Friday, August 31, 2012

Grad student tackles trapping

When SNRAS graduate student Heidi Hatcher began researching community involvement in wildlife management through activities such as trapping, she took more than an academic approach. She took lessons from the Alaska Trappers Association and set up her own trapline.

“I did it so I would know something about trapping,” Hatcher said. Last winter she caught marten, lynx, fox and ermine.

The first-hand experience broadened her knowledge and helped her understand the people she interviewed for her thesis work. The project centers on why villagers in Allakaket and Alatna don’t trap as much as they used to. “The communities want wolf control and the locals can trap but they haven’t been,” Hatcher explained.

Of primary interest is the decline in moose populations, a source of food for the residents that wolves also enjoy eating.

In addition to identifying why previous attempts to increase local trapping have been unsuccessful, Hatcher sought ideas for programs or incentives that the communities could implement that would be more successful at increasing wolf trapping.

Even snaring clinics offered by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game haven’t really caught on.

“There used to be more trapping,” Hatcher said. “The trappers are getting older and the younger generation is interested but there are cultural issues.” For instance, it is deemed inappropriate for women to trap wolves.

“There is a lot of interest; it’s just getting someone to organize that interest and spearhead ideas.”

During spring semester, Hatcher conducted 16 interviews in the two villages, with her work funded by EPSCoR. This semester she is writing her thesis.

Hatcher earned her B.S. in ecological and environmental biology at Appalachian State University in North Carolina and came to UAF two years ago to work on a master’s degree in natural resources management. Her advisor is Associate Professor Peter Fix.

“It has been a helpful experience and made me a better biologist,” Hatcher said of her research. “The people were super friendly and helpful and very willing to talk.”

In her spare time Hatcher enjoys photography. Her goal after completing her master’s degree is to work in a biology position in Alaska. “Wildlife is kind of my thing,” she said.

Livestock conference set for Oct. 18-20

Livestock can be successfully raised in Alaska.
In an effort to help increase agricultural production in Alaska, the University of Alaska Fairbanks is hosting two livestock workshops Oct. 18-20 in Wasilla and Palmer.

Producers, researchers, retailers, policymakers and students will gather to examine the problems and prospects of feeding and grazing practices for multiple species in Alaska Oct. 18 at the Grand View Inn in Wasilla. On Oct. 19 there will be a mini-workshop at the Palmer Center for Sustainable Living. Keynote speaker is Ben Bartlett, recently retired from Michigan State University where he was an extension veterinarian. Bartlett now farms 640 acres of grass and raises sheep and cattle.

The workshop will focus on the practical considerations and logistics required for implementing the principles of holistic grazing management models for multiple species on Alaska farms and ranches. The workshop will be interactive, and participants are encouraged be prepared to work on the problems and issues specific to their own farms, including grazing system design and management issues. The broader agenda is to provide an interactive forum and the opportunity to pose questions that focus on issues specific to Alaska.

On Oct. 20, the focus will shift to production of animal fiber with the topic “from agriculture to art.” This portion will be held at the Palmer Center for Sustainable Living. Lyle McNeal, sheep, wool and range specialist and a Carnegie professor at Utah State University, is the guest speaker.

Alaska is positioned to design and develop a sustainable agricultural system unique to our situation, incorporating practices and attitudes different than those used elsewhere in the U.S.,” said Jan Rowell, one of the conference organizers. “Developing sustainable food systems is the first step on the path to food security and demonstrates a significant investment in Alaskans.”

The workshops are hosted by the UAF School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences, UAF Cooperative Extension Service, the Division of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The registration fee is $90 for all three days or $60 for the first two days and $30 for the last.

To register, visit or contact Assistant Professor Jan Rowell at 907-474-6009.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

First Friday event highlights boreal forest workshop

A page in the botanical book features the bluebell.
A First Friday exhibit will celebrate the work of a July workshop hosted by OneTree, a program of SNRAS. The Sept. 7 event will feature the botanical illustrations created by attendees at the Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Math workshop held July 6-13 at UAF.

Participants gathered information about the flora of the boreal forest near the UAF campus and put together a book, "TRAILWALK: July in the Boreal Forest," which will be displayed at the event.

