Thursday, October 31, 2013

SNRAS plans to add social-ecological systems, sustainability professor

UAF's School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences has an opening for a tenure-track faculty position in social-ecological systems and sustainability.

"This is an opportunity to connect with Alaska communities, Native organizations, federal and state agencies and NGOs," said Joshua Greenberg, department chair for SNRAS's Humans and the Environment. "This person will work to connect the social and ecological systems to the environment."

Rural Alaska is an intriguing place to visit and conduct research.
As the climate and economy change in rural Alaska communities, Greenberg said it's becoming more important to tie the existing systems to the environment to promote sustainability of the communities.

"Alaska provides a great place for investigating and a great location to look at how climate change, land use and economics are impacting rural communities," Greenberg said. "This person will help establish strategies to promote resilience and adaptation." He or she will be part of an interdisciplinary team.

"And they will get to experience the great outdoors that is Alaska."

The new position at SNRAS came about through an EPSCoR proposal. To apply, visit the UAF jobs site (Job posting #0067454). Applications will be reviewed beginning Dec. 1. The hope is to have the new assistant professor in place by fall semester 2014.

The assistant professor will:
• Investigate the interactions of climate change, land use change, and changing economies on rural Alaska communities with NSF Long Term Ecological Research programs.
• Mentor graduate students and work with the UAF Resilience and Adaptation Program.
• Establish an independent, externally funded research program
• Teach two courses per year, including one in sustainability science.
• Serve as a member of the NSF Alaska EPSCoR research team, which examines the adaptive capacity of human communities in changing Alaska environments.

Applicants are encouraged to consult the SNRAS faculty profiles.


Wednesday, October 30, 2013

SNRAS researchers find potential for biofuel crops and cheaper energy in Alaska

Despite large scale oil production in the state, energy costs in Alaska are extremely high, especially in remote areas, and many communities are eager to find cheaper ways to heat their homes and keep their lights on. Studies underway at the University of Alaska Fairbanks are exploring the potential for crops that can be grown sustainably by Alaska farmers and used by regional biorefineries to produce fuels and power. These studies are part of a multistate research project (WERA-1016) that is assessing bioenergy options across the western U.S. and providing leadership in the national push for affordable, domestic energy.
Amanda Byrd in the field.

Field trials are ongoing at several locations across the state to identify plants that are most suitable as biofuel crops and to determine best management practices for specific species and environmental conditions. Researchers have planted both native and nonnative woody plants (like willow, alder and poplar) and perennial grasses (including bromegrass, reed canary grass, wheatgrass and wildrye) to determine yield potential. So far, researchers have noted that introduced grass species (bromegrass and reed canary grass) seem to have higher yield potential than native grass species. Researchers have also reported that high yields from grasses require fairly high levels of nitrogen; since nitrogen is expensive in Alaska, this could be a major deterrent to production of grasses as bioenergy crops. Overall, yields for both woody plants and grasses have been fairly low to date. Researchers say this could be because most of the species used in the study are slow to establish or because of environmental limitations like short growing seasons, low soil temperature and poor soil moisture.

Though many of the same crops that are traditionally grown for forage for animals, erosion control or winter bedding can be used for biofuel production, biofuel production requires crop material that has a certain fiber composition and quality. Thus, growing biofuel crops requires a different approach than traditional farming. UAF’s biofuel crop management studies have focused on best planting and harvesting practices as well as optimum fertilizer methods, timing and rates. Researchers have found that cool, wet fall conditions in Alaska are not conducive to harvesting and field drying, however, leaving the crops in the field until spring is not likely to produce good harvests. Researchers have also noted that double-cut harvest regime (cuts in mid-summer and fall) yields are about the same as yields from a single-cut fall harvest for woody species.

These studies are still fairly new, and several more data years are needed before researchers can draw useful conclusions, however, some biofuel crop species are showing high yield potential when grown under optimum conditions. Ultimately, this research will help Alaska farmers and communities decide whether to invest in growing crops for biofuel production. Local biofuel production could give homeowners cheaper local energy options and could give farmers a chance to grow and profit from a new crop.
Stephen D. Sparrow in the field.

Federal support for this project is provided through USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture by the Multistate Research Fund established in 1998 by the Agricultural Research, Extension, and Education Reform Act (an amendment to the Hatch Act of 1888) to encourage and enhance multistate, multidisciplinary research on critical agricultural issues. Additional funds are provided by contracts and grants to participating scientists at the UAF.

Participating UAF researchers are Stephen D. Sparrow, Amanda Byrd, Mingchu Zhang, and Robert Van Veldhuizen.

This article is courtesy of Sara Delheimer, impact communications specialist, National Research Support Project 001, Colorado State University. Follow Delheimer on Twitter @MRFImpacts.
Areas where biofuels research is being conducted in Alaska.


Saturday, October 26, 2013

SNRAS/AFES Advisory Council forms

The new SNRAS/AFES Advisory Council met Oct. 25 for the first time. "What a diverse group of people," Interim Dean and Director Stephen Sparrow said. "We are hoping you will provide input and be advocates for us."

Professor Glenn Juday, the faculty representative, said, "We are looking for new ideas in natural resources management. It's a two-way flow. We can learn from each other. You're in a great place to help us move forward."

Front row, left to right, Christi Bell, Bryce Wrigley, Maggie Rogers, Stephen Sparrow. Back row, left to right, Robbie Graham, Craig Fleener, Nancy Tarnai, Glenn Juday.
Council members are:

Anna Atchison,  community and government relations manager, Fort Knox Mine

Christi Bell, director UA Center for Economic Development

Craig Fleener, recently resigned deputy commissioner Alaska Department of Fish and Game and now a candidate for political office

Robbie Graham, assistant commissioner Alaska Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development

Glenn Juday, professor of forest sciences, SNRAS/AFES

Maggie Rogers, information officer Division of Forestry

Stephen Sparrow, SNRAS/AFES interim dean and director

Nancy Tarnai, SNRAS/AFES public information officer

Bryce Wrigley, owner Alaska Flour Co., president Alaska Farm Bureau, district manager Salcha-Delta Soil and Water Conservation District

Fleener, a SNRAS alumnus, hails from Fort Yukon and has lived in Anchorage the past five years. He has 27 years of military service and served as deputy commissioner of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game for five years. "This is my alma mater. I have faith in this school and believe in it," he said. "When I see faculty it is like seeing family."

