Friday, April 30, 2010

UAF invasive plant task force hears public concerns

Marie Heidemann

“The best way to learn about invasive plants is to get your hands on them,” SNRAS graduate student Marie Heidemann told attendees at a public meeting April 28. In the future there will be many opportunities for volunteers to help pull the pesky plants but for now a management plan is a top priority.

Heidemann’s research project is to help the UAF invasive plant task force create an invasive plant management plan, the first at a university in the state. She presented a draft of the plan at the meeting, stressing that the thirteen-member task force is seeking to develop a long range plan, not looking for short-term solutions. It would be great to begin implementing aspects of the plan right away, but with long-term results in mind, she explained. “Alaska is a good place to do a plan like this because we are in a good position to tackle invasive plants and prevent ecological damage,” Heidemann said. Although Alaska has its fair share of invasive plants it doesn’t have as bad a problem as the contiguous states do.

“Our goal is to be good stewards of the environment and our community by preventing the spread of invasive plants and the establishment of new invasive plants,” Heidemann said. The task force wants to encourage the university to adopt best management practices and to use weed-free supplies. Another goal is to promote education and awareness of invasive plants to the UAF community, she said.

One of the main concerns of the audience was herbicide use. Heidemann explained that is still being discussed and the task force is open to suggestions. One beekeeper expressed concern about eradicating white sweetclover, which is attractive to bees. Task force member Michele Hebert, UAF Cooperative Extension Service agent, said that spraying could be timed to avoid bee activity and herbicides with the least effect on certain species of bees could be chosen.

“We want the plan to be an example for the rest of the state,” Hebert said.

Invasive plants are non-native species that threaten ecosystems and cause economic loss as a result of their ability to spread rapidly, dominate resources, and replace native plants. The UAF plan will provide clear guidelines to reduce the presence of invasive plants on campus. The mission is: “The UAF invasive plant management plan provides campus land managers with clear guidelines and management priorities to reduce current invasive plant infestations and prevent the establishment of new invasive plants.”

To review the draft plan, make comments, or find out more details, contact Heidemann, 474-7298.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Art grows in Arctic Health Research Building

Kimberley Maher moistens the sprouts on ceramic figures
A project blending art and science is sprouting at UAF this spring. SNRAS Doctoral Candidate Kimberley Maher worked with Heidi Morel, a fine arts graduate student, to create voluptuous ceramic female forms with seeds planted on them.

The unique statues are on display in the Biosciences Library in the Arctic Health Building and in the lobby of Irving I. Maher gives Morel credit for the idea. The two students already knew each other because Maher has taken several ceramics classes. They based their work on using the female form as a symbol of fertility and bringing forth new life. “This is the time of year daylight returns and so Fairbanks is beginning to rejuvenate after a long winter,” Maher said. She wanted to capture the essence of spring while snow was still on the ground.

The figures are seeded with Chia, alyssum, lobelia, Polish canola, and yellow mustard. “Because seeds are sprouting and the plants are growing, the pieces are dynamic and change each day,” Maher said. She sprinkles each figure daily to keep the sprouts moist.

She became involved in the project because she sees quite a bit of overlap between art and science. “Working on this project required conducting background research in materials and methods, logistics, planning, following a time line, and the ability to revise all these things in order to address unforeseen circumstances, things that we do when planning and carrying out a field season,” Maher said.

In her PhD program, Maher is conducting an integrated and interdisciplinary project to examine non-timber forest products in interior Alaska. Her study involves harvest traditions, ecological controls, and management implications. She has focused on food products, including their cultural and community-building aspects, and important access and valuation issues that will secure these resources on a sustainable basis. Her project addresses the ecology of production, and the history, potentials, and problems of birch sap along with other non-timber forest products. Her advisor is Professor Glenn Juday.

The displays have garnered quite a bit of interest from passersby. “I’ve had really great response,” Maher said. “People are interested to see something new.” The figures will come down soon as Maher will be starting her summer position with the US Fish & Wildlife Service.

The project was funded by the College of Liberal Arts Center for the Arts. The students received advice and assistance from Da-ka-xeen Mehner, assistant professor of Native arts, and Professor Pat Holloway.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Growing degree days prediction made by SNRAS student

Ellen Hatch, middle, with her advisors, Meriam Karlsson, left, and Nancy Fresco, right. Dr. Karlsson is a professor of horticulture and Dr. Fresco is coordinator of the SNAP program.

Ellen Hatch, natural resources senior, spent the past year researching growing degree day micro zones in the Fairbanks North Star Borough. “It’s important to look at agriculture in our borough,” Hatch said. Working with Scenarios Network for Alaska Planning (SNAP), Hatch calculated predictions for growing degree days. The other aspect of her work was interviewing local farmers. She presented her senior thesis results April 16 at UAF.

