Thursday, April 27, 2017

NRM student takes top honors at URSA competition

Jessica Herzog, a natural resources management student, won first place overall Tuesday at the 2017 Research and Creative Activity Day hosted by URSA.

Jessica Herzog shows her first-place certificate with URSA
Director Trent Sutton. UAF photo by J.R. Ancheta
Her research poster on golden eagles’ diets was chosen from more than 100 entries displayed Tuesday on the first floor of Wood Center. The event is an annual celebration of undergraduate student research and creative projects.  Each school chose a Dean’s Choice Award and representatives from URSA, Undergraduate Research Scholarly Activity program, picked the top three finishers.

Herzog’s poster also received a Dean’s Choice Award from the School of Natural Resources and Extension. She will receive $250 for her SNRE award and $1,000 for her first place overall.

The event was reminiscent of a science fair with undergraduate students standing by their projects to discuss their work. Research and creative posters ranged from tsunami wave action and engineering projects to costume design and food sustainability.

Six students from the School of Natural Resources and Extension displayed their work, including Trish Levasseur, Kimberly Diamond, Zoe Marshall, Roger Ridenour and Kelly Schmitz.

Kimberly Diamond poses with her research poster on
Prunus Padus.
Herzog’s project looked at differences in the diets of male and female golden eagles on the Seward Peninsula. Her poster is titled “Trophic Niche Partitioning Between Male and Female Golden Eagles in Western Alaska.”

Herzog said the point of her project was “to see if male and female eagles consumed a different size of prey to avoid competition.” Niche partitioning refers to the process by which competing species use the environment differently in a way that helps them coexist. Golden eagle females are larger than males so she theorized that males might eat smaller prey.

Her project built on undergraduate research done by Joseph Eisaguirre, who is now a doctoral student with the UAF Department of Wildlife and Biology. As part of her research, Herzog analyzed his data and she examined 349 regurgitated pellets and 52 uneaten prey remains from nests and perches. They were drawn from 46 occupied eagle sites visited in 2014 and 2015 by Eisaguirre and wildlife biologist Travis Booms, who is with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s Threatened, Endangered and Diversity Program. They assumed that perch samples were from males and nest samples came from females.

Trisha Levasseur stands by her research poster that analyzes a visitor survey.
Herzog, who is a junior, hopes to continue to study predator-prey relationships as a graduate student. She is from Butte, Montana.

SNRE Academic Director Dave Valentine, who chose the dean’s award after consulting with Research Director Milan Shipka, said it was hard to choose among the projects.

Students displayed the following work: 

• Trisha Levasseur, with mentor Pete Fix: “Recreation and Travel Across Federally Managed Lands in Alaska: Analysis of Management Meeting Informational Needs of Visitors.”  She examined data collected as part of a visitor survey conducted last year in Alaska to determine what type of information is sought by different types of visitors.

• Kimberly Diamond, with Gino Graziano and Katie DiCristina, “Factors Impacting Dormancy and Viability of Prunus Padus Seeds.” Diamond studied the dormancy and viability of invasive bird cherry seed. 

•  Kelly Schmitz, with assistance of Greg Finstad, George Aguiar and Christopher Maio, “Nutritional Impact of Willow Leaves on Reindeer Calves.”

• Roger Ridenour, “The Arctic Biosphere Container: Beginning the Process of Eliminating Food Insecurity in Remote Alaska.”

• Zoe Marshall, with mentor Milan Shipka, “Sustainable Agriculture Education Through the Case Study of Wrigley Farm and Alaska Flour Co.”

• Zoe Marshall, with mentor Pat Holloway: “Vegetative Propagation of Four Northern Berry Species to Promote Sustainable Fruit Production in Alaska.” She explored methods of cutting propagation to seek the best way to propagate honeyberry, haskap, Saskatoon serviceberry and blueberries.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Plant pathologists to honor Jenifer McBeath

Jenifer McBeath
Professor Jenifer McBeath of the UAF School of Natural Resources and Extension has been selected as a fellow of the American Phytopathological Society.

She will be honored in an awards presentation during the society’s annual meeting Aug. 5-9 in San Antonio, Texas. The society is an international scientific organization devoted to the study of plant diseases (phytopathology).

A note from Professor Tim Murray, the president of the society’s council, said McBeath had been selected to receive the award in recognition of her international distinction in collaboration outside the U.S. and for developing production practices for arctic conditions. “This, together with your distinguished service to the profession of plant pathology and other numerous achievements, makes you highly deserving of the fellow award,” he said.

McBeath, who was born in Chengdu, China, earned a doctorate in plant pathology from Rutgers University. She came to UAF in 1977 and has served as a professor of plant pathology and biotechnology at the school since 1980. Her research interests revolve around plant disease diagnostics and the development of environmentally benign means of plant disease control. McBeath developed a seed potato disease certification system that relies on intensive field sampling and lab tests. She worked to create alliances between Alaska and China/Taiwan markets, which led to the export of lab-tested, disease-free seed potatoes. Seed potatoes grown in Nenana will be planted in Shandong, China, this year, she said.

