser decline and extinction in New Zealand—energy development impacts and implications for environmental management." Environmental Management 39:783-805

•Barth TFW (1950) Volcanic geology, hot springs and geysers of Iceland. Carnegie Institution of Washington, Pub No 587, Washington, D.C., 175 pp

•Brock TD (1997) "The value of basic research: discovery of Thermus aquaticus and other extreme thermophiles." Genetics 146:1207-1210

•Jóhannesson M (2005) Iceland America Energy, Los Angeles, California."Kicking the oil habit with geothermal energy" (PDF)

•Lamed R, Zeikus JG (1980) "Ethanol production by thermophilic bacteria: relationship between fermentation product yields of and catabolic enzyme activities in Clostridium thermocellum and Thermoanaerobium brockii." Journal of Bacteriology 144:569-578

•Nash R (1982) Wilderness and the American mind. Yale University Press, New Haven, 425 pp

•Peters J, Bothner B, Kelly S (2007) "Unfolding the mystery of protein thermostability." Yellowstone Science 15:5-14

•Rothschild LJ, Mancinelli RL (2001) "Life in extreme environments." Nature 409:1092-1101

•Tester JW, Anderson BJ, Batchelor AS, Blackwell DD, DiPippo R, Drake EM, Garnish J, Livesay B, Moore MC, Nichols K, Petty S, Toksöz MN, Veatch, Jr. RW (2006) The future of geothermal energy—Impact of enhanced geothermal systems (EGS) on the United States in the 21st century. Massachusetts Institute of Technology and US Department of Energy, 332 pp

•USFS (US Forest Service) (1980) "Final environmental impact statement of the Island Park Geothermal Area." United States Forest Service, Intermountain Region, Ogden, Utah, 280 pp

Friday, October 24, 2008

Bison reintroduction on its way to reality

Coordination has been the key to an Alaska Department of Fish & Game goal of reintroducing wood bison to the state. Fifteen years ago when the project was initiated, Wildlife Planner Randy Rogers and Project Biologist Bob Stephenson were determined to employ the best practices of natural resources management. They began their pursuit of knowledge by sitting down with Native elders who shared stories about bison in Interior Alaska—what the Athabascan name was for the animal, how the hair was used as thread, and hides served as floor coverings. Apparently the bison had been a big feature of the Athabascan economy into the 1800s. “The story got more interesting,” Stephenson said.

A Pleistocene subspecies of bison lived in Alaska for 400,000 years, evolving into the wood bison about 10,000 years ago. The creatures are still a good fit here, Stephenson said. “They co-exist with moose and other wildlife. The predation on wood bison is low.”

While it was originally thought that the largest land mammal in North America had died out in Alaska thousands of years ago, carbon dating tests on bison bones proved that the last herd was still roaming until 170 years ago.

This meshed with the tales from Athabascan elders and made Fish & Game more determined than ever to proceed. Consulting with Canadians who conducted a successful reintroduction, the men learned the steps to take to make the dream real. Why they want to do it is simple:

•re-establish a native species and enhance the ecological wildlife diversity
•help with bison conservation
•enhance wildlife viewing
•re-establish a large herbivore to benefit the northern grazing systems (beneficial nutrient cycling)

Nearly every topic of possible concern has been carefully taken into consideration. Numerous sessions were held with such varied organizations as Doyon, US Fish & Wildlife Service, Safari Club International, Wildlife Conservation Society, the American Bison Society, World Wildlife Fund, the Turner Endangered Species Fund. The Wood Bison Restoration Advisory Group included village representatives, Fish & Game advisors, sportsmen’s organizations, environmental groups, and people with animal welfare interests.

UAF Associate Professor of Outdoor Recreation Peter Fix prepared a cost/benefit analysis, showing the project well worth the investment. An environmental review was concluded in April 2007. Today, 84 bison brought from Canada are quarantined at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center at Portage Glacier. The animals come from one of the few remaining herds that is “pure,” with no cattle strains mixed in. Hay is provided by the Matanuska Experiment Farm at nominal cost. Stephenson called the hay “a lifesaver.”