Hatch said she had noticed that USDA plant hardiness zone maps do not take local geography into account, which she was able to do in her study. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, there has been an increase in precipitation, longer growing seasons, and northward migration of species due to climate change, she said.

Using SNAP’s climate models, Hatch examined temperature, precipitation, heat receipt, and days to maturity. She took average temperatures from May to September for six different time points, historic and future, and averaged three years surrounding each time point, studied the National Weather Service data from the Fairbanks Experiment Farm, and reviewed Georgeson Botanical Garden publications.

In her summer 2009 interviews, Hatch questioned eight local agriculturists who had directly seeded annual crops and determined specific growing degree days for each cultivar. She divided the borough into nine zones and mapped their progression through time.

She determined there is a “clear upward trend,” with a two percent increase in growing degree days predicted for each decade. Growing degree days increased 17 percent between 1949 and 2099. Local growers use about 70 percent of the growing degree days. More growing degree days could mean greater yields and more variety, Hatch said, affecting the economy, food security, self-reliance, and food quality.

“Studies of the future are not without caveats,” Hatch said. Those might include soil temperature, effective growing degree days, or periods of photosynthesis.

Hatch quoted President Barack Obama, paraphrasing that agriculture is intimately linked with health care and climate change. “We should consider expanding agriculture in the north,” she said.

Anne Miller presented her senior thesis project on the history of the wild berry harvest and use in Alaska from the Palmer Center for Sustainable Living.

She studied Alaska Natives’ use of berries and analyzed the scientific findings about the value of berries. She conducted a survey of Natives about their berry habits, using a website and mailing 226 printed surveys to Native corporations. She received seventy-nine responses.

“Wild berries have an important history in the Native culture,” Miller said. She discovered that forty-eight species of wild berries are used for food, medicine, dye, and crafts. Blueberries proved the most popular. Nearly 100 percent of respondents said their grandparents had used wild berries. To the question, “What level of berry management is acceptable to you?” eighty-two percent said, “Let nature take its course.”

In her conclusions Miller stated that personal interviews would have been a better method than e-mail and mailings if time and funding had allowed. “Wild berries continue to be important and traditional uses are not lost,” she said. “I would encourage Natives to continue to use berries and to learn and revitalize the knowledge to pass on to their children and grandchildren.”

This spring's final senior thesis session will be April 30 at 2:15 p.m. in Arctic Health Research Building, Room 183. Presenters are Quentin Hecimovich, Nicole Swensgard, and Laurel Gale.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Reindeer birth makes history

A mother reindeer welcomes her calf April 22 at the Fairbanks Experiment Farm (photo by PJ Soden)

Thursday’s birth of a ten-pound male reindeer calf at the Fairbanks Experiment Farm made agricultural history – it is the first documented successful pregnancy of a reindeer by artificial insemination using frozen/thawed semen.

The calf appeared at 3 p.m. April 22 as UAF Reindeer Research Program herdsman Rob Aikman worked nearby. He noticed the mother, a 2 1/2-year old named Lightning, was having difficulty and went to assist. As he tugged on the calf he noticed its heart was beating but it was not breathing. After Aikman performed mouth-to-mouth resuscitation the calf was fine.

On Sept. 24, 2009 seven females were artificially inseminated with frozen semen shipped from Canada. Once in Fairbanks, it was thawed and Dr. Stan Bychawski, a veterinarian from Saskatchewan, performed the necessary technique. Six pregnancies did not take.

Dr. Stan Bychawski (in blue coveralls) and Janice Rowell inject frozen/thawed semen into a female reindeer Sept. 24, 2009.

“This is a first and it’s a small step,” said Milan Shipka, School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences animal scientist and Extension livestock specialist. “We will work to get the bugs out so it will become a tool for reindeer producers.” He said the procedure allows reindeer owners to “move genetics over great distances without having to move live animals.”

The Reindeer Research Program is dedicated to the study of reindeer: researching meat science, range management, and animal health. The applied science is then shared with reindeer producers.

“We are absolutely excited,” Shipka said. “Dr. Janice Rowell (SNRAS assistant professor) and I have been taking steps to get here and we really appreciate the assistance of the Reindeer Research Program. This is just the beginning.”

Further reading:
Reindeer calf's birth is a scientific breakthrough for University of Alaska Fairbanks, Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, April 24, 2010, by Jeff Richardson

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

UAF invites public comment on invasive plant plan

The UAF invasive plant task force invites the public to a meeting Wednesday, April 28 from 6 to 7:30 p.m. in the UAF University Park Building, 1000 University Ave., Room 102.

