Monday, September 30, 2013

Alaska farmer challenges conference attendees to solve problems

From left, Casey Steinau of Sen. Mark Begich’s office, Diane Peck (Alaska Food Policy Council), Lisa Sadleir-Hart (Alaska Food Policy Council), visit with farmer Bryce Wrigley about solutions to food security.
Bryce Wrigley of Wrigley Farms and Alaska Flour Co. asked participants at the 8th Circumpolar Agricultural Conference/UArctic Inaugural Food Summit that started today in Girdwood, Alaska, what they would do if they didn’t fear anything.
“It’s important to act, to accomplish something, to chart out a process or path,” he said at Monday’s luncheon.
Quoting Winston Churchill and his “Never give up” line, Wrigley said, “That’s the attitude we need to have food security.”
Originally from Idaho, the Wrigleys moved to Delta Junction, Alaska, in 1983 to establish Wrigley Farms. They raised barley for animal feed for decades. Then Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans and Wrigley could not stop thinking about the state’s food supply.
“It took two weeks for those people to get food and they are close to the food supply.”
So Wrigley decided it was time to start feeding humans in addition to livestock. At the Alaska Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station’s farm at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, a new variety of hulless barley, called Sunshine Barley, was released and Wrigley began growing it with great success.
He’d never even been in flour mill so he and his wife Jan visited several in the lower 48 and came home to hammer out things like equipment, insurance and regulations. “The devil is in the details,” Wrigley said. “It wasn’t a fun process.”
By December 2011 Alaska Flour Co. was fully operational and today it supplies Alaskans with barley flour and barley cereal, made in Alaska!
“Keep your eye on the objective,” Wrigley said. “Sure it’s cheaper to ship flour in but what does it really cost us?”
He said maintaining a farm is one way his children can stay productive and get involved in the family business, if they choose to do so.
He isn’t advocating that Alaska stop importing food. “I like bananas,” he said with a laugh.
“But what will we do if the planes, trucks and barges don’t make it? We need a mechanism to fall back on.
“We’ve got to develop policies and raise awareness of the process. Burying your head in the sand is not a solution. Let’s build something and solve problems."
Bryce Wrigley with SNRAS Interim Dean Stephen Sparrow and Professor Elena Sparrow.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Monday, September 23, 2013

BAKLAP takes legislators on tour of forest research and OneTree experiences

Professor Glenn Juday, center, explains the BAKLAP research. From left are Sen. John Coghill, SNRAS staffer Ryan Jess, Juday, Rynnieva Moss (Coghill staffer), Rep. Doug Isaacson, Bruce Campbell (Sen. Pete Kelly staffer)
Interior legislators and aides tromped through the woods of the Bonanza Creek Experimental Forest Sept. 20. In the midst of white spruce and birch trees, Professor Glenn Juday said, "Here is the first class facility your capital appropriations made possible. This is the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Here are stakes, posts and tags covering 66 acres, the data and the survey notes; we have everything for future work on practical considerations of sustainable biomass production systems."

While no structures exist there, Juday explained the survey posts and flags mark the efforts of the first year's work of Boreal Alaska -- Learning, Adaptation, and Production (Project BAKLAP). The state funded the work in 2012 and for the past year Juday and SNRAS graduate students and staff have been measuring the growth of trees, in particular white spruce. The 1983 Rosie Creek Fire completely burned that area to the ground; the area has previously never been examined to this extent.

"This relates to state need for biomass energy demands," Juday said.

"It's nice to start this work," said Chris Maisch, state forester for the Alaska Division of Forestry. Calling Juday and his team the Division of Forestry's research arm, Maisch said, "Now we can look at the changes over time and we have long term fixed plots. We can look at the long term sustainability of fuel."

"This is a cool outdoor lab," said Rep. Scott Kawasaki. "From a policy standpoint we are trying to figure out biomass. It's part of our energy portfolio. How many trees are needed for the energy to produce heat? This is very good practical information to know how fast trees grow. We have to figure out better ways to manage the forests."

Kawasaki added, "Alaska has tremendous natural resource assets but they haven't been well understood."

