Friday, December 18, 2009

UA Geography takes lessons to local high school

Dave Veazey teaches geography at Effie Kokrine Charter School
Students at Effie Kokrine Charter School are getting more than grades in their geography class. Thanks to a new partnership with the UA Geography Program, high schoolers are able to earn college credits for the course, “Local Places, Global Regions: An Introduction to Geography.”

The class, offered for the first time in a local high school this semester, was taught by instructor Dave Veazey. “The university has a responsibility to provide educational opportunities to K-12 students in the community,” he said.

Veazey teaches the students about essential concepts and approaches of geographic studies, exploring physical, political, economic, and cultural geography of major world culture regions and examining each region in relation to others, and in context of global economic, political and environmental change.

“We want to make geography a norm in this building,” the school’s early college site coordinator, Sue McCullough, said. “It’s important to know where you are on the planet. It’s good to get out the globe and talk about where you are in relation to other places.”

McCullough said that offering college courses to the students at Effie Kokrine can create “a pipeline of Alaska Native students to UAF.” She added, “It helps them see why they need to get an education.”

Effie Kokrine Principal Linda Evans is also excited about the program. “I like it; it’s good for the kids,” she said. The students like it so much that one fall afternoon when the school was hosting a volleyball match during geography, they opted to leave the gym and head to class.

Calling the project a new model, Veazey said it may be non-traditional but it works. “There are tenth graders in our school who are ready for college and we have a responsibility to provided that education for kids who are ready. Well-prepared students suffer by not being challenged if the university doesn’t step up.”

He hopes the program can expand to other high schools in the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District. “Going exactly through the steps of kindergarten to twelfth grade has no magic to it. We need to individualize education.”

Taking college courses in high school can be challenging for some students. “There is less hand-holding in college,” Veazey said. “Some are ready for that and some are not. Those who are prepared do exceptionally well. For the most part it’s a good experience for them.”

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Anthropologists study Alaska food security

Alaska has a long way to go toward food security, UAF anthropologists stressed at a lecture Dec. 11.

Doctoral student Philip Loring and anthropology assistant professor David Fazzino based their talk on an article they wrote for the National Association for the Practice of Anthropology Bulletin, entitled From Crisis to Cumulative Effects: Food Security Challenges in Alaska. “What leads up to disaster is ongoing effects,” Fazzino said. Their work was spurred by the recent global food crisis and the spike in oil and transportation costs. During that time an elder of Emmonak wrote a letter to the editor about the shortage of food and fuel in his community, sending it to politicians, a food bank, a Native corporation, and rural newspapers. Alaska Newspapers, Inc., published his letter and the story was picked up by bloggers and the national media. “Alaska has no food security mechanisms,” Loring said. “We don’t know what to do if the planes stop flying. You’ve all seen Fred Meyer’s empty shelves when the trucks break down.”

Fazzino defined food security as access at all times to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food, including preferred and culturally-appropriate foods. He estimated that agricultural industry in Alaska provides less than 5 percent of the state’s food needs. “The most interesting thing is that we don’t know,” Loring said. “Subsistence foods and country foods are another thing to quantify.” Salmon, the state’s most important subsistence food, is heavily regulated due to international treaties with Canada. This year, king and chum salmon runs were smaller than expected. When subsistence foods aren’t available, people in the Bush become more dependent on store-bought food, then become more vulnerable to hunger and malnutrition because they decrease their self-reliance and increase health risks associated with processed and culturally unfamiliar foods.

Also there are economic factors, as food in the Bush costs two to three times that in cities. Even in urban areas food costs 25 percent higher than the national average. While Loring said rural areas are dependent on Fairbanks and Anchorage, those two hubs are heavily dependent on the Lower 48 for food supplies.

Fazzino wondered what happens to people who move to Fairbanks from the village, and surveyed the local food bank and rescue mission to find out. “Most people were relatively happy with the food assistance given, but some commented there was not enough Native or country foods available.” He noted that no one knows how much food is bought at fast food restaurants in Fairbanks.

Effects of unhealthy foods include cancer and heart disease, the top two causes of death in Alaska. Obesity and diabetes are other concerns. With health and food concerns the state should move from crisis response to a more preventive approach, Fazzino said. “We need durable solutions that are long-term and place based.”

Loring said he is not arguing for solely local food sources, but for ways people can be self-reliant, control their health, and still be a part of what is inevitably a globalized world.

“We need a thorough analysis of how food is produced, distributed, and consumed,” Loring concluded. “We need to come to the conclusion that we want healthy communities and design the system.”

