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Wildfires are unpredictable, but preparation can help protect homes and animals

Flames and smoke fill the sky behind a Southern California subdivision.

Four years of drought has left California with acres of dry brush and dying trees, abundant fuel for wildfires. Currently, CalFIRE's fire map shows several major fires burning in California.

“There are two factors that help fires spread - winds and topography,” explained Scott L. Stephens, a professor of fire science in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management at UC Berkeley, in Scientific American. “The thing about wind is, it can change so quickly and the fire will change with it — it can happen in 15 seconds,” said Stephens, who is also co-director of the Center for Fire Research and Outreach at UC Berkeley.

Wildfires are unpredictable, but there is much that residents of fire-prone areas can do to keep their families, homes and pets safe. UC Agriculture and Natural Resources has many online resources for homeowners and landowners in English and in Spanish for dealing with fire.

Protecting homes from fire

To protect houses in the wildland-urban interface from fire, homeowners should start with fire-resistant building materials and architectural features. The Center for Fire Research and Outreach at UC Berkeley has a toolkit for homeowners to assess their vulnerability to fire and offers advice for mitigating fire risk.

A disaster preparedness plan should include plans for animals.
On the Sustainable and Fire Safe Landscapes website, Sabrina Drill, UC ANR Cooperative Extension natural resources advisor for Los Angeles and Ventura counties, gives tips for creating defensible space around the house. She also provides suggestions for designing a landscape around the home that reduce risk of fire spreading from plants to the structure.

Protecting animals from fire

The School of Veterinary Medicine at UC Davis offers resources for preparing a plan for horses, livestock and pets in case of wildfire or other disaster. A disaster preparedness plan would include things like transportation for evacuating the animals and emergency shelter.

What to do after a fire

If your home is burned, the Center for Fire Research and Outreach has a list of resources and things to do after a fire, including contacting a local relief organization to help with housing, food and other essentials. Before re-entering the home or site, the center recommends checking with the fire department to ensure it is safe to do so.

Young oaks with thin bark are often killed by fire, but they can resprout from just below the soil line, as occurred on these two fire-damaged oaks.
Revegetating the site

In oak woodlands, wildfires are an ecologically important process. Fire may actually help sprouting oaks survive by eliminating competing plants and creating a more favorable seedbed for acorns to germinate, and reducing the habitat of wildlife species that eat acorns or seedlings, according to Doug McCreary, UC ANR Cooperative Extension advisor emeritus.

Wildfire in an oak woodland can kill some trees outright and leave others with burn damage that may or may not eventually kill them. UC Cooperative Extension has developed a quick method for assessing the extent of burn damage and the likelihood that an affected tree will survive. Instructions can be downloaded for free at http://anrcatalog.ucdavis.edu/Items/8445.aspx

For forest landowners, UC ANR has “Recovering from Wildfire,” a guide that covers how to protect land from erosion damage, where to get help and financial assistance, how to manage salvage harvesting, and how to help the forest recover from wildfire.

Preparing communities

UC ANR fire experts work with the California Fire Science Consortium to integrate science into sound fire prevention programs.

In the Lake Tahoe region, UC ANR Cooperative Extension advisor Susie Kocher collaborates with University of Nevada Cooperative Extension and Tahoe Basin fire agencies on a community education project called Living with Fire. Together they provide information for Lake Tahoe communities to prepare for wildfire. Many of the recommendations could apply to any community.

Posted on Wednesday, July 29, 2015 at 4:55 PM

Have you tasted an avocado lately?

Eric Focht
The lab of Mary Lu Arpaia, a Cooperative Extension subtropical horticulturalist with UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) and the Department of Botany and Plant Sciences at UC Riverside, hosts an avocado tasting each month on the UCR campus. Attended typically by about 60 people, the tastings have grown in popularity over the years. 

Eric Focht, a staff research associate in the Arpaia lab, helps organize the tastings; the guacamole he prepares specially for the occasion serving as an additional attraction. Focht has been working on avocados since 1999, the year he joined UCR as a staff member. His relationship with the campus, however, began before then; his father, now retired, was a professor on campus.

