Thursday, December 20, 2012

Christmas sparks interest in reindeer research

‘Tis the season when the phones are ringing madly at the University of Alaska Fairbanks Reindeer Research Program.

“It happens every year,” said Greg Finstad (pictured at left), manager of the RRP, in between calls from radio stations and newspaper reporters all around the country and Canada requesting interviews.

“They see reindeer as mythical animals that people made up for Christmas,” Finstad said, shaking his head. “They call me to get the real story. And the real story is much more interesting than the magical animals that pull Santa around. They are amazing animals that thrive in the most inhospitable places on earth. It’s dark and cold and their food is two feet under the snowpack. They are able to dig through and survive.”

Finstad is duly impressed that over thousands of years, man has developed husbandry to care for these particular animals. “It doesn’t make logistical sense to raise another type of livestock on a large scale in the north,” he said.

Reindeer are important to Alaskans in a bigger way than mere transportation for the Jolly Old Elf, Finstad asserts. “We see reindeer as meat. To think of them hooked up to a sleigh would be like hooking up cows or pigs to Santa’s sleigh.”

“We have one of the most insecure food systems and we import most of our food,” Finstad said. “We need to produce more of our own food.”

Those are the points Finstad tries to make during his numerous December interviews. Reporters and radio DJs inevitably ask the difference between reindeer and caribou. Finstad patiently explains that they are different subspecies. Because they are migratory, caribou are leaner with longer legs. Reindeer are much more sedentary, have a more robust body shape with shorter legs and a flatter face. When herded or chased, caribou spread out and scatter, while reindeer gather into a cohesive unit.

“I say the same things every year,” Finstad said. “People ask the same questions but it’s a great opportunity for outreach and to let people know that there is a university that does research on reindeer.”
Reindeer do not mind the cold.

RRP maintains a research herd at the Fairbanks Experiment Farm and works extensively with the Native herders on the Seward Peninsula. Challenges to reindeer as a food product include infrastructure issues, no roads to get the meat out of the Nome area and lack of slaughterhouses. The greatest concern recently has been predator attacks. Bears and wolves have wiped out entire herds, Finstad said. “It’s a big problem.”
A herd of reindeer on the Seward Peninsula.

Most questions start with an emphasis on Christmas, and Finstad proceeds to steer the conversations away from that and toward reindeer as a meat animal. “I just tell them reindeer are real,” he said. “They are a domestic animal that has been extremely important to people in the north for thousands of years and they play an important role in the food system. They are docile, gentle creatures, beautiful animals perfectly comfortable in 40 below and they taste good.”

Reindeer meat is low in fat and high in protein. When questioned about the taste, Finstad’s answer is: “Once you have had reindeer you will never go back to beef.”

The meat is high in myoglobin, making it much different to cook than beef. Because of that Finstad and his researchers worked with the culinary school at Kapiolani Community College, University of Hawaii, to develop gourmet recipes for reindeer meat. The cookbook, which will be published in 2013 by the UAF School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences, is targeted for high-end restaurants and people who want to incorporate reindeer meat into their diet.

“When the state of Alaska and most of North America are covered in reindeer then we’ve done our job,” Finstad said.

“Someday everyone will be able to buy reindeer in the grocery store.”

Asian Braised Reindeer Stew with Eryngi Mushrooms and Wasabi Mashed Potato
Yield: 4 servings
The Stew:
1 oz Butter
1 ½ lbs Reindeer Shoulder, 1 “ cubes
2 oz Onions, large cut
1 oz Carrots, large cut
1 oz Celery, large cut
4 each Star Anise
4 each Lemon Grass, 3” stalk
1 each Ginger, 2” lightly crushed
16 oz Red Wine
4 oz Soy sauce
3 oz Light Brown Sugar
16 oz Demi Glace or Brown Sauce
1. Sear Reindeer in butter until brown
2. Add onions, carrots, celery, star anise, lemongrass and ginger
3. Sauté for a minute and add red wine
4. Simmer for a minute and add soy sauce, brown sugar and Demi Glace or Brown Sauce.
5. Cover and simmer until reindeer is tender. If sauce reduces too quickly, adjust with adding a little water.
6. Remove Reindeer from sauce and reserve.
7. Strain sauce and return Reindeer to sauce.

The Mushrooms:
1 oz Butter
6 oz Eryngi Mushrooms, sliced
To Taste Salt
To Taste Pepper
1 Tbsp Chives, hallow, sliced
1. Sauté Mushrooms in butter until done
2. Add chives
3. Season with salt and pepper and serve

The Potato:
1 lb Yukon Potato, peeled, cooked
2 oz Cream, heated
1 oz Butter
1 Tbsp Wasabi, paste
To Taste Salt
To Taste White Pepper
1. While still hot, mash potatoes with cream, butter and wasabi.
2. Season with salt and pepper and serve

The Garnish:
4 each Lemon Grass Stalk, 4”
As Needed Fried Shoestring Potato

(The above recipe is a sample of what will appear in the upcoming reindeer cookbook.)

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Alaska Science Forum: Alaska forests in transition

By Ned Rozell

In almost every patch of boreal forest in Interior Alaska that Glenn Juday has studied since the 1980s, at least one quarter (and as many as one-half) of the aspen, white spruce and birch trees are dead.

“These are mature forest stands that were established 120 to 200 years ago,” said Juday, a professor of forest ecology at the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences. “Big holes have appeared in the stands.”

At his Dec. 7, 2012 presentation during the Fall Meeting of the American Geophysical Union held in San Francisco, Juday spoke of a “biome shift” now underway in Alaska — the boreal forest is suffering in the Interior and flourishing in western Alaska.

Juday presented his observations of boreal forest trees on remote and road-accessible plots along the Tanana River downstream of Fairbanks and in the White Mountains National Recreation Area. He also included results from tree-coring trips he and his colleagues performed down the Tanana, Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers.

In the Interior, Juday sees significant numbers of dead trees, which he attributes to higher air temperatures here since the mid-1970s. Along with less moisture available to trees, some of the warmer temperature events have triggered infestations of insects, like the aspen leaf miner, the larva of which reduces the efficiency of leaves. Warmer temperatures have reduced other trees’ ability to produce sap, which helps prevent insect attack. The result has been trees pushed to their limits.

“The prospects are not good for survival (of white spruce, aspen and birch),” Juday said. “This overall, coherent shift is not just an unlucky break at a stand or two, but is consistent with the first stages of a serious rearrangement of forest in the landscape across northern Alaska.

“The Interior forest is likely to retreat to cooler microsites, such as shaded slopes and somewhat higher elevations,” Juday said. “Various kinds of stunted woodland, shrubland, and grassland are likely to expand where formerly our productive forest grew.”

In western Alaska, where summers are cooler and more snow and rain falls, the trees have responded to temperature increases with greater growth.

“This positive response extends out to the very western limit of tree establishment and survival at the edge of the tundra,” Juday said. “The trees there are generally healthier than they have been at any previous point in their lives.”

Juday said the current changes within Alaska’s boreal forest will probably continue unless warmer air temperatures that started in the mid-1970s return to those levels or cooler.

“The future of the Alaska boreal forest is shifting decisively to western Alaska,” he said.

* * *

Southeast Alaska trees are also reacting to recent changes in climate, said Greg Wiles of The College of Wooster in Ohio. Wiles also spoke about his research at the AGU meeting.

Using weather records from Sitka written down by the Russians as early as 1830 and later continued by Americans and comparing them to tree growth, Wiles and his coworkers have charted reactions to warmer air temperatures of mountain hemlock trees at different places on mountain slopes.

“Lower elevation (trees) are hurting, mid-elevation trees are tracking the change and high elevations are taking off,” Wiles said. “All of a sudden, conditions are right for (the higher trees).”