Further reading:

Letter tells personal side of Emmonak fuel crisis, Anchorage Daily News, Jan. 15, 2009, by Kyle Hopkins

Rural energy crisis isn't a surprise, Alaska Dispatch, Jan. 20, 2009, by Les Gara

Community sustainability forum: food security, SNRAS Science & News, Nov. 12, 2009

Food Security for Alaska: A Letter to Governor Palin, Organic Consumers Association website, by Kim Sollien, co-founder of Alaska Trust Foods Network

Food security in Alaska a big issue in recent local foods news stories, Sitka Local Foods Network website, Nov. 23, 2009

Recent broadcasts on food, farming, and food security and sustainability, Alaska Community Agriculture, Nov. 4, 2009, by Deirdre Helfferich

Fish and Frustration on the Yukon – A Native Leader’s Perspective, by Myron Naneng, President of the Association of Village Council Presidents, June 5, 2009

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Watch for new peony varieties at botanical garden

Itoh peony "Bartzella"
by Pat Holloway director of the Georgeson Botanical Garden and SNRAS horticulture professor

Last season, we were contacted by a Canadian company, Plantek International, Inc., whose specialty is tissue culture propagation of plants. Since tissue culture is a very expensive method of producing plants, it is often used for high value plants such as orchids and slow-to-grow plants such as ferns. Plantek International grows a wide variety of plants including terrestrial orchids and peonies – not just any peonies, but the fancy, and very expensive ones called Itoh hybrids.

Itoh hybrid peonies are not a group of plants that most Alaskans have tried because they are expensive ($30 to well above $100 per root), and they are not considered hardy. The peony types most Alaskans grow are classed as herbaceous hybrids. They are mostly selections of Paeonia lactiflora from China and sometimes P. officinalis from Europe. China is also home to tree peonies, interesting bushy species with woody stems.

The tree peony is the most revered peony in all of China but is not hardy in any but the warmest microclimates in Alaska. The name Itoh hybrid peony honors Japanese breeder, Toichi Itoh, who was the first person to successfully hybridize herbaceous and tree peonies. According to Harvey Buchite, American Peony Society, the plants exhibit the habits of both tree and herbaceous peonies. The foliage and flowers resemble the tree peony, but, most of their stems die back to the ground in winter like herbaceous peonies. Since Itoh’s first success, hybridizers have created new flower colors including pink, orange tones, striped, splashed, flared patterns, and varieties that change color from dark pink to yellow as the flower ages.

Plantek International would like to claim that their Itoh hybrids from tissue culture are as hardy as herbaceous peonies. They searched the internet to find the coldest location where peonies could grow and found us. They sent us 145 peony roots, eight different cultivars, more than $7,000 worth of peony roots, to test in the botanical garden and at Lilydale Farm in North Pole. They were planted in the perennial trial plots in mid- September, and now we wait.

This winter hasn’t been too bad, temperature-wise so far. But the insulating snow cover is a bit skimpy. In a year or so, if you see a yellow peony in the trial plots, you’ll know the answer to their question.

This article is reprinted from the Georgeson Botanical Garden Review.

Related reading:

An Introduction to Harvesting and Selling Alaska Cut Flower Peonies, AFES MP 2008-03, April 2008, by Jim Auer and Pat Holloway

Peony-A Future crop for Alaska? AFES MP 2004-01, January 2004, by Doreen Fitzgerald

Production and Transportation Considerations in the Export of Peonies from Fairbanks, Alaska, senior thesis by Marie A. Klingman, April 2002

Monday, December 14, 2009

SNAP delivers climate change data to public’s fingertips

The above graph is a sample of the information available for Alaska communities, via the SNAP website.

Nearly every community in Alaska now has access to climate change data focused on their own backyard, thanks to a new, user-friendly tool created by UAF’s Scenarios Network for Alaska Planning.

SNAP, housed within the UA Geography Program, collaborates with policymakers and land managers throughout the state, including serving in an advisory capacity to the Governor’s Sub-cabinet on Climate Change.

“These new community charts allow people to get in touch with climate change at the local level,” explained SNAP Director Scott Rupp. “It can be hard to digest the big picture on a global or even a statewide scale but this method makes it easier to relate to, in a way that is specific to how changes can impact specific locations.”

Over 350 places in Alaska are included in the community charts. Data is presented at low, medium, and high future greenhouse gas levels. Concentration of the gases has a direct impact on how the Earth warms. Average temperature and precipitation figures are presented by month for a late-twentieth century baseline, and are projected for every decade out to 2100. The website allows users to compare various communities and consider how the changing climate may affect their own activities such as gardening or hunting or more public concerns, including drought, forest fire, or permafrost melt.

SNAP staff used Google tools and technology to create the charts, based on research by John Walsh, chief scientist of the International Arctic Research Center, and the SNAP team to provide the most accurate climate predictions for Alaska.

“This is our first effort to link communities in Alaska with basic climate scenario methods,” Rupp said. “This makes it easy to look at how precipitation and temperature will change throughout this century.”

Friday, December 11, 2009

Connecting Alaska landscapes into the future

Alaska marmots, trumpeter swans, reed canary grass, caribou, and entire biomes such as the Arctic and the Aleutians were featured in a presentation addressing the future of Alaska’s landscapes Dec. 8.

