Monday, March 31, 2014

Salcha children study science of birch trees

Salcha Elementary School students conducted scientific research alongside University of Alaska Fairbanks professors March 27.

Assistant Research Professor Janice Dawe welcomed the enthusiastic students. "Thanks for helping us take scientific data," she said. "You're going to do research today by taking data points for us."

Working in the UAF Institute of Arctic Biology greenhouse, the budding scientists measured birch seedlings for the OneTree Alaska program.

"This is fun and interesting and you can learn new things," said third grader Ella Marchesseault. The children measured tree heights, sketched seedlings and toured the tropical room. Some wrote poetry about the field trip.

Teacher Ronda Schlumbohm said she wants her students to see what they are doing in class is real science. "I hope they see the connections and see that real scientists at the university and our students are doing the same thing," she said. "The data is similar."

Ella Marchesseault takes seedling measurements in the IAB greenhouse.
This is Schlumbohm's third year working with OneTree Alaska. She is so swept up in the project that her students wrote a book about birch trees and entered it in the Scholastic "Kids Are Authors" competition.

"I believe children should learn backyard science and learn about this place so they take care of it and appreciate it," Schlumbohm said. "They should know they are in the boreal forest and everything is connected."

Zachary Meyers, OneTree Alaska's instructional designer, has been visiting Salcha every two weeks for the past three years. He and Dawe customize OneTree activities to the students' interests. One year, the focus was seed germination; this year it's plant communication.

Ronda Schlumbohm is a champion for children learning about the boreal forest.
Schlumbohm's class is in a peer teaching relationship with another OneTree partner, Tanana Middle School. Seventh graders from Carri Forbes' service learners' life science class visited Salcha to help students set up a "family matters" experiment. "This is a really collaborative experiment with students at Tanana Middle, Salcha Elementary and the university setting up parallel investigations," Dawe said. "We're learning a lot and comparing what's working well and what needs to be tweaked before we repeat the experiment next year.

Janice Dawe explains the methods the children should use.
Studying birch trees is one small window onto the world, Dawe said. "But anything that's part of their natural world could serve the same purpose, salmon or blueberries in rural Alaska, Sitka spruce in southeast Alaska, bird migrations anywhere," she said.

"The point is to pay close attention to something accessible in their home environment. If they like working with birch trees, they could become natural resource managers or any kind of field scientist. If they like working in greenhouses they could specialize in plant production. But no matter what career path they take, we're hoping this work helps them become lifelong learners, critical thinkers and good stewards of the environment."
Aubrey Johnson enjoyed visiting the greenhouse's tropical room.

She praised the young scientists for their careful approach in taking consistent measurements and documenting their observations on data sheets. "One girl made a great comment about the two seedlings she was observing," Dawe said. "She wondered why one plant has so many more leaves than the other plant in the pot.She's taking the first step in turning observations into testable questions, the first steps in the scientific process. She's coming to this naturally, through her own powers of observation, and hands-on learning opportunities.

"The students demonstrated a firm grasp of science inquiry process skills in the greenhouse."
Mark Wright of the IAB greenhouse, showed the tropical plant collection to Salcha students.

Thursday lecture explains state forests

Jim Schwarber, forest planner for the State of Alaska, will give the April 3 Natural Resources Management 692 lecture on "Establishing the Susitna State Forest."

He will describe the history of efforts to establish a state forest in the Susitna Valley. Schwarber received his master of arts in natural resources planning from the University of British Columbia in 1993.

Jim Schwarber on Afognak Island
One of Schwarber's current projects is the university timber sales on Wrangell Narrows, 14 miles south of Petersburg. The parcel is over 300 acres of old growth spruce, hemlock and yellow cedar.

Excerpt from Alaska Public Media interview with Schwarber March 18:
Jim Schwarber, forest planner with the state’s division of forestry, says one of the requirements for establishing a new state forest is writing a management plan for the land.
“And we’re currently working internally to develop that draft and are also doing public involvement outreach with scoping and seeking input from the public and agencies and other entities as we put together this first draft plan for this new state forest,” Schwarber said.
Near Petersburg, some of the parcels are on eastern Mitkof Island. Others are on the southern end of the island near the planned University timber parcel. Schwarber says the state is asking for input from people who have used the lands in the past or who know about the different areas of Southeast.
“All state forests do provide for multiple uses though it’s important to recognize the primary purpose for a state forest and in particular this state forest is timber management and timber production,” Schwarber said. ”We like to use the phrase we wanna manage it as a working forest, which basically means actively manage it for a sustainable supply of timber to help supply the local industry in Southeast Alaska.”
Other state forest lands are around Wrangell, on Prince of Wales Island and near Ketchikan. Schwarber says the state wants to identify other uses of the land and water around the timber parcels.
“For example we did have a meeting with the Southern Southeast Regional Aquaculture Association to discuss the water quality needs for the Neets Bay hatchery, which is their flagship hatchery in southern Southeast Alaska,” Schwarber said. ”So we work with other land owners other communities, other interests to ensure our final management plan does recognize and properly protect those other uses.”
The designation for state forest land also allows for second growth thinning on parcels that already have been logged.
Unlike the U.S. Forest Service, the state does not complete an environmental impact statement with multiple alternatives in its forest plan. The state planning process can take up to three years to finish. The division of forestry hopes to release a draft plan for public review later this spring.

