Alaska State Technical Committee Meeting Notes Nov 2011

Alaska State Technical Committee Meeting Notes

November, 2011

USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service
State Technical Committee Meeting

Welcome and Introductions, Helen Denniston, State Resource Conservationist

Opening Remarks, Bob Jones, State Conservationist

Air Quality Overview, Michelle Schuman, State Ecologist
Pilot States are “testing” NRCS new practices, some of which are tied to energy practices
See PowerPoint Presentation
Regulation of air quality has increased in past 25 years
NRCS, born out of the dust bowl, has a history of working in air. NRCS views air quality holistically in that what we do with soil and water effects air.
Specific to Alaska, permafrost holds about 8 percent of the carbon worldwide.
In Alaska, practices are under review – mostly in Engineering - including dust control on unpaved roads, dust control in corrals and feedlots, and engine emissions.

Charles Parker: What could NRCS do for dust control in villages?
Helen Denniston: USDA efforts must be tied to agriculture (subsistence) in some way so we would have to tie the dust to subsistence needs.
Matt McKoy: Air emissions from EPA are tightening in 2013.
Helen: In Alaska, so far we are looking at replacing motors in farm equipment, in dust control we are working with the Alaska State Department of Transportation, application of a liquid solution to roads and speed limits. Previously, there has not been a way to measure the dust but now the U of A has a new system of measurement. We are considering moving into dust control practices in the next few years and do not have any systems in place. Currently, only a national initiative in 7 or 8 states are testing working in this field–mostly with feed lots and farm equipment,
Charles Parker: Wood smoke is a concern in the interior too.
Mitch Michaud: Our programs are targeted towards Ag producers. For wood stoves, it has to be part of the ag operation. We asked HDQ if we could get into wood stove smoke control and they asked us what part of subsistence or ag was related to wood heat. There are other agencies than USDA providing programs in this area. USDA’s side boards may not allow us to get into wood heat smoke control.
Michelle Schuman: The roads too must be tied to ag,
Matt McKoy: There is an EPA person in Anchorage working on dust control issues. It is a difficult issue to address. We also have people working on wood burning smoke control. In Idaho NRCS and EPA are working together on ag burning. It does not apply in Alaska but is an example of the agencies working together.
Mitch Michaud: Anyone can apply for USDA NRCS contracts but not everyone will be funded.
Jeff Grahm: It would be nice if wildfire fuel reduction could be addressed form NRCS.
Mitch Michaud: We must be sensitive to assisting one problem but causing another problem–for example we cannot burn in Tyonek because of the Anchorage high quality air shed.
Matt McKoy: for fuel reduction on wildfires, we could look back at Idaho’s work.
Helen Denniston: Hopefully, we will have practices for 2013 for this group to review.

Forestry in SE Alaska Successes, Mitch Michaud
See PowerPoint Presentation
NRCS fits in land management realms. In NRCS the property owners maintains control of their property. We do not pay farmers to plow fields, likewise we do not pay forest managers to thin forests for production purposes, (to be in agreement with free trade agreements).

Some things we do and work within:
• Road and trail closure for fish passage after thinning and planting and land control.
• Illegal dumping, because it leads to ground water contamination.
• Logging requirements within contracts, while benefitting the forest, wildlife, and people long term. We want to benefit wildlife and coarse woody debris can do so
• Willow establishment for moose habitat
• Grazing areas are transitioning into forest
• Forest site preparation
• Variable density thinning for higher value forests
• Thinning with wildlife gaps. The gaps provide understory growth. The gaps need to be closer to the bottom of the mountain, not the top, for winter feed.
• Pruning for Wildlife
• Multistory cropping
• New treatments: (See PowerPoint for list)

Ron Wolfe: Complements Bob Jones for Forestry work: outstanding and beneficial to land and local economy. He requested to be on record supporting NRCS work in Forestry.

Cal Raiker, on Ron Wolfe’s staff is TSP qualified to perform NRCS work. This allows larger community of clients to be brought.

Dan Peran, Forest Service in Anchorage, needs to leave the meeting but first wants to thank Mitch for opening door at Seward school. Thanks to Mitch, Dan Peran helped the school look at converting to biomass heating. Currently, fuel oil provides their heat. Kenai School District will pursue grant money thru Alaska Energy Authority. Only happened thanks to Mitch. These partnerships are valuable and we all get a lot more done by working together.

Dillingham and Bristol Bay Highlights, Jim Loiland
See PowerPoint
Jim Loiland: I oversee 53,000 Sq Mi of service area.