The First Friday exhibit will be held at the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District board room, 520 5th Ave. on Sept. 7 from 5 to 7 p.m.

Working in partnership with SNRAS's OneTree program are the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District Art Center, Northwoods Book Arts and Boreal House (a community group dedicated to learning about the boreal forest). 

TRAILWALK: July in the Boreal Forest was produced as a limited edition book primarily for class participants, each of whom was scientist, botanical illustrator, and bookbinder. The enthusiastic response to the original book led to producing a wire-bound version of the book and to this First Friday event.

For additional information, contact Jan Dawe, SNRAS adjunct faculty and coordinator of OneTree.

Further reading:

STEAMers produce beautiful botanical books, SNRAS Science & News, July 16, 2012

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

SNAP moves from SNRAS

The University of Alaska Fairbanks has announced an internal restructuring of four research centers, enabling more efficient coordination of extensive climate studies, observations and modeling analyses. In particular, the Scenarios Network for Alaska & Arctic Planning (SNAP), the Alaska Center for Climate Assessment & Policy (ACCAP), the Alaska Fire Science Consortium (AFSC) and the Geographic Information Network of Alaska (GINA) have been administratively shifted into the International Arctic Research Center (IARC). SNAP was previously associated with the School of Natural Resources & Agricultural Sciences.
This administrative restructuring is intended to better align climate programs, enabling researchers to more efficiently share tools and resources and more effectively respond to the information needs of our state and nation. There will be no overt changes to the mission or staff of each center. Scott Rupp will continue to serve as director of SNAP, as will Sarah Trainor as director of ACCAP and AFSC and Tom Heinrichs as director of GINA.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Corn thrives in Fairbanks, Alaska

Cameron Willingham, research technician, and Meriam Karlsson, horticulture professor, harvest corn at the Fairbanks Experiment Farm.

While the Midwest corn yields are suffering immensely due to the worst drought in 50 years, corn is thriving in, of all places, Fairbanks, Alaska.

At the Fairbanks Experiment Farm on the University of Alaska Fairbanks campus, Meriam Karlsson, horticulture professor, is not very surprised at the abundant corn crop. It's a little earlier than usual, but the ears are beautiful...and tasty.

"All it needs is heat," Karlsson said. She started the corn in the UAF School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences greenhouse and got the transplants in the ground as early in May as she could. "It usually produces by the end of August so it's a little early," she said.

The corn is planted in raised beds and plastic mulch helps hold the heat in. "We only had to water a few times," Karlsson said. One thing out of her control is frost and once in a while during a summer when it arrives early it decimates the corn crop, but not this year.

"People think it's too cold, but we produced corn in 56 days," Karlsson said.

Varieties include Earlivee, Aladdin and Speedy Sweet.

Karlsson researches crops for northern climates and lighting conditions in controlled environments.

Corn ready to shuck and cook.

Earlivee corn in the field.
Cameron Willingham, research technician at the Fairbanks Experiment Farm, is delighted with the corn yield.

Monday, August 20, 2012

GBG treehouse ready for children

Children love the swing bridge at the GBG treehouse.

Construction of the treehouse in the children’s garden at the Georgeson Botanical Garden has been completed and visitors are delighted with the structure.

With all the other work at the garden, the treehouse took many years to finish. Its benefactor, Walt Babula, a Fairbanks orthodontist, surveyed the project with pride Aug. 17. He gave credit to Grant Matheke, SNRAS agriculture assistant, for his excellent carpentry skills and for working so diligently on the treehouse.

Dr. Babula and GBG director Pat Holloway envision educational displays being added to the treehouse. There is already a sap meter which measures tree sap, but more placards will be added to help children learn about the flora and fauna in the garden.

“As it develops it will be a magnet for children,” Babula said. “It all takes time. It’s a learning experience.”

Babula and his wife Marita have been working with children for 40 years through their orthodontic practice and wanted to give back to the community via the GBG children’s garden. Dr. Babula has not only been the major financial backer of the project for the past nine years, it is not unknown for him to move rocks, plant flowers and do manual labor. He estimates he works in the garden at least 100 hours a year.

“I want it to be a learning place for kids forever,” he said. “We wanted to have an environment for children where they could have fun learning and interacting with nature.”

