Wednesday, April 27, 2016

NRM student receives UAF Research Day award

Kirsten Williams, left, Zachary Goeden and Elizabeth Smith won overall honors at the UAF Research Day competition.
Graduating NRM senior Kirsten Williams won second-place overall in the UAF Research Day poster competition April 26 and also received the Dean’s Choice Award.

Her poster was titled, “Hydroelectricity in Alaska: Current and Potential Developments.” Williams will receive $1,000 for her second-place finish and $250 for the Dean’s Choice Award, which is given to the top student in each college or school. The School of Natural Resources and Extension award was selected by Professor Dave Valentine, with assistance from Professors Milan Shipka and Pete Fix.

UAF Research Day celebrates undergraduate research and is sponsored by the Office of Undergraduate Research and Scholarly Activity (URSA). The competition drew more than 100 posters from students in seven UAF schools and colleges. Zachary Goeden of the School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences placed first, and Elizabeth Smith of the School of Education placed third.

Williams received a spring project grant from URSA to study hydroelectric potential in Alaska as part of an Alaska Center for Energy and Power report for the Alaska Energy Authority.

Williams was also honored last weekend as the Outstanding Natural Resources Management Student. As Valentine said, in a note to students and faculty, “Way to finish your NRM degree in style, Kirsten!”

Monday, April 25, 2016

Birch trees tapped for sap, research at UAF

Jan Dawe shows off the sap collection technique on a tapped tree on campus.
UAF photo by Todd Paris
Anyone walking in the University of Alaska Fairbanks woods this spring might notice white plastic buckets hanging from trees.
Nicole Dunham pours birch sap collected on campus.
UAF photo by Todd Paris

The buckets, which collect birch sap, are emptied daily, and in some cases, more frequently. “If it’s a real gusher, it’s twice a day,” said Jan Dawe, director of the university’s OneTree Alaska program.

Altogether, 250 trees are being tapped for sap this year, including 70 trees on campus and trees in schoolyards, at the Creamer’s Field refuge and other locations around Fairbanks. Staff and volunteers collect the sap, which is then concentrated with a reverse osmosis machine in OneTree’s lab in Lola Tilly Commons. The machine removes a large percentage of the water before the sap is boiled down to syrup.

Last week found Dawe and two assistants, Nicole Dunham and Shaun Johnson, emptying buckets and inserting plastic taps in trees in the mixed spruce and birch woods near the chancellor’s residence. After emptying a bucket, they used a device called a digital refractometer to measure the sugar in the sap.

“At 1.7 Brix, this is one sweet tree,” Dawe said of a tree that provided about a gallon of sap. Brix is a scientific measure of the sugar content. The most prolific trees produce 5-6 gallons of sap daily, although most produce about 1 gallon a day. The sap started running two weeks ago and will continue until just before the trees’ winter buds burst, which, Dawe said, is likely to be this week. Sap collection has already stopped on some south-facing sites.

Dawe initiated the “Tapping into Spring” birch sap project nine years ago as an educational program for area students to learn about the forests, the tapping process and collecting the sap.

She is continuing the educational outreach at five Fairbanks schools this year, but the exercise is also now a research project. She hopes to collect at least 1,500 gallons of sap this year, triple the usual collection, to study different methods of processing the sap and assessing the quality of the product.

Dawe is working with current and potential Alaska birch producers with a goal of providing the best methods for processing sap for a variety of products. She will also work with the UAF Cooperative Extension Service to develop products involving birch sap. Alaska producers currently sell birch syrup and birch sap beverages, mustards, birch almond brittle and more.

Collecting and selling the birch sap has become very popular in Alaska, she said. “Birch sap beverages have a lot of nutritional value.”

Dawe will also test a new reverse osmosis machine. In late April, the metal fabricator from a New York maple products company will install the first commercially available reverse osmosis machine for small-scale sap processing. So far, Dawe has used a much smaller machine made by a graduate student and refined by engineering students.

The new machine is expected to reduce the quantity of sap that needs to be boiled by 75 percent. It will be able to process 100 gallons of birch sap per hour. During that time, the sugar content will double as the sap is reduced by half. The process is repeated until the sap, which comes out of the tree at approximately 1 Brix, reaches 4 to 8 Brix. Then it’s processed further with one of two evaporators fabricated by the New York company. One will run on direct heat with propane; the other on indirect heat through the university's steam system.

Dawe attended the first International Birch Sap and Syrup Conference in New York a year ago, where producers talked about the growing popularity and demand for birch products, and she learned about new innovations in sap processing by maple producers.