Alaska rainforest mountain hemlocks seem to be experiencing the same “biome shift” Juday described in Alaska’s boreal forest, Wiles said.

“These trees are adapted to the Little Ice Age,” Wiles said, referring to a cold period on Earth from about 1550 to 1850. “Now we’re out of the Little Ice Age.”

Wiles wondered if the mountain hemlocks have enough mobility to occupy new elevation niches that may be better suited for the trees.

“Is change happening faster than (these trees) can migrate?” he asked.

Above photo of aspen trees in Fairbanks by Ned Rozell.

Since the late 1970s, the University of Alaska Fairbanks' Geophysical Institute has provided this column free in cooperation with the UAF research community. Ned Rozell is a science writer for the Geophysical Institute.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

"Beets" group meets to learn about local and wild foods

Linnea Wik slices a cake at the most recent Beets, Meets and Wild Treats session.

In this digital age of Facebook groups, LinkedIn and Nings, it’s refreshing to find a grassroots, hands-on, face to face assemblage of individuals dedicated to eating locally grown, healthy foods.

A new group billing itself “Beets, Meets and Wild Treats” recently formed at the University of Alaska Fairbanks; it is not limited to UAF folks, but is open to everyone.

The Beets were planted during an ethnoecology class taught by Craig Gerlach at UAF. “We’ve been talking about doing this for a year,” said Sarah Betcher, one of the three students in that class. The inaugural session, held in November, attracted 19 people, drawn together to share ideas and food. “I like the idea of the ability to network with like-minded people,” Betcher said.

Yes, beets have been on the menu each time the group gathers, along with homemade breads, pesto, molasses spiced custard, roasted vegetables, chocolate cake, lentil curry, salmon and kombucha infused with lowbush cranberries.

A main theme seems to be a desire to learn about wild and locally grow food, and how to harvest and prepare it. At the December meeting, people asked about making kefir, kombucha and sauerkraut, about butchering and processing meat and creating tinctures. Discussions included roasting dandelion roots for tea, which mushrooms are safe to eat, what grains grow in Alaska and how to store carrots.

The Beets plan to meet monthly throughout the school year and in the summer to get together to forage in the woods and tour local farms. Betcher said she hopes the group grows to include all age groups, families with children, hunters and high school students. “We welcome anyone with an interest in local food or who studies food sources or is really into food.”

There are no bylaws, rules or officers in Beets and the folks attending hope it stays that way.

Craig Gerlach, the professor who sparked the formation of Beets with his ethnoecology class, said, “I like that it is student driven and not just students but people from the community. That’s really neat. With community buy-in stability is possible.”

Beets has the potential to create community-based interest in food systems and human/crop interactions, awareness of where food comes from, country foods and crops and livestock, Gerlach said. “They will find ways to put ideas into practice.”

His contribution is to organize a sausage-making workshop for the spring. The class will be led by a European sausage maker who utilizes the “nose to tail” philosophy of using every part of the animal as food. Already, 20 people have expressed interest in attending.

“In general they (Beets) are raising awareness of the food systems and creating a community of people actively involved from the ground up,” Gerlach said.

Cameron Willingham, a UAF anthropology student and research technician for the UAF School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences, is a founding member. “There are a lot of individual people making, finding their own food and preserving it,” he said. “The are doing it in isolation and we were getting a lot of requests for information.”

Willingham said the ethnoecology class that spurred Beets was one of the best courses he ever took and it connected him to others with similar interests in whole foods.

“My focus is more agriculture in Alaska, more agriculture jobs, more agricultural products,” he said. “If people want to start cottage industries and meet growers, then productive partnerships can come out of this.”

He admitted the renewed interest in local foods might be just the latest fashion right now. “But it’s one trend I’m excited to be a part of,” he said.

Willingham agrees with the “keep it loose” philosophy for the Beets. “We want to keep it open. We all bring something different to the table,” he said. “It’s up to the individuals to come up with their own goals.”

Adam King, a biochemistry student at UAF, said he was drawn to Beets because he loves to cook. “I’m into natural foods to substitute for manmade things,” he said. “We can learn by osmosis, see what we find interesting and ask questions.”

Katie DiCristina, a research technician at the Georgeson Botanical Garden, said she joined Beets simply because she was asked. “It seemed like a good thing to support,” she said. Her interests are foraging for wild foods and using locally-grown food. “I’m here to support what the group wants,” she said.

Beets, Meets and Wild Treats has been meeting the first Tuesday of each month at 5:30 p.m. on campus but will not meet Jan. 1. For more information, contact Willingham at
Locally grown roasted vegetables were a big hit at a Beets, Meets and Wild Treats meeting.

Sarah Betcher and Cameron Willingham have been loosely leading the group.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Christmas cactus...or Thanksgiving cactus?

Thanksgiving cactus (Photo by Katie DiCristina)
By Katie DiCristina

There are few and precious blooms around Fairbanks this time of year. Right now, you might find Schlumbergera blooming in your home or office. There are several blooming in the UAF SNRAS/AFES horticulture greenhouse.

I have long called the different species of Schlumbergera, Christmas cacti; but, as I read more about them, I have learned not all Christmas cacti are the same.

Native to rain forests of southern Brazil, Schlumbergera are epiphytic or epilithic, meaning they grow on trees or on rocks. They gather nutrients and water from accumulated vegetative debris that collects in these spaces. There are six recognized species of Schlumbergera, all of which are rare or endangered in their native range.

Schlumbergera are named in honor of Frederic Schlumberger who was well known for his collection of Cactaceae.

How to distinguish between holiday cacti
The species that we most often encounter in homes and offices and are for sale commercially are Schlumbergera truncata and Schlumbergera x buckleyi, a hybrid of S. russelliana and S. truncata. The former is considered a Thanksgiving cactus and the latter the Christmas cactus. Less common is an entirely different genus, Rhipsalidopsis gaertners and is called the Easter cactus. Common names are broadly based on blooming season, but there are other differnces between the species. Floral and leaf morphology can be used to distinguish between species. Flowers of Christmas cactus are radially symmetrical or actinomorphic; whereas, Thanksgiving cacti are radially aymmentrical or zygomorphic. The stem segments of Thanksgiving cactus have two to four pointed serrations along the margins. The Christmas cactus has rounded serrations. The color of anthers differs between the species. Thanksgiving are yellow and Christmas are purple-brown.

Easter cactus

Thanksgiving cactus

Christmas cactus

Photoperiodism and flower induction
Photoperiodism is the physiological reaction that living organisms have to length of day or night. In the case of plants, certain developmental stages are triggered by the period of uninterrupted darkness they experience. Increasing night length induces flower bud production in Schlumbergera. The following conditions will help your Schlumbergera to flower:
Temperature: 60-68 day. 55-65 F night.
Light: Bright, direct light during the day.
Photoperiod: 13+ hours of uninterrupted darkness each day for eight weeks.
Pruning:  Before buds form, pinch back terminal stem segments that are less than 0.4” long.  Pinch back stems again in early June to stimulate branching and increase the quantity of terminal ends for future flower buds.
Basic Care
Media: Well draining, slightly acidic (pH 5.5-6.2).
Water: Water when dry to touch.
Light: Part shade (different than for flower induction time of year).
Temperature: 70-80F

Schlumbergera species:
S. bridgisii (Lem.) Loefgr
S. kautskyi (Horobin & McMillan) N.P. Taylor
S. obtusangula (K. Schum.) D.R. Hunt
S. opuntioides (Loefgr. & Dusen) D.R. Hunt
S. russelianum (Hook.) Britton & Rose
S. truncata (Haw.) Moran


Katie DiCristina is a research technician at the Georgeson Botanical Garden, a program of SNRAS.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

SNRAS professor to speak at Cambridge University

Professor Glenn Juday

Dr. Glenn Juday, professor of forest ecology in SNRAS, has been invited to give a series of seminars at Cambridge University in the UK Jan. 29 – Feb. 1, and a talk at Oxford is in the planning stage. At Cambridge, Juday will be hosted by Pembroke College. Pembroke is the earliest of the Cambridge Colleges to operate on its original site with an unbroken constitution from its founding. The College and its chapel resulted from a Papal Bull, and were licensed in 1347.