Rogers, a SNRAS alumna, said as a student she learned to think strategically. "I don't want that to go away," she said. She reported that while on the school's NRM 290 field trip she met four people from Norway who became lifelong friends. "I just got back from visiting them in Norway," she said.

Graham is fascinated with the school and station's work on peonies. "If I had a green thumb I'd be a peony grower," she said. On the economic side, she called the peony industry in Alaska "crazy good." She is working on an interdisciplinary Ph.D. in arctic governments and public diplomacy. She is also very interested in the school's Peace Corps programs.

Wrigley's interest in the school is focused on agricultural research and food security for Alaska. "If you want food security you have to have agricultural production," he said. "There is a tremendous need for research in the Arctic. I see nothing new on the horizon. The circumpolar regions could share information to improve and enhance the situation." He decided to serve on the council because "if you're not willing to get involved there is not reason to complain about it."

Bell, also an alumna, said when considering graduate schools SNRAS stood out. "There are incredible opportunities here," she said. As for serving on the council, she said it was the perfect time to do something that will make a difference. "I always had a love for this program. It is preparing thought leadership for tomorrow."

Each member received a fly tied by Dean Sparrow. The fishing flies were made with elk, reindeer and yak hair.

Provost Susan Henrichs and Chancellor Brian Rogers joined the group for lunch. SNRAS faculty gave brief presentations about their teaching, research and outreach and several staff members were introduced.

Rogers thanked the members for volunteering to help the university."It helps the land grant universities to have feedback from the community," he said. The agricultural experiment station pre-dates the university, he said. "There was a presence of agricultural research here before the university. We have a very long tradition here tied to food and agriculture."

From left, Stephen Sparrow, UAF Chancellor Brian Rogers, Craig Fleener, Glenn Juday, Janice Dawe, visit during the break.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

NRM 692 students take on "broader impacts"

The SNRAS graduate seminar is examining broader impacts for fall semester. The students took their show on the road Oct. 23 at the EPSCoR annual meeting on the UAF campus.

They were armed with two questions:

What do you want the broader impacts of your research to be?
Have you used a form of broader impacts in your research?

From left, Willie Wilkins, Tricia Kent, Bryant Wright, Christin Anderson, Lauren Lynch with their poster at the EPSCoR annual meeting.
EPSCoR meeting attendees were asked to write down their answers, which the graduate students will share on Facebook.

Seminar leaders Janice Dawe and Meriam Karlsson selected the theme because the National Science Foundation has been emphasizing it so much. "We wanted the students to think about how their research connects to the big questions or bi needs in society," Dawe said. "It's taking research to the community. It's a connection between research and society, industry and government."

Dawe explained that NSF leaders believe if public money is spent on research that researchers have a responsibility share their information. "They want an innovative plan about how to extend university research beyond immediate circles and peer review," Dawe said.

"We hope to see what people's perceptions of broader impacts are," said student Lauren Lynch. "We want to start an online dialog."

Tricia Kent said, "Researchers hear broader impacts and they don't know what it is. We wanted to generate a better discussion. By sharing broader impacts of research it increases our understanding of how it can impact communities."

Sarah Liben said, "Try to put your research and your information out there on a broader level. They can do it themselves or they can utilize other people. It's perfectly acceptable."

Christin Anderson said, "People learn about broader impacts from seeing examples. This was a good place to think about broader impacts."

Some of the posted comments were:

"I hope to find a way to make birch syrup production a viable supplemental income source for local landowners who have birch trees on their property."

"Being able to assist wildlife and ecological managers with assessing the impacts of climate change on wildlife population and the systems in which they live."

"To help people gain the rights to sustainable use and management of the natural resources."

"I'm asking people about information and communications related to barriers to climate change adaptation they are facing. I hope to develop better ways for information to transfer between tourism and research."

"I will find the status of a valuable species of fungus while in the Peace Corps and use my research to engage with the community and work toward environmental stewardship."

"For students to discover the long-term impacts that glacial melting has on salination of areas of food for underwater life."

"Work to conserve and sustain temperate ocean ecosystems and resources."

"Indigenous rights, environmental impacts, identity."

"Have engaged K-12 teachers and their students in environmental/Earth system science research to prepare them to be decision makers based on science evidence and also perhaps to go into STEM careers."

And one simple one:
"Save the world."

Anthony Arendt, research associate professor of glaciology, jots down his answers to the broader impacts questions.




Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Peace Corps students tell their stories to UAF chancellor

At the request of UAF Chancellor Brian Rogers, students affiliated with the Peace Corps gathered today at the Rasmuson Library to share their experiences.

"Let's raise the profile of this," Rogers said.

UAF Chancellor Brian Rogers met with students affiliated with the Peace Corps Oct. 23.
After meeting the students and hearing where they served or will serve in the Peace Corps, Rogers said, "You have quite a variety of experiences, expertise and countries. All of you have done creative things. How do we make people more aware of this program?"

Students suggested a Peace Corps presence at cultural events, placing posters showcasing Peace Corps students around campus, round table presentations and a Summer Sessions lecture series, They suggested a better presence of Peace Corps programs on the UAF website.

Rogers came up with the idea of creating a Google map on the UAF website showing the countries where students and faculty have served, are serving or will serve in the Peace Corps.

Tony Gasbarro, a coordinator for the Master's International and Paul G. Coverdell Fellows program, asked the chancellor if students could appear before the Board of Regents to reinforce university funding for the programs.

In the Master's International Program, students earn a master's degree while incorporating their Peace Corps service into graduate studies. The Coverdell Fellows program is for returned Peace Corps volunteers. SNRAS and the College of Rural and Community Development are the two entities at UAF that host the Peace Corps programs.

