Thursday, April 28, 2011

SNRAS scientist mixes fish guts and sawdust to create energy

When one of Alaska’s largest seafood processors was fined $1.9 million for discharging fish waste into the ocean last month, UAF assistant professor Andy Soria (pictured at left) watched the media coverage closely and shook his head.

His experiments could benefit fish processors by turning salmon waste into fuel.

“In Alaska alone, there are 100,000 metric tons of salmon wastes dispersed into the ocean each year,” Soria said. The waste is so massive that it can’t decompose into fish food. “There are underground mountains of fish waste.”

Soria has been experimenting with mixing fish waste and the sawdust of coastal alder or black spruce to create pellets. The mixture of fish and sawdust is compressed and placed inside a gasifier to produce a natural gas equivalent.

The pellets can accommodate up to 25 percent wet fish slurry and still retain heating value. The ideal proportion of salmon fish slurry—a mixture of guts, heads, tails and viscera with a moisture content of 70 percent—is 20 percent of the total pellet.

“In practice, reducing 20 percent, or 20,000 metric tons, of wastes that are dumped into the ocean is a very positive thing,” Soria said.

The pellets smell like a fresh fishy river, Soria said, not like rotting fish. “It looks like wood and smells like fish.”

The results have been very positive, Soria said. “We can use an industrial waste product, a natural resource for Alaska, as high-quality feed stock and provide heat to the cannery. They can reap the benefits of excess waste and offset operating costs by displacing the diesel fuel needed to run the cannery operations.”

Soria’s work, performed in the Renewable-Based Hydrocarbons Lab at the Palmer Center for Sustainable Living, has been done on a small scale. He knows that canneries would have to make a capital investment to set up such a system, but he deems that a better answer than paying fines.

“This is the first piece,” he said. “This project proves fish waste can make energy.”

He would like to continue studying the ash composition and emissions profile.

“There is still additional work that needs to occur,” Soria said. With a major source of his funding, the USDA Agricultural Research Service, slated for the federal budget chopping block this October, Soria isn’t sure about the future of the research.

“The long-term goal is to design reactor and reaction conditions that will optimize the production of combustible gas from these Alaska-specific waste streams and be able to run generators and provide process heat,” he said.
(UAF photo by Todd Paris)

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

From Fairbanks to Fiji, student's adventures continue

Brooke McDavid on Flattop Mountain.

SNRAS graduate student Brooke McDavid will go from the Arctic to the South Pacific in a few weeks.

McDavid, a Peace Corps Master’s International student, will begin 27 months of volunteer service in Fiji in May. She doesn’t know exactly where she will end up or what job she will have but she is excited at the prospects.

Born and raised in Nitro, W.V., McDavid earned dual degrees in natural resources management and parks and protected areas management at Colorado State University. She worked for the U.S. Forest Service in the wilds of Idaho and Montana before heading north. “I wanted to move to Alaska, do graduate work and be in the Peace Corps,” she said. “I could do all of that here at UAF.”

Professors and friends at CSU had told McDavid about the Master’s International program and she thought it would be a wonderful way to earn a master’s degree and serve in the Peace Corps. She has adjusted well to Alaska over the past 10 months. “I love it,” she said. “I have found my new home. It’s funny I’m leaving so soon but it will be here when I get back.”

McDavid is looking forward to opportunities to learn about and experience another culture. “It will be fun to live and work in a new place and see things from a new perspective,” she said.

“It’s one thing to study about developing countries in the classroom and another to go there and experience what it’s actually like.”

McDavid’s academic interests are in community-based natural resources management and making sure local stakeholders are properly represented in management. She hopes to work along that line in Fiji but is game for just about anything she is assigned. It was that openness and flexibility that pointed her to Fiji. She told the Peace Corps she’d go anywhere she was needed. “Fiji wasn’t what I was expecting but I am not disappointed,” she said with a big smile.

For the first three months in Fiji McDavid will live with a host family, then receive her assignment. English is one of the languages spoken in Fiji, as it was under British control until 1970..

