Friday, September 26, 2014

UAF applauded for 10 years of Master's International Program

Since 2004, the University of Alaska Fairbanks has hosted the Peace Corps Master's International Program.

MIP allows students to earn a master's degree in conjunction with Peace Corps service. UAF offers the program through the School of Natural Resources and Extension and Alaska Native Studies and Rural Development.
Tony Gasbarro accepts a certificate of appreciation for UAF's 10th anniversary of participating in the Master's International Program from Stephanie Nys, Peace Corps regional representative. Nys is wearing traditional clothing from Liberia, where she served in the Peace Corps.

Stephanie Nys, Peace Corps regional representative, was in Fairbanks Sept. 25 to talk to students about Peace Corps service and presented certificates of appreciation to Tony Gasbarro, volunteer Peace Corps campus coordinator.

A returned Peace Corps volunteer, Gasbarro was instrumental in bringing the MIP and Coverdell Fellows programs to UAF. He credited retired Extension employee Kristy Long, also a returned Peace Corps volunteer, with helping get MIP set up and Associate Professor Susan Todd with keeping the momentum going. SNRE has 15 Peace Corps-affiliated students this semester. "She is the one making this work," Gasbarro said of Todd.

The certificate stated, "Your expertise and service have enabled the Peace Corps to provide quality volunteers who have had a lasting impact throughout the world."

OneTree gets expert advice from birch artist

When researchers need help, who better to ask than experts?

As OneTree Alaska staff worked to record data on birch trees in their progeny evaluation trial at the University of Alaska Fairbanks T-field, they had a little trouble distinguishing bark color.

From left Professor David Valentine, OneTree Director Janice Dawe, artist Kesler Woodward and instructional designer Zachary Meyers examine birch trees in the OneTree Alaska progeny evaluation trial plots, UAF campus.
One Tree Director Janice Dawe consulted with renowned artist Kesler Woodward. Curious, Woodward took Dawe up on her request and along with Professor David Valentine, he showed up on a sunny September afternoon to examine the trees.

Woodward said he chose birch trees as the inspiration for his art because of their extraordinary variety. "You can have the same seeds, same conditions, same soil and the trees are more varied in character from individual tree to individual tree than any other tree in the world," he said.

Dawe explained that scientists don't really know why that is. "There are so many factors," she said. "There are more variables than can be neatly summarized."

After consulting with Woodward and Valentine, Dawe came up with a new way to record color of bark when gathering data. "We measure the tree in thirds to count branches and compare between parts of the tree so now we are going to add bark color. Making comparisons between the three parts will be useful. This got us thinking."

Another thing Woodward suggested was having students who participate in OneTree's field excursions to stare at a leaf intensely for one minute then look at a piece of white paper. He said the three things that matter with color are hue, value (brightness) and chroma (purity).

Valentine suggested using the Munsell soil color chart that soil scientists use. Dawe was excited to use this tool to label birch bark color.

"We got a lot of good ideas this afternoon," she said.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

SNRE grad student heads up Red Cross disaster preparedness

Family and the Peace Corps Master's International Program drew Celia Jackson to the University of Alaska Fairbanks, but a great job with the American Red Cross will keep her here.

Jackson grew up in Seattle and earned a bachelor's degree in environmental policy and planning at Western Washington University. She came to UAF's School of Natural Resources two years ago to study natural resources management, having been chosen for the Master's International Program.

After receiving notice that her Peace Corps assignment would be Ghana, Jackson injured her back and had to have surgery. "I realized the healing process would take a year," she said. While taking a semester off, she made the difficult decision to postpone Peace Corps service and withdraw from the Master's International Program.
Celia Jackson at the confluence of the Yukon and Tanana Rivers in Tanana, Alaska.
"I can join the Peace Corps later," she said stoically.

Jackson is finishing her master's degree and hopes to graduate in May.  She was a Red Cross volunteer in Seattle, helping fire victims find shelter.

She began working for the Red Cross as a part-time disaster specialist, assisting with volunteer management and outreach. Recently she was promoted to disaster program manager and is managing disaster services and volunteers. The area covered includes Fairbanks, the Yukon-Kuskokwim region, the North Slope Borough, the Northwest Arctic Borough, Nome and Valdez.

Jackson enjoys partnering with other agencies, planning events and looking out for the safety of Alaskans. And she loves working with volunteers. "They really care about the mission of the Red Cross," she said. "Volunteering is such a powerful thing. It gives you the control to do something positive. Even if your job or your personal life are not going well you can lift yourself up through volunteering."

She is especially passionate about disaster preparedness in rural Alaska and in August flew to Tanana to meet with Red Cross volunteers.

Jackson has been able to incorporate her graduate research with her job, working with volunteers to survey the Yukon-Kuskokwim area to determine disaster readiness She wants to publish preparedness materials targeted to each region. "As far as I can tell, that has never been done," she said. "I want to grow this program in the villages.

