Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Women in Agriculture Conference focuses on leadership

Women operate nearly a third of the 3.3 million farms in the United States, and they farm more that 301 million acres.

Women in Agriculture Conference participants listen to keynote speaker
Anne Schwartz in a classroom at the UAF Murie Building.
The statistics from the U.S. Department of Agriculture may seem surprising to some people, but probably not to participants in the sixth-annual Women in Agriculture Conference. The videoconference event on Saturday drew more than 50 women farmers and agency representatives to three sites in Alaska. They joined about 550 participants at 37 sites in Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington.

Alaska farmers participated at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, in Delta Junction and at the Matanuska Experiment Farm in Palmer. They included part-time and full-time women farmers who raised a variety of crops and animals — peonies and other flowers, vegetables, hay, barley, oats, buffalo, cattle, horses, poultry, rabbits and dairy cows.

The conference, because of the different time zones, started early in Alaska, at 7:30 a.m. The theme was leadership. Conference chair Margaret Viebrock provided an overview of the day’s events and encouraged women to watch for a USDA agricultural census coming in December.

“Let’s stand up and be counted for what we do,” she said, adding that the U.S. Department of Agriculture provides loans and marketing programs based on that information.

Viebrock said that women have been involved in agriculture a long time. She showed photographs of women on tractors taken during a World War II-era “tractorette” training at Washington State College, which is now Washington State University, the conference host.

Keynote speaker Alexis Taylor stressed the importance of letting young people know that there are a lot of careers in agriculture — on and off the farm.

Taylor, who grew up on a corn and soybean farm in Iowa, said that experience convinced her that she did not want to farm but she has had a good career working in agriculture. She served as an executive with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and, most recently, as the director of the Oregon Department of Agriculture.

Taylor said she benefited from mentors, and she challenged participants to get a mentor or to mentor someone. She also encouraged young women to find an agricultural internship or to ask a farmer or agency for an internship.

“We as women are natural networkers,” she said.

Taylor also encouraged participants to get involved in agricultural policy making at the community or state level. Women are underrepresented on boards and commissions that would benefit by increased diversity, she said.

The other keynote speaker, Anne Swartz, lives on a small farm in western Washington and grows vegetables and fruit. She describes herself as an activist working for the protection of soil and natural resources. She encourages activism and volunteerism at the local, state or national levels.

“My goal today is to inspire you to leave your farm a little bit,” she said. “Agriculture needs advocates.”

Several participants at the Fairbanks site were part-time farmers who hoped to become full-time after retiring from another job.

Beth Cender and her husband bought acreage near Kenny Lake in 2008 and have been raising hay and selling a variety of herbs and vegetables to area residents. Cender moved to Fairbanks for a job with the Division of Forestry but she hopes to return to Kenny Lake and farming when she retires in a few years. Her husband continues to farm on a reduced scale and she helps when she can.

Saturday was Cender’s second Women in Agriculture Conference. “It’s a way of connecting with other people interested in agriculture,” she said.

Ronda Schlumbohm, a teacher at Salcha Elementary School, was also attending the conference for the second time. She says, “I grow kids in the winter and peonies in the summer.”

She and her husband, Brian, planted 300 peony roots in 2014 and have since planted 1,700 more at their place off the Eielson Farm Road. Eventually she hopes to grow flowers full-time.

She said the conference is valuable to her because it helps her understand farming. “I think you have to get out there to figure things out,” she said.


The School of Natural Resources and Extension hosted the conference at UAF, and with Alaska Farmland Trust, at the Matanuska Experiment Farm and Extension Center. The Salcha-Delta Soil and Water Conservation District hosted the event in Delta Junction.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Reindeer Research Program trains prospective herders

Robert Wright of Tanana helps hold a reindeer Tuesday
as Erin Carr talks about using a squeeze chute to
immobilize the reindeer while weighing and giving
them medication.
The Reindeer Research Program, working with the Tanana Chiefs Conference, hosted a five-day workshop on reindeer production last week at UAF and in Delta Junction.

Program manager Greg Finstad said 10 participants attended from Fairbanks, Stevens Village, Ruby and Tanana.

Several communities are considering raising reindeer to provide food for their residents and possibly meat for sale. Finstad said the workshop was intended to help people gain knowledge and experience about reindeer and to help communities decide whether they want to raise them.

The training covered nutrition and feeding, facility design, animal husbandry, low-stress herding, handling and transport, and herd health management. The workshop combined lectures with field learning at the Reindeer Research Program’s facility at the experiment farm and the Stevens Village farm near Delta Junction, which raises bison and a few reindeer.

Tanana resident Charlie Wright participated in the training with his son, Robert. He said hopes to work with Tozitna, the village corporation in Tanana, to start a reindeer operation. He said raising reindeer could improve food security in the community and create a business that could provide year-round jobs.

“We’re really serious about it,” Wright said. He adds that the new road to the Yukon River makes the idea more feasible.

Wright notes that moose and caribou populations have decreased in recent years. “I think it’s important to have another food resource besides salmon.”
Greg Finstad talks about the veterinary care of reindeer as Robert
Wright looks on.


Ed Sarten, a natural resources specialist for Ruby tribal government, said Ruby also was interested in reindeer. Reindeer used be raised at Kokrines, which is now a ghost town upriver from Ruby, he said.