From left, Meredith Cameron (Rep. David Guttenberg staffer), Sen. John Coghill, Rep. Scott Kawasaki, Professor Glenn Juday and graduate student Andrew Allaby talk about the research conducted in the forest this summer.
Sen. John Coghill asked, "Can we be a good leader in management of the boreal forest?" "This shows there is a lot of work to do. We'll be paying attention."

Now that the data is being mined and the forest is measured, the Division of Forestry will have a better understanding of what is growing and will be able to create best management practices.

Miho Morimoto, SNRAS doctoral student, explains her work to Rep. Doug Isaacson and Bruce Campbell.
Doctoral student Miho Morimoto told legislators about her operational regeneration assessment of state forest land in Fairbanks, Delta Junction and Tok. She studied the harvest activities and reforestation by thoroughly examining existing databases. Today's foresters are looking for biomass to meet energy needs. Morimoto sampled 27 harvest units to study regeneration over the long term. Walking around every plot, she compared techniques and observed that scarification increased stem numbers. She will spend the winter analyzing the data.

"We've never had this picture before," Juday said. "Now we have the numbers needed for a sustained yield program."

The legislators learned that the boreal forest is the largest biome in the world with only six species of trees. The Long Term Ecological Research site at Bonanza Creek contains 8,600 acres. It is the site of the greatest concentration of forestry research in Alaska. The optimum growth period was from 1915 to the 1960s. Right now the lowest rates of growth in 2,000 years are occurring in the Fairbanks area due to heat and dryness. In western Alaska, trees are growing rapidly.

Graduate student Andrew Allaby shared his research which focuses on how the forest regenerates after a disturbance. "There is no silver bullet to solving energy but there might be a silver buckshot approach," he said.

In the area where the 1983 fire leveled all the trees, Allaby counted trees and measured the height of 16,000 trees on 4 1/2 acres. "What should forest managers do after a fire or logging?" he asked. "I looked at the whole range of silviculture treatments applied after the burn." Six different treatments for regenerating white spruce were used, from leaving everything alone to planting seedlings. "Now we can verify best practices and clairfy tradeoffs.

"This is ground zero for biomass."

Juday said, "The amount allowed to be harvested depends on how it grows back. Foresters need information." The studies will help determine how much wood to grow to feed into boilers." In counting how many trees had died, Juday said the researchers learned new things about how squirrels and moose destroy trees.

After the field expedition to the woods, the legislators attended a reporting session with the other aspect of BAKLAP, the educational side (OneTree Alaska), led by Janice Dawe, assistant research professor. At the UAF University Park Building, the group saw where birch seedlings will be planted for school experiments and observed a demonstration by Birch Pavelsky on making knitting needles from birch. When students get to make something with their hands it opens doors for them, Pavelsky said.
Birch Pavelsky demonstrates making knitting needles out of birch.

Dawe said, "The hallmark of our work is active learning. We are increasing production in the STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and math) pipeline. Art is a fantastic way in for everyone. It is a way to get students interested in science."

The K-12 outreach program has been working with teachers since 2009 and has reached thousands of students. In the coming year, OneTree will work with students and teachers to plant 1,500 to 2,000 birch seedlings. Students not only grow and plant seedlings, they measure, count leaves, tap birch trees for sap to make into syrup and other products and create art and products based on the trees.

"It gives them a connection to the real world," Dawe said. "We are trying to understand the resilience of birch."

The BAKLAP funding helped OneTree gather an incredibly talented pool of graduate students who work as service learners in the classrooms.

SNRAS Interim Dean and Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station Interim Director Steve Sparrow said, "We make it a hallmark to integrate research, education and outreach. We study research questions relevant to Alaska and we train Alaska students in Alaska to manage Alaska's resources."

Fairbanks North Star Borough School District art coordinator Karen Stomberg said, "We saw what Jan had and knew we wanted this." She credited OneTree with offering many professional development opportunities for teachers. "Learning science and artistic processes is what this is all about. Teachers connect to the land and they take that back to the classrooms. The respect and learning and knowledge continues."

After aligning with OneTree, the school district's art teachers developed eight birch art/science kits that are loaned to K-6 classrooms. "The wonderful thing about OneTree is it reached in and it reached out," Stomberg said. Collaborations began to grow in other areas. It keeps growing as people get interested in different aspecst of OneTree and BAKLAP." She thanked the legislators for the "richness you brought to the school district and beyond" by funding the project.