Scenarios Network for Alaska Planning Coordinator Nancy Fresco and Karen Murphy of the US Fish and Wildlife Service talked about their research in a collaborative project involving many state and federal agencies and other nongovernmental partners. Project leaders also include Falk Huettman, UAF, and John Morton, USFWS. Goals were to identify areas in Alaska that likely serve as landscape-level migration corridors currently and into the future given climate change, and to identify strategies that will help maintain landscape-level connectivity by focusing conservation efforts, minimizing redundant research and monitoring, and sharing data and information.

For this project, SNAP provided climate projections representing precipitation and temperature for June and December for selected decades from the 2000s to the 2090s. Dr. Huettman created models that linked current species and biome distributions to recent climate conditions, and then used SNAP projections to map potential shifts in biomes and species ranges. Fresco stressed that these maps represent only potential change, and that the plant species that characterize these biomes would be unlikely to move so rapidly. “Still, there are likely to be some fairly radical shifts,” Fresco said. The most noticeable differences predicted include movement of Interior climate north into much of what is currently Arctic, and potential biome instability in the western part of the state. The maps also show resiliency--places in the state where changes are most and least likely to occur.

Recommendations included in the report include focusing on better modeling, delineation, and monitoring of both refugia and regions of extreme change. Further work will focus on adding species distributions and populations to the analysis. Each species’ ability to migrate and tolerate temperature may be charted. Adding permafrost and sea ice data will make the maps “a sharper tool,” Murphy said.

The map predictions show the Trumpeter swan population spreading northward and westward in coming decades, reed canary grass (an invasive species) spreading widely across the state, and Alaska marmots thinning and shifting northward. Caribou, a generalist species, proved difficult to model using the above techniques.

These results will be presented in a report that will be approved by the various partners before being officially released. Project participants hope that the report will serve as a jumping-off point for future research as well as an aid to all Alaskans with a stake in landscape management. A podcast of the presentation and the slide show are available at the Alaska Center for Climate Assessment and Policy website. ACCAP hosted the webinar.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Seminar connects Alaska landscapes into the future

Nancy Fresco, coordinator of Scenarios Network for Alaska Planning, a service provided by the UA Geography Program, and Karen Murphy, US Fish and Wildlife Service, will present a climate webinar Tuesday, Dec. 8 from 10 to 11 a.m. The presentation is titled "Connecting Alaska landscapes into the future."

Understanding how climate change will affect biodiversity and traditional subsistence is a common challenge faced by federal, state, Native, and private land managers. The Connecting Alaska Landscapes into the Future project was a consensus-based effort that included the US Fish and Wildlife Service and University of Alaska researchers, as well as state and federal agency and non-profit partners. The project’s goal was developing the methodology and thought processes to identify a network of lands that support ecosystem functions to ensure landscape-level connectivity within Alaska.

In order to model projected changes in statewide biomes and in potential habitat for key species, the researchers gathered data on existing conditions and linked these to models of future conditions, using climate projection data from SNAP, input from project participants, and complex statistical models. With feedback from participants, the models were refined and used as the basis for creating maps of potential future statewide connectivity.

The results in the report are preliminary and are not intended to be proscriptive, but rather to serve as a guide for planning and as a jumping-off point for synergy and further research an Alaska Center for Climate Assessment and Policy spokesperson said. ACCAP hosts the webinars.

Pre-registration is encouraged. To register please fill out the web-form, or contact Brook Gamble, ACCAP outreach and education specialist, (907) 474-7812.

To attend in person visit the SNAP and ACCAP offices at 3352 College Road, Fairbanks.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

From farming to floorball: Erin Carr

It’s a long way from digging in the dirt at the Fairbanks Experiment Farm to the 2009 World Floorball Championships in Sweden— but graduate student Erin Carr (pictured at left) will be there. From Dec. 5-12 Carr and her teammates will be competing against international teams for the world championship.

Raised in Seward, Carr earned a B.S. in wildlife biology from UAF in 2005. She has been doing graduate studies with Associate Professor Mingchu Zhang and expects to earn her master’s degree in natural resources management in 2011. She works as a research technician for the USDA Agricultural Research Service, testing soil samples at the Fairbanks Experiment Farm and assisting USDA ARS Research Agronomist Steven Seefeldt with his research.

Carr started playing floorball with a recreational team at UAF and when she saw that the USA Floorball team was seeking members she applied. She held fundraisers and sought sponsors to pay for her travel to Vasteras, Sweden, for the competition. An offensive player, Carr enjoys the fast pace of the game. She explained that floorball is similar to floor hockey but instead of a puck a Whiffle ball is used, and the players can’t use their hands.

Carr’s graduate research focuses on controlling weeds in organic farming, both at the experiment farm and Rosie Creek Farm. She is comparing the use of cover crops to mechanical tillage to control weeds. Her emphasis is studying the impact of the different methods on soil properties.

Erin Carr works in the field at Fairbanks Experiment Farm in the autumn of 2008.

Carr and her father built a cabin for her to live in while she attends school. She enjoys gardening and playing with her dog. Her career goal is to continue doing agricultural research for the government.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Great Carbon Debate

The Sustainability Campus Task Force student group is presenting a discussion/debate on whether carbon dioxide emissions and should be capped, tonight at 6 pm in the Wood Center Ballroom.