The invitation stems from SNRAS support and collaboration through Juday’s research group with a project of Dr. Barbara Bodenhorn, Newton Trust lecturer and member of the core academic staff in social anthropology at Cambridge. In 2009 and 2011 Bodenhorn taught the class "Ecology and People of the Arctic" made up of 20 undergraduate and high school students, half from Ohacha, Mexico, and half from rural Alaska. Juday, assisted by post-doctoral researcher Dr. Tom Grant, conducted a two-day class and field trip to Bonanza Creek Experimental Forest for the classes.

Monday, December 10, 2012

SNRAS student falls on hard times; needs assistance

Maura Bartley with her son, Toy, 4.

SNRAS student Maura Bartley’s life has taken a difficult turn recently, and the SNRAS family has “adopted” her for the holidays through the LOVE INC program.

Bartley, 27, graduated from high school in North Pole in 2003 and attended UAF for a while. She came back to the university in 2009 as a full-time student majoring in natural resources management. “It’s the most versatile degree,” Bartley said of her decision to major in NRM. Her goal is to work for an oil company, state or federal agency or fish hatchery, “anything outdoors.”

In the meantime, Bartley is paying her way through school by working as a hair stylist. In the summers, she also works for an auction company.

Her dreams have been interrupted by medical issues. Three weeks ago, Bartley went for a routine tonsil and adenoid removal. “It was in and out surgery,” she said. But she ended up having a second emergency surgery. After that she couldn’t eat or stand up for a week and a half. She lost 25 pounds, couldn’t speak and got behind on bills and classes.

A single mother of a 4-year-old son, Bartley has no health insurance. She decided to temporarily drop out of school. Her voice is coming back but she gets very tired.

“My biggest problem is the credit card bills,” Bartley said. “I am completely maxed. I was within reach of getting rid of debt before this.”

Bartley said she is working hard to catch up and wants to get back in school soon. “I love UAF,” she said. “I love being a student. I don’t want to lose my funding.”

To help SNRAS sponsor gifts, rent, utility payments, etc. for Bartley and her son, contact Martha Westphal at 907-474-7188. The deadline for LOVE INC donations is Dec. 18, and Westphal has a list of suggested gifts and clothing sizes.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Namibia draws another SNRAS researcher

John Duffy and the regional councilor.

SNRAS doctoral student John Duffy is about as far away from Alaska as he can get this winter. He is in Okakarara, Namibia, helping a local government as part of his research.

Duffy worked for the Matanuska-Susitna Borough for 24 years before he left there in June 2010. He served as borough manager for 10 years, presiding over the fastest-growing area of the state. He managed the multi-million dollar Port MacKenzie, 11 new school district buildings, three new borough libraries and a new animal care facility.

He is working on his doctorate in natural resources and sustainability with SNRAS and is also in the Resilience and Adaptation program. Associate Professor Susan Todd is his advisor. When she was on sabbatical in Namibia, Duffy asked if there was any research he could do there and Dr. Todd found the right connections.

A report from Duffy arrived this week:

This community, Okakarara, needs lots of help: 57percent unemployment, high illiteracy rate, poor sanitation. The Regional Councilor (internship sponsor) had asked for assistance in finding resources for several projects: solar power for a marginalized SAN community, a smallholder farmer initiative, and economic development. I've spent most the past week finding data and trying to learn as much as possible about the community and region.

The major climate change issues here, base on one week of discussion, appear to be the change in the winter raining patterns which now come months earlier. Also, there appears to be instances of rain related extreme events which cause flooding. The major problem associated with the flooding is that it separates two very poor parts of the community from the major section of town where all of the facilities are, schools, government, stores, etc. The local government is seeking funding from the central government to build bridges to make the connections. Doubt if the money will be coming soon.

The Regional Council's original letter talked about having me develop a forest management program to reduce charcoal use as well as a potential grassland management program. When we discussed these programs, the regional councilor appears to now understand that if you work to replace charcoal manufacture you need something to replace the only source of cash for these poor people. Besides, charcoal is being produced from dead wood and there is no cutting of "green" forests, which, by the way, is highly regulated and policed. The region is also exporting charcoal to South Africa, so replacing this practice will require bumping up against vested interests that are well beyond the individual. Solar cook stoves would be a simple solution but I doubt that the community would support any movement away from charcoal use. It might be best to encourage practices that reduce the unhealthy side effects of charcoal use in the corrugated huts (homes.

So, I believe the best that I can do here in the limited amount of time on site, is to complete an assessment that may be used to obtain aid from the ICMA/USAID city links program. The assessment is a set of questions about 14 pages long which should provide sufficient data for other grant/aid proposals as well. I'll also identify potential USAID prospects and perhaps other potential sources of aid. They could certainly use a bio-assessment and a climate change mitigation and adaptation assessment as well. I've found a potential funding source for the mitigation/adaptation assessment though it will need a university partner. One other project could be the installation of bio-latrines at all of the schools (there are about 50) since only 20 percent of the area's population (30,000) has access to sanitation. I've found some leads on this potential project as well.

Duffy's living quarters.

Lastly, I'm housed inside a hut of sorts (it is actually quite comfortable) at the community's cultural center. The Center was built with EU funds and is quite basic. They could do much more with limited improvements, such as broadening their venues by building trails to support birding, insect viewing, a night trail walk, and a basic nature walk. These new venues though require training of guides and an inventory of the biodiversity. I'll look for resources for this as well.

I'm giving a presentation to the Voc-Ed staff next week on the concept of voc-ed partnerships with the private sector to develop training programs for potential jobs. They have prospects for an olive oil processing facility and manganese processing plant.

I'm providing technical and research assistance on several projects: a small village-based solar energy effort as the village presently has no electrical power and is too far from the grid, identifying and finding the funds to implement methods of addressing bush encroachment (woody plants overtaking grass savanna), and as at any local government in the U.S. "other duties as assigned." My goals are to provide some practical assistance in terms of bringing resources to the community by identifying costs and finding possible financial aid.

I'll weave in bee-keeping in due time!

On the personal side, I've found it quite interesting and enjoyable so far. Lots, lots on interesting bugs. I counted 16 different species of birds from my hut's landing the first day I was here. As you know, the rains are frequent and at times heavy. I am most surprised by the regular breeze/winds, taking a bit off the high heat. I am looked upon with inquisitiveness (I'm one of the only whites), the majority of people are welcoming and kind.
Duffy will be in his current location another six weeks, then will travel around the country for four more weeks.

Benjamin Rance in Honduras: A project defense

Benjamin Rance in a classroom in Honduras.

The Effectiveness of Honduran Protected Area Management Plans to Provide Benefits for Local Communities

Benjamin Rance, a student in the Peace Corps Master's International Program, has returned from Honduras and will share his experiences there and provide a defense of his study project. Rance served as a Peace Corps volunteer from 2010 to 2012, working in the protected areas management program. He was first assigned to a small rural village, La Jagua, located in the buffer zone of the Sierra de Agalta National Park in Eastern Honduras, and later moved to another rural village, El Dorado, in the buffer zone of the Santa Barbara Mountain National Park in Central Honduras. Rance's study evaluates the effectiveness of the parks' management plans to provide four specific benefits to these communities, based on the opinions and observations of the local peoples:

  • local community involvement
  • biodiversity conservation
  • environmental education
  • access to resources

Rance said, "I spent my time living and working with local Honduran residents and gained in-depth knowledge of local customs, practices, and cultures, while participating in cross-cultural interaction on a daily basis."

