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Opportunity knocks for aspiring naturalists in California

The California Naturalist program will be offered in an eight-day immersion course in Cambria this month, and in a slower-paced eight-week program that starts in September in San Luis Obispo, reported Michele Roest in the San Luis Obispo Tribune. California Naturalist sessions begin in September in a wide range of California locations, including Pasadena, Santa Barbara, Sacramento and Yosemite National Park.

In all cases, fulfilling the course requirements will allow participants to join the growing ranks of California Naturalists in the Golden State, which number nearly 2,000.

The California Naturalist training involves both classroom and field sessions.

In her article, Roest likens California Naturalists to the well-known UC Master Gardeners. Master Gardener volunteers share research-based gardening information with the public. California Naturalists extend information to the public about natural California. The CalNat program also offers volunteers the opportunity to participate in nature-based activities in other capacities, such as citizen science, service to partner organizations or hands-on conservation.

The eight-day class in Cambria, Roest wrote, provides comprehensive information on "everything from algae to zebras." Zebras in California? There are a few who wander the land around Hearst Castle along Highway 1, descendants of zebras brought to San Simeon by the late Randolph Hearst.

The eight week program is offered in collaboration with Cuesta College. 

"The program is ideal for adults who want to strengthen their knowledge and understanding of California's natural history," the article said. 

It's a resume-builder for those seeking jobs in environmental fields, and includes the option of four units of transferable UC credit for students.

Posted on Friday, August 17, 2018 at 9:40 AM

New tariffs could cost U.S. nut and fruit industries over $3 billion

Sweet cherries are among the agricultural industries expected to experience economic losses due to new trade tariffs, according to a UC Agricultural Issues Center report. In 2016-17, $145 million of sweet cherries were exported to China and Hong Kong.

The ongoing international trade turmoil between the U.S. and other countries has prompted import tariffs on many U.S. agricultural commodities in important export markets, which could hurt U.S. farmers.

A new report released by the University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources' Agricultural Issues Center estimates the higher tariffs could cost major U.S. fruit and nut industries $2.64 billion per year in exports to countries imposing the higher tariffs, and as much as $3.34 billion by reducing prices in alternative markets.

“One way to mitigate the impact of the tariff impacts would be to offer assistance to shift the products to completely new markets where these displaced commodities could be delivered without causing price declines,” said co-author Daniel A. Sumner, director of the UC ANR Agricultural Issues Center and UC Davis professor in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics. 

California's almond industry stands to lose about $1.58 billion due to trade tariffs.

When nuts and fruits are diverted back into the remaining markets for their crops, Sumner and co-author Tristan M. Hanon, a UC Davis graduate student researcher, expect farmers to lose revenue from lower prices.

The agricultural economists foresee major losses for many commodities caused by diverting the produce from high tariff countries to sell in the remaining markets.

Almonds alone could lose about $1.58 billion and pistachios could lose about $384 million, according to Sumner and Hanon.

The authors looked at the impact of tariffs on almonds, pecans, pistachios, walnuts, apples, oranges, raisins, sour cherries, sweet cherries and table grapes. All 10 nuts and fruits are perennial crops, growing on trees or vines, so growers cannot easily change their production quantities or plant a different crop. 

Pistachios could lose about $384 million as a result of new tariffs, according to the Agricultural Issues Center study.

The U.S. exports 13 percent of its almonds, 14 percent of its pistachios and 22 percent of its pecans to countries imposing the new tariffs. China and Hong Kong are major export markets for U.S. fruits and nuts. In 2016 and 2017, China and Hong Kong spent over $500 million to buy 40 percent of all U.S. almond exports, and nearly $600 million for most of the exported pistachios. Some of the exports to Hong Kong are transshipped to other markets, but most of it stays in the China market. 

The new tariffs apply to all ten crops that are exported to China. “We consider most of the exports to Hong Kong with China because we understand that most of the U.S. fruit and nut exports to Hong Kong are destined for China,” Sumner said. 

