Friday, March 29, 2013

Students vie to become Alaska Geographic Bee champion

Finalists in the 2012 State Geographic Bee waited for questions that tested their geographic knowledge.This year's Bee is April 5.
Alaska students will compete in the National Geographic state-level Bee Friday, April 5 at the Egan Center in Anchorage. One hundred fourth through eighth graders from schools across the state will participate. The contestants have pre-qualified by winning their school’s bee and passing a qualifying test.

The kinds of questions posed during the bee are:
“Which state has a climate suitable for growing citrus fruits, California or Maine?”
“The North Atlantic current brings warm waters from the tropics to the west coast of which continent?”
“To visit the ruins of Persepolis, an ancient capital of Persia, you would have to travel to what present-day country?”

Preliminary rounds in the morning will determine the top 10 finalists who then compete in the afternoon for first place. The winner will represent the state at the National Geographic Bee May 20-22 in Washington, D.C. The national winner receives a $25,000 college scholarship, lifetime membership in the National Geographic Society and a trip to the Galapagos Islands.

The top 10 national finalists for 2013 along with last year’s top 10 will be eligible for selection for the three-person team to represent the United States at the National Geographic World Championship in July, to be held in St. Petersburg, Russia.

John Fahey, National Geographic Society chairman and CEO, said, “2013 is a special year for us as we celebrate two important anniversaries: the Society’s 125th and the National Geographic Bee’s 25th. As we look to the future — and an exciting new age of exploration — our work of fostering young talent who will be the scientists, explorers and brightest minds of tomorrow is more important than ever. Through the National Geographic Bee and our other activities, we hope to encourage a lifelong passion for learning about the world and its many wonders, challenges and opportunities for exploration and discovery.”

Google is sponsoring the Bee for the fourth year. “Because maps are such an integral part of how we live and do business, it’s important that we invest in geographic literacy and education. The students who participate in the National Geographic Bee have demonstrated an impressive understanding of the world around them, and we’re thrilled that young minds across the globe are using Google Geo products to learn and collaborate. In this 25th year of the competition, we’re proud to sponsor the program and encourage the next generation of explorers and innovators,” said Brian McClendon, vice president of engineering, Google Earth and Maps.

“The Geographic Bee is an outstanding program that provides students a unique opportunity to better understand our world and the events happening around them,” said Bob Jirsa, president, Plum Creek Foundation. “Education is one of the focal points of our Plum Creek Foundation, so we’re pleased to continue our partnership with the National Geographic  Society’s Geographic Bee program to sponsor state Bees across the United States.”

The state Bees are the second level of the annual National Geographic Bee. The first level began last November with contests in nearly 11,000 U.S. schools, in which millions of students participated.The preliminary rounds of the national contest will take place on Monday, May 20. The championship round featuring the top 10 finalists — moderated by “Jeopardy!” quizmaster Alex Trebek for the 25th year — will be held on Wednesday, May 22, at the National Theater in Washington, D.C. For the first and only time, tickets for the national finals are on sale to the public at National Geographic Channel and Nat Geo WILD will air the final round at 7 p.m. on Thursday, May 23. It will be aired later on public television stations; check local television listings for dates and times.

The National Geographic GeoBee Challenge app, with more than 1,000 questions culled from past Bees, is available from the App Store on iPhone, iPod touch and iPad or on Google Play.

National Geographic developed the National Geographic Bee in 1989 in response to concern about the lack of geographic knowledge among young people in the United States

For additional information on the National Geographic Bee please visit here. Bee coordinator for Alaska is Kristin Shea,

The School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences is the home of the UA Geography Program, which provides support to the Bee.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Matanuska Experiment Farm donation aids museum herbarium

UA Museum Herbarium curator Steffi Ickert-Bond and collection manager Jordan Metzgar examine grass specimens from Palmer. (Photograph by Theresa Bakker, UA Museum)

A recent donation to the University of Alaska Museum from the Palmer Center for Sustainable Living, Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station will give researchers a better understanding of the plants that grow along Interior Alaska's transportation corridors.

More than 8,000 mounted specimens were transferred to the University of Alaska Museum Herbarium from the Center for Sustainable Living and the Matanuska Experiment Farm, both components of the School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences and the AFES at Palmer. The faculty and staff accumulated this collection over many years; it provides a broad representation of Alaska's flora, with geographic emphasis on the railbelt and the Dalton Highway corridor.

Herbarium Curator Steffi Ickert-Bond says it's a fantastic addition to the museum's collections.

"These plants haven't been seen by outside researchers for decades. Some of them are the original specimens that these new species are based on. We are eager to digitize them so we can make them available to researchers all over the world for further examination and perhaps loan."