Rance will give his presentation Monday, Dec. 10 at 9 a.m. in IARC 401. For more information, call 474-7188.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Ethnoecology offered spring semester

A new class, "Traditional Ecological Knowledge: Ethnoecology," is being offered spring semester.

The three-credit course will be taught on Wednesdays from 1 to 4 p.m. by Dr. Craig Gerlach. The course surveys the basic concepts of ethnoecology, which is the subject of new epistemological and methodological directions resulting from the rise of interdisciplinary linkages between and among the social, natural and ecological sciences, and by new interest in traditional or indigenous knowledge.

Ethnoecology for some is the scientific study of the way different groups of people in different locations understand the world around them, interact with the environment within which they live and how these interactions and relationships are spatially structured and sustained over time.

"We will cover all basic ares of the globe, review methods and techniques for collecting and analyzing ethnological data and draw examples from ethnobotany and ethnozoology," Gerlach said. "The new and emerging field of a different ethnoecology offers new insights into human-environment interactions and of the sacred and secular relationship of people to place."

The course is CCS F612. Gerlach can be reached at 474-6752.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Poinsettias raised by students in perfect condition for holidays

Shimmer Surprise poinsettias enjoy the perfect lighting conditions in the SNRAS/AFES greenhouse.

Students in the NRM 211 (introduction to applied plant science) course have something tangible to show for their efforts at the end of the semester. Right now, the SNRAS/AFES greenhouse is bursting with vibrant poinsettias just in time for the holiday season.

The plants were started from cuttings over the summer and the students have tended them since classes started in August. Poinsettias require short days, and can only handle eight to nine hours of daylight.

Professor Meriam Karlsson explained that light conditions are controlled by opening and closing blackout curtains. Poinsettias will suffer without an uninterrupted dark period.

Red and blue LED lights are used for comparison and both have been just as effective as normal greenhouse conditions, Karlsson said.

A new variety that has produced delightful results this year is the Shimmer Surprise. The naturally variegated blossoms feature red, pink and white, but are unpredictable in their patterns. “You don’t know what you’re going to get,” Karlsson said.

In addition to poinsettias, the students grew corn, beans, tomatoes and sunflowers. In the process they learned about light conditions, humidity and temperature control in the new greenhouse. “It’s amazing,” Karlsson said. “It more fun because we get good results and the plants grow faster. We have time to see results in one semester.”

The course stresses basic plant concepts and what plants in northern conditions need as far as nutrition, water, light and temperature.

About half the students are NRM majors and the rest show up with a desire to know more about plants. “Mainly they are interested in nutrition and fertilize,” Karlsson said. “And LEDs.”

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Student ponders life in The Gambia vs. life in Fairbanks

Samantha Straus (right) in The Gambia.

By Samantha Straus
SNRAS Master's International student and Peace Corps Volunteer

Off the grid and off the main paved road, in a ‘dry’ mud hut, (not cabin) you’ll find UAF MIP student now known as Roxe (Rowhee) Ceesay living in a small West African Wolof village of some 250-300 residents. From Alaska to Africa you could say. And while the climate here is somehow stiflingly different and the mosquitoes a bit more potent, potentially carrying that fatal cerebral coma causing malaria, I find my life here to be not all that different from the one I left back in Alaska.

Instead of warming myself, I spend my time with a hand fan trying to keep cool to avoid heat rash and the many other skin infections catered specifically during the rainy season. And while I’m not starting the fire or even making one for heat, I discourage the use of plastic kindling which does burn hotter and faster, while also hurting lungs, soil, and atmosphere, by shredding the cardboard from care packages, and splurged-on mac and cheese boxes etc. (which are sold here for about $1!) for my host family’s cooking needs.

Instead of a slop bucket I have a Mauritanian made plastic wash bowl and kettle embossed with the Islamic crescent moon and star. The bowl holds considerably less than a slop bucket (maybe 12 L), but serves the purpose of both kitchen and bathroom sink. It comes with a draining lid to discourage the practice of dipping hands in dirty grey soapy water. The common hand washing practice, if practiced at all, is to shake dirty hands into a bowl of clean water. We then proceed to eat, with our right hands, (not the left! The left is reserved for wiping, if you know what I mean) out of one large serving bowl, not individual bowls or plates. When I moved into my permanent site, I gifted another Mauritanian wash bowl to my host family with whom I live, to encourage better hand washing practices, like simply washing with running water from the spout of the plastic kettle.

Unlike Fairbanks however, when it’s time to dump the slop water, it doesn’t leave pink brownish stains in mounds of snow, stubbornly waiting until spring breakup to disappear back into the thawing soil. When we dump our laundry or hand washing water here, the plants or ducks reval in it, soap and all, to get a nice drink or wet their feathers in the relenting heat of the day.

Like Fairbanks too we have a window of about four months or so to grow our crops, depending on the rains! In theory it is possible to grow year round here. However in some areas, especially up country and farther from the river, the water table can be as much as thirty or more meters in depth. Some of these areas further require either strong woman power (water duties in West Africa are predominantly the responsibility of women, rarely will you ever if ever see a man fetching water for his family) to pull twenty plus liters (~5 US gallons) up the length of the well. Some villages have wells so deep that horses are employed to walk back and forth from the open well to lift water from the dry depths of the nearly desertified soil.

The Japanese and Taiwanese governments have assisted several villages throughout this country with solar powered boreholes or taps. Fortunately I get to benefit from one of these projects where my water hauling is almost as easy as it was in Fairbanks if not easier as you never have to worry about freezing, and the tap is within walking distance, maybe less than 50 meters, to my hut. Of course here I’m the one hauling the water and not my car, but like I said, it’s not too far and I’m sure it’s a good strength building exercise!

Because we have solar powered taps, the pump is only unlocked for use in the morning and evening. Both of these times correspond with compound sweeping time where women will sweep the dirt around the compound to make nice manicured looking… dirt. This may sound ridiculous and was perceived as such by me initially. But now having lived here for a while (almost seven months in village and nine in region!) I have come to appreciate this practice as it clears any and all manure and food scraps left over from harvesting which can help to reduce the number of house flies which is typically high in village. There is no Waste Management infrastructure to speak of. Instead of a transfer station there are communal dumping spots which experience their fair share of scavengers, besides just from goats! Also like in Fairbanks, and perhaps even more so, people will use an item and re-use that item again and again until it is completely exhausted. Scrap pieces of fabric become rope or sections of a blanket (aka quilt), oil containers become water containers which become bike baskets, which become watering ‘cans’ which become vegetable nurseries, which become fuel for the cook fire, etc. and so forth. Trash that does not get used or re-used, or after it’s use has been exhausted, gets burnt permeating the proximal area with toxic aromas of burning plastic and metal.

Perhaps the most reminiscent thing to home is the beanie style hats worn by men. Part of Muslim culture is covering the head. So even at 80-90˚F, you’ll see men wearing impressively warm beanies both traditional and non-traditional (as from all those donated clothes coming to West Africa from Europe and the States. Those donated clothes are sold in piles on the streets for about fifteen US cents).

Besides comparing and contrasting The Gambia to Fairbanks, an entertaining but mostly painful game as Fairbanks tends to win more often than not, especially in the climate category, I’ve been working on small projects, slow slow as we say here, both with Gambian counterparts and fellow volunteers. Due to the small size of the country and thusly small number of total Peace Corps volunteers (averaging around 80), a number of projects here are large scale involving several volunteers from the various sectors of environment, health, and education. Those of us interested will work together to sensitize large areas of the country on projects that include HIV/AIDS sensitizations, gender and development including empowering women and encouraging men to work with and support women as partners (called MAP or men as partners), environmental and global awareness, community leadership, healthy lifestyles, etc.

