Thursday, December 16, 2010

Ohio farmer believes in Alaska reindeer research

A reindeer producer in Ohio is so enthusiastic about the work being done by the University of Alaska Fairbanks Reindeer Research Program that he has put his money where his enthusiasm is.

Ron Disher of Waterville, Ohio, met RRP manager Greg Finstad at a Reindeer Owners and Breeders Association meeting about six years ago and was impressed to learn about the nation’s only university-based reindeer research program.

Initially, Disher wanted to establish a chair for RRP, but after learning from the UAF Development Office that it takes $1 million to do so, Disher decided he was “a few dollars short.” Instead, he wrote a check for $5,000 and promised to keep giving that amount for the next few years until he has donated $25,000. The earnings off this account will go to the care and support of the research herd at the Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station at UAF. He also issued a challenge to ROBA members that if they make donations to RRP he will match them.

“With all the budget cuts we have been worried,” Finstad said. “This came at the perfect time and will help us continue the work of the Reindeer Research Program. This will provide tangible and physical support of our research efforts and help us maintain our research herd in the future. Without the animals we can’t do the research.”

RRP is dedicated to the development and promotion of the reindeer industry on the Seward Peninsula and throughout Alaska. The RRP staff work closely with producers to develop and conduct research projects that can be applied directly to their operations. Areas of focus are meat science, range management and nutrition, animal health, radio and satellite telemetry, production unique to the Seward Peninsula, and educational outreach.

Part of the RRP is with Disher today. The hide and antlers of a reindeer sent to slaughter were donated to Disher. He had a taxidermist mount the animal according to his wishes, and was delighted with “Claudine.” He has been taking her with him this Christmas season to promote the Christmas storybook and coloring book he wrote. Children have their picture taken with Claudine appearing to pull a sleigh, which reduces the insurance costs and liability associated with using a live animal.

The storybook that Disher wrote is called “Santa Claus and Claudine: The Happiest Reindeer Ever.” Disher holds degrees from Ohio State University and Bowling Green State University and a master’s in vocational education from the University of Toledo. He has been farming since 1951, raising grain crops, livestock, poultry, Christmas trees, reindeer, and camels. He was a teacher and coach for over thirty years. His daughter Megan Disher assisted him in the book project. She is studying biology at Bowling Green State University.

Disher has yet to visit the reindeer herd at the Fairbanks Experiment Farm on the UAF campus but hopes to make the trip soon.

Finstad said, “I am extremely touched and honored. This will keep reindeer research going and establish a legacy.”

To donate to RRP, a program of the UAF School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences, contact the UAF Development Office, P.O. Box 757530, Fairbanks, AK 99775 or call 907-474-2619.

(article provided by the UAF School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences, Fairbanks, Alaska. Contact ntarnai@alaska.edu)

Endangered species: the genetic component

Polar bears at Cape Lisburne (US Fish & Wildlife Service photo)

Scientists at the UAF School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences are launching a new study of the genetics of endangered species.

The project, funded by a $400,000 grant from the Alaska Department of Commerce, Community, and Economic Development, will assess the history of polar bears and their relative, the brown/grizzly bear. Project leader and associate professor Matthew Cronin hopes to quantify the extent of DNA divergence within and between the species. He will also assess sea lion and beluga whale population genetic structures over time.

Cronin will study the timing of polar bear evolution from brown bear ancestors and what the sea ice and shoreline conditions were like in the ancient past.

“This will give insights regarding previous warming and cooling periods to which the bears were exposed and how and where they adapted,” Cronin said.

Collaborators on the project include the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Texas Tech University, the University of California Davis, and Purdue University.

Cronin’s work has focused on population genetics and phylogenetics of large mammals, including bears, caribou, deer, and domestic livestock. He has published several genetics papers on bears, including polar bears, in collaboration with US Geological Survey scientists. He has also worked on wildlife, primarily caribou and grizzly bears in the oil fields on the North Slope. He serves on the Alaska Board of Forestry.

SNRAS Dean Carol Lewis said Cronin's work is an important part of the school's animal husbandry program. "It is absolutely critical for us in our mission to consider the responsible use of resources and be assured that science is an underpinning of the laws and policies that govern land use in this state."

In his proposal to the Department of Commerce, Cronin stated (excerpts):

"The best available science should be used in decisions about the Endangered Species Act and other resource management. The science of genetics is increasingly being used in ESA cases, including those in Alaska, to determine population, subspecies, and species status, evolutionary history, and taxonomy, and to assess fitness and hybridization. These are topics relevant to the ESA listings in Alaska. However, the use of scientific data, genetic data in particular, must be done properly with a thorough understanding and differentiation of fact from interpretation...

The ESA listing of polar bears (Ursus maritimus) is based on the premise that global warming is leading to reduction of summer sea ice habitat. However, it can be argued that polar bears survived previous warming periods and will be able to survive a new one. This can be addressed with study of the timing of evolution of polar bears from their ancestral species, brown/grizzly bears (Ursus arctos) and assessment of the climate and sea ice conditions that have occurred since polar bears occurred as a species.

The fossil record of polar bears is very limited, but recent research indicates that polar bears have likely existed as a species for at least 110,000 to 150,000 years. A fossil polar bear jawbone was recently discovered and dated as between 110,000 and 130,000 years old and mtDNA sequence of this fossil allowed a molecular dating estimate of about 150,000 years. This has implications regarding the time and extent of polar bears’ exposure to previous warming periods and their response to future warming. Advances in genomics and biotechnology will allow assessment of many genes that will allow refinement of the molecular dating and the timing of polar bear evolution. Colleagues and I have preliminary DNA sequence data for mtDNA, k-casein and Mc1r genes and several other genes will be assessed.

The entire species of polar bears was listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 2008. Distinct population segments (DPS) were not designated under the ESA, but 19 populations are recognized around the world, although there is limited genetic differentiation among them. Genetic assessments can contribute to monitoring possible changes in population structure and provide information relevant to DPS designations.

A basic tenet of 'conservation biology' is that small populations experience inbreeding with a resulting decrease in fitness and eventual extinction. However, loss of fitness through inbreeding depends on many factors and needs case-by-case assessment. These considerations could become relevant to polar bears in local populations and the entire species if there are significant declines in numbers.

Interspecies hybridization-polar bears and grizzly bears. One of the predictions of loss of summer sea ice is that polar bears will spend more time on shore, with increasing contact and potential interbreeding with grizzly bears. The two species can interbreed and produce viable (and possibly fertile) offspring. A putative hybrid was shot in Canada within the last few years. This has been suggested as another factor that will negatively affect polar bears and contribute to eventual extinction. Genetic studies can contribute to an understanding of the nature and extent of such hybridization. I have published papers on the genetics of grizzly bears in areas of Alaska where hybridization with polar bears is possible that will allow assessment of potential hybridization of the species in Alaska.

Contaminants causing genetic damage (i.e., mutations) are a potential problem from spills of hazardous materials and oil. Hypotheses of such effects are common and the field of 'genotoxicology' has grown dramatically in recent years. This may be an issue with regard to oil and gas development in the Arctic, and its impact on polar bears. Assessing baseline conditions of polar bear genetics will be useful in this regard.

Steller sea lions and beluga whales in Cook Inlet are examples of distinct population segments (DPS) listed under the ESA. There are two DPS of Steller sea lions in Alaska. Eastern and western DPS have been designated in Alaska based on genetics and movements data. Beluga whales in Cook Inlet have similarly been designated a DPS, different from other belugas in Alaska, based on genetic and geographic data. However, the criteria for designating DPS are subjective and not quantitative science. The sea lions and belugas have some evidence of limited gene flow among areas, but there are shared alleles and mtDNA haplotypes among DPS and genetic differentiation is not particularly high. In the case of sea lions, there are data on movements from tagging and branding studies that may provide information on the actual level of inter-population movement and gene flow. Synthesis of the genetic and movements data is needed to properly assess the relationships of Steller sea lions and beluga whale populations with regard to DPS designation and population numbers. Immigration and emigration can be important demographic factors that influence population numbers that can be addressed with our assessment.