Sarten said Ruby was also interested reindeer as a source of food for the residents. At the same time, he said, “We would hope it would eventually be a business.”

On Tuesday, participants gathered at the Fairbanks Experiment Farm to see how reindeer feed is prepared. Reindeer caretaker Erin Carr explained that barley and oats are combined with canola oil to make the feed stick together and the mixture is then blended with brome hay for more fiber. Carr also displayed items for a first aid box, including hoof shears, gloves and medicines. She said it was important to get to know the reindeer so you know when they’re acting differently and are sick.

Afterward, the group met in the program’s facility and pens across from the Georgeson Botanical Garden. They got advice on herding and experience using a canvas-covered “squeeze chute” to hold the reindeer while weighing them, taking their temperature or providing medications. Students took turns holding the reindeer by their antlers in the squeeze chute as they were weighed.

The group considered a group of female reindeer, and drawing from an earlier lesson on body scoring, Finstad asked the group how they would rate a particular reindeer.

One of the trainees said, She’s definitely a 5. Nice and fat.”

The day ended with a herding activity, getting the novice herders to move reindeer from one pen to another. Finstad told the group, “This is your reindeer herd to move. Figure it out together.”

Repeatedly, the reindeer thundered past the herders until they successfully coaxed the herd into another pen and into a chute. Clearly, experience helped.

The workshop was supported by a grant from the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Ping, Weindorf recognized by Soil Science Society

Emeritus SNRE Soils Professor Chien-Lu Ping received the Soil Science Society of America’s Presidential Award at the society’s annual meeting in Tampa, Florida.

Chien-Lu Ping poses with his award and soil society
 president Andrew Sharpley.
David Weindorf, the executive producer of a climate change documentary that highlighted Ping’s career, also received the award at the Oct. 24 ceremony. Weindorf, an associate dean at Texas Tech University, taught the arctic soils field tour (NRM 489) with Ping for several years and will help teach the course next summer.

According to the society, the award is given to persons who “have influenced soil science or the practice of soil science so greatly that the impact of their efforts will be enduring on the future of our science and/or profession.”

Ping is known internationally for his work on carbon dynamics in arctic soils. Although he retired from the university in 2015, he has continued to work with Argonne National Laboratory, studying the structure and carbon storage distribution of ice-wedge polygons. Ping will continue field research on the North Slope next summer. He also serves as the major advisor for three natural resources management graduate students.

Ping has had an eventful year. He attended the March release of the documentary “Between Earth and Sky: Climate Change in the Last Frontier” at the Environmental Film Festival in Washington, D.C.  Ping said the documentary started out to chronicle the soils tour for future students and it turned into something really special, with interviews with scientists, government officials, farmers and other Alaska residents affected by climate change.

“The producer, Professor Weindorf, did a fantastic job,” he said.

The audience at the film festival was very excited about the documentary and Weindorf introduced him at the end of the showing.  The documentary includes two of Ping’s former graduate students, retired Natural Resources Conservation Service state soils scientist Mark Clark and Lorene Lynn, who has established her own environmental consulting business.

“I feel honored,” he said. “I’m really pleased to have all those years of effort recognized and to raise the awareness of others to climate change. I feel like a catalyst.”

Another notable event this year was Hurricane Irma. Ping his family live in Orlando, Florida, and weathered the hurricane fairly well with no property damage but they lost their electricity for eight days.


Ping has maintained his commitment to the advancement of science after his retirement. On the average, he says he receives dozen requests per year to review manuscripts for scientific journals. In his spare time, he paints landscapes and wildlife, including dog mushing scenes in oil, as inspired by his dog mushing experience in the Goldstream Valley.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Comprehensive agronomic crop bulletin published

The Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station published a 252-page bulletin with information about agronomic crops it tested between 1978 and 2012.

Agronomists Bob Van Veldhuizen, Mingchu Zhang and Charles Knight are the authors of AFES Bulletin 116, “Performance of Agronomic Crop Varieties in Alaska 1978-2012.” The bulletin updates AFES Bulletin 111, which was published in 2004. The new bulletin includes additional information on crops tested since 2002 and adds six new crops: quinoa, chickpeas, mustard, camelina, crambe and borage.

Other varieties tested include barley, oats, wheat, rye and triticale, wild rice, canarygrass, millet, buckwheat, amaranth, field peas, canola, flax, sunflower, safflower, meadowfoam and Jerusalem artichoke.

Zhang describes the bulletin as “a starting point for farmers to look at if they are considering growing an agronomic crop.”

The bulletin is not intended as a crop production manual, he said. Its main purpose is to provide basic information on small grain and oilseed variety testing along with information on successful cultural practices identified by the research.

Bob Van Veldhuizen said the target audience is anyone in Alaska who might be interested in growing any of the crops or varieties listed. The bulletin describes production methods on a per-acre basis but the principles can be modified for small-scale production, he said.

The bulletin also includes any analyses that were done to determine the nutritional qualities of the crops, and their suitability for animal feed or in human diets. Van Veldhuizen said that information has been requested since the first version of the bulletin came out in 2004.

Specific crops are presented in separate chapters with information on fertilization, tillage, planting, pest control, diseases, harvest, and storage, and tables that list yields, maturity and quality for all known varieties tested at each location. References and seed sources for all recommended varieties are included in separate appendices. Variety trials took place at the Fairbanks and Matanuska experiment farms, at the Eielson Agricultural Project and in the Delta Junction area.