The taxonomic emphasis is on species that have some intersection with agriculture, and is especially strong in grasses because of the research interests of long-time curator of the AES Herbarium and retired agronomy professor William W. Mitchell.

The transfer of specimens from Palmer to Fairbanks was generously supported by funds from the UAF Provost's office, the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics Dean’s office as well as funds from the UA Museum Herbarium.

Quinoa on the menu for Fairbanks farmer

Quinoa grown in Matt Springer's garden. (Photo by Martha Springer)
While Matt Springer was in Bolivia in 2006 he learned the ins and outs of producing quinoa, a pseudo cereal* that is actually seeds of the goosefoot plant. In South America it is known as the “mother grain of the Incas.”

Now he is successfully growing it in Fairbanks. “Quinoa is super great,” Springer said. “I’ve been interested in it for a long time.” In early trials at his farm up Rosie Creek Springer met with a few failures. “It was not so much the quinoa as myself,” he said. “A lot of what I do now is correct mistakes.”

Springer said his interest in growing food goes back to his early days, but for no apparent reason. He just had the desire to grow things. “It was just there,” he said.

He counts himself lucky to have two acres of family land for his farm, where he experiments with native, subsistence, diverse and reliable crops as well as medicinal plants. “I have very little space so I have to make tough choices,” he said. “The space fills up quick.”

In his search to get quinoa on the table he harvested a lot of the closely related weed, lamb’s quarters. “We eat more lamb’s quarters than any other greens,” Springer said. “It’s a super ubiquitous species. It is very mutable, flexible and diverse.” It can be eaten as steamed greens or served fresh in a salad. Springer has even made flour from the seeds. “It has a nutty, buckwheat quality.”

Taking what he learned in South America, Springer knew he could grow quinoa if he found the right strains. He became more determined as the demand for the grain surged. He has done his homework and cites the fact that quinoa was first grown in Alaska in 1906 at the agricultural research station in Copper Center. “It was considered a total failure,” Springer said.

Because quinoa is coated with saponin, a bitter layer that deters pests, it has to be carefully washed. “I learned firsthand in Bolivia to put it in a bowl, agitate it and change the water, to dry it and store in jars.”

Springer has studied permaculture in Scotland, Oregon and New York and began graduate studies at UAF last year. Last summer was his second season to successfully grow quinoa. “It was just finding the right seed,” he said. He hopes to continue his research and by next spring offer seeds to other area growers.

His interest is so intense that he met with one of the largest commercial North American producers of quinoa in Denver to spend an afternoon picking his brain. The takeaway was that seeds from Chile might be suitable for Alaska. Springer is letting some varieties cross and inbreed and outbreed. “I am hopeful the process of future selection works,” Springer said. “The seeds are best adapted to the longer season in the hills; I would like to think after a while it could be grown in the lower lands.”
He admits he babied the quinoa more than other plants, watering them in the beginning and keeping the plot very well weeded.

Local farmers have expressed interest in growing quinoa. “Others are experimenting,” Springer said. “Maybe in the future we will grow more of it.” Not only does quinoa have a rich, delicate, nutty taste, but it is high in protein has nearly the ideal balance for amino acids.

“It yields significantly better than other grains and many consider it nutritionally superior,” Springer said.

On a large scale the saponin coating presents problems, but not on the small scale that Springer bases his farm on. “It may not be practical on the commercial scale, but like it was for the families I stayed with in Bolivia, it is a subsistence crop.”

Springer enjoys eating quinoa as porridge with honey or milk or with vegetables and meat. “It’s really versatile; it can be in bread or a cold salad. There are lots of recipes.”

He looks forward to the day he can offer quinoa seed that is reliable throughout the Tanana Valley and hopes to travel to the southern ranges of Chile to learn about marginal or feral varieties, the ones missed in earlier selections because they were not large or robust.

“I like to cultivate my imagination and follow with research,” he said. “Plant history is storied and diverse, especially in a place like Alaska with relatively limited agriculture and horticulture history. If at first you don’t succeed, look for new varieties.”

Springer estimates his food consumption includes about 75 percent that he grows or harvests himself. “I think I could get to 100 percent except for the convenience of some storebought items. Every year we do more than before.”