The lecture, open to the public, is in Arctic Health Research Building 183 from 3:40 to 5:10 p.m. Thursday, April 3.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

SNRE interviewing for new professor

The School of Natural Resources and Extension will be interviewing three candidates for a faculty position in social-ecological systems and sustainability.
Andrey Petrov

Andrey Petrov, assistant professor of geography at the University of Northern Iowa, will be on campus March 31 and April 1. He will present a research seminar Monday from 2:30 to 3:30 p.m. in the International Arctic Research Center 401 and a teaching seminar Tuesday, April 1 from 1 to 2 p.m. in O’Neill 201.

Petrov earned a doctor of philosophy in geography at the University of Toronto in 2008. He researches economic geography, human-environment relations, geographic information science and spatial population analysis. His regional interests are Russia, Canada and the Arctic.

Aaron Petty, research fellow, National Environmental Research Program, Charles Darwin University, Darwin, Australia, will be at UAF April 3-4. His research seminar is Thursday, April 3 from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. in IARC 417 and the teaching seminar is Friday, April 4 from 11 a.m. to noon in IARC 417.
Aaron Petty

He earned a Ph.D. in human ecology from the University of California, Davis in 2008. His research focuses on the connections between human systems and biogeography, linking disturbance and landscape change to historical processes. He researches how human actions, such as fire and the introduction of invasive species, influence both the distribution of species and ecological function, and how the physical aspects of landscape change interact with human systems and socio-cultural change. Most recently he has been developing predictive models of complex systems that link human management practices and ecological processes to increase the resilience and sustainability of social-ecological systems.

Sarah Fleisher Trainor, research associate professor, IARC and Institute of Northern Engineering, UAF, will present her research seminar Monday, April 7 from 2:30 to 3:30 p.m. in O’Neill 201 and her teaching seminar on Tuesday, April 8 from 1 to 2 p.m. in O’Neill 201.

Sarah Trainor
She earned a Ph.D. in energy and resources at the University of California, Berkeley in 2002.  Her research focuses on communicating scientific information to inform planning and decision making in climate change adaptation and natural resource management. She also studies human dimensions of global change in the arctic and northern latitudes, interdisciplinary assessment of ecosystem services related to global change and mixed subsistence economies in rural Alaska and vulnerability and adaptation of northern communities to climate change.

For more information, contact Associate Professor Joshua Greenberg.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Students vie to represent Alaska in National Geographic Bee

Alaska students will compete in the National Geographic state-level Bee Friday, April 4 at the Egan Center in Anchorage. One hundred fourth through eighth graders from schools across the state will participate. The contestants each won their school’s bee and passed a qualifying test.

Students are quizzed not just on geographic locations but must also be familiar with the inter-connectedness of geography, current events and map terminology.

Brian Ross, left, Geographic Bee moderator in 2013, takes a selfie with Kenny Petrini of Central Middle School at last year's bee. Petrini was the state champion.
Preliminary rounds in the morning will determine the top 10 finalists who compete in the afternoon for first place. The winner will represent the state at the National Geographic Bee May 19-21 in Washington, D.C. The national winner receives a $25,000 college scholarship, lifetime membership in the National Geographic Society and a trip to the Galapagos Islands.

For additional information on the National Geographic Bee and sample questions please visit

Monday, March 24, 2014

Alum to lecture on renewable energy science

Amanda Byrd, who earned a master of science degree at UAF in 2013, will present a lecture Thursday, March 27. The title is "Renewable Energy Science - An interdisciplinary approach to energy solutions."

Amanda Byrd out standing in the (biomass) field.
Byrd will explain how she combined engineering with natural resources management to design a degree specific to her research needs.The results were a degree focused in short rotation woody biomass and a study that provides useful information for communities interested in supplementing their diesel heating with biomass energy.
Byrd is the biomass coordinator for the Alaska Center for Energy and Power. The lecture, part of the Natural Resources Management 692 graduate seminar, will be March 27 from 3:40 to 5:10 p.m. in Arctic Health Research Building 183. Everyone is welcome.

For more information contact Professor John Yarie.

Friday, March 21, 2014

AK Sustainable Agriculture Conference: No-till grain production

Bryce Wrigley: High-Latitude No-Tillage in Grain Production in Delta Junction

Bryce Wrigley owns and operates Wrigley Family Farms and the Alaska Flour Company in Delta Junction. He is the president of the Alaska Farm Bureau

Almost all grain production in Delta Junction is done with conventional tillage with fallowing and a rest crop. It looks all kempt and tidy, it's just dirt, and you can see things growing right away. But with no-till you can't see the new growth until the plants are about 10 inches high and get above the stubble. The no-till fields look kind of ratty and untidy, according to Wrigley. However, the problem with conventional tillage is it destroys the organic matter in the soil, and takes up soil in the wind. And wind is an issue in Delta.