A 48-page supplement with details about variety trials in Fairbanks, “Agronomic Crop Variety Testing in Fairbanks, Alaska 1948-2013,” has also been published. Van Veldhuizen said the supplement includes the work of agronomists prior to the beginning of the time frame of Bulletin 116, from 1948 to 1978, as well as the crops and varieties tested after 1978. Van Veldhuizen said that the goal was to compile all the lists of crops and varieties tested in Fairbanks into one publication that would be available to anyone.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Early deadline nears for Women in Ag Conference

Nov. 5 is the early registration deadline for the Women in Agriculture Conference.

Alaska's women farmers will join other farmers from Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington Nov. 18 for the sixth annual videoconference event. It will take place from 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. at 40 locations, including sites at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, in Palmer and in Delta Junction.

"We can do it!" is the theme. Washington State University, which is coordinating the conference, says it is for women farmers and anyone who works with women farmers. Agriculture students and FFA and 4-H members are also invited. Organizers describe it as an "engaging, interactive day full of inspiration, learning and networking with other women farmers."

Guest speakers will include Alexis Taylor, director of the Oregon Department of Agriculture, and Anne Schwartz, the owner of Blue Heron Farm in western Washington. Speakers will challenge participants to strengthen their leadership skills, become leaders in their communities, get more involved with longtime farmers and mentor new farmers. Each location will have a panel of local women farmers who will talk about the challenges they have faced and how they have used a mentor to develop skills.

The School of Natural Resources and Extension will host the event in Room 107 of the Murie Building on campus and, in conjunction with Alaska Farmland Trust, at the Matanuska Experiment Farm and Extension Center in Palmer. The Salcha-Delta Soil and Water Conservation District will host the event at the Delta Career Advancement Center in Delta Junction. Site coordinators are Meriam Karlsson at UAF, Susanna Pearlstein and Amy Pettit in Palmer and Bryce Wrigley in Delta Junction.

Early registration by Nov. 5 is $25 or $30 after that date. Agriculture students, farm interns, and FFA and 4-H youth members may register for $20. The registration fee includes a light breakfast, lunch and conference materials. See more details and online registration at www.WomenInAg.wsu.edu.

For more information about the UAF site, contact Meriam Karlsson at 907-474-7005 or mgkarlsson@alaska.edu; Susanna Pearlstein at the Matanuska Experiment Farm at 907-746-9466 or spearlstein@alaska.edu; or Bryce Wrigley in Delta Junction at 907-895-6279 or Bryce.wrigley@salchadeltaswcd.org.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Harvest Wrap-up set for Nov. 1 in Delta Junction

The annual Harvest Wrap-up meeting will take place Nov. 1 in Delta Junction.

Buckley Hollembaek is shown here in 2014 on the family farm in Delta
Junction. Edwin Remsberg photo
The gathering provides an opportunity for agricultural producers to hear about current research, share observations about the past season and help identify research needs. The UAF Cooperative Extension Service will host the meeting, which will run from 6 to 8:30 p.m. at the Delta Career Advancement Center.

Researchers from the School of Natural Resources and Extension and the Salcha-Delta Soil and Water Conservation District will talk about research relating to weeds and herbicides, bromegrass hay fertilizer trials, a lime study and grain variety trials. They'll also provide information about the noxious weed program.

Speakers will include Phil Kaspari, the Extension agriculture agent in Delta Junction; Meghan Lene and Vanessa Heath of the Salcha-Delta Soil and Water Conservation District; and Mingchu Zhang, Robert Van Veldhuizen and Stephen Harvey of SNRE. Harvey is a graduate student and will present on small grains.

Arthur Keyes, director of the Alaska Division of Agriculture, will also participate. Two federal officials, Lloyd Wilhelm of the Farm Service Agency and Mike Stephens of the Natural Resources Conservation Service, will provide program updates. For more information, contact the  Extension office in Delta Junction at 907-895-4215.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Alaska Invasive Species Workshop hosted in Anchorage

The invasive aquatic plant, elodea, is shown in Badger Slough in this 2010
photo. Photo by Tricia Wurtz, U.S. Forest Service
The Alaska Invasive Species Workshop, Oct. 24-26 in Anchorage, will highlight the economic and environmental risks associated with invasive species.

Tobias Schwörer, a public policy researcher from the Institute of Social and Economic Research, will kick off the annual workshop with a free public presentation on that topic at 7 p.m. Oct. 23 in the Anchorage Museum auditorium. The lecture will focus on the risks associated with the hardy invasive aquatic plant, elodea.

The University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service and the Alaska Committee For Noxious and Invasive Pest Management will host the workshop at the Anchorage Marriott Downtown.

Workshop coordinator Gino Graziano said concern about elodea keeps coming up because of new infestations in the lakes and slow-moving waters of Interior and Southcentral Alaska. Elodea can form tangled masses that foul floatplane rudders, degrade fish habitat and make boat travel difficult.

“Floatplane operators raised the alarm on Lake Hood,” Graziano said.

Herbicide treatments have been effective in Lake Hood and other lakes, but eradicating elodea in slow-moving waters provides a greater challenge, he said. This past summer Potter Marsh and Chena Slough were treated. Graziano said the plant, which is thought to have come from aquariums or science kits, spreads easily.