“I’m looking forward to everything,” McDavid said. “I’m trying not to have too many expectations but I’m looking forward to the new languages, new food, the beaches and sunshine. It’s going to be cool to be in a completely new environment.”

McDavid is fond of backpacking, reading, music and scuba diving. Her goal in life is simply to be happy, which includes “seeing and experiencing as much of this beautiful world as I can and trying to help the world be a better place.”

Associate Professor Susan Todd believes McDavid will be a good ambassador. “She is so friendly, easygoing and bright,” Todd said.

“She is willing to listen and is very flexible, which is important. She doesn’t come with her mind all made up and doesn’t think she has all the answers. Brooke is eager to help in any way she can.

“And she’s adventurous.”

Friday, April 22, 2011

Ground is broken for new greenhouse

From left, Jack Wilbur of Design Alaska, Murray Richmond of Sen. Joe Thomas's office, Jay Ramras, UA Regent Jo Heckman, Chancellor Brian Rogers, Dean Carol Lewis, Bernie Karl and Bert Bell of Ghemm Co. Inc. move some gravel in the name of progress April 22 at UAF.

The university’s golden shovels got put to good use for the second time in a matter of weeks, as ground was officially broken today for a new greenhouse for the UAF School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences.

The greenhouse project is wrapped into a bond for the Life Sciences facility that voters approved last fall, as the school’s old greenhouse was removed to make way for the Life Sciences building.

The $5.325 million greenhouse will contain 4,300 square feet of growing areas and 1,278 square feet for growth chambers (similar to big refrigerators). The greenhouse will be used for research and teaching.

“We’ve been working toward this for a long time,” SNRAS Dean and Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station Director Carol Lewis said. “This facility will serve us well.”

Lewis said this year is a time of transition, while construction occurs and researchers have to make do without a space to call their own. Lewis thanked Facilities Services and the Institute of Arctic Biology for sharing their greenhouses with SNRAS this spring.

UAF Chancellor Brian Rogers said people have wondered why he is holding groundbreaking ceremonies when it is still chilly out. “We can’t wait to get started,” he said. Fenced areas behind Rogers attested to the fact, as they contained construction equipment and a huge pit already dug.

Rogers said today’s groundbreaking was the second part of the Life Sciences ceremony which occurred March 30.

“This is a critical component for education and outreach of SNRAS and AFES,” Rogers said. He said there has been some public concern about the Georgeson Botanical Garden, a project of SNRAS, and its fate this summer because of losing the old greenhouse. “Sherry and I are life members of the botanical garden and if it closes it is not going to happen on my watch,” he said.

“Every construction project involves a little bit of sacrifice,” Rogers said. “What we’ll see out the other end is a greenhouse ready for the 21st century.”

Rogers said there may be problems with federal and state funding for agriculture, “but we’ll get through this.”

UA Regent Jo Heckman stressed the advantages that the new greenhouse will offer students, who will then take their knowledge to Alaska businesses. “This is a model of connectivity to research, education and outreach and entrepreneurs,” she said. “The workforce trained here will evolve into success for Alaska.”

Former state representative Jay Ramras, owner of Pike’s Waterfront Lodge and a collaborator with SNRAS on greenhouse projects, lamented the lack of focus on agriculture in Alaska. He reminded the audience that UAF is one of the country's land grant institutions (which traditionally support and sustain agriculture).

“People don’t realize how a few square feet can grow a tremendous volume of product,” Ramras said. “It’s extraordinary. Alaska can prove things that other parts of the world cannot.”

He urged the university to finish this greenhouse then build more in rural areas. “We could save a generation in remote parts of Alaska who have never eaten anything that didn’t come out of a bag or a microwave,” he said.

Bernie Karl

Holding up a basket of produce fresh from his greenhouse, Bernie Karl, owner of Chena Hot Springs Resort, told the crowd, “We are what we eat. Shame on us for growing only 2 percent of our food.”

Karl urged everyone to get behind agriculture. “We could be totally self sufficient in the state of Alaska,” he said. “I expect miracles out of this new greenhouse. Maybe we can feed all you rascals.”