The first teacher to become affiliated with OneTree, Chris Pastro at Randy Smith Middle School, said it has brought real authentic science to the classroom. "The students look at microscopes and they are in the dirt mucking about, learning inquiry methods and devising their own experiments. It's really rich, authentic learning." She also loves that OneTree brings scientists to the classrooms where children can see the career possibilities available to them.

Janice Dawe shows off products made from birch.
Dawe's program has expanded this year to include 10 service learners. Several of them reported on their work in the classrooms and with other OneTree projects.

Artist Margo Klass recalled the 2011 OneTree art show. "It was amazing," she said. Now she is helping plan another show called "Our Boreal Forest" for 2015. "We expect much greater involvement. Mentoring is going to be really important. It will be a hands-on show, where the audience is encouraged to touch the art items. "It's not going to be an exhibit, but a trailhead," she said.

Sen. John Coghill said connecting arts and learning has an intuitive ring to it. "Kids learn by doing," he said.

Rep. Doug Isaacson said, "The implications of developing a biomass energy resources and teaching our students how the forest is not a plot but an ecosystem in which we fit. The enthusiasm of the people involved is energizing. It's refreshing. I love it."

"The hallmark of this collaboration is energy and innovation," Glenn Juday said. "It is a privilege to work with such dedicated people."

UAF Chancellor Brian Rogers said, "When the state and university work together we get more done. A university working with state government and K-12 doesn't happen very often."

Friday, September 20, 2013

Noted ethnoecologist visits SNRAS grad seminar

Nancy Turner, left, looks at leaf samples with Jan Dawe.
SNRAS graduate seminar students were excited to host a special guest Thursday. Nancy Turner, ethnoecologist from the University of Victoria, B.C., shared her thoughts on broader impacts with the group.

“It’s often the case that we don’t think far enough ahead what the impacts will be,” Turner said. Referring to a paper she wrote for Ecology and Society, Turner said it was a very personal article about growing up in Victoria and loving wild places. “Watching them transform hurt me personally but that wasn’t recognized,” she said. “The forest was cut down and turned into a housing development.”

When asked how to make invisible losses more visible, Turner said, “Listen to people instead of telling them what you are going to do. Start without having made decisions and work with people to make decisions. Talk with people at the beginning of an idea and make steps to understand the implications for people. Give people decision-making power.”

Another paper she wrote, “Blundering Intruders,” is about people trying to survive and intruders want to build mines or pipelines. “Then people direct all their energy into how to stop something that is going to wreck their lives. Money talks so much. Industry and government force improvements on communities. We learned that people feel devastated.”

Gaining trust and working together on environmental and community decisions revolves around friendships, Turner said. She recalled taking her children with her when getting to know new people. “My indigenous friends say be open. Connect at similar interests. My love of plants is an instant icebreaker with elders anywhere. We can start a conversation about berries. You’ll all find you own ways of connecting.” She suggested offering to give a talk at a school, attend meetings, feasts and events. “If you indicate an interest they will invite you,” she said.

When scientists enter a community and get to know the people, then draw out ideas, key themes and patterns, they are using grounded theory, Turner said. “You follow the patterns to create hypotheses. It’s a luxury to be able to take the time. Maybe we should change our educational system to give more time. It is slow and painstaking work to listen and be with people but in the long run it is satisfying to do that work.”

Saying that science is value based, Turner added that if the things people value are non-consumptive (the northern lights or trees) they will make less of an impact than people who value only what they can buy. “Some societies value relationships more than things.”

When a returned Peace Corps volunteer questioned the value of the work she did in the field, Turner said, “Don’t underestimate the value of your presence.”

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Forest Fest set for Oct. 5

Amanda Byrd leaps off the log during the birling event in the 2012 Forest Fest.
The rich history of forestry and logging will be recognized Saturday, Oct. 5 at the 16th annual Farthest North Forest Sports Festival.

Competitors will use lumberjack skills that were necessary in the forest in days gone by and some that are still useful today. There is no entry fee and any adults are welcome to compete; it's not necessary to be Paul Bunyan, just a sense of fun and a little bit of athleticism will be helpful.

