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.