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.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Celebrate Geography Awareness Week!

UAF students, Christine Butcher (left) and Colbi Hill, practice a freshwater activity, which they will take to Fairbanks schools this week.
Freshwater! is the theme of Geography Awareness Week, Nov. 14-20, which is supported by National Geographic. In Alaska, the UA Geography Program and the Alaska Geographic Alliance are sponsoring classroom visits and community events.

Geography Awareness Week is an annual celebration enacted by Congress in 1987 that invites families and schools to engage in fun, educational experiences that draw attention to geo-literacy and the importance of geography education.

“Freshwater is one of the most critical issues of the 21st century,” said Terry Garcia, National Geographic’s executive vice president of Mission Programs. “National Geographic is committed to increasing awareness about this vital natural resource through our Freshwater Initiative. Our Geography Awareness Week website gives students and teachers the necessary tools to understand the complexity of the global freshwater crisis and its extraordinary role in shaping the geography of our world.”

In Alaska. Gov. Sean Parnell has issued a proclamation declaring Geography Awareness Week an important event for the state. In various locations around Alaska, volunteers are visiting classrooms to present freshwater-themed educational activities.

On Nov. 20 in Fairbanks, GeoFest will be held for the first time. This free, family fun day features hands-on freshwater educational activities for all who attend. GeoFest will be held at Effie Kokrine Charter School from 1 to 4 p.m. Saturday. For information, contact Nancy Tarnai, SNRAS public information officer.

To top off the excitement, UA Geography Program Education and Outreach Coordinator Katie Kennedy has the National Geographic Giant Map of South America in Fairbanks schools all this week. It will also be on hand at GeoFest. Kennedy took the map to schools in Barrow and Nome last week and will be taking it to locations across the state, from Delta Junction to Seward to Sitka to Ketchikan throughout the coming month.

The Giant Map of South America provides fun educational opportunities. (Photo by Dan Beaupre, National Geographic)

The Geography Awareness Week website offers access to activities, lessons, and games about freshwater. The site features contributions from National Geographic and partner organizations such as ESRI, 4-H, Newspapers in Education, Zinio, and GeoEye. Visitors can use a water footprint calculator to determine how much water their family uses — from watering the lawn to the “hidden” water in household items like blue jeans — and find ways their family can conserve.

Teachers can access a wealth of lesson plans about freshwater, including featured activities for use with new National Geographic Mapmaker Kits. Educators and parents alike will find valuable lists of recommended books and films, as well as crossword puzzles and other family-friendly games.

The National Geographic Society, one of the sponsors of Geography Awareness Week, is one of the world’s largest nonprofit scientific and educational organizations. Founded in 1888 to “increase and diffuse geographic knowledge,” the Society works to inspire people to care about the planet. It reaches more than 375 million people worldwide each month through its official journal, National Geographic, and other magazines; National Geographic Channel; television documentaries; music; radio; films; books; DVDs; maps; exhibitions; live events; school publishing programs; interactive media; and merchandise. National Geographic has funded more than 9,400 scientific research, conservation, and exploration projects and supports an education program promoting geographic literacy.

UA Geography is a program of UAF's School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences.

Alaska well represented at FFA national convention

Alaska FFA students were happy to be at the national convention in Indianapolis. From left are Mark Simon of Palmer, Lance Thibedeau of Fairbanks, Megan Mcilmail of Palmer, Roland Bergey of Palmer, Luke Scharfenberg of Fairbanks, and Scott Sullivan of Palmer.

Alaska was well represented at the national FFA convention Oct. 20-23 in Indianapolis. The theme this year was "infinite potential."

Nearly 55,000 FFA members and guests from across the country attended, with nineteen being from Alaska chapters. The FFA students participated in general sessions, competitive events, educational tours, leadership workshops, a career show and expo, performed volunteer work, and much more. This is one of the largest student conventions in the country.

Rachel Kenley of Palmer was vying for national office this year; although not chosen, she gave it an excellent try, said FFA Alaska Advisor Jeff Werner. Kenley was awarded her American Degree, which is the highest level of FFA achievement.

Rayna Nelson, right, competed in the job interview competition. With her is FFA Advisor Darcy Etcheverry of Fairbanks.

Rayna Nelson, a junior at Hutchison High School in Fairbanks, took a bronze medal in the job interview career development event. She was one of forty-two participants in the event, which requires participants to prepare a resume and cover letter, and complete a written application. They also participate in phone, one-on-one, and panel job interviews.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Journalist tells true story of "secret" Afghanistan prisons

From left, UAF Chancellor Brian Rogers, journalist Willy Stern, and Mike Sfraga, UAF vice chancellor for students and UA Geography Program director, pause just before Stern's lecture at UAF on Nov. 4.

When journalist Willy Stern spoke to a packed house at UAF on Nov. 4 he shared exactly what he saw in Afghanistan’s so-called “secret” prisons. “I’m not going to come forward with great prognostications about the big issues of the day in Afghanistan, largely because I don’t know the answers,” Stern said. “I warn you to look with suspicion at journalists, politicians, and so-called analysts who go to a war zone for two weeks and come back sounding off like experts.”