Graduate student Willie Wilkins, who had applied for the Coverdell fellowship but didn't get it, said, "I contacted Tony Gasbarro and Susan Todd. They were fantastic," he said. "They caused me to come here even though I didn't get the Coverdell. I'm really glad I'm here."

Tricia Kent, an MIP student, said she loves the sense of community among the Peace Corps students at UAF.

The chancellor agreed that in a community of scholars everyone does better. "I didn't realize it had grown to this level," he said.

Rogers said the Peace Corps programs are a natural fit for UAF. "Tony (Gasbarro) talked me into it," he said. "I had seen Tony's presentations over the years. When he tells his stories people get excited. The opportunities the Peace Corps create are really amazing."

He likes to encourage all students to study abroad at some point. "Having international, cross-cultural experiences is part of what it takes to be successful," he said.

Associate Professor Susan Todd, the SNRAS faculty advisor for Peace Corps programs, said she already has 10 applications for Master's International and the Coverdell Fellow for next year. "I hear from other faculty that these students are highly motivated, adventurous and willing to participate," she said.

Front row, left to right, Sarah Liben, Teri Anderson, Celia Jackson, Susan Todd, Ryan Wilson, Tony Gasbarro, Eric Schacht. Back row, left to right, Hillary Presecan, Lauren Lynch, Christin Anderson, Chancellor Brian Rogers, Willie Wilkins, Tricia Kent, Steven Seefeldt.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

James Shewmake accepted for assistantship at Memorial University

James Shewmake, who earned his master's of science degree with SNRAS in May, was recently hired by the University of Alaska Anchorage Institute of Social and Economic Research as a temporary research professional. He is helping ISER build GIS capacity in social science research and developing the spatial analysis of social data for the Bureau of Land Management Rapid Ecological Assessment program.

James Shewmake at Paxon Lake.
Memorial University in St. John's Newfoundland, Canada has accepted Shewmake for a full paid assistantship with Barb Neis and the Marine Environment Observation Prediction and Response program. While working on his doctorate he will examine fishermen's knowledge of extreme weather events, how they navigate the risks of foul weather, what ports of refuge they use during severe events and the decision-making processes they use while fishing.

After a childhood in Mississippi and Alabama, Shewmake studied in the fisheries science program at Mississippi State University. He realized he was more interested in the human dimensions of fisheries and changed to a political science degree with a minor in economics. During a break from school, he came to Alaska and worked in the salmon hatcheries for a few years, then transferred to the University of Alaska Southeast where he earned an interdisciplinary liberal arts degree.

Shewmake originally chose UAF because he was interested in joining the Peace Corps and was drawn to the Master's International Program with SNRAS. "Unfortunately I'm no spring chicken and the Peace Corps has pretty tough physical requirements," Shewmake said. "I wasn't given much hope that I'd get a good fisheries-related position so I decided not to risk going overseas for two years for what may or may not lead to a thesis. Instead, I chose to stay in Alaska and hand-picked a topic in a location I was familiar with, and used my connections and hard headedness to pull together a more personalized research project."

During his studies with SNRAS, Shewmake learned to endure uncertainty and keep grinding away. "Sometimes you just have to out-stubborn the challenges you face," he said. "Grad school was certainly a string of challenges."

His research was "Spatial Resilience and the Incorporation of Traditional Ecological Knowledge in Mapping Sitka Herring." The short title is summed up, "Why subsistence takes place where it does and why that's important."


"Sitka was my gateway to Alaska, and it's a community that has always been close to my heart," Shewmake said. "I didn't know much about herring, but I knew it was a big commercial industry and I knew that there were problems on the subsistence side. Alaska Department of Fish and Game Division of Subsistence just happened to have some money for a graduate internship and an interest in having more spatial analysis to complement their qualitative research, so I spent a year in Juneau traveling back and forth to Sitka and other places working on my research and learning about how to be a good ethnographer. The research was pretty timely, the Board of Fish had just established a Subsistence Only Zone, which is effectively a cultural marine protective area within Sitka Sound. I wanted to see why certain areas were more important for subsistence than others, and to take that data from being qualitative to something more quantitative that biologists and policy makers could hopefully digest easier. I learned that there's a lot that goes into subsistence herring egg harvesting and that it takes a lot of time and the right circumstances in the right places. My research showed that good harvest years were ones where participation (number of households harvesting) and opportunity (average spawning days in subsistence areas) work together. If either (or both) of those variables drop too low, needs go unmet."

GIS was one of the most important skills Shewmake gained at UAF. Professor David Verbyla hired Shewmake as a teacher's assistant."Through working on projects for him and having to teach other students how to do spatial analysis, I made huge gains in my competency in GIS," Shewmake said. "I also took GIS programming my last semester, and that package of skill sets, with my background in social science research, is the reason I was hired at ISER. My research interest in using what people know about the environment, and my work in spatial analysis were also a major factor in getting the PhD assistantship."

Once in Canada, Shewmake will work closely with fishermen in the Newfoundland/Labrador fisheries, collecting data on what they know about severe weather, emergency preparedness and work safety. "I'll get to see a lot of the Atlantic side of Canada," he said.

Shewmake thinks he will ultimately end up as a professor, teaching human dimensions of fisheries and researching the how, where and why people fish where they do.  

"More and more of the science and management of fisheries is gearing towards including the human element, and it's an important one," Shewmake said. "I think I have a lot of experiences (and eventually knowledge) to impart to the next generation of managers."
In free time, Shewmake enjoys photography and writing for the Alaska Commons. He helped build a business plan for the site. "Like any good Alaskan I love the outdoors," he added. He and his girlfiend spent a week on Paxson Lake last summer and he just bought his firs pair of snowshoes. "As soon as there's some powder on the ground here in Anchorage, I'm looking forward to giving that a whirl."

James Shewmake (right) hauls in herring.

Completion of Arctic Health Research Greenhouse begins

Phase 2 of the construction project for the completion of the Arctic Health Research Greenhouse will begin Nov. 1.

The $438,000 bid was awarded recently to Tatitlek Corp. Funding for the project was allocated to the greenhouse's ground level floor with money saved during the Margaret Murie Building construction project. Another $150,000 will go to Nexus for greenhouse equipment.