SNRAS graduate student Marie Heidemann is working with a task force to develop a plan to manage invasive plants on the UAF campus, such as bird vetch (pictured above), white sweetclover, and butter and eggs. According to the Alaska Committee for Noxious and Invasive Plants Management, invasive plants have many characteristics that allow them to compete with, and often dominate, native vegetation. They grow rapidly, mature early, and effectively spread seeds that can survive a long time in the soil. Their profuse vegetative reproduction produces dense shade, which along with toxins suppresses the growth of their competitors. Invasive plants often lack predators, and can hybridize or cross-pollinate with local plants, compromising the genetic makeup of native species. They easily create monocultures in the understory, preventing the establishment and growth of seedling trees. Some invasive plants even change ecosystems by utilizing large amounts of water and nutrients, altering soil and water resources and increasing fire frequency.

Heidemann is developing a long-term management plan for invasive plants on the main UAF campus for her graduate project. She has a BS in environmental science from the University of Iowa. She worked for Alaska Cooperative Extension Service as a seasonal invasive plant management technician in Juneau and moved to Fairbanks in August. Her advisor is Associate Professor Susan Todd. Heidemann used the plant maps created by Jessica Guritz in the summer of 2008 as the basis of the plan. Her project is being funded jointly by the US Forest Service and SNRAS.

Contact Heidemann at 474-7298.

Further reading:
Student maps invasive weeds on campus, SNRAS Science & News, Oct. 20, 2008

Monday, April 19, 2010

Learn to build a log home in Alaska

UAF is offering a log home building workshop May 24 to June 5 at the Palmer Center for Sustainable Living.

The workshop will appeal to anyone interested in building or renovating energy efficient, quality log structures in Alaska. (Pictured at right are students in a similar workshop held in Sitka in 2008.)

Robert W. Chambers of New Zealand, world-recognized authority for handcrafted log home construction, will lead the sessions. He is the author of The Log Construction Manual: The Ultimate Guide to Building Handcrafted Log Homes. Chambers has been building log homes sine 1983 and teaching log construction since 1988. He has written numerous magazine articles and invented log construction methods, products, and machinery. In 2006 the International Log Builders Association presented Chambers with its grand achievement award, awarded only three times in the organization’s thirty-year history. Mike Musick and his son, Richard, from Fairbanks, will also be instructing. Musick has worked in construction in Alaska for over forty years and has been building energy-efficient custom homes in interior Alaska for thirty years. His son Richard works with his dad in the family business, Ester Construction.

Basic procedures and techniques will be described and practiced to help even the novice log builder get started with a project. Building an energy-efficient log home requires the highest level of craftsmanship to meet modern standards of air-tightness, indoor air quality, safety, comfort, and durability. The class is a hands-on experience, with students actually constructing a cabin of aspen logs on Trunk Road where the Matanuska Experiment Farm has its summer garden area.

The class will run from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily, with a break for the Memorial Day weekend. A maximum of 12 students will be accepted. Cost is $650 if registered by April 30 and $800 after that. Contact Valerie Barber, director UAF Forest Products Program, 907-746-9466 or

Further reading:
A Log Cabin Building Workshop, Agroborealis, Spring 2009, page 6-14, by Valerie Barber (PDF)

Giant map of Asia tours Alaska schools

The National Geographic Society giant map of Asia will transform school gyms around Alaska into geographic learning labs for the next few weeks. The 31 by 41-foot cartographically accurate map allows children to learn geography in a unique, “feet-on” style. The children remove their shoes and follow UA Geography Program Education and Outreach Coordinator Katie Kennedy through fun explorations of the countries, capitals, and cultures of Asia.

The schedule is:

Fairbanks North Star Borough School District:
Monday, April 19 - Ben Eielson Jr./Sr. High School
Tuesday, April 20 - North Pole Middle School
Wednesday, April 21 - North Pole Middle School
Thursday, April 22 - Randy Smith Middle School
Friday, April 23 - Ryan Middle School

Denali School District:
Tuesday, April 27 - Tri-Valley School, Healy

Mat-Su Borough School District:
Thursday, April 29 - Teeland Middle School, Wasilla
Friday, April 30- Teeland Middle School, Wasilla

Anchorage School District
Tuesday, May 4 - Goldenview Middle School, Anchorage
Wednesday, May 5 - Wendler Middle School, Anchorage
Thursday, May 6 - Wendler Middle School, Anchorage

Kenai Peninsula Borough School District:
Monday, May 10 - Homer Middle School, Homer
Tuesday, May 11 - Homer Middle School, Homer

Kodiak Island Borough Schools:
Thursday, May 13 - East Elementary School, Kodiak
Friday, May 14 Kodiak Middle School, Kodiak

Friday, April 16, 2010

Brina Kessel award goes to SNRAS student

SNRAS senior Kirsten Woodard (pictured at right) has been awarded the Brina Kessel Medal for Excellence in Science.