*Grains are members of the grass family (Poaceae) which produce dry, edible, one-seeded fruit, commonly called a kernel, grain or berry. There are eight grains commonly consumed today: wheat, corn, rice, oats, rye, barley, millet and sorghum. Other plants that are becoming  popular, quinoa, amaranth and buckwheat, are referred to as pseudo grains or false grains, because although they have different botanical origins, they are similar to cereal grains in composition and use. (Wheat Foods Council)

Further reading:
Quinoa: The Story of a Cursed Crop, The Atlantic, Jan. 20, 2010, by Dave Thier

Quinoa Craze Inspires North America To Start Growing Its Own, The Salt, Nov. 29, 2012, by Alastair Bland

Ancient Wheat and Pseudo Grains (PDF), Wheat Foods Council, November 2012

Friday, March 22, 2013

SNRAS alum receives national recognition as smokejumper

Two veterans of the Bureau of Land Management Alaska Fire Service have been recognized for their outstanding accomplishments last year. Those accomplishments included working together to initiate a new combined training for first-year smokejumpers in Idaho and Alaska.

Chris Swisher of Fairbanks (who earned his B.S. in natural resources management at UAF in 2007) and Ben Oakleaf of Boise, Idaho, were named winners of the 2013 “Al Dunton Smokejumper Leadership Award,” which recognizes outstanding accomplishments of BLM and Forest Service smokejumper personnel.

Swisher and Oakleaf were nominated for their work combining first-year smokejumper training for Alaska and Great Basin rookie smokejumpers. Combined rookie training was conducted in the past but for a dozen years, the Alaska and Great Basin rookie jumpers trained separately. The 2012 training was a huge success, and is planned again this year. Training together provides added value for the jumpers, including developing familiarity with firefighters that are likely to work together on fires.

“The more we know each other and about each other, the more seamless it is when we integrate the crews,” says Oakleaf.

Oakleaf and Swisher started their careers together on the Midnight Sun Interagency Hotshot Crew with the BLM Alaska Fire Service and have been good friends for over a decade. Their supervisors describe the two as having a great work ethic and outstanding attitudes. Swisher jumps out of Fort Wainwright and Oakleaf, a Great Basin smokejumper, is based in Boise, Idaho.

“It [The award] was a surprise,” says Swisher. “I didn’t know anything about it until I was told that I won.” Oakleaf added, “I didn’t even know I was nominated until the jumper manager called me into his office and told me. I was very surprised.”

The award is named after Al Dunton, who served as a rookie smokejumper in Fairbanks in 1967. He managed the smokejumper base there from 1972 through 1984 and remained active in fire management throughout his career. The award was established by the interagency smokejumper base managers and the National Smokejumper Association, with the support of Al Dunton’s wife, Mary, and other family members.

(The BLM manages more land – 256 million surface acres – than any other Federal agency. Most of this public land is located in 12 Western States, including 75 million in Alaska. The bureau, with a budget of about $1 billion, also administers 700 million acres of sub-surface mineral estate throughout the nation. The BLM’s multiple-use mission is to sustain the health and productivity of the public lands for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations. The Bureau accomplishes this by managing such activities as outdoor recreation, livestock grazing, mineral development and energy production, and by conserving natural, historical and cultural resources on the public lands.)

Thursday, March 21, 2013

SNRAS names outstanding students

SNRAS has announced the outstanding students for 2012-2013: Nathan Heeringa (high latitude agriculture), Jacob Hakala (forest sciences), Rafael Rodriguez (humans and the environment) and Jason M. Theis, geography.
Nathan Heeringa
As a student with SNRAS, Nathan Heeringa has learned a better understanding of the functions of plants and soils. He grew up in Bellingham, Wash., on a small dairy farm and moved to Fairbanks in 2006. “Growing up on my family’s farm taught me the satisfaction that is gained through working with the land,” Heeringa said. A high school horticulture class sealed the deal.

Heeringa studied permaculture in Hawaii and traveled to the Philippines to help design and build a permaculture garden for an orphanage in Manila. He has worked summers for Colorado State University as a vegetation monitoring technician in Alaska.

He is researching the effects of terracing on the soil quality of Fairbanks loess soil. He has already started planning a peony farm, Far North Flowers.

“My lifelong dream is to work with the land in a productive and sustainable fashion,” he said. Heeringa’s goals are to find a job in the natural resources management field, get his peony farm established and do some appropriate technology and sustainable agriculture projects in developing countries.

While he said several SNRAS professors have helped guide him through his college years the person who has made the most significant contribution to his education is research technician Bob Van Veldhuizen. “Bob always made time to answer questions and further explain concepts using practical application that made these concepts easier to understand and remember.”

Heeringa enjoys fly fishing, hunting and traveling with his wife Krista.

Jacob Hakala
The desire for a career in the outdoors prompted Jacob Hakala to pursue a natural resources management degree with a concentration in forest sciences.