"I'm lucky this fell into my lap. This is a great research project; it's relevant and timely."

Working in disaster readiness take flexibility, Jackson said. "You have to be willing to go with the flow, to change plans at a second's notice. And you have to smile and laugh and keep a positive attitude."

Ironically, Peace Corps service and working for the Red Cross require some of the same skills and mindsets, Jackson said. "You live or die by your attitude."

She is glad she came to UAF. "It is a safe and friendly place to get acquainted with Alaska," she said. Jackson enjoys the camaraderie with Peace Corps students in the natural resources management program. "They provide a network of friends even though I didn't go into the Peace Corps."

Anyone interested in volunteering with the Red Cross is welcome to contact Jackson. "The Red Cross is always looking for volunteers," she said. "It would give students professional level volunteerism to add to their resume."

When not working or studying, Jackson likes to walk her dog, backpack, ski, climb and read. She is a volunteer EMT and firefighter for Chena-Goldstream Fire Department.

Birch bark workshop offered at Matanuska Experiment Farm

The University of Alaska Fairbanks is offering a birch bark weaving workshop at the Matanuska Experiment Farm Tuesday, Oct. 7 from 3 to 9 p.m.

John Zasada, retired silviculturist with the U.S. Forest Service of Alaska, is the instructor. A master bark weaver, Zasada has been teaching birch bark classes for over a decade. He teaches at North House Folk School in Minnesota.
Working with birch bark is fun!
Participants will learn how to weave birch bark to make a beautiful, functional wall basket. No prior experience is necessary but students are advised to come ready to learn and bring plenty of patience, as well as scissors, spring-type clothespins and a knife. Snacks will be available.

The farm is located at 1509 S. Georgeson Drive, Palmer.

The fee is $40 and a maximum of eight students will be accepted. Register here or contact Valerie Barber, 907-746-9466.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Forest Sports Festival set for Oct. 4

You never know what you’ll see at the Farthest North Forest Sports Festival. Last year, a man in a g-string shocked the crowds during the birling event, showing himself in almost all his glory before being hurled into the frigid Ballaine Lake.
From one extreme to the other, birlers last year dressed in dry suits or nothing at all.

On the opposite spectrum, another birler dressed out in a full dry suit. Neither man won the “walk on a big log in a cold lake” event but both were memorable.

Hosted by the University of Alaska Fairbanks forestry professors, their colleagues and the UAF student club Resource Management Society for 17 years, the Forest Fest draws more competitors and spectators every year. Come Oct. 4, it will be time to haul out the axes and saws once again.

The fun begins at the Fairbanks Experiment Farm at 10 a.m. with ax throwing, crosscut sawing, pulp toss and log rolling. At around 1 p.m. the competition moves to Ballaine Lake off of Farmers Loop where three crowd-loving episodes occur: campfire building, nail pounding and birling. Teams are charged with splitting wood, making kindling, building a fire and bringing a can of water to boil. The most popular activity with crowds, birling, concludes the day. Competitors try to stay aloft on a big floating log. Just about every birler ends up drenched by the chilly waters of Ballaine Lake.
Pete Buist builds a campfire. (UAF Photo by JR Ancheta)

Individuals or teams of four to six compete. Even the team names are entertaining. Last year, a three-way tie had to be broken between the Wood Chips, Schaeffer Cox Freedom Riders and the Lumber Jerks.

 At the end of the day, the top team, the “Belle of the Woods” and the “Bull of the Woods” are awarded certificates.

UAF School of Natural Resources faculty developed the competition to commemorate the rich history of forestry and logging and re-enact old-fashioned forest festivals. While high-technology tools are the norm for forest professionals today, the festival pays tribute to a time when traditional woods activities were the basis for work and play, survival and revival.

Last year’s Belle of the Woods, Alice Orlich, said, “It is always such a delight to see Fairbanksans come out on a crisp fall day to test their mettle.”

Competitors toss pulp wood during the Forest Sports Festival.

There are no entry fees. Contact Professor John Yarie for more information, 474-5650,

Addendum (Oct. 2, 2014):

The farm manager has issued a request that competitors and attendees leave their dogs at home (or at least in the vehicle) because this event occurs at a research farm with livestock.

USDA official to meet with UAF faculty

Christian J. Foster, deputy administrator for the Office of Trade Programs, Foreign Agricultural Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, will meet with SNRE faculty and students Friday, Sept. 26.

In Alaska to meet with businesses about export marketing opportunities, Foster will set aside a day for UAF. He will discuss opportunities with agriculture and forestry faculty, as well as Bryce Wrigley, owner of Alaska Flour Co. and Delta Junction farmer.