Woodard grew up in Hatcher Pass surrounded by farm animals but discovered that she was unfortunately allergic to many of them. Nevertheless, her major emphasis of study is high latitude agriculture. “I’m interested in plants,” she explained.

Her reaction to earning the Kessel award? “I’m honored and surprised,” she said. The award comes with a $500 check and a medal.

For the past two summers, Woodard worked in fisheries for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Emmonak. This summer she will concentrate on her senior thesis research, which is temperature dependent bending capabilities of Alaska willow populations: a potential advantage for biofuel crops. She will be determining which populations of willows have the best potential for biofuels.

Woodard isn’t sure about her career goals yet and will likely continue with graduate work in the future. She enjoys running, cross-country skiing, and biking. Woodard’s grade point average is 3.97.

Her mentors at UAF are Associate Professor David Valentine, Professor Stephen Sparrow, and Dr. Syndonia Bret-Harte. She describes all three as “fantastic.”

The science medal is named for Dr. Brina Kessel to recognize her contributions to her discipline, to Alaska, and the University of Alaska. As a professor at the university for more than forty years, she devoted her life to the study of ornithology, emphasizing the birds of arctic and subarctic Alaska. Seniors studying natural sciences, either basic or applied, are eligible for the award. If applied, the student must be well-grounded in the basic sciences and use these sciences and their methods toward solutions of applied science. The award is presented by the College of Natural Science and Mathematics.

In the nomination letter, Dave Valentine said that Woodard demonstrates excellence in all her classes and has an outstanding academic record.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Student wins top prize for research on arsenic absorption in vegetables

UAF freshman business and pre-dental major Jeff Bue’s family is careful not to drink water from the household well. However, Bue wondered if arsenic, so common in interior Alaska wells, makes its way to the family dinner plate via the garden. (Bue is pictured at right).

Bue’s experiment, which proved that the arsenic does indeed transfer to heads of lettuce in substantial amounts, took first place in the undergraduate research symposium held at UAF April 9. The symposium was part of Campus Research Day, a day of events celebrating research at UAF. For his first place award Bue won $2,500 on his UAF account. His mentor is Professor Meriam Karlsson. Born in Anchorage, Bue grew up in Nome and Fairbanks. He has been very active in the Country Meadows 4-H Club and has shown pigs, calves, goats, and lambs in the Tanana Valley State Fair. He has participated in the biathlon events in the Arctic Winter Games.

Bue's report was:

Arsenic contamination of drinking water has become a world-wide concern. It is of especially high concern to residents of Fairbanks, Alaska, where there is a high probability of excessive arsenic concentrations in groundwater. In this project we demonstrated the ability of lettuce to absorb arsenic from water. Two groups of lettuce were grown in greenhouse conditions. The control group was irrigated with water uncontaminated with arsenic. The treatment group was irrigated with water spiked with arsenic to a level of 1 ppm. The samples were digested using a microwave digester and analyzed using an ICP-OES. Development of methods and procedures for the determination of arsenic concentration in vegetables was the main purpose of this project. We found that the arsenic concentration in the lettuce grown in arsenic contaminated water was 1.125 ppm with a standard deviation of 0.127 ppm, compared to a concentration of 0.024 ppm with a standard deviation of 0.008 in the control group. We concluded that lettuce has the ability to absorb arsenic and that more research should be done to determine the arsenic absorption abilities of other garden vegetables, as well as the relation between the arsenic concentration in irrigation water and arsenic concentration in vegetables.

Professor Karlsson said, "Jeff worked hard on this project and all credit for making it a success goes to him. He spent many hours in the lab and gave up large portions of his Christmas and spring breaks to complete the study."

Bue is still interested in the project and will do more analyses including a study of zucchini. There are reports zucchini is especially efficient in absorbing and building up high levels of arsenic if irrigated with contaminated water.

"Jeff’s findings have generated a lot of interest and we plan on publishing the results in a peer-review journal article," Dr. Karlsson said. "Considering the large involvement of undergraduate students in high caliber research projects at UAF, it is an impressive achievement for Jeff to take first place."

(Photo by Jeff Werner)

Monday, April 12, 2010

SNRAS seniors launch research projects

Pictured from left are Sabrena Gneiting, Adriana Amaya, Taylor Beard, James Ward, Kirsten Woodard, BriAnna Graves, Shannon Pearce.

The SNRAS senior thesis series continues. On April 2, seven students presented their research proposals.