Born in Fairbanks, Hakala went to high school in Eagle River. At UAF he has learned the value of natural resources in a changing world and the impact the smallest resource can have.

He has worked as a field assistant and lab technician for the Forest Soils Lab. “Everyone at the Forest Soils Lab has been great to me,” he said. He has worked in the summers as a wildland firefighter for the Division of Forestry.

Hakala spent a year in Sweden, studying forestry and ecology and traveling. “My mother is from Ecuador and encouraged me to go exploring and take in other cultures,” he said.

Hakala’s goals are to travel the world and work in forestry. He enjoys telemark skiing and riding his motorcycle.

What he will remember the most about SNRAS is how close everyone is. “It is a tight-knit school.”
Rafael Rodriguez
The outstanding student for humans and the environment, Rafael Rodriguez, grew up in a world about as different from Fairbanks as one can get: Miami, Fla. He arrived in Alaska because he wanted to take a really long road trip. “I saw Alaska on a map, got rid of almost everything and came in a small car,” he said.

That was five years ago. He has worked summer jobs as a wildland firefighter. His interest in the environment led him to SNRAS. “I’m gathering tools now and seeing where I fall into place. I want to find something I’m interested in and something that is suitable for me.”

The most important thing he has learned is “nothing is simple; everything is complicated.”

His desire is to be able to make informed decisions. “I want to see if the information is available or is needed and to make decisions about resources,” he said.

"I'm not just getting a degree for the sake of a degree. There will be opportunities stemming from this.”

He enjoys running, bicycling and playing the guitar.

Geography’s outstanding student is Jason M. Theis (pictured at left). He grew up on a farm in Montana and came to UAF to study geological engineering.

Once he met SNRAS Professor David Verbyla he switched his major to geography. Dr. Verbyla teaches geographic information systems.

Theis has served an internship with Terrasond in Palmer, a company that does sea floor mapping using radar.

While he is considering graduate school, Theis would also be receptive to joining the work world upon his graduation in May. What he will remember most is the diversity and friendliness of the people at UAF. His philosophy has been to keep a good balance between school work and social life. “Don’t overwhelm yourself,” he said.

He enjoys downhill skiing and mountain climbing.

Maher to present dissertation defense

Doctoral candidate Kimberley Maher will give her dissertaion defense March 29 at 10 a.m. in Butrovich 109. The title is "Birch, Berries and the Boreal Forest: Activities and Impacts of Harvesting Non-Timber Forest Products in Interior Alaska."

Abstract: Harvesting wild berries, firewood and other non-timber forest products from the boreal forest in Interior Alaska is a common activity amongst local residents. Non-timber forest products are harvested for personal use, subsistence and commercial purposes. While these activities contribute to informal household economies and livelihoods, harvest of the products is not well documented in Alaska. Availability of these ecosystem services may be altered under changing management and climate regimes. This interdisciplinary dissertation takes a look at the activities and impacts of current harvesting practices. It uses results from a Forest Use Survey and interviews to describe who is harvesting, what they are harvesting and why they’re harvesting. Biological impacts from tapping birch trees in the spring are examined and issues for forest management will be presented.

Kimberley Maher
Maher said, "What I'll remember most about my studies here is the really fantastic community that I've been fortunate to join and the great extracurricular opportunities that I've been able to take advantage of, including on-campus activities and off-campus activities. For instance, I've been serving on the Fairbanks Arbor Day committee for the last six or seven years. Through my graduate studies, I've met many interesting people and have had some really dynamic experiences. It has sometimes even been a little distracting from my studies. In the end, all of these connections and experiences have always contributed to making me a more well-rounded person with a better understanding of other perspectives which is a really valuable asset when thinking about resource management issues."

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Can you "cook local" in Fairbanks in March? Yes, you can!

At the Sustainable Agriculture conference in Fairbanks a sous chef came out of the kitchen and worked right in front of the attendees.

Joshua Broda (pictured above), who has cooked at Princess Riverside Lodge for five years, declared, "Fresh is the best." Even if he was preaching to the choir (conference attendees are mostly farmers and aggie types) he got the attention he wanted with a quick demonstration of cooking with local foods, even though that is not as easy in March as it is in August.

With root crops from Rosie Creek Farm, specialty vinegars from Basically Basil and fresh Romaine and microgreens from Johnson Family Farms, Broad whipped up a salad and potato medley in minutes.

"Food is better if it's traveled 30 miles instead of 3,000," he said. "Local restaurants can support local farms."

During the summer, the Princess purchases 300 to 500 pounds of fresh produce from local farmers weekly. The effort is met with much praise by guests, Broda said. "Farm to table is increasingly popular. People like to eat good, healthy food and it gives us the edge to use local products. We advertise that and the guests respond well.