Bristol Bay High Tunnel Systems
• High tunnels and subsistence gardening can provide food security.
• Air freight must be paid for any fresh and frozen products. Supplies are usually limited to 2 to 3 days of stocks.
• Growing season limited to 90 days, so if can stretch 20 days before and after by a high tunnel much more can be produced.
• In 2009, most cabbages and broccoli grown outside were not harvested because of poor crops.
• This year on October 15 high tunnels still had greens available and on November 1 cool season greens were still being picked.
• See temperature comparisons in the PowerPoint
• Youth are now involved in the high tunnels
• Producers do soils and compost tests twice a year and can prove no water quality problems and need or not need for compost and fertilizer

Moose Habitat
• If saplings are larger than your wrist they have been heavily browsed. If the tops spread out at 6 foot, they have been heavily browsed.
• NRCS is now “tipping” willows for new fresh growth and better nutrition.

Other Work Taking Place in Dillingham Service Area
• Evaluations, inventory, and research info gathering
• Correlation of reindeer decline and over grazing of lichen confirms FWS hypothesis.
• Evaluation of plant community for supporting animals.
• Soil surveys and data gathering.

Charles Parker: Is there an increased interest from BBNC?
Jim Loiland: No but BBNA has been a partner in the moose habitat.
Charles Parker: Congratulations on the moose project. He would like to see more of that type of work in communities.
Merlaine Kruse: Are high tunnels funded through grants?
Jim Loiland and Helen Denniston: We do not work through grants but a cost share/contract. We pay a fixed amount and the applicant is required to maintain the high tunnel for four years. Applicants are paid after the work is completed, not in advance.
Jim Loiland: Costs are between $2 and $6 a square foot. $10 per square foot for turnkey costs including shipping.
Merlaine Kruse: Will high tunnels be funded next year?
Helen Denniston: Yes, in Alaska and through a national sign up so there are two options to apply through.
Merlaine Kruse: Can applicants use land as an in-kind?
Helen Denniston: Labor can count as an in-kind. We pay a flat rate and the product must meet our standards. We cannot have other federal dollars match our federal dollars.
Charles Parker: I have heard they are “fantastic”.
Helen Denniston: We have a special demonstration project in Kwethluk of three high tunnels installed and looking at the variables, temperature, production, and subsistence use. Our cost share is only on the cold frame but landowners can add mechanical (electrical) heating and fans, including the double walled system.
Charles Parker: RD funded a best practices ag, are the high tunnels part of that?
Merlaine Kruse: I will look into it.
Helen Denniston: she will share with RD on this and on energy programs.
Merlaine Kruse: We have a local food initiative to identify local food deserts and Alaska and Hawaii are not mapped.

Review of 2011 NRCS Practices on the Ground, Helen Denniston
See PowerPoint
There are 171 official conservation practices in Alaska ranging from High tunnels to willow browse.

We divide practices by land use:

• Season high tunnels- We have tunnels in Nome to Kodiak. It is still interim practice and we think and hope it will continue
• Nutrient management and integrated pest management, on high tunnels and crop fields.
• Irrigation system and water management. (must have a history of irrigation to qualify) We answer when and how much do we need to water?
• Conservation Tillage, no till – this has been difficult because of our cold soils. We are finding no till with a cover crop works well for wind erosion. CRP in Delta Junction area is coming out of CRP and we are looking at a cross cut till (cuts into the sod) so the soil is not disturbed.
• Cover Crop – helps for wind and water erosion. Rotating farming areas with cover crops for soil erosion. This is not putting a crop in after harvest but in alternate years

Pasture and hayland
• Including reindeer herds prescribed grazing. UAF reindeer research center has radio collars to track herds and keep animals from over grazing.
• Cattle grazers work with us for rotational grazing. They do not usually need satellite tracking. We install electric or solar watering.
Eric Johnson: Could buffalo/bison be tracked by satellite?
Calvin Steele: University of Alaska, Fairbanks works on satellites. Bison are considered wildlife unless someone owns them, like on Kodiak. It is very expensive.
• Forage Harvest - (the land used to be in pasture and hayland, now forage / biomass planting, non woody species)
• Brush Control – CRP areas of grass grew up into small woody brush

• Only for interior of a pasture for grazing. Cattle , yak, bison, elk variances.
• Bear fencing is new in Kenai to keep bear from human interaction to protect the bear. This only works in Kenai because the bear is of special concern. Without that designation we cannot do the practice.
• Charles Parker: ADF&G does not view it as a species of concern but does not want to get into discussion at this meeting.

