Friday, February 28, 2014

Fairbanks conference highlights agriculture

The Sustainable Agriculture Conference, March 12-13 in Fairbanks, will highlight plant breeding, establishing a farm and producing livestock for fiber and meat.

The University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service will host the 10th annual conference at Wedgewood Resort. More than 30 sessions will cover a variety of topics of interest to farmers, gardeners and ranchers.

The keynote speaker will be James Myers, a professor of vegetable breeding and genetics at Oregon State University. His main interest has been to improve vegetable varieties for disease resistance and nutrition while maintaining quality and productivity. Myers will also lead an all-day preconference workshop March 11 on plant breeding.
Jim Myers

Conference coordinator Steven Seefeldt, an Extension agriculture and horticulture agent, said he hopes farmers and gardeners will learn the basics of plant breeding and begin developing improved varieties in Alaska.

“We just have a few varieties of any given vegetable,” he said.

A panel discussion will bring together farmers who wish to expand their operations with representatives of state and federal agencies who will talk about what programs can help farmers and others considering farming. Other conference topics will include getting more locally produced food to market in Fairbanks, mobile slaughter and processing units, high tunnel soil fertility, attracting beneficial insects and pollinators, no-tillage grain production in Delta Junction, pasture management, raising bison, elk and yaks, and more.

A second preconference workshop from 1–3 p.m. March 11 will focus on record keeping and taxes for agricultural businesses. Alaska-grown food will be served during the conference, and educational displays will be available. See the conference agenda and registration information at

UAF alum to lecture on forestry career

Will Putman, who earned a master's of science degree in natural resources management in 1985, will be the NRM 692 guest lecturer Thursday, March 6 from 3:40 to 5:10 p.m.

Putman is the forestry program director for Tanana Chiefs Conference and serves on the CES Forestry Advisory Council.

Will Putman
His topic will be: "I'm Having a Career - What was the Role of my Education at UAF in Making That Happen?"

The public is welcome to attend. The class is in Arctic Health Research Building 183. For more information, contact Professor John Yarie,

Thursday, February 27, 2014

SNRE welcomes affiliate faculty member

Brian Buma, assistant professor of forest ecosystem ecology at the University of Alaska Southeast, is a new affiliate faculty member with SNRE. In this role, he will serve on graduate student committees.

Brian Buma
Buma's area of expertise is landscape and disturbance ecology. He earned his Ph.D. at the University of Colorado, Boulder. His research was landscape-scale interacting disturbances and successional trajectories of recovering vegetation, resilience of corresponding ecosystem services in a changing climate and the role of management. He earned his B.S. and master's at Western Washington University.

Buma is a member of the Ecological Society of America and the International Association of Landscape Ecology.

 "I'm excited to be working up in Alaska and at UAS specifically because, as a forest ecologist, this is one of the least explored ecosystems on the planet, despite providing support for a variety of ecosystem services and endemic species," Buma said.
"I'm looking forward to working with UAF for several reasons. A major example is the disturbance spectrum. Your trees up there are disturbed quite often, due to lots of fires and insect mortality. Down here, the disturbance regime is much less frequent, and we have giant trees in excess of 700 years old. As a result, we can look across the entire spectrum of forest disturbances, from rapid, frequent disturbances in the boreal to extremely slow dynamics in the temperate rainforest.  That alone provides a nice contrast, and hopefully my work will dovetail well into the exciting work that ecologists are doing up there."

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Geography department moving to CNSM

The geography department, which has been housed within the UAF School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences (newly named the School of Natural Resources and Extension) for 15 years, will move to the College of Natural Science and Mathematics July 1. Geography will become part of the Geology and Geophysics Department.

UAF offers a bachelor of arts and a bachelor of science in geography. The program has 30 undergraduate students.

“This is best for the geography program in the long run,” said Department Chair Cary de Wit. “It’s difficult to break formal ties with people I respect and have enjoyed working with. I hope we will continue to work together in various ways.”

Eventually, the geography professors will relocate from O’Neill Building to the Reichardt Building, but the move could take a while. “We are working toward a smooth transition for the students,” de Wit said.

SNRE Interim Dean Stephen Sparrow said, “We hate to see our geography colleagues leave but we wish them the best.”

Student assistant absorbs Russian studies and culture

Student assistant Heather Bieber, who is spending the semester in Yakutsk, Russia, sent this report:

I have had some really great  experiences in Russia. I have given presentations about Alaska to school kids, traveled to a Yakutian village, taught some English to locals, been to some great museums and historical sites and more! Some foreign students and I were asked to do an interview for the local TV station and newspaper. That was a great experience.