After researching the type of drill to use, Wrigley and his wife, Jan, decided on the Cross-Slot (other companies seemed to all reference against this company).

Wrigley's reasons for doing no-till included: lack of labor requirement (his five kids had already left home), he wanted to maintain the value of his Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) lands which had been fallow for 25 years and so the carbon and quantity of organic matter in the soil, keep noxious weeds down, his area has a dry spell in spring & early summer which is counteracted by mulch on top of soil and old roots in the ground that hold moisture in the ground.

Challenges with no-till:
  • slower soil warmup
  • grass control is harder
  • pest control issues: for the first five years he found pests increase but then it stabilizes
  • maintains soil health
  • better moisture retention
  • no wind erosion
  • saves labor
  • less equipment
  • less fuel
  • fewer weeds
Even though emergence is a little later, the grain seems to catch up (the moisture in the ground seems to make the difference).

(cross-posted from The Ester Republic blog)

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Sustainable Agriculture Conference workshop: variety trials and breeding part 3

Variety Trials: breeding to see what works (and what doesn't)

Jim Myers extolled the benefits of on-farm trials in his pre-conference workshop. It turns out that with participatory plant breeding, a cooperative arrangement that appeals to my grassroots heart, the variety trial is central to understanding and developing a new crop for a particular area. Myers held up a copy of an old AFES variety trial publication as an example of the kind of information breeders need to know and develop. He explained that it was important for:
  • getting to know the crop
  • expanding market potential, attracting new customers
  • addressing crop stresses
  • identifying organic info
  • on-farm variety trials for vegetables, herbs, etc. (Here Myers talked about a publication from the Organic Seed Alliance that he authored about creating on-farm experimental designs for useful variety trials. The OSA has many helpful publications on everything from policy to seed production, worksheets and webinars.)
There are two basic trial methods, the observation trial and the replicated trial.

Observation trials are okay for evaluating disease resistance or discrete traits (color growth, habit, fruit size and shape, earliness), productivity, and adaptation to the locale. An example might be planting one-row plots of 10-30 feet. Observation trials are repeated over years in the same place.

Replication trials remove variation casused by differences in the local environment & provide repeated measures. They require randomization, such as in the variety's placement within the plot.

Siting a trial: get as uniform a section as possible. Consider soils, wind direction, even elevation, shade, moisture/wet or dry spots.

Traits to evaluate depend upon intended use and kind of crop: processing, fresh market, home garden/

On-farm trials in their simplest form: plant several varieties side by side and keep notes. This requires planning!

On farm trials II:
Arrange among a group of farmers to grow an extended set of varieties, each grower grows a set on their farm. The advantage here is that a broader set can be looked, but it requires not only more planning but also coordination, and it should include a common variety to serve as a yardstick. Varietal performance may be affected by differences in location and cultural practices, too.

NOVIC (or, see the Northern Organic Vegetable Improvement Collaborative)

Mother Daughter Experimental Design: this is a statistical plot design that maximizes the amount of information obtained from diverse environments.

mother site: complete randomized block design with at least three replications
daughter sites: single replicates on at least three collaborating farms

Where to find the genetic variation?

From commercial sources:
  • seed catalogs
  • Native Seed Search
  • Seed Savers Exchange
Exchange with other growers:
  • seed swaps
  • community seed banks/libraries/sanctuaries
  • Plant introduction collection (not a catalog: up to you to maintain seed or accession acquired)
  • NSL # is storage of last resort, very hard to get
  • PVP; has to be deposited in GRIN, but not available until patent runs out
  • Tomato Genetic Resource Collection (genetic stocks housed at UC Davis, regular tomatoes housed at Geneva, New York)
Methods of recombination:
  • natural crossing
  • artificial 
  • selection methods: mass selection, half-sib selection, bulk breeding, pedigree selection, single-seed descent, backcross breeding
Myers went into detail about each of these, but in particular the methods of selection. The technical aspects of the workshop were impressive and will be left aside, as he went into considerable detail, but for those who are interested in pursuing breeding vegetable varieties, he recommended a few books, among them:

Breed Your Own Vegetable Varieties: The Gardener's Guide to Plant Breeding and Seed Saving, by Carol Deppe.

The Organic Seed Grower:  A Farmer's Guide to Vegetable Seed Production, by John Navazio.

There is also a book he co-edited but did not mention, Organic Crop Breeding.

(cross-posted from The Ester Republic blog)

see earlier posts on Jim Myers' pre-conference workshop:

Sustainable Agriculture Conference: Breeding plants

Jim Myers has worked on several species and varieties, but lately has caused a stir in the gardening world for his work with the Indigo Rose purple tomato, released by Oregon State University in 2012. To tomato lovers across the nation, this is pretty exciting, as it represents a new range of color and antioxidants available in these delicious fruit.  (Tomatoes, one of the most popular garden plants, are largely self-pollinating.) But Myers was here to tell us about breeding vegetables in general.