At 3:15 p.m. on Sept. 26, Foster will give a talk on the role of FAS in international trade and exports, future trends expected in global agricultural trade and career opportunities with the USDA. The lecture is in Arctic Health Research Building 183.

Further reading:

USDA officials to meet with Alaska businesses about export marketing opportunities, Alaska Business Monthly, Sept. 19, 2014

Monday, September 22, 2014

Leadership course gets students into the wild

SNRE’s wilderness leadership class takes students from the classroom to the trails and beyond.

Taught by Sam Braband, coordinator of outdoor recreation, Natural Resources Management 161 provides students with the fundamental skills needed to guide people in backcountry environments.

Not only do participants receive technical knowledge, learning about appropriate clothing and gear, meal planning, safety and navigation, they ideally come away with valuable team building and leadership abilities.
Sam Braband, right, on a field trip with UAF students in the Golden Canyon, Yukon Territory. Photo by Adam McComb

Throughout fall semester, the group takes three field experiences to Far Mountain, Granite Tors and Angel Creek. Braband described the outings as strenuous but not eliminators. “It’s a fun, experiential way to learn about leadership,” he said. “Not only do you get credit but you get to go backpacking and skiing.”

Students learn new ways of looking at leadership and skills to lead people in the outdoors and be prepared for experiences in life, Braband said. “What they learn is easily transferred to everyday life. It helps solve problems and with decision making.”

 “The Backpackers Field Manual” and “AMC Guide to Outdoor Leadership” are the textbooks, with supplemental readings provided by Braband. Students also write two papers, one on risk management and the other on an expedition of Ernest Shackelton, Lewis and Clark or Fritz Wiessner.

 The three-credit class attracted 14 students this semester, several of them international exchange students. Majors range from engineering to resource economics to health. “Almost everybody has an outdoor industry focus for their career goals,” Braband said.

 “One of my favorite things about this job is teaching different skills and showing people wild Alaska,” Braband said. “But one of the most rewarding things is seeing how the group develops from the first trip to the last and seeing how close people become. We have great discussions in the camp at night, play fun games and talk about what wilderness means.”

 Braband earned a degree at the University of Northern Iowa, and took a year-long outdoor studies certification at the University of Alaska Southeast in Juneau. “I know what it’s like to see Alaska wilderness for the first time,” he said. “You are awed. You know this is unique and something just clicks .”

 He has worked as a wilderness river ranger in Montana’s Bob Marshall Wilderness Area and taught climbing at Sacramento State University.

Braband has applied to study for a master’s degree in natural resources management, and wants to research whether people continue an outdoor activity once they are introduced to it. “I want to look at what motivates them to continue with the activity.”

 In the wilderness leadership class, Braband said everyone has the opportunity to lead. “We take turns and mix it up so everybody gets a chance to try the leadership role.”

While some people are naturally gifted at leadership, others have to come by it the hard way, Braband said. “A leader is nothing without someone to lead,” he said. “You are dealing with people from different cultures, with different personalities. Your goal is to get them to work together.

 “Leadership can be taught but it’s harder than teaching rock climbing. Leadership is a dynamic process. The secret is you have to care about who you’re leading.”

Friday, September 19, 2014

Middle school students tackle scientific tasks

Middle school students tackled the job of recording scientific data at a University of Alaska Fairbanks common garden Sept. 16.

Carefully observing birch trees, the students from Randy Smith Middle School noted the height of the trees, air temperature, soil temperature, bark color and oddities such as leaf damage and insects.

Randy Smith Middle School students take data on a birch tree while Zach Meyers, far left, observes.
Some served as recorders, some as data gatherers and others as artists, drawing colored pencil versions of each tree.

 "It's exciting to see science in action," said Chris Pastro, the teacher. "They get to see what a research project looks like."

Prior to the field trip, OneTree Alaska Director Janice Dawe visited Pastro's classroom to describe the birch plots and emphasize that when taking data, accuracy is paramount. Pastro has long worked with OneTree, sharing the ideas she has learned and taught in two STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and math) institutes hosted by UAF's School of Natural Resources.

Pastro emphasizes botany with her extended learning students. Each one is investigating a different species of tree and eventually the class will produce a book.

"This is hands-on science," Pastro said. "I hope the students learn to be keen observers forever."
Chris Pastro holds a birch leaf containing a bug.

Dawe told the students, "Today you are our scientists; you are helping us improve our protocols." She was impressed that the participants measured about one-third of the garden in less than an hour.

"You are the first group," Dawe said. "You represent the beginning, kicking off the next 40 to 50 years." She hopes the birch tree plots will be a long-term research project at UAF.

Instructional Designer Zachary Meyers said, "It went well. They did a really good job and they observed things that weren't even on the information sheets."

Students expressed delight that the university welcomes citizen scientists. "I didn't know about this project," one eighth grader said. "I've skied by it but thought they were randomly planting trees."

