Friday, June 28, 2013

Reindeer calves on the way to becoming ambassadors

Kacey Capuchino works with a reindeer calf.
A new outreach ambassador is being trained to represent the Reindeer Research Program. No, make that two ambassadors.

After two years without an animal suitable for site visits, RRP now has two three-month-old male calves chomping at the bit to fill this need. The previous emissary, Rip, died two years ago after serving in the role for more than six years. He was well known and loved in schools, elders’ homes and other public facilities.

To kickstart the program, a student intern from California Polytechnic State University, Kacey Capuchino, spent the past two weeks halter breaking the calves. This is Capuchino’s second year as an RRP intern. The animal science major will spend the rest of the summer in Nome working on an exclosure project. She has discovered a very different atmosphere in Alaska. “It’s really interesting and it’s a new perspective,” she said.

“Luckily these calves are pretty good with people and being handled,” Capuchino said. “They are getting used to the halter on their faces and they follow when you lead them with a rope.”

RRP animal caretaker Erin Carr said it helped that the calves spent their formative days in the upper pens and got used to people because hundreds of school children took field trips to the Fairbanks Experiment Farm to see the reindeer and that is the area they visit. “It helped socialize them,” Carr said. “At first we had to throw them lichen but now they will eat out of your hand.”

While the reindeer mothers watch anxiously as their calves are being trained, they seem to understand the little ones aren’t being harmed. “The moms figured out we’re not going to kill their babies and now they don’t mind at all,” Capuchino said.

Capuchino is accustomed to working with horses and cattle and finds the reindeer have different patterns. Horses will back up, cows will take the “not budging” stance but reindeer tend to flop around as a way to resist the halter.

It’s lucky that two of the 14 calves born this spring can be trained, Carr said. One will probably become the star and the other the backup. The RRP gets so many requests for reindeer visits it will be wonderful to be able to meet that need again, hopefully by fall, Carr said. The calves go by numbers now and will receive their monikers in August just like the rest of the calves through the calf naming program. Anyone is welcome to submit suggestions.

George Aguiar shows items that teachers receive when they use the Reindeer Roundup curriculum.
RRP has a curriculum, “Reindeer Roundup!” Teachers who choose to incorporate the material into their classrooms get a kit to help bring the lessons to life, but nothing does the trick like having a reindeer in the classroom. “When you bring in a live reindeer you can’t replace that,” said George Aguiar, research professional. “It’s nice to have that option.”

The program stresses science through animal production and is focused on the unique adaptations that allow reindeer to thrive in the arctic. “It provides real life examples and covers math, history, biology, physiology,” Aguiar said.

“And it’s real life happening in their back yard.”

Carr and Aguiar will continue the training program throughout the summer. If interested in learning more about the curriculum or RRP outreach, Carr can be reached at 907-474-5449.
A reindeer calf learns to be led around the pen.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Alumni spotlight: Evan Kane

Evan Kane
After earning a doctorate in interdisciplinary forest ecology at UAF, Evan Kane joined the faculty at Michigan Tech in 2009. He is an assistant professor in the School of Forest Resources and Environmental Science.

The woods of Alaska still beckon Kane occasionally, and he was here in June to continue his research.

“I’m still interested in carbon sequestration and this is where the soil carbon is,” Kane said.

“I am broadly interested in nutrient dynamics in terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems, particularly in hotspots of soil carbon storage,” Kane posted on his Michigan Tech web page. “As such, research has focused on belowground changes in northern peatlands, boreal ecosystems, and temperate forests, and the corresponding changes in dissolved chemistry. Ecosystem change is a pretty relative concept, but study designs incorporating experimental manipulation or natural disturbances can be particularly persuasive in learning an ecosystem's secrets.

“Natural disturbances offer great opportunities to determine how ecosystems reorganize, and wildfires in particular can dramatically alter how long carbon can stay in above and belowground components of an ecosystem. Besides, getting outside and seeing first-hand how disturbances such as flooding or wildfire have altered the functioning of an ecosystem is just really exciting.”