Managing & selecting self-pollinated crops:
  • one individual can represent variety, but more than one is better
  • roguing and selection
  • isolation distances
Maintaining stock seed:
  • take 50-100 single plant selections from a finished variety
  • grow as progeny rows, using say, 50 seeds from your plant selection
  • inspect each plant for deviations, rogue off-type plants (roguing means weeding the rogues, the plants that don't conform to the type you are looking for)
  • eliminate progeny rows with high frequency of off-types
  • harvest by progeny row
  • composite seed (mixed-up seed) from progeny rows to make up foundation seed
  • grow every year or when regeneration of variety required
Roguing and selection
  • source of off-types
  • seed mixes
  • outcrossing
  • spontaneous mutation (can come off the same plant)
Examples of off-types
  • ovals and strings in beans or peas
  • plant / fruit / flower colors that don't match the variety
  • growth habit
  • pod fiber
  • sterile off-types
  • disease resistance (could be a good thing! or the off-type could show a lack of disease or pest resistance, and so not be so good)
Isolation distances
  • depends on geography barriers, pollinators, prevailing winds
  • can isolate in time as well as space
  • no isolation needed between beans and peas (10-50 ft)
  • isolation may be needed for: endive, escarole, lettuce; tomato and eggplant (10-50 ft)
  • isolation required: peppers (75-100ft)
Myers also discussed the requirements for cross-pollinated crops and how they differ from self-pollinated crops. Cross-pollinators usually produce many small seeds, while self-pollinators usually produce a smaller amount of very large seeds (although this isn't a hard and fast rule). 
Managing & selecting cross-pollinated crops
  • many individuals to prevent inbreeding
  • maintenance
  • isolation distances
maintaining stock seed:
  • keep population sizes large: below 30-50 plants inbreeding depression will occur (plants will become weakened due to lack of sufficient genetic variety)
  • grow variety in extreme isolation (caged production ensures isolation where land is limited)
  • continuous mass selection (trimming extremes in variation)
Isolation distances:
  • depends on geography barriers, pollinators, prevailing winds
  • is the crop insect or wind pollinated?
  • can isolate in time as well space (two weeks is offten enough time)
  • Cole crops, mustard greens, radish, kale, turnips, cucurbits, scarlet runner beans, onions, carrots, celery, chicory: .5-2 mi
  • sweet corn: 66-1,320 ft
  • table beet & chard: 1-2- mi (same color) 1.5-3 if different color, 3-5 mile if different types
  • spinach .5-3 miles
Unripe Indigo Rose tomato, an open-pollinated variety incorporating anthocyanins in the skin of its ripe fruit and released by Oregon State University. For more on the variety, see OSU's FAQ page. This and other, similar tomatoes are now available from many seed companies.


Tomatoes have three growth habits, controlled by a single gene: determinate, indeterminate, and semi-determinate. For example, Micro Tom is a tiny variety about 8" tall developed using regular breeding methods, which grows no taller. This is a determinate variety. An indeterminate is the norm for tomatoes, and is the vining ever-growing habit that most tomatoes will exhibit. A semi-determinate will fall somewhere in between. One attendee showed quite a bit of interest in the idea of breeding a northern-adapted variety from a small tomato such as Micro Tom.

Kurt Wold, another of the attendees at the conference and owner of Pingo Farm and Zone 1 Grown seed company, has many Russian varieties. He suggested that these cold-weather, short-season, early tomatoes make a good place from which to start breeding for Alaska's needs. He also has a small determinate variety, which would be better to start from than Micro Tom, he said, as it is already adapted to a northern climate. Myers agreed: starting with a variety that already has some of the characteristics you want will save a lot of time.

Cooperative breeding projects

In concluding his workshop, Myers asked his audience if there were any cooperative breeding projects in which people might be interested in participating. The local turnip breeding project already has a lot of adherents, and several more signed up during the conference, but others expressed interest in tomatoes, sweet or flour corn, and fava beans. 

CES will set up a listserve to notify members about participatory plant breeding efforts/inquiries. For more information, contact Steve Seefeldt, CES agriculture agent for the Fairbanks area. (474-2423)

SNRE names outstanding students

The 2013-2014 outstanding students have been selected: Nicole Warner, Katie Shink, Michael Sybert and Michael Quinn.

Nicole Warner, representing Humans and the Environment, grew  up in Eagle River. She was influenced heavily by her father's outdoor lifestyle. "I liked to be with him and see the wildlife and go fishing," she said.

Nicole Warner
She chose the Humans and the Environment concentration of Natural Resources Management because she wanted to explore how people interacted with nature and wildlife. "I've learned a lot of different aspects and I love seeing the involvement," she said.

One of the most memorable classes she took was Soils and the Environment. "I never would have thought of it," Warner said. "You get to see some cool, quirky things."

As a freshman, Warner worked in a plant pathology lab and this year as a junior, in an earth science paleontology lab. She also helps a graduate student with researching the bill loads of puffins, identifying the fish the birds eat.