UAF student volunteer Kristine de Leon said she had a wonderful time working with the students. "They were teaching me stuff," she said. "It's important to do this. You can read books about this but you don't make the connection till you touch and see and smell what you are learning about. Field work helps make connections."

Volunteers interested in citizen science should contact Dawe.

Janice Dawe, right, checks soil temperature while a student looks on.

Kristine de Leon, UAF student volunteer, and Jan Dawe, right, measure a birch tree.

Birch tree leaves change colors for fall in the common garden.

SNRE student shines on Nanooks Rifle Team

As a young teen, Sagen Maddalena found her life's passion--shooting--and the natural resources management major has been firing guns at targets ever since.

Introduced to the sport by her grandfather, she went on to become a member of the Alaska Nanook Rifle Team and make it to the world championships this summer in Spain.
Sagen Maddalena

Maddalena was raised in Groveland, California, near Yosemite National Park. “I grew up in the woods; it was part of my lifestyle,” she said. She fell in love with forests and wanted to learn more about them, which led her to study forest sciences with SNRE.

Noting that the forestry field doesn’t have much young knowledge coming in, Maddalena wants to do her part to keep research going. She is learning about natural resources conservation and the importance of carbon sequestration.

“You take water, sunlight and carbon and, bam, you’ve got wood,” she said. “It’s a big resource.” Maddalena’s goals are to graduate, then find a job and put her knowledge to work.

When she started shooting, it was outdoors with a high power service rifle. Once she joined her high school rifle team she switched to shooting indoors with air rifles and small bore rifles. “It was a big change,” she said. She earned many rewards, including Distinguished Rifleman by the Civilian Marksmanship Program in 2011.

As a freshman at UAF last year, Maddalena was voted the most valuable player by her Nanook teammates, was named Great Northwest Athletic Conference faculty athletic representative’s scholar-athlete, won the first-ever Joe Tremarello student athlete sportsmanship award winner and competed at the U.S.A. Shooting National Championships.

She is humble enough to say, “I was fortunate to get picked up by the coach and the team.”
To excel at shooting takes maturity, she said. “You’ve got a lot of power in your hand. I enjoy the thrill of it and being able to do it well. It’s my passion.”

Her sport takes confidence and being able to control one's own thoughts. “You’ve got to be in your zone so stuff around you doesn’t bother you.”

Maddalena gets up at 5:30 a.m. Monday through Saturday to run three miles. She practices shooting three to four hours a day. “I’ve got to have a schedule and follow it,” she said. “I have no down time till bed but it keeps me out of trouble.”

When she gets time she enjoys fly fishing. “Being outdoors helps ease my mind,” she said.

This summer Maddalena traveled to Germany and Slovania to participate in World Cups and Spain for the Grand Prix. “It was a wonderful opportunity to represent the U.S. and UAF, the school and my community,” she said. “And it was an opportunity to do my passion.”

Nanooks Rifle Coach Dan Jordan said, "Sagen is one of those people that you dream about having on your team. She is a hard worker, a great leader, and an excellent shooter. We are fortunate that she came to UAF and definitely adds to our team dynamic and success."

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Professor Lawson Brigham adds global perspective to UAF

Lawson Brigham, distinguished professor of geography and arctic policy with the School of Natural Resources and Extension, is dedicated to researching arctic policy centered on natural resources management. “I focus on Arctic marine policy issues,” he said.

Brigham travels the world representing the University of Alaska Fairbanks. With his solid connections to Washington, D.C., he brings in research grants, including ones from the National Science Foundation and State of Alaska.
While in Fairbanks recently for a NATO committee meeting, Professor Lawson Brigham (left) consulted with Interim Dean and Director Steve Sparrow.

The Cambridge-educated professor concentrates on Arctic policies and strategies to protect Arctic people and the marine environment. He works with Arctic Council working groups and research teams to respond to the complexity of new marine uses of the Arctic Ocean.

Brigham serves on the Alaska Arctic Policy Commission, made up of legislators and citizens, representing the University of Alaska on research and policy issues. He also serves on the U.S. Delegation to the International Maritime Organization (a United Nations body) and works with Stanford University’s Arctic Security Initiative.

“Arctic climate change is profound,” Brigham said. “And geopolitics are becoming very complicated in the Arctic.”

Brigham strives to balance the freedom to navigate in the Arctic Ocean with the key issues of marine safety and protection. His background as a U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker captain is an invaluable asset to his current work. “It’s key to have maritime experience,” he said. “It gives a practical bridge between maritime policy and academics. It merges the practical and theoretical.”

One of Brigham’s most visible projects lately has been the Polar Code, a mandatory code for ships operating in polar waters. It addresses the risks specific to operations in polar waters, taking into account the extreme environmental conditions and the remoteness of operation. The code will address ships’ construction standards, safety equipment, requirements for qualified ice navigators, and environmental restrictions on ship discharges.