Heather Bieber conducts a frozen shirt experiment in Yakutsk.
Monday through Friday I go to my lessons, from the morning to the afternoon. I have an intensive Russian grammar class for three hours every day. Afterward, I study Russian culture - Russian history, politics and literature. It's such a great experience to learn about Russia in the home country. The teachers do not speak English, so it is a great immersion opportunity.

As far as free time, my friends and I go to the movie theater, visit shops, cook a Russian dinner, walk around Lenin Center and teach each other new languages. Interestingly, all the foreign exchange students live in the same dormitory, so on my floor we have Korean, Chinese, Mongolian, Indonesian, Vietnamese, Finnish, Austrian, German, Japanese, Turkish (and more) students. I have met one American who lives here with his family. He is a student and a teacher, a really nice guy.

Heather Bieber and friend at a Russian museum.

One of the classrooms where Heather Bieber gave a presentation about Alaska.

Heather Bieber at her favorite restaurant, the Russian Pancake House.

Heather Bieber imitates a statue of Russian statesman Maksim Kirovich Ammosov.

Monday, February 24, 2014

"Moss Person:" SNRAS alum helps lead Calypso Farm and Ecology Center

Susan Willsrud, farm director at Calypso Farm and Ecology Center, helps hundreds of people put homegrown vegetables on their plates and makes sure children gain practical gardening experience in their school yards.

Growing up in Ventura, Calif., Willsrud earned pocket money by selling avocados from a wagon; in her teen years she marketed the fruit to restaurants. After studying botany and zoology at the University of California Davis, she came to the University of Alaska Fairbanks where she earned a master’s degree in natural resources management with an emphasis on plant ecology.

Susan Willsrud beams with happiness at Calypso Farm and Ecology Center. (Photo by Gerrit Vyn)
It was the Long Term Ecological Research center at UAF that attracted Willsrud. "Everyone was so welcoming," she said.

She studied moss at the Bonanza Creek LTER. "I wanted to do something useful to leave behind, something to do with plant ecology and botany and something that others would be the least likely to do," she said. Botanist Leslie Viereck gave her two options: willows or mosses. "I picked mosses because I didn't know anything about them."

Soon she was labeled "the moss person," which she found amusing.

The SNRAS professors set an example for living a balanced life, Willsrud said. "I learned about how to integrate music, art and exercise with my college studies. I saw that the professors appreciated things beyond the university."

As a student Willsrud was already thinking about founding an educational farm. To help prepare, she and husband Tom Zimmer worked on farms in California and the Matanuska-Susitna Valley. The couple bought land outside Ester in 1999.

"I use my studies all the time," Willsrud said. "As a farmer, ecological decisions have to be made on how to care for the soil and nurture the farm ecosystem."

When she and Zimmer established the farm they decided to stay true to their mission: to encourage local food production and environmental awareness through hands-on education in natural and farming ecosystems.

For Willsrud, this career proved the perfect match between food and people. ”We grow our own food and integrate with and are involved with and cooperate with all kinds of people of all ages,” she said. “We feel the educational aspects are as important as food production.”

On three acres Calypso grows vegetables, herbs, flowers, dairy goats, chickens and Shetland sheep. Calypso operates a community shared agriculture program in which members buy a summer’s worth of produce and get a share each week.

Calypso is in its third year of a farmer training program and is now a partner with the Folk School, teaching blacksmithing and spinning.

At six schools, Calypso orchestrates gardens that are tended by over 100 students. Produce is sold to the school program’s CSA members and a portion of the food is donated to Stone Soup CafĂ© and the Fairbanks Community Food Bank.

Willsrud is passionate about food justice. She wants to share her message of fresh food with people who might not have opportunities to purchase it, specifically those who are poor or lacking in nutrition education. Calypso was one of the first farms to take food stamps directly.

The past 13 years have seen a shift in consciousness about local food, Willsrud said, but she is concerned that it may have become available mainly to people of privilege. “People who rush to us have advantages already,” she said. She firmly believes it is well worth her time to make the extra effort to reach people who aren’t wealthy. How will she do it? “With creativity, patience, understanding and reaching out.”

One key to Calypso’s success has been the involvement of many minds, both from staff and hundreds of volunteers. “We’ve been doing everything so far with a collaborative mindset,” Willsrud said. “It keeps the farm healthy.”