Events include log rolling, bow saw and crosscut sawing, ax throwing at the morning events at the Fairbanks Experiment Farm. In the afternoon at Ballaine Lake off Farmers Loop, campfire building and birling (staying upright on a log in the lake) will be the focus.

People may compete as individuals or teams of four to six. At the end of the day, the "Bull of the Woods" and the "Belle of the Woods" will be announced.

Faculty members and students in the Department of Forest Sciences at UAF developed the competition as a way to commemorate old-fashioned forest festivals. High-technology tools are the norm for today's forest professions and the festival pays tribute to a time when traditional woods activities were the basis for work and play, and even survival.

The Forest Fest begins at 10 a.m. at the Fairbanks Experiment Farm fields (across from the Georgeson Botanical Garden). At 1 p.m., the games move to Ballaine Lake. A warming fire and hot drinks will be available at the lake. Participants are advised to dress warmly. If competing in the birling, a towel and change of clothes would be wise.

The festival is sponsored by the UAF School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences. Herbert Baxter generously donated the logs for the competition.

Contact Professor John Yarie for more information.
Campfire building is a popular event at the Forest Fest.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Alumni profile: Martin Wilmking

Martin Wilmking
Martin Wilmking, a professor of landscape ecology at University Greifswald in Germany, earned his doctorate with SNRAS in 2003.

“I came to UAF out of pure passion for the north, my love of Alaska,” Wilmking said. “During my PhD studies I learned about the complex dynamics of northern ecosystems, their possibly drastic and sudden changes.

“Next to my passionate view of the landscapes, which I had from the beginning, during my studies I developed my scientific view of the land. To see the traces of past dynamics, to see the different players involved in shaping the current status of the ecological systems. Every new Ph.D. student I take on now in my job, I hope to give as much as I received back at UAF.  Alaska gave me self-confidence, sharpened my scientific intellect, but above all further fired up my love for wild places.”

As a graduate student, Wilmking mapped the forests in Denali National Park and Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve. He examined why some trees respond positively to warming and some don’t.

Wilmking credited Professor Glenn Juday with helping him achieve his goals. The two continue their collaboration to this day and Wilmking serves as an adjunct professor for SNRAS. His dissertation was “The Treeline Ecotone in Interior Alaska – From theoretical concept to planning application and the science in between.”

Wilmking and Juday learned how to reconstruct past climates by studying tree rings.

Wilmking has been published in 70 scientific publications and secured $5.3 million (U.S. dollars) in research funds. He is a reviewer for many publications, including Science, Nature Climate Change, Arctic, New Phytologist and Annals of Forest Science.

He and his wife Gabriela Antunez de Mayolo Wilmking have three children.

Interesting facts about Wilmking:
  • He wouldn’t give up on finding Bob Marshall’s (founder of the Wilderness Society) treeline experiment in the Brooks Range. Marshall had sowed white spruce seeds in a 12x12 plot to study tree-line advance in 1939. When Wilmking found the plot, he also found a note from Sam Wright, reporting that when Wright had found the plot in 1968 no seeds from Marshall had sprouted and he had replanted the plot with 100 seedlings of white spruce. When Wilmking relocated the plot in 2001, he found two seedlings still alive (see Wilmking and Ibendorf, 2004).
  • He sailed across the Atlantic Ocean in 1998 and lived and sailed on a sailboat in the Mediterranean alone for nine months.

Honors and Awards:
Elected Board member of "Young Academy" (Die Junge Akademie) at the Berlin Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina
Elected Chair of "Young Academy" (Die Junge Akademie) at the Berlin Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina
Selection into the "Young Academy" (Die Junge Akademie) at the Berlin Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina
Emmy Noether Junior Research Group from the German Science Foundation (DFG)
Sofja Kovalevskaja Award by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation
Emmy Noether Fellowship from the German Science Foundation (DFG)
NOAA/UCAR Postdoctoral Fellowship for Global and Climate Change

SNRAS launches new website

The SNRAS website has a fresh new look. Designed by UAF Marketing and Communications, the site is the first on campus to completely mesh with the new UAF brand.