University knowledge can go a long way when melded with entrepreneurship, which is what Karl has done with his greenhouses at his resort. He worked closely with SNRAS horticulture experts and got good advice all along the way; now he is growing fresh lettuce and tomatoes year round at Chena Hot Springs and is planning to build 20 acres of greenhouses on the Richardson Highway.

The SNRAS greenhouse, which was designed by Design Alaska and is being built by Ghemm Co. Inc., will feature state-of-the-art technology. It will have an energy curtain, along with controls to program the temperature, lights, humidity and integrate the environmental variables with plant growth.

“This will open up all kinds of opportunities,” said Professor Meriam Karlsson. “This will be a place to come and see all the modern equipment and have educational opportunities.” The structure is slated for completion by October of this year.

Visitors toured the new headhouse/classroom after the groundbreaking.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

SNRAS takes gardening classes to rural residents

Fannie Neketa of New Stuyahok picks carrots on a garden tour in Dillingham.. (Photo by Jodie Anderson)

The Alaska Community Horticulture Program, a SNRAS project, is sharing knowledge about food production with residents of places as far flung as Manokotak, Togiak and New Stuyahok.

Jodie Anderson, director of the program, has been collaborating with the Bristol Bay Campus and the Bristol Bay Native Association for the past year. Visits will be made to the three communities to help with planting and mid-season and pre-harvest checks.

A post-harvest conference is slated for Dillingham in the fall, featuring food storage and preservation techniques, a cooking session and a talking circle to discuss what worked and what didn't. Pictures and videos of gardens will be shown and some fun events will be held, such as vegetable judging and photo contests.

"This continues to grow and has been a very collaborative effort by many southwest Alaska groups," Anderson said.

The collaborations include BBC, the Native association workforce development program, Marston Foundation, Bristol Bay Area Health Corp. diabetes prevention program and UAF Cooperative Extension Service. "The goal is food security, self reliance, family nutrition and community development," said Michele Masley, program manager for the Bristol Bay Campus.

Over 110 students from 10 villages around Bristol Bay have attended the four classes which began in September: Southwest Alaska Gardening Symposium, Leaves of our Lives, Practical Gardening Basics and Composting in Bristol Bay.

Pictured above right is Assistant Professor Jeff Smeenk demonstrating how to plant a potato at a gardening class in Dillingham in March. Students from New Stuyahok and Twin Hills observe. (Photo by Gwen Wilson)

Monday, April 18, 2011

Fox's years of service celebrated

Dean and Director Carol Lewis presents John Fox with a retirement gift at an April 15 gathering.

After 38 years, Associate Professor John Fox will be retiring at the end of spring semester. He was feted April 15 at a celebration hosted by SNRAS. Fox has been part of the Forest Sciences department since 1973.

SNRAS Dean and AFES Director Carol Lewis presented Fox with an inscribed ax to help him remember all the fun times at the Farthest North Forest Sports Festival. UAF Athletics Department gave him a basketball signed by the Nanooks, caps for all the grandchildren and a pair of lifetime passes to UAF athletic events. The staff and faculty took up a collection so Fox can add to his already extensive book collection. They also penned their memories of Fox in a cloth-bound journal imprinted with leaves.

UAF Athletic Director Forrest Karr (left) presents John Fox with gifts at the retirement party. (photo by Elena Sparrow)

The Society of American Foresters gave him a carved birch bowl. Research Forester Tom Malone’s gift to Fox was a hefty packet of data (everything you ever wanted to know about wood burning and BTU’s).

A slide show by Professor Stephen Sparrow pointed out the highlights of Fox’s nearly 40-year career at UAF, from bellbottom jeans to the moose that drops candy outside of Fox’s office.

John and Sheila Fox (photo by Elena Sparrow)

In the tributes, Professor Dave Valentine said Fox always created an environment in which students can learn.

Professor Glenn Juday said Fox is known for his bedrock integrity, his humanity and putting the interests of the students first. “He’ll be teaching us in a lot of ways for a long time,” Juday said.