McBeath is a recipient of the Usibelli Distinguished Service Award and a U.S. State Department Embassy Science Fellowship.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Program review ends and NRM degrees will continue

A special academic review of many UAF degree programs has ended with recommendations to eliminate several programs, but all of the degree programs offered by the School of Natural Resources and Extension have been spared.

SNRE Academic Director Dave Valentine said that includes the Bachelor of Science, Master of Science and professional master’s degree in natural resources management, and a doctorate in natural resources and sustainability.

“That’s good news,” he said.

For the past year, UAF has been conducting special reviews of academic programs identified by the UAF Planning and Budget Committee. The goal has been to find savings by considering deletion of programs with lower enrollment and graduation numbers. Among those programs were the degrees offered by SNRE.

Valentine said Provost Susan Henrichs told the SNRE faculty that the degrees would revert to the usual five-year review cycle. In a recent meeting, she encouraged faculty to seek more external grant funding, increase enrollment and put as many courses as possible online. She also discussed the possibility of the NRM degree programs moving into another school at UAF.

Valentine said he will ask each academic faculty member to develop at least one online class in the coming year. “We want to get our degrees out there and more available online,” he said.

He notes that the school continues to face serious challenges due to budget cuts and departing and retiring faculty who can’t be replaced. Because of reductions, the school may have to reconsider some of its offerings and fill in more with classes from other programs, possibly broadening its degrees, he said. “It’s clear that we can’t keep doing what we’re doing currently.”

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Feasibility study looks as farming muskoxen

The March issue of the Arctic journal included a new study by SNRE graduate student Laura Starr about the feasibility of farming muskoxen for qiviut and livestock sales.

A baby muskox rests at the Large Animal Research Station.
Starr, who will receive a master's degree in natural resources management in May, is the lead author of the study, and her co-authors are SNRE Professor Josh Greenberg and Research Assistant Professor Jan Rowell.

Starr studied the feasibility of raising muskoxen for her master's thesis. She also conducted grazing research at the Large Animal Research Station, which raises a small herd of muskoxen.

The feasibility study looked at two herd sizes, 36 and 72 muskoxen, to estimate the principal costs and to model different sales scenarios. Although several scenarios showed promise,  the study says the most profitable option for either herd size was selling all the qiviut as value-added yarn, coupled with livestock sales.

Laura Starr measures forage with a
Grass Master.
But in the absence of selling livestock, the enterprise was profitable at either scale assuming all the qiviut was sold as yarn, the study states.

Qiviut, the soft underwool from muskoxen, is combed from the animals in the spring and prized by knitters. Qiviut is known for its light weight and warmth.

The study notes that the principal competition for farmed qiviut is qiviut from wild sources. Most of the qiviut on the market is harvested from wild muskoxen, according to the study. It is naturally shed by the animals and collected on the tundra or combed from farmed muskoxen.

The price for raw wild qiviut is $220 to $290 per kilogram, depending on the condition, while the current price for raw farmed qiviut is $495 per kilogram.

An Internet search in 2015 showed that small finished goods made out of qiviut, such as hats, scarves and cowls range from $150 to $400. Large finished garments made into designer suits cost $700 to $25,000.

Qiviut yarn is luxuriously soft.
Muskoxen are indigenous to the Arctic and were reintroduced to Alaska in the 1930s. Wild populations can be found north of the Brooks Range, on the Seward Peninsula and on Nunivak Island. They also grow well as a domesticated species in the research herd at UAF and at a nonprofit farm in Palmer.

Suzanna Caldwell of the The Alaska Dispatch News wrote about the feasibility study and interviewed Starr for a story published in today's edition. Caldwell notes that hurdles to starting a muskox business include the challenge that none are for sale.

Starr was the recipient of a $25,000 Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education grant in 2014 to study the grazing impacts of intensely managed soil and the feasibility of raising muskox in Alaska.

Friday, April 14, 2017

SNRE names two outstanding students

Two graduating seniors with SNRE have been named the school’s outstanding students for 2016-2017 — Kelly Schmitz and Jennifer Sybert.

Schmitz will be recognized in the agriculture and horticulture area and Sybert for natural resources management. Both will be honored at a breakfast awards ceremony at Wood Center on April 22.

Kelly Schmitz
Schmitz, who grew up in North Pole, learned in March that she has been accepted in the joint UAF/Colorado State University Collaborative Veterinary Program. She will start the program this fall and plans to specialize in large animal veterinary medicine.

As a longtime 4-H member, it is no surprise that Schmitz would choose veterinary medicine as a career path. Growing up on a farm, she raised a variety of livestock, including chickens, geese, sheep, goats, beef and one headstrong reindeer named Pumba. She received the reindeer from the UAF Reindeer Research Program in 2008 as part of a pilot program with 4-H. She also has raised a grand champion steer, lamb and chickens.

