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."

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