To avoid paying tariffs, there are clues that Hong Kong's open market is the entry point for nuts ultimately shipped to China, in what Sumner calls “leakage.”

“The 7 million people in Hong Kong would have to eat 20 times the pistachios consumed by people in other countries if they aren't sending them on to China, the Philippines and other Asian countries,” Sumner said. “China turns its back on leakage, but those commodities may be vulnerable if China decides to crack down.” 

The U.S. exports 22 percent of its pecans to countries imposing the new tariffs.

After the Trump administration imposed tariffs on an additional $16 billion worth of Chinese goods, China announced duties on $16 billion of American goods. Another round of new tariffs has now been scheduled.

In India, Mexico and Turkey, new higher tariffs apply to selected fruit and nut products. India, which buys roughly half of all exported U.S. almonds, applies new tariffs to almonds, walnuts and apples. Turkey's new tariffs apply to almonds, pecans, pistachios and walnuts. Mexico's tariffs target apples, for which the country paid about $250 million last year.

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced up to $12 billion in federal aid to farmers to soften the impact of tariffs.

“The U.S. government could purchase the commodities that would have been exported,” Sumner said. “Of course, the produce must be diverted from remaining markets to new market channels to avoid driving down prices.”

The full report “Economic Impacts of Increased Tariffs that have Reduced Import Access for U.S. Fruit and Tree Nuts Exports to Important Markets,” along with details on data, sources and methods, can be downloaded for free at the UC Agricultural Issues Center website at http://aic.ucdavis.edu.

[This article was updated at 10 pm, Aug. 14, to update the dollar estimates in this sentence: "Almonds alone could lose about $1.58 billion and pistachios could lose about $384 million, according to Sumner and Hanon."]

Posted on Wednesday, August 15, 2018 at 2:07 PM

The California fires situation is concerning, but not hopeless

The news that Americans are getting about California's devasting fires is not being hyped up by the media, said UC Cooperative Extension area fire advisor Lenya Quinn-Davidson on the nationally broadcast NPR program On Point.

Host Eric Westervelt of WBUR in Boston got a Northern California perspective from Quinn-Davidson, who works with communities in Siskiyou, Trinity and Mendocino counties on managing the threat of wildfires and is the Northern California coordinator of the California Fire Science Consortium. 

"I definitely don't think the situation is being hyped up," Quinn-Davidson said. "I'm in Ukiah and there's a thick blanket of smoke. Everyone can feel the tension of the Mendocino Complex Fire."

Lenya Quinn-Davidson

Quinn-Davidson said she grew up in the vicinity and, back then, major fires like those burning today only happened every few years. Lately, such super fire seasons are happening every year. She said it's time for Californians to take a different approach when thinking about fire.

"Fire is the only natural disaster that we fight against," Quinn-Davidson said. "With hurricanes and earthquakes, we adapt and try to identify vulnerabilities and change our behavior. We haven't treated fire like that. We need to learn how to adapt and make changes that make us more resilient to fire."

On Point is NPR's only call-in program. One caller asked whether climate change has reached an irreversible tipping point at which little can be done to reverse the damage that is causing extreme flooding, heat, hurricanes and wildfires.

Quinn-Davidson said she offers hope to the people in communities she serves.

"They're not powerless," she said. "I don't want people to feel that we are beyond some tipping point and they should just throw in the towel. I think we need to feel empowered to make the changes we can make - whether on a personal scale, at at the mid-grade community scale, or if it is taking political action to make larger change ... We still have some place to make a difference. I really believe that."

Michael Mann, professor of atmospheric science and director of the Earth System Science Center at Pennsylvania State University, was also a guest on the On Point program. He said that, as a nation, we may have breached a different tipping point - a tipping point in public consciousness. Recent news reports have informed the public about extreme flooding in Japan, record-breaking heat in Europe and catastrophic wildfires in California.

"This summer has made a difference in the public perception of how profound the threat of climate change already is," Mann said. "And I like to think that when they go to the voting booths in less than 100 days, they're going to be thinking about climate change and the need to act on this problem. I think we will see progress."