Shannon Pearce is studying wetland protection priorities for avian species of concern in the greater Fairbanks area. “Wetland habitats are crucial to birds,” Pearce said. Her goal is to rank twenty-four types of wetlands in terms of value for fifteen bird species. She said the project should be useful to developers, environmental firms, and government agencies.

“This is necessary to set land acquisition priorities and to make decisions in an informed manner,” Pearce said.

She will rank the habitats using the Delphi method, and will seek information from seventeen bird experts.

James Ward’s topic is economic considerations for commercial greenhouse production during interior Alaska winters. “Winter is a long season and is not considered best for crop production,” Ward said. “I would like to research what may or may not be feasible. I will determine if it is reasonable economically.”

Ward said greenhouses and nurseries are the state’s largest agriculture industry and receive the most income. “Greenhouse operations generally cease in winter due to cost of heat and electricity,” he said.

“We could perhaps produce fresh food locally and compete with imported food.”

His objectives are to establish economic factors relating to winter crop production and identify scenarios that the feasibility could continue. He plans to identify the heat and electricity needs for a generic greenhouse and estimate the costs of heating and lighting from Sept. 15 to March 15.

He expects that greenhouses will be useful in areas with uniquely low electric and heating costs, such as those with hot springs or waste heat.

Taylor Beard is tackling the impact of arsenic contaminated irrigation water on tomato accumulation. “Arsenic levels are becoming an increasing concern around the world,” Beard said. “Chronic exposure can cause serious health problems.”

The EPA has set acceptable arsenic standards at ten parts per billion for drinking and irrigation water, Beard said. She found there has not been a lot of research on this subject, but learned that arsenic is located in areas where gold was mined. “Fairbanks has one of the highest arsenic concentrations in the US,” Beard said. Fairbanks and Ester have tested at 146 parts per billion. “Many people are unaware of the potential risks,” she said.

Arsenic uptake in tomatoes can inhibit root, shoot, and fruit growth, Beard said. Phosphorus and arsenic are taken into the plant roots by a common carrier.

Her objective is to increase awareness of arsenic and its effects in the Fairbanks area and to determine how much arsenic tomatoes absorb from contaminated water. The type of tomato she will test is Trust and she will use a control plot with distilled water, one with 150 ppb of arsenic and one with 300 ppb. There will be ten plants per treatment, with samples taken from the fruit clusters and leaves.

Kirsten Woodard’s subject is temperature dependent bending capabilities of Alaska Salix alaxensis populations: a potential advantage for biofuel crops. Woodard noted that woody shrubs compress under snowload and she wondered what mechanism allows the willows to bend over throughout the cold temperatures and rebound in the spring. This occurs primarily in arctic and boreal species as an adaptation to extreme environments.

Woodard said willows have rapid growth rate, are widely available, have the ability to acclimate, and may have a potential as a biofuel. Her objective is to determine if differences in temperature cause responses to twig deflection. She will collect ten twig samples from five latitudes in Alaska, and will use a bending apparatus and test the twigs at 0, 10 and –40 degrees, measuring the moisture content. She hopes to figure out which populations of willows have the best potential for biofuels.

BriAnna Graves’ topic is stomatal conductance variability in three populus species under seasonal and diurnal changes using a leaf porometer. Stomato are the pores in the epidermal layer of plants that facilitate gas exchange between the internal and external environment. Her study site is at a landfill at Elmendorf Air Force Base, where she will sample ten leaves from each sapling and test three each of quaking aspen, balsam poplar, and black cottonwood.

She expects to find similar stomatal conduction in all three species. She also thinks there will be mid-day dips in conduction, as the levels of soil moisture drop in the heat of the day.

Sabrena Gneiting will study the effects of diet quality on grasshopper fecundity. “Grasshoppers and locusts cause problems and outbreaks aren’t understood,” Gneiting said. She wants to learn if the ratio of protein to carbohydrates matters for egg production.

Her tests will be conducted on grasshoppers caught in Delta Junction field. They will be kept warm with a sixty-watt light bulb. Six pairs of grasshoppers will be checked using five artificial diets. The food will be weighed and the eggs counted and dried.

Adriana Amaya will produce a volunteer handbook for phenology monitoring at Tetlin National Wildlife Refuge. Her handbook will explain how to gather phenological data (noting plant and animal life cycle events such as budding or bird migrations).

“To do this we must incorporate citizen science,” Amaya said. The Tetlin NWR is near Tok and features 734,000 acres of wetlands and boreal forest. It includes important migratory bird habitat.