“This will be a new set of regulations for ships in the Arctic and Antarctic,” Brigham said. “It’s been 20 years in the making and means a new regime for marine operations everywhere in the Arctic.”
This excerpt from NBC national TV news, reveals the crux of the matter.

“Today, there are just a handful of people in the world with the appropriate training and skills for safe navigation in polar waters, he explained at a recent workshop on the code in Seattle. The meeting was sponsored by the U.S. Coast Guard, which is the country's lead agency to the International Maritime Organization, an agency of the United Nations that sets standards for the shipping industry.

“Within years," Brigham said, "across the U.S. maritime Arctic we may have Statoil, Shell and Conoco Phillips all with their armada of ships drilling offshore with thousands of vessel transits in the Arctic. The question is: What is the Arctic experience and training of the mariners in the pilot house?"

Brigham’s travels for the World Economic Forum (WEF) Global Agenda Council on the Arctic have taken him as far as Abu Dhabi. He is looking forward to visiting Dubai in November for the Forum’s World Summit on the Global Agenda.

Of all the publications Brigham has helped publish, he is quick to point out one of his favorites, Demystifying the Arctic, a WEF report that seeks to counter misinformation presented by the global media over the years.

Part of the report is a page called “Arctic Myths,” which explains the facts behind such illusions as:
•    The Arctic is an uninhabited, unclaimed frontier with no regulation or governance.
•    The region’s wealth of natural resources is readily available for development.
•    The Arctic will become immediately accessible as sea ice continues to disappear.
•    The Arctic is tense with geopolitical disputes and is the next flashpoint for conflict.
•    Climate changes in the Arctic are solely of local and regional importance.

Brigham presented to a NATO committee meeting held recently at UAF. “I spoke on arctic natural resources, shipping and environmental security issues ,” he said.

His position requires the ability to communicate complex issues regarding the Arctic. “I’ve been dealing with arctic issues for several decades and communicating to a global audience,” he said.

In his free time, Brigham enjoys sailing and fishing.

Friday, September 12, 2014

SNRE welcomes Sarah Trainor to faculty roster

After years dedicated to research, Sarah Trainor is looking forward to working with students at the University of Alaska Fairbanks School of Natural Resources and Extension. She is the school’s new assistant professor of social-ecological systems sustainability.

Sarah Trainor
Her role will be to teach and research sustainability in linked social and natural systems. “It’s about understanding the dynamic interactions between human and natural systems and working to solve complex problems,” Trainor said. “I’ve been interested in this since I was a little kid. I’ve always seen people and the natural world as integrally connected.”

Trainor grew up in Oneonta, New York, and earned a B.A. in philosophy and environmental studies at Mount Holyoke College, a master’s of arts in energy and resources at the University of California, Berkeley and a Ph.D. in energy and resources at UC Berkeley.

She and her husband Tom, a chemistry professor, came to UAF 11 years ago, where Trainor was a post-doctoral fellow with Terry Chapin, researching human and fire interactions. “That was a good introduction to  social-ecological systems in Alaska,” Trainor said.

Her career includes serving as coordinator and director for the Alaska Center for Climate Assessment and Policy, director of the Alaska Fire Science Consortium and stakeholder liaison for Scenarios Network for Alaska and Arctic Planning.

Her position with SNRE is partially funded by EPSCoR and Trainor will work with Professor Gary Kofinas for EPSCoR’s northern test case. Her research focuses on climate change adaptation, climate change vulnerability and communicating science for decision makers.

Although she will maintain her research component, she is excited to work with students. “I’m really happy to be part of the school,” she said. In addition to teaching, she’ll be working with students on several projects. “Students interested in climate change adaptation or related topics should contact me,” she said.

Trainor will teach a graduate course, Global to Local Sustainability, fall semester and a new undergraduate class, Introduction to Sustainability Science, spring semester. “I hope the students learn the theoretical structure to frame, understand and analyze complex problems,” she said. “ And I want to give students the practical tools and perspectives to help them grapple with issues and contribute to solving them.

“I hope this new course is attractive to students and useful and I want to engage the students in research.”

Trainor loves UAF for the diversity of its students. “Students are very engaged and interested in learning,” she said. “And I like Fairbanks as a community. It’s a special place to live with special people and special opportunities.”

Colleague Associate Professor Joshua Greenberg said Trainor brings a wealth of experience and background relevant to natural resources sustainability. “She will strengthen our undergraduate program and support our growing graduate program by raising the profile of sustainability in Alaska and the north," he said.

“She is an experienced facilitator who has created bridges between scientists and the community.”

In her free time, Trainor enjoys swimming, biking, hiking, canoeing, kayaking, cooking, cross-country skiing and spending time with her family.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Alaskans experiment with growing garlic

How does your garlic grow?