The first release is planned for the spring of 2010 in the Minto Flats. The other two areas targeted for future releases are the Yukon Flats and the Lower Innoko River. Stephenson and Rogers expect the herds to grow and flourish once released. They referred to the selected habitats as “paradise” for the animals.

Questions remain for the future. Currently, the wood bison is listed as an endangered species, so hunting practices will need to be resolved. It would be at least a dozen years before the harvest could be regulated, if at all. “We have made a fundamental pledge to develop principles to guide the harvest,” Rogers said. “We will manage for abundance, meet the subsistence needs, and I think there will be enough for everybody."

Further reading:
"Wood Bison Restoration in Alaska: An Opportunity to Bring Back a Native Species"
Wood Bison Restoration in Alaska, Alaska Department of Fish & Game
"Wood bison: Giant blast from the past," Anchorage Daily News article
"Alaska closer to reintroducing once-extinct wood bison to Interior" Fairbanks Daily News-Miner article
Alaska Department of Fish & Game Bison Restoration contact information
Endangered Species website

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

SNRAS offers new degrees

Several new exciting degree options have been added to the SNRAS lineup in the past two years. These are:
PhD in Natural Resources and Sustainability
As Alaska and the Circumpolar North face increasingly complex challenges in the use and management of natural resources, the education and training of high-level professionals skilled in the practices and policies that enhance natural resource management become increasingly important. The program aims to prepare future leaders as academic researchers, agency professionals, and analysts, and centers around three thematic areas: i) resource economics, ii) resource policy and sustainability science, and iii) forest and agricultural sciences. Graduates will likely find work in the frontiers of science, helping to manage natural resources and the environment. Careers include university faculty, researchers, and private consultants for governmental or nonprofit agencies.

Objectives are to educate and train scholars at the PhD level with in-depth integrated knowledge in research and management of natural resources, develop leaders to direct the use and management of natural resources in Alaska and other northern latitude settings, create a nationally-recognized program that contributes to scientifically-informed public decisions, contribute to sustainable development of Alaska’s rural and urban environments, and increase research programs addressing the Arctic and its indigenous people.

Contact: Dr. Joshua Greenberg, associate professor of resource economics
Phone: 907.474.7189

• Professional Master’s in Natural Resources Management and Geography
The Master’s in Natural Resources Management and Geography is designed for students planning a management career involving largely non-research responsibilities such as general planning and administration, communication and public information, and impact assessment.
Because of the diversity and broad scope of the natural resources management and geography fields, the objectives of this degree will be tailored to each individual student. The graduate committee will be the main body that assesses the student’s background, individual deficiencies, and specific coursework needs. There will be a minimal number of common courses that all will take, plus a requirement for an individual academic project addressing some existing NRM/G problem or issue. While not requiring scientific experimentation or sampling or the gathering of primary data, the work is expected to involve critical reflection, empirical inquiry, and intellectual honesty. A written product (opus) and an oral presentation demonstrating sound scholarship will be required. Final acceptance of the opus will be by the student’s committee and the associate dean of SNRAS.

Contact: Dave Veazey, director of enrollment management
Phone: 907.474.5276

Peace Corps Master’s International Program
In this cooperative master’s degree program, students integrate graduate studies with international development experience. Master's International has made the unique opportunity of complementing a master's degree with overseas service. Master's International addresses the first goal of the Peace Corps: to help the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women. Prospective students apply simultaneously to both the Peace Corps and UAF. After completing initial course work and receiving the Peace Corps placement, the participant will travel to his or her site and begin training. Once overseas, an assignment is given according to the needs and requests of the host country. Participating faculty recognize that while overseas, primary responsibilities are the project and community. Rather than determining a research topic in advance, the volunteer assignment will shape the academic requirement. This may be a thesis, professional paper, or other culminating project, under the direction of faculty and with the approval of Peace Corps overseas staff. After completing Peace Corps service, the volunteer returns to finish graduate course work with the advantage of actually having implemented ideas and applied theory in the real world.