Cameron Wohlford, senior project manager (left) and Stephen Sparrow, SNRAS interim dean and AFES interim director, visit the greenhouse space that is set for completion.
"I'm excited to get it done," said UAF Senior Project Manager Cameron Wohlford. When the bottom floor is finished, the facility will encompass 10,000 square feet.

"The new greenhouse was an important, state-of-the-art addition to the Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station facilities, but space is currently very tight, limiting the research and teaching we can do there, said Stephen Sparrow, interim dean of SNRAS and interim director of AFES.

"Completion of the the bottom part of the greenhouse will greatly enhance our ability to carry out these important activities."

The original AFES greenhouse was removed in March 2011 to make way for the Margaret Murie Building. A groundbreaking ceremony for the new greenhouse was held April 22, 2011 and the facility was ready for use by November 2011.

The final phase of the project will include painting the floors and walls, installing the exhaust and air supply system, adding heat around the perimeter and heat in the gables for snowmelt. The three additional modules total 2,160 square feet, bringing the greenhouse to seven modules, an environmental chamber and head house/classroom.

Subcontractors are Patrick Mechanical and Fullford Electric, who worked on the first phase of the project.

Construction should be completed by Feb. 15. By spring, researchers will be able to plant seeds for transplanting to the field and will have dedicated space for hydroponics and more LED work.

The module on the east side is equipped with blackout curtains, which will make it better for poinsettia growth and research. The curtains allow for day-length control, which is now having to be done manually.

Wohlford said, "I am glad we could reallocate the funds to finish this. It was sad to see the shelled-out space."
The greenhouse upon completion of Phase 1 in November 2011.





Monday, October 21, 2013

UAF students host Food Day to draw attention to food security

University of Alaska Fairbanks anthropology and philosophy student Azara Mohammadi has no qualms about admitting she is a city girl. Growing up in Fairbanks and California, she was not exposed to agriculture and laughs at herself for having to ask what it means to hull corn. “At least I’m a blank slate,” Mohammadi said good naturedly.

Today, she is the force behind a UAF student movement to get more locally grown food into campus dining menus. What got her started on this path was a class she took three years ago, “Food and Culture,” taught by David Fazzino.
Danielle Flaherty and Thomas Osterman, members of the UAF Chancellor's Student Food Committee, make chips from locally grown kale. (Photo courtesy Azara Mohammadi)


“I had worked in food service since I was 15 and I saw huge issues but I thought I was the only one,” Mohammadi said. As she got more interested in food systems, she joined the nationwide Real Food Challenge. “I liked their ideas and model but what they prescribed didn’t work for Alaska,” she said. “It didn’t address food security in Alaska and it didn’t incorporate concepts of fit and place.”
Azara Mohammadi

While she eventually opted out of the RFC, she learned so much that she decided to tailor-make a program that just might work for UAF. She presented Chancellor Brian Rogers with a petition signed by 650 students. It asks that by 2020 UAF purchase 20 percent locally grown food for student meals.
Rogers liked what Mohammadi and her cohorts were trying to do and he requested they form the Chancellor’s Student Food Committee. “We hope to leverage the purchasing power of UAF to promote local agriculture,” Mohammadi said. “There is a misconception that we don’t have enough food to feed the world and in Alaska there is the perception that we can’t produce food.”

The new committee has been meeting with management of NANA, UAF’s food contractor, to start working on the plan. “It has to meet the budget but they seem very willing to work with us,” Mohammadi said.

Danielle Flaherty, a UAF culinary student, president of the UAF Culinary Club and new manager at Wolf Run Restaurant, has been very involved in the process. “Do what you can when you can,” she said. “It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Knowing where your food comes from is empowering.

“There are so many people in our state doing good work on these issues. Ultimately we’d like to see a cohesive voice for the movement on a statewide level. There is no right or wrong way to approach these issues, the point is that they are important and need to be discussed.”

Mohammadi and Flaherty have different approaches but are working toward the same goal. “Danielle believes in conscious consumerism and lives it,” Mohammadi said. “I on the other hand, believe we need to leverage the purchasing power of institutions to affect real change.”

Both agree on this statement from Mohammadi, “If UAF wants to truly be a leader in sustainability we need to make food a part of that conversation.”

To that end they have put together a lineup of lectures, films, demonstrations and exhibits for Food Day on Oct. 24 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. in the UAF Wood Center. Lecture topics include food preservation practices of foragers and farmers in Alaska, set-net salmon, paleo eating, drinking water challenges in rural Alaska. Films are “Fresh,” “King Corn,” “Food Inc.,” “Hungry for Change” and “Scientists Under Attack." They will be shown Oct. 24-25 from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. in Duckering 347 and Reichardt 165.

Mohammadi is thrilled that students from Effie Kokrine Early College Charter School will be attending Food Day. The high schoolers are bringing digital cameras to take pictures for an art project about Food Day. “Educating our youth is very important,” Mohammadi said. “So many times they are the victims of diet-related diseases.”

From 1 to 2 p.m., Flaherty will make halibut chowder with a pureed cauliflower base. She will also have salad and barley pizza crust to sample. Over the summer, she worked with the UAF Cooperative Extension Service to develop school lunch recipes using local ingredients and those are foods she will have available.

Everyone is invited to this free event. Day passes are available at kiosks in parking lots off of Farmers Loop and across from the Patty Center.

Mohammadi said, “I hope we connect with more people who want to help.”


Listen to Mohammadi’s perspective on KSUA-FM Saturdays from 6 to 7 p.m. for her social sciences talk radio program “Honey I’m a Hominid.” She can be reached at apmohammadi@alaska.edu.

-------------------------
This column is provided as a service by the UAF School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences and the Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station. Nancy Tarnai is the school and station’s public information officer. She can be reached at ntarnai@alaska.edu.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

First Master's International grad lands perfect job

Erin Kelly, the University of Alaska Fairbanks' first Master's International graduate (May 2009), is working for the New York Department of Labor as an agriculture labor specialist.

"Oh my gosh; I love it," Kelly exclaimed. "It's a really good use of my skills."