Willsrud enjoys spending time with her two teenage daughters, cross-country skiing and fiber art. She is fascinated with spinning wool from her sheep, dying the yarn and knitting.

“We have a good quality of life,” Willsrud summed up. “I’m pretty content.”

Lecture focuses on outdoor recreation research

Associate Professor Pete Fix will give the Natural Resources Management 692 lecture Thursday, Feb. 27. The topic is "recreation and human well-being: the outdoor experience in Alaska."

Fix will discuss recent research projects studying the recreation experience, measurement issues and outdoor recreation management implications and how recreation contributes to well-being.
Pete Fix

The class welcomes visitors. It is held from 3:40 to 5:10 p.m. in Arctic Health Research Building  183. For more information, contact Professor John Yarie,

Friday, February 21, 2014

UAF merges Extension and Natural Resources School

The University of Alaska Board of Regents on Friday officially created the University of Alaska Fairbanks School of Natural Resources and Extension. The new unit is a merger between the UAF School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences and the Cooperative Extension Service.

The Regents’ action comes after months of planning by UAF, which announced the proposed change in July 2013. The goal of the merger is to strengthen the research, teaching and outreach missions of both units. Stephen Sparrow, interim dean of the school and interim director of the Alaska Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station, and Fred Schlutt, vice provost for outreach and director of Extension, will lead the new school.
Stephen Sparrow
The collaborative structure is common at many land-grant institutions around the nation. UAF is Alaska’s land-grant university, designated by the state to receive the benefits of the Morrill Act of 1862 and the Hatch Act of 1887.

“Each unit carries out different aspects of the land grant mission,” Sparrow said. “By merging we’ll more effectively carry out that mission for the entire state of Alaska.”

AFES has four major research sites: Fairbanks, Delta Junction, Palmer and the Seward Peninsula. Extension has offices in Fairbanks, Anchorage, Bethel, Delta Junction, Palmer, Juneau, Kenai Peninsula, Nome and Sitka. Extension also serves Alaska Natives through its Federally Recognized Tribes Extension Program administered through Tanana Chiefs Conference and the Bristol Bay Native Corp.

Fred Schlutt
Schlutt noted that constituents of both entities should not notice a change in service, however there may be opportunities for additional services as the units become fully integrated.

“We are hoping for better cooperation and communications between research and Extension faculty,” Schlutt said.

In addition, both Sparrow and Schlutt predict that the merger will save money in the long run, although they don’t anticipate any immediate changes to staffing levels. They do plan to slowly move both units into common space, although that will take time. Already there has been some integration, with two Extension agents being located in the UAF O’Neill Building with school faculty and staff.  In Palmer the Extension staff will be housed at the Matanuska Experiment Farm with the school and AFES by summer.

Agriculture was one of five subjects taught when UAF opened its doors as the Alaska Agricultural College and School of Mines in 1922. The Cooperative Extension Service in Alaska became part of the college in 1930. A year later, the U.S. Department of Agriculture transferred ownership of its experiment stations to the college.

The UAF School of Natural Resources and Extension awards bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees. Faculty and students conduct research in natural resources management, forest sciences, agriculture and geography, while Extension agents provide practical outreach in the areas of agriculture, natural resources, economic development, energy, food safety and food preservation, health, families and youth development.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Local foods symposium coming to UAF

University of Alaska Fairbanks students passionate about local food are hosting a symposium March 5-6.

The Chancellor's Student Food Committee has been working to increase the amount of local food served on campus. Founded by anthropology student Azara Mohammadi, the group is committed to leveraging the purchasing power of UAF to address food security in Alaska. Their motto is "20 percent by 2020," meaning that the committee's goal is to try to have at least 20 percent local food on students' plates within six years.

Bryce Wrigley
Bryce Wrigley, Delta Junction farmer and food security champion, is the featured speaker. "We wanted to invite Bryce to Fairbanks because he can share and show, from his own successful experience, that a robust local food system in Alaska is not only possible, but also delicious and healthy," Mohammadi said.

Wrigley and his family started Alaska Flour Co., which produces barley flour and barley cereal made from barley grown on their farm. The Sunshine Barley the Wrigleys grow was developed at the Fairbanks Experiment Farm by SNRAS researchers. The Wrigley mill is the first commercial one in Alaska in decades.