Warner likes the smallness and closeness of SNRE. "I like seeing all the professors hanging out and talking together and I like the opportunities students have to get involved in internships, things like looking through bear scat."

Her goal is to continue to pursue the field she fell in love with. In free time she enjoys writing songs, playing the guitar and hiking.

Katie Shink
Katie Shink, representing High Latitude Agriculture, hails from Spokane, and came to UAF to try something new. "I knew I wanted to do something with natural resources or biology," she said. "I looked through the catalogs of several schools and this fit my interests."

The senior said she has been given lots of opportunities in the Institute of Arctic Biology greenhouse and helping with fisheries management decisions while working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Conducting research for her senior thesis, Shink focused on fisheries and lamprey habitat.

"Senior thesis has honestly been one of the most beneficial things," she said. "It gave me an opportunity to conduct research and see what areas I could improve in. It gives you new exposure."

Shink's goal is a career in fisheries biology, but first she intends to pursue a master's degree. "I want an excuse to stay in Alaska," she said.

She enjoys fishing and traveling.

Michael Sybert
Michael Sybert is the Forest Sciences outstanding student. He grew up in Jensen Beach, Fla., and served in the U.S. Army from 2008 to 2012. He is currently in the National Guard and his wife is in the Army, stationed at Fort Wainwright. He studied biochemistry at the University of Tampa before joining the Army.

He selected natural resources management because he loves the outdoors and doesn't want a desk job. "Working intelligence in the Army I was staring at a computer 12 hours a day," he said. "I'm looking for a job outdoors."

With two young sons, Sybert doesn't get much recreational time, but when he does, he loves hunting and fishing.

Michael Quinn, who represents Geography, was raised in Surrey, B.C., outside of Vancouver. A Nanook hockey player, he chose UAF for the opportunity to play on the team. He thought Geography would be an interesting major.

A senior who will graduate in May, Quinn said he will remember the people of SNRE. "Everyone from the students to the professors was very enjoyable to be around and learn from," he said. "They made my experience here at UAF a very memorable one."

Michael Quinn
He wants to play hockey as long as possible and then pursue joining the Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer. When it isn't hockey season, Quinn enjoys playing golf.

Playing hockey for UAF has been an experience unlike any other, Quinn stated. "Most of all, playing hockey and going to school at the same time forced me to learn to manage my time. I will never forget what the school has done for me the p ast four years and it is something I will never forget."

2014 Sustainable Agriculture Conference brings farmers together

This year's SARE conference, officially the 10th annual Alaska Sustainable Agriculture Conference, hosted by CES, was held at the Wedgewood Resort in Fairbanks. The conferences start with a pre-conference workshop day, usually one full-day workshop and one or two half-day workshops. This year's workshops included one on plant breeding and one on record keeping and taxes for agricultural businesses.

The preconference workshop on participatory plant breeding was taught by Jim Myers of Oregon State University. The first half covered plant genetics and the difference between inbreeders (selfers) and outbreeders (crossers). It was a bit of an intense short course.

Brian Schmitt of Funny Farm Feed Folks was enthusiastic about Alaska Grown.
Myers gave us a short overview of the history of genetics and breeding in general, and how Gregor Mendel and his famous pea experiments were rediscovered in the early 1900s. We reviewed dominant and recessive genes, homozygosity and heterozygosity, and terms like allele and locus.

In genetics, plants can be divided into those that have evolved such that they require no or very few crossing with other plants to maintain fertility and vigor (inbreeders or self-breeders, selfers for short), and those that do require it (out breeders or out crossers).

Inbreeders include:
  • tomatoes
  • eggplants
  • most peppers
  • beans (but not Scarlet Runner beans) (Fava beans are in between an inbreeder and an outbreeder, so one can use a small stock but not as small as true inbreeders.)
  • peas 
  • lettuces
Selfing a plant that is an F1 hybrid is a way to stabilize a variety for release. "F1" means the first generation between the cross between two distinct parents. Your hybrid starts out completely heterozygous (mixed genes of all sorts of traits). To make the plant breed true, or stabilize, breeders typically self 5 to 6 generations.

Nightshade family flowers in general have a higher percent of outcrossing, but still maintain selfing. Tomatoes may vary: some tomatoes have a style (female flower part) that sticks out beyond the flower (wild types), which will lend them to outcrossing.

Outcrossers include:
  • mustards & brassicas, arugula
  • melons & cucumbers, curcubits
  • mustards have a sporophytic incompatibility: chemical self-pollination prevention
  • corn (each seed has an individual silk down which pollen may travel)
  • artichokes, daisies, sunflowers
  • carrots, Queen Anne's Lace (protrandry: relies on wind pollination)
  • chenopod flowers
  • onion family flowers: protrandry, vegetative bulblets (walking onions or Egyptian garlic also)

It is important to know the difference in your crops so that, when breeding for particular traits in a new variety, you avoid what's known as inbreeding depression, which can concentrate weak traits.

