Friday, September 19, 2014

Middle school students tackle scientific tasks

Middle school students tackled the job of recording scientific data at a University of Alaska Fairbanks common garden Sept. 16.

Carefully observing birch trees, the students from Randy Smith Middle School noted the height of the trees, air temperature, soil temperature, bark color and oddities such as leaf damage and insects.

Randy Smith Middle School students take data on a birch tree while Zach Meyers, far left, observes.
Some served as recorders, some as data gatherers and others as artists, drawing colored pencil versions of each tree.

 "It's exciting to see science in action," said Chris Pastro, the teacher. "They get to see what a research project looks like."

Prior to the field trip, OneTree Alaska Director Janice Dawe visited Pastro's classroom to describe the birch plots and emphasize that when taking data, accuracy is paramount. Pastro has long worked with OneTree, sharing the ideas she has learned and taught in two STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and math) institutes hosted by UAF's School of Natural Resources.

Pastro emphasizes botany with her extended learning students. Each one is investigating a different species of tree and eventually the class will produce a book.

"This is hands-on science," Pastro said. "I hope the students learn to be keen observers forever."
Chris Pastro holds a birch leaf containing a bug.

Dawe told the students, "Today you are our scientists; you are helping us improve our protocols." She was impressed that the participants measured about one-third of the garden in less than an hour.

"You are the first group," Dawe said. "You represent the beginning, kicking off the next 40 to 50 years." She hopes the birch tree plots will be a long-term research project at UAF.

Instructional Designer Zachary Meyers said, "It went well. They did a really good job and they observed things that weren't even on the information sheets."

Students expressed delight that the university welcomes citizen scientists. "I didn't know about this project," one eighth grader said. "I've skied by it but thought they were randomly planting trees."

UAF student volunteer Kristine de Leon said she had a wonderful time working with the students. "They were teaching me stuff," she said. "It's important to do this. You can read books about this but you don't make the connection till you touch and see and smell what you are learning about. Field work helps make connections."

Volunteers interested in citizen science should contact Dawe.

Janice Dawe, right, checks soil temperature while a student looks on.

Kristine de Leon, UAF student volunteer, and Jan Dawe, right, measure a birch tree.

Birch tree leaves change colors for fall in the common garden.

SNRE student shines on Nanooks Rifle Team

As a young teen, Sagen Maddalena found her life's passion--shooting--and the natural resources management major has been firing guns at targets ever since.

Introduced to the sport by her grandfather, she went on to become a member of the Alaska Nanook Rifle Team and make it to the world championships this summer in Spain.
Sagen Maddalena

Maddalena was raised in Groveland, California, near Yosemite National Park. “I grew up in the woods; it was part of my lifestyle,” she said. She fell in love with forests and wanted to learn more about them, which led her to study forest sciences with SNRE.

Noting that the forestry field doesn’t have much young knowledge coming in, Maddalena wants to do her part to keep research going. She is learning about natural resources conservation and the importance of carbon sequestration.

“You take water, sunlight and carbon and, bam, you’ve got wood,” she said. “It’s a big resource.” Maddalena’s goals are to graduate, then find a job and put her knowledge to work.

When she started shooting, it was outdoors with a high power service rifle. Once she joined her high school rifle team she switched to shooting indoors with air rifles and small bore rifles. “It was a big change,” she said. She earned many rewards, including Distinguished Rifleman by the Civilian Marksmanship Program in 2011.

As a freshman at UAF last year, Maddalena was voted the most valuable player by her Nanook teammates, was named Great Northwest Athletic Conference faculty athletic representative’s scholar-athlete, won the first-ever Joe Tremarello student athlete sportsmanship award winner and competed at the U.S.A. Shooting National Championships.

She is humble enough to say, “I was fortunate to get picked up by the coach and the team.”
To excel at shooting takes maturity, she said. “You’ve got a lot of power in your hand. I enjoy the thrill of it and being able to do it well. It’s my passion.”

Her sport takes confidence and being able to control one's own thoughts. “You’ve got to be in your zone so stuff around you doesn’t bother you.”