She hopes that results from the research will be presented as part of an upcoming Alaska Sustainable Agriculture Conference.

A bucket collects birch sap near the upper dorms at UAF.
UAF photo by Todd Paris

Monday, April 18, 2016

Kirsten Williams named SNRE outstanding student

Kirsten Williams kayaks in Resurrection Bay near Seward.
Kirsten Williams enrolled in the University of Alaska Fairbanks to study earth sciences. During her first semester, she took the introductory Natural Resources Conservation and Policy class, and she changed course.

“I found myself really enjoying what I was learning,” she said. She was particularly interested in the natural resources management policy and law classes from Dave Valentine and Julie Joly, economics classes from Josh Greenberg, forestry classes from John Yarie and outdoor recreation classes from Pete Fix.

Williams never did study earth sciences but that’s ok. She is the 2016 Natural Resources Management Outstanding Student. Meriam Karlsson, who is Kirsten’s academic advisor, said she was the faculty’s unanimous choice for her academic achievements, contributions to the UAF community and her various interests.

“She is a very well-rounded student,” said Karlsson.

Williams has played the violin since she was 6 and has played with the Fairbanks Symphony Orchestra while at UAF. She is receiving a minor in music. She has also been active in the student Resource Management Society club, and is one of two NRM students who received spring semester project awards from URSA, the Undergraduate Research and Scholarly Activity. She is helping the Alaska Center for Energy and Power, which is developing a report for the Alaska Energy Authority on renewable energy possibilities. Her role has been to study hydroelectric power – what exists in Alaska, where it’s feasible and the economic impacts to nearby communities.

During the summers, she worked as a seasonal park ranger for the Alaska Public Lands Information Center in Anchorage, providing guidance to travelers and tourists.

Williams, who is from Anchorage, said she has considered law school but decided she is more interested in policy analysis. She hopes to work toward a master’s degree in environmental policy but she plans to work a year first.

She will be honored April 23 during an awards ceremony for departments’ outstanding students. Congratulations, Kirsten.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

UAF students honored for food security competition

From left, students receiving awards were Samantha Knutson,
Roger Ridenour, Joseph Morris, Tristan Glowa and  Robert Shields.
Seven undergraduate UAF students were recognized Wednesday during the Food Security in the Arctic competition awards ceremony at Wood Center. 

NRM student Roger Ridenour won first place
in the engineering design contest.
Undergraduate students at the University of Alaska Fairbanks were invited to address northern food security issues in essay, media and engineering contests sponsored by the School of Natural Resources and Extension, Undergraduate Research and Scholarly Activity (URSA) and the National Science Foundation. Students received $1,000 for first place, $500 for second place and $250 for third place for their entries.

Contest co-chair Jenifer McBeath said one goal of the contest is to raise student awareness of food security while protecting the environment and biodiversity. An estimated 95 percent of food consumed in Alaska is produced elsewhere. She also hopes the contest will stimulate and encourage students’ creativity and innovations in finding solutions.

For the essay contest, students were asked to address some of the challenges involved in growing and storing food in northern communities. Tristan Glowa, who attends Yale University and UAF, received first place for a paper on developing community food hubs, land trusts, infrastructure and nonprofit food enterprise development organizations to improve food security.

Tristan Glowa displays his essay award.
The food security issue isn’t just a matter of fragile food supply lines that can be disrupted, he said. Encouraging local food production is also important to diversifying Alaska’s economy, he said. “Every dollar we spend on out-of-state food leaves our state.”

Others honored in the essay contest were Roger Ridenour, second place; Rodney Carpluk, third place; and Robert Shields and Zoe Marshall, honorable mention.

Natural resources management student Roger Ridenour also received first place in the engineering contest for his design of an underground food storage unit consisting of a Connex-type storage container, a heater powered by a geothermal heat pump and climate controls.

Robert Shields talks about his poster.
Ridenour, who is developing a farm near Salcha, said he got the idea of using shipping containers by looking around.

“Shipping containers are quote plentiful in Alaska but especially in the Interior,” he said. His concept is similar to a root cellar but should be able to maintain produce in more controlled conditions. Ridenour will also receive $5,000 to build a modified prototype of his food storage unit. Rodney Carpluk received an honorable mention for his engineering design.

Fisheries major Joseph Morris placed first in the media contest for his 30-second video public service announcement about food production activities drawn from the university’s digital archives. Samantha Knutson received second place for her PSA showing micropropagation and other technologies in today’s food production system.