A team of SNRAS staffers tackled the project in January and has worked closely with Marketing and Communications web developer Jenn Baker throughout the process. Baker is seeking input from the public about the new website.

Please take a moment to review the redesigned School of Natural Resources & Agricultural Sciences (SNRAS) website and complete a brief survey at this URL: If prompted by the dialog box "Do you want to view only the webpage content that was delivered securely?" click "No."
Please provide feedback using the survey at the bottom of the test page by Friday, Sept. 20. Feedback will be used to make improvements to the recent redesign.

Comments so far have been very positive:

 "Congratulations. It is quite beautiful and inspiring: growth, sustainability, discovery, progress and quality of life. I can get behind those things," said Assistant Research Professor Janice Dawe. "I'm glad ther'es such a school as SNRAS with this vision and scope."

"It looks great," said Raaj Kurapati, UAF associate vice chancellor. "Kudos to the team that worked to put it together. I particularly like the 'Inspiring' lead off."

"It looks fabulous," said Professor Pat Holloway. "The content has improved. There's lots of room for more content but I think it is grand."

Recent alumnus Garrett Altmann got in touch from New Mexico to say, "This updated website looks really good. Great job! This is a huge step in the 'reinventing' of our school and I think it will be well received by the UAF administration."

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

SNRAS offers service learning independent study

Randy Smith Middle School teacher Chris Pastro works with a student on the art side of a OneTree project.
Students can gain teaching experience with interdisciplinary STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, math) curriculum.

The SNRAS course, NRM 497/697, is part of OneTree Alaska, a program that provides elementary students with positive experiences of science and nature. Through active learning and inquiry investigation, students explore plant anatomy and physiology, the scientific process and the annual events in a birch tree's growth. A student can earn one to three credits for this course.

Classes meet two Saturdays a month from 9 to 11 a.m. and will alternate between hands-on workshops with teachers and service learners incorporating activities that demonstrate pre-selected themes and discussion groups. Students will spend one to two hours per week in the classroom facilitating lessons and will receive evaluations from the teachers.

The first class is Sept. 14 from 9 to 11 a.m. in Arctic Health Research Building 183. Contact Janice Dawe at 388-1772 by Sept. 12 to discuss participation.

Not just any old place

The Resilience and Adaptation Program will host a public presentation and discussion on Wednesday, Sept. 18, from 6-9 p.m. at the Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitors Center Theater in Fairbanks.

Notable North American ethnoecologist, Dr. Nancy Turner will discuss the importance of ecological diversity in Native American resource use and management.
Contact Todd Brinkman at 474-7139.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Alumni profile: Steven Beasley

From left, Jenifer McBeath, John Fox, Steven Beasley, Joshua Greenberg at a lecture given by Beasley at UAF this summer.

Steven Beasley, senior international marketing specialist with the Office of Trade Programs, Foreign Agricultural Service, USDA, first came to Alaska in 1974 seeking adventure in the Brooks Range. He joined a three-week expedition in Gates of the Arctic National Park with an outfitter and the principal planner for the park.

“It was quite an adventure,” Beasley said. Hailing from Tennessee, Beasley was so impressed with Alaska that he decided to stay. He enrolled at UAF as a junior to study natural resources management.

“It was an exciting time in Alaska,” Beasley recalled. “It was hard to stay on campus.” Summer jobs took him to the North Slope, where people could “make more money than they ever imagined,” he said.

As a student, Beasley practically lived at the Rasmuson Library. “I learned how to be a good student,” he said. “That gave me focus and drive. I learned how to zone in on a subject area.”

With SNRAS, Beasley said the small student to faculty ratio gave him easy access to professors. “I was in my professors’ offices on a daily basis engaging in dialog. That made for an incredible education that I found second to none.”

In his undergraduate years, he studied forest sciences, outdoor recreation, soils and conservation. “This laid the groundwork for me to understand agriculture, forestry and fisheries,” Beasley said.
He particularly loved natural resources economics. “It had a rigor to it I was looking for,” he said. In 1984 he earned a master’s in natural resources economics, which helped him land the job at FAS. “At that time it was the only path into FAS,” he said.