The polar bear project will focus on the phylogenetics, time of evolution, and age of polar bears as a species. It will involve generation of new DNA sequence data with which to quantify the genetic differences of polar bears and brown/grizzly bears, and provide molecular dating to estimate the time of divergence of these species (and thus the age of polar bears as a species).
Lab work: Obtain DNA Sequences for 30-50 bears from each of the following:
  • Polar bears (Alaska) 6
  • Polar bears (Canada and Eurasia)
  • Brown bears from Admiralty, Baranof, Chichigoff Islands in southeast Alaska
  • Brown and grizzly bears from other Alaska locations
  • Grizzly bears from the U.S. Rocky Mountain region
  • Grizzly bears from Canada
  • Black bears from Alaska, Canada, and the lower 48 US States
  • Wolf, coyote, dogs, from North America (to be used as an out group in phylogenetic analyses)

Several approaches to quantifying genetic relationships of polar bears, brown/grizzly bears, and black bears will be used. Because polar bears and brown bears share recent common ancestry, (as indicated by paraphyletic mtDNA relationships) nuclear DNA divergence between the species may be small and of limited phylogenetically utility, particularly for neutral DNA regions or genes under selective constraints. For example, preliminary data for the k-casein gene shows polyphyletic relationships of polar, brown, and black bears suggesting relatively slow molecular evolution (i.e., low mutation rate and/or selective constraints). Conversely, the rapid adaptive evolution of polar bears suggests that some genes under selection may have diverged more quickly. Consideration of the appropriate model of molecular evolution (neutral or selective) will be important in our phylogenetic analysis.

The first approach will be to obtain DNA sequences from mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) and nuclear DNA to assess phylogenies of several genes. This will include genes for which PCR primers are available (mtDNA cytochrome b and flanking control region, Y chromosome DNA, k-casein, mc1r, and other nuclear genes previously used in mammalian and carnivore phylogenetics. PCR primers for other nuclear genes can be developed from the whole genome sequencing described below. Both coding and non-coding DNA sequences will be included to allow assessment of neutral DNA sequences and genes potentially under selection. Initial analyses will target 30-50 individuals of each group identified above to assess both intra- and inter-species variation.

The DNA sequences we generate will be submitted to GenBank, and related sequences obtained with BLAST searches. Sequences will be aligned and subjected to phylogenetic analysis as single gene trees and combined datasets with maximum parsimony, maximum likelihood, Bayesian, and distance methods, using canids as an outgroup. Individual gene sequences will be tested for selection, and phylogenetic inferences adapted accordingly. Recent literature will be reviewed to derive the best estimates of rates of molecular evolution for different genes’ coding and non-coding regions. The level of DNA sequence divergence and rates of evolution will be used to estimate the time of separation of gene lineages (i.e. haplotypes or alleles). The dates from different genes will be used to estimate a range of dates of divergence of gene lineages between polar bears and brown/grizzly bears.

A second approach will be to sequence the genome of one individual of each group (polar bear, southeast Alaska brown bear, mainland grizzly bear, and black bear) with high-7 throughput sequencing. PCR primers for candidate gene sequencing and identification of single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNP) can be identified from these extensive sequences. This approach has been applied to livestock with considerable success. The presence/absence and allele frequencies of SNPs will be used to quantify the genetic divergence of the bear species. This work is planned to be done at the University of California Davis.

A third approach will be to employ amplified fragment polymorphisms in which restriction fragments are amplified with PCR, generating large numbers of variable fragments that may show intra- and inter-species variation. This work is under development at Texas Tech University.

Paleoenvironments in the Arctic and sub-Arctic will be assessed from the literature and through collaborations with the US Geological Survey. Seasonal and multi-year sea ice, sea level and shoreline locations, and other physical factors such as water and air temperatures, will be estimated for time intervals from the present to several million years ago. The extent of this analysis will depend on the availability of data with which to characterize paleoenvironments. This work will be done with the US Geological Survey in Reston, Va.

Paleoenvironmental characteristics will be considered in light of polar bear habitat characteristics to determine likely times and places where polar bears evolved and established populations. The phylogenetic patterns from genetic data will be assessed with regard to age of the gene lineages and the paleoenvironments in which polar bear habitats are indicated. The combination of molecular dating of gene lineages in different groups of bears with identification of paleoenvironments will give insights into where and when, and under what warming or cooling conditions, polar bears existed in past time intervals.

An additional aspect, unique to our project is the assessment of polar bears’ adaptive phenotypic traits (e.g., white fur, aquatic and cold adaptations). Collaboration with livestock geneticists with the US Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service (USDA) will provide expertise in understanding the relationships between phenotype and molecular genetic variation and fitness. The science of genetics is advanced in agriculture, including livestock. Livestock geneticists are experts in quantitative genetics and assessing fitness (i.e., performance) related traits, and assessing genetic variation and breed (i.e. population and subspecies) characteristics.
Steller sea lion and beluga whales in Cook Inlet. The designations of distinct population segments (DPS) of Steller sea lions and beluga whales in Cook Inlet are based on both genetic and geographic information. The genetic data need to be reviewed and synthesized and compared with other DPS designations for consistency. The genetic data also need to be combined with data on animal movements to assess the extent of gene flow and movements among the DPS. We will obtain genetic data from papers, reports, and agency files for each species and quantify the level of genetic differentiation and estimate effective population size and gene flow among them."

SNRAS professor trains Catholics on climate change

Catholic Climate Ambassadors gathered for a training in Washington, D.C.

When the Catholic Church in the U.S. decided to train "Catholic Climate Ambassadors," the officials invited SNRAS Professor Glenn Juday to help train them.

The first training workshop hosted by the Catholic Coalition on Climate Change was held Dec. 3-5 in Washington, D.C. The workshop opened with an address by the Rev. William S. Skylstad, Bishop Emeritus of the Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Wash., and former president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Dr. Juday gave three presentations which were followed by presentations by Lucia Silecchia, Professor of Law at Columbus School of Law, Catholic University of America. Prof. Silecchia is considered to be one of the leading scholars on Catholic social teaching and the environment and she was a participant in the 2007 Vatican conference on Climate Change and Development, organized by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.

Dr. Juday's presentations were:
  • "Understanding Human Dependence on Climate: An Overview of the Science of Climate Change"
  • "How Humans Are Acting as Agents of Change in the Environment, Adapting, Causing Disruptions, and Imposing New Dilemmas"
  • "The Trajectory of Climate Change: Energy and Economic Issues, Demographic Realities, Information from Science to Assist Public Policy and Personal Choices"

The primary goal of the Catholic Climate Ambassadors will be to exponentially increase the reach of the Catholic Coalition on Climate Change so that many more Catholic parishioners and students, pastors, and ministers will be exposed to the teaching of the Church on environmental issues and climate change as articulated by sacred scripture, papal documents, and the U.S. Catholic bishops. In addition the speakers will promote the Catholic Climate Covenant and St. Francis Pledge as a key tool enabling Catholics to live out their call to be stewards of God’s creation.

The training programs enabled participants to gain a familiarity with Catholic teaching on the environment as a whole and climate change as a subset and key example, the basic outlines of the science behind climate change, a comfort level with their own ability to convey key themes in presentations to Catholic audiences, and a plan of action to ensure that the expectations of the participants as leaders on this issue are met.

The approach for conveying science and theology to trainees was done in an integral way by weaving together illustrative stories with science, theology, and answering potential “tough questions.” The theme of stewardship was incorporated, a theme that is bigger than just climate change and in many ways the linchpin of the Catholic approach.

Dr. Juday said he agreed to do the training because he is committed to the land grant mission to develop and apply the results of research on natural resource issues by working with the public and constituencies that ask for specific technical assistance.

"During the 30 years I have been professionally involved in the climate change issue, I have conducted activities with diverse groups including resource administrators, elected public officials, news media, energy industries, and environmental organizations," Juday said. "I have done a few projects with local religious and interfaith groups, and I saw this opportunity as a natural evolution of my work in general."

He continued:
"The climate change issue came to the attention of the public as a scientific matter. It quickly moved on to the public policy agenda, although with limited success to date partly, I believe, because the social resources to address the moral and ethical dimensions of the problem are only weakly developed. The Catholic Church is one of the major moral opinion-shaping organizations in the US and has gradually engaged on the issue. The Catholic Church claims as members about 20 percent of the US population, organized into 195 archdioceses and dioceses. The Catholic Church provides elementary and high school education to 2,283,000 students, and operates 234 colleges and universities, which together educate about 795,000 students.

Working with the Catholic Church has some practical advantages in a scholarly and policy context. Catholic moral teachings and principles (not particular policy prescriptions) are specifically stated, including a recent universal compendium of social teachings. There is a body of Catholic teaching to interact with and tools to explore and develop ideas. This contrasts with a great deal of American religious culture, in which religious denominations are numerous and the individual members more often tend to make multiple and sometimes non-compatible judgments on important moral/social matters without recognizing a universal standard. While there are great strengths to the individualistic American tradition (zeal, intellectual ferment, and creativity), making a determination of what is or is not a compatible proposition in moral/ethical matters is more difficult.