Professor Emeritus Tony Gasbarro regaled the crowd with the tale of the time the two came across a black bear on a field excursion. “What do we do?” Fox asked, to which Gasbarro replied, “I don’t know.” They obviously survived the ordeal and it gave them a good story to tell over the past decades.

Fox’s wife Sheila and the couple's children and grandchildren were on hand Friday to share the happy occasion. One of the most touching moments was when daughter Cara Fairbanks read a poem she wrote for her father. (reprinted below with permission of the author)

A Poem for My Dad at Retirement

Thirty-eight years, it’s amazing to see,
Someone who’s loyal and wise as can be;
For you it’s a chapter, just half a lifetime,
A noble career that’s worth a big rhyme!

When you first started, I wasn’t around,
Then UAF became our favorite playground;
Colleen and I, we’d always plead,
Can we go, can we go to the Ernie Bird Seed?

As we grew up we started to see
All the cool things you do, from ethics to trees;
Hydrology, tree rings, natural resources,
Models and programming and teaching your courses;
Watershed projects and fieldwork galore,
Spinach Creek, Harding Lake, like playing outdoors!

Your office is filled from wall to wall,
Papers and books, stacked up so tall;
High heels and photos, V8 juice,
And chocolate candies pooped by a moose!

And let’s not forget your skills on the courts,
Shooting the hoops with your holy shorts;
As the UAF faculty athletic advisor,
You cheer on the students, in classrooms, on risers.

And now let me get to the heart of my poem,
The example you set both at work and at home.
You showed us integrity, spirit and passion,
Dedication, hard work, you never do ration.
Continue to question, ever seeking more knowledge,
Discuss and philosophize, in life and at college;
If the answers we seek are not to be found,
Make a spreadsheet, experiment, they’ll come around.

Doctor, professor, advisor, and poet,
Athlete, philosopher, researcher, you know it.
Forester, programmer, inventor, there’s more,
Hydrologist, scientist, ax thrower for sure!

You’re so many things to so many folks,
Ever selfless and wise and quick with the jokes.

As this long chapter comes to an end,
Know that you’re loved, as Dad, coach and friend;
The next phase awaits with so much in store,
Fun with your grandkids, sharing knowledge and lore;

Working on projects that have long been put off,
Playing more b-ball, so as not to get soft!
Camping, canoeing, research for fun,
Reading and playing, get out in the sun!
Trips down the road in the famous Suburban,
If it breaks down, no worries, just bring out the bourbon!

Seriously though, I just want to say,
That you are my hero and today is your day!

Guest lecturer to highlight conservation conflicts in India

Sea turtle in India.

Conservation in India will be the topic of a lecture to be hosted Friday by SNRAS. Kartik Shanker, assistant professor at the Centre for Ecological Sciences, Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore and founder trustee of Dakshin Foundation, will discuss the conflict between turtles and fishers.

Shanker works on the distribution of diversity, from genes to ecosystems, and at various scales from local communitis to macroecological regional scales. His group studies the community ecology and biogeography of amphibians, reptiles, birds and small mammals, as well as coastal and marine fauna.

Shanker wrote:

Conservation today is characterized by conflict in various forms, not the least of which is what is known as ‘human-wildlife conflict.’ The vast majority of studies quantify conflict in terms of losses incurred to humans and wild species as a direct result of this conflict - a long litany of loss of life or livelihood that seeks to accurately account for the intensity of this conflict. In many instance, however, there is a large unexplained gap between what scientists can measure as conflict and the perception of that conflict by the communities themselves.

These interactions can be broadly classified as 'first order conflicts,' and they result from a clear, direct set of impacts that wild species and human communities have on each other. Beyond these, however, there are often a whole class of interactions that can be termed as 'second order conflicts' that are the outcome of a complex suite of indirect pathways that may, at first glance, be invisible. Because they do not involve directly measurable losses, they may be difficult to quantify, but are nonetheless equally significant drivers of discontent.