That’s what Tribes Extension Project Director and Educator Heidi Rader wanted to know. Rader, who works for the University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service and Tanana Chiefs Conference, sent a survey to growers around the state in late July.
Maggie Hallam of Cripple Creek Organics looks at her garlic crop.

“I needed to do a short YouTube video and I’ve been hearing a lot about garlic,” Rader said. “I don’t have a lot of information.” But due to the success of the survey, she has a lot more facts and figures now.

Nearly 50 people from Southeast to Galena completed the survey. Rader learned that garlic seems to be a relatively recent crop for Alaska. “Some had been growing garlic for five to 10 years but most had been for less than five. It’s a new trend.”

Rosie Creek Farm is one exception. “I have 13 years’ experience growing garlic commercially,” said Rosie Creek owner Mike Emers. “I plant 200 pounds every year with varying success. It is labor intensive and foot by foot not very profitable. Only certain varieties are worth growing.

“There is huge demand and we use it to attract customers to buy our other crops. We will continue to grow it because of its draw for customers.”

At Calypso Farm and Ecology Center, Susan Willsrud said garlic is great for personal use. She has noticed a huge market demand. “Garlic is a really fun crop because of the fall planting; it’s so nice to have a crop coming up in the early spring,” Willsrud said.

“In terms of a commercial crop, the cost to grow the crop is significantly higher than what it can be sold for, particularly because the average pounds yielded to pounds planted is way less than it is in other climates. In my opinion it makes a really suitable, wonderful crop for home consumption, but a questionable one for market farming.”

Seed garlic is expensive and is often sold for a similar or sometimes lower price per pound as a final product, Willsrud said. “I think most of us are really excited when it comes up and then when we get a harvest out of it,” she said. “So a farmer is likely to say something favorable because it's easy to forget how many pounds we had to buy, plant, tend, harvest and clean in order to get that crop. Overall, even with great market demand, it's a risky, low-value crop for the farmer.”

At the Alaska Botanical Garden in Anchorage, Executive Director Julianne McGuinness has been growing garlic for 15 years and has conducted many variety trials. “I definitely want to offer any encouragement I can for garlic as a productive crop for Alaska farms and gardens,” she said.

Rader, who also grows garlic at her own farm, explained that there is a bounty of varieties, with two subspecies, hard-necked and soft-necked. “The hard is better for Alaska,” Rader said. “That at least is a starting point.”

Some of the popular varieties in Alaska are Music, Siberian, Chesnook Red and German White.

Garlic is planted in the fall a week or two after the first killing frost and covered with mulch. “You fertilize it a little bit and harvest it the next summer,” Rader said. “It’s no harder to grow than onions; it’s similar, but you do it in the fall.”

Rader recommends trying a few varieties and note the survival rate, how big they grow and how many cloves are produced. Taste is of course another important factor. “Now is a good time to think about planting garlic in the Interior.

“It’s a fun thing to experiment with.”

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Birch trees face increasing challenges

“We’re taking a serious hit to our birches,” University of Alaska Fairbanks Professor Glenn Juday said of the boreal forest. “They’re in terrible shape. The leaves are showing acute drought stress. It’s pretty depressing.”

Juday, who has been researching climate change in northern forests for 35 years, explained that the hot, dry summer of 2013 coupled with the arrival of the amber-marked birch leaf miner is taking a toll on the iconic hardwood.
Sickly birch leaves at West Valley High School in Fairbanks. (Photo by Glenn Juday)

“It’s a bad combination,” he said. “The trees were in a weakened condition from the drought and then this insect comes along. This could be the perfect storm."

The National Weather Service blog “Deep Cold” reports: “The summer of 2013 brought the highest vapor pressure deficit in the Fairbanks record, which extends back to 1950. Using hourly temperature readings, mean temperature in the June to August 2013 time period was more than two degrees Celsius above the 1981-2010 normal. Another indication of the dryness of the atmosphere is that the mean dewpoint was 0.2 degrees Centigrade below normal.”

“Our birch trees were really seriously hurt by the events of 2013-2014,” Juday said. “We are pushing the envelope of conditions outside the boundaries this tree had adapted to here.”

The amber-marked birch leaf miner appeared in the Anchorage area a decade ago. “We wondered if it would come this far north,” Juday said. “The answer is now in – yes it has.”

With the birch decline or die-back in progress, now each of the major commercially valuable tree species in the Interior has been hit hard. “The unhealthy forest in the Interior is not only due to a cyclical outbreak of insects,” he said. “There are issues like this in major parts of the boreal forest around the world; this could affect its future abundance.”

Birches, which make up about 18 percent of the Alaska boreal forest, have unique properties, including condensable sap and the highest energy content among native firewood species. The white-barked trees drop their leaves in winter, letting the sun shine through.