Erin Kelly (far left) with her good friend Nina Ana and children in El Salvador. Kelly returns there every year to visit.
Kelly works with farmers and farm laborers, making sure the farms are in compliance with labor laws and that the laborers know their rights. "It's been an adjustment," she said. "But I work with a really good team. I feel I'm making a difference. I get to use my inter-personal skills and my Spanish." The challenges have been learning the labor laws and how to maneuver through bureaucratic levels. The joy is getting to visit farms three or four days per week. "It's similar to the Peace Corps in the cultural aspects," Kelly said. "It's very rewarding." She is based in Albany and covers 14 counties.

Kelly earned a master's of science degree in natural resources management with the UAF School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences. As part of her graduate work, she served two years in the Peace Corps in El Salvador. Her project was assessing the potential for ecotourism development in El Imposible National Park.

Ever since high school, Kelly had dreamed of serving in the Peace Corps. After completing a bachelor's degree in environmental science in New Hampshire, then serving with AmeriCorps, Kelly turned to Alaska for her graduate studies. "I had always wanted to go to Alaska," she said.

The SNRAS natural resources management program fit her needs to a T. "I found it intriguing that I would be the first student in the Master's International Program at UAF," Kelly said. "It was neat to help shape it. I'm so happy it's flourishing."

The Peace Corps changed everything for Kelly. "It's so much a part of my life," she said. "I go back to El Salvador every year and I raise money for scholarships through Project Salvador." She also raises money for four high school students she is helping to support.

"The Peace Corps opened my eyes and got me out of my middle class bubble," she said. "It made me appreciate what I'd been given. I will be connected to El Salvador the rest of my life."

Before coming to Fairbanks, Kelly talked to several SNRAS professors. "I liked the vibe," she said. "The people seemed welcoming. I have no regrets; it was wonderful. The support I got from faculty and staff was amazing. I had nothing but great experiences at UAF."

She loved Fairbanks so much that she would have stayed here if her family hadn't been on the East Coast. After graduating, she worked for Northern Alaska Tour Co. in Coldfoot, then became an educational coordinator for SAGA, an environmental nonprofit in Juneau. She returned to the East Coast in December 2011, relocated to Binghamton, N.Y., in April 2012 and has been in Albany since May.

Her goals are to help improve the lives of others and make a difference. For fun, Kelly goes hiking and kayaking. She serves on the board of directors for Project Salvador.

Further reading:

Mastering the Peace Corps: The toughest job you'll ever love, Aurora Magazine, Fall 2009, by LJ Evans

Alumni update: Erin Kelly in Juneau, SNRAS Science and News, Feb. 15, 2011

Salvadoran challenges, UAF Cornerstone, December 2007, by LJ Evans






Tuesday, October 15, 2013

26 years of monitoring at Reserve West -- from post-fire site to new forest

Another chapter in a 26-year saga has been written. A team of SNRAS people in a variety of positions completed an annual white spruce tree measurement exercise Oct. 10. The team measured all 2,251 white spruce in the Reserve West reference hectare, and 1,532 broadleaf trees in 40 percent of the plot.

After the 1983 Rosie Creek Fire, Dr. Glenn Juday (Professor of Forest Ecology), established the Forest Reference Stand network in Bonanza Creek Experimental Forest. Reference stands are 1.0 hectare (2.47 acre) or larger plots of forest that are monitored on a long-term basis. The Reserve West reference stand was a 200-year-old white spruce forest at the time of the 1983 fire. Starting in 1988 all white spruce in the hectare have been mapped and measured annually. The reference stand system in Bonanza Creek Experimental Forest is featured in a chapter in an upcoming research report on long-term ecological and silvicultural studies of the Global Institute of Sustainable Forestry and the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies.
Kimberley Maher (left) instructs Christin Anderson on
use of the range pole for tree height measurement.

Over the years a number of students and staff have joined in for the Reserve West fall measurements. This year’s team included Research Technician Ryan Jess, Ph.D. graduate (2013) Kimberley Maher, Ph.D. student Miho Morimoto, M.S. Student Andrew Allaby, Temporary Technician Dashiell Feierabend, and new M.S. student Christin Anderson. Participants in previous years include Emily Sousa (Geography M.S. student), Steve Winslow (NRM B.S. and M.S.), Scott Sink (NRM M.S.), and Robert Solomon (research technician).


SNRAS crew at Reserve West after the
measurement of the last tree. From left,
Miho Morimoto, Andrew Allaby,
Dashiell 
Feierabend, Ryan Jess, Glenn Juday
Reserve West tree measurements need to be made after the growth season is completed but before the arrival of snow. This year’s effort started in the last week of August and continued sporadically until early October. Each year the field crew measures the total height, that year’s height growth and the diameter at the base of the tree and at breast height (137 cm) of each white spruce tree. Each spruce tree is also evaluated for condition of the leader (many are nipped by squirrels), presence of spruce budworm, amount of canopy shade and other characteristics. Immediately following the 1983 fire the broadleaf trees and shrubs (birch, aspen, alder, willow) were so numerous and changeable that individual tree measurements were not practical. Individual stems would appear, be browsed back by moose, broken by snow loading, or shaded until dead – and then resprout.

The summer of 2013 got off to a slow start; ice breakup on the Tanana River was the second latest since 1917. Spruce at reserve West were carrying a good load of foliage needles, particularly because of the cool and moist summer of 2012, which provided substantial relief from the moisture stress of the frequent warm summers of the last 30 years. But once it did start, the summer of 2013 was hot and dry. One result was the appearance of “needle dumping,” the shedding of excess older retained needles that are a liability during periods of extreme moisture stress.


The reddish brown needles on this white spruce at Reserve West represent the simultaneous loss of marginal old and partially shaded foliage, possibly stimulated by the prolonged extreme warmth during the summer of 2013.

Weather during the fall measurement season was a bit of a roller coaster. The first part of the measurement period had generally below-normal temperatures. The arrival of slushy snow on September 17, 20, and 23 had the usual effect of stimulating the last stage of the measurements. Then on Sept. 25 above-normal temperatures arrived and stayed until mid-October.