We examine second order conflict from two contrasting social and ecological contexts, one in the Lakshadweep Islands off the west coast of India, and the other in Orissa, on the east coast of the India. In both locations, turtles and fishers are pitted in a fierce conflict over the loss of livelihood. In both instances, indirect, second order interactions drive the conflict. In the Lakshadweep, the pathway of conflict is primarily ecological, and involves the complex interaction between green turtles and the ecosystems they use and modify. In Orissa, the pathways have more to do with socio-politics than ecology, where conservation itself could be playing an important role in fueling second-order conflicts between olive ridleys and fisher communities.

The lecture will be held in O'Neill 201 at 2:30 p.m. Friday, April 22. For more information contact Associate Professor Susan Todd. (Dr. Shanker is pictured above.)

Further reading:
Indian Ocean Turtle Newsletter
Conservation and Society

New greenhouse groundbreaking set for April 22

The University of Alaska Fairbanks will hold a groundbreaking ceremony for the new School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences West Ridge Greenhouse Friday, April 22 at 11 a.m.

The $4.8 million facility will be constructed by Ghemm Co. Inc. of Fairbanks. Design Alaska did the architectural design. It will be located on the south side of Arctic Health Research Building. When completed, the greenhouse will have 4,200 square feet of space for controlled environment plant production.

The facility will feature an energy curtain that can be pulled down to conserve energy in the winter. “Every modern greenhouse has this,” Meriam Karlsson, horticulture professor, said. “It will also have more accurate greenhouse controls so we’ll have better ability to program the temperature, lights, humidity and integrate the environmental variables with plant growth. This will open up all kinds of opportunities. There is a lot of interest in greenhouse production. This will be a place to come and see all the modern equipment and have educational opportunities.”

Fairbanks is a wonderful place to do greenhouse research, Karlsson added. “It’s where research should take place. The greenhouse manufacturers will be excited. If we can run a greenhouse in Fairbanks it will work anywhere.”

Additional areas inside AHRB and adjacent to the greenhouse include an 1,100-square-foot laboratory, classroom, headhouse, soil preparation area and space for growth chambers, offices and storage facilities.

The ceremony will be held near Arctic Health Research Building and a reception will follow inside AHRB. Speakers include Chancellor Brian Rogers, UAF Regent Jo Heckman, Sen. Joe Thomas, Cooperative Extension Service Director Fred Schlutt, SNRAS Dean and Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station Director Carol Lewis and local businessmen Bernie Karl and Jay Ramras. To RSVP, contact

Friday, April 8, 2011

SNRAS seniors begin researching invasive plants, the forest floor, management plans and rodeo

From left, Mitch Chandler, Cassie Wohlgemuth and Ryan Jess presented their senior thesis proposals April 1. Not pictured is Kelsey Gobroski, who gave her presentation via distance delivery from Anchorage.

The spring crop of SNRAS senior thesis projects covers a variety of topics, from the forest floor to rodeo in Alaska.

Students presented their thesis proposals April 1 and will work on their projects until the end of fall semester 2011.

Cassie Wohlgemuth: Resource Management Plan for Wedgewood Wildlife Sanctuary

Wohlgemuth will examine the 75 acres of forests and wetlands adjacent to Creamer’s Field Wildlife Refuge. Previously owned by a gravel extraction company, the property is now owned by Fountainhead Development Co.

“The land has a wide variety of usable resources, including recreation, vegetation, wildlife and water,” Wohlgemuth said. “It’s really beautiful back there.”

The land already has some trails and restoration projects but there is no resource management plan, which is exactly what Wohlgemuth will tackle. “A management plan is critical for efficient, scientific, logical decisions by land managers,” she said.

Wohlgemuth compared state and federal agencies’ methods of preparing resource management plans. “Overall they are generally similar format: determine the objectives, gather scientific data, create alternatives and evaluate to see which maximize the management objectives.”

In order to choose methods that will best fit Wedgewood, she will meet with the company’s resource managers to discuss their objectives and goals. “I want to include everything that could solve the issues,” Wohlgemuth said. She will also take an inventory of resources, to possibly include vegetation and invasive plant mapping and fish and wildlife population estimates.

“If we know the baseline conditions of the resources it will help determine feasible management actions,” Wohlgemuth said.

Ryan Jess: Is Elodea canadensis Invading Chena Slough?