Myers gave everyone at the conference a CD with the full notes from his Horticulture 433 class. It describes various systems of classification, from frost or cold tolerance, optimum temperature range, parts used for food, cultural groups, and botanical classification.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Barrick to lecture about national parks movement pioneer

Harrison R. Crandall, the official photographer of the Grand Teton National Park and a pioneer in the early national park movement, will be the subject of a public talk at 6 p.m. on Thursday, March 27, 2014.  The talk will be presented in the Research Room (Level Two) of the Elmer E. Rasmuson Library at UAF.

Kenneth Barrick, UAF associate professor of geography, will speak about Crandall, an artist whose subjects included some of the most iconic images of the Teton Range, cowboys and cowgirls, wildflowers and park recreation.
Kenneth Barrick

Barrick’s new book, “Harrison R. Crandall, Creating a Vision of Grand Teton National Park,” includes many color reproductions of Crandall’s works and will be available for purchase and signing following the presentation. Books will be provided by Gulliver’s Books.

Barrick said, “Hank Crandall was a true visionary. Although he devoted his artistic attention to Grand Teton National Park, he is now credited with helping establish and expand the Park, and with inspiring early national park preservationists like Horace Albright, the second director of the National Park Service.”

The talk will feature images of many of Crandall’s landscape oil paintings and photographs, which he produced between 1920 and 1960. Some examples of Crandall’s original art will be on display.

Parking is free on the UAF campus after 5 p.m.

SNRE changes degree offering

The Natural Resources Management degree which is offered through the School of  Natural Resources and Extension will be revised and streamlined beginning fall 2014. The revised degree is designed to teach students environmental decision-making with an emphasis on concepts aimed at sustainable resource management in Alaska and elsewhere so they can become leaders in environmental stewardship and responsibly develop natural resources.

“We work to promote an understanding of the natural environment and its resources through scientific research, education and programs to restore and preserve the integrity of natural areas,” said SNRE Interim Dean Stephen Sparrow. “Our students get their boots dirty; in addition to classroom work, there are ample opportunities to study in the field.”
SNRE students are attracted to outdoor study and work.

Previous to this change, the NRM degree offered concentrations in High Latitude Agriculture, Forest Sciences and Humans and the Environment. The revised degree will provide for a pre-veterinary medicine track to prepare students to apply for acceptance to a veterinary medicine school. The faculty plan to develop minors to complement the major.

The school prepares students to become leaders as resource managers, academic researchers and professionals in government agencies, non-governmental organizations, industry  and communities.
If interested in learning more about the NRM degree, contact Martha Westphal, 907-474-5276 or

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Bear species' genetic relationships determined

New research from the University of Alaska Fairbanks has quantified the genetic differences between polar, brown and black bears.

Matthew Cronin, professor of animal genetics with the UAF School of Natural Resources and Extension and colleagues at the University of California Davis and Delta G Co. published a paper on bear genetics in the Journal of Heredity online in January. The paper, which will be printed in the next few months, describes the research involving genome sequence comparisons of the three bear species.

brown bear
Cronin also published papers on the relationships of the bears with different genetic analyses in 2012 with a collaborator at the U.S. Department of Agriculture in the Journal of Heredity, and in 2013 with co-workers at Texas Tech University in the Canadian Journal of Zoology.

The 2014 paper replicates other research on bear genomes but includes analysis of genetic variation in more than 300 bears from Alaska and genetic elements not assessed previously in bears. These are known as ultra-conserved elements, and show the polar and brown bears to be more closely related than either is to black bears.

The data was used in a “molecular clock” that uses the numbers of differences (mutations) in DNA sequences to estimate when the sequences, and hence the species, diverged. The data suggest that polar bears and brown bears diverged as different species 1.2 million years ago, and black bears diverged from the polar/brown bear lineage 2.3 million years ago.  These estimates are within the ranges in other studies.

Utilizing labs at the University of California Davis, Cronin and technology experts pored over huge datasets. He also analyzed tissue samples from Montana and from Alaska’s Admiralty, Baranof and Chichagof islands, obtained from state and federal wildlife agencies. In recent years DNA science has improved so much that Cronin is able to study billions of nucleotides of DNA rather than the thousands he used to be limited to. “It’s very advanced because of the applications in medicine and agriculture,” Cronin said.

“The ramifications are that if the polar bear was an independent species for about 1 million years it survived previous cold and warm periods,” Cronin said. “This means the polar bear has been an independent lineage a long time through glacial and interglacial and warm periods.”

The last glacial period was at maximum extent about 22,000 years ago, and was preceded by a warm interglacial period about 130,000 years ago. Other warm and cold periods preceded that. Cronin thinks that if polar bears survived previous warm periods in which there was little or no arctic summer sea ice, this should be used in  models predicting the species’ response to current climate change.

“It seems logical that if polar bears survived previous warm, ice-free periods, they could survive another. This is of course speculation, but so is predicting they will not survive, as the proponents of the endangered species act listing of polar bears have done.”