Data taken across a large spatial and temporal scale can help predict and monitor the effects of climate change on refuge lands,” Amaya said. Her book will explain phenology and how to recognize notable events and become familiar with the species being monitored. These include the dragonfly, wood frog, five species of birds, the red squirrel, and five plant species. “I would like to work with volunteers to create a program that will be successful in the future,” she said.

The senior thesis series continues Friday, April 16 in room 401, International Arctic Research Center at 2:15 p.m. Presenting the results of their research will be Anne Miller and Ellen Hatch. On April 30 the final session will begin at 2:15 p.m. in Arctic Health Research Building room 183, with Laurel Gale, Nicole Swensgard, and Quintan Hecimovich.

Related post:
Students tackle tomatoes, recycling, gypsy moths, food security for senior thesis research, SNRAS Science & News, March 29, 2010

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Galena to get community greenhouse

A Galena gardener experiments with growing techniques.

Thanks to the cooperation of the Alaska Center for Energy and Power, UAF School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences, and Tanana Chiefs Conference, Galena will soon have a community greenhouse. Funding is provided by an EPA grant applied for by TCC and managed by ACEP Rural Energy Specialist Ross Coen.

Galena, a village of 675 people, is located 270 air miles west of Fairbanks, on the Yukon River and off the road system. Due to its remoteness, fresh food costs much more than in urban Alaska. Recent prices are reported at $4 per tomato, $7 for a green pepper, and up to $7 for a head of lettuce.

Coen and SNRAS Research Professional Jeff Werner will be in Galena April 12-13 to meet with the public about the proposed greenhouse. “The goal is to have a self-sustaining enterprise,” Coen said. He and Werner want to learn how the residents would like to use the greenhouse. “We’ll be establishing a work plan,” Coen said. “We hope to have a lot of community participation and get the kids involved.”

The 30 x 96-foot structure will be built next to the city power plant, which uses a heat recovery system and would make heating the greenhouse in spring and fall possible with hot water circulation. The high cost of heat and electricity in rural communities is the single greatest limiting factor in operating a large greenhouse, according to Coen, but he believes that utilizing heat from the power plant, a natural by-product of the diesel generators that run twenty-four hours a day, will improve the economics dramatically. “It could not only bring operating costs down but also double the growing season,” Coen said.

While Coen will provide the energy expertise, Werner is the agricultural expert. He has worked with Professor Meriam Karlsson at UAF for many years and has been instrumental in making the greenhouse projects at Pike’s Waterfront Lodge and Chena Hot Springs resort successful. The Galena project is similarly expected to provide residents with fresher, more nutritious produce at a fraction of the cost of imported vegetables.

Werner's goal is to help the people in Galena understand ways to be more self-reliant and self-sufficient. He envisions growing lettuce, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, and kohlrabi starts that can be transferred to the field. The greenhouse will be perfect for growing tomatoes, cucumbers, and peppers, he said. "They can grow for the freezer and for processing so they can enjoy the fruits of their labors throughout the winter," he said.

The men think the greenhouse can produce enough vegetables to supply the local store, help feed the elders, and provide educational opportunities for the children. “This belongs to Galena,” Coen said. They will coordinate the effort with the Louden Tribal Council, city officials, the schools, and experienced gardeners in Galena to ensure local participation.

Although the greenhouse will certainly add a lot to the fresh food scene in Galena, gardening is not new to the village. People have been growing good food there for years. One in particular who is passionate about it is Paul Apfelbeck, a teacher at the Galena Interior Learning Academy.

In his nine years in Galena, Apfelbeck has experimented with gardening every summer. Growing up in Connecticut and New Jersey, Apfelbeck grew his first garden at the age of 12. When moving to Galena he wouldn’t settle until he knew his new home would have a plot to grow things in. “The house had to have space for a greenhouse,” he said. He found local mentors to teach him the Galena style of growing. “I like to experiment,” he said.

Every year he gets five different types of Daikon radishes to see how they come out. “They are incredibly difficult to grow,” he said. He also tries various heirloom tomatoes, at least three varieties each summer. “Every once in a while there is a beautiful success,” he said. He especially likes Northern Delight and Windowbox Roma. He’s had good luck with cabbage too.

“Galena is the best place on earth to grow kohlrabi,” he said. He even grew a watermelon in his greenhouse.

His seeds come from Norway, South Africa, California, and Chile. His harvests, along with the other villagers, are displayed and shared in the annual agricultural fair.

At the March 17 Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education conference, Apfelbeck praised the assistance he has gotten from Heidi Reider of Cooperative Extension Service and SNRAS Instructor Jodie Anderson. “They are fabulous sources of information,” he said. “Heidi taught me how to prepare soil and mix the soil using indigenous materials, and how to start seeds. Jodie is wonderful in helping with potatoes, which is a very important crop. And she taught me about root cellars.”