When American water weed (Elodea canadensis) was found in Chena Slough in August 2010 it caught the attention of many local citizens; it also attracted the attention of Ryan Jess. “To what extent is it invading the slough?” he asked. He plans to take a snapshot in time this summer, kayaking every part of the slough he can to determine where the plant is growing.

“Elodea is a fascinating plant,” he said. “It has the ability to grow in a lot of conditions. It prefers clear cold habitats between 10 to 20 degrees Celsius in the summer and silty or organic substrates. Chena Slough is the perfect environment.”

The plant can survive in ice and grows rapidly. “Is it an invasive species?” Jess asked. “It remains to be seen. Its closest native habitat is 1,000 miles away in British Columbia.”

The mystery of how Elodea got into Chena Slough could be as simple as someone dumping an aquarium’s contents into the water, as Elodea is a common aquarium plant which can be purchased online.

“It’s amazing how much biomass this plant is able to grow,” Jess said. It can affect the native vegetation, salmon spawning areas and even hinder recreational opportunities due to limiting the navigation of the water.

“It can change the whole ecosystem where it takes off,” Jess said.

In addition to trying to determine the extent of the population in the slough, Jess will map out the GPS points where he finds the plant.

“It’s just going to be one man in a kayak in a slough,” Jess said. “It will give managers a good idea how to attack this.

Mitch Chandler: Alaska Rodeo

When Mitch Chandler, a student who helps pay his way through college as a bull rider, talks about rodeo his passion shines through. “I grew up around rodeo. I love it more than any woman; it’s a lifestyle,” Chandler said. “It comes from tradition.”

Rodeo provides youth and adult interaction and opportunities for young people to stay out of trouble, Chandler said. “It brings communities together.” There are also economic benefits, he said. “It’s a multi-million dollar industry.”

In Alaska, only a few places host rodeos, including Ninilchik, Soldotna, Kodiak, Palmer and Anchorage. While Fairbanks used to include a rodeo in its Tanana Valley State Fair it hasn’t done so for several years. Chandler wants to find out if there is enough interest in rodeo to bring back the events.

He will prepare a survey to administer at the Fairbanks fair this August. He will also contact fair boards in the western states to see how profitable rodeos are and will connect with the state fair in Palmer, where the largest rodeo in Alaska occurs.

Once his work is done, Chandler would like to present it to the board of the Tanana Valley State Fair.

Kelsey Gobroski: Competition on the Forest Floor, Evaluating Moss-Lichen Interactions in Boreal Alaska’s Black Spruce Ecosystem

Black spruce trees cover 44 percent of the Interior, most growing in common bogs or north facing slopes. They are driven by fire disturbances. Gobroski said there are no published observations of lichen/moss competition on the forest floor and she would like to do exactly that.

Her hypothesis is that foliose lichens have a greater competitive advantage over acrocarpous than pleurocarpous mosses.

“The implications are laying in the moss mat,” Gobroski said.

She plans to study 10, 10 x 10-meter plots at five to 10 sites, comparing the frequency of mosses. They will be on north facing sites, mid-slope off of Murphy Dome Road and the Steese Highway.

“To understand where the ecosystems are going we need to look at moss and lichens,” she said.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Introducing the Palmer Center for Sustainable Living

Kerttula Hall is one of many integral facilities at the Palmer Center for Sustainable Living. (UAF photo by Todd Paris)

The Palmer Research and Extension Center is now officially the Palmer Center for Sustainable Living.

The request by SNRAS Dean and AFES Director Carol Lewis and UAF Chancellor Brian Rogers for this change was approved by UA President Pat Gamble just in time for the UAF Board of Regents' visit to the Matanuska Experiment Farm today, April 7. In spite of inclement weather the regents are slated to tour the farm on a hayride.

The new name better reflects what the center is doing and will help generate new ideas and new directions, Chancellor Rogers said. "The center embodies research, instruction and outreach in a stimulating environment that showcases the history of agriculture in Alaska."

