Friday, June 22, 2012

Boy Scout tackles Eagle project at botanical garden

Andrew Shill (at left) works hard on his Eagle Scout project at the Georgeson Botanical Garden June 22.

15-year-old Andrew Shill has long enjoyed visiting the Georgeson Botanical Garden with his family so when it came time to select a community service project on the way to becoming an Eagle Scout it was a natural to turn to GBG.

With the help of friends and family he is building a courtyard above the main garden area. The work consisted of planning the project, leveling a semicircle, placing fabric and gravel, and assembling two benches to put in the area.

In the center will be a sundial that tells the day, month, year and season by the shadows.

"My idea for the Eagle project was something outdoors," Andrew said."It's nice."

The son of Annie and James Shill, Andrew is homeschooled. He is at the Life Scout level and if his project is approved, he will become an Eagle Scout, the highest achievement in Boy Scouts. Andrew wanted to thank donors: Home Depot, Polar Supply Fairbanks, Brice Inc., Brown's Hill Quarry, Luther Brice and the Georgeson Botanical Garden.

The garden is a program of the UAF School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences.

Proud parents Annie and James Shill pause with Andrew during the work party.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

GBG hosts Russian tea party Sunday

Volunteers in Russian attire will beautify the Georgeson Botanical Garden Sunday for the annual tea party. From left are Marty Baldridge, Kay Henry, Siri Tuttle and Natasha Kulchitsky.
The Georgeson Botanical Garden will be the setting Sunday, June 24 for the 5th annual Tea Party.

"We are celebrating Alaska's Russian heritage," said Jan Hanscom, president of the GBG Society, a nonprofit support organization for the garden. The event is the society's largest fundraiser each year.

Sunday's agenda includes Russian teas, foods with a Russian flavor, games, music, artists and garden tours. Ethnic dress is encouraged but not required.

At 2 p.m., "Almost A Minyan," local klezmer band, will play and at 3 p.m., "Friends in Dance," a Russian dance troupe, will perform. Throughout the afternoon, artist Vladimir Zhikhartsev will be painting and a silent auction will be held.

The garden has been hosting tea parties since 2008, with Victorian being the theme twice. The 50th anniversary of statehood and a Celtic day were other versions of the parties.

Tickets ($35) are available at the Georgeson Botanical Garden office, 117 W. Tanana Drive on the UAF campus; If Only...a Fine Store, 215 Cushman St.; Sipping Streams Tea Co, 3535 College Road, Suite B; and Hawks' Greenhouse. Children 12 and under are admitted for $10. A commemorative porcelain teacup is available for separate purchase.

Volunteers are needed to help with setup and breakdown, as well as food service. Contact Jan Hanscom at 378-9791 to help.

Further reading:

Annual Georgeson tea looks to Russia for inspiration, Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, June 21, 2012, by Jeff Richardson

Friday, June 15, 2012

STEAM Institute offers teachers science and art skills

 Margo Klass will be one of the instructors during the STEAM Institute.

Teachers will have the opportunity to put a botanical feather in their caps this summer, thanks to a course offered by SNRAS, Boreal House, OneTree Alaska and the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District.

Dubbed the STEAM Institute: Illustrated Botanical Books, the workshop is set for July 6-13 at the UA Museum of the North, Georgeson Botanical Garden and the T-field.

This Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math Institute offers teachers the opportunity to work with professional botanists and artists in a scientific and artistic exploration of the flora of the local boreal ecosystem.

Scientific topics and activities will include using and creating taxonomic keys, documenting and pressing plant specimens, data collection and scientific journaling. Artistic topics and activities will include field and in-house sketching, botanical illustration, page layout and bookbinding. The culminating work will be a collaborative illustrated botanical book, based on historical herbals, to be printed and hand bound, with copies for all class members.

By the end of the course, participants will be able to adapt course materials to meet specific Standards for Alaska Teachers, Alaska Arts Content Standards and Alaska Science Standards.

Students will:
  • Become acquainted with the flora of the local boreal ecosystem.
  • Learn how to collect, press, identify and document plant specimens.
  • Become familiar with using online and hard-print taxonomic keys and general information about plant species encountered during the course.
  • Practice artistic observation and sketching to become comfortable with the basics of botanical illustration.
  • Collaboratively study a wide variety of local plants while acquiring the skills of scientific botanical observation, notation and illustration.
  • Participate in creating a collaborative illustrated botanical book.
  • Produce models, materials and lesson plans for adapting botanical book workshop process to the classroom.

The schedule is July 6 from 4 to 7 p.m. and July 9-13 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The course, NRM 595P, is offered through Summer Sessions and the fee is $440. Instructors include Jan Dawe, Margo Klass, Mareca Guthrie, Chris Pastro and Karen Stomberg.

Contact Jan Dawe, adjunct forestry professor, for further information.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Using our underutilized hardwoods, aspen and cottonwood, in Alaska for local uses

Dr. Valerie Barber (pictured above), assistant professor with SNRAS, will give a lecture as part of the Land and Sea series hosted by Summer Sessions Tuesday, June 12 at 7 p.m. in O'Neill 201. Following is a summary of her presentation.

By Dr. Valerie Barber

The Alaskan boreal forest contains two predominant poplar species, aspen and cottonwood that are underutilized in Alaska. We propose that there are many uses for these logs and lumber here in Alaska and we showcase two cabins built with logs from each. There is also the potential to use the fast growing poplar in plantations and agroforestry to provide biomass to fuel wood-fired boilers that are springing up all over Alaska.

