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,

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.