Maddalena gets up at 5:30 a.m. Monday through Saturday to run three miles. She practices shooting three to four hours a day. “I’ve got to have a schedule and follow it,” she said. “I have no down time till bed but it keeps me out of trouble.”

When she gets time she enjoys fly fishing. “Being outdoors helps ease my mind,” she said.

This summer Maddalena traveled to Germany and Slovania to participate in World Cups and Spain for the Grand Prix. “It was a wonderful opportunity to represent the U.S. and UAF, the school and my community,” she said. “And it was an opportunity to do my passion.”

Nanooks Rifle Coach Dan Jordan said, "Sagen is one of those people that you dream about having on your team. She is a hard worker, a great leader, and an excellent shooter. We are fortunate that she came to UAF and definitely adds to our team dynamic and success."

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Professor Lawson Brigham adds global perspective to UAF

Lawson Brigham, distinguished professor of geography and arctic policy with the School of Natural Resources and Extension, is dedicated to researching arctic policy centered on natural resources management. “I focus on Arctic marine policy issues,” he said.

Brigham travels the world representing the University of Alaska Fairbanks. With his solid connections to Washington, D.C., he brings in research grants, including ones from the National Science Foundation and State of Alaska.
While in Fairbanks recently for a NATO committee meeting, Professor Lawson Brigham (left) consulted with Interim Dean and Director Steve Sparrow.

The Cambridge-educated professor concentrates on Arctic policies and strategies to protect Arctic people and the marine environment. He works with Arctic Council working groups and research teams to respond to the complexity of new marine uses of the Arctic Ocean.

Brigham serves on the Alaska Arctic Policy Commission, made up of legislators and citizens, representing the University of Alaska on research and policy issues. He also serves on the U.S. Delegation to the International Maritime Organization (a United Nations body) and works with Stanford University’s Arctic Security Initiative.

“Arctic climate change is profound,” Brigham said. “And geopolitics are becoming very complicated in the Arctic.”

Brigham strives to balance the freedom to navigate in the Arctic Ocean with the key issues of marine safety and protection. His background as a U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker captain is an invaluable asset to his current work. “It’s key to have maritime experience,” he said. “It gives a practical bridge between maritime policy and academics. It merges the practical and theoretical.”

One of Brigham’s most visible projects lately has been the Polar Code, a mandatory code for ships operating in polar waters. It addresses the risks specific to operations in polar waters, taking into account the extreme environmental conditions and the remoteness of operation. The code will address ships’ construction standards, safety equipment, requirements for qualified ice navigators, and environmental restrictions on ship discharges.

“This will be a new set of regulations for ships in the Arctic and Antarctic,” Brigham said. “It’s been 20 years in the making and means a new regime for marine operations everywhere in the Arctic.”
This excerpt from NBC national TV news, reveals the crux of the matter.

“Today, there are just a handful of people in the world with the appropriate training and skills for safe navigation in polar waters, he explained at a recent workshop on the code in Seattle. The meeting was sponsored by the U.S. Coast Guard, which is the country's lead agency to the International Maritime Organization, an agency of the United Nations that sets standards for the shipping industry.

“Within years," Brigham said, "across the U.S. maritime Arctic we may have Statoil, Shell and Conoco Phillips all with their armada of ships drilling offshore with thousands of vessel transits in the Arctic. The question is: What is the Arctic experience and training of the mariners in the pilot house?"

Brigham’s travels for the World Economic Forum (WEF) Global Agenda Council on the Arctic have taken him as far as Abu Dhabi. He is looking forward to visiting Dubai in November for the Forum’s World Summit on the Global Agenda.

Of all the publications Brigham has helped publish, he is quick to point out one of his favorites, Demystifying the Arctic, a WEF report that seeks to counter misinformation presented by the global media over the years.

Part of the report is a page called “Arctic Myths,” which explains the facts behind such illusions as:
•    The Arctic is an uninhabited, unclaimed frontier with no regulation or governance.
•    The region’s wealth of natural resources is readily available for development.
•    The Arctic will become immediately accessible as sea ice continues to disappear.
•    The Arctic is tense with geopolitical disputes and is the next flashpoint for conflict.
•    Climate changes in the Arctic are solely of local and regional importance.