Contact: Tony Gasbarro, professor emeritus and UAF campus coordinator of Peace Corps Master’s International Program
Phone: 907.474.7246

Visit the UAF Newsroom for a story about Erin Kelly, Master’s International student

Geography undergraduate degrees

The UA Geography Program is a statewide academic program that provides training and information in the field of geography and related disciplines. The UA Geography Program has expanded the Bachelor of Science Program to offer students more options while pursuing a BS in geography: Landscape Analysis and Climate Change Studies, Geographic Information Science and Technology, and Environmental Studies. These new options were designed to prepare students to understand, live, and work in a dynamic and changing world.

The Environmental Studies option has a strong emphasis on environmental issues, wilderness concepts, and management. It provides the foundation necessary for understanding the natural and social environment, the analysis of environmental issues from an interdisciplinary geographic perspective, a diverse technical and scientific approach to environmental issues, and the ability to find balanced solutions to environmental problems.

The GIS option emphasizes skills and practice in geographic information science, systems, technology, and analytical aspects of geography. Courses in statistics, computer programming, GIS and GPS, and Remote Sensing are integrated with the geography core curriculum and courses in natural sciences.

The Landscape Analysis and Climate Change Studies option integrates and synthesizes courses in geography, climate change, physical and biological sciences, and geographic information sciences and technology. The theme of climate and environmental change and the underlying ‘pattern and process paradigm’ are the unifying threads of this program.

Contact: Katie Kennedy, UA Geography education and outreach coordinator
Phone: 907.474.7494

The UA Geography Program has revised the Bachelor of Arts Program. The geography BA degree provides broad cultural training and background in the liberal arts with an emphasis in the Circumpolar North and Pacific Rim Studies. The BA also provides a geographic perspective based on these regions and prepares students for careers in management, policy, teaching, field-based research, regional planning, and private sector careers. The BA also provides an excellent foundation for advanced studies in a wide range of academic disciplines.

Contact: Katie Kennedy, UA Geography education and outreach coordinator
Phone: 907.474.7494

Monday, October 20, 2008

Student maps invasive weeds on campus

Jessica Guritz, pictured at right, studied weeds on the UAF campus

After spending the summer of 2008 mapping weeds on the UAF campus, senior forestry student Jessica Guritz has helped lay the groundwork for invasive plant management and future monitoring. “It will be important to take action quickly and efficiently, before invasive plants succeed in completely taking over the campus,” Guritz stated.

Guritz worked as a seasonal integrated pest management technician for the Cooperative Extension Service with the purpose of creating a map of key invasive plants on the UAF campus. The project was funded through a USDA Forest Service grant. The maps and data resulting from this project are the first step toward creating a campus invasive plant management plan. The community of Fairbanks, as well as agencies such as the US Forest Service, Fairbanks Soil and Water Conservation District, and the Cooperative Extension Service, are witnessing a growing need for the strategic management of invasive plants. Several invasive plants have been expanding their range at an almost exponential rate and action is needed to save native plant communities, gardens, and roadsides. Before strategic actions can be taken, people must know the locations and numbers of invasive plants within a management area.

The goals of this project were to:
•Create a map, or series of maps, to show the locations and densities of key invasive plants on the UAF campus in a way that is easy to interpret and understand.
•Collect other data such as disturbance type, vegetation classification, and phenology to provide a more comprehensive picture of invasion ecology in interior Alaska.
•Produce a final report summarizing the results of the project and recommendations for controlling invasive and exotic plants on campus.
A team of scientists was consulted to come up with a list of plant species to be mapped based on the plants’ ability to survive the winter, their invasiveness ranking, and whether they would be expected to occur in Fairbanks. The scientists included Jeff Conn of the Agricultural Research Service, Michele Hebert of the Cooperative Extension Service, and Tricia Wrutz of the USDA Forest Service.

Fourteen plant species were selected to be mapped on the campus: annual hawksbeard (Crepis tectorum), bird vetch (Vicia cracca), black bindweed (Polygonum convolvulus), Brittlestem hempnettle (Galeopsis tetrahit), butter and eggs (Linaria vulgaris), Canada thistle (Cirisium arvense), common tansy (Tanacetum vulgare), European bird cherry (Prunus padus), oxeye daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare), perennial sowthistle (Sonchus arvensis), Siberian pea (Caragana arborescens), tansy ragwort (Senecio jacobea), white sweetclover (Melilotus alba), yellow alfalfa (Medicago sativa falcata).