Use one part acid (vinegar or lemon) to three parts oil and a smidgeon of mustard. Put the vinegar (such as a blueberry vinegar from Basically Basil) in a bowl and slowly whip in the oil. Experiment by adding garlic or seasonings.

Rustic Potatoes
Blanch local potatoes and cut up. Heat oil in a frying pan till very hot. Add onions, potatoes, lemon juice, basil and fresh lettuce. Add garlic toward the end so it doesn't burn. Saute quickly and serve.

Yes, you can find locally grown food in Fairbanks in March!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Geography instructor chosen for Google Teacher Academy

John Bailey (pictured at right) , who teaches geography for SNRAS, has been selected to attend the next Google Teacher Academy in Sydney, Australia, May7-8.

The Google Teacher Academy is a two-day intensive program that recognizes educators who are doing innovative and exciting things in their classrooms with technology. The participants get hands-on experience with Google's products and technologies, learn about innovative instructional strategies and receive resources to share with colleagues. Upon completion, Academy participants become Google Certified Teachers who share what they learn with other educators in their local regions and beyond.

The Google Certified Teacher program was launched in 2006 with the first Academy held at Google headquarters in Mountain View. The program has since held several academies across the U.S., Australia and the U.K. Only 50 participants are accepted into each academy, from hundreds of worldwide applications.

Google Certified Teachers are exceptional educators with a passion for using innovative tools to improve teaching and learning, as well as creative leaders and ambassadors for change. They are recognized experts and widely admired for their commitment to high expectations for students, lifelong learning and collaboration.

Dr. Bailey is a research assistant professor for Scenarios Network for Alaska and Arctic Planning. He earned a master's in physics with space science and systems at the University of Kent at Canterbury, a master's in geology and geophysics at the University of Hawaii at Manoa and a doctorate in geology and geophysics at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. He volunteers at SNRAS geography education events, where he shares Google Earth technology with children and adults.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

SARE conference set for March 13-14

The Sustainable Agriculture Conference March 13–14 in Fairbanks will cover a variety of topics, from harvesting rainwater to agritourism.

The University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service will host the ninth annual conference at the Fairbanks Princess Riverside Lodge. Sustainable agriculture is an approach to farming that is good for the environment and the community, according to conference organizer Michele Hebert.

Preconference workshops on March 12 will kick off the event. Billy Kniffen of San Antonio, Texas, will talk about water cisterns and developing rain barrel and irrigation systems. New Mexico farmer Don Bustos will cover low-cost sustainable farming methods.

During the conference, Minnesota food analyst Ken Meter will talk about how Alaskans can find economically, socially and environmentally viable ways to grow food. Meter runs a nonprofit organization in Minneapolis, Crossroads Resource Center, that works with communities to support sustainability.

Several conference sessions will focus on ways agricultural businesses can incorporate tourism, from reindeer ranches to farm stays. Other topics will include a farmer-to-farmer training program, sustainable farming and gardening practices, heating greenhouses with passive solar, food safety, marketing and agency updates. Panels will discuss improving the fertility of farms and expanding agriculture in the Interior.

Preconference workshops are $50 each or $55 for both. Registration for the conference is $60 for one day or $85 for two. Student rates also are available. See agenda and registration information here.

Monday, March 4, 2013

SNRAS student to serve internship at University of Oregon

Tayesia Nick
Tayesia Nick, a junior studying natural resources management, has been accepted for a summer internship with the Alaska/Oregon Research Training Partnership. She will focus on viruses and bacteria.

Nick, who hails from Pilot Station, is excited about spending the summer in Eugene, Ore., and learning about new aspects of natural resources. “I’ll get to learn about the other side of life, the molecular,” she said.

Drawn to natural resources studies because of her innate interest in the land, Nick said, “Most people go for the money-making; I wanted to go for what I care about, for things I actually like. This is what I care about.”

Back home in Pilot Station, where Nick’s brother is mayor, she plans to encourage the community to begin a gardening project. Another goal is to help get solar panels in use there. “I could start with our house and keep spreading,” she said. “I see it working. I know there will be a few obstacles but I would like to see a wiser use of technology.

“And I want to make the wisest use of the land.”

Nick is active in the Native Alaskan Business Leaders, Natives for a Positive Change and Alaska Native Science and Engineering Program.

Her advisor, Associate Professor Susan Todd, described Nick as a hard-working, determined student. “She has enthusiasm for school and life,” Todd said. “It is such a thrill to have Native students again. It’s been a while.”