Typically, participants of the avocado tastings sample six avocados which come from UC ANR's South Coast Research and Extension Center in Irvine. “Hass control fruit are purchased from or donated by a packing house,” Focht says.

First, participants do a visual assessment of the fruit, evaluating texture, size and color. Next they step into a room where they do the blind tastings.

“The data is compiled and used to assess, among other things, which of our new breeding selections shows promise and should be pushed for eventual release,” says Focht, whose duties include coordinating field activities, designing field layouts, generating maps and databases, selecting avocado varieties of interest, interacting with growers and the public, troubleshooting, and directing the day-to-day operations of the lab when Arpaia is away. 

Visual inspection of avocados
Focht's favorite avocado variety varies by year and season.

“Right now our 465518-99 has been performing very well,” he says, “but in former years, its peak season is February through April. In the fall, Reed is always a good fruit with good flavor and texture. I prefer a fruit that peels easily and has good flavor. If it doesn't peel clean from the skin, I tend to overlook it for something else with good flavor and convenient packaging.”

The avocado growing season varies from variety to variety. By planting out several varieties, it is possible to have avocados year round in one's garden. Focht explains that the growing season varies regionally as well.

“The season in San Luis Obispo is months later than it is in San Diego,” he says.

Most avocado acreage in California is currently in Northern San Diego County. Most avocado acreage in the U.S. is in California. Other states with avocado industries include Florida and Texas. Worldwide, avocados are grown in Mexico, Chile, Peru, Israel, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand.

Tasting avocados.
The California drought, now in its fourth year, is a concern for avocado lovers and scholars like Focht.

“An acre of avocado trees typically requires 2.5-4 acre-feet of water per year depending on weather and other factors,” he says. “The drought is resulting in lost acreage as farmers can either not afford or not find enough water for their trees. Successful farmers are having to modify their cultural practices to stay competitive.”

The next avocado tasting at UCR will be Aug. 12, 2015. For more information about the tastings, contact Focht.

Author: Iqbal Pittalwala

Posted on Wednesday, July 29, 2015 at 6:12 AM

The health impacts of sugary drinks

Refined sugar (Photo: Ann Filmer)
Americans consume nearly three times the recommended amount of sugar every day, and about half the U.S. population consumes sugary drinks on any given day.

Excess sugar consumption contributes to obesity, tooth decay, early menses in girls, and chronic diseases including diabetes and heart disease. To add to the damage, doctors are now attributing too much dietary sugar to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, which can lead to cirrhosis of the liver.

It's enough to make you sit up and listen to the warnings about too much soda, sugary drinks, and sugar-laden processed foods.

What is a sugary drink? It's any beverage, more or less, with added sugar or other sweeteners, including high-fructose corn syrup. The long list of beverages includes soda, lemonade, fruit punch, powdered fruit drinks, sports drinks, energy drinks, sweetened coffee and tea drinks, and many flavored milk products.

People are becoming aware of the concerns of too many sugary drinks, and steps are being taken to reduce their consumption. Some K-12 school districts across the nation are limiting sales of soda, and the City of Davis will soon require that restaurants offer milk or water as a first beverage choice with kids' meals.

UC Cooperative Extension, the county-based outreach arm of UC Agriculture and Natural Resources, is partnering with health agencies and conducting public service programs for youth and families about sugary drinks. UC ANR Cooperative Extension in San Joaquin County recently presented a "Rethink Your Drink" parent workshop in conjunction with the county's Office of Education, and Solano County Cooperative Extension is working with the California Department of public health to engage youth in "Rethink Your Drink" programs.

Sarah Risorto, UC IPM Program, refills her water bottle at a UC Davis water station. (Photo: Ann Filmer)

Lucia Kaiser, UC ANR Cooperative Extension nutrition specialist, co-authored a policy brief about California's rural immigrants who have poor-quality tap water, or perceive tap water to be bad. Kaiser, who is also a nutrition faculty member at UC Davis, noted that studies have found a link between water quality and consumption of sugary drinks, which is a concern in low-income communities that don't have resources for clean water.

As of this month (July 2015), UC San Francisco is no longer selling sugary beverages on its campus, and UCSF has