Organizing and judging the contest involved multiple university units. McBeath said planning for next year’s competition is already underway. Updated contest materials will be posted at by April 18, so students can work on their entries over the summer. Entries will be due by Jan. 20, 2017.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

SNRE profiles: Agent provides health/nutrition programs

Leslie Shallcross says she became interested in health and nutrition as a teenager in southeast Pennsylvania.

“I loved cooking and I was interested in nutrition,” she said. She worked in a hospital during high school and says she saw a lot of people whose poor health might have been avoided with better diets and lifestyles. “I became very interested in helping to prevent disease rather than treat disease and thought that nutrition might be the ticket.”

Leslie Shallcross
Shallcross earned a bachelor’s degree in nutrition at Pennsylvania State University, worked as a nutritionist for about 10 years and then returned to the school to earn a master’s degree in human nutrition and become a registered dietitian. During graduate school, she and a friend ran a catering business, providing food for many of Penn State’s official events.

Shallcross’ career has revolved around the topics of nutrition and health. She worked as a nutritionist for tribes in Connecticut, New York and Maine, the New Mexico Department of Health on a community health promotion team, and Women, Infants and Children programs in Pennsylvania and in Palmer. Before joining Extension in Anchorage in 2006, she supervised health and nutrition programs for the Aleutian Pribilof Islands Association for six years.

Her work as an Extension agent with the Anchorage District office encompasses most of that previous work and training. In addition to showing people how to safely preserve foods, she teaches individuals with diabetes and their family members about menu planning. She also offers Diabetes Self-Management Program workshops, which give individuals skills for managing their chronic health condition. She is currently leading the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention year-long National Diabetes Prevention Program for prediabetic individuals. The program encourages participants to lose 7 to 10 percent of their body weight, decrease dietary fat and increase exercise. These changes have been shown to prevent or delay the onset of diabetes for as long as 12 to 13 years.

Shallcross harvests rosehips.
One of the assignments Shallcross most enjoys is her work with the Living Well Alaska: The Chronic Disease Self-Management Program, a research-based program developed by Stanford University and Kaiser Permanente. Shortly after coming to Extension, the state Department of Health and Social Services asked her to train community members as program leaders. This program helps individuals and their family members or caregivers gain skills to manage chronic health conditions. She has received grant funding for nine years to provide the chronic disease and diabetes self-management leader courses.

Leslie Shallcross harvests rosehips.She has offered the six-session chronic disease self-management community workshops in Anchorage, but she is proud of training more than 400 community leaders, who have gone on to provide workshops in senior centers and tribal health programs, churches, health centers and other community locations in 17 Alaska communities, including Ketchikan, Prince of Wales Island, Homer, Soldotna, Anchorage, Seward, Mat-Su, Kodiak and Kotzebue.

“It’s Extension as it’s supposed to work,” she said, “training community members who can extend effective programs to the community.”

The agent points to the cost savings associated with the two self-management programs. According to many analyses of the programs over the past 20 years, for every dollar spent, between $1 and $4 is saved in health care costs.

Shallcross also leads StrongWomen Strong Bones fitness and nutrition training for seniors at the Anchorage District office and supervises seven other StrongWomen groups in Anchorage.

Her outside interests include spending time with her son, a West Point graduate and Afghanistan veteran, cooking, singing and dancing (with no audiences, bird watching, rafting in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and kayaking in Prince William Sound. She says that the last activity has often led to a lot of time sitting in tents listening to it rain, but also the chance to see the most spectacular Alaska scenery and wildlife.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

First reindeer calf arrives at Fairbanks Experiment Farm

Reindeer calf 1603 trails its mother at the Fairbanks Experiment Farm fields.

See the short video link to the calf.

Reindeer calf 1603 arrived sometime early today, the first calf born this spring at the University of Alaska Fairbanks Experiment Farm.

Animal caretaker Erin Carr said, when she arrived at work this morning, the calf was lying on wheatgrass in a pen in the fields opposite the Georgeson Botanical Garden. Its mother, Mini Me, hovered nearby. “He’s up and active,” said Carr. The male calf weighed in at 15.6 pounds, an average size.

While visitors watched this afternoon, the calf struggled to its feet for a snack. Altogether nearly 30 calves are expected this spring. The herd is used for research through the university’s Reindeer Research Program. Carr said, in the five years she has been with the program, the first calf has been born on April 5 three times.

As is tradition, schoolchildren are invited to name the calves. Sometime late this summer, the Reindeer Research Program crew will match prospective names with the calves, based on personality and appearance. The link to submit names is on the reindeer program website at