New additions this summer include a bear carved out of a 28-inch log, a weather station complete with a sundial made of tiles, a cache and a water mill that generates electricity. No aspect goes unobserved by Dr. Babula. He hires students to assist with the maintenance in the summer and asked artists to paint the trash cans.

Pat Holloway said there will likely be an open house or dedication next summer. “We are planning educational activities related to natural resources management,” she said. “We want to show how a scientist measures plant grown and what a forester might use. We’ll highlight birds of farm and field.”
Special touches make the treehouse a beautiful place to visit.

Walt Babula with the new carved bear in the children's garden.

Walt Babula and Grant Matheke

Friday, August 17, 2012

Farm to Table event highlights Alaska Grown in an elegant way

A gorgeous array of fresh vegetables was the highlight of the appetizer table.

Guests gathered Aug. 15 to discover the bounty of Alaska’s fields and waters at the School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences Farm to Table event.

“Alaska-grown foods aren’t just for the casual table,” SNRAS Dean and Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station Director Carol Lewis said. “We’re going to prove that tonight.

“We must pay attention to our food; it will not be an easy task to make Alaska food secure but we need to make an effort that will finally stick.”

Sponsored by Chena Hot Springs Resort, UAF Dining Services, SNRAS and the Fairbanks Economic Development Corp., the dinner consisted almost entirely of local foods, gathered from Alaska farms and prepared by UAF Catering Services.

Mike Emers of Rosie Creek Farm told the audience that food is absolutely something we need. “But very little thought goes into the farm to table concept. I’m glad UAF is hosting this event to bring awareness.”

Emers challenged Fairbanksans to put their money where they mouths are. “We have saturated the market for those who are willing to pay top dollar. We have got to get fresh healthy food in the larger markets and help farmers get a fair price. We need to figure out how everyone can afford to eat locally.”

He added that he would like to see Alaska build an economy around feeding ourselves. “I’ve said it before that if there were 100 farms like mine we could keep Fairbanks in vegetables year round. We need to support the industry and encourage new farmers. We need agricultural research and we need sustainable agriculture in this state.”

Bryce Wrigley, a farmer from Delta Junction and president of the Alaska Farm Bureau, said Alaska farmers are growing something in every food group. As he named the food groups, to his own amusement, he left out grains. He is a barley producer and owner of the state’s only flour mill.

“Have you ever wanted to be on the ground floor of something?” Wrigley asked. “Well we can be. We must look for new markets.” For example, his family raised barley for animal feed for 30 years and recently developed a new market by focusing on people food (barley flour and barley cereal).

Wrigley said Alaska needs to develop processing facilities so fruits and vegetables can be on the shelves all year. And a mobile slaughtering plant would help the meat industry.

He encouraged shoppers to ask for Alaska-grown food when they go to the grocery store, and told a tale of frustration when a person who works on the pipeline encouraged him to sell his barley cereal to the pipeline’s food supplier. Wrigley ran into a brick wall because the food services company buys all its products from a large Outside company. “I want everyone to look at how we can get Alaska food into these systems,” Wrigley said.

“There’s something wrong with this picture.”

Fairbanks Economic Development Corp. Director Jim Dodson described Fairbanks as an isolated economy. Recalling the Sept. 11, 2001 tragedy, Dodson said Alaska had four days of food in stock due to transportation stoppages. “Food security is significant,” Dodson said. “To those who live in Fairbanks it is particularly important.

“What are we going to do to help ourselves? How can farmers come together as a collective? We shouldn’t turn down help but the first place to look is inside.”

He ended by asking, “What kind of opportunities can we create in Fairbanks in the food-growing business?”

The menu featured pickled Alaska king crab and cod, Thai spiced steak and lettuce wraps, roasted vegetable cheesecake, fresh vegetables with savory rhubarb dip, green salad, Alaska beef steaks with rosemary chimichurri, rhubarb lentil curry with kale and red peppers, salmon, bacon potato roast, tandoori roasted vegetables, barley flour cheddar rosemary drop biscuits, Brown Betty with rhubarb, Saskatoon berries and raspberries.