Cronin has been studying animal genetics for 25 years. He recently researched wood bison and plains bison. Comparing wolves in Southeast Alaska to species across the country is his next area of research.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Alaska Flour Co. shares tips for cooking with barley flour

As part of the UAF Chancellor's Student Food Committee local foods symposium, the Wrigley family from Delta Junction conducted a cooking with barley flour demonstration.

Held at the Tanana Valley Community Food Bank on March 6, the workshop highlighted the proper uses for barley flour. Alaska Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station researchers developed Sunshine Barley, which Bryce Wrigley and his family grow on their farm. The family owns and operates the state's only commercial flour mill.

Jan Wrigley, left, and Priscilla Rice make barley flour banana cinnamon chip muffins.
"Barley is the new rice," Bryce Wrigley said.

"We want to share how easy it is to cook with barley and barley flour," Jan Wrigley said. She compared the family farm to the children's story book, "The Little Red Hen."

"We do it all; we plant, harvest, mill and grind the barley," she said.

Following is a summary of her advice:

Stir up and aerate the flour before using. Put the lid back on the container right away.

Barley flour will give a wonderful, moist product if you don't overcook the baked goods.

Keep out enough barley flour for a week's use and freeze the rest in an airtight container.

When the dough is rising set the pan on a heating pad at medium seting.

Try hot barley cereal with butter, salt and Cajun seasoning for a side dish.

Substitute 100 percent barley flour for other flours in quick breads, muffins and cakes.

For yeast breads, mix 1/3 barley flour, 1/3 white flour and 1/3 wheat flour.

Jan Wrigley said, "Be careful and don't over bake and you will have a great product."

"Barley has lots of fiber and B vitamins," Bryce Wrigley said. "One serving has 20 percent of the fiber needed per day. Barley gives you lots of energy."

Alaska-grown barley flour can be purchased at Alaska Feed, the Co-op Market and Sunshine Health Food in Fairbanks and the IGA in Delta Junction.

For barley recipes, visit UAF Cooperative Extension Service's publications section and the Alaska Flour

Azara Mohammadi of the UAF Chancellor's Student Food Committee shows off the barley flour scones Jan Wrigley made at the workshop.

SNRE student's beekeeping project stimulates interest in forestry in The Gambia, West Africa

Peace Corps Volunteer and University of Alaska Fairbanks Master's International student Samantha Straus has been working with community members in a rural village in West Africa for the past two years in the field of agroforestry in The Gambia.

In conjunction with an enterprising non-governmental organization, BeeCause, Straus and her two counterparts Malick Ceesay and Seidou Ceesay, have attended trainings to build their beekeeping capacity.  The team members live in a heavily deforested area where traditional honey harvesting can best be described as bee “killing” rather than bee “keeping” where “bee killers” burn hives to treat themselves to smoky honey.

Malick Ceesay (left) and Samantha Straus (right) made a grass hive out of local materials at a BeeCause training. (Photo by Anne McWhinney, Peace Corps Volunteer The Gambia)
Straus's counterparts have successfully established two Kenyan top bar hives more commonly known as KTB’s. These hives have done well producing wax but have not produced very much honey.  The hives have an unusually large number of queen cells which is indicative of a stressed or overcrowded hive.

As resources dwindle in the founding hive, new queens emerge to split the hive into smaller units to preserve the bees.  The stress experienced by the bees is reminiscent of the struggles Straus and community have faced with food security.

"Bees need trees and trees need bees," Straus said.  Her colleagues are now more interested and dedicated to the task of growing trees if only to help their honey production thrive. Last year, nearly 100 cashew and 50 moringa trees were planted in the community with more trees being started in a local nursery.

Community members rely heavily on trees for fuel wood, medicine, food, timber and fodder. Beekeeping adds a lucrative and therefore attractive income generation opportunity which has galvanized the community’s interest in tree planting.

When community members ask Straus why there is no honey, she responds that the bees are eating all the honey they produce because there are not enough trees for them to feed off of. The rural village where she serves is also threatened by erosion as deep gullies continue to ruin farmlands and the structural integrity of homes. Trees have many secondary uses, including soil stabilization. "More trees can only help the community in all of the above mentioned areas and beekeeping is one of the ways they are getting there," Straus said.

For more information about Samantha’s projects and her Peace Corps experience in The Gambia, please see her blog, Banto Faros.  Feel free to send additional questions to Straus, or see her in person in July 2014 when she is due to return home to Fairbanks.

Further reading:
SNRAS student ready to begin Peace Corps service in The Gambia, SNRE Science and News, Feb. 27, 2012, by Nancy Tarnai

Friday, March 7, 2014

Fiber enthusiasts get up close and personal with UAF muskoxen

It was a time of mutual admiration March 6 when a Wild Fibers tour visited with Assistant Research Professor Jan Rowell. As the participants pawed over raw qiviut, there was nothing but expressions of delight.

Wild Fibers magazine editor and publisher Linda Cortright and Rowell first met a decade ago.
Linda Cortright in her qiviut sweater and lamb gloves.

Rowell is a fan of Wild Fibers, affectionately labeled “The National Geographic of fibers.”  She enjoys the magazine’s extraordinary blend of photography, culture and environment, all focused on fiber.