While fundamental Catholic moral teachings are offered as immutable (not subject to the possibility of change), they are expressed in ways or forms that represent development over many centuries, based on prayer and reflection and general intellectual development. The time seems to have come when this large institution is moving on the issue of environmental stewardship in general, with climate change as a particular case. Both Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI have written and taught directly on these matters in a serious way, and with some sense of urgency for action by Catholics in their lives and by society in general. The Church wants to be guided and updated on the science.

At a personal level, I have always been interested in questions at the intersection of science and faith. A few years ago I was invited to give a UAF campus-wide lecture by the Darwin Society and Socratic Society. It was titled: “Faith and Reason - the two wings by which the intellect ascends,” a direct incorporation of the opening of Fides et Ratio, the Encyclical Letter by Prof. Karol Wojtyla (Pope John Paul II). In researching the talk, it was easy for me to find great men of science (e.g. Albert Einstein) who readily acknowledge the dependence of the entire structure of science on faith/belief/assumption, with the only real issue being what specific form that takes. I have always been confused by the belief that there is a fundamental incompatibility between reason and traditional Judeo-Christian faith, and so I generally welcome the opportunity to explore the topic in more depth.

Finally, the historical record indicates that members of Catholic Church have been institution builders, with decisive roles in inventing the university, hospital, modern law, and other institutions. While nothing so momentous may emerge from the Catholic Church’s attention to this issue, you never know with those folks, so it’s interesting to see what’s going on."
A second training workshop is scheduled for March 2011 at Santa Clara University in California. Dr. Juday will again be the scientific presenter and the theological respondent will be Keith Douglass Warner, a Franciscan friar and coordinator of the Center for Science, Technology, and Society at Santa Clara.

Juday (pictured above) is a professor of forest ecology and director of the Tree Ring Laboratory in the School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, where he has worked since 1981. He received his B.S. in 1972 in forest management from Purdue University, and his PhD in 1976, in plant ecology from Oregon State University. He completed a Rockefeller Foundation post-doctoral fellowship in environmental affairs, 1976-1977, and was on assignment in the USDA Forest Service at the Institute of Northern Forestry in Fairbanks from 1977-1981. Dr. Juday served as president of the Natural Areas Association from 1985 through 1988, and completed a sabbatical in the headquarters of The Nature Conservancy in Arlington, Va., in 1988.

Dr Juday is a senior investigator in the NSF-supported Bonanza Creek Long-Term Ecological Research site in central Alaska. His research specialties include climate change, tree-ring studies, biodiversity and forest management, wilderness management, and forest development following fire. He has extensive field experience across southeast and coastal southcentral Alaska, where he identified and documented more than 70 sites as proposed Research Natural Areas in the Tongass and Chugach National forests and Glacier Bay National Park. Dr. Juday has also proposed and documented nearly 30 Research Natural Areas on BLM Public Lands and the Tanana Valley State Forest in northern Alaska. He has collected tree ring samples from over 3,500 trees on more than 200 sites across Alaska.

Dr. Juday was the lead author of the chapter on Forests, Land Management ,and Agriculture (PDF) of the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment published by Cambridge University Press in 2006. Dr. Juday has served as science advisor for several television programs on climate warming, including the PBS series Scientific American Frontiers. He has briefed and led trips for several member of Congress, including presidential candidates of both parties and transition staff. Dr. Juday was recognized for outstanding accomplishments as chairman of Forest Ecology Working Group of the Society of American Foresters in 2000. He is the author of 40 scientific peer-reviewed journal articles and book chapters including Nature, Climatic Change, Global Change Biology, Forest Ecology and Management, and Canadian Journal of Forest Research. He has book chapters published by Oxford University Press, Cambridge University Press, and Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics. Dr. Juday is the author of a 2009 career retrospective on the evolution of understanding of the climate change issue in the NSF publication Witness the Arctic.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Food surveys

ACE Local Foods Campaign 2011 Survey

The Alaska Center for the Environment (ACE) is planning their Local Foods Campaign 2011. To better inform what sorts of workshops, events, gardening opportunities, etc., should be offered, ACE is seeking your input. Please take a minute and let ACE know what sparks your interest about food in Alaska, and how you'd most like to participate in helping to make our food system stronger.

The survey takes 5 minutes and you can also enter to win a FREE box of produce from Glacier Valley Farm. Here's the link: http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/ACE6_local_food.

SE Alaska food security

Here's another food survey, geared to residents of Southeast Alaska:

If disaster strikes, do you have enough food to weather the storm? Does your community have enough provisions? Are your everyday food choices nutritious and affordable?

To learn more about how Southeast Alaska communities view their food security, the University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service and Alaska Sea Grant Marine Advisory Programare asking Southeast Alaskans to complete an online survey. Researchers hope survey results will reveal the region’s food security concerns and identify how the university can help communities address them.

The five-minute survey is online athttp://www.surveymonkey.com/s/foodsecurity.

Food security is a broad term that means different things to different people, explained Glenn Haight, business specialist with the Alaska Sea Grant Marine Advisory Program. For communities, it may mean knowing how much food is generally stocked in local stores so that emergency planners have an idea of how many days the community can survive should transportation routes be cut due to storms or other events. For individuals, it may mean how much food is on hand in their homes and its nutritional and cultural value and cost.

“Food security relates to individual’s food quality, nutrition, health and cost,” said Haight. “Also, many remote Alaska communities depend on subsistence foods and shipments of manufactured food, so community food security is also a factor.”
The online survey will be open through the end of the year, and the results will be tabulated soon after.

CONTACTS:

Glenn Haight, Alaska Sea Grant Marine Advisory Program fisheries business specialist, 907-796-6046, glenn.haight@alaska.edu.

Sunny Rice, Alaska Sea Grant Marine Advisory Program agent, 907-772-3381, sunny.rice@alaska.edu.

Exploring bioenergy opportunities in Alaska

Andy Soria working in the Renewable-based Hydrocarbons Lab at the Matanuska Experiment Farm in Palmer.

USDA Farm Service Agency is hosting a forum on expanding the biofuels market and expanding bioenergy opportunities Friday, Dec. 17 at the Matanuska Experiment Farm.

The public is invited to the event to learn more about biofuel and bimass heat and power opportunities. Also attending will be representatives from state and federal agencies and private sector companies.

USDA has outlined a plan on how to develop a successful biofuels market capable of achieving the US Renewable Fuel Standard mandate of not only producing, but also using, 36 billion gallons of renewable transportation fuel per year by 2022. This is an interim plan and USDA is seeking feedback.

The university's distance learning network will be in use for those who cannot attend in person. To join the conversation from other locations, contact Danny Consenstein at 907-761-7738.

The meeting begins at 9:30 a.m. with a welcome by Consenstein, the Farm Service Agency executive director. A video welcome will be given by USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack. Morning sessions include: Alaska feedstock potential by Assistant Professor Jingjing Liang and Professor Stephen Sparrow, challenges and opportunities for Alaska biofuesl production by Assistant Professor Andy Soria, examples of potential biofuels projects (Denali Biodiesel, ethanol from sugar beets, biodiesel from waste fast food vegetable oil.)

Afternoon sessions cover: challenges and opportunities for woody biomass and bioenergy in Alaska by Dan Parrent, Juneau Economic Development Council; building a restoration economy, Steve Patterson, US Forest Service; State of Alaska resources to support biomass and bioenergy projects, Devany Plentovich, Alaska Energy Authority; US Department of Energy bioenergy programs, Brian Hirsch; examples of current woody biomass projects in Alaska, Thomas Deerfield, consultant; USDA programs supporting bioenergy (Biomass Crop Assistance Program and Renewable Energy for America, Danny Consenstein; planning for sustainable biomass feedstock production: Fort Yukon Biomass Assessment, Will Putnam, Tanana Chiefs Conference.

At 3:30 p.m. the group will tour Andy Soria's Renewable-based Hydrocarbons Lab. His work focuses on the production of renewable hydrocarbons from biomass using thermochemical processing.

The farm is located at 1509 South Trunk Road in Palmer.

Research aides needed in Denali National Park



Two research aides are needed to work on a project in Denali National Park from March to October 2011.

The project, headed by Associate Professor Peter Fix, has two goals: estimate recreation visits to the park and obtain basic characteristics of visitors such as length of stay and activities participated in.