In 2010, we held a log cabin building class in Palmer at the UAF-Matanuska Experiment Farm. Eight students attended the class taught by renowned log builder Robert Chambers with assistance from Mike Musick. We used aspen trees from the Tanana Valley State Forest. Most people consider these trees to be weeds so getting access to the trees was easy. A 16 x 20 log cabin was built with the logs using a full scribe, shrink to fit technique with green logs. The cabin is a beautiful work of art and the wood was easy to work with as noted by both instructors. Mike said he was going back to Fairbanks to build a log cabin from the aspen found on his property.

In 2011, we held another class that was attended by 12 students from Alaska, the lower 48 and from three other countries. Robert came back to teach the class and was assisted by Mike Pielortz, a local log builder in Palmer. This time we gathered cottonwood locally from the farm and used the same techniques. The cottonwood trees were much bigger than the aspen and the cabin is also a beautiful work of art. We also added four days to the workshop for building a log truss roof.

Energy costs in Alaska are high due to reliance on fossil fuels and isolation of rural communities. State and federal entities in Alaska are promoting renewable energy, primarily woody biomass for heat and power. Alaska has forest resources throughout the state of which very little is managed and logged. There is little infrastructure for a forest products industry so wood is in relatively low demand. Climate change, very much apparent in Alaska, is affecting growth and survival of the local species through different avenues. With increasing fire frequency in the state, pressure is high to cut major firebreaks around communities. This combined with an increase of acreage burned from wildfires and trees killed from insect infestations leaves an abundance of available low-value woody biomass.

Dendroclimatology studies in boreal Alaska on local tree species casts uncertainty on the future regeneration of local forest stands under a warming, drying climate. Forest inventories in Alaska are not current or widespread which increases uncertainty. With the sustainability of forests in question, managers are wary of increasing dependence on woody biomass for heat and power without a management plan in place. Agroforestry and plantations of fast growing broadleaf species, such as local and hybrid poplar, offer possible solutions for revegetation. Demonstration projects are being planned for interior and southcentral Alaska.

Friday, June 8, 2012

SNRAS hosts ASITA workshop

Stable isotope experts from around the world will gather at the University of Alaska Fairbanks June 10-13 to learn about the newest techniques and applications in their field. Workshop topics include stable isotopes in honey, western Aleutian seabirds, methane and more. One of the most unusual presentations will cover a Canadian project that established a database of isotopes and trace elements in water and human hair for use in crime research.
Isotopes are atoms of elements that have the same number of protons and electrons but different numbers of neutrons. A stable isotope is one that doesn't decay over time. Those additional or missing neutrons in an isotope slightly alter the mass of the atom, allowing scientists to separate the light isotopes from the heavy ones and form a ratio for each sample. That ratio can tell scientists about the sample and its origins.
Dubbed "ASITA," the workshop addresses advances in stable isotope techniques and applications.
Among the speakers are Gilles St-Jean of G.G. Hatch Stable Isotope Laboratory, University of Ottawa, Paul Middlestead of the G.G. Hatch Stable Isotope Laboratory at University of Ottawa and Peter Stow of ISOMASS Scientific Inc. in Calgary, Alberta.
UAF School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences is hosting the workshop. Researchers in the school use isotope research on soils from Alaska’s forests. Sponsors are ThermoFisher Scientific/ISOMASS Scientific Inc., elementar, Picarro, SerCon, Isotech Laboratories Inc. and Elemental Microanalysis.
For details, visit

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

SNRAS launches new research/outreach project centered on boreal forest

Two new projects at the University of Alaska Fairbanks will increase research on sustainable management of boreal forests for biomass use and offer new opportunities for K-12 and college students to learn about the subject.

Both projects fall under the auspices of BAK LAP, short for Boreal Alaska – Learning, Adaptation and Production, a project funded by a $1 million appropriation from the Alaska Legislature.

The research side of the project seeks to upgrade Alaska forest research facilities, improving the value of forests to meet the rapidly expanding need for wood. Researchers will identify management techniques that have successfully met demands for wood biomass and examine the results of new species trials.

In order to do that, the scientists will visit a network of plots and stands established in the 1980s or earlier across central Alaska’s forest lands. They will use a variety of measurement methods and record those measurements in relation to their location. They then will establish permanent marked data collection points and develop a database to track data over time.

“Species and management practices that were appropriate for the circumstances of decades ago when the installations were established need to be re-evaluated for the new products and environment of today,” said Glenn Juday, project director and professor of forest ecology at the UAF School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences. “Collecting these measurements and conducting evaluations will provide the basis for identifying optimum management practices for the new products, especially biomass, in today’s shifting environment. These facilities make an essential contribution to achieving local self-reliance in energy production using wood biomass and to avoid forest management practices likely to fail.”

The second component of BAK LAP will expand an existing K-12 education and outreach program called OneTree Alaska that the School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences has been leading for three years.

Jan Dawe, adjunct faculty in SNRAS, is co-principal investigator and director for education and outreach. She will lead the education and outreach portion of BAK LAP.

“BAK LAP represents the next step in developing a full-scale set of facilities and project-based curriculum, designed to improve science and math learning outcomes and meet 21st-century workforce needs,” Dawe said.

BAK LAP is funded by a $1 million capital legislative appropriation to the Alaska Department of Natural Resources, Division of Forestry, contracted to the Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station.