The invasive species workshop brings together land managers and others involved in management, research and education efforts. Other topics will include regulations and legislation; research relating to northern pike and bird vetch; invasive slugs in the Chugach National Forest; pesticide control projects; and efforts to monitor and report invasive species.

Agenda and registration information are available at www.alaskainvasives.org. For more information, contact Graziano at 907-786-6315 or gagraziano@alaska.edu.


Monday, October 9, 2017

Forest Sports Festival draws spirited competitors

Jamie Hollingsworth looks on as competitors work the double buck saw.

The 20th annual Farthest North Forest Sports Festival got underway on a crisp Saturday morning in the fields across from the Georgeson Botanical Garden.

Fueled by doughnuts and coffee, competitors yelled encouragement to their teammates as they attempted forest feats for the first time —or sought to improve their past performances in events ranging from axe throwing to log rolling and crosscut sawing.

Eric and Stephen Nelson pose with Dave Valentine and Alice Orlich. Eric Nelson
and Orlich hold their awards as the reigning Bull and Belle of the Woods.
“You got this,” a competitor cheered on his teammates, who were trying to use a peavey, a tool with a hook, to maneuver a large log between two points successfully. Clearly, it wasn’t easy.

Forest Fest volunteer Jamie Hollingsworth explained the strategy for the double buck saw competition, which requires pulling a crosscut saw with a partner in a coordinated way. “You’re just rocking your body,” he advised a couple of competitors trying it for the first time.

Forest Fest participants included natural resources management and other UAF students and staff and members of the public trying out old-time logging sports. A smaller number participated this year, but the atmosphere remained competitive all the same. Innovations included a new birling “log,” a colorful orange and yellow plastic version borrowed by Patty Gym.

Katelyn Bushnell, a junior economics major from UAF, competed in several logging events for the first time, including birling, which involves trying to stay afloat on a log in chilly Ballaine Lake.

“I thought this would be a fun thing to do,” she said. She was looking forward to relaxing and not doing homework for a change.

Bobbi Jensen, a UAF academic advisor, participated in her second forest fest as a member of the Logger Logger team. She and Wendy Hawkins won first-place in the women’s double bucksaw event. Her favorite event involves axes, however.

Birling competitors try out the new log at Ballaine Lake.
Holding the ends of the log are Jamie
Hollingsworth and Steve Sparrow.
“I like throwing the axes,” she said. “I want to beat Victoria,” she added, joking. Victoria is Victoria Smith, a co-worker and former Belle of the Woods who ran the HooDoo half marathon this year instead of competing.

Those competing in the fire-building competition near Ballaine Lake used one log round, one axe and three matches to start a fire and bring water in a can to boil. A few drops of detergent meant the boiling water bubbled over the top of the can. This year’s winners brought their water to a boil in 11 minutes, 46 seconds.

Eric Nelson, the husband of natural resources management student Cynthia Nelson, earned the title of Bull of the Woods and NRM graduate student Alice Orlich was named Belle of the Woods for the fourth time. Nelson is a Department of Transportation camp foreman in Nenana and Orlich is finishing a master’s degree this semester.

Volunteers helping out at the event included members of the student Resource Management Society, current and retired faculty and staff of SNRE and of the Bonana Creek Long-Term Ecological Research program.

And the winners are ….

Belle of the Woods (overall female winner): Alice Orlich

Bull of the Woods (overall male winner): Eric Nelson

Team winners
First: Stihl, with members Gabriel Smith, Dawson Foster, Cy Conrad, John Shank, Coleman Smith and Ana Rodriguez
Second: Logger Logger
Third: Rifle Plus Few  

Axe throw (female): Alice Orlich

Birling (female): Alice Orlich

Birling (male): Gabriel Smith

Birling overall: Gabriel Smith
Cy Conrad fans the flames of the fire he started with his teammate, Dan.

Bow saw (female): Wendy Hawkins

Bow saw (male): Dawson Foster

Double buck saw (female): Wendy Hawkins and Bobbi Jensen

Double buck saw (male): Gabriel Smith and Dawson Foster

Double buck saw (Jack & Jill): Brooks Lawler and Cy Conrad

Fire building: Cy Conrad and Dan

Pulp toss (four-person team): Stihl

Log rolling (male): John Shank and Coleman Smith

Log rolling (female): Faith Stemmler and Danielle Siegert

Log rolling (Jack and Jill): Jason Theis and Bobbi Jensen


Axe throw (male): Eric Nelson
































Cy Conrad fans the flames of his fire as Dan adds sticks. The duo won the
fire-building competition.

























Monday, October 2, 2017

20th annual Forest Sports Festival set for Oct. 7

Competitors struggle to keep their balance during the 2016  birling
competition at Ballaine Lake as Mingchu Zhang looks on.

Aspiring lumberjacks and adventurous spirits may test their skills Saturday, Oct. 7,  during the 20th annual Farthest North Forest Sports Festival at UAF.

Jason Buist, left, and Pete Buist try to rev up their fire during
the 2016 fire-building competition. The longtime contenders
compete part of the "Old Growth" team.

Students and community members 18 and older are invited to try their hand at old-time forest sports such as ax throwing, log rolling, bow saw and crosscut sawing, campfire building, and birling, which involves staying upright on a floating log. No previous experience is necessary,  just a sense of humor. People may compete as individuals or as teams of four to six. At the end of the day, awards will go to the top team and to the top individual contenders — the belle and bull of the woods.