One position involves administering a short survey during selected times to visitors exiting the park at the main park road near McKinley Village. The other position involves sampling visitors waiting to board scenic air tours at the Talkeetna airport. Both positions will require some data entry.

Skills required:
• Ability to follow directions
• Attention to detail
• Aptitude to interact with park visitors
• Ability to represent UAF in a professional manner
• Basic computer skills (Word, Excel)

Housing in or near the park will be provided. Compensation is $14.77 per hour. The survey will take place from March 20 to Oct. 15, 2011. Starting dates are flexible; individuals who can only work for part of this period will be considered for the position.

For additional information contact Dr. Peter Fix, School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences, University of Alaska Fairbanks, 907-474-6926.

(The above photo is a flight-seeing plane approaching Denali's south side. Photo courtesy of Talkeetna Air Taxi.)

Monday, December 13, 2010

Former SNRAS professor: forestry on the front lines


Early in August, before he rotated back to the States from Afghanistan, a civilian resource manager named Harry Bader (a former member of the SNRAS faculty, pictured at left) ran a forest transect across the Tora Bora Mountains, the rugged border country notorious as the one-time hideout of Osama bin Laden. Bader was traveling in a U.S. Army Black Hawk helicopter, with a second Black Hawk in support, flying the landscape 250 or 300 feet above the treetops at about 70 miles an hour, well within range of ground fire. The job was to inventory marketable timber by tree species, crown diameter and height. Smuggled across the Pakistan border, a single big cedar tree can sell for $1,000, more than most local households earn in a year.

U.S. and coalition military forces had been acting on the belief that trade in black-market timber, like trade in opium, was providing cash for the Taliban, al Qaeda and other insurgents. Worse, it was turning mountain villages away from the Afghan national government, which banned tree harvesting in 2006. Timber smuggling also got the blame for the widely reported destruction of the upland forests. Bader, who wears a Yale Forestry cap and jokes about leading the Yale forestry extension service in Afghanistan, was figuring out the details of that trade by traveling on foot and by air into areas his military escorts call “kinetic,” meaning “extremely violent.”

He was also working to use that knowledge to woo the timber-smuggling villages back to the side of the Kabul government. To that end, Bader and a small band of colleagues headquartered in Jalalabad were also organizing a civilian forestry corps that has become known as the Afghan tree army. While the military works to defeat insurgents with M-16s and Hellfire missiles, the ambition is for this tree army to defeat them with homemade Pulaski axes and Biltmore sticks, the tools of conventional forestry roughly a century ago.

Bader describes what he does as “natural resources counter-insurgency.” It’s an unfamiliar discipline even to many counter-insurgency (or COIN) experts. But it’s one that is likely to get greater attention—and ratchet up the challenge for environmental managers—in a world where wars increasingly turn on environmental factors. Unlike conventional civilian development projects, the counterinsurgency focus puts the emphasis on results that are, if not immediate, at least pretty damn quick. “Nothing that I do is development, and nothing that my colleagues do is development,” says Bader, who works for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). “We have a very limited view. What we do is nonlethal COIN in order to, in effect, be a force multiplier for lethal COIN.” He also readily admits that “this is not the solution in the long term.” It’s just a way of buying time. What’s really needed to restore stability in Afghanistan is long-term nation building—a commitment by world governments and the Afghan people to rebuild the civic and natural infrastructure, including reforestation, watershed restoration and agricultural development. But for now, Bader is using his forestry training “to defeat insurgencies long enough that these other things” can happen.

The tree army was originally the brainchild of an Army civil affairs officer, Maj. Clint Hanna, and a senior State Department advisor, Dante Paradiso, Yale College Class of 1992, both working with Col. Randy George, then-commander of the U.S. Army’s Task Force Mountain Warrior. What they had in mind was something like the Depression-era Civilian Conservation Corps, deployed at hyperspeed. They brought in Bader as part of a joint military-civilian “natural resources counterinsurgency cell” and launched the tree army in May, with a five-week training program for a core group of 13 local forest supervisors, mostly graduates of Nangarhar University in Jalalabad.

In the field, despite these American antecedents (and about $2 million in American funding), the tree army will be entirely an Afghan operation. The 13 supervisors are now passing on their knowledge to 50 newly hired foremen, who will in turn recruit 250 workers this fall in mountain villages around Nangarhar province. If the Afghan tree army succeeds during the initial rollout, then Zorghun Afghanistan (Green Afghanistan, as it is known locally) could go nationwide. But no one is defining success according to the slow timetable of conventional forestry. Instead, says Clint Douglas, a Department of Defense consultant who is part of the Jalalabad counterinsurgency cell, the aim is to have a “significant impact” on the next fighting season, beginning in the spring, with tree armies in four northeastern provinces. (In addition to Nangarhar, they are Nuristan, Kunar and Laghman, where, by Bader’s count, five separate insurgencies now operate.) The basic tactic is to “dry up the well,” says Douglas, by employing the same young men of military age who would otherwise be most heavily recruited by the insurgents.

Status counts for everything in the mountain villages and, thus, also in the tree army. Discrimination by both gender and birth rank are the basic terms of doing business. “This program is limited to first, second and third sons, because these are the ones that the Taliban is after,” says Bader, because they’re the ones that the Taliban recruits as leaders. Conventional development programs are content “putting idle young men to work to keep them from becoming insurgents. But “those fifth, sixth and seventh sons” are bottom-of-the ladder foot soldiers, the $10-a-day Taliban. That’s not who we’re targeting, because that’s not the group of people who are going to switch a village to the government. It’s the first, second and sometimes third sons who have prominence, ability and respect.” They have the potential to become what Afghans call “the social man,” with the tree army giving them a way to earn that status “in a nonlethal manner” and by providing a service with high local value—forest and range management in the upper watershed, including construction of stacked-stone check dams, terraces and other forms of erosion control. “Everything will be built with natural materials on-site so that these villages can maintain them,” says Bader. Flying in cement or steel by helicopter doesn’t work because the villagers get no sense of ownership. Modern forestry tools are also out, says Bader, “because if one of our young men is walking around with something that’s optical, or electrical, or has batteries or a GPS, they’re going to get killed by the Taliban, because that’s all material that can be used in IEDs,” or improvised explosive devices. “So we had to rethink the curriculum. I have many books on my desk right now from Gifford Pinchot and others on how to do management and build using 1900s technologies. Instead of a wedge prism (for establishing fixed-radius plots in the field), we’re using a small washer at the end of a string. We’re using a modified Islamic Pashto Biltmore stick. Nothing we do is pretty, but it’s practical. It’s Gifford Pinchot’s forestry, pure and simple.”

In a war zone where not much else seems to work, can a tree army with such rudimentary equipment actually make a difference? Bader says the tree army has already earned sufficient prestige that even college graduates—almost always elder sons—are now vying for positions at $12 a day, though conventional development efforts often have trouble getting people to sign on at far higher wages. Then he recounts an incident this June, late in the training of the first group of supervisors, when they were discussing where to focus the tree army’s first public project. “They unanimously stated that it had to occur in this one area under one particular tribe that had lately taken a major risk by entering into an agreement to cooperate with the U.S. military. “Somebody stood up and said, ‘I hate this tribe. If they came to my area I would probably want to kill them. However, if the insurgency is to be defeated, this tribe must be the first to benefit.’ That was the eureka moment, about creating that social man, the person who can rise above his tribe and see the larger picture.”

But it is, of course, too soon to know if whole villages will follow.

Natural resources counterinsurgency turns out to be very much a Harry Bader concept. None of the counterinsurgency experts interviewed for this story, including some at the U.S. Army and Marine Corps Counter-insurgency Center at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., had ever heard the term. But Bader says “it’s been around for a while, any time you look at blood diamonds or conflict timber, or any time you discuss ecocide as a war tactic.” (The term ecocide was coined by Yale botanist Arthur Galston during the Vietnam War to describe American use of defoliants to destroy 20,000 square kilometers of forest regarded as shelter for the Vietcong.) “It’s been around,” says Bader, “since Rome salted Carthage, or Sherman marched through Georgia.”

For Bader, now 48, going back and forth between more conventional environmental work and counterinsurgency has been the pattern throughout his career. He went to El Salvador during the civil war there in the mid-1980s on a USAID project looking at land reform as a means of reducing support for the guerilla movement. In the early 1990s, he worked in Bosnia for the United Nations, using spectral imaging and other techniques to locate mass graves beneath the forest canopy. He has also served as a consultant on marshland restoration in Iraq.