Apfelbeck said,” You learn a little at a time. Everybody in Galena is learning and sharing with each other.”

He is excited about the future there. “I’d like Galena agriculture to be as self-sustainable as possible, but there are limits placed by the environment.”

Photo provided by Paul Apfelbeck

Further reading:

Growing opportunity: UAF hydroponics and the FFA at Pike's Waterfront Lodge, SNRAS Science & News, June 10, 2009

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

SNRAS selects outstanding students

SNRAS outstanding students for the 2009/2010 school year are: Taylor Beard, High Latitude Agriculture; Charles Caster, Resources Management; Cassie Wohlgemuth, Forest Sciences; Matthew Balazs, Geography. They will be honored at the UAF student awards breakfast April 24.

Taylor Beard

Taylor Beard hails from Parker, Colo., where she grew up hearing about town legend Dan Jordan. Today he is coaching Beard on the UAF Rifle Team. It was the rifle scholarship (and Coach Jordan) that influenced her decision to attend UAF. She chose the natural resources degree because, “of all the majors offered here this one interested me most. You can study more things.”

Her goals are to pursue graduate studies in natural resources and then begin a career with an agency.

Beard has been on the dean’s list every semester and she made the first team All-American NCAA rifle championships in 2007. She has worked at El Dorado gold mine in the past and this summer will conduct fish counts for the US Fish and Wildlife Service. She served as an officer in the Resource Management Society.

With the rifle team, Beard has traveled to Germany, Czechoslovakia, Norway, Italy, Puerto Rico, and beyond for competitions. How has she kept her grades up with all the practice time and travel? “I’m a perfectionist,” she said. “I’m hard on myself but I enjoy school.” She served as an officer in the Resource Management Society.

A person of great influence in her life has been Coach Jordan, a SNRAS alumnus.

Charles Caster
Charles Caster grew up in Auburn, Calif. After high school he earned an associate’s degree in automotive technology at Universal Technical Institute in Phoenix. He served in the US Air Force for four years and was stationed at Elmendorf Air Force Base. He knew he wanted to complete a four-year degree and he had always been interested in the outdoors so the SNRAS natural resources program is perfect for his needs.

His career goal is to work for a federal or state agency.

Caster is a fixture on the dean’s and chancellor’s lists. He spent one summer in Switzerland and one as a fisheries technician on the Minto Flats and Chatanika River. He loves fishing, hunting, hiking, and backpacking.

His inspiration to be a good student comes from his wife Mirjam. “She gets the credit,” he said. “She is a model of academic success and has a first rate work ethic.” The two met on a UAF Outdoor Adventures trip.

Cassie Wohlgemuth
Born and raised in Anchorage, Cassie Wohlgemuth grew up with an interest in nature and came to SNRAS with a passion for ecosystems and sustainability. She is impressed with the research done by the SNRAS faculty.

Wohlgemuth has worked as a summer intern for the Division of Forestry, maintaining trails, measuring plots, and tracking invasive weeds. Her student job has been working with soil samples and shrubs from Toolik for Syndonia Bret-Harte. She won the Richard E. Lee endowment scholarship of $3,000. Her career goal is to work for the National Park Service.

In her spare time Wohlgemuth enjoys cross-country skiing, snowboarding, swimming, and hiking. She is an officer in the Resource Management Society and is on the UAF Dance Team.

Matthew Balazs
Matthew Balazs grew up in Brunswick, Ohio, and attended Capital University for a couple of years. He traveled the world until he felt called to Alaska to study geography.

His goals are to attend graduate school at UAF and then pursue a career in natural hazard mitigation and planning at the community level. As a student he has worked as a museum archeological curator’s assistant, a remote sensing technician in the SNRAS GIS Lab, done freelance GIS work, and interned with the Division of Geological and Geophysical Surveys.

He credits Assistant Professor Patricia Heiser and Associate Professor Cary de Wit with being his advisors, mentors, and friends, helping him through school, along with Professor Anupma Prakash of the geology department. “They have a great teaching style and are dedicated to helping students learn,” Balazs said.

He has done exchange studies at Iowa State University, Portland State University, and Finnmark University College, Tuscany. In addition to an academic exchange at the university center in Svalbard in the summer of 2009, Balazs studied quaternary stratigraphy and relative sea level history in Svalbard, Norway. Balazs was the UA Geography Program’s first recipient of the prestigious Maxwell Scholar award, the High North Fellowship, the Excellence in GIS Scholarship, the Fred Beeler Memorial Scholarship, and Osher re-entry scholarship. He is a member of the Golden Key International Honor Society and the UAF Geography Club.