The competition begins at 10 a.m. at the Fairbanks Experiment Farm fields, across from the Georgeson Botanical Garden. At 1 p.m., the games move to Ballaine Lake. A warming fire and hot drinks will be available at the lake. Participants are advised to dress warmly. If competing in the birling, a towel and change of clothes are recommended.

The free event is hosted by the School of Natural Resources and Extension and the student Resource Management Society. The competition was developed in 1998 as a way to commemorate old-fashioned logging sports, raise awareness of the natural resources management programs at UAF and have fun. For more information, contact David Valentine at dvalentine@alaska.edu or 907-474-7614.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Alaska climate change documentary to air in the state

Chien-Lu Ping works with students in his 2015 Arctic soils field tour.
Texas Tech Public Media photo




Free screenings of a new documentary that highlights climate change in Alaska will be offered Sept. 27-30 in Fairbanks, Palmer, Anchorage and Kotzebue.

“Between Earth and Sky: Climate Change on the Last Frontier” will be shown in Kotzebue Sept. 27, at the University of Alaska Fairbanks Sept. 28, in Anchorage Sept. 29 and in Palmer Sept. 30.

Texas Tech Public Media produced the documentary, which was released in March and has been shown at environmental film festivals, more than a dozen universities in the Lower 48 and in Europe and on public broadcasting stations.
Katey Walter Anthony and her husband, Peter Anthony ignite methane
on a frozen lake. Texas Tech Public Media


The documentary mixes interviews with Alaska scientists and climate change experts with the stories of Alaska residents affected by climate change. Scenic footage from across the state provides a backdrop as people talk about the shifting route for the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, receding glaciers, coastal storms and erosion, wildfires and melting permafrost.

Executive producer David Weindorf said the movie was inspired by now-retired University of Alaska Fairbanks soils scientist Chien-Lu Ping and his 33 years of soils research. Ping started an annual Arctic soils field tour in 1989 and his last field trip, in 2015, was documented by the film crew.

Weindorf, a soil scientist and associate dean of research at Texas Tech University, participated in the tour with his students for more than 10 years — and will help teach the class next year. He said the field trip attracted students and scientists from Italy, Japan and across the U.S. who wanted to learn from the soil scientist. Ping also worked with scientists around the world.

“What an international impact Chien-Lu has had,” Weindorf said. “He brought all of those people together.”

Weindorf said Ping’s work was invaluable in defining a new soil order (Gelisols), methods for testing Arctic soils, and he identified many unique features of Arctic soils, including the high percentage of carbon in the soils. Weindorf said that’s important because 40 percent of the world’s carbon is tied up in subarctic and Arctic soils, and as temperatures warm, soils release carbon into the atmosphere, which contributes to the warming.

Weindorf has produced a second documentary that focused exclusively on Ping and on the field tour. “Between Earth and Sky:, An Arctic Soils Perspective” is a more technical film and geared more to students in soils and environmental sciences.

The climate change movie will be shown at 7 p.m. Sept. 27 at the Northwest Arctic Heritage Center in Kotzebue; at 5:30 p.m. Sept. 28 at the University of Alaska Fairbanks Murie auditorium; at 2:30 p.m. Sept. 29 at the Bear Tooth Theatre in Anchorage; and at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 30 at the Glen Massey Theater in Palmer. Weindorf will be at all the screenings and he will answer questions following the shows, joined in some locations by other scientists.

The documentary was directed by Paul Allen Hunton, the general manager of a Texas public television station, who has won three Emmys for his work as a documentary filmmaker.

It is funded by the USDA National Resources Conservation Service, the University of Alaska Fairbanks, Texas Tech Public Media, Soil Science Society of America and the BL Allen Endowment in Pedology. The Fairbanks showing is sponsored by the UAF student group, the Resource Management Society. More information is available on the film’s website, http://betweenearthandskymovie.com/.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Forest regeneration project of 30 years yields results

Looking southeast, this photo shows part of a regeneration treatment research
area in the Bonanza Creek Experimental Forest in 1986, one year after the
 treatment and three years after the area was burned in the Rosie Creek Fire.
Roseanne Densmore photo

A spruce forest regeneration experiment in Interior Alaska that spanned nearly 30 years demonstrates which forest management practices produce the best results.

The experiment, launched by three Fairbanks scientists, looked at different combinations of ground treatments to reduce competition from other vegetation and of regeneration methods, such as planting spruce seedlings and broadcast seeding.

The results, published Aug. 19 in the journal Forest Ecology and Management, showed that planting white spruce seedlings is the best way to produce a spruce-dominated stand after 28 years. Broadcast seeding was the next most effective method. The two options were the most expensive among those tested.

The rectangular plots of dark green vegetation in this 2014 aerial photograph
 show white spruce thriving in the regeneration test area. Photo by Ryan Jess
University of Alaska Fairbanks forest ecologist Glenn Juday, who helped establish the experiment in the mid-1980s and is a co-author on the paper, said the recent research shows the environmental and management situations in which different techniques work best and the situations in which they are unnecessary or even counterproductive.

Juday was a young professor in 1983 when fire swept through the Tanana Valley State Forest southwest of Fairbanks, burning 8,600 acres. The Rosie Creek Fire, whipped by wind, burned into a section of the forest known as the Bonanza Creek Experimental Forest.