Food was provided by Basically Basil, Chena Fresh, Dart A&M Farm, Dr. Meriam Karlsson of the Controlled Environment Agriculture Laboratory, Johnson Family Farm, Larry's Garden, Matanuska Experiment Farm, Ocean Beauty Seafoods, Dr. Alexandra Oliveira of Kodiak Seafood & Marine Science Center, Pickled Willys Wild Alaska Seafood, Pike's Waterfront Lodge, Rosie Creek Farm, Dr. Stephen Sparrow, Tanana Valley Farmers Market and Wrigley Farms.

Special guests included Sen. Joe Thomas, Rep. Tammie Wilson, Fairbanks City Council Member Vivian Stiver, assistant to Sen. Lisa Murkowski Althea St. Martin, UAF Provost Susan Henrichs and Director of the Alaska Division of Agriculture Franci Havemeister.

Pickled crab and cod made appealing appetizers.

Sunflowers and grain from the nearby fields decorated the tables.

Mike Emers of Rose Creek Farm

Musicians from the Suzuki School of Talent Education provided beautiful music.

The setting was the pavilion at the Georgeson Botanical Garden.

Fro left, Althea St. Martin of Sen. Lisa Murkowski's office, Vivian Stiver of Fairbanks City Council and Rep. Tammie Wilson.

A bounty awaited the guests.

Catering Services Director Mary Michell conceived the idea for Farm to Table!

Natalie Emers helped Dean Carol Lewis with registration and welcoming the guests.

UAF Provost Susan Henrichs reaches for dessert.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Video teaches soil building, from the ground up

A new video, "Building Alaska Garden Soils from the Ground Up," has been prepared by SNRAS. "It's a wonderful teaching tool that gives us the opportunity provide outreach," Carol Lewis, SNRAS dean and director of the Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station, said. "We want to be out in the villages but we don't have the personnel to do that. This is one more step toward food security for our state."

Funding was provided by the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program. Before starting the project, SNRAS researchers determined that many Alaska communities have an interest in food production but perceived a lack of adequate soils. Problems include thin root zones, nutrient-poor soils with low organic material content and some issues with permafrost. Despite the high cost of shipping, some producers import their soil on a barge or through the U.S. mail, unaware that many of the necessary soil components can be found locally.

The research focused on soil improvement methodologies in two different ways. First, the research component compared the nutrient availability throughout the growing season in locally built and amended soils, with locally built and synthetically fertilized soils. Secondly, it compared the vegetable yield grown in both types of soil, using potatoes as the common crop.

Producers in five different locations, representing each “region” of Alaska, built four raised-beds and filled them with locally manufactured soils with technical guidance. Two beds were fertilized with local organic nutrient sources and two beds were fertilized with conventional fertilizer. Using potatoes as an indicator crop, biweekly soil samples were evaluated for nutrient availability and potato yield data was collected.  After soil data was analyzed, recommendations for further amendments will be given to the producers so they have a guideline for improving crop yields the following growing season.

With assistance from UAF Cooperative Extension Service, soil workshops were held in Angoon and Bethel.
Building Alaska Garden Soils from the Ground Up project was designed to get Alaskans growing food in raised-beds and to motivate and educate local producers by teaching them how to build garden soils from locally available materials. The research component provided the appropriate rates of local organic soil nutrient resources to support the producers. The use of local materials and educating the producers both provide a solid foundation for sustainable agriculture in Alaska communities. The research done to determine nutrient values of local materials will help producers throughout the state by identifying sources of important plant nutrients.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Visitors from China study permafrost, invite collaborations

Attendees at the Aug. 4 gathering.

After 10 days on the road between Fairbanks and Deadhorse studying soils affected by permafrost, special guests from China were feted at a breakfast party Aug. 4.

Led by Dr. Chien-Lu Ping, the field course attracted 31 students this summer for hands-on experiences along the Elliot and Dalton Highways for the purpose of reviewing soil-forming factors of the subarctic and arctic regions of Alaska.

The eight visitors from China were doctoral students and professors who had a connection to Dr. Ping. “There are many possibilities for collaboration and exchange,” Ping said. He thanked the travelers for their enthusiasm and for making the long journey. “I hope we continue to collaborate and network; that will enrich our university.