“As long as I could sell animals, I was in 4-H,” she said. It help pay for college.

Schmitz said she studied natural resources management because she was interested in agriculture, people and the outdoors. She has been happy with the program and her professors, she said.

Jennifer Sybert
She also has had a variety of special experiences while at UAF, including an internship in Guatemala last summer, in which she worked with a veterinarian at a clinic and on his rounds. That experience was eye-opening, she said, because she realized that people in the U.S. take access to good livestock feed for granted and Guatemalans can not.

“People there depend so much on their livestock for a living,” she said.

She also worked with Syrian refugees in Jordan through a refugee agency.  Opportunities this spring included a project award from the Undergraduate Research and Scholarly Activity (URSA) program to study how eating willow affects reindeer calf growth. She designed the research with Reindeer Research Program Manager Greg Finstad and it will be undertaken this summer.

Jennifer Sybert, who is from Morristown, Vermont, served as a medic in the National Guard and the Army. She attends UAF with support from the Army’s Green to Gold Program. Sybert was a staff sergeant at Fort Wainwright, but while she attends college she is an ROTC cadet. After she graduates in May, she will be commissioned as a second lieutenant and assigned to Colorado as a quartermaster (logistics). She previously served in Vermont, Florida and Texas and was deployed to Iraq in 2009-2010.

Sybert is a hard worker, often carrying heavy credit loads and raising her two young children, William, 5, and Jason, 3. She is interested in plants, an interest that she may have inherited from her grandfather, who was a botany professor. She said his teaching and business ethos was, “Never underestimate the power of a plant.”

The Sybert family, including Michael, Jennifer, William and Jason.
Her husband, Michael Sybert, was a 2014 outstanding student for the school’s forest sciences department. Both Syberts are interested in greenhouse management and eventually hope to raise niche crops, such as squash flowers and specialty mushrooms.

Michael works for the Bureau of Land Management in Fairbanks as a natural resources specialist, and will have a job in Colorado managing forest lands for the military.

Jennifer said particularly enjoyed Meriam Karlsson’s section of the Principles of Sustainable Agriculture and the conflict resolution taught in Resource Management Planning. She wishes she would have had more time to take agricultural electives. She came to UAF with an associate’s degree in health sciences from Kaplan University and also attended college at the University of South Florida.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Georgeson Botanical Garden fundraiser set for April 15

The Georgeson Botanical Garden at the Fairbanks Experiment Farm
is gearing up for summer 2017.  Edwin Remberg photo
The Georgeson Botanical Garden Society will host a Spring Green Up fundraiser from 5-8 p.m. Saturday, April 15, at The Hub.

The community is invited to meet members of the society and fellow gardeners and discover what’s new at the garden for 2017, including summer events and a design competition. Attendees may also sign up as a volunteer or make a donation. There will be a silent auction and door prizes.

The event is free but donations are appreciated. Hors d’oeuvres, tea and coffee will be served. The Hub is located at 410 Second Ave.

The Georgeson Botanical Garden Society is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to support the Georgeson Botanical Garden at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

First reindeer calf of 2017 born at the farm

Reindeer calf 1701 stuck close to her mother, Astrid, at the Fairbanks
 Experiment Station. UAF photo by Zayn Roohi

See a short video.

A sure sign of spring, the first reindeer calf of 2017 arrived Tuesday morning at the Fairbanks Experiment Farm.

Reindeer caretaker Erin Carr said the reindeer was born at 10:30 a.m., just 10 minutes after a co-worker noticed the cow was in labor.

Reindeer calf 1701 curled up in a ball near her mother, Astrid, on Wednesday morning. As visitors watched, the cow nudged her calf with a hoof to get her up to nurse. The calf wobbled to her feet for breakfast in a reindeer pen opposite the Georgeson Botanical Garden.

Carr said the calf seems healthy and will be weighed this afternoon. The first calf usually arrives in early April. Altogether, about 20 calves are expected this spring. They will become part of the University of Alaska Fairbanks Reindeer Research Program herd, which numbered 65 as of Tuesday morning.

Darrell Blodgett, the data manager for the program, monitors the herd by video camera from his office at the farm, to make sure deliveries are progressing well and the staff is aware of cows in labor.

As is tradition, schoolchildren are encouraged to submit names for the calves, which are named in July or August, after they are weaned. Many of the ideas seem to come from children’s movies, Carr said.

“When Harry Potter was popular, we had names like Hagrid and Hermione,” she said.

Children may submit names on the Reindeer Research Program website at Names selected last year include Hodor, Jorah, Podrick, Two Socks, Chicory, Diego and Taco Supreme.

The Reindeer Research Program is the only program devoted to reindeer research that is affiliated with a U.S. university. The program conducts research on nutrition, animal health, meat quality and range management in support of the reindeer industry.