Juday and two other scientists, John Zasada and Roseann Densmore, realized that the fire provided a perfect setting for a forest regeneration experiment. They wanted a controlled set of experiments to test which methods worked best to establish white spruce.

White spruce is the Interior's most valuable commercial species but also the most difficult to re-establish, said Juday. Other species, such as birch, establish or resprout readily, grow faster and compete with spruce.

“Regenerating white spruce is our biggest challenge,” he said.

The researchers established a 66-acre treatment area in 1985. The plots received four different types of ground treatments to reduce competing vegetation and five different white spruce regeneration treatments, including planting seedlings and broadcast seeding. Some control plots were left to regenerate naturally.

Andrew Allaby is shown here in the field. Allaby worked
with Juday to follow-up on the regeneration project.
Results from the research were published in a 1999 article that concluded adequate numbers of spruce were established in most treatments. But in 2010, Juday took an aerial photograph that showed much more definitively how the treatments had worked.

“After another decade, it was a lot more obvious who the winners and losers were,” he said.

It was time to revisit the experimental area, now known as the Rosie Creek Fire Tree Regeneration Installation. With the help of an assistant, Juday located nearly all of original metal corner posts of 180 plots, which ranged from 40 by 40 meters to 40 by 60 meters.

In 2013 and 2014, while earning a master’s degree in natural resources management, Andrew Allaby worked with Juday to design a project that would re-examine the type of trees and the total growth in the plots.

Allaby sampled the trees on 135 of the plots, measuring about 10 percent of the trees in each, and he measured all trees in six plots to check the sampling system. Allaby analyzed the total biomass, stand density and basal area, which is a cross-section of the surface area of a stump if the tree was cut at chest height. Brian Young, who worked for the Division of Forestry and had just completed his doctorate at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, helped with the analysis of the data and on the paper.

Their research shows that white spruce basal area in the planted seedling plots was six times greater than in the naturally regenerated plots, and the number of white spruce stems in broadcast-seeded plots was three times greater.

Juday said that when the regeneration experiment began, the production of new stands of large white spruce was the goal almost exclusively. Now some forest landowners want wood of any type for biomass energy and the regeneration installation provided useful information about other trees.

A disk trencher removes vegetation in the slope unit in 1985.
The ground treatments did not have a significant effect on the spruce regeneration but it did encourage an increase in the size and density of birch trees. The researchers also found differences between which regeneration practices worked best on the upland slopes and the ridgeline. The distance from unburned seed sources also made a difference.

Juday is excited about the research, which was supported by a state capital appropriation. Overall, the study is one more important piece of information that shows the state’s reforestation practices are working, he said. The Alaska Constitution calls for sustained yield on forestlands. Now this study and a recent long-term study by another graduate student, Miho Morimoto, have directly examined the regeneration of harvested forestlands.

“We’ve got much more evidence now that the regeneration practices have worked,” Juday said.

As part of timber sales, the Division of Forestry evaluates each site and prescribes different regeneration techniques, based the topography of an area, the distance from seed sources and other considerations. Some of the more successful regeneration treatments examined in the study, including ground treatments, broadcast seeding and planting seedings, are among the treatments required by the state, said Juday.

A science and technical committee established by the Division of Forestry used the new information and research from the Bonanza Creek Long-Term Ecological Research site to revise state reforestation standards.

Allaby, the lead author on the paper, received his master’s degree in 2016 and works for the Division of Forestry. Young, who earned his doctorate in natural resources management in 2013, is an assistant professor at Landmark College in Vermont. Juday retired from the university in 2014 but continues with his research.



Milan Shipka and multistate research team honored

Milan Shipka
One of the multistate research groups that SNRE Research Director Milan Shipka leads has been recognized with a Western Region Excellence in Research Award. Only one multistate research group is honored regionally each year.

The multistate group studies the reproductive physiology of domestic ruminants and includes members from 34 states from Florida to Alaska. The work of the research team was highlighted Aug. 24 in National Institute if Food and Agriculture's Fresh from the Field highlights. Look for “Chew on this: Ruminant research makes for healthier cows and sheep” and the infographic about the impacts of the reproductive research. Shipka’s research has focused on the reproductive physiology of reindeer.

Shipka has been a member of the research group since 1999 and its research leader for the past four or five years. The Multistate Research Review Committee chose the research project to honor. The committee includes representatives from the Western Association of Agricultural Experiment Station Directors and the Western Extension Directors Association. The research group was honored in July at the joint meeting of Extension and experiment station directors and academic heads in Portland, Oregon. Shipka also leads multistate groups that study nutrient bioavailability and germ cell and embryo development and manipulation for the improvement of livestock.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

SNRE profiles: Leif Albertson does it all in Bethel

Leif Albertson coordinates the community garden in Bethel.
Photo by Cindy Andrechek

On any given week, Leif Albertson might present programs on canning fish, improving indoor air quality or eradicating bed bugs.

It’s all part of his job as the sole Cooperative Extension Service agent in Bethel. He is a health, home and family development agent, but he responds to diverse community requests and needs for educational programming in Southwest Alaska.

Albertson got involved with bed bug eradication when he realized there was a problem in rural Alaska and few resources existed for people trying to get rid of the persistent insects. Albertson, who has a background in public health and worked in an insect lab during college, studied up on bed bugs, gave presentations at state health conferences and co-authored an Extension publication on the subject.