Brigham presented to a NATO committee meeting held recently at UAF. “I spoke on arctic natural resources, shipping and environmental security issues ,” he said.

His position requires the ability to communicate complex issues regarding the Arctic. “I’ve been dealing with arctic issues for several decades and communicating to a global audience,” he said.

In his free time, Brigham enjoys sailing and fishing.

Friday, September 12, 2014

SNRE welcomes Sarah Trainor to faculty roster

After years dedicated to research, Sarah Trainor is looking forward to working with students at the University of Alaska Fairbanks School of Natural Resources and Extension. She is the school’s new assistant professor of social-ecological systems sustainability.

Sarah Trainor
Her role will be to teach and research sustainability in linked social and natural systems. “It’s about understanding the dynamic interactions between human and natural systems and working to solve complex problems,” Trainor said. “I’ve been interested in this since I was a little kid. I’ve always seen people and the natural world as integrally connected.”

Trainor grew up in Oneonta, New York, and earned a B.A. in philosophy and environmental studies at Mount Holyoke College, a master’s of arts in energy and resources at the University of California, Berkeley and a Ph.D. in energy and resources at UC Berkeley.

She and her husband Tom, a chemistry professor, came to UAF 11 years ago, where Trainor was a post-doctoral fellow with Terry Chapin, researching human and fire interactions. “That was a good introduction to  social-ecological systems in Alaska,” Trainor said.

Her career includes serving as coordinator and director for the Alaska Center for Climate Assessment and Policy, director of the Alaska Fire Science Consortium and stakeholder liaison for Scenarios Network for Alaska and Arctic Planning.

Her position with SNRE is partially funded by EPSCoR and Trainor will work with Professor Gary Kofinas for EPSCoR’s northern test case. Her research focuses on climate change adaptation, climate change vulnerability and communicating science for decision makers.

Although she will maintain her research component, she is excited to work with students. “I’m really happy to be part of the school,” she said. In addition to teaching, she’ll be working with students on several projects. “Students interested in climate change adaptation or related topics should contact me,” she said.

Trainor will teach a graduate course, Global to Local Sustainability, fall semester and a new undergraduate class, Introduction to Sustainability Science, spring semester. “I hope the students learn the theoretical structure to frame, understand and analyze complex problems,” she said. “ And I want to give students the practical tools and perspectives to help them grapple with issues and contribute to solving them.

“I hope this new course is attractive to students and useful and I want to engage the students in research.”

Trainor loves UAF for the diversity of its students. “Students are very engaged and interested in learning,” she said. “And I like Fairbanks as a community. It’s a special place to live with special people and special opportunities.”

Colleague Associate Professor Joshua Greenberg said Trainor brings a wealth of experience and background relevant to natural resources sustainability. “She will strengthen our undergraduate program and support our growing graduate program by raising the profile of sustainability in Alaska and the north," he said.

“She is an experienced facilitator who has created bridges between scientists and the community.”

In her free time, Trainor enjoys swimming, biking, hiking, canoeing, kayaking, cooking, cross-country skiing and spending time with her family.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Alaskans experiment with growing garlic

How does your garlic grow?

That’s what Tribes Extension Project Director and Educator Heidi Rader wanted to know. Rader, who works for the University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service and Tanana Chiefs Conference, sent a survey to growers around the state in late July.
Maggie Hallam of Cripple Creek Organics looks at her garlic crop.

“I needed to do a short YouTube video and I’ve been hearing a lot about garlic,” Rader said. “I don’t have a lot of information.” But due to the success of the survey, she has a lot more facts and figures now.

Nearly 50 people from Southeast to Galena completed the survey. Rader learned that garlic seems to be a relatively recent crop for Alaska. “Some had been growing garlic for five to 10 years but most had been for less than five. It’s a new trend.”

Rosie Creek Farm is one exception. “I have 13 years’ experience growing garlic commercially,” said Rosie Creek owner Mike Emers. “I plant 200 pounds every year with varying success. It is labor intensive and foot by foot not very profitable. Only certain varieties are worth growing.