Almost all of the disturbed soils on campus were surveyed for invasive plants. Several areas were avoided due to construction or other barriers. Survey methods involved walking back and forth across a given survey area until the entire area had been visually inspected. Data was taken using a variation of the AKEPIC Field Data Sheet.

Eleven out of the 14 plant species surveyed for were found. The three species not found were Canada thistle, common tansy, and tansy ragwort. 461 polygons were mapped.

Guritz recommends these priorities for volunteer efforts:
• Removing the bird vetch along the UAF trail system
• Working toward eradication of perennial sow thistle, black bindweed, brittlestem hemp nettle, and yellow toadflax
Priorities for landscaping, maintenance, and construction crews include:
• Using weed-free soil, fill, and other materials
• Cleaning equipment to prevent the transfer of invasive plant seeds
• Where soils are disturbed, re-vegetate with native plants
• Control the invasive plants around the Physical Plant
Further reading:
Surveying and Mapping of 14 Invasive and Exotic Plants on the UAF Campus (pdf), by Jessica Guritz
Non-native plant literature and websites
Alaska Committee for Noxious and Invasive Plants Management website
• Alaska Association of Conservation Districts invasive plants website

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Case of the Missing Budworms

Spruce budworm is a caterpillar for most of its life, then briefly a moth which feeds on the buds and young expanding shoots of several boreal conifer species, especially white spruce. Spruce budworm is distributed across Canada and irregularly appeared in marginal numbers in eastern interior Alaska. Until recently, that is.

Budworm numbers erupted (in biology such a population outbreak is an “irruption”) in central Alaska in 1989-1990, 1993, 1995, and for sure in 2006-2007. Across Canada, spruce budworm (OK, let’s call it SBW like the pros) is responsible for 40 percent of the volume of commercial timber killed by all insects and diseases, or at least all that are monitored. So the appearance of SBW is a big deal, and for white spruce, a bad deal.

Why now in Alaska? Surprisingly, it’s not actually one of those mysteries of science. SBW kills so much timber that it’s been studied closely and well. The basic answer is the warmer the weather at critical stages during its development, the faster it develops. This means that during warm years a higher percentage of the class of hatched eggs graduates to the tree-eating and reproductive stages of life before they run out of time and are terminated by the change of seasons. And, of course, with more bugs you get more chewed-up, dead spruce.

Warm Augusts give the SBW first larva stage a head start on their second larva stage. Big deal, you say! Well, yeah, actually. Because when SBW are in the fully developed second larva stage their numbers are not, repeat not, significantly reduced by winter cold no matter how severe.

So, by contrast, cold Augusts won’t let the SBW reach full second larva stage development before the first frost thins the herd. So, after a warm August a warm May/June the next year speeds extra high numbers of the previous year’s SBW class on to reproductive adults. Now you’ve got an “irruption” on your hands.

So, here’s they mystery. August 2007 was fourth warmest in the 104-year Fairbanks record. And if you shook a spruce tree in May or June 2008 in much of central Alaska various SBW larva stages fell out. OK, on track for irruption. But by early July 2008 SBW were hard to find. And you will look long and hard to find a 2008 pupa case that a reproductive adult moth cracked open and flew from.

So what do you think happened?

Also, August 2008 weather in central Alaska - lack of warmth in the daily high temperatures but not particularly cold overall - is really poor budworm weather. So your spruces should get a break in 2009. But a new El Niño in the Pacific may give a boost to Alaska summer 2009 temperatures, so that you shouldn’t count the SBW out for 2010.
post by Glenn Juday
Professor of Forest Ecology
Further reading:
Wikipedia entry on Spruce Budworm
Alaska's Changing Boreal Forest, by Francis Stuart Chapin, et al. 2006. Oxford University Press.
• Alaska Division of Forestry Alaska Forest Health Protection Program
"Spruce Beetles, Budworms, and Climate Warming," by Glenn P. Juday, global glimpses v. 6 n. 1, April 1998. Center for Global Change & Arctic System Research.