Friday, April 24, 2015

Honoring SNRE students

This is the time of year when we honor our top students, and we certainly have outstanding ones to honor this year. Kathryn Carter received the Bonita J. Neiland Scholarship, which is awarded each year to an NRM student in honor of Dr. Neiland, who was director of instruction and professor of land resources management and botany in what was then the School of Agriculture and Land Resources Management. Olivia Lunsford was selected to receive the Society of American Foresters (SAF)/Richard W. and Margery Tindall Scholarship, Camila Roy received the SAF Walt Begalka Memorial Scholarship and Jessica Herzog is the recipient of the Mike Hoyt Society of American Foresters Scholarship.

Kerstin Phoenix won the Fairbanks Garden Club Scholarship, which required her to present to the members at a garden club meeting, where she told them about her ambition to go into development of therapy gardens. The members were so impressed they will nominate her to be the representative from Alaska to compete for a national Garden Club Scholarship. Our outstanding student this year is Katherine Milhalczo, who was selected by the faculty not only because she is outstanding academically, but also because of her numerous other activities at UAF. She will be recognized at the annual UAF Student Awards Breakfast this spring. If you know or happen to meet any of these students, please take the time to congratulate them as they all are truly outstanding students.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Grad student presents at Ester library

The John Trigg Ester Library invites you to attend the April installment of its monthly Library Lecture Series Wednesday, April 29, at 7 p.m. in Hartung Hall in downtown Ester. This month’s lecture is “Food Webs and Fishing Villages” and features University of Alaska graduate students Nina Olivier of SNRE and an intern with the Yukon River Drainage Fisheries Association Project, and biology and wildlife student Kristin Sellmer, who will discuss how science can inform fisheries management and subsistence fishing in both Alaska and the Philippines. As always, the lecture is free and open to everyone. For more information, call 388-6338 or visit the library website at

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Birch tapping workshop set for Palmer

The University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service will host a birch-tapping workshop at the Matanuska Experiment Farm on Saturday, April 18. Participants will learn to select birch trees, tap them, collect sap and cook it into syrup.

The workshop is scheduled from 1–3 p.m. The fee is $10, and taps will be provided.

For more details, contact the instructors: Valerie Barber, director of the UAF Forest Products Program, 907-746-9466,; or Julie Cascio, Extension health, home and family development agent, 907-745-3677,

The farm is located at 1509 S. Georgeson Road in Palmer. Registration is available at

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Gasbarro to receive meritorious service award at commencement

Professor Emeritus Tony Gasbarro will be honored with a Meritorious Service Award May 10 at the UAF commencement.

Tony Gasbarro
Gasbarro taught in the School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences for 23 years and served as the state extension forester for the Cooperative Extension Service. His dedication to public service began when he joined the Peace Corps after college and continued throughout his career at UAF and after his 1996 retirement, when he rejoined the Peace Corps and traveled to El Salvador as a forestry advisor.

Since his return from the Peace Corps in 1998, Gasbarro has given many presentations to high school and university classes about poverty and the education of women in El Salvador. During the past decade, he also volunteered as coordinator of the university’s Peace Corps Master’s International Program.

Gasbarro was elected a "Fellow of the Society of American Foresters" and in 2003 was awarded the Lillian Carter Award for Peace Corps service. His international service was recognized by Epsilon Sigma Phi in 2004.

"The value of his 40 years relationship with UAF is also apparent to all the faculty members with whom he has interacted," said former dean of the Graduate School, Larry Duffy. "He exemplifies UAF's culture of service to state and nation."

Mary Alice Bramming, president of the Project Salvador board of directors, said, "Tony is passionate about helping the Salvadoran people not only through the scholarship program he founded but also through the other projects, which Project Salvador supports.

"When Tony returned from his Salvadoran Peace Corps term he approached the Project Salvador Board to take his scholarship program under our umbrella of projects. He told us that he was committed to visiting El Salvador twice a year so that he could personally know and support the students in their studies. His passion for El Salvador is contagious.