“There is huge demand and we use it to attract customers to buy our other crops. We will continue to grow it because of its draw for customers.”

At Calypso Farm and Ecology Center, Susan Willsrud said garlic is great for personal use. She has noticed a huge market demand. “Garlic is a really fun crop because of the fall planting; it’s so nice to have a crop coming up in the early spring,” Willsrud said.

“In terms of a commercial crop, the cost to grow the crop is significantly higher than what it can be sold for, particularly because the average pounds yielded to pounds planted is way less than it is in other climates. In my opinion it makes a really suitable, wonderful crop for home consumption, but a questionable one for market farming.”

Seed garlic is expensive and is often sold for a similar or sometimes lower price per pound as a final product, Willsrud said. “I think most of us are really excited when it comes up and then when we get a harvest out of it,” she said. “So a farmer is likely to say something favorable because it's easy to forget how many pounds we had to buy, plant, tend, harvest and clean in order to get that crop. Overall, even with great market demand, it's a risky, low-value crop for the farmer.”

At the Alaska Botanical Garden in Anchorage, Executive Director Julianne McGuinness has been growing garlic for 15 years and has conducted many variety trials. “I definitely want to offer any encouragement I can for garlic as a productive crop for Alaska farms and gardens,” she said.

Rader, who also grows garlic at her own farm, explained that there is a bounty of varieties, with two subspecies, hard-necked and soft-necked. “The hard is better for Alaska,” Rader said. “That at least is a starting point.”

Some of the popular varieties in Alaska are Music, Siberian, Chesnook Red and German White.

Garlic is planted in the fall a week or two after the first killing frost and covered with mulch. “You fertilize it a little bit and harvest it the next summer,” Rader said. “It’s no harder to grow than onions; it’s similar, but you do it in the fall.”

Rader recommends trying a few varieties and note the survival rate, how big they grow and how many cloves are produced. Taste is of course another important factor. “Now is a good time to think about planting garlic in the Interior.

“It’s a fun thing to experiment with.”

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Birch trees face increasing challenges

“We’re taking a serious hit to our birches,” University of Alaska Fairbanks Professor Glenn Juday said of the boreal forest. “They’re in terrible shape. The leaves are showing acute drought stress. It’s pretty depressing.”

Juday, who has been researching climate change in northern forests for 35 years, explained that the hot, dry summer of 2013 coupled with the arrival of the amber-marked birch leaf miner is taking a toll on the iconic hardwood.
Sickly birch leaves at West Valley High School in Fairbanks. (Photo by Glenn Juday)

“It’s a bad combination,” he said. “The trees were in a weakened condition from the drought and then this insect comes along. This could be the perfect storm."

The National Weather Service blog “Deep Cold” reports: “The summer of 2013 brought the highest vapor pressure deficit in the Fairbanks record, which extends back to 1950. Using hourly temperature readings, mean temperature in the June to August 2013 time period was more than two degrees Celsius above the 1981-2010 normal. Another indication of the dryness of the atmosphere is that the mean dewpoint was 0.2 degrees Centigrade below normal.”

“Our birch trees were really seriously hurt by the events of 2013-2014,” Juday said. “We are pushing the envelope of conditions outside the boundaries this tree had adapted to here.”

The amber-marked birch leaf miner appeared in the Anchorage area a decade ago. “We wondered if it would come this far north,” Juday said. “The answer is now in – yes it has.”

With the birch decline or die-back in progress, now each of the major commercially valuable tree species in the Interior has been hit hard. “The unhealthy forest in the Interior is not only due to a cyclical outbreak of insects,” he said. “There are issues like this in major parts of the boreal forest around the world; this could affect its future abundance.”

Birches, which make up about 18 percent of the Alaska boreal forest, have unique properties, including condensable sap and the highest energy content among native firewood species. The white-barked trees drop their leaves in winter, letting the sun shine through.

At the same time the birches in the Interior are suffering, places where birch used to be marginal are now becoming more suitable habitat. “In western Alaska the cooler summers have allowed more growth of white spruce, and presumably birch, than we’ve seen in the last several hundred years,” Juday said.