SNRAS and the Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station are re-focusing to better reflect the changing times. Areas of emphasis are: climate change, food security, energy and workforce development. The Palmer Center for Sustainable Living will reflect this direction and help us move forward, Rogers said in a letter to Gamble. "The name change has received positive input from the community and from within the program," Rogers noted.

The center houses research, education and outreach programs for SNRAS and the Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station. It is housed at the Matanuska Experiment Farm in Palmer and features several historic buildings and a modern distance-delivery classroom.

To learn more, download this publication.

MapTEACH takes geography lessons to Hughes

Sidney Stephens of MapTEACH (back left) and DeAnne Pinney Stevens (back middle), a geologist with the Alaska Division of Geological and Geophysical Surveys, are pictured with students in Hughes. The children are holding up maps they made of their village.

Sidney Stephens of MapTEACH, a project of the UA Geography Program, traveled to Hughes to work with teachers and school children in March. Helping the students get a jump start on their GIS work was the goal.

The students were introduced to GIS, used GPS receivers to mark waypoints in town, brought those waypoints into GIS and created maps of Hughes featuring the waypoints they chose.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

A spring day at the Matanuska Experiment Farm

UAF photographer Todd Paris traveled to Palmer to visit the Matanuska Experiment Farm on March 31. As always, Paris got some amazing shots, like this one of Pioneer Peak. In the foreground are bales of haylage.

Todd Paris got a beautiful shot of the silos at the Matanuska Experiment Farm on March 31.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

First reindeer calf arrives at Experiment Farm

Darrell Blodgett, left, and George Aguiar prepare to weigh the first calf of spring on Tuesday. The six-year-old mother watches anxiously throughout the procedure.
It's a sure sign of spring when the first reindeer calf arrives at the Fairbanks Experiment Farm. That happened in the early hours of April 5.

The male calf was discovered about 8:30 a.m. Tuesday by UAF Reindeer Research Program researcher George Aguiar while he was doing a routine calf check. "He looked healthy and he was already cleaned up," Aguiar reported.

He and Darrell Blodgett of RRP returned to the field Tuesday afternoon to clean the calf's navel, give it an ear tag and weigh it. The little fellow came in at 7.2 kilograms (nearly 16 pounds).

The calf joins 73 other reindeer at the farm. As many as 20 more calves are possibly expected this spring. (It is not always apparent which animals are pregnant.)

Children are encouraged to help name the calves. Several names have already been suggested for 2011. The calves will not receive names until they are weaned from their mothers later in the summer; until then they are referred to by the number on the ear tag.

Volunteers needed for Alaska Agriculture Day

Alaska Agriculture Day is Tuesday, May 3. Each year the Fairbanks Soil and Water Conservation District sponsors and coordinates presentations and farm tours to classrooms in the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District to promote and raise awareness of the importance of agriculture in Alaska.

In 2010, approximately 60 classrooms in the Fairbanks area participated in Alaska Agriculture Day.

Agriculture enthusiasts are needed to share their special interest or background, talk about animals they raise or attend a short training session and learn a pre-planned activity on the following for grades K - 8:

  • Plants, people and pollination – A lesson on bees, beekeeping and their importance to our food.
  • Where does it grow in Alaska? – Is there agriculture in Alaska?
  • Who grew my soup? – A look into what’s in our food + planting activity.

In addition to an engaging activity, students in lower elementary grades will enjoy a story centered on agriculture. As part of the agriculture literacy awareness portion of this celebration, classrooms in grades K – 6 will receive a complimentary book. Although Alaska Agriculture Day is May 3, presentations can be done throughout the entire week.

Contact Tami Seekins, natural resource education specialist for the Fairbanks Soil and Water Conservation District, at 907-479-1213, extension 105.

Also on Agriculture Day, special presentations are planned for the Greater Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce luncheon at noon on May 3 at the Carlson Center.

In a Time of Change: The Art of Fire

Visual artists from interior Alaska are invited to create original artwork based on the theme of "The Art of Fire." This project is supported by the Joint Fire Sciences Program, the Alaska Fire Sciences Consortium and the Long Term Ecological Research stations at UAF, with the goal of integrating scientific and artistic perspectives on climate change in interior Alaska as it relates to fire, fire management practices and the resulting changes to ecosystems.