"Tony has committed his personal financial resources to both the scholarship program and to the other programs of Project Salvador. His fund raising efforts are unceasing and innovative. He has connected with old friends, former students, former Peace Corps volunteers, Salvadorans living in the United States and Canada, his relatives and citizens of Alaska. He takes every opportunity to give talks about the scholarship program and ask for donations. Tony believes deeply in education especially the education of girls, as they are the key to breaking the cycle of poverty in families.  Tony has witnessed how education has changed the lives of individual students, their families and communities. He has dedicated his time and resources to this effort."

Dianne Coursey and Daphne Hofschulte, co-directors of Teacher to Teacher: Alaska to El Salvador, wrote of Gasbarro: "Tony has been a faithful mentor and source of encouragement to us in developing our own philanthropic project. In the course of our work in El Salvador we have seen first hand the tremendous impact Tony has had on the lives of numerous Salvadorans through his many projects and programs.

"Tony has an unflagging love of literacy and education, and gives unstintingly of his time and effort to bring these basic gifts to the poorest Salvadorans, the least able to achieve them on their own.  Whether he is delivering books to a remote site, speaking to a group of young scholarship students under a tree or arranging a micro-economic loan of $50 for a new venture, he is enthusiastically welcomed into village after village.

"One of Tony’s strengths is that when he sees a need, he draws upon his extensive network of can-do people and puts together a plan to address it. He has a gift for creating modest ways for people with a desire to help to assist people in need. It is nearly impossible to listen to a presentation by Tony without pulling out your checkbook and giving generously to the identified charitable work."

 Further reading:

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

Savoonga herders use new knowledge to sell meat

Following a reindeer meat production course taught in Savoonga, St. Lawrence Island, in March, the locals took their new knowledge to the field by conducting a commercial field slaughter, then processing the meat and selling it to an Anchorage vendor.

Greg Finstad, left, and Bob Gerlach teach a reindeer meat production course in Savoonga.

University of Alaska Fairbanks Reindeer Research Program Manager Greg Finstad thought the actions of workshop participants were awesome. In Savoonga just about the only natural resource available is the community-owned, free-ranging reindeer herd.

When Savoonga was declared a disaster area a few years ago due to ice conditions limiting harvest of marine animals, the government shipped in food. Finstad said community members realized they needed to develop their reindeer production, shifting from a subsistence focus to a source of income.

“It’s a poor community and they want jobs,” Finstad said. “They are taking a local resource and creating jobs.”

Reindeer have been in the area since the early 1900s, and there an estimated 3,000 to 4,000 animals there today.

The 20-plus people who attended the meat course harvested 16 animals, cutting the carcasses into quarters and flying the meat to Mike’s Quality Meats in Anchorage for retail sale.

The meat production course is offered through the University of Alaska Fairbanks Northwest Campus’s High Latitude Range Management program. Teaching with Finstad were Dr. Bob Gerlach, the state veterinarian, and Cherie Lowry, a DEC meat inspector.

They used the USDA-certified mobile meat slaughterhouse during the course. “We’re working with the community to develop an operating plan for the slaughter plant to get them state certified,”
Finstad said. “We’re going to help them write grant proposals to buy a mobile unit if this is the way they want to go.”

He is thrilled at the community’s enthusiasm. “They are getting their feet wet,” he said. “So far it looks really promising. They are very determined to make it work. They will need a more intensive reindeer management strategy to complement commercial meat production and they know it is going to require more work. This is an amazing group of people working together to make this happen.”

Taking useful knowledge to the state's citizens is part of UAF's land grant mission, Finstad said.

Further reading:

Mobile reindeer processing unit deployed to western Alaska, UAF News and Events, By Ned Rozell, Oct. 16, 2009

Monday, April 6, 2015

Researcher plans to harness reindeer power for science outreach

If the idea of replacing snowmachine travel to take science outreach across Alaska with reindeer sounds absurd, you don’t know Kenji Yoshikawa.

Kenji Yoshikawa feeds his reindeer treats while George Aguiar looks on.

In the past, Yoshikawa built a sailboat and sailed from Japan to the Arctic Ocean, pushed a cart across the Sahara and skied to the South Pole. The University of Alaska Fairbanks research professor has taken the Permafrost/Active Layer Monitoring Program to 200 Alaska villages and 100 in Russia.
“I feel like it’s time to do this,” Yoshikawa said. “I can probably work 10 more years. If I don’t do this now I’m going to miss out.”