Affected Interior birch trees have sparse foliage, small leaves and dead upper branches. Where the insides of the trees have hollowed due to stress, heart rot is occurring.

Juday said, “This is not simply a disaster story. We know more than that. There are challenges we need to be prepared to deal with. How do we sustain the yield when the environment is changing so radically? This is wholesale tree death and migration. We have to think about this at a very large scale.”

Scientists need to work with natural resources managers in a constructive way to deal with the situation, Juday said. “Should we assist in the migration or watch and preside over the death? This is unprecedented. There are challenging years ahead of us.”
An aerial photo (September 2014) reveals the widespread damage to birch trees in the boreal forest. (Photo by Glenn Juday)

UAF Cooperative Extension Service Forester Glen Holt is fielding many calls about birch tree problems.  His advice to landowners is to monitor the size, age and health of their birch trees, noting problems which seem most likely evident around July each year. Older birch trees with rot evident in their tree trunks are prone to wind breakage. Birch trees with their roots compacted by sidewalks, driveways, wood piles, dogs and people traffic are most susceptible to all the birch forest health problems. 

“Many of our birches are getting older and they are less able to fight off forest pests especially when combined with dry springs,” Holt said.

“It is amazing to note this year that we are affected by various birch tree problems even in light of a wet summer. 

“I advise people to water their trees in the spring if drying is a prolonged situation,” Holt said.

Other advice:
•    Don't pile wood or other things on or next to tree roots.
•    Don't put soil on or around birch trees during construction. During construction be careful not to damage birch tree trunks.
•    Don't expect birch to survive long after any of these mechanical damages as their roots get smothered by topsoil and rot/fungus enters the tree trunk from trunk wounding.

James Kruse, forest entomologist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service, said on top of everything else affecting birch trees there is now rust fungus. “As for how much of the Melampsoridium botulinum rust we saw, Steve Swenson (USDA Forest Service biological technician) reported that about 75 to 80 percent of the birch examined in the Mat-Su Valley  (Aug. 18-22) had at least a little of this rust.  Also, I think maybe 95 percent of the birches that we observed from the ground are experiencing a heavy catkins year…more of the tree’s energy may be going to the catkins thus less energy is available to make leaves, therefore causing thinner crowns.

“Just another thing to add to the myriad of things going on with birch.”

SNRE student lands legislative aide job

Rep. David Guttenberg (D-Interior/Wade Hampton) formally welcomed two new staff members to his Fairbanks office Sept. 9. Samantha Straus began working for Rep. Guttenberg in August after returning home from 26 months of Peace Corps service in The Gambia, West Africa.

Connor MacDonald also joined Rep. Guttenberg’s team in August after interning for U.S. Sen. Mark Begich and working at the UAF Women’s Center as a student assistant to Kayt Sunwood, the center coordinator.

Samantha Straus
Straus, 29, first came to Fairbanks in October 2010 to join the Master's International program, which enables graduate students in natural resources management to combine their degree programs with volunteer environmental work in the Peace Corps. She is presently finishing her thesis on forest management in The Gambia. Originally from Arizona, Straus now claims Alaska as her home.

“Samantha worked on community gardens in her village in the Peace Corps, a project I’ve been working on here in interior Alaska for the past 12 years,” Guttenberg said. “Her interest in community organization and natural resources management should complement our team nicely.”

MacDonald, 19, was born in Seattle, and has lived in Alaska practically all of his life. He is Athabascan on his mother’s side and spent much of his childhood learning the history, traditions and practices of his maternal heritage. He has many interests and is presently deciding which to focus on in his studies at UAF.

“Connor’s background and experience make him a welcome addition to our team,” Guttenberg said.  “Now, he’ll get to see how we run things at the state level. I’m sure he’ll find it’s a little different than how they do business on the federal side.”

David Guttenberg
The recently hired aides join Chief of Staff Meredith Cameron and bring Rep. Guttenberg’s office crew up to full strength. “It’s great to have the office fully staffed with eager workers interested in the issues at hand and who want to work to better understand our political system,” Guttenberg said. “District 38 constituents will enjoy working with Meredith, Samantha and Connor.”