Kane, 36, grew up in Alpena, Mich., playing in the woods. He knew he wanted his work to involve the outdoors so he got a B.S. in ecology and environmental science and a master’s in forestry at Michigan Tech, then came north to UAF to earn a Ph.D.

When Kane took Professor Chien-Lu Ping’s summer field course examining soil-forming factors of the subarctic and arctic regions of Alaska, he found it to be “a real eye opener.” He also credited Professor David Valentine with greatly assisting his academic career.

“I think the most important thing I learned while working on my Ph.D. was an appreciation for how important a role the lab manager and support staff play in education and in just getting stuff done,” Kane said. “These positions are hugely important.” Kane was so impressed with the Forest Soils Lab team at SNRAS that he is using it as model at Michigan Tech. “I can’t say enough good things about Lola Oliver (lab supervisor) and her group and also about Dr. Valentine’s experience in the field.”

Credit also goes to the Center for Global Change. “That really jump-started my graduate research,” Kane said.

Working on a Ph.D. is not so much about course work, Kane commented. “It forces you to jump in without a safety net and get your hands dirty in the lab. If you mess up it’s your dime and your time. I messed up many times more than I succeeded.”

In teaching soils and wildfire classes, Kane tries to emphasize the importance soils play in governing the processes on which life depends. His one disappointment is that most of the time there is more computer time than days in the field. He is working with the Bonanza Creek Long Term Ecological Research station to seek funding for more fire research.

Driven by a passion for research, Kane enjoys biking and just being outside in his free time.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Professor Elena Sparrow is IARC's scientist of the month

Elena Sparrow
Elena Sparrow, a SNRAS professor of resources management, was honored as scientist of the month by the International Arctic Research Center for the month of June. Following is an interview conducted by the IARC publications team:

As leader of IARC’s Education and Outreach programs, Elena Sparrow directs broad efforts to convene and communicate new and innovative science research and teaching methods. Sparrow has led a long and noteworthy career as a soil microbiologist, in addition to her key role in the development and growth of the Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment (GLOBE) program and science education in Alaska.

IARC: What would people be interested to know about your current projects?

Sparrow: My research has long focused on Arctic sea ice, and I’ve recently worked to establish a long-term sea ice database for use in a formal, searchable Sea Ice Atlas interface. Our research group for this project has established a common-format background for sea ice levels back to the 1850s, and we have examined the ability of models to simulate changes such as the recent rapid loss of summer sea ice.

In addition, I have served as a contributor on the subject of ongoing Arctic changes to a number of official reports, including the 2013 U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) National Climate Assessment (NCA), for which I was a Convening Lead Author in Climate Change Science.

IARC: Have you always been interested in studying and teaching about the earth and its science?

Sparrow: Growing up under modest means in the Philippines, I wanted to help people as a medical doctor, but the schooling would have required me to move too far from home. Instead, since our town was also home to an agricultural college, I developed an interest in food and farming as a way to help others and improve living conditions.

While an undergraduate, I formed a strong student-teacher relationship with my mentor around the study of soil and our roles as women scientists. From there, I continued to specialize in soil microbiology for my graduate degrees in the US.

IARC: How did these circumstances lead you to Alaska and IARC?

Sparrow: After graduate school, I began to work with government agencies, including the EPA, the Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory (CRREL), and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). Since this was during the Pipeline period in Alaska, many groups with environmental concerns had a stake in designing and conducting scientific studies here. It was during this time that I first moved to Alaska to conduct research, crisis management simulations, and workshop studies. It was through the early climate studies and activities I conducted for the USDA that I was able to develop a reputation as a resource for regional climate and climate change education.

IARC: What might interest people about your current work?

Sparrow: Much of my recent work represents a continuation of the ties and affiliations I developed early in my career, to funding agencies such as NSF and educational programs like GLOBE. Over time, through GLOBE efforts, we have been able to engage students in soils, land cover/biology, phenology, atmosphere, cryosphere, and hydrology research in an era of climate change.