Critical area planting
• Limited in Alaska

Ponds for farm animals
• Limited in Alaska

• Fuel breaks and woody residue treatments
• Tree site preparation for tree planting
• Tree establishment, Forest Stand Improvement, Tree Pruning
• Mitch: Village corporations are now becoming involved.

Road and trail closures
• For tree growth

• Upland and wetland management - Moose Habitat
• Early successional habitat management
• Wetland enhancement
• Charles: likes seeing the wildlife habitat work. State does not have budget so they support out habitat work on private land.
• Helen: our work is on private lands, tribal lands, long term leases

Trails and walkways
• Bush Alaska communities takes ownership of the projects and realize the trails are for habitat protection, protecting tundra , nesting areas,
• Helping communities manage subsistence areas around trails, ie egg harvesting plans.

Helen: Nothing NRCS does happens without the people who request and want our assistance. We work one on one with individuals and groups to help solve their land management problems. The people of Alaska are willing and eager to partner with us and we appreciate their dedication.
Matt McKoy:On the topic of wildlife management efforts, what are the resource issues on the wetlands?
Helen: On the large leases, large blocks of land, sometimes preventing critical areas or sensitive areas from being effected. Our numbers on the reports may be skewed because if a bit of the land is reported as a wetland, the entire contracted land acreage may show in the report. We are working towards fixing our national databases for more succinct reporting.
Charles Parker: Are these numbers complete as a report from NRCS? We are looking for reports of what NRCS is doing for Alaska Native lands and in Bush Alaska.
Kristi: Others and I will work with you (Charles) to provide the comprehensive data you seek for your February conference if not the December meeting for you to report to your board.

Alaska STATSCO Shawn Neild
Introduction of Shawn
3 Million acres reported this year in soil survey
General Soil Map of Alaska is called STATSGO
See PowerPoint
• The map had been 1 to one million scale, now one to 500,000.
• 5,000 polygons of 68,000 acres each.
• Soil components make up map units. Properties for those can be viewed using soil data viewer or GIS.
• Maps can be created based on soil attributes, properties, and classification for example frost action.
• Land classification - Limitations shown on map.
• Surface textures over the state can be seen.
• Written description of chemical and physical properties can be created at a click of a button.
• Reminder: STATSCO is regional, if soil survey is available use it first for best detail.
• Please let us know if you find concerns. This is our first version and revisions and improvements will be made.

Helen: Compliments the dedication of the soil scientists and the efforts they make to map the soils in Alaska. Other states have full maps complete and Alaska is still gathering basic data.

Charles: Elevation efforts and mapping needs in Alaska are great.
Helen: Ted is involved, working on the DEMs and the work that needs to be done. We are working with other agencies to purchase data.

Charles: Native corporations need land maps. If a legal description is provided, can they find information about their lands?
Shawn: The published soil ssurvey is the best tool to use for viewing soil maps. If a published soil survey is not available, STATCSO is too generalized to specific projects on a small scale but would work okay on a large scale.
By request, we can probably get the data from BLM and provide basic soil maps.
Mitch: The local field offices have information and help plan conservation. The conservation planning usually starts with the map of the area. Tell the corporations to contact their local office and start conservation planning with us.

Questions and Discussion
Helen: thanks all for attending and appreciated comments. We want to design our services and programs to meet the needs of Alaskans.

Bernie: Compliments NRCS in Homer for food security in High Tunnels.


In Attendance
Kristi Sicoto, Tyonek TCD
Matt McKoy, EPA
Charles Parker, AVI President and CEO
Jeff Grahm Alaska Div of Forestry
Eric Johnson, Alaska DNR
Karl Benson, Fairbanks Soil and Water Conservation District
Merlaine Kruse, Rural Development

NRCS Staff
Robert Jones, State Conservationist
Helen Denniston, State Resource Conservationist
Molly Voeller, State Public Affairs Specialist
Bill Wood, State Biologist
Michele Schuman, State Ecologist
Craig Smith, State Agronomist
Shawn Neild, State Resource Soil Scientist
Calvin Steele, State Grazingland Specialist
Mitch, State Forester
Nikki Moffat, Programs Assistant
Jim Loiland, District Conservationist in Dillingham

Phone call ins
Clare Doig, Forester?
Dan Peran, Forest Service
Danny Consenstein,USDA FSA
Will Putman, Tanana Chief’s Conference
John Delapp, USFWS
Ron Wolfe, Sealaska
Bernie Karl, Conservation Development Board, Fairbanks

Presentations and Handouts
To request presentations and handouts contact Executive Assistance Dee Covalt at the Alaska NRCS State Office at (907) 761-7747 or