Wrigley is president of the Alaska Farm Bureau and an outspoken proponent of Alaska's need to increase food production. “What will we do if the planes, trucks and barges don’t make it? We need a mechanism to fall back on," he stated at the 8th Circumpolar Agricultural Conference held in Girdwood in  2013. “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.”
Symposium schedule:

Wednesday, March 5
Lecture: "Alaskans Feeding Alaska: how do we move the concept from the discussion state?" (Bryce Wrigley)
This will be for the UAF Resilience and Adaptation Program (RAP)

Time: 3:30-4:30 p.m.
Location: IARC room 501
Catering: Culinary club 
 Lecture: "What Would You Try if You Knew You Could Not Fail?" (Bryce Wrigley)
Time: 7 p.m.
Location: Hartung Hall in Ester
Thursday, March 6
Workshop: "Cooking with Barley and Barley Flour Workshop" (Bryce and Jan Wrigley)
Time: 10 a.m. - 11:30 a.m.
Location: Fairbanks Community Food Bank, 725 26th Ave. #101
Space is limited. To register contact Aly Englert.

Wolf Run Luncheon
Time: 1 p.m.
Space is limited. To purchase a ticket contact Aly Englert
Location: Wolf Run Restaurant 

Contact Azara Mohammadi for more information or visit the CSFC's Facebook page.

Further reading:

Alaska farmer challenges CAC attendees to take action, 8th Circumpolar Agricultural Conference, Sept. 30, 2013, by Nancy Tarnai

Idaho transplant finds farming success and happiness in Alaska, Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, Sept. 26, 2010, by Nancy Tarnai

This Wrigley makes flour, UAF Cornerstone, Jan. 11, 2011, by Nancy Tarnai

Farming adds to Alaska's security, Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, May 9, 2013, by Bryce Wrigley

Monday, February 17, 2014

Thursday lecture focuses on remote sensing

The NRM 692 lecture topic for Thursday is "Remote Sensing of Landscape Change in Alaska."

Professor David Verbyla will give the presentation, covering three major landscape changes associated with climate warming: wildfire, vegetation productivity and lake changes.
Aerial photos of lakes help scientists study the changes that are occurring in Alaska.
Verbyla, a professor of geographic information systems, earned his doctorate at Utah State University. He teaches the GIS introduction class, GIS analysis, GIS programming and remote sensing applications in natural resources. He researches Alaska land cover change, MODIS products evaluation and the Bonanza Creek Long Term Ecological Research.

David Verbyla
His work has published in the Canadian Journal of Remote Sensing, the Canadian Journal of Forest Research, Population Ecology, Ecosphere, Environmental Research Letters, the Journal of Geophysical Research-Biogeosciences, Wildlife Biology and Nature.

The lecture is Feb. 20 from 3:40 to 5:10 p.m. in Arctic Health Research Building 183. Guests are welcome. For more information contact Professor John Yarie.

Friday, February 14, 2014

SNRAS helps Effie Kokrine students explore sense of place

Throughout the fall semester at Effie Kokrine Charter School in Fairbanks, eighth graders melded art and science by studying traditional place-based narrative.

Led by SNRAS instructional designer Zachary Meyers and local artist Klara Maisch, the storytelling project was funded by an Alaska EPSCoR Native engagement grant.

With a blend of traditional and scientific knowledge, the lessons helped students apply historical and ecological processes using multimedia tools to work with place names, bridging the generation and knowledge gap.

An example of the students' work.
“We introduced exploring storytelling about place as a prelude to a bigger project,” Meyers said. The Peirce Park Living Lab Project will create a place near the Effie Kokrine School that will serve as an outdoor living lab for citizen science, offering opportunities to learn and apply science, technology, engineering, math and the arts in a natural setting.

“We wanted to give them a foundation,” Meyers said. He and Maisch created the lesson plans and activities, which will be available to teachers on the OneTree Alaska website.

“This project allowed students to have creative license to explore place and the interconnected relationships among place,” Meyers said.

The students created altered books in Sheryl Meierotto’s 8th grade class, with an emphasis on learning Alaskan taxonomy, dendrochronology (tree rings) and haiku poetry. Meyers and Maisch then helped Sarah States’ classroom create handmade journals, where students learned how to make paper, interpret tracks in the snow, and explored ecosystem relationships.

Each lesson utilized science and art curricula to help students explore and express ideas. “This emphasized that there is more than one way to represent and share a story,” Meyers said. “We wanted to accommodate a broader sense of place by incorporating observational skills, botanical terminology and introspective thinking.”

Through working together all semester, the students began to open up to the guest instructors. “It took time to get where we needed to be,” Meyers said. “It was a good learning process for both the students and us. We both had to figure out how to share information.