At the same time the birches in the Interior are suffering, places where birch used to be marginal are now becoming more suitable habitat. “In western Alaska the cooler summers have allowed more growth of white spruce, and presumably birch, than we’ve seen in the last several hundred years,” Juday said.

Affected Interior birch trees have sparse foliage, small leaves and dead upper branches. Where the insides of the trees have hollowed due to stress, heart rot is occurring.

Juday said, “This is not simply a disaster story. We know more than that. There are challenges we need to be prepared to deal with. How do we sustain the yield when the environment is changing so radically? This is wholesale tree death and migration. We have to think about this at a very large scale.”

Scientists need to work with natural resources managers in a constructive way to deal with the situation, Juday said. “Should we assist in the migration or watch and preside over the death? This is unprecedented. There are challenging years ahead of us.”
An aerial photo (September 2014) reveals the widespread damage to birch trees in the boreal forest. (Photo by Glenn Juday)

UAF Cooperative Extension Service Forester Glen Holt is fielding many calls about birch tree problems.  His advice to landowners is to monitor the size, age and health of their birch trees, noting problems which seem most likely evident around July each year. Older birch trees with rot evident in their tree trunks are prone to wind breakage. Birch trees with their roots compacted by sidewalks, driveways, wood piles, dogs and people traffic are most susceptible to all the birch forest health problems. 

“Many of our birches are getting older and they are less able to fight off forest pests especially when combined with dry springs,” Holt said.

“It is amazing to note this year that we are affected by various birch tree problems even in light of a wet summer. 

“I advise people to water their trees in the spring if drying is a prolonged situation,” Holt said.

Other advice:
•    Don't pile wood or other things on or next to tree roots.
•    Don't put soil on or around birch trees during construction. During construction be careful not to damage birch tree trunks.
•    Don't expect birch to survive long after any of these mechanical damages as their roots get smothered by topsoil and rot/fungus enters the tree trunk from trunk wounding.

James Kruse, forest entomologist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service, said on top of everything else affecting birch trees there is now rust fungus. “As for how much of the Melampsoridium botulinum rust we saw, Steve Swenson (USDA Forest Service biological technician) reported that about 75 to 80 percent of the birch examined in the Mat-Su Valley  (Aug. 18-22) had at least a little of this rust.  Also, I think maybe 95 percent of the birches that we observed from the ground are experiencing a heavy catkins year…more of the tree’s energy may be going to the catkins thus less energy is available to make leaves, therefore causing thinner crowns.

“Just another thing to add to the myriad of things going on with birch.”

SNRE student lands legislative aide job

Rep. David Guttenberg (D-Interior/Wade Hampton) formally welcomed two new staff members to his Fairbanks office Sept. 9. Samantha Straus began working for Rep. Guttenberg in August after returning home from 26 months of Peace Corps service in The Gambia, West Africa.

Connor MacDonald also joined Rep. Guttenberg’s team in August after interning for U.S. Sen. Mark Begich and working at the UAF Women’s Center as a student assistant to Kayt Sunwood, the center coordinator.

Samantha Straus
Straus, 29, first came to Fairbanks in October 2010 to join the Master's International program, which enables graduate students in natural resources management to combine their degree programs with volunteer environmental work in the Peace Corps. She is presently finishing her thesis on forest management in The Gambia. Originally from Arizona, Straus now claims Alaska as her home.

“Samantha worked on community gardens in her village in the Peace Corps, a project I’ve been working on here in interior Alaska for the past 12 years,” Guttenberg said. “Her interest in community organization and natural resources management should complement our team nicely.”

MacDonald, 19, was born in Seattle, and has lived in Alaska practically all of his life. He is Athabascan on his mother’s side and spent much of his childhood learning the history, traditions and practices of his maternal heritage. He has many interests and is presently deciding which to focus on in his studies at UAF.

“Connor’s background and experience make him a welcome addition to our team,” Guttenberg said.  “Now, he’ll get to see how we run things at the state level. I’m sure he’ll find it’s a little different than how they do business on the federal side.”

David Guttenberg
The recently hired aides join Chief of Staff Meredith Cameron and bring Rep. Guttenberg’s office crew up to full strength. “It’s great to have the office fully staffed with eager workers interested in the issues at hand and who want to work to better understand our political system,” Guttenberg said. “District 38 constituents will enjoy working with Meredith, Samantha and Connor.”

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Tribute to the late doctoral student Archana Bali

By Professor Gary Kofinas

It is with deep sorrow I deliver the sad news of Archana Bali’s death at 8:29 a.m. Alaska Time Monday, Sept. 8,2014.

Thus ends Archana’s valiant fight against ovarian cancer for the past several years - a fight that she led always with a smile on her face and with her loving mother, sister, brother and fiancée by her side.