Further, we have done widespread recent work through our workshop programs (in Alaska, and around the world) to help and interact with science teachers, to better integrate science education across curricula and diverse learning contexts. We also work to engage young scientists and learners at K-12 levels, as we feel strongly that early, hands-on participation in the scientific process is key to community environmental awareness and resources management. Consistent with IARC’s mission, we develop ways to emphasize the Earth as a system of interacting components and cycles, paying special attention to the participation and involvement of humans.

IARC: What interests do you have outside of your research and outreach work?

Sparrow: I love music and dancing, and playing the guitar and piano. I also enjoy cooking at home, as well as hiking, and I very much appreciate that hiking in Alaska doesn’t carry the same risk of contact with snakes as I had when growing up.

(Special thanks to IARC for sharing this information about Elena Sparrow.)

Alaskans work toward sustainable livestock production

Jan Rowell (right) and Deirdre Helfferich of the School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences compile data at the Sustainable Livestock Conference. A publication reporting on the conference was recently completed.
What began as a chance to gather and talk about livestock issues in Alaska has spurred university researchers to work hand in hand with the state’s producers.

A new UAF publication, Sustainable Livestock Production in Alaska, captures the highlights of a conference held in Anchorage in October 2011. A followup conference was held a year later.

“Those of us at the university were energized by the response we got from people,” Rowell said. “Ours may be a small farm community but the people are full of ideas. It was very positive. Now we just have to find the money to move forward.”

When the original conference was held, the purpose was to focus on the red meat system by inviting livestock producers, processors, regulators, policy makers, animal health care practitioners, food safety professionals and researchers for round table discussions. The conference initiated dialog that defined barriers and sought ways to grow a healthy, sustainable livestock system, focusing on production; processing and distribution; and marketing and retail.

“We wanted to see what the bottlenecks were, what was working and solicit suggestions on how to improve,” said School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences Assistant Professor Jan Rowell, conference coordinator and author of the recent report.

The new report serves as a key element of stakeholder input, she added. The goal is to form a steering committee to help define the advisory role of stakeholders, approaches to solicit regional input, means and frequency of communication between the group and the research team, incorporation of new memberships, membership turnover and future recruitment.

“We identified key people and when the funding settles we’re going to form a stakeholder group,” Rowell said.

When participants at the first conference said grazing practices were a priority for them, a second workshop was held to focus primarily on that. Fiber producers requested an extra day to work on their special concerns. An outcome of that gathering is that Rowell is helping look for possibilities to fund a custom fiber mill.

Another result of the meetings was that SNRAS now has a graduate student studying grazing practices at UAF’s Large Animal Research Station. While muskoxen will be the focus of the student’s research, her work will include basic principles that will apply to any species.

“We have the capacity and the land base to produce enough meat to feed many more Alaskans but we have not done it. Why not?” the report states.

Thanks to the willingness of farmers and others to meet with university researchers the answers and methods should be defined and addressed.

“The Alaska Division of Agriculture has been a great supporter of everything we’ve done,” Rowell said. The conference was supported by the National Institute for Food and Agriculture, USDA Award Number 2011-68004-20091.

To obtain a printed version of the report, email Rowell at
Nenana Urban Farms proves livestock can be raised in Alaska. David Poppe is pictured with some of his animals.

Monday, June 24, 2013

New fishery could boost food security for Alaska

The establishment of a new artisanal commercial fishery in Alaska could improve food security for the state, according to authors of a newly published article in the Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development.

“Currently, we manage all commercial fisheries as industrial fisheries, keeping the cost of entry high in order to prevent overfishing,” said Philip Loring, a researcher at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. “But if we carve out a small portion of these fisheries and regulate them differently, lower the cost of entry for small-scale fishers but require that the catch be marketed locally, we would be taking a huge step toward improving food security across the state.”