The tallest white spruce trees now exceeded the height of the extendable rangepole (765 cm or 25 ft) that was sufficient in the past, so a laser height measurement device (hypsometer) with a tripod mount was used. Repeated laser height measurements were taken to verify that the required precision in height measurements was being achieved.

This fall most of the participants agreed – even though there are still a few treeless openings at Reserve West, it is no longer a “post-fire” site, it’s a young forest. This phenomenon is the leading edge of a wave of similar developments that might be expected as a result of successional forest growth and development on the vast areas that burned in the fires of 2004, 2005, 2009 in boreal Alaska – cumulatively over 14 million acres. In effect, Reserve West and the other burned reference stands of Bonanza Creek Experimental Forest could be an early look at what similar productive sites that were burned in these more recent major fire years would look like themselves in 30 years – from 2034 to 2039. Or at least what they would look like if we lived in a world of limited environmental change and an essentially steady climate. But that does not appear to be the kind of world we, or the new forests, do in fact live in.

From a forester’s or ecologist’s perspective, the growth of a new forest spans such lengths of time that it always amounts to an encounter with the unpredictable, the unknown and unknowable. Nearly 30 years ago, after the 1983 Rosie Creek Fire that regenerated the stand at Reserve West, I reflected on some of these themes at the end of an article on the Rosie Creek Fire suppression effort and its immediate aftermath.
Epilogue
And so the Rosie Creek Fire ended – not with a bang, but a whimper. The loss was nearly $5 million in direct suppression costs and lost timber value. Several harvest areas with young regeneration, still rare in interior Alaska, had been lost. Nearly one-third of the Bonanza Creek Experimental Forest had been burned. A major subdivision had been threatened.

On the other hand, a new laboratory/demonstration area for reforestation was created right next to other, continuing forestry projects. Grasses and aspen trees were sprouting within a matter of days after the fire, and moose were beginning to move into the area. Nature was setting the stage for the growth of a new forest, another link in an unbroken chain of renewal which led to this day. But this time man was planning to be a partner in the development of the new forest. One can hope that we will be a sensitive and constructive partner. Our success will be judged by future generations.
As we reach the quarter century mark of research at the Bonanza Creek Long Term Ecological Research Site, as a new and rapidly growing demand for forest biomass energy in the last few years is met, and as the climate of Alaska continues to change, the answer to the question of that partnership remains in the balance.

References

Juday, Glenn P. 1985. The Rosie Creek Fire. Agroborealis 17(1): 11-20.

This post was contributed by Professor Glenn Juday. Photos courtesy Glenn Juday.

Further reading:
Tree measurements at Reserve West beat the arrival of snow - again, SNRAS Science and News, Oct. 29, 2011

Monday, October 14, 2013

Peace Corps Fellow works with OneTree, Fish and Game

Eric Schacht at Chitina with Robin LaVine (left), ADFG project leader, and Bronwyn Jones.
Eric Schacht, the first Peace Corps Fellow with SNRAS, has acclimated to Alaska in his first year here and has been working on two service projects.

With OneTree Alaska, he assists Research Assistant Professor Janice Dawe as a service learner, visiting K-12 schools to share the science, technology, engineering, art and math educational aspects tied to the boreal birch tree.

His other project was volunteering for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game subsistence program, gathering subsistence data by survey in the Copper Basin area.

The main purpose of the survey is to provide up-to-date information on the estimated harvest, sharing and use of wild foods in the area. Schacht helped collect information on where and how resources are harvested and information on community subsistence economies. Many of the questions were concerned with harvests over the past year but the division is also interested in whether and how subsistence harvests might have changed in recent years. The last subsistence survey was conducted in 1987.

"Survey results will assist state and federal resource managers in their subsistence management responsibilities and will also be used by local and regional advisory councils in making recommendations regarding the fish and wildlife management in the region," Schacht said.

"This project was particularly interesting to me because I am interested in aspects of community-based natural resource management in resource management policy for my thesis," he explained.
"The Ahtna Corp., the regional Native corporation of the area, introduced a hunting permit system that is called the Copper Basin Community Subsistence Hunt and it allotted a quota of moose and caribou to local people of the Copper River Basin area. This occurred in 2009 and the permit system lasted only a year before it was taken to the Alaska Supreme Court where it was deemed unconstitutional because it was fundamentally a local-residency based hunt. The state is mandated to provide equal access to harvest wildlife resources to all its citizens."

Schacht added, "Volunteering for ADFG was a great experience because I was able to gain a context for my study. It helped me realize how much rural people in Alaska rely on wild resources. And how complicated hunting permitting systems are in Alaska. Hopefully, a permitting system can be adopted that both provides some opportunity for urban hunters but also provides for local people that live and rely more on the land."

The Paul  D. Coverdell Fellows Program is a graduate program for returned Peace Corps volunteers. With SNRAS, Fellows pursue a master of science degree in natural resources management or a master's in natural resources management and geography while volunteering in underserved communities.

Further reading:
 SNRAS welcomes first Peace Corps Fellow, SNRAS Science and News, Nov. 14, 2012

Denali Organic Growers put love into all they grow

Jimmie and Laura Hendricks at their farm near Denali National Park
Jimmie and Laura Hendricks went from guiding tourists to planting seeds, from rafting whitewater to watering plants, from mountain climbing to food production. And, happily ensconced at their farm, Denali Organic Growers, they couldn’t be more content with the transition.

“We call ourselves professional gardeners,” Jimmie said. The couple has three acres in cultivation at their off-the-grid farm, Mile 276 Parks Highway. They supply area restaurants and 22 community supported agriculture members with seasonal produce.

Jimmie grew up in Atlanta and Laura in Columbus, Ohio. He earned a horticulture degree from the University of Georgia and she a business degree at Ohio University. Their education makes the perfect match for running a farm, Jimmie said. “We make a good team,” he said. “She keeps all our ducks in a row. I’m the garden master and she’s the business master.”