Six to eight visual artists will be selected to participate in the program. The selected artists will be invited on field excursions with scientists and fire management personnel near Fairbanks during the summer of 2011 and will have other informal opportunities to interact with scientists on areas of particular interest to the artist.

Field trips may include:

  • Visiting scientific research sites of previous burns.
  • Observing a wildfire suppression training exercise.
  • Visiting an active incident command post during an active wildfire, or shadow/interview key fire personnel.

Field trips will be provided at no cost to participants. Attendance on field trips is not a requirement for participation.

Each artist will create a body of work, up to 10 pieces, for an exhibit in Fairbanks at Pioneer Park Bear Gallery for August 2012. Original works are encouraged and diverse perspectives are welcome on the theme, "The Art of Fire." Providing artists with creative freedom is a top priority.

Each participant may also be receiving a small artist grant ($100-$200 per artist). Selected works may be exhibited in Anchorage or other Alaska locations.

The application deadline is April 15. Winners will be notified by April 30.

For more information contact Karin Franzen at 907-488-7641.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Help UAF become more sustainable while earning credit

Students interested in sustainability and research experience should take a look at a new course offered this spring and summer at UAF. The course, "Sustainability Research," will help students gain real-world experience, learning to determine how sustainable an organization is while earning credit.

SNRAS departments of geography and natural resources management, along with the UAF Office of Sustainability and the Honors Program, are sponsoring a course for three to 15 students to help conduct the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System (STARS) project. STARS is a comprehensive sustainability assessment tool developed by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education.

This will involve research in all aspects of the university from energy, water and transportation, to curriculum, diversity and administration. This tool will be a guide for advancing sustainability in all sectors of UAF.

The course is designed to credit both undergraduate and graduate study either through an individual study course, internship (GEOG/NRM 300) or honors contract. The research completion deadline is Aug. 15 and students may enroll as soon as April 18. Contact Cary de Wit or Michele Hebert for more information.

Fifth grader wins state Geographic Bee

The competition was stiff and the geographic knowledge abounded at the Alaska Geographic Bee Friday, April 1 in Anchorage. The first place winner was Andrew Hull (pictured at right), a fifth grader at Rogers Park Elementary School in Anchorage. He will represent the state at the national bee in Washington, D.C., May 24-25.

Second place was Justin Collacutt of Gruening Middle School in Eagle River. Third was Trevor Schoening of Blatchley Middle School in Sitka.

There were 100 students vying for the title of state champion."It was the longest we've ever gone with the competition because the students were so knowledgable," said Marti Wynn, volunteer coordinator for the event. "Even Mayor Dan Sullivan had to wait to have cake with the winners because the competition went on so long."

Hull will receive a trip to Washington, D.C., and a chance to win the national title. The national winner will get a $25,000 college scholarship and a trip to the Galapagos Islands. Visit National Geographic for more information.

UA Geography Program helps support the event, which is sponsored by Google and Plum Creek. Katie Kennedy, Mike Sfraga and Patricia Heiser from UAGP helped moderate the competition.

Friday, April 1, 2011

UA Geography Program recognized by National Geographic Society

UA Geography Program Education and Outreach Coordinator Katie Kennedy hefts the prize awarded, an Atlas of the World, by the National Geographic Society for outstanding efforts during Geography Awareness Week.

Congratulations to Katie Kennedy, UA Geography Program education and outreach coordinator, and her team who coordinated the Geography Awareness Week events last November. National Geographic Society Education Program recognized them for excellence.

Alaska was one of five states to receive top honors. The award was “most work with a partner” for working hand in hand with the Fairbanks Soil and Water Conservation District on the events and outreach, incorporating the Project Wet lesson plans and activities for the week, which had a theme of "freshwater." Volunteers took the water-themed lessons to Fairbanks schools throughout Geography Awareness Week and also used them at GeoFest, a public event celebrating geography.

Kennedy was also recognized for her outstanding efforts with the Giant Traveling Map of South America, which she took to 23 schools across the state in the fall.