Bader grew up on a farm in Iowa and earned a combined undergraduate degree in forestry and political science at Washington State University. After getting a law degree at Harvard, he became a tenured professor at the University of Alaska Fairbanks School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences. Later, he managed 40 million acres of public land for the Alaska Department of Natural Resources. One of his responsibilities there was to develop a new methodology for determining when the tundra was frozen hard enough that heavy oil industry equipment could cross it without doing damage. The tundra methodology was to be the topic of Bader’s doctoral dissertation when he came to F&ES in 1999 “to bone up on science,” according to his thesis advisor, Timothy Gregoire, Ph.D. ’85, J.P. Weyerhaeuser Jr. Professor of Forest Management. Bader completed his course work, but then counterinsurgency work interrupted his doctoral program. “He gets himself into these interesting arrangements and figures he’s doing good for humanity,” says Gregoire, who wonders if Bader really needs to add the formality of a Ph.D. to his law degree. “He’s gotten the scientific training he wanted.” (Bader calls Gregoire “patient and saintly” and resolves that he “will return to New Haven and make massive progress on my dissertation.” But first, characteristically, he plans to go to Jalalabad in January for another six-month tour.)

If the idea of resource managers as counterinsurgents is unorthodox, what Bader is doing nonetheless fits comfortably into the larger field of environmental security. The importance of natural resources in modern warfare became a hot topic in the late 1990s largely because of the role of “blood diamonds” in funding rebel movements in Angola and Sierra Leone. Diamonds and “conflict timber” also contributed to Liberia’s second civil war, and in 2003 the United Nations Security Council embargoed Liberian trade in both items. Minerals and illegal logging continue to fuel the bloody conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo. That other natural resource—oil—was, of course, also a critical factor in both Iraq wars.

Beyond the intensifying competition for resources, environmental security theorists have also paid increasing attention to environmental stress as a cause of conflict.
Beyond the intensifying competition for resources, environmental security theorists have also paid increasing attention to environmental stress as a cause of conflict. Though the Rwandan civil war was widely depicted as ethnic in origin, for instance, researchers have argued that it was more accurately a result of deforestation, erosion and reduced agricultural production. More recently, environmental stress has contributed to conflicts in Somalia, Darfur, Chiapas (Mexico) and Borneo.

In truth, both types of environmental factors have probably been motives for war as long as warfare itself has existed. On the side of resource grabbing, researchers have tied the expansion of the Akkadian empire in ancient Iraq 4,500 years ago to the quest for timber, copper and other resources. On the environmental stress side, a recent study in Human Ecology: An Interdisciplinary Journal compared changing climate cycles with records of 899 local wars in China between 1000 and 1911 and found “a near perfect match between high war frequencies” and cold phases when reduced agricultural production put pressure on underfed populations.

But it’s worse now, environmental security specialists argue, on multiple counts: Environmental stress is more widespread than at any time in human history because of global deforestation and the destruction of vital watersheds. Growing human populations have pushed many Third World regions beyond the limits of local agricultural production. Climate change appears to be causing more extreme weather events, like the drought that devastated Russia’s wheat crop this year and the deluge in Pakistan. Finally, the Cold War rivalries that once put an ideological gloss on local conflicts are long gone. Back then, insurgents could generally count on one side or the other to subsidize their cause. Now, they often turn instead to illegal trade in natural resources—from strategic minerals to endangered wildlife.

In his 2001 book, Resource Wars: The New Landscape of Global Conflict, security studies specialist Michael Klare predicted “the emergence of a new geography of war” in which “resource concentrations rather than political boundaries are the major defining features” driving the use of military power. Military analysts now also frequently invoke the potentially greater threat of ecological collapse.

“Environmental stress will play a pervasive role in future conflicts,” writes Amy Krakowka, a geographer for the United States Military Academy at West Point, “because the economic well-being of about one-half of the world’s population is tied directly to the land, thus making agricultural space, water, fuel and forested space critical environmental indicators, especially considering anticipated population growth and projected climate change.”

These developments can put resource managers literally on the front lines, which is exactly where they belong, according to some observers. Writing recently in the Journal of Forestry, two longtime USAID consultants issued a “call to action” for foresters and watershed managers to work in Afghanistan, using natural resource projects “to battle poverty and provide an attractive alternative to the destruction, deprivation and oppression” caused by anti-governmental elements. Co-author John Groninger, Yale College Class of 1987, now a forestry professor at Southern Illinois University, is, in effect, part of the second wave behind Harry Bader’s natural resources counterinsurgency. He does conventional development in somewhat more stable parts of northeastern Afghanistan, though still strictly under U.S. military escort. (He and Bader also frequently compare notes.)

Groninger has visited Afghanistan five times this year as part of the USAID-funded Afghanistan Water, Agriculture and Technology Transfer program. The main job, he says, is to help farmers restore 
devastated upland forests so that water gets retained instead of just rushing down in destructive springtime floods. But after decades of war, farmers often don’t know how to establish vegetation on steep, overgrazed hillsides or how to develop a vegetative buffer zone along waterways. “Men our age don’t exist—they were killed off,” Groninger says. “There’s a new generation who haven’t had the old traditions passed down.” He figures that about 20 American foresters are now working to help recover those traditions in a nation the size of Texas. The scale of the challenge is daunting. Bader estimates that many areas where he works need 300 check dams per kilometer, with enough backlogged work to eat up 50 or 100 years of tree army labor. It is, of course, also dangerous work for international volunteers and their local partners. Five USAID contractors died in a suicide bombing in July, and 10 medical volunteers died in an August massacre. But Groninger says, “It really gives you a chance to see how you can use resource management skills to make or break the viability of a civilization.”

The military and the Obama administration have also espoused the value of that kind of expertise for a “civilian surge.” “One of the most important lessons of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is that military success is not sufficient to win,” Secretary of Defense Robert Gates remarked in a 2007 speech. By default, the military has often found itself organizing the critical work of reconstruction, development and governance with Provincial Reconstruction Teams, Agricultural Development Teams and similar initiatives. “But it is no replacement for the real thing—civilian involvement and expertise,” Gates said. As a presidential candidate in 2008, then-Sen. Barack Obama made essentially the same argument: “We cannot continue to rely only on our military in order to achieve the national security objectives that we’ve set. We’ve got to have a civilian national security force that’s just as powerful, just as strong, just as well-funded.”

That kind of expertise has not materialized in anything like adequate numbers, to the sometimes vocal exasperation of the military. “Our interagency partners are not available to help us as often as they should be,” Adam Shilling, a visiting fellow at the U.S. Army and Marine Corps Counter-insurgency Center, complained earlier this year. The mistaken bureaucratic idea that counterinsurgency is the military’s business “lets other government agencies off the hook,” he wrote. “If COIN is recognized as nation building, which is interagency business, perhaps our partners will bring more to the table.”

As a small (and almost certainly inadequate) response to the continuing demand for civilian expertise, the State Department last year launched a new Civilian Response Corps (CRC), described by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as “an army of peacebuilders.” The plan is to have an active force of 250 people available to go into troubled countries on 48-hours notice for reconstruction and stabilization work; a standby force of 2,000 people from various federal agencies able to deploy within 30 days; plus a reserve force of 2,000 people with special expertise to be called up as needed from the private sector and from state and local governments. The first person to complete his training and qualify for the CRC active force was Harry Bader, now a full-time USAID employee, and his first assignment was to deploy to Jalalabad in January 2010 to investigate the connection between timber smuggling and the insurgency.

At the time, almost everyone, including USAID, the United Nations Environment Programme and the Department of Defense, was reporting that Afghanistan’s forests faced “an imminent ecological calamity” as a result of massive illegal logging. Timber smuggling and the insurgency also seemed to be intricately tied together, with timber contractors in Afghanistan depending on the insurgents to provide buyers in Pakistan; insurgents paying timber smugglers to pioneer routes for channeling men, money and weapons back into Afghanistan; and the insurgency itself actually owning and controlling timberland for direct profit.

Bader’s mission, says the Department of Defense’s Douglas, was “an intellectual inquiry: ‘O.K., let’s find out what’s really going on.’” Douglas’ own background is diverse, including tours with both the Peace Corps and Army Special Forces. But he came to consider Bader “the most remarkable person I’ve ever met,” partly because he worked without “a pre-existing agenda” other than determining the truth, and partly because he had the background to pull together all the elements of a highly complicated problem. Other civilian experts tend to have the scientific background but not the counterinsurgency field experience, says Douglas. They also generally prefer to maintain an academic distance rather than integrating with military efforts. Or they understand political nuances but don’t get the military’s need to see results now.