Food insecurity in Alaska is a rising challenge. Seafood, which is an important part of the Alaska food system, is not usually featured in local food movements, which more often focus on agricultural products. Instead, scientific research and international policy documents more often talk about wild fisheries as imperiled and overfished. That can put food security and fisheries conservation at odds: Loring notes the recurrent conflicts over Yukon River king salmon management as an example.

Loring and his colleagues, UAF professor Craig Gerlach and recent master’s degree graduate Hannah Harrison (a SNRAS alum), surveyed 1,500 Kenai Peninsula households in 2011. The results showed that access to locally caught seafood, especially salmon, correlates with higher household food security. The effect was strongest among low-income households. While many people assume that access to locally grown or harvested food improves food security, the study is among the first to show such an outcome with actual data.

The study found that 80 percent of surveyed households had a member that fishes locally, whether for personal use and subsistence, sport, as a charter guide or commercially. While this is a high proportion, some local residents are missing out.

“Grocery stores in the Peninsula do not offer fresh local seafood, which seems unreal,” Loring said. “Unless you fish yourself, or know someone who fishes and have something to barter or trade, you are out of luck.”

Barter and trade was the primary method of obtaining local seafood for many low-income households surveyed.

Loring and colleagues argue that increasing individual opportunities to fish is not the best way to improve food security in the Peninsula and in the state. Increasing the availability of commercially caught fish at affordable prices could be a better solution, they said. “Individual access to food resources, whether you are fishing yourself or growing it yourself is important, but it is not the basis of a sustainable and resilient food system. We need to find ways to develop local markets and bring Alaska-caught seafood to Alaska consumers before shipping it off to the global food system.”

Sunday, June 9, 2013

First Mud Day a blast

Hundreds of children played in the mud pit at the Georgeson Botanical Garden June 9. Event organizer Andrea Chlupp hopes to make this an annual event.
The smile says it all.
Mud Day was a chance for children to explore nature in a freestyle manner!

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Arctic study finds resilience of social, ecological systems pushed to limits

Gary Kofinas
SNRAS Professor Gary Kofinas wrote a chapter in the Arctic Resilience Report.

Marion Davis of the Stockholm Environment Institute edited Dr. Kofinas's chapter."I am a fan," she said. "It is great on the human aspects of Arctic change and also on possible ways to build resilience and adaptive and transformative capacity."

An international project, the Arctic Resilience Report finds that rapid – even abrupt – changes are occurring on multiple fronts across the Arctic, raising the risk of crossing thresholds that would cause irreversible changes to ecosystems, environmental processes, and societies.

The Arctic is in the spotlight like never before. Scientists and environmentalists watch it as a bellwether of global climate change, while nations and corporations seek to exploit the region’s oil, gas and mineral reserves, and new shipping routes. Yet most discussions of the Arctic fail to consider how changes in climate, ecosystems, economics, and society interact.
The Arctic Resilience Report (ARR), led by the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) and the Stockholm Resilience Centre at Stockholm University (SRC), set out to fill that gap. What it found is that the combination of multiple, dramatic changes is pushing social-ecological systems to their limits.

“The Arctic is changing so fast and in so many interacting ways that it affects the very fabric of ecosystems and societies,” says Annika E. Nilsson, Ph.D., senior research fellow at SEI and scientific coordinator of the first phase of the ARR. “We have to be prepared for surprises, and we need to increase the capacity to adapt and to grapple with conflicting priorities.”

Launched in 2011 as a priority of the Swedish Chairmanship of the Arctic Council, the ARR is a collaboration between experts in the Nordic countries, Russia, Canada, and the U.S. representing a range of knowledge traditions including indigenous perspectives. Today at the Arctic Council Ministerial Meeting in Kiruna, Sweden, a 120-page report is being released that lays out the ARR’s initial findings. It includes a preliminary assessment of critical thresholds in the Arctic, an analysis of societies’ adaptive capacity, and four pilot case studies. The ARR final report will be released in May 2015.