The pair met while working at a wilderness school in Utah. He came to Alaska in 1987 and she in 1996. They formed Alaskan Wilderness Experience, offering rafting, backpacking, mountaineering, photography, rock climbing, ice climbing and survival skills. Even though they both grew up in suburbia they wanted to experience the wilds of Alaska. “I wanted to be a wilderness fanatic mountain man,” Jimmie said. “When I was in college I saw the system of food production and it alarmed me.”

Years ago they sat down and planned their future. “Growing slow food and becoming a part of a community were what we wanted,” Jimmie said. “It’s come full circle. It’s neat to be part of the agricultural movement in Alaska. It’s unfolded in a good way for us.” They started the farm in 2000 with baby steps.

A big portion of their business is supplying 229 Restaurant in Cantwell with fresh goods. “229 is a cutting edge, slow food restaurant,” Jimmie said. “They were the fulcrum that tipped us from a hobby farm to local growers.”

The farm supplies 229 consistently throughout the season with salad greens and other produce as available, which is then adapted to the menu. The restaurant freezes vegetables to use in soups and casseroles in the winter.

It’s quality that makes this relationship possible. The Hendricks live by the motto “24 hours out of the ground and less than 50 miles away.”

Everything is planted, picked and washed by hand. “It’s done with love,” Jimmie said. “There are no stems broken and no leaves bruised. We do it the rustic, old-fashioned way.”

Other restaurants in the Denali National Park area have bought or still buy from the farm, including Black Diamond, Panorama Pizza, The Perch, Bub’s Suds, Salmon Bake, 49th State Brewery, Prospector Pizza. Even remote places like Camp Denali and the North Face Lodge make it a point to buy from them.

While the farm is not certified organic, the Hendricks follow organic principles. They make their own compost and add micro-nutrients from Kodiak compost to their soil. Jimmie’s horticulture degree prepared him for the botany and agronomy aspects of farming. “I had to re-educate myself in organic principles. I had to reinvent the wheel.” The couple spent a summer working for Arctic Organics in Palmer, where they learned by osmosis.

Farming in Alaska has its challenges, such as the extreme weather and forest fires. “It’s challenging to stagger a steady flow of harvest for the restaurants,” Jimmie said. “It’s a juggling act.”
Their secrets to success are to be frugal and keep up good public relations by visiting with community members. “We love our community and interacting with people,” Jimmie said. “It’s a win-win.” They welcome field trips from schools, with children helping plant in the spring and harvest in the fall.

One way they have kept up with the labor demands was to join Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms. Over the years they have hosted over 50 volunteers, usually four at a time in the internship program. “They get in an education in living off the grid and understanding plants and soils,” Jimmie said.

The Hendricks hope the farm will someday become a learning center. “I hope someone eager and young and strong will come along to take over,” Jimmie said.

In the off-season, the Hendricks spend time at their homestead in the Alaska Range and sailing in the Florida Keys and the Bahamas in their 32-foot wooden sailboat, “Northern Lights.”

The Hendricks are committed to doing their part for the local foods movement. “We’re out on a limb as a culture,” Jimmie said. “It’s not good for Earth or people, eating mass produced food.

“And the taste of local food is unmatched. We enjoy it for our own selfish consumption.”


(This column is provided as a service by the UAF School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences and the Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station. Nancy Tarnai is the school and station’s public information officer. She can be reached at ntarnai@alaska.edu)

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

SNRAS/AFES names employee of the quarter

Nancy Tarnai
Nancy Tarnai, the publication information officer for SNRAS and AFES, has been selected as employee of the quarter. This program, which recognizes excellence in the workplace, is coordinated through the dean’s office.

Tarnai received multiple nominations for this award.  One nomination said, “Nancy approaches her work with optimism and energy. She is our best representative to the community concerning the good work we do.”  Another nomination stated, “The articles Nancy writes and the information she gets out to the public help keep the school and station connected with the community. Nancy’s work isn’t just professional, it is personal; she loves what she does and truly cares about the students, staff and faculty of SNRAS/AFES.”

Tarnai came to SNRAS/AFES in August 2008 after a lifetime of newspaper reporting and public relations work for everything from the world's largest hang gliding school to a nonprofit in Fairbanks that provides services to people with disabilities.

Tarnai takes the pulse of the school and station and shares it every way she can, by writing newspaper articles; posting to the school blog, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc.; helping coordinate and cover events; getting public speaking, radio or TV interviews for faculty; pitching stories to media; representing the school and station to the UAF campus and the community at large; and oh yes editing/proofreading posters, papers and reports. (No poster gets past Nancy unscathed.)

Growing up on a farm in Alabama, she spent a lifetime "escaping" from her upbringing. Upon landing at SNRAS/AFES, she felt she had come home. Mucking about with reindeer, showcasing our greenhouse or tromping through the forest make Nancy really happy.

She enjoys spending time with family and friends, reading, taking yoga classes, walking, watching movies, cooking and traveling. She is known for her baked goods in the O'Neill third floor reception area.

"There is no perfect job but this one is close,” Tarnai said. “I believe in SNRAS/AFES's mission and the people I work with are wonderful. I love how faculty, staff and students get along so well. It is a privilege to work here. There is literally never a dull moment!"

To nominate a SNRAS staff member for employee of the quarter, contact Interim Dean and Director Stephen Sparrow or Michelle Pope, Executive Officer.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Reindeer are named; please welcome Doctor Whooves to the herd

Doctor Whooves is the male closest to the fence on the right.

The calves born this spring at the Fairbanks Experiment Farm have been named. Fans of the Doctor Who (British science-fiction) television program will be delighted to know that Doctor Whooves is among the mix.

Erin Carr, the animal caretaker for the Reindeer Research Program, said she's watched Doctor Who but wouldn't classify herself as a big fan. "We gave that name to No. 1316 because he was the most well-behaved male," she said. "We really liked that name and we liked that deer."

The good "Doctor" is the only celebrity in this year's mix. His herd-mates are:

Males
Jerky
Walter
Francis
Henry
Loki
Rodeo

Females
Paprika
Xena
Eva
Gertrude
Bonita
Clover
Fireweed

"We had a lot of just normal people names this time," Carr said. Names unlikely to ever be awarded are frequently submitted: Rudolph, Donner, Blitzen and the like; they are deemed too silly by the RRP staff.