Stern was embedded with the Joint Task Force 435. Delivering his lecture in a helmet and Kevlar vest, out of respect for the troops, he began by asking any military people in the audience to stand. The audience applauded the servicemen, servicewomen, and veterans. “I am humbled in the face of people who know what war is like; I’m just a journalist.”

Focusing on one person’s tale, Stern talked about Amanuela, a 26-year-old, unemployed, illiterate man in Afghanistan. “Last November he woke up, got with his buddies and went to kill coalition soldiers.”

Amanuela and his partners loaded dynamite, AK 47s, and rocket launchers onto a dirt bike and attempted to ambush U.S. soldiers. “The morning was very quiet and beautiful,” Stern said. “This is one of the most beautiful places in the world.”

The next thing on the horizon was an Apache attack helicopter. “It’s a beautiful thing,” Stern said.

Two of the Afghanis were killed, one was injured, and Amanuela had only surface injuries. “The sergeant screams ‘put down your weapons!’ There’s a language barrier here,” Stern said. With his injured buddy now also dead, only Amanuela was left. He dropped the AK 47 and raised his hands, the universal sign of surrender. The sergeant faced a decision as old as war itself: murder the surrendered enemy, let him go, or take him prisoner. “Our detentions policy kicked in and within 25 minutes a helicopter was on the ridge with medics on board. Amanuela got the same treatment our guys get.”

He was flown to a field detention site, one of nine in Afghanistan. They are in unmarked trailers that soldiers walk by all day long without realizing what is housed in the buildings.

Inside there are five cells formed from plywood, a medical room, and a space for guards. Each cell has a mat, the Koran, an arrow pointing the way to Mecca, and a sign with the Geneva Code regulations written in Pasho and Dari, the primary languages of the insurgents.

Amanuela was interviewed by a trained Special Forces investigator, and quickly gave up valuable information that could save lives of Coalition forces. “He talked because we treated him well,” Stern said. He was held there about five days before being safely transported to the U.S.’s large detention facility at Bagram Airfield, north of Kabul.

Stern switched gears, telling how in October and November of 2009 the New York Times and the Washington Post ran articles detailing alleged abuses in the secret prisons. “These stories make wonderful reading,” Stern said. “They are provocative, entertaining, gripping and, as far as I can tell, factually untrue. There is no evidence (of abuse) but two of the most respected newspapers printed this horsepucky.”

This happens in part because the insurgency is sophisticated, Stern said. “They go to the media and tell a story about abuse until they find one journalist gullible enough to run it.”

The Pentagon’s “no comment” policy is mostly to blame, Stern said. “After 9-11 the Pentagon said nobody could talk about interrogation of prisoners ever. The insurgency is using this against us.”

Stern had previously made key connections when he was in Iraq writing a story for Runner's World magazine. Those relationships proved invaluable to him getting invited to visit the secret prisons. He is the only journalist to have done so.

“We built a $60 million state-of-the-art facility at Bagram and this is where we put the killers trying to kill us,” Stern said. The prisons have 40-inch flat-screen TV’s, vocational training, a fleet of golf carts, hot water, and excellent medical care. The prisoners also get three meals a day and learn to read and write while incarcerated. “There is a commitment at the highest level of the Pentagon to treat prisoners well,” he said.

“The average stay is 24 months and the average weight gain is 36 pounds,” Stern said.

The U.S. soldiers guarding the prisoners sleep 40 to a tent and must walk 200 yards through mud and snow to get to a latrine. Other prisoners in Afghanistan—the rapists, murderers and thieves—end up in the Afghan prison system. Here they are housed 20 people to a cell with open ditches for sewage systems.

Stern estimated that 712 prisoners are being held in the Bagram facility today and that the U.S. has let some 2,500 go over time. Usually when released, prisoners are entrusted to their village elders for guidance. “We are trying to win their hearts and minds,” Stern said.

“Afghanistan is a very tribal country,” he said. “Their loyalties are intense and local.”

That Stern has been the sole journalist allowed into the prisons is a sad situation, he said. “It’s shortsightedness on the part of the Pentagon. They should allow more people in.”

Stern, who called himself “an Alaskan trapped in a Lower 48 body,” has been paddling rivers in the Brooks Range on and off for the past 20 years.

He said he would love to return to the war zone but his wife and children are, quite reasonably, not so enthusiastic about it. “There’s no more exhilarating way to spend time than with our troops, watching what they do.”

Stern closed the lecture by saying, “Here I stand, a somewhat failed and ambivalent Jew from the Lower 48 here in northern Alaska, and I’d like to say God bless America and God bless our troops.”

The lecture was sponsored by the UA Geography Program and UAF Student Services.

Further reading:

Prisons 'humane' in Afghanistan, journalist tells UAF, Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, by Christopher Eshleman, Nov. 6, 2010

Stern Talk Afghani Prisons, UAF Sun Star, by JR Ancheta, Nov. 9, 2010

Video of lecture: http://www.alaska.edu/oit/cts/streaming/archive/2010/chancellor/willystern.html

Grant awarded to wood bison restoration project

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Division of Wildlife Conservation, has been awarded a grant of $152,320 from the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) to help complete the first reintroduction of wood bison to the wild in interior Alaska.