“Change in the Arctic is taking place with striking breadth and diversity,” says Johan Rockström, executive director of SRC and chair of the ARR Steering Committee. “We need robust options for policy and management, and the first step is to get a more integrated picture of the challenges in the Arctic.”

To achieve this, the ARR team applied what they call a “resilience lens”: an approach that explores how social and ecological systems are interconnected, identifies the shocks and stresses they may face, and gauges their ability to recover and, if needed, to adapt or transform.

Viewed through this lens, the Arctic is a web of social and ecological systems that, together, are rapidly changing in multiple ways. The combined effect of those changes increases the risk of crossing thresholds that could abruptly and irreversibly transform Arctic ecosystems, environmental processes, and societies.

“When people talk about global change, they often assume that it will happen fairly steadily, and that people and ecosystems will be able to make step-by-step adjustments over time, but we document a growing body of research that shows this is far from always the case,” says Sarah Cornell, Ph.D., lead author of the ARR’s thresholds analysis and coordinator of the Planetary Boundaries research initiative at SRC.

“Sometimes very large steps will need to be taken to keep up. And sometimes, changes will be radical,” Cornell adds. “Arctic sea ice is melting faster than global models predict. Ice-free summers could be the case within a few decades. Human interventions are also increasingly changing the landscape. Change this rapid is unprecedented, so we don’t fully know what to expect, but the climatic and ecological results will be profound. Not only ecosystems, but communities and industrial infrastructure could be seriously affected.”

Building on strengths and making wise choices
A key message of the ARR is that policy and development choices matter a lot. Past decisions shape today’s options for adaptation and transformation, and today’s choices will shape our future options. The authors also stress that many changes in the Arctic are driven by global trends, and at the same time, changes in the Arctic could have environmental, economic and social impacts around the globe.
“Responding to these challenges involves grappling with different and sometimes competing priorities,” says Nilsson. “The resilience approach can help us understand the interplay of those priorities, and participatory processes can ensure all voices are heard.”

A major section of the ARR discusses sources of resilience and adaptive capacity in the Arctic, highlighting ways to build on them that would facilitate more flexible and collaborative approaches to Arctic governance that can quickly adjust to new conditions.

“The Arctic is going to keep surprising us, and we need to set up systems that can respond and adapt to slow and fast changes alike,” says Nilsson. “Solutions will also need to be appropriate for different sets of circumstances, and incorporate insights from different knowledge traditions – social and natural sciences as well as traditional knowledge.”

Kofinas is a professor of resource policy and management.

OneTree education outreach explodes as school year ends

Chris Pastro welcomed Birch Pavelsky to her Randy Smith Middle School classroom.

The last few weeks of school in Fairbanks found an explosion of OneTree Alaska activities in the classrooms and forests, involving everything from a knitting needle factory to birch sap tapping to an outing based on the novel “Hatchet.”

Along with all the usual OneTree activities incorporating citizen science, phenology and art, teachers branched out into wider areas as they became bolder in using OneTree in their curricula.

Chris Pastro at Randy Smith Middle School invited expert craftsman Birch Pavelsky to work with her students in May to manufacture knitting needles, chopsticks and hair chops. Her classroom was abuzz while students ground birch into needles, sanded them and measured them. The students chatted excitedly while working.

A student in Chris Pastro's class makes knitting needles.
Prior to production day, Pastro and the students had dried the birch branches, took several weights and measurements and did loss prediction and actual loss (of moisture content). To cover the artistic aspect, students also drew sketches of birch leaves on watercolor paper.

The students learned to recognize types and characteristics of wood used in making needles and to identify genus and species of the tree. They even created business plans for marketing the birch products.

Students forced birch to create buds, then leaves, then watched them enter dormancy.
Throughout the winter and into the spring Pastro’s class had studied the effects of different soils on tree growth, along with observing germination, growth and dormancy. Each student kept a OneTree journal.

“It’s been a wonderful long-term project for these students,” Pastro said. “They know more about birch than a lot of people.” She loves that the project incorporates science, math, art, writing and interpreting data.

