Soil and Geomorphology Nerd Alert

Greetings fellow classmates,

I am elated to have this class available online, as UAA in Anchorage does not offer much in the way of environmental coursework. My education background is modest with a Bachelor degree from Utah State University in Environmental Studies and a minor in Soil Science. However my time invested in working in ecology is now over twenty years and I have a significant amount of experience under my belt. I started my career in the Intermountain West, working on soil remediation sites in Montana, Idaho and Utah. I spent about seven years conducting laboratory analysis of soil physical and chemical properties for the USFS Forestry Sciences Laboratories (in Logan, UT and Juneau, AK) before I crafted an exit strategy out of a lab coat and into the backcountry. I sharpened my skills in soil genesis and geomorphology while participating on soil surveys in the Wind River Mountains of Wyoming and in other remote reaches of Wyoming cowboy country. My husband is a vegetation ecologist and urged me to take a position with the NRCS in Fairbanks, AK back in 2008. We lived in the zone of discontinuous permafrost for five and a half years while I participated in a soil and vegetation mapping effort of Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve. I transitioned from a federal government job to working in the private sector as an Environmental Consultant in 2011. This career change not only afforded me the opportunity to transition to a home with running water that is not on fragile permafrost in Fairbanks, but it also allowed me the opportunity to participate in mapping the soils and vegetation of the entire Alaska southwest network (Aniakchak, Alagnak, Katmai, Lake Clark, and Kenai Fjords National Park). Our clients include other jobs outside of national parks and so I consider myself incredibly fortunate to have spent thousands of hours in the wilds of Alaska scratching my head and trying to make sense of the landscape (why do the landforms look like this? what processes formed this soil? or how has the vegetation changed over time?). Regrettably I have not used this time wisely to learn more about the plants around me. My experience with vegetation is fairly limited to mapping community types with satellite imagery, but even there, I have much to learn about the nuances of Veireck’s Veg Class IV. I’ve definitely committed a few plants to memory, like Menyanthes trifoliata. That is an excellent indicator species warning a trepid hiker to not attempt to cross it, for if you do, you will end doing the breast stroke and going for a swim! I have learned the latin names for the berries that I harvest. Every year I fill my freezer with different species of blueberries (primarily Vaccinium uliginosum), lingonberries (Vaccinium vitis idea),   wild raspberries & salmon berries (Rubus idaeus & Rubus spectabalis which by the way is every where in Kenai Fjords and is no fun to thrash through), and the juiciest of them all – High Bush Cranberry (Vibernum edule which makes a delicious liqueur). I look forward to interacting and learning from all of you. *One note of caution though, please carry a bear deterrent when out botanising in our beautiful state, and consider traveling in a group size of 3 or more. Cheers!


  1. tchristopherson

    Neottia cordata. I give full credit to my husband for keying this orchid. We went orchid “hunting” in Portage yesterday and while we did not find the species he was looking for, we did find this little cutie. For the lovers of moss in this class, the Hylocomium splendens was gigantic over there (off of the trail of Blue Ice). The area of Portage is in an extreme microclimate for significant rainfall in the temperate rainforest portion of Southcentral.

  2. Welcome Tracy,
    sounds like you are enjoying all the bounty of Alaska . What a great educational journey you have been on! I hope this class will live up to your expectations. Great find of of the orchid, Listera cordata, Heart-leaved twayblade. It does not occur around Fairbanks. For sure add it to your iNaturalist observations. Cheers, Steffi.

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