The names are submitted by school children from across the world who nominate monikers on the RRP website. Calves born in the spring are weaned from their mothers in late summer, then their calf ear tags are replaced with adult ear tags, they get vaccinated and receive a name.

"Some names match the personalities and some don't," Carr explained. The RRP staff each get to pick names they like, then go to the pens and attach names to deer. "Most of the time we all agree," she said.

The crew receives hundreds of suggestions each year from points across the globe. The RRP has a herd of 70 reindeer at the Fairbanks Experiment Farm, where the animals are used for nutritional, meat science and range studies.

Beyond the naming, Carr is even more excited about the program's outreach ambassadors-in-training, Henry and Francis.

Erin Carr gives a treat of lichen to Henry and Francis, RRP ambassadors-in-training.
For years RRP had gentle reindeer Elsa, then Rip, to take into classrooms so that children could learn about animal science first hand. Rip passed away two years ago and the program hasn't had any animals suitable for the job since then.

This year when calves were born, two males were set aside to receive special training. Carr hopes that by next spring they will be ready to take on outreach duties. "Henry is the most advanced," she said. "He walks on a lead rope with a halter."

Besides more handling practice, there is one more thing the 6-month-old bulls need before they get to make school visits -- they will be castrated next spring, which will make them gentler and less "bull-like."

"Educational outreach is a big part of the Reindeer Research Program," Carr said. "This is going to help a lot. Teachers still call asking me if Rip can come to their classroom. It will be nice when they call and ask for Henry or Francis."

 Related reading:

Reindeer calves on the way to becoming ambassadors, SNRAS Science and News, June 28, 2013

Forest Festival event organizer thanks all who helped

Volunteers carry the new log to Ballaine Lake for the birling event Saturday. (UAF photo by JR Ancheta)
By John Yarie
SNRAS forest sciences professor and event organizer

The 16th annual Farthest North Forest Sports Festival was a tremendous success. The weather was great, the folks attending and participating were fantastic, and participation in all the events was at record levels. What really helped to make this event outstanding were all the people involved in one way or another. I would like to thank:

  • Jamie Hollingsworth, Tom Malone and David Valentine for their tremendous help in setting up Friday afternoon and taking down the events Saturday afternoon and all the judging duties that they performed Saturday. Those three were involved in judging five of the seven events. Jamie also built the new ax throwing target.
  • Teresa Hollingsworth for once again compiling the scoresheets into a semblance of order. We would be lost without you.
  • Mingchu Zhang for judging the bow saw event and help with log stabilization in the birling event.
  • Martha Westphal for arranging the Nanook bear, a fun addition to the event.
  • John Fox for judging the ax throw competition. We had a record of 93 people participating in that event this year. Congratulations John on hanging in there till the very end.
  • A number of students both undergraduate and graduate (and the Resource Management Society) were helpful in setting up events on Friday afternoon and supplying hot coffee and donuts in the morning and bratwurst during the afternoon fire building and birling events at Ballaine Lake. The students were Jake Hakala, Justin Fletcher, Eric Schacht, Lauren Lynch, Tricia Kent and Bryant Wright.
  • Northland Wood and Herbert Baxter supplied the two new logs used in the birling and log rolling competition. With these new logs we were able to redesign the log for the birling competition.
  • Russell Dennis and Beth Bryson of the Ester Volunteer Fire Department who served as the EMTs that were required. Luckily we had no substantial injuries that required their help. Their presence was greatly appreciated.
  • SNRAS/AFES Publications staff for all the help with the advance publicity and subsequent reporting on the event.

Again thank you folks for helping to put this event together. We look forward to next year!

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Forest Festival draws record numbers

Alice Orlich was named Belle of the Woods (second year in a row) and Pete Buist was Bull of the Woods.
The 16th annual Farthest North Forest Sports Festival drew a record number of participants today, both at the Fairbanks Experiment Farm and Ballaine Lake.

The lumberjack-stye competition is hosted by SNRAS's forest sciences department and the student group Resource Management Society. A special thanks this year to Northland Wood and Herbert Baxter for donating all the wood needed for the events.

Besides the large number of attendees, this event was notable for some other memorable moments. The massive birling log floated away and was nearly across the lake before the foresters decided it needed rescuing. Take-charge bystanders Rebecca Finger, Sophie Gilbert and Timothy Bartholomaus raced to a nearby house and borrowed a canoe. They rescued the log just in time for the birling competition.

During the birling, a first was noted when one of the competitors stripped nearly naked for his part of staying aright on a log in the chilly lake.

The overall winning team was decided with an extra event, pounding nails into a log. The three-way tie between the Wood Chips, Schaeffer Cox Freedom Riders and the Lumber Jerks was broken when Pete Buist of the Wood Chips pounded the nails in 14.40 seconds.

It was another successful event, with happy competitors, observers and volunteers.

Winners:
Team, Wood Chips (Pete Buist, information officer with ehte Alaska Interagency Coordination Center at Fort Wainwright; Glen Holt, UAF Cooperative Extension Service forester; Jim Smith, Department of Natural Resources forester; Paul Keech, DNR forester; Jason Buist, DOD firefighter/EMT for Fort Wainwright Fire Department).

Ax throwing: male Mike Potter, female Kelly Gitter
Bow saw: male Adrian Behr, female Alice Orlich
Pulp toss: Lumber Jerks
Double buck: Jason Buist, Pete Buist; Victoria and Kelly
Double buck Jack and Jill: Victoria Smith and Jason Theis
Log rolling Jack & Jill: Dustin and Jenna
Log rolling males: Scotty and Jens
Log rolling females: Alice and Colleen
Campfire building: the Wood Chips
Birling: male John Harley, female Teri Anderson

Log rescue team.

Alice Orlich demonstrates exceptional grace while birling.

Nina Schwinghammer and Adrian Baer go to town building a campfire.
Jenna Carlton, left, and Mary Beth Alison try log rolling.
Jason Theis does the pulp toss with style.

Taylor Altenburg participates in the ax throw.