“USAID and the Army are just learning to work together,” says Douglas, “and what Harry understood were the resources he could utilize.” For instance, the military isn’t normally in the business of deploying a team of two heavily armed Black Hawk helicopters to run forestry transects, but it did so readily for Bader. As with forestry elsewhere in the world, cracking the 
timber-smuggling codes also meant understanding the brands on timber at remote depots and sawmills. The job, says Bader, was “to connect valleys, people and timber by their brand and determine whether or not it’s associated with areas that are highly kinetic, which is indicative of insurgency.” So Bader contacted lieutenants at combat outposts and asked them to let him know when they would be visiting particular areas: “You’re going to be passing a sawmill. Can you give me 20 minutes?” The platoons also served as his eyes and ears, alerting Bader to potentially interesting developments and helping him recognize and talk with local figures in the timber trade.

“If they’re doing a combat foot patrol in X area, that’s an opportunity,” says the State Department’s Paradiso. “But it takes a certain person who has courage. You can’t be the kind of guy they have to worry about. It’s not a taxi service.” In a firefight, insurgents typically shoot from a distance of 150 to 200 meters, beyond the normal range of accuracy for an AK-47, with the idea of hitting soldiers in a spray of bullets rather than with carefully directed fire. It can last from a few minutes to an hour or more. For someone accompanying the patrol, says Paradiso, the job is to “duck and cover and take cues from the people you’re with.” Bader visited 18 combat outposts over six months and came through what Paradiso calls “pretty intense firefights,” including three in as many days. “He’s the first one to give credit to the soldiers, and rightly so. But he’s also taking risks.” What he got from these efforts, says Douglas, was “radically different from what people thought.”

Unsurprisingly, Bader saw that Afghanistan does, in fact, suffer from massive deforestation. But it’s mainly in the lower-elevation evergreen oak forests, which subsistence farmers have stripped bare for fuel and fodder. This deforestation in the immediate vicinity of villages—at an elevation of 1,200 to 2,500 meters—is the cause of much of the soil erosion, flooding, mudslides, clogged irrigation systems, water quality degradation and drought that plague Afghan farmers. Environmental stress translates into social unrest. So it’s also in those areas where the tree army will do some of its work.

But the upper conifer forest—at an elevation of 2,000 to 3,300 meters—remains remarkably intact, in Bader’s analysis. Areas that other agencies had identified from satellite photographs as large clear-cuts turned out, when Bader examined stumps and drift patterns by helicopter, to be salvage cuts in the aftermath of forest fire (though such fires sometimes get set as a result of conflicts among timber contractors). In Kunar Province, where a 2009 USAID study reported that 65 percent of the conifer forest had already been permanently destroyed, Bader’s transects and photogrammetric analysis found that the conifer forest was largely intact—1,600 square kilometers of it, not the 189 previously reported. Those earlier reports often turned out to be based on little or no data, with no description of scientific methodology, or they had been analyzed by people without the necessary training. (“It happened a lot in Afghanistan,” a member of the counterinsurgency cell confides. “One nongovernmental organization or one government agency would opine on something and then it would be a fact, and there would be a series of contracts written off that and actions taken based on inaccurate data.”)

The counterinsurgency cell published its own 30-page report at the end of July. It warned of potential long-term deterioration as a result of moderate overharvesting, use of misguided reforestation techniques and high-grading of the best trees, particularly deodar cedar. But overall, it said the conifer forest was being managed with a “relatively sophisticated approach to logging,” based on group selection cuts averaging under half a hectare. “Thus, we need not expend resources protecting the conifer forest,” the reported concluded, “but rather, we can use the conifer forest as an asset to help in formulating a COIN strategy.”

The report also found that the connection to the insurgency was far more nuanced than generally believed. It detailed where the money goes in complicated networks that include landowners; village workers; logging crews; contractors who hire the crews, provide chainsaws and sell the timber; smugglers who transport the timber across the border, typically by donkey; accountants; wood depot managers; and security teams. Insurgent groups are “not the principal architects of the illegal timber trade,” the report argued, though they often benefit as landowners or contractors. More typically, local warlords dominate the trade, with the help of corrupt government officials.

The Taliban insurgents must move around too much to control the smuggling, according to the counterinsurgency team, and they can get bigger payoffs elsewhere—for instance, by skimming security money from a highway contract. Leaving the timber trade largely alone is also strategic, according to the report: “Any intrusion into this trade by the Taliban would undermine the economic interests of tribal members, creating unnecessary friction between the Taliban and locals. Noninterference in legitimate business is a cornerstone of the Taliban’s political ideology, and their local commanders are expected to adhere to it. This effectively aligns the Taliban’s political goals with the economic needs” of the people. Though the report does not put it this plainly, it suggests that the bottom line for counterinsurgency is to deny the Taliban that opportunity by doing essentially the same thing: attempts by U.S. or Afghan forces to stop the timber smuggling merely consolidate existing networks against the government. It’s also largely wasted effort: research determined that, except in two valleys, “the timber trade is not necessarily a significant financial asset benefiting the insurgency,” says Bader. “So that’s a huge tactical advantage to now have. Because when I first arrived, there were platoons who were actively engaged in interdiction and thereby creating insurgents where there were perhaps none before. We know that interdiction alienates us from the population.” A smarter approach, with a better chance of turning the turbulent northeastern provinces back to their own national government, is to tolerate the illegal timber trade—and use the tree army to put it on a more sustainable basis.

For Bader and other environmental security experts, there’s also a larger bottom line: When nations lose essential natural resources—forests, healthy watersheds, clean water, productive farms—it ultimately becomes impossible to maintain security. But once those resources are lost, security is the first thing needed to do the hard work of getting them back. “Forestry is an outgrowth of a stable society,” says Groninger, “and if you don’t have stability, you can’t have foresters out there to protect or maintain the resource.” Ideally, world leaders and resource managers would work together to identify the threat of environmental insecurity in time to prevent societies from collapsing into chaos. But it almost never happens that way. The default is for resource managers to do what they can in the aftermath of calamity—and that often means trying to rebuild nations in close collaboration with military authorities trying to enforce the peace.

Some academics—particularly an older generation reared in the Vietnam-era atmosphere of mistrust for all things military—might find that kind of collaboration disturbing or a threat to scholarly independence. But Bader argues that integrating natural resources projects with military operations can work to the advantage of both. “If I were doing this out of whole cloth, I would have been a miserable failure,” he says. “I was deliberately embedded in the S-9 shop (the Army’s civil affairs unit) to do this mission because they were already well-ensconced within local communities. That’s their job.”

The military had a hypothesis—that the insurgents controlled the illegal timber trade—but Bader says they also gave him complete intellectual freedom to investigate it. “We tested our hypothesis and we threw away the information that failed to withstand the test, and that’s why we ended up being almost 180 degrees opposite from our original hypothesis. The only thing I heard from the military was ‘hurry up, hurry up,’ because they wanted it at the onset of the fighting season. The military is an incredibly quick study, and they are thirsty for the truth because it allows them to understand what’s happening in their area of operation.”

Within the natural resources counter-insurgency cell, Bader says, getting at that truth was a daily “tug-of-war on how to interpret what was happening, how to interpret each piece of information and how to interpret when an idea has been proven wrong.” The people doing the arguing came from multiple agencies and backgrounds—a former U.S. Army sniper and a State Department natural resources economist, an Army civil affairs officer and a USDA hydrologist, “and we would have knock-down drag-out fights in our office. We had this isolated office away from everybody, because we were somewhat secretive. But sometimes people in the other offices, military people, complained about the level of angry debate that was emanating from our office, because we really took it seriously and everybody had their point of view.” It is, he reflects, “an irony” that “in this office of a tactical operations center of a combat brigade,” in the chaos of an ugly and violent war zone, he had what was “probably the best academic experience of my life.

(This article was reprinted with permission from Environment Yale, the journal of the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. The author is Richard Conniff.)

Monday, December 6, 2010

SNRAS alum appointed Fish & Game deputy commissioner


Cora Campbell, acting commissioner for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) announced her primary leadership team appointments recently. Craig Fleener (pictured at left) is appointed deputy commissioner and Kelly Hepler is appointed assistant commissioner.

"Craig and Kelly have outstanding credentials. I appreciate Craig's diverse professional and public service background and welcome Kelly's long service and proven leadership from within the department," said Campbell. "They bring a good balance of experience, knowledge, and education to the commissioner's office. I look forward to working with these seasoned Fish and Game employees in carrying out the department's mission."