One downfall to these large scale projects is that it often takes the volunteer out of his or her site for a period of time and rarely can include all of our communities. A plus to this though is that we often can bring a representative from our own communities to partake in the particular training or event, and then between the volunteer and counterpart, we can bring that information back to our places of posting to further help in our own areas.

My village, one of many small villages in a cluster, has a small community with no NGO’s, no extension workers, and really not much English to be heard. Working in those conditions requires a lot of patience and creativity. I find most of my work these days to be at the local school about 200 meters from my house. Because English is the official language of The Gambia, it is the language that is taught, rather unfortunately really as these students speak only their local languages at home. This would be the equivalent of being instructed in French or Spanish only in the States. At any rate it allows me to communicate well with the teachers and from there discuss the best ways we can support each other in our work as improving environmental education and education/environmental interest in the community.

Some teachers started an Environment Club with an initial enrollment of 60 students from grades 4-9. The main motivation for the club is the end-of-year excursion, if the funds can be raised. This is sometimes the only opportunity for the child to ever leave their small village to see what the rest of their country looks like. Besides the environment club, the school has also started to rehabilitate the school garden. The main barrier here is that the hand pump is once again broken down, a common and tired story in West Africa. Without water, there is nothing to grow in the dry season. But the students cleared the space and have been bringing thorny bush cuttings to re-enforce the locally made fence. The school is showing great interest and dedication even without my input which is a great place to be!

Outside of the school I am trying to work with members in the community. I am able to work fairly well within my host family in particular. My host mom has a garden and my host father several acres of farm. This last rainy season we planted some Cashew, Mango, and Leuceana trees. I bought my mom the ingredients needed to make laundry soap and she’s been making it ever since from the profit she receives from selling it. I hope to work with her and more women in the community on more environmentally focused income generating activities like homemade fertilizer (compost), tree nurseries for sale at the weekly markets (people love cashew and mango trees!), plastic bag crocheting to make coin purses etc., etc.

I also have a counterpart who is interested in starting beekeeping. If he and his team continue to show interest, we’ll start with making grass hives and go from there. Beekeeping is a strongly encouraged activity to engage in within the environment sector as it is a forestry supported non-timber product activity. Bees love trees and honey makes good money, if gone about correctly. But starting can be costly and timely and is a risk which is why we’ll start slow and move from there.

I’m not sure if that sounds like a lot or a little anymore as I’ve lost a lot of that American work sense in the need to integrate into The Gambian work ethic in order to work effectively here. That ‘go-go-go’ and ‘get to the point’ thing is not only ineffective but debilitating here. You have to always greet one another for at least a few minutes before any business can be discussed. For me it’s a lot to focus on for now. And it doesn’t even include the inherited project that has taken most of my time thus far in the neighboring town some 10-12 km away from me. A volunteer had to leave their service early but before doing so had written a food security grant in cooperation with USAID to secure the funds for constructing a space for a school garden from scratch. The grant rehabilitated a hand pump, procured a chain-link fence, garden tools, seeds, a garden training, and labor for all of the above. The students at the Upper Basic School (grades 7-9) will work in the teaching garden to grow vegetables for the school as well as community with any surplus. We’ll have some ally-cropped citrus trees and perimeter mango and cashew trees. This has been a difficult project to pick up in the middle of its life and beginning of my service especially as it’s not my community. Just knowing and living with the people you work with, forming relationships and gaining an understanding of how they fit into the hierarchy etc. is so helpful and supportive for sustainable effective work. But things are finally starting to take root making all that effort feel finally worthwhile!

On top of that all I have my master’s research to tackle. I’m interested in documenting the traditional ecological knowledge of my community to support us in our approaches toward environmental education. In addition we may be able to embark on a community forest project through the German forestry program here. Whatever I do I want it to be community based and so need the support and approval of my community which makes the process even slower.

So that’s it, in a groundnut shell. If you need a place to thaw out during that cold and dark winter, you are always welcome to enjoy our version of the “cold season” here in The Gambia, the smiling coast of West Africa. The lowest of the lows might be as low as the high 40s but that’s probably the extreme. And no, there’s not really any cheese here, but the food is good and the people are some of the most hospitable, and the music and dancing, at least where I live, is non-stop! Bisimillih, meaning you are welcome, in Arabic. If you have more questions or greater interest you are welcome to email me and peruse my public blog documenting my service. See you all in a year and a half, Inshallah!

Samantha Straus's mud hut.

Black face monkey at Janjanburegh camp in Macarthy, CRR North Bank, The Gambia.

Mauritanian wash bowl and kettle on left.  Laundry pan front right.  Blue bucket for bucket baths and rinsing laundry top right. Liter sized cup for pouring water, center.

Monday, November 19, 2012

GeoFest shines light on geography awareness

Sophia Potter, 3, points out places on the globe for her dad Ben Potter at GeoFest.
Geography was everywhere at the University of Alaska Fairbanks Wood Center Nov. 17 for the GeoFest celebration.

The event, which concluded Geography Awareness Week, brings a family-friendly, fun focus to the study of the Earth and its people. Children darted from the Giant Traveling Map of North America to activities designed to get their brains wrapped around geography. Beaming parents watched with pride when wee ones demonstrated their knowledge of global awareness. The theme for this year, as set by National Geographic in Washington, D.C., was “Declare Your Interdependence.”

“It’s great for kids to get a sense of all the ways geography can be used,” said Nancy Fresco, network coordinator for the UAF Scenarios Network for Alaska and Arctic Planning. As she manned a booth with a puzzle map explaining climate change, she brought along her 6-year-old twin daughters. “Geography is not just maps but the ways people and animals relate to the land,” Fresco said. “ It’s also nice for kids to interact with scientists and researchers.”

Another mom said she brought her children to GeoFest in case something fires up their interest. “I want them to understand that it’s a big world out there and there is lots going on. The more geography they see and do the better.”

Ellen Lopez said her 6-year-old son learned about maps and how to use maps in different ways at the event. “And they’re having fun,” she said.

Dorte Dissing, a GIS specialist at ABR, said, “Anything geography is fun. I wanted the kids to do mapping type things and have fun.”

Tom Duncan, borough GIS coordinator, teaches how to use ARC GIS at GeoFest.
Volunteers from the Northern Alaska Spatial Data Users Group participate in GeoFest routinely. One of the activities this year was using ARC GIS to pinpoint locations around Fairbanks. Children were invited to name a favorite spot and then find it on the computer. They learned how to move in computer maps and create a point, selecting places such as Fred Meyer, the donut shop or Pioneer Park.

Dayne Broderson, a technical services manager for Geographic Information Network of Alaska, said he gets involved because of the awareness and outreach. “We want to introduce kids to remote sensing. Many are very familiar with Google maps and Apple maps,” he said. Visitors were shown aerial photographs of familiar Fairbanks locations and asked to identify them. “We get to show off the neat products we do and parents get engaged too,” Broderson said.

Immaculate Conception School teacher Mary Vail Butcher had maps for children to color and be creative with. “It gets kids excited about learning geography,” she said. “It isn’t easy to get them excited by talking about it you have to show them.”

Eielson Air Force Base Geobase program had a game of Alaska trivia. John Bailey, a researcher at SNAP and geography instructor, had a Google Earth session on the "Geography of Thanksgiving Food."

The UA Museum had fossils-making and a paleontology find-the-bones activity.

Katie Kennedy, UA Geography Program education and outreach coordinator, said, “We put on GeoFest every year to shine the spotlight on geography and remind people how important, relevant and fun geographic education is. Geographic education is vital if we want to prepare our students to be effective 21st century decision makers. We need to give students the knowledge and critical thinking skills to understand their world.”

