FAIRBANKS — The reclusive flying squirrel didn’t show, but those attending a recent meeting of the newly-formed UAF Natural History Club, learned a lot about the rodent’s nocturnal habits, history and habitat from biology Professor Emeritus Dave Klein.
Klein has a platform outside a picture window of his home, located north of the University of Alaska campus, that he seeds nightly with suet and other tempting morsels. Sometimes, a member of the Sciuridae family will appear for a midnight snack before lights out, but not always.
Flying squirrels, which many longtime residents have never seen, and a host of other topics focusing on the Interior’s natural history have been drawing students, scientists, nature lovers and outdoors enthusiasts together since last summer.
That’s how UAF doctoral student Karen Mager planned it when she organized the club this past summer.
As a graduate student in the Resilience and Adaptation Program, Department of Biology and Wildlife, Mager observed that her peers, like herself, were focused on their work and their specialty, but didn’t necessarily have an avenue for gaining a broader understanding of the ecology or natural history of the local environment.
“I wanted to create this club to provide a venue for learning about all aspects of our local environment in a real hands on practical way within a full social environment with other people,” she said.
Before moving to Alaska four years ago, Mager worked as a place-based outdoor educator in Indiana and northern Minnesota. Those experiences confirmed to her how beneficial learning about and observing the natural world is in one’s own backyard, so to speak, is especially valuable when it is done in an informal setting.
“There are a lot of people who have a desire for that broad, place-based understanding of the ecosystem they live with, and it is much easier and much more fun to learn those things with a local expert in the field and in a social environment,” Mager said.
Although many of the people who attend the club meetings are graduate students, who Mager said are doing “fascinating research” to understand things like environmental change or wildlife management, the natural history club has a different focus.
“The focus is on honing skills of observation and identification,” she said.
“We are not doing research, we’re learning how to see the world around us. I really believe that the practice of being observant and being curious about your local environment is an important part of good research. It inspires you to ask research questions.”
The club has no specified meeting dates, but gathers at opportune times seasonally. An aurora program is in the works for after the holidays.
Previous program topics in the field have included invasive plants, birdwatching at Creamer’s Field, tree identification, crane viewing and two natural history walks.
Last week’s meeting focused on flying squirrels, but over pizza, the talk turned to roosting habits of redpolls and chickadees before Klein started a discussion on whether complex system modeling is a useful tool for ecosystem-level management. And more environmental philosophy discussions will be initiated from time to time.
Although the focus of the group is the university community — students, faculty and staff — Mager said the club would welcome members of the public who are interested in participating.
To learn more about the UAF Natural History Club visit: https://sites.google.com/a/alaska.edu/uaf-natu
ralists or contact Mager at email@example.com.
Contact staff writer Mary Beth Smetzer at 459-7546.