Posted on Wednesday, August 8, 2018 at 3:15 PM

Farmers concerned about crops tainted by wildfire smoke

When wildfires send smoke into farmland, orchards and vineyards, growers are concerned about the impact of the tainted air on their crops, reported Giuseppe Ricapitio in the Union Democrat.

"It's grapes we worry about the most," said Susie Kocher, UC Cooperative Extension forestry and natural resources advisor. "In the past, there have been bad years when there was a lot of smoke where grapes were on the vine and wineries had to produce the smoky wine because of that effect."

The article said grapes are unlike other agricultural products, in that the skins are permeable. Free volatile phenols created by burning wood become part of the grape itself.

"It isn't something you can wash off," said Ron Harms of Yosemite Cellars winery.

After the 2013 Rim Fire, the winery produced a "Rim Fire Blend," which was successful. However, wine drinkers' palettes differ in terms of their smoke sensitivity. "Some people just can't tolerate (smoke flavor) at all," Harms said.

Other agricultural crops may not be impacted by a blanket of smoke, and some may even benefit. Before Europeans settled in California, Native Americans living in the wilderness would set fires to burn understory brush that built up in the forests.

"It's part of the ecological knowledge of native tribes that smoke is good for trees," Kocher said. "That's not a scientifically proven thing. We don't know."

Grapes are particularly to smoke taint when growing close to a wildfire. (Photo: Facebook.com/CalFire)
Posted on Tuesday, August 7, 2018 at 9:49 AM

More sensible land use planning can help prevent wildfire losses

Climate change is only partly fueling the catastrophic fires in California. Fire scientists also lay blame on the tendency of land use planners to allow the construction of houses and businesses in areas where wildfires are a natural part of the ecosystem.

Last week Gov. Brown forecast a rise in the number, intensity, and cost of fires, warning of “the new normal that we will have to face," reported Martin Kuz in the Christian Science Monitor.

Wildfire experts say its not a new normal but has become normal because lawmakers have avoided prodding local officials, developers, and residents toward an approach to land use planning that restricts housing growth in fire-prone areas.

UC Cooperative Extension specialist Max Moritz
“If you want to keep communities safe, then you have to think about living differently, about where and how we build our communities,” said UC Cooperative Extension specialist Max Moritz. “But there's no bill in the legislature about that.”

Tomorrow's tinderboxes can be seen all over the Bay Area — from the new multi-million dollar dream homes packed along the edges of San Jose's Almaden Quicksilver County Park and Mount Diablo State Park to older residences, both modest and opulent, on peaks of the Santa Cruz Mountains and Oakland and Berkeley hills, reported Lisa Krieger of the Bay Area News Group. Similar growth is taking place in natural areas in other parts of the state, including the Sierra Nevada and Southern California.

An analysis by geographer Stephen Strader of Villanova University, published this spring in the journal Natural Hazards, found a 1,000 percent increase in the number of western U.S. homes at risk from wildfire over the past 70 years — from about 607,000 in 1940 to 6.7 million in 2010.

Housing near wildlands makes it harder to do controlled burns — one of the most effective fire suppression techniques — because of smoke concerns. Until the 1970s, fire suppression tended to minimize fire spread.

“If homes are sprinkled through the landscape, you take that key tool off the table,” Moritz said.

And as people develop rural areas, they're also more likely to ignite fires. In early California history, lightning was the major cause of wildfires. Now humans are the dominant cause of fires, from downed power lines, smoking, sparks from equipment and more.

“Now is the time to do smarter, stronger land use planning,” Moritz said, “so our future communities are not as vulnerable.”.

For more information, see Moritz' Fire Regimes and Ecosystems Management website. https://nature.berkeley.edu/moritzlab/.

The Carr Fire lights up the sky in Shasta County on July 28, 2018. (Photo: CalFire)
Posted on Monday, August 6, 2018 at 11:36 AM

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