Craig Fleener began working for ADF&G in 2008 as director of the Division of Subsistence. His professional experience includes work with the Council of Athabascan Tribal Governments in the capacity of director of natural resources, regional biologist, and chief administrative officer managing health care, education, and natural resources. Fleener has served on various boards and councils, including the Board of Game, director and chair of Gwich'in Council International, and co-chair of the Yukon River Panel as part of his Division of Subsistence director duties. In addition, he has served more than 24 years in the military including four years with the U.S. Marine Corps and 20 years in the Alaska National Guard.

Fleener holds a B.S. in natural resources management from the UAF School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences.

Further reading:
"Alaska gets new deputy Department of Fish and Game director," Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, Dec. 3, 2010, by Tim Mowry

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Forage Growers School

The University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service will host a three-part forage workshop for hay farmers starting this month. The first session of the Alaska Forage Growers School will take place Friday, Dec. 10 from noon to 3:30 p.m. at the Matanuska Experiment Farm in Palmer, on the South Trunk Road off the Parks Highway. The workshop is free and includes a free hotdog/hamburger lunch.

The workshop will focus on fundamentals and improving the quality, quantity, and profitability of forage crops. Topics will include land preparation, soil sampling, and interpretation, and fertilization and renovation of existing fields.

Both beginning and veteran hay farmers will benefit from the school, said workshop coordinator Stephen Brown, Extension agriculture and horticulture agent in Palmer. Making a profit while producing quality forage in Alaska demands remarkable management skills, biological knowledge, practical experience, and a rather large measure of luck, he said. Alaska hay farmers face short, cool growing seasons and often experience dry conditions when they need rain and lots of precipitation when they want to harvest.

Forage crops are a significant part of the Alaska agriculture industry, Brown said. They comprise about 75 percent of total agricultural acreage in the state and the annual crop value is $6.5 million.

For more information or to register for the forage school, contact Penney Prickett at 745-3360 or Stephen Brown at 745-3639 or scbrown4@alaska.edu. Registration is requested by Dec. 9 so that enough lunch food will be available, but participants may also register at the door. Two additional forage school sessions will be scheduled later this winter.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Think Local survey

The Fairbanks Economic Development Corporation is launching a campaign to strengthen the local economy by educating the public on the value and impact of purchasing locally. They're starting off with a consumer survey.

The organization Sustainable Connections provides this list of reasons why people should buy locally (somewhat abbreviated here):
1. Buying locally means you support yourself: when you buy from an independent, locally owned business, significantly more of your money is used to make purchases from other local businesses, service providers, and farms -- continuing to strengthen the economic base of the community. (see the Institute for Local Self-Reliance's New Rules Project on retail business)

2. Support community groups: Nonprofit organizations receive an average 250% more support from smaller business owners than they do from large businesses.

3. Keep our community unique: Where we shop, where we eat and have fun -- all of it makes our community home. Our one-of-a-kind businesses are an integral part of the distinctive character of this place. Our tourism businesses also benefit. “When people go on vacation they generally seek out destinations that offer them the sense of being someplace, not just anyplace.” ~ Richard Moe, President, National Historic Preservation Trust

4. Reduce environmental impact: Locally owned businesses can make more local purchases, requiring less transportation, and generally set up shop in town or city centers as opposed to developing on the fringe. This generally means contributing less to sprawl, congestion, habitat loss and pollution.

5. Create more good jobs: Small local businesses are the largest employer nationally and in our community, providing the most jobs to residents.

6. Get better service: Local businesses often hire people with a better understanding of the products they are selling and take more time to get to know customers.

7. Invest in community: Local businesses are owned by people who live in this community, are less likely to leave, and are more invested in the community’s future.

8. Put your taxes to good use: Local businesses in town centers require comparatively little infrastructure investment and make more efficient use of public services as compared to nationally owned stores entering the community.

9. Buy what you want, not what someone wants you to buy: A marketplace of tens of thousands of small businesses is the best way to ensure innovation and low prices over the long term. A multitude of small businesses, each selecting products based not on a national sales plan but on their own interests and the needs of their local customers, guarantees a much broader range of product choices.

10. Encourage local prosperity: A growing body of economic research shows that in an increasingly homogenized world, entrepreneurs and skilled workers are more likely to invest and settle in communities that preserve their one-of-a-kind businesses and distinctive character.
Buying locally is not always possible, so broader organizations that have a regional focus are often the next step. FEDC concentrates on Fairbanks and the Interior, for example; Buy Alaska concentrates on the state. The Buy Alaska program is a function of the Alaska Small Business Development Center.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

New course: sustainable food systems

Food production from chili to chocolate (and even pork) will be covered in a new course at UAF.

Students will learn the framework of sustainable food systems in a new course being offered at UAF beginning spring semester 2011.

“Comparative Farming and Sustainable Food Systems,” a three-credit course, came about because of student demand. Professor Craig Gerlach said he has been getting numerous requests to teach the course, which he once offered as a special topics class.

Subsistence farming in Africa, South America, and Mexico will be touched upon, as will small scale farming systems, organic farming, conventional farming, seed banks, and high-latitude agriculture. “We’re going to look at the whole issue of food security,” Gerlach said.

“I hope the students gain an appreciation of all that is being done in sustainable food systems, both the production side and the consumption side,” Gerlach said. “It will be a broad overview of sustainable agriculture. I hope the students will gain the ability to look at problems and analyze them from all different sides, not just to trash conventional systems of farming but to look at the up side and the down side.”

The syllabus describes the study of basic principles of food systems geography, food and nutritional security and insecurity, work with cross cultural perspectives on culinary and dietary traditions, poverty, hunger, equity, access and distribution throughout the global, regional, and local food systems. Farming will be looked at as science, art, and practice through comparison of industrial, organic, natural, and ecological systems, and through the contrast of historically proven crop and livestock production systems with new and innovative strategies for developing strong and resilient sustainable food systems at multiple scales.

Dr. Gerlach grew up on a New Mexico cattle ranch founded by his great-grandfather. He earned a B.A. in anthropology and a B.S. in zoology at the University of Oklahoma, a master’s in anthropology from the University of Oklahoma, and a doctorate in anthropology from Brown University. He is a professor for the UAF Center for Cross Cultural Studies and the Alaska Native Knowledge Network, a senior research scientist for the Center for Alaska Native Health Research, and an affiliate research professor of chemistry and biochemistry. He works closely with SNRAS Professors Milan Shipka and Meriam Karlsson and Associate Professor Joshua Greenberg. His research focuses on: sustainable development, comparative small-scale farming, and sustainable food systems in the Yukon River watershed, and nutritional and food systems ecology emphasizing the recovery and restoration of the wild plant and wild game component of traditional food systems.

The course will be offered Tuesdays and Thursdays from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. in Reichardt 203. The course is cross-listed as Geography/Natural Resources Management 493 and Cross Cultural Studies/Natural Resources Management 693. The textbooks will include Where Our Food Comes From: Retracing Nikolay Vavilov’s Quest to End Famine by Gary Nabhan, In Defense of Food, An Eater’s Manifesto by Michael Pollan, Working Wilderness, the Malpais Borderlands Group and the Future of the Western Range by Nathan Sayre, The Farm as Natural Habitat, Reconnecting Food Systems with Ecosystems by D.L. and L.L. Jackson, Agroecology, the Science of Sustainable Agriculture by Miguel Altieri, The Unsettling of America, Culture and Agriculture by Wendell Berry.

For more information, contact Gerlach or Cary DeWit, UA Geography Program department chair.

Update 12/2/10: the course syllabus will be available on line at the Center for Cross Cultural Studies spring course offerings page.

Geography Awareness Week celebrated

Children observed the effects of carbon dioxide on water at the 4-H table at GeoFest, held Nov. 20 in Fairbanks.

During Geography Awareness Week, as volunteers went into schools to teach educational activities, one presenter was shocked to discover that students did not know what geography was.

“It’s when the lines connect into triangles and squares,” a fourth grade boy said. His teacher quickly piped in, “That’s geometry.”

Eventually, one brave child came up with, “It’s about maps.”

“Well, that’s definitely part of geography,” the volunteer said. “My definition is the study of the Earth and its people. That could include sociology, anthropology, meteorology, history, the environment, culture, remote sensing technology, even food.”

Hosted by the UA Geography Program and the Alaska Geographic Alliance, Geography Awareness Week reached out to schools across the borough Nov. 15-19 with the theme of Freshwater. Volunteers worked with students to help them understand watersheds, invasive plants in water settings, how limited the fresh water supply on the planet is, how resources are managed and the role young people can play in conserving water.