After planning and dreaming for 15 years, Yoshikawa drove to Palmer a couple of weeks ago and bought two reindeer cows, transporting them to his Birch Hill home in a horse trailer. He has his fingers crossed and is anxiously watching to see if the deer are pregnant.

Growing up in Tokyo, Yoshikawa was interested in travel and spent hours poring over a world atlas. He sailed into Barrow in 1994 and stayed two years, then came to Fairbanks to join the faculty of the engineering department at UAF.

Traveling to remote areas of Alaska by snowmachine, Yoshikawa began researching reindeer as a method of transportation and became fascinated by Sheldon Jackson’s efforts to introduce reindeer to Alaska from Siberia in the late 1890s, early 1900s. Not long ago, Yoshikawa spent a year in Russia as a Fulbright scholar, traveling to areas not even accessible by airplane, with reindeer pulling sleds.

Yoshikawa was impressed that the reindeer didn’t need supplies for the long, arduous journeys; they ate snow and found food in nature. “I want to try to do this method,” he said. “It’s sustainable and environmentally friendly. You don’t even have to carry food for them. If they break through the ice they can swim.” The drawback is that reindeer are much slower than dog teams, he said. “Moving things from A to B; that’s what is interesting. And reindeer are an interesting way to go.

“Reindeer are an amazing animal for the Arctic.”

While traveling in Russia, via reindeer and sleds, Kenji Yoshikawa took this photograph.

While he learned a lot through the experiences in Russia, he noted that his colleagues there seemed to have no connection to the animals. He prefers to work with his reindeer in a different way, so much that he has set up a tent in the corral, intending to sleep there sometimes so the new calves will be accustomed to him. He envisions a future of traveling with the deer and at night in camp releasing them, knowing they will return to him in the morning.

Yoshikawa figures it will take three or four years to build up the herd he wants. Before starting his project, he reached out to George Aguiar, UAF Reindeer Research Program research professional who also does outreach for the Cooperative Extension Service. Aguiar has been advising Yoshikawa on the best fencing methods and optimizing reindeer nutrition.

“George has been very important for me,” Yoshikawa said. “He’s going to help me make a mental connection so they trust me.”

For now, Yoshikawa is purchasing hay to feed the reindeer but he has bought 80 acres on Chena Hot Springs Road where he hopes to start growing his own hay. “I will have a new fence and system there,” he said.

“It’s most exciting to focus on this project,” Yoshikawa said. “It’s a long shot but I’m going to give it a try.”
Kenji Yoshikawa examines his new fence.

Aguiar noted Yoshikawa’s determination and dedication. “I never knew a guy to dig postholes in the winter,” he said. “Everything that we’ve discussed he ran with it. He has a long-term goal. I want to help him get there with infrastructure design, logistics and nutrition. He’s been good at asking the right questions and following up with what he says he’ll do. I’m sure he’ll succeed.”

Further reading:
Finding Mars, by Ned Rozell, University of Alaska Press

Peony lecture slated for Wednesday

The University of Alaska Fairbanks will host a free public lecture, "UAF Peony Research: A New Horticultural Industry for Alaska," Wednesday, April 8, at 5:30 p.m. in Schaible Auditorium. Parking on campus is free after 5 p.m.

Pat Holloway
Pat Holloway, professor of horticulture and director of the Georgeson Botanical Garden, will give the presentation, which is part of the weekly research showcase hosted by the Office of Undergraduate Research and Scholarly Activity.

For more information, call 907-450-8772, or visit

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Birch bark harvesting and basketry class offered in Palmer

The University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service will hold a birch bark harvesting, preparation and basketry class Saturday, April 11 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Matanuska Experiment Farm, 1509 S. Georgeson Road, Palmer.
An example of the type of basket that will be created in the workshop.

Students will learn how to sustainably harvest birch bark and weave baskets. The $20 fee includes lunch and snacks. Participants should dress for the outdoors for the harvesting part and should bring a box knife and small paint spatula. The class is limited to 12 people. UAF Assistant Professor Valerie Barber will teach the workshop. She can be reached at 907-746-9466 or

Registration is available here.