The Fairbanks GeoFest has grown in popularity over the past three years, she said. “It has gotten to the point that geography lovers are contacting us and asking if they can bring an activity to share, which is so wonderful. I hope to keep up the momentum and to carry on into the future the awareness we've developed. The real purpose is to get students, families and educators to see the great need for geographic education, which will hopefully translate to their calling for more of it in our schools.”

Arlene Slocum won the GeoQuiz.

One of the activities was a contest, GeoQuiz, which asked questions such as: "Rotterdam is a major port located near which sea?" Norwegian Sea, Baltic Sea, North Sea. As GeoFest closed up shop, it was announced that Arlene Slocum, wife of SNRAS visiting geography professor Terry Slocum, was the grand prize winner. Elated that she had won an entire set of National Geographic magazines on disks, Slocum said, "I never took a geography course in my life but I read a lot and if you read a lot you learn about places."

Geography Awareness Week and GeoFest were sponsored in Alaska by the UAF geography department, a program of the School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences, and Alaska Geographic Alliance. Throughout the week of Nov. 12-16, volunteers visited area fourth grade classrooms, taking a National Geographic activity called Geography of a Pencil, which explored locations where things that go into making pencils are grown or manufactured.

Children created maps of Alaska.

Britta Schroeder, graduate student in natural resources management, helps children figure out where their clothing was made.

The Giant Traveling Map of North America was a big hit with children and parents.

Globe balloons were eye catching at GeoFest.

Professor Meriam  Karlsson captured the geography of agriculture at GeoFest.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Morimoto publishes in Landscape Ecology and Engineering

Miho Morimoto is a second year PhD student in Natural Resources Management. Her paper, Forest restoration following a windthrow: how legacy retention versus plantation after salvaging alters the trajectory of initial recovery, was just published in Landscape Ecology and Engineering. The work was done in northern Japan as part of her master’s project at Hokkaido University, Japan.

Japanese forest management policy for decades has been based on maximizing economic values of forests. More recently, Japanese forest management has gradually increased its emphasis on ecological values, such as biodiversity. Morimoto’s objective was to compare the revegetation trajectory in the first three years after a large windthrow event between sites, salvage logged vs. not salvaged, in terms of the conversion of forest plantations into more natural forest systems.

Salvage logging after natural disturbance has been a common forest management practice in Japan in which damaged trees are taken away for economic revenues. Morimoto’s study showed the importance of leaving biological legacies created by windthrow in plantations when restoration of more natural forest conditions is the goal. Salvage logging removed biological legacies, such as residual seedlings and coarse woody debris, which is expected to result in delay or failure in restoring diverse natural forest.

Morimoto is pictured on a bluff above the Yukon River collecting aspen samples in August. (Photo by Glenn Juday)

Time and Tides of Change

By Brooke McDavid
SNRAS Master's International student serving in the Peace Corps in Fiji

We just set our clock an hour forward for the next three months, our short little daylight savings. It is nice to have the evening light! It gets dark at 7:30 now, and inches closer to eight each evening. This short time difference allows the farmers to get more work done in the field and provides more daylight hours during the school holiday months of December and January.

Lately everything has finally began to come together... all these little pieces of "work" that I've been involved in. I'll start with a short re-cap.

This past March I found out that the government wants to develop Nabouwalu into Fiji's next Town, starting in 2014. Nabouwalu is our Provinical headquarters, but as Bua is the most undeveloped and forgotten about place (besides the outer islands), "headquarters" doesn't amount to much. However, upon hearing this I was struck with two thoughts: 1) "Oh, shit! We aren't ready for this." 2) "This could be an amazing opportunity to bring needed infrastructure to rural people and an opportunity to plan for sustainable development. How can we go about it? What does Town Planning in Fiji even entail?"

So I started on a quest. I've been proposing the idea of a "Green Town Initiative," sustainable development, and putting together a Development Committee to go through the planning process, basically, to anyone who would listen. I started local. I talked with the Provincial Admisistrator and the local government in Nabouwalu... they directed me to Labasa. Couldn't figure out anything. I sent out a bunch of emails. Everyone directed me in circles. A treasure hunt with no treasure. I met with a man from Town Planning in Labasa who showed me maps and gave me a little more info about what the possible proposed Town could look like, but still we were no closer to actually planning than before.

Because things in Fiji don't tend to be planned, I really wanted to make sure proper planning was done to take advantage of this opportunity to make Nabouwalu an attractive town that people will enjoy living in and visiting, as well as avoid any unnecessary environmental degradation. I felt bummed and began to lose hope because I didn't hear much for months and no one seemed interested in my idea.

So I focused on other work. I have been networking with Wildlife Conservation Society who is doing ecosystem based management planning with all the districts in my province (Bua). They are going district by district and although they were not in our district yet (soon to be!) I wanted to make sure we were on the same page, because we are working towards the same goals of helping local landowners manage their natural resources, from ridge to reef, in a sustainable manner and to seek out alternative livelihoods options.

The work they are doing is great. They are creating these really comprehensive natural resource management plans that the communities themselves are involved in writing. But I saw a gap. Yes, environmental issues are very important to address in these rural places, but they aren't the only issues that need addressing. Education, health, sanitation, governance, infrastructure... these are all very pertinent issues facing these communities. Was there a way to bridge ecosystem based management with rural community development planning? (HELLO, THESIS!?!)

So I talked to WCS, and proposed that we coordinate. I could work with the local government to help these communities do development planning, while they continue to focus on EBM and incentives for conservation. They liked the idea! And so did the local government, so now we are just starting to work out the details of how to go forward. In addition to my work in the village I am going to be commuting two days a week to Nabouwalu to the Provincial Office. I am so excited because for a while I have felt like I could be doing more. And this is really work that I am passionate about! We may be developing a template for Village Development Plans that can be tailored for use in all villages throughout Fiji. Sitting in the village... reading... gardening... this is great, but ultimately not the real reason I joined the Peace Corps.

At the same time this began coming together, I received a call from the man at Town and Country Planning in Labasa. He had been to Nabouwalu to do some field checking on the maps for the proposed town, and found they were extremely outdated. He wanted me to help come up with the new proposed Town Center Plan! The last two days I spent hiking all over the place in Nabouwalu. We carried maps and frequently spread them out in random places, pointing and talking excitedly. That treasure finally turned up when I least expected it. The man, Francis, turns out to be a very educated, forward thinking individual who had actually listened when I had talked about "livability principles" and proper planning.

It was so cool to be discussing and sketching maps for proposed development... Hell, I'm helping design a town! Pretty sweet! Where should the roads, parks, and commercial/ residential areas be? Where do we put the market and bus stand? Where are good ecotourism or accommodation sights? When I brought up issues of a landfill, sewage, and energy, we decided we needed to put together a "Team" of government officials from different departments to plan together. Apparently for the past 6 months I've been using the wrong word! The word "committee" refers only to village operations, government uses the word "team" or "taskforce"... well, excuse me! It just goes to show that tiny cultural misunderstandings can be a real hindrance to progress. But now that we're on the same page, I can see some faint light ahead.
I really am doing my dream job here. It's too damn bad it's not a paid job, but nonetheless, it's still awesome! Rural community development planning AND land use planning with a bunch of conservation thrown in? I must be dreaming!

However, it is a long and bumpy road ahead. Progress and change are not smooth, but I have hope. I also have a big decision to make about extending my service for the third year. I don't have the heart, or the want, to pull out now when things are really getting started... so my decision may well already be made. (I also don't know if I have the heart to be away from Alaska for so long.) But like I've said a many time, we play it all by ear here.