And Cortright had only glowing words about Rowell. “Jan is one of the few qiviut experts,” she said. “She has so much knowledge; I’m a fan of her research. It is a great privilege for our group to have private time with her. She is a champion and a hero. I’m thrilled to meet her.”

When the tour group, made up of 14 fiber enthusiasts from across the country, arrived at the University of Alaska Fairbanks Large Animal Research Station on a bright sunny morning, Rowell first introduced her guests to the muskoxen that provide the qiviut.

“The animals tell the whole story,” Cortright said. “This group is aware of the rarity of the fiber. Alaska is the only opportunity to see these animals in a domesticated environment.” The one-week tour started at the Musk Ox Farm in Palmer and included dog mushing and a trip to Chena Hot Springs to view the northern lights.

“Our group has a strong interest in natural fibers,” Cortright said. On previous trips, she has taken travelers to places that have not been rubber-stamped by the trappings of the modern world, sleeping in yurts, riding camels and spinning cashmere. “Most of all, we learn about a way of life that is held together by one very long, long thread,” the Wild Fibers website proclaims.

Cortright has observed in her years of study and travel that experts now have vast knowledge about sheep, alpaca and goat fiber, but the research on muskox fiber is in its infancy. “The muskox is a fiber dinosaur,” she said. “It has a strong meat component and that’s part of our understanding that people use every bit of it. We’ll do anything that we can to protect and respect the role this animal has.”

Gazing out the window at the muskoxen resting on snowbanks and around the room full of qiviut samples, Cortright said, “This is as close to heaven as it gets for fiber people. We have an absolute reverence for this.”

Jan Rowell, center, shows qiviut to visitors.

One of the travelers, Betty Fitchett of Ontario, Canada, said, “With Linda you get to see behind the scenes. You’re right in there where it’s natural. It’s not putting on a big show. I don’t come just for the fiber; I come for something I don’t get with other tours.”

View from the classroom window at LARS.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

SNRE offers pre-veterinary track

The School of Natural Resources and Extension has added a pre-veterinary track for undergraduate students.

The program will have an emphasis on agriculture and natural resources.

"Pre-vet is the pipeline for our success," said Dr. Todd O'Hara, coordinator of pre-vet and veterinary student affairs at the University of Alaska Fairbanks  Department of Veterinary Medicine, College of Natural Science and Mathematics. "This will get the appropriate students into the pipeline and properly prepared for study in veterinary medicine.”

From left, SNRE Interim Dean Stephen Sparrow, Professor Milan Shipka, Dr. Todd O'Hara and Dr. Arleigh Reynolds discuss plans for the new pre-vet undergraduate track that SNRE will offer starting fall semester 2014.
There are four general paths at UAF for students to prepare for the study of veterinary medicine: biology and wildlife, physiology and cellular and molecular biology, biochemistry and now agriculture and natural resources. Colorado State University, UAF's partner in professional veterinary medicine, sees animal science and sustainable agriculture in a positive light, O'Hara said.

"If we offer the pre-vet track in agriculture and natural resources, students will have a good chance of getting into CSU. Students who show no intention of studying food animals or large animals are going to get dinged. Food animals and equine areas are underserved by veterinarians in Alaska and nationwide."

"We're looking at what CSU requires," said Milan Shipka, professor of animal science. "This will add 14 credits to our degree program. Our program in the natural resources management degree is currently the only track specifically labeled pre-veterinary medicine."

A new three-credit course, introduction to sustainable agriculture, will be added for fall semester. Shipka, Professor Meriam Karlsson and Professor Mingchu Zhang will teach the course. Other courses, such as animal science and sustainable livestock production will be part of the course offering.

Dr. Arleigh Reynolds, associate dean of the UAF Department of Veterinary Medicine, explained that the One Health Initiative, a movement to forge collaborations between physicians, osteopaths, veterinarians, dentists, nurses and other scientific health and environmental related disciplines, is important to CSU leaders. "The profession is adjusting," Reynolds said. "Veterinarians will be more involved in human health. CSU sees tying with Alaska a way to address that diversity."

Reynolds said his vision is to focus on rural Alaska. "For this program to serve Alaska we have to produce vets who will fill the needs in Alaska and there is a huge veterinary need in villages."

An added bonus for SNRE's pre-vet track is the school's Matanuska Experiment Farm in Palmer where cattle are raised and researched. "We want to get students down there," Reynolds said. "There are a lot of opportunities there; it's the agricultural center of the state and it's a good place to bring students from Anchorage and Fairbanks to experience agriculture. We haven't defined anything yet but we look forward to working closely with SNRE and taking advantage of things we have in the state already."

SNRE Interim Dean Stephen Sparrow said he is excited about the opportunities the pre-vet track will offer students. “We recognized a need and now we can begin to prepare students for veterinary school and eventually for careers and service in Alaska communities,” he said.

Students interested in the pre-vet track should contact Professor Shipka, 907-474-7429 or Martha Westphal, SNRE enrollment and administrative coordinator, 907-474-5276.