He admits it was quite an adjustment to move from Fairbanks to Washington, D.C. “It took several years to get used to the faster pace,” he said.

His career has provided amazing opportunities to promote agricultural products in the global marketplace. “This world is increasingly global,” Beasley said. “I always wanted to work internationally.”

The job has taken him to more than 30 countries to work on marketing analysis, international development and help private entities. “I have made so many friends,” Beasley said. “The global aspect has been fascinating.”

He hopes today’s students understand that this is a global economy. “I recommend studying abroad at least a year. “

His goals are to make sure his constituents’ needs are met and that his program has secure funding.
He and his wife, Nancy Williams, a professor at Loyola University in Baltimore, have a daughter Lauren.  The family enjoys hiking, bicycling and kayaking.

Steven Beasley holding up an Agroborealis magazine (Volume 18, Number 1, July 1986), which contained an article he wrote.
Beasley's lecture:

Does Alaska have potential in global agricultural trade? Steven Beasley came to the state in July to try and answer that question. Beasley is senior international marketing specialist in the Office of Trade Programs, Foreign Agricultural Service, USDA.

Beasley is also an alumnus of the University of Alaska Fairbanks. In addressing an audience at UAF, he said the last time he was in front of UAF professors was when he defended his thesis about preserving farmland in the Mat-Su Valley. “Now I notice the farmlands have shopping centers, condos and espresso bars. What the heck happened?”

In recent years Beasley has worked with the university to open the market for disease-free potato exports to China. “Yours is the only state that can sell potatoes to China,” he said. “There is no reason Alaska couldn’t be part of the mix.” He also mentioned the emerging peony market.

The FAS plays a critical role in supporting agriculture, Beasley said. “It’s a fairly small agency in the U.S. government compared to the Forest Service.” FAS has 1,000 employees stationed in 150 countries. They help U.S. farmers export products and assist with international development.
While exports may not be going gangbusters in Alaska (except for the seafood industry), they are crucial to the U.S. economy, Beasley said. Over 25 percent of farm cash receipts come from exports. For each dollar in exports, another $1.65 is created in supporting economic activity. Agricultural exports support over 1.6 million jobs on and off the farm. The U.S. exports more than it imports.
Exports are important to President Obama, Beasley said, quoting the president’s national export initiative: “We need to export more of our goods around the world. We will double our exports over the next five years, an increase that will support 2 million new jobs in America. To meet this goal, we’re launching a National Export Initiative that will help farmers and small businesses increase their exports and expand their markets.” (State of the Union Address, Jan. 27, 2010)

Cotton is the country’s most exported agricultural product, followed by almonds.

Beasley said factors that will affect U.S. and global food and agricultural markets over the next decade include global economic growth and the rise of the middle class in developing countries, value of the U.S. dollar, worldwide biofuels production, role of trade and trade liberalization, energy and agricultural input prices, biotech developments and additional crop land.

He predicts that economic growth in emerging markets will remain buoyant. In the U.S., 6 cents of a dollar is spent on food, while in China, India and Vietnam, it is 38 cents of a dollar. As middle classes increase in developing countries Beasley predicts that agricultural imports will continue to increase. Over the past decade, developed country imports have increased 121 percent while in developing countries the number is 399 percent.

According to the Global Trade Atlas, global agricultural trade is projected to reach $1.1 trillion by 2021. Biofuels and biotechnology will be a large part of the increases, Beasley said. “These new technologies are here and farmers are looking for ways to cut prices. Biotechnology is a tool to save costs and reduce chemicals that go into the land. Farmers in growing number of countries are embracing this technology.

“There are a lot of unknowns. We have to wait and see what happens.”

Beasley and Professor Jenifer McBeath toured farms in Delta Junction and Palmer and met with government officials, including the lieutenant governor and officials at the Division of Agriculture.
“You have enormous land resources in Delta and the Mat-Su Valley,” Beasley said. “There is very strong interest in Alaska seed potatoes in China. Alaska farmers need to understand exports can be important. They will have to take risks and have an entrepreneurial spirit to supply a steady product.” He said a steady supply, quality product and fair price are critical if Alaska is going to be successful in a global market. “We can make progress if everybody works in sync.

“I’m encouraged by what I saw but there are challenges.”