“There are tremendous opportunities for students to compare the boreal forest and permafrost environments. The opportunities are wide open.”

Paul Layer, dean of the UAF College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, said, “You saw what a beautiful, natural laboratory Alaska is. I’m glad you had the opportunity to go to the North Slope and glad you had a successful course.”

Mark Myers, vice chancellor for research, said he was delighted the group got to make the transect from Fairbanks to the Arctic Ocean. “The university studies the arctic as a system from the high atmosphere to the mantle.

“I hope that as you found the soil pits you had the chance to look at the flowers and mountains.” Myers said he looks forward to research collaborations between UAF and the Chinese guests.

Huijun Jin, professor of arctic engineering, said, “I hope from this moment on that we have cooperative scientific research.”

Carol Lewis, dean of the School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences and director of the Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station, hosted the event. She reminded the attendees that there are opportunities for UAF to send students to China, as well as welcome them here.

Donna Anger, director of UAF International Programs & Initiatives, said UAF has 250 to 350 international students and researcher from 50 countries, and reminded everyone that UAF participates in the University of the Arctic, a 100-institution organization.

“This was a rare opportunity for our Chinese students,” said Cuicui Mu, doctoral student studying permafrost. “I learned so much from this journey. Chien-Lu’s teaching was so good and I appreciate it so much. I hope more Chinese students will come.”

“Awesome” was the word Xiaodong Wu, assistant professor of Cold and Arid Regions Environmental and Engineering Research Institute, Chinese Academy of Sciences. “I was very impressed by the format; it was very different,” he said. “There are huge storages of carbon in the soil and the vegetation is very different.”
Dr. Carol Lewis receives a gift from Huijun Jin.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Learn to grow small grains in your garden

Dr. Mingchu Zhang (at left) observes Robert VanVeldhuizen harvesting grains at the Fairbanks Experiment Farm.

SNRAS and the UAF Cooperative Extension Service are hosting a field day Thursday, Aug. 16 at 5:30 p.m. at the Fairbanks Experiment Farm.

Attendees to the free event will learn how to plant and care for wheat and barley, along with methods of harvesting, threshing and flour making techniques. They will also discover what varieties do well in the Interior.

The tour is specifically for growers who want to grow grains and oilseeds in a garden setting without tractors or combines.

Leading the discussions will be Dr. Mingchu Zhang, soil scientist; Bob VanVeldhuizen, research technician; Kate Idzorek, food research technician; and Dr. Steven Seefeldt, Extension agent, Tanana District.

For more information, contact Seefeldt at 474-2423.

Further reading:

Growing Small Grains in Your Garden, by Bob VanVeldhuizen, AFES Circular 135, February 2010 (PDF)

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Ag celebration planned for Palmer

Good old-fashioned fun is on the menu for Ag Day.
Sack races are fun for kids of all ages.
Alaska Agriculture Appreciation Day, set for Aug. 9 at the Palmer Center for Sustainable Living, will highlight the wide variety of agricultural endeavors in the 49th state.

“It’s like a small county fair, open house, farmers’ market and educational opportunity rolled into one,” said farm manager Judson Scott.

The event will feature live animals, a goat-milking demonstration, old-fashioned games for children, prize giveaways, tours of research labs and fields, hay wagon rides, and music by the Air Force Band Alaska Brass and local band Back Acres. Special activities include a “sheep to shawl” demonstration by the Mat-Su Fiber Arts Guild. There will also be horseshoeing, wood carving, soap making and an exhibit of antique tractors provided by the Museum of Alaska Transportation and Industry. The event is free but attendees may wish to bring money to purchase food and crafts from vendors.

Special recognition will be given to the 150th anniversary of the Morrill Act, which opened up the higher education system to more Americans. The University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service will show how to cook with barley, give GPS and precision agriculture demonstrations and provide a tour of an alternate grains experiment.

Scott said the farm started hosting the family-friendly day a few years ago to show off the facility to friends and neighbors, promote agriculture and provide a fun outing for people in the Matanuska Valley.

The center, located at 1509 S. Georgeson Drive, is a research facility of the UAF School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences and the Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station. The event, which runs from noon to 6 p.m. Aug. 9, is hosted by SNRAS and the UAF Cooperative Extension Service.