In the activity “Drop in the Bucket,” the demonstration began with 1,000 milliliters of water, demonstrating the fresh water on Earth. Since 97 percent of water is salt water, all but 30 milliliters got poured out. Then, the students learned that water is locked up in glaciers and ice caps. Only six milliliters were left, but some of that water is in deep aquifers or exists in the atmosphere. Down to 1 ½ milliliters, the presenter explained that some water in rivers, lakes, and streams can’t be accessed, leaving only .03 percent of the water in its fresh form available to humans.

For the watershed activity, students learned about branching patterns in nature, particularly ways that creeks and streams flow into rivers, which flow into the sea. Children drew watershed pictures and then formed human watersheds, standing in patterns and passing beads slowly or quickly to demonstrate water flow in the different seasons.

Another lesson, Sum of the Parts, required the students to draw their very own riverfront property. They could do whatever they wanted with their land, such as build a lodge, airport, water park, or farm. Then all the pieces were put together and pollution was sprinkled on each parcel, with discussions held about how each person’s land use affected the people and areas downstream.

In Balancing Act, each person represents a water user, such a mining, industry, transportation, forestry, recreation, agriculture. A cup of water in the middle was pulled by strings, with the students carrying the water through an obstacle course.

Fairbanks Soil and Water Conservation District was instrumental in providing the training to the volunteers, who were UAF students and staff, as well as soil and water employees.

GeoFest ends the week on high note

On Saturday, the week culminated in a new event for Fairbanks, GeoFest. Held at Effie Kokrine Charter School, the event attracted agency representatives who hosted hands-on activities for children and parents. (Pictured at right are Tami Seekins and Joni Scharfenberg of Fairbanks Soil and Water Conservation Service.)

The National Geographic Giant Map of South America attracted visitors to the school gym, where they played educational games in their stocking feet.

4-H students demonstrated how carbon dioxide affects fresh water. Members of the Northern Alaska Spatial Data User Group had prepared maps demonstrating the effects of oil spill on waterways in actual Fairbanks neighborhoods. “We want the kids to learn basic map-reading skills,” said Patrick Cotter. “They can figure out elevations and use the legend for these hypothetical situations. They can see how human actions affect the environment.”

At the water trivia wheel, guests won prizes by answering questions about water and wetlands correctly. The “hidden water” table also was a place for geographic-themed prizes. People had to guess how much water it takes to produce an apple, T-shirt, pound of chocolate, ream of paper and a slice of bread. (18 gallons for the apple, 3,170 for the chocolate, 1,321 for the paper, 11 for the bread and 713 for the T-shirt).

People especially enjoyed the Google Earth lake tour, which took participants around the world to bodies of water, after the questions were answered correctly.

Students from the Watershed Charter School were on hand to explain their water testing project they did in the fall. Seventh grader Mariah Rose said, “We tested the PH, the dissolved oxygen and how much silt was in the water. We found the Chena to be the clearest and the Tanana had the most turbidity.”

Teacher Lisa Beattie said it was the students’ first time to try the lesson. “They did a great job. They were careful and professional. And we walked or biked to each location.”

Children stand in front of a GeoFest display that demonstrated how much water the average American uses per day (100 gallons).

FFA students chime in on water issues
GeoFest kicked off Saturday morning at Effie Kokrine Charter School with an FFA Invitational Prepared Speaking Contest. The topic was “Clean Water: With 6.9 billion people on Earth and growing, what is our next step?”

Rayna Nelson took first place, Luke Scharfenberg second and Lance Thibedeau third. “Currently, only 63 percent of the world’s population has access to clean and safe drinking water,” Nelson said in her speech. “37 percent of families worldwide do not have access to drinking water, water to brush their teeth, or water to take showers with. It is currently estimated that half of the world’s hospitalizations are caused by water-related illness and 1.4 million children’s deaths each year are related to water-borne illnesses…

“As one of the most educated nations on this planet we need to take action against a serious problem that the people of the world face on a day to day basis at this very moment,” she concluded.

UA Geography Program Education and Outreach Coordinator Katie Kennedy said she was pleased with the event and that it will become an annual addition to the educational opportunities in Fairbanks and perhaps around the state.

FFA and the UA Geography Program are part of the UAF School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences.

Further reading:

"With help from volunteers, students learn during Geography Awareness Week," Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, Nov. 23, 2010, by Nancy Tarnai

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Opinion: geographic education crucial in Alaska



By Katie Kennedy

For most Alaskans geography is about place names and the memorization of facts. From this perspective, concerns about lack of geographic knowledge usually focus on one’s inability to locate places on a map. So it may come as a surprise to learn that geography is much more than rote memorization and that it is relevant to the critical issues of our day.

Geography explores human, biological, and physical systems. It focuses on the interactions between these systems through the lens of location and spatial relationships. It goes beyond the memorization of facts by using them to understand why the world works the way it does. The geographic perspective entails critical thinking and allows us to solve real-world problems.

There are myriad critical issues facing the world today, such as energy, water quality, economic health, ethnic conflict, globalization, biodiversity loss, sustainable agriculture, natural hazards, and more. To best deal with these challenges and make sound decisions about them our citizens must have a strong basis in geography, which provides one the ability to see the larger picture and to understand how different patterns and trends are related. To this end, it is vital that we provide our young people with quality geographic education.

In 1987, Congress unanimously passed and President Ronald Reagan signed into law a joint resolution designating a week in November as Geography Awareness Week. The purpose of Geography Awareness Week is to celebrate and communicate the relevance and importance of geographic literacy. However, it appears that very few people are aware of Geography Awareness Week, or for that matter, of the pressing need for geography to be taught in our schools. As we recognize Geography Awareness Week Nov. 14-20 it’s a good time to reflect on how we can remedy this situation.

First, steps can be taken at the national level. Current federal education reform has greatly affected geography education. Although geography was designated under the original No Child Left Behind Act as one of ten core subjects, it is the only one that has not received designated federal funding. In addition, there is no mandated testing for geographic proficiency. This means that schools are more inclined to intensively teach the subjects that will be tested and let others like geography drop from the curriculum.

Teaching Geography is Fundamental legislation has been introduced to the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives in the hopes of increasing the quality and quantity of pre-college geographic education. It would increase student knowledge and achievement in standards-based geography, increase the number of highly qualified teachers in geography, encourage research in geography education and the development of best practices and model programs, assist states in measuring impact of geography education and leverage, and expand private and public support for geography education partnerships.

In Alaska, pre-college geography education is a hit or miss prospect. There are no statewide assessments in geography and no state mandate to teach the subject; in short, it is not viewed as a priority. We have a tradition of local control of schools, so it is up to each district to decide if, when and how much geography will be taught. If you feel, as I do, that it is important for geography to be taught in our schools, let your local school board know.

Alaska’s students deserve the opportunity to develop a strong foundation in geography, which is not just a pleasing subject to squeeze into the curriculum here and there, but an essential one that provides critical thinking, technology and citizenship skills. Geography education can help prepare workers and citizens who will grapple with the critical issues facing us in the 21st century.

I encourage students, parents and teachers to click here for information on Geography Awareness Week 2010 and how you can join the celebration.

In the words of geographer Tom Biebrach: “Simply put, geography is our future. When we look at any issue with the balance and scrutiny that geographical study offers, we move beyond the media hype or political spin. Geography allows us to see the world more clearly.”

Katie Kennedy is the education and outreach coordinator for the UA Geography Program.











Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Effectiveness monitoring of fuel treatments in southwest Yukon

Pictured is a shaded fuel break where trees are thinned and lower branches are limbed. The fuel break is designed to alter extreme fire behavior by spacing out the fuels, forcing a crown fire to drop to a surface fire. (photo by Brad Hawkes)

The Alaska Fire Science Consortium is offering a webinar Friday, Nov. 19 from 1 to 2 p.m. The topic, "Effectiveness Monitoring of Fuel Treatments in Southwest Yukon," will be presented by Brad C. Hawkes, fire research officer, Canadian Forest Service.

The southwest Yukon is currently experiencing a widespread outbreak of spruce bark beetle, creating an extensive area of standing dead trees. With the increased level of fire risk, monitoring fuel treatment effectiveness, especially in terms of reducing crown fire spread, has become an important part of an adaptive management approach. This presentation presents some key fire hazard attributes and a fire model for exploring treatment effectiveness.

Contact Jennifer Northway at 474-6964 for more information. Registration is required.