“I want my students to be citizen scientists and observe the natural world,” Pastro said. “They are learning to understand the life cycle of birch. It’s good for them to slow down and understand something in their back yard and appreciate it.”

Being involved in OneTree has added the element of curiosity, Pastro said. “It says to them let’s look closer.”

Another wonderful aspect has been the visitors. Having a scientist and graduate students work alongside the children has been inspiring, Pastro said. “It’s been invaluable to the students to see someone working in the field and to see that they love their jobs.”

Teacher Carri Forbes was thrilled with the sap harvest.
Field trips throughout mid-May found students from several schools visiting the UAF campus to measure the volume of sap flowing from the birch trees alongside Thompson Drive and then to measure the sap’s sugar content. Students measured the height and diameter of trees and distance to nearest neighbors. They even made a birch drink from the sap.
OneTree Alaska Director Jan Dawe helped students measure sap during one of the field trips.
“It’s an ecological unit,” teacher Carri Forbes of Tanana Middle School said. “To get kids to buy into plants is not that easy. With this we study the food web and the energy pyramid.”

Art is an important component of OneTree activities. (Photo by Nicky Eiseman)

Jan Dawe pours birch sap for Anne Wien students. (Photo by Nicky Eiseman)
Teacher Nicky Eiseman of Anne Wien Elementary School created her own OneTree element by drawing on the book “Hatchet” by Gary Paulsen. Her class had been reading the book and she decided to take her students May 20 to a park near the school to use birch bark to start a campfire and to drink the birch sap they had collected.

“I thought OneTree was a really cool idea,” Eiseman said. "There are exciting innovative people involved; it's science and art and it's very intellectual.”

“I don't think I realized how powerful it was till we got these little birch trees in my classroom. I saw the bond that grew between my students and their trees and how intimately they observed the growth and development of the trees and were concerned about them. Once outside we were able to make all kinds of connections with other plants based on the knowledge they gained from caring for one specific tree. From making observations and doing weekly recordings and making predictions, they were able to extrapolate that knowledge to other plants.

“Jan was fearless in using scientific terminology and making it accessible. The kids loved the idea of being foster parents to the trees. This was a living thing that needed caring for and we were doing that.

“It was being part of real science.”

“Ms. Eiseman is a great OneTree teacher, new to the project this year,” said OneTree Alaska Director Jan Dawe. “She opened her doors wide, which involves quite a bit of risk and then she worked right alongside us. Her input about classroom management techniques helped all of us, especially the service learners, become comfortable about facilitating classroom activities and lessons.

“Teachers like this go the extra mile every day to help students, be they 10 years old or 45, to learn the most from every situation, every exploration, that comes their way,” Dawe said.

“OneTree is becoming a much more solid K-20 STEAM program because of teachers like her and the grad student service learners.”

Nicky Eiseman builds a campfire with birch.

OneTree staff and volunteers celebrated spring with a "From Seed to Tree" gathering May 10.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Botanical garden hosts mud day

Children will be encouraged to get dirty Sunday, June 9 at the Georgeson Botanical Garden during a free mud day event. A pit of mud will be available for everyone to squish their toes in or roll in from 1 to 4 p.m. Attendees are encouraged to bring towels and an extra set of clothes. Cleanup stations will be available.

Volunteer Andrea Chlupp is organizing the event because she wants to get kids outside. "I hope to draw the community out and have fun in the mud," she said. "It'll be free play for anyone."

There will be areas for toddlers (just a couple of inches of mud) and deeper areas for older children and adults.

"I hope children can learn to play together in an unstructured manner, to explore and enjoy and awaken their curiosity," Chlupp said.

Volunteers are excavating a hole and will clean out rocks and branches to keep the area as smooth as possible. "Then we'll just add water," Chlupp said.

The garden is located at the farthest west edge of the University of Alaska Fairbanks campus at the Fairbanks Experiment Farm, 117 W. Tanana Drive. Call 474-7222 for more information. The mud pit will be in the children's garden.

Chlupp hopes to make this an annual event.