Life here follows the weather and the tides... and is always subject to change.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

SNRAS welcomes first Peace Corps Fellow

Eric Schacht is welcomed by Associate Professor Susan Todd. They met in Namibia and Schacht came to UAF to become SRNAS's first Peace Corps Fellow.

SNRAS’s first Peace Corps Fellow, Eric Schacht, came to UAF in a roundabout way. Armed with a fish and wildlife degree from the University of Nebraska, Schacht gained experience on ranches in the West, including Fawn Lake Bison Ranch with a herd of 3,000 bison. He also worked for the Natural Resources Conservation Service in Nebraska and the Wyoming Game & Fish Department. He served in the Peace Corps in Mali from 2006 to 2008 and this past year met SNRAS Associate Professor Susan Todd while she was on sabbatical in Namibia.

As Dr. Todd and Schacht worked together on a community-based natural resource management of grasslands project, she mentioned the new opportunity for returned Peace Corps volunteers to earn a master’s degree at UAF. Schacht arrived in Fairbanks for fall semester.

Telling of his time in Mali, Schacht said his neighbors used camels, oxen and donkeys to plow their fields. “The Mali people didn’t know any Americans except for George Bush, Rambo and Arnold Schwarzenegger,” Schacht said. “It was great for me to see the perceptions change, for them to see that an American is just another person on the planet.”

Mali, the sixth largest country on the continent, is mostly desert but has sub-tropical regions. At least 80 languages are spoken in Mali. “It’s a very diverse place,” Schacht said. He observed that the inequalities between men and women led to a lot of problems in the Mali culture.

As a Peace Corps volunteer, Schacht went to Mali with 90 Americans, most going to densely populated places. Schacht’s area was sparsely populated. Over half the people live in poverty and 60 percent do not have clean drinking water. The fertility rate is high and infant mortality is at 20 percent.

Schacht lived with a host family for three months, studying the language and culture. One of the first things he noticed was a sign: “La vie est un combat,” meaning life is a struggle. “Even though there are struggles the people are friendly and welcoming,” he said.

One struggle Schacht faced right away was contracting dengue fever and being hospitalized for six days. After he got back to his host family he learned his host father had died of malaria.

Because Eric was too difficult to pronounce, the Mali people dubbed Schacht Samba. “I was accepted in the Mali culture; people were happy to accept us.”

After the first three months a ceremony was held making the volunteers official. They visited the house of the American Ambassador to Mali and swam in the swimming pool. “I’d just gotten out of the hospital and was happy to be there,” Schacht said.

He was assigned to Debere and asked to help build a community garden. “At first all I could do was greet people in their language,” he said. “Children really helped with the integration into the community and they really helped with the language. They were good teachers.”

One of Schacht’s regrets was that he didn’t take many photos. “If I brought out my camera I was swamped by kids.”

His home was a little hut. “It was so hot I spent most of the time sleeping outside,” Schacht said. The average temperature was 110 but it could get as hot as 125.

As work on the community garden progressed, Schacht applied for a grant that included a fence and well for the one hectare garden. He also organized an association of gardeners, which included men and women, that were to sustainably manage the community project.

Asked if he thought his volunteer service made a difference Schacht said, “Slightly. I feel like my impact there was pretty small but I did make meaningful relationships with people.” He keeps in touch by phone as much as possible.

Peace Corps service changed Schacht’s view of the world. “I had a bitter taste in my mouth when I got done; I felt like a failure. It definitely feels different now. I reflect on the lives I touched and the people who touched me. I feel like I grew more than I gave.”

In fact, it is the people Schacht will remember the most from his time in Mali. “I would wake up at 6 a.m. and people would be yelling at me to get up, then I wouldn’t have a minute to myself all day.”

While Schacht would love to return he will have to wait. Due to a rebellion, the Peace Corps has been removed from Mali for now.

As he studies for his master’s degree Schacht is working with Tanana Chiefs Conference on a project to understand the attitudes of Native Alaskans toward hunting, fishing and ecotourism enterprises. “If we receive positive feedback from villages I want to work with them to develop a management plan.” He is examining successful projects in Namibia, Canada and Arizona.

“I am back with indigenous people,” Schacht said. “I do well with different cultures and I enjoy it.”

Monday, November 12, 2012

SNRAS celebrates Geography Awareness Week

This Alaska map made by Pearl Creek Elementary School students was a big hit at GeoFest last year.

SNRAS, which houses the geography department at UAF, joins the nation in celebrating Geography Awareness Week Nov. 11-17.

Festivities kicked off Nov. 10 in Juneau with the 2nd annual GeoFest there. The Fairbanks version will be Saturday from 1 to 4 p.m. in the UAF Wood Center. The free event features hands-on geography-related activities for children, including the Giant Traveling Map of North America and the Geophysical Institute's Planetarium. Parking is free on campus for the weekend. For more information, contact Wanda Tangermann.

Also, trained volunteers are visiting Fairbanks area fourth grade classrooms this week, taking the activity, Geography of a Pencil. Hosting teachers receive a gift bag from the Alaska Geography Alliance. Gov. Sean Parnell signed a proclamation declaring this Geography Awareness Week.

Following is the national press release:

WASHINGTON—Seventy-five percent of the farms that produce cocoa beans (the main ingredient in chocolate) are in West Africa; Cote d’Ivoire alone produces more than 30 percent of the world’s cocoa beans. However, Africa accounts for less than 3 percent of the world’s chocolate consumption. Schools and communities across the country will explore global connections and intersections like this during this year’s Geography Awareness Week, Nov. 11-17, with its theme “Geography: Declare Your Interdependence.”

Geography Awareness Week, established by presidential proclamation in 1987, is an annual public awareness program led by National Geographic that celebrates the importance of geography education. Each year, more than 100,000 Americans take part in Geography Awareness Week activities through programs in their schools, local communities and even their own backyards. Every year, National Geographic chooses a theme for Geography Awareness Week; this year’s “Geography: Declare Your Interdependence” theme investigates the idea that we are all connected to the rest of the world through the decisions we make on a daily basis, including what foods we eat and the things we buy.

“This year’s theme explores the fact that every place on Earth is connected to every other, directly or indirectly,” said Danny Edelson, National Geographic’s vice president for Education. “For example, a drought in Mexico could affect the availability of fresh produce in the United States, especially in the winter and spring. To make good decisions in today’s world, people have to understand the connections that link places together.”

Geography Awareness Week’s online hub, hosted on National Geographic Education Programs’ award-winning website, offers access to activities, games and more, all relating geography to a variety of subjects as well as day-to-day life. This year’s new online activity is the global closet calculator, which lets site users examine the contents of their closets to see where on the planet their belongings come from, and compare their closets to those of others around the world.

The site features contributions from National Geographic and partner organizations such as WorldSavvy, National Environmental Education Foundation, National Council for Geographic Education and Esri. Educators and parents will find valuable lists of activities for at home and in the classroom, geographer profiles, family-friendly games and a downloadable Geography Awareness Week poster. Site visitors also can read and contribute to a Geography Awareness Week Blog-a-Thon, updated multiple times daily with commentary and multimedia features.

The website provides the opportunity to join nearly 10,000 geography supporters in promoting geo-literacy. Speak Up for Geography invites visitors to write to their senators and representatives to request federal funding for geography education.

Geography Awareness Week recently launched a CafePress store, with customizable merchandise. From Nov. 5 to 17, shoppers can get a 15 percent discount by entering the code GAWEEK at checkout.

In addition, National Geographic Emerging Explorer and self-described “Guerrilla Geographer” Daniel Raven-Ellison will be hosting a Google hangout video chat on Thursday, Nov. 15, at 1 p.m. ET. Check out the Nat Geo Education blog to find out how to participate.