He enjoys hiking, rafting, hunting, going to church, and spending time with his fiancee and his dog.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Alaska students compete in geographic bee

On April 9, 100 geography whizzes will compete for the state’s top spot in the Alaska Geographic Bee. Winners from each state earn the right to participate in the 2010 National Geographic Bee national competition May 25-26 in Washington, D.C.

Students in grades four through eight who qualified will compete in their state-level bees. The bee provides students a unique opportunity to better understand the world and the events happening around them. Visit here to see the types of skills students need to be in the geographic bee.

The contest is designed to encourage teachers to include geography in their classrooms, spark student interest in the subject and increase public awareness about geography.

The National Geographic Society developed the National Geographic Bee in 1989 in response to concern about the lack of geographic knowledge among young people. A National Geographic-Roper Public Affairs 2006 geographic literacy study showed that Americans aged 18 to 24 still had limited understanding of the world within and beyond this country’s borders. Only four out of ten were able to find Iraq on a map of the Middle East.

The first place winner in each state wins a trip to the national event and $100. The top winner in the nation wins a $25,000 college scholarship, lifetime membership in the National Geographic Society, and a trip to the Galapagos Islands.

The Alaska event will be held Friday at 9:25 a.m. in the William A. Egan Civic & Convention Center in Anchorage. The final round is at 1 p.m.

Both National Geographic and Google Geo Education Program, which help make the geographic bees possible, are collaborators with the UA Geography Program.

Yup'ik storytellers are big hit at MCC open house

Evelyn Yanez, left, tells a story in Yup'ik while Dora Andrew-Ihrke repeats the tale in English. 

Math in a Cultural Context opened its doors to the public April 2 with its first-ever open house. Featuring the original artwork of Putt Clark, the event drew a steady stream of interested visitors throughout the evening. Clark illustrates all the MCC publications, including textbooks and story books.

A popular attraction was the storytelling by Evelyn Yanez, MCC consultant, and Dora Andrew-Ihrke, UAF adjunct faculty member. The women have been involved with MCC for years, helping to translate Yup'ik culture and traditions into mathematical concepts for elementary school students. Yanez and Andrew-Ihrke told stories that have been in their family for generations, including The Raven, and Slave Girl. MCC takes their stories and turns them into reader books for students. These accompany the math modules that MCC produces.

MCC Principal Investigator Jerry Lipka, left, visits with artist Putt Clark and FNSB Mayor Luke Hopkins at the MCC open house April 2.

MCC modules incorporate math into Yup'ik activities such as berry picking, sewing parkas, and star navigation. The event was an occasion to celebrate the rewarding work MCC has done for nearly two decades.

Further reading:
Counting on tradition: Math in a Cultural Context Adds Up, Agroborealis, Spring 2009, page 4, by Nancy Tarnai ((PDF)

Thursday, April 1, 2010

First reindeer calf signals springtime in Alaska

Herdsman Rob Aikman and Reindeer Research Program Coordinator Melody Cavanaugh-Moen weigh the first calf of the year at Fairbanks Experiment Farm April 1.
The first sighting of geese at Creamer’s Field may indicate the arrival of spring to many Fairbanksans but the first calf born at the Fairbanks Experiment Farm also heralds the much-anticipated season.

A male calf was born in the early morning hours April 1. Nineteen more calves are expected in the next few weeks.

Reindeer Research Program staff visited the reindeer pens Thursday afternoon to assess the situation and found the little black calf gamboling about in the sunshine. The mother, a five-year-old named Honey, was less than amused. While her baby was checked out by humans, she ran around the entourage, frantically snorting and sniffing. The calf, weighing in at seventeen pounds, was given an ear tag and iodine was placed on his umbilical cord to prevent infection.

Children are invited to suggest names for the calves. Some examples submitted so far are Simba, Maxamus, and Buddy for the males and Tootsie Roll, Cinnamon, and Sassy for the females. Children can visit here to send names. Not all submissions are selected, but a sure way to "lose" is to suggest any name affiliated with Santa's reindeer, so leave out Donner, Blitzen, and Rudolph.

RRP has been hosting the naming contest for eight years, with children across the nation participating. Children receive a “birth certificate” with data about the calf they helped name. The calves are referred to by numbers when they are born and receive their names in July after they are weaned from their mothers.

Since 1981, RRP has been developing and promoting the Alaska reindeer industry; UAF's School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences is the only institution in North America doing this work. Research projects include herd management, animal health, nutrition, and meat quality. All the projects have direct applicability to reindeer herders and producers. The mission of RRP is to develop and promote the production of reindeer in Alaska through research and collaboration with producers and local communities.

Further reading:
First newborn reindeer calf is a spring ritual at UAF, Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, April 2, 2010, by Jeff Richardson