As a new Extension agent, in 2008, he consulted with other Alaska agents about the kind of programs they were doing. He was advised to assess the needs of the region and to offer research-based programs to meet those needs.

Albertson said food preservation seemed like a good place to start because of the price of food.

“It’s much more expensive in Bethel,” he said.

Extension home economists showed him how to preserve foods and adjust pressure canner gauges. Interest in food preservation classes has remained high, he said, in part because of diminished fish runs some years on the Kuskokwim River. He offers classes in canning meat, fish and vegetables, pickling techniques and making yogurt. He also has taught classes on butchering moose and chickens.

Before coming to Extension, Albertson earned a master’s degree in public health policy and management from Harvard, and he managed more than 40 health clinics for the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corp. As “the public health guy” in Extension, he provides programs on a number of health issues that affect rural Alaska, including indoor air quality, diabetes and tobacco use.

Albertson became interested in indoor air quality after he realized that children in Western Alaska younger than age 5 have some of the highest rates of respiratory illness in the world. It is the leading cause of hospitalization in the Yukon-Kuskowim area, he said.

“It seemed like a need because there were a lot of sick kids,” he said.

A lack of ventilation in homes, high rates of smoking and living in close quarters all contribute to the problem in rural Alaska, he said. Albertson undertook training through the National Environmental Health Association to become certified as a healthy homes specialist, the first in Alaska. That led to a number of programs in Southwest Alaska and presentations at statewide conferences. He also became certified to train others, and a number of Alaskans now hold that certification.

Albertson grew up in Anchorage. After he graduated from college, he moved to Bethel in 2002 for a job as a health program associate for the state, providing educational outreach to individuals about HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. When he left Bethel for graduate school, he said he didn’t plan to return but found that he really missed it.

He has many ties to Bethel now, but his first community connection came almost by accident. Shortly after he moved to town, he started volunteering with the Bethel Fire Department simply because it had the best gym in town, he said. He has volunteered with the department for nearly 15 years as a firefighter and now as a paramedic.

He also served on an energy committee affiliated with the Bethel City Council for several years before getting elected as a city councilman in 2013 and re-elected two years later. Another public role he has is coordinating the community garden, with the help of an advisory board. He assigns plots and sometimes offers gardening programs on soils, growing potatoes or handling root maggots.

Although Albertson’s district covers more than 60 communities in Southwest Alaska, a limited travel budget means that he often works with other agencies to travel to communities outside of Bethel. He also coordinates with Extension staff in Bethel, who provide nutrition education and work with the 4-H program and youth.

You won’t find Albertson in his office very much. He’s usually out doing programs and has his office phone forwarded to his personal cellphone. Because people know he’s the Extension agent, opportunities for community engagement present themselves often, at the grocery store, the airport or just around town. He gets questions on a wide range of issues, sometimes from people in the middle of canning salmon. Albertson likes taking those calls and finding answers.

“I like the flexibility and the variety and that any day someone might call me and ask a question that I don’t know the answer to,” he said.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Eight SNRE students receive scholarships

Congratulations to eight undergraduate students with the School of Natural Resources and Extension who received scholarships for the coming year.

The scholarship awards range from $500 to $1,800. A SNRE scholarship committee recommends students for the scholarships based on their criteria, and UAF notifies the students. The recipients for the 2017-2018 year and the scholarships are:

Hannah Christian: Paul and Flora Greimann Memorial Scholarship. The scholarship is awarded to any natural resources management major, but students studying agriculture are preferred.

Jessica Herzog and Trevor Schoening: John B. and Mae M. Hakala Scholarship (two awards). The scholarship is awarded to students pursuing a degree in natural resources management, wildlife biology, biological sciences or nursing.

Kimberly Diamond: Bonita J. Neiland Scholarship. The scholarship is awarded to students in the natural resources management degree program who study the biophysical aspects of forestry or agriculture, or whose studies emphasize biology or ecology. The scholarship honors Dr. Neiland, who was director of instruction and taught natural resources management and botany at what was then known as the School of Agriculture and Land Resources Management.

Abigail Steffen: Liu Huang Chou Scholarship. The scholarship is awarded to students who study plant pathology, plant biology or agriculture.

Dawson Foster, Mike Hoyt Society of American Foresters Scholarship. The scholarship is awarded to a student who is studying forestry within the natural resources management major.

David Rhodes: Walt Begalka Memorial Scholarship. The scholarship is awarded to a student who is studying forestry within the natural resources management major.

Sagen Maddalena: Richard W. and Margery Tindall/Society of American Foresters Scholarship. The award is given to a student studying forestry within the natural resources management major.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

School hosting field seminar for Hokkaido University

Hokkaido University students and their professors, representatives from
UAF International Programs and Initiatives and Miho Morimoto
and Dave Valentine gather on the first day of the field seminar.

Eight students and two professors from Hokkaido University arrived Monday for the second edition of the Alaska Natural Resources Sustainability Field Seminar hosted by SNRE and UAF International Programs and Initiatives.

Miho Morimoto and Professor Dave Valentine are again coordinating the seminar and a busy schedule of field tours and lectures relevant to the natural resources theme Aug. 8-17. Conveniently, the group will fit in a 12-passenger van to be piloted by Miho, a postdoctoral researcher.

