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.

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.