Raven-Ellison, who believes in encouraging children and adults to experience the world around them in a more meaningful way, will present a lecture on “guerilla geography” at National Geographic headquarters in Washington, D.C., on November 13 at 7:00 p.m. Tickets are available online via the National Geographic Live website.

On the local level, during Geography Awareness Week, grassroots organizers around the country will host events, workshops and contests at local schools and community centers. The website offers a toolkit with resources on how to host a local Geography Awareness Week event, such as a community festival or a geography trivia evening.

Geography Awareness Week 2012 is supported by the Geo-Literacy Coalition, whose members include CH2M HILL, Esri, Google and the National Geographic Society.

About the Geo-Literacy Coalition

The Geo-Literacy Coalition is an alliance of organizations working to improve the preparation of Americans for 21st-century decision-making. The members of the Geo-Literacy Coalition are CH2M HILL, a global leader in consulting, design, design-build, operations and program management for government, civil, industrial and energy clients; Esri, which develops the world’s leading geographic information system (GIS) technology that enables organizations of all sizes in both the public and private sectors to take advantage of their geographic data; Google, a global technology leader focused on improving the ways people connect with information; and National Geographic.

About the National Geographic Society

The National Geographic Society 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 400 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; travel programs; interactive media; and merchandise. National Geographic has funded more than 10,000 scientific research, conservation and exploration projects and supports an education program promoting geographic literacy. For more information, visit

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Professor returns from sabbatical to Namibia

Associate Professor Susan Todd (pictured at left) spent 13 months in Namibia on a Fulbright sabbatical. “I loved every minute,” she said. “It was such an adventure.”

Todd departed for Africa in July 2011 and returned to UAF in time for the fall 2012 semester. She chronicled her experiences of teaching, learning and traveling in a blog, Gemsbok Gazette: An Alaskan in Namibia.

“As far as wildlife conservation goes, this is one of the greatest success stories ever told,” she said. Namibia is one of the newest countries in South Africa, having gained independence in 1990. Prior to that locals were not allowed to hunt; that was for whites only. Poaching had destroyed much of the wildlife. Due to a radical new way of managing resources, things are in much better shape.

Communal conservancies were established in 1996 to protect wildlife and provide greater economic advantages for village residents in the poorest areas. A communal conservancy is a legal entity with set boundaries and members that is granted certain rights to wildlife and tourism activities. When the country was formed, Together, communal conservancies and public parks and forests make up 34 percent of Namibia’s total land .area.

On 64 conservancies covering 14.4 million hectares, elephants, rhinos and lions supplement the income that people make from livestock . The country has an elephant population of 15,000 and lions have increased by 300 percent. “They harvest springbok like we do moose,” Todd said. “The country has some of the biggest elephants in the world.” An elephant hunt costs $50,000 to $100,000. There are also photography safaris.

The people decide how to manage the habitat and wildlife using government quotas for hunting. Plans have to be approved by the government.. “This has changed Namibians’ lives,” Todd said.

In some areas, safari companies operate lodges and guiding services. They train the locals to work for them and give 10 percent of proceeds back to the community. Some lodges are turned over to the community after a certain number of years. She said the conservation effort became a conduit for development of inland fisheries, water management and even AIDS information.

Todd was impressed with students who worked on the poaching patrol, carrying guns and trying to curb illegal shooting of animals. “The students are so dedicated to the environment,” she said.

In addition to the gorgeous vistas, Todd said Namibia has a rich cultural diversity that she enjoyed getting acquainted with. The country is twice the size of California and is home to 2.1 million people, making it the second least densely populated country in the world. (Mongolia is the least densely populated.) The country is very dry, getting only 25 millimeters of rain a year in the dry areas along the coast.

Namibia’s conservancies are inspiring others, with 70 countries having sent people to find out how to start such a program. “It’s a great benefit for the local people and people are proud of what they have done.”
Susan Todd (left) presented a talk about her sabbatical to College Rotary Club Oct. 8. She is pictured with Cynthia Wentworth.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Carol Lewis retires from UAF

After 39 years with the University of Alaska Fairbanks, 10-plus of those years as dean of the School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences and director of the Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station, Carol Lewis is retiring. Oct. 26 is her last day.

Stephen Sparrow will serve as interim dean and director.

Lewis joined SNRAS in 1973. “I thought it would be an interesting challenge,” she said. “Agriculture in the U.S. was changing and developing agriculture in the state of Alaska is a challenge. The experiment station had been stagnant for five years and wasn’t matching the research needs of the state and I wanted to change that.”

Also, for SNRAS the curriculum needed to be revitalized and recruiting re-emphasized. “We needed to pull ourselves out of a downward sloping enrollment curve and I knew we couldn’t do that quickly,” she said. “It would take some effort and it has. Now we are headed in the right direction.”

Lewis came to Alaska with no real job objective in mind. She and John Lewis came to hunt and fish and enjoy the state. They decided to stay and Lewis accepted a research position at UAF with the Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station to work with General Electric on the management and production and economic efficiency of agricultural products in controlled environments. She shortly became a member of the faculty, and also taught at Kenai Peninsula Community College. As a professor of resources management at UAF, she focused on conservation tillage, product marketing and on economic development in the natural resource arena including applications and systems for conventional and alternative energy in remote areas.

Lewis received her bachelor’s degree and master’s degree in mathematics from the University of Florida, and her Ph.D. in theoretical physics (ultrasonics) from Georgetown University.

While pursuing her Ph.D. at Georgetown, Lewis was employed by the U.S. Navy. Her job was to design a system for inspection of solid explosive loads for the five-inch guns on naval warships. The objective was to keep the loads from exploding before ejection. This was accomplished. Lewis holds four patents on ultrasonic systems that provide inspection for solid loads. They are used on gunships today. The USS Missouri was recommissioned with Lewis's loads in the ship's five-inch guns.

Lewis began her MBA work before coming to Alaska but completed the MBA at UAF. She served as interim dean of SNRAS from 2000 to 2002 and became dean of the school and director of the Alaska Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station in July 2002. As dean and director she led the school and experiment station to focus on sustainable resource management in the circumpolar north including appropriate resource-based products and industries as well as alternative and renewable energy sources.

During her watch, the school and station established a reindeer herd as a part of the Reindeer Research Program, began work in biomass and bioproducts, developed new research, educational and outreach programs at the Palmer Center for Sustainable Living in the Matanuska Valley, including turf research and second and third generation biofuel research, led research on the Endangered Species Act for the state of Alaska and led research on controlled environment agriculture for northern latitudes.

Lewis served on the Board for International Food and Agricultural Development, advisory board to USAID for six years, on the executive board for the Western Rural Development Center for eight years, senior Experiment Station Committee on Policy for one year, was chair of the Western Experiment Station Directors’ Association for two years, chair of the Board of Directors for the Agricultural Development in the American Pacific program for two years and currently serves as a member of the board of directors for the Fairbanks Economic Development Corp. and serves on the Alaska Food Policy Council and the university's advisory board to the Center for Legislative Energy and Environmental Research for the Energy Council.

Lewis looks forward to spending more time with her husband John and their Dachshund, Hammer, and plans to play more tennis and write a book on agricultural research in Alaska. “That story has never been told in its entirety,” she said.

Professor Stephen Sparrow will be interim dean and director. He has been associate dean for eight years.

“I have a lot of experience here in the school and experiment station and at UAF,” Sparrow said. “Over the past 30 years I’ve gained a lot of institutional memory that will come in handy.”

Sparrow is a professor of agronomy who researches bio-energy crops and soil management. He holds a B.S. from North Carolina State University, a master’s from Colorado State University and Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota.

“My charge is to move the school ahead,” he said. “We’ll be revising the curriculum and planning a long-term sustainable financial plan.”