“It was nice to challenge the cool factor that middle school students sometimes have.”

The project work area was the center of creativity.

A student's journal, focusing on the beaver in Alaska.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

UAF hosts cover crop and soil health forum

Fairbanks farmers can access a national forum on cover crops and soil health via the internet at the University of Alaska Fairbanks Tuesday, Feb. 18 from 9 to 11 a.m.

The meeting, which opens with a live video stream from the National Cover Crop and Soil Health Conference in Omaha, Neb., will feature Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and Howard G. Buffett, farmer and philanthropist. Panel presentations by leading cover crop farmers from across the nation will follow. About 200 concurrent forum locations throughout the country will provide a unique opportunity to experience the conference and discuss ways to organize and energize efforts to enable the soil health movement at the grassroots level. In Fairbanks, comments will be gathered and shared with the national committee after the webinar.
Cover crops are used to manage soil fertility and quality.
The national conference is sponsored by the Howard G. Buffett Foundation, Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education and the National Resource Conservation Service and will bring together key leaders, researchers, innovators and policy makers in American agriculture to examine the benefits, opportunities and challenges associated with improving the health and function of soils through the adoption of soil health management systems.

The UAF forum will be held in the O'Neill Building, 905 Koyokuk Drive, room 307, on the UAF West Ridge. Parking is available by permit either in front of or behind the International Arctic Research Center. The UAF event is hosted by the School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences and the UAF Cooperative Extension Service.

For more information, contact Professor Milan Shipka or 907-474-6184.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Delta Junction holds Farm Forum

The annual Delta Farm Forum on Feb. 22 will highlight topics of interest to farmers and small producers.

The forum draws area growers and the community together to hear about the latest research, recommendations and agricultural agency news. The forum, which includes a potluck lunch, usually draws more than 100 participants.

Fred Schlutt
Fred Schlutt, director of the University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service, will welcome participants at 9 a.m., and presentations will run until 3:30 p.m. in the Delta Junction High School small gymnasium.

Ed Fogels, deputy commissioner of the Alaska Department of Natural Resources, will talk about food security. Bryce Wrigley, president of the Alaska Farm Bureau, will discuss proposed state legislation, an Environmental Protection Agency ruling that affects wetlands, new feed and grain regulations and biofuels.

Delta vegetable grower Nellie Troit will talk about her experiences with high tunnels and the federal Natural Resources Conservation Service's high tunnel program. Other topics will include crop insurance, private forest land management opportunities and the conservation district’s noxious weed program. A full agenda is available here.

The UAF Cooperative Extension Service and the Salcha-Delta Soil and Water Conservation District are co-sponsoring the 37th annual forum. For more information, call Extension’s Delta office at 907-895-4215 or the conservation district at 907-895-6279.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Cooperative could be a key to farming's future in Alaska

Improving Alaska’s food security through agricultural efforts is complicated. There’s a lot more to it than planting, cultivating and harvesting; including considerations about economic indicators, cultural systems, social interactions, business concerns and consumer preferences.

To that end, the Alaska Co-op Development Program has stationed a research assistant in Fairbanks for several weeks. Christine Nguyen is studying the Interior’s agricultural system so the community can take an educated approach to creating an agricultural cooperative.
Funded by a Division of Agriculture grant to the Fairbanks Economic Development Corp., the study is focused on vegetable and fruit growers and potential buyers, such as businesses, restaurants and institutions.
Julie Emslie (left) of Fairbanks Economic Development Corp.and Christine Nguyen of Alaska Co-op Development Program plan their agricultural marketing survey strategy.

In meetings led by Julie Emslie, FEDC’s project manager, it was determined that a top priority for Interior farmers is establishing a cooperative that could help them coordinate sales, make group purchases and address crop storage. “What would it look like if the farmers marketed together?” Emslie asked. “There have been a lot of questions and there are still a lot of unknowns.

“We wanted to study the market so we could make a much more educated approach to creating a co-op.”

Farmers serving on the steering committee are Susan Kerndt, Brad St. Pierre, Jen Becker and Avril Wiers. Meetings, which have been held all winter, are open to the public.

“We are hoping the information collected will help start a co-op,” Emslie said. “We’re looking at the potential for wholesale and whether we should focus on certain items and focus on institutions versus retail.”

Critical things like when buyers for restaurants or institutions want to buy fresh produce will help growers plan what to grow and when. And the same goes for restaurants. “If they know there will be an influx in kale they can plan for it,” she said.