Valentine said the seminar will be similar to last year’s, with many of the same lecturers, but the students will visit the permafrost tunnel near Fox this time and will spend a night in Trapper Creek after visiting Denali National Park.

Valentine said that he got some good feedback from the students and professors who participated in the seminar last year. “Hokkaido wanted to do it again,” he said.

Seminar topics will include sustainability, the boreal forest, permafrost, the trans-Alaska pipeline, fisheries, permafrost, historical gold mining, Native corporations, timber use, wildland fire, forest and wildlife management, Alaska livestock and agriculture, and rocket research. Lectures will be given by UAF professors and representatives from agencies, businesses and a Native corporation. Lecturers from the School of Natural Resources and Extension will include Jan Dawe, Valentine, Morimoto, Glenn Juday, Milan Shipka, Mingchu Zhang and Art Nash.

The group will travel to the pipeline, a gold dredge, the Poker Flat Research Range, the permafrost tunnel, Denali National Park, Creamer's Field, Superior Pellets, the Fairbanks Experiment Farm, Georgeson Botanical Garden, the Large Animal Research Station, the Bonanza Creek Experimental Forest, Northland Wood Products and other locations.

As before, students participating in the seminar reflect a variety of disciplines, including forest sciences, medicine and engineering. The two Hokkaido professors, Masahide Kaeriyama and Xiao Lan, are participating for the second year. Morimoto also has Hokkaido connections. She is from Japan and earned undergraduate and graduate degrees from Hokkaido University before earning a doctorate from the School of Natural Resources and Extension.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

High school teachers study natural resources at O'Neill

Nineteen high school teachers from across the U.S. are at UAF this week, attending a training to help them use applied science with an agricultural theme in their classrooms.

Iowa teachers Susan Krummen and Alan Spencer
 examine soil to determine its texture in the O'Neill Building lab.
Most are agriculture or natural resources teachers. The School of Natural Resources and Extension provided lab and classroom space in the O'Neill Building for the CASE institute, which focuses on hands-on activities.

The Alaska FFA Association and the Alaska Association of Agriculture and Natural Resource Educators hosted the training, which runs from July 24-Aug. 3 and provides certification from CASE, which stands for the Curriculum for Agricultural Science Education. CASE is sponsored by the National Association of Agricultural Educators.

The focus for this training is natural resources and ecology. The idea is to show and provide teachers a year's worth of curriculum and activities that they can use when they go home.

Dan Jansen, the national project director for CASE and its founder, was in Fairbanks for the first few days of the workshop.

“If you’re a new teacher, this gives you labs to take back to your classroom,” he said.

Jansen is a former Oregon high school agriculture teacher who also trained agriculture teachers at Oregon State University. He said the approach for the CASE institutes came out of his experience teaching. He saw how kids responded to learning practical applications of science that involve critical thinking.

Agriculture classes and FFA activities also serve as a natural pipeline to natural resources and agriculture university programs, such as SNRE, he said.

This is the first CASE institute offered in Fairbanks, but State FFA Advisor Kevin Fochs and Sue McCullough of the Alaska Association of Agriculture and Natural Resource Educators would like there to be more.

McCullough, who serves as a FFA advisor at Effie Kokrine Charter School, said only one Alaska teacher, in Palmer, is currently certified to teach agriculture and teaches the subject full-time.

“He’s the only one,” she said.
Iowa teacher Eddie Wadsworth helps measure
the slope of the ground.

Fochs said one of their goals is to increase the number of teachers who teach agriculture in Alaska high schools. The Alaska Department of Education recently added agriculture as a certification for teaching.

Although they reserved space for Alaska teachers in the training, only one signed up, from Fairbanks. The other teachers are from Ohio, Iowa, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Washington State and New York. All are staying in Wickersham Hall at UAF.

Alan Spencer, an agriculture teacher from Red Oak, Iowa is attending his sixth CASE institute. The subjects he teaches in high school are all based on CASE institute curriculum, including basic agriculture, plant science, natural resources, animal science, food science and ag power technology.

There are definite connections between natural resources and agriculture, he said. “Part of agriculture is taking care of the land.”

Spencer grew up on a farm that raised cattle, hogs, corn and soybeans, and his father also taught agriculture at the high school level. He has been teaching agriculture for 20 years, and said he wished he had the curriculum as a beginning teacher.

He noted that the additional expenses needed to stage the labs often have been covered by grants he has applied for and other sources of funding he has pursued, but he considers the effort worthwhile.

The sees the value of the curriculum as opposed to lectures and students’ standard note taking. “They actually get to do these things that they are learning about,” he said.

Cheryl Sanders, who teaches earth science and natural resources at Hutchinson High School, is the only Alaska teacher attending the institute. She is taking the institute to develop a natural resources class that emphasizes physical science in addition to her class with a life science focus. The agricultural examples would fit in well with that curriculum, she said.

Sanders, who is the FFA advisor at Hutchison, said students there developed a raised-bed garden this past year and are already interested in agriculture.

She notes that natural resources education is particularly important in Alaska, which depends on natural resources such as timber, fisheries, mining, oil and coal.  At the same time, natural resources are interconnected with soils and agriculture.

“In order to have sustainable agriculture, you have to take into account natural resources.”

During their time in Fairbanks, the teachers have studied soils, water, air quality and agriculture. They toured operations at Chena Hot Springs one day and enjoyed a swim. Two teachers who are former participants in the institutes, lead the training.