Archana Bali in 2009
Archana Bali was born in 1978 and spent her younger years in Bhopal, India. She received her undergraduate degree in Information Technologies and Systems Management, worked for Greenpeace India as staff, and went on to earn a Master's in Wildlife Biology and Conservation at the Center for Wildlife Studies in Bangalpore. Her Master's thesis was an interdisciplinary study that focused on coffee plantations of Western Ghats, with the goal of understanding the potential and constraints of wildlife conservation in human dominated landscapes. As a part of her study she interviewed plantation owners, did biodiversity sampling, analyzed policies constraining conservation actions of land owners, and launched a short but accomplished career as an interdisciplinary scholar of human-environment interactions.

Archana came to the University of Alaska Fairbanks in the fall of 2007 as the first George Schaller Fellow and as a student in the Resilience and Adaptation Program. While in Alaska, Archana touched the hearts of many with her zest for life, warm smile, intense intellectual curiosity and empathetic nature. As an interdisciplinary PhD student, Archana examined Human-Caribou Systems in the context of climate change, working as a respected member of the CircumArctic Rangifer Monitoring and Assessment Network (CARMA). For her dissertation research Archana lived with Indigenous Peoples from Alaska to Quebec, documenting through videography their knowledge and observations of change, and making countless friends along the way. Based on her field work she produced the “Voices of Caribou People Project, an important legacy of the International Polar Year that resulted in an award winning film with international recognition.

 A separate aspect of her dissertation drew on regional climate data to examine past effects of mosquitoes on caribou in the four barren-ground herds of Alaska. At a memorable Resilience Seminar in 2009, Archana presented these two very different dimensions of her research to raise profound philosophical questions about the potential and limitations of “knowledge integration.”

Archana always loved being in nature, and soon came to see Alaska as her home with great hopes of working in the future on conservation issues in the North and in India. It is her promise for future, her love and affection to all of us, and the happiness that we felt when she was around, which make her passing so very devastating. Our thoughts go to her mother, sister, brother, nephews, nieces and her fiancée, Martin Robards. She was surrounded by these loved ones when she bid adieu to this world.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Catching quakes in the Mat-Su Valley

The Matanuska Experiment Farm has joined 18 other locations in Southcentral Alaska to become part of a national collaborative initiative for developing the world’s largest, low-cost strong motion seismic network connected by the internet.

Program Assistant Meg Burgett, left, watches Robert DeGroot of the University of Southern California Office of Experiential Learning and Career Advancement install the QCN at the Matanuska Experiment Farm. (Photo by Angie Shephard)
The Quake Catcher Network is not only a research project, it provides scientific educational software so that K – 12 teachers, students and the general public can better understand and participate in the science of earthquakes and earthquake hazards.

Dr. Robert DeGroot, manager of the office of Experiential Learning and Career Advancement at the University of Southern California was in Alaska in August to install sensors and software designed to present earthquake science and hazards in a modern and exciting way.

The sensor continuously records earth movements and displays that information on the computer screens. Using these real time data records and the interactive software and lesson plans available through QCN, students and the public gain a better understanding of earthquakes and the science behind them. Linked to sensor sights in Alaska and other states, this portal gives access to records of earth movements at those locations as well. Faculty and staff at the Matanuska Experiment Farm hope to reach out to the Matanuska-Susitna School District and encourage teachers to include a visit to the sensor as part of their earth science studies.

(Story by Meg Burgett, Extension program assistant.)
The QCN sensor (Photo by Angie Shephard)

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Troth Yeddha plan announced

A new sign announcing Troth Yeddha was unveiled at the University of Alaska Fairbanks today. The location is between the UA Museum of the North and the Reichardt Building and the plan is to raise funds and build a center for indigenous studies.

"We are moving from symbol to substance," said UAF Chancellor Brian Rogers. "We are doing something important at Troth Yeddha Park. We can be as significant in indigenous studies as we are in arctic science. This project is the cornerstone of UAF's second century."
Evon Peter, center, visits with students at the sign dedication ceremony Sept. 4.

Master of Ceremonies Evon Peter, vice chancellor for Rural, Community and Native Education, introduced several Native elders as speakers, including 90-year-old Howard Luke and 93-year-old Poldine Carlo.

"I love celebrations because they bring people together to build relationships," Peter said.

Peter is a 1998 UAF alumnus with a bachelor's degree in Alaska Native Studies. While a high school student, Peter worked for the School of Natural Resources in a summer research apprenticeship program.

"I was the cheap labor," he joked. In the early 1990s he helped the school's Research Forester Tom Malone plant six different types of trees in research plots near Tok. The trees are still being observed and measured today.

Evon Peter, far left, participates in the sign unveiling.
The Levels of Growing Stock plantation of white spruce at Tok is pictured with the meteorological instrument station July 24, 2014. These are the trees Evon Peter helped plant over 20 years ago. (Photo by Glenn Juday)