“We’re just collecting information to share with farmers and figuring out where to go from there to increase their ability to get food into the market.”

Nguyen, the research tech, said, “It’s funny how much this has grown to include so many farmers and community leaders.” She has been encouraged by the institution and restaurant buyers’ enthusiasm about local vegetables. “Almost all of them valued fresh produce,” Nguyen said. “Many of them just didn’t know the farmers wanted to sell to them. We are helping connect the missing link.”

“The food purchasers are developing relationships with the farmers and that helps,” Emslie said.
“Our farms here are small,” she explained. “To sell outside the farmers markets or a CSA (community supported agriculture) is difficult. Co-ops are tools that are used in other parts of the country.”

While it’s hard for individual farms to deal with storage, processing, marketing and distribution issues, if the farmers work together, the systems will be more affordable. “We are looking at a way to sell collectively,” Emslie said. “The coolest thing about the co-op is that it will be farmer owned. A co-op removes the middle men from the equation; the farmers will have direct say.”

Nguyen said the farmers know there are untapped markets which will help them gain new customers. “They realize the current clientele is static.”

Once the survey results are compiled, a report will be presented to the steering committee and Emslie plans on giving a talk about it at the sustainable agriculture conference in Fairbanks in March.
“The rest of the state is watching this, particularly the Alaska Food Policy Council,” Emslie said. “This was brought on in Fairbanks by the interest of the farmers. How do we recreate this?”

Nguyen said, “I really appreciate that the goals are tangible. The buyers are enthusiastic and the farmers want helpful information. All it takes is information to get them talking.”
From left, Julie Emslie of Fairbanks Economic Development Corp, Brad St. Pierre of Goosefoot Farm, Christine Nguyen of Alaska Co-op Development Program and Susan Kerndt of Wild Rose Farm discuss strategies to improve produce sales in the Tanana Valley. (Photo courtesy FEDC)

“Shifting to local food is an uphill battle,” Emslie said. “Creating something new takes time.”

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

Thursday, February 6, 2014

SNRAS grad student researches rural Alaska solid waste management

SNRAS graduate student William Wilkins will likely spend the coming summer sorting through trash at the Yakutat landfill, and he is looking forward to it.

Wilkins, who spent the winter break studying life-cycle assessments via EASETECH (Environmental Assessment System for Environmental Technologies) computer modeling at the Technical University of Denmark in Lyngby, will examine the solid waste system in Yakutat for his thesis. "My goal is simply to look at solid waste management in one Alaska village and establish system boundaries," he said.

Rural Alaska landfills such as this will be the focus of Wilkins' research.
Solid waste management practices impact social welfare and health, the natural environment and supporting ecological services.

When he puts the data into the EASETECH system, it will calculate all the emissions. "They've done the really complex math," Wilkins said. "Then by changing something that seems little, it could have a big effect on the environment. The model is only as good as the data you put into it."

The EASETECH program will allow Wilkins to assess environmental relevance, compare incomparables and interpret sensitivity analysis and outcomes.

Wilkins' professor, Mingchu Zhang, discovered the EASETECH program and the course in Denmark and asked Wilkins if he was interested. Of course the adventurous student jumped at the chance.

Wilkins earned a bachelor of science degree in environmental soil science at Colorado State University in 2005, then worked four years as a range technician for the Oregon Department of State Lands. In 2011-12, he served in the Peace Corps in Malawi, Africa, helping with gardening, agroforestry, medicinal gardening and HIV/AIDS education.

He chose the University of Alaska Fairbanks because he wanted to study in Alaska. Yakutat is his study area because fellow graduate student Sarah Liben is conducting place-based environmental education research there. "I thought there was good synergy in the work she is doing and the connections she has made," Wilkins said.

Yakutat is located on the Gulf of Alaska about 200 miles northwest of Juneau. The current waste management system is an open landfill where it is common practice to burn plastic, rubber, metals and other harmful materials.

"The current practices are impacting the soil, water and air," Wilkins explained during a lecture to NRM 692 students Feb. 6. Soil is being degraded by leachates from a variety of sources in the dump, including hazardous waste from old cars, refrigerators and household waste. Surface and ground water run the risk of degradation and contamination from leachates and organic waste. Land and water are subject to pollution from uncontained waste such as plastic, rubber, cardboard and paper moved out of the dump by wind and rain. Air quality is compromised by low temperature burning that releases harmful carcinogens and greenhouse gases.