Department staff plans to use the money to help develop a cooperative management plan, set up a temporary corral, move hay and supplies to the first release site in the lower Innoko River area, and transport bison to the release site.

Private funding has been a critical component of the wood bison project, and other major contributors include the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, Turner Foundation, Safari Club International, Carlile Transportation Systems, the University of Alaska Fairbanks, School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences and the UAF Agriculture and Forestry Experiment Station. ADF&G will match the WCS funding with federal funds through the State Wildlife Grant program administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“We really appreciate the support of the Wildlife Conservation Society,” project biologist Bob Stephenson said. “It brings us one step closer to bringing back a species that’s been absent for a hundred years or more.”

As part of the department’s wood bison restoration program, 89 wood bison are being held at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center near Girdwood. The herd has undergone extensive disease testing and has been given a clean bill of health.

ADF&G plans to release the first group of wood bison in the spring of 2012. “We will begin planning for wood bison restoration in the Innoko area later this winter using a cooperative process involving local residents and other stakeholders,” ADF&G Wildlife Planner Randy Rogers said. Two other areas under consideration for future releases are the Yukon Flats and Minto Flats.

Special regulations are being drafted for wood bison in Alaska under the Endangered Species Act that will allow the conservation effort to move forward, while making sure that wood bison reintroduction does not restrict other land uses or resource development activities. ADF&G has worked with the Alaska Department of Law, Department of Natural Resources, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to develop the regulations, and proposed rules will be available for public review and comment sometime this winter. Bison will be released only after suitable ESA regulations are completed.

With funding secured, the health certification nearly complete and ESA regulations underway, Corey Rossi, director of the Division of Wildlife Conservation noted, “We are beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel. The wood bison project will enhance the wildlife diversity of our state and provide opportunities for viewing and, eventually, hunting these magnificent animals.”

The Alaska wood bison restoration project was one of eleven projects funded in a nation-wide competitive process through the WCS Wildlife Action Opportunities Fund awards for 2010. Other projects receiving funding included the reintroduction of whooping cranes in Louisiana, conserving critical habitat linkages for grizzly bears and other wildlife in northern Idaho and Montana, and conserving habitat in the Great Basin for antelope and other species.

The WCS was founded in 1895 with the goal of conserving wildlife and wild places. In addition to supporting worldwide conservation programs around the world, the WCS manages several wildlife parks in New York, including the Bronx Zoo and Central Park Zoo. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, the Bronx Zoo helped conserve some of the last remaining plains bison in North America. In 1905, Theodore Roosevelt and other conservationists formed the American Bison Society to save plains bison from extinction. Plains bison numbers have increased, and they are no longer in danger of extinction, but most are privately owned. In 2007, the WCS revitalized the American Bison Society to help pursue the ecological restoration of bison throughout North America. The WCS Institute has supported Alaska’s wood bison restoration program on a national level for several years.

The above photo is of wood bison at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center near Girdwood. Photo by Bob Stephenson.

Related reading:
Wood Bison Restoration in Alaska, Alaska Fish & Wildlife News, October 2006, by Riley Woodford

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Pearson recognized for geography contributions

Roger Pearson (pictured at right), professor emeritus of the UA Geography Program, received the distinguished service award from the Association of Pacific Coast Geographers in September in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. Pearson was recognized for his outstanding efforts on behalf of the Alaska Geographic Alliance. At the meeting in Idaho, he presented a paper, "Walter J. Hickel and the Shaping of Alaska's Landscape."

Dr. Pearson taught at UAF from 1976 to 1998 and served as department head for several years. A Senior Fellow at the Institute of the North, he conducts seminars on the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act. He recently stepped down after nine years on the Board of Directors of the Kachemak Heritage Land Trust.

Pearson helped found the Alaska Geographic Alliance in 1989 and remains active in the organization, serving on the strategic planning committee, part of a larger strategic education initiative by the National Geographic Society.

Every year Pearson helps with the Alaska Geographic Bee, a fun and challenging competition that test students' geographic skills. He also works with the Anchorage School District's Alaska Network for Understanding American History program; his role is incorporating a geographic perspective into the study of American history.

"Geography education is important for all of us since we live in a highly interconnected world," Pearson said. "Geography is essential for understanding the spatial implications of the rapid changes (social, economic, and environmental) taking place in the world today.

"Alaska’s students, obviously, need to understand the international context for the state. In fact, before World War II, General Billy Mitchell made the comment that Alaska was the center of the world! Add to all this the fact that Alaska is the largest state in the union, and you have a rather compelling need for the study of Alaska’s geography. Besides, learning and doing geography is fun."

Pearson and his wife Marlene live in Nikiski, near Kenai. Pearson stated that when he needs teaching tips he refers to Marlene, a retired high school social studies and geography teacher.

The Pearsons enjoy hiking, biking, skiing, and traveling. They have five children and four grandchildren.