Wilkins plans to meet with stakeholders, including community members, representatives of national and state agencies and nonprofits such as the Rural Alaska Community Action Program, starting spring break.

"I'm going to ask the what are the barriers and how to overcome them and who should be involved," Wilkins said. "We'll identify major issues and concerns. First I have to broach the topic of me digging through their trash."

He plans to conduct surveys, follow up on that input and present the results. The objectives are to evaluate the current system, create an optimal system and arrive at a practical system. Another tool Wilkins uses is ecoinvent.

"This could set a precedent for planning and implementation of solid waste management plans for other Alaska villages," Wilkins said. 

Peony Growers grant Illingworth growers cup

SNRAS Professor Pat Holloway passed the "growers cup" to Ronald Illingworth, president of North Pole Peonies, at the Alaska Peony Growers Conference in Anchorage Feb. 1.

Illingworth is president of North Pole Peonies, the largest peony cut flower producer in interior Alaska. A founding member of the Alaska Peony Growers Association, Illingworth has been growing peonies since 2004.

Professor Pat Holloway hands over the Alaska Peony Growers Association growers cup to Ron Illingworth.
Illingworth served as president of the APGA from 2010 to 2013 and currently serves on the board of directors. He is president of the newly formed Arctic Alaska Peony Cooperative.

He was instrumental in supporting the peony research conducted by SNRAS scientists by arranging for the donation of peony roots to the Georgeson Botanical Garden.

Illingworth retired from the U.S. Air Force in 1985 after 20 years of service. He was a faculty member at UAF for over 20 years, retiring in 2010. He and his wife Marjorie grow peonies for the cut flower industry on their farm outside of North Pole where they sell and ship peonies nationally and internationally.

The first recipient of the cup was Pat Holloway in early 2013.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Long-term forest studies in Alaska

Alaska is a big state, with millions of acres of forested land, but has only seven long-term forest research projects (compare this with the 700 or so in Washington and Oregon). “Long-term” when it comes to the lives of trees and a forest study means 25 to 40 years or more, explained John Yarie, professor of silviculture, during a lecture for the graduate seminar course NRM 692 on Jan. 30.
An upland site in a 24-year-long forest drought study.

Research Directions in Forest Dynamics: Limiting Factors,” gave a glimpse of those studies and their importance. When looking at a forest to create a long-term management policy, managers look at several factors: regeneration rate, stand density (what year should one cut?), type of tree and the location, thinning intensity (how much should one cut?), rotation length. The idea is that managers would create a policy that outlives them—but this may not be flexible enough to deal with such things as climate change, economic uncertainties, or wildfire. The original resource plan with 100-year goals might not be the best one for a changing system, and only prove appropriate for, say, 10 or 20 years. Perhaps the management needs change from timber harvest to non-timber forest products, or to recreational or wilderness use, or ecosystem services such as watershed filtration. Adaptive forest management allows for change in future situations.

Adaptive forest management is defined as an approach in which the effects of policy and treatments (cutting, fertilizing, burning, watering) are continually monitored and used. Research results are incorporated to modify the way the forest is managed so that objectives and policy dynamically interact with each other. “Adaptive forest management,” explained Yarie, “is a formal commitment to improve management” over time.

Yarie described the limits to a forest’s growth: nutrient availability, climate (temperature, precipitation, moisture dynamics, water stress), belowground climate, topography, the parent material of the soil, time (How old is the forest? When was the last disturbance?), and light. In Alaska, nutrient availability, it turns out, does not appear to be that important—but water availability is, especially on non-permafrost systems. (The studies using fertilizer treatments were very inconsistent.)

Yarie showed the seminar attendees charts marking comparative growth relative to different treatments, looking at white spruce, birch, and aspen. Growth was measured by trunk diameter at 4.5 feet above the ground, a standard known as DBH, or diameter at breast height. Depending on the species, growth results could be quite different: in the birch studies, the control (unfertilized trees) grew faster than the fertilized ones. With young aspen (less than 75 years old), fertilizer had a large and sustained influence on growth even though it was only applied for five years: a pronounced positive result. However, with white spruce, results changed from year to year. An interesting result was that, looking at other possible influences on the results, the best predictor for growth was the climate of the previous August.

Looking at only one treatment doesn’t give a clear picture of what works well to produce the best result, however. Yarie showed how the fullest growth could be seen over time when a combination of thinning and fertilizing was used, rather than only thinning or only fertilizing.

Another long-term study that Yarie described had to do with the effect of drought. Climate change will likely lead to a drier climate, and that could become a big problem to forest managers for the Interior. Approximately 60 percent of the Interior’s precipitation falls between May and September, or about 195 mm out of a year-round current level of 325 mm. Snow makes up about 40 percent of precipitation, falling between October and April.

Summer rainfall exclusion platform. Note the spillover dams to guide water around each tree trunk.

Yarie created artificial drought conditions for his study by using summer rainfall exclusion platforms, studying the effects over the last 24 years. In recent years, he added spring runoff drought by eliminating winter snowmelt for both types of sites used: upland and lowland floodplain sites. The hypothesis was that upland sites would depend on rain and snow, and so be heavily affected by the artificial drought, but that the lowland sites wouldn’t. The results were just the opposite. Eliminating winter snowmelt did make a difference in the upland sites, but summer rainfall exclusion reduced growth for white spruce in floodplain sites.

Upland site with snowpack removed (see photo, top, before removal).

Upland site one week after snow removal.
This sparked a discussion among the seminar’s attendees about why this might be, and how greater winter snowpack affected moisture penetration into the soil: deeper snow, deeper penetration, more moisture in the soil in spring. Dr. Glenn Juday, an audience member and forestry professor, observed that satellite observations had shown a correlation between increased snowpack and greater photosynthesis, “which takes us up from the plot level to the landscape level,” he said.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Professor Emeritus Donald Lynch dies

Donald Lynch, 82, professor emeritus of geography, passed away Jan. 31.

Lynch, who earned his Ph.D. in geography of Russian studies at Yale University in 1965, had been affiliated with the University of Alaska Fairbanks geography department since 1970. He taught geography and history and at one time served as president of the UAF Faculty Senate.

Lynch's research focused on regional, economic and historical geography of Alaska, Northern Scandinavia and Siberia. He spoke Russian and Norwegian and could read German and limited Finnish.

"Don was a classically trained geographer, the likes of which are rare these days, and was a pillar of the UAF Geography Department for many years," said Cary deWit, chair of the UAF Geography Department.

Prior to coming to Fairbanks, Lynch was an engineer at Teledyne Ryan Aeronautical. and a researcher of Russia, weather modification, South America and insurgency for the U.S. Army, Research Analysis Corp.

A memorial service is being planned in Seattle. Another service may be held in Fairbanks but no details are available.

Related reading:

Local Rotarians toast UAF geography professor, SNRAS Science and News, March 20, 2009, by Nancy Tarnai


Donald Lynch's obituary was published in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner Feb. 11, 2014. Services will be held March 1 at 4 p.m. at the Fairbanks Elks Club. In lieu of flowers, friends may contribute to the Elks Scholarship Fund in Don Lynch's memory, 1003 Pioneer Road, Fairbanks, AK 99701.

Lecture addresses environmental impacts of waste management in Alaska villages

The NRM 692 lecture Thursday, Feb. 6 will feature Willie Wilkins on the topic "EASETECH and a Life-Cycle Approach to Rural Waste Management."

Willie Wilkins
Wilkins, a SNRAS graduate student and returned Peace Corps volunteer, spent winter break taking a three-week intensive course at the Technical University of Denmark in Copenhagen. He studied the use of EASETECH software, which helps researchers analyze the life cycle of a given product or system.

Wilkins' thesis addresses the environmental impacts of current waste management practices in rural Alaska villages like Yakutat. Using a life-cyle approach, one can evaluate the social and ecological impacts of the current system and create the optimal one to replace it.

The lecture is from 3:40 to 5:10 p.m. in Arctic Health Research Building 183.

Everything you need to know about firewood will be available Saturday

A free workshop on cutting firewood and wood stove safety will be offered Feb. 8 on the University of Alaska Fairbanks campus.

UAF Cooperative Extension Service and the Yukon River Chapter of the Society of American Foresters will host the workshop from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. in Schaible Auditorium. SNRAS Professor Emeritus John Fox will give a talk at 11:15 a.m on "how many cords of wood will you need?"

Multiple agencies will present information on wood stove operation and maintenance, drying wood, determining how many cords are needed and how and where to get firewood.

Information will be provided by Extension, the Fairbanks North Star Borough, the Cold Climate Housing Research Center, Alaska Division of Forestry, Fort Wainwright and The Woodway. For more information, contact Glen Holt, Extension eastern Alaska forester, at 474-5271.

There will be door prizes and snacks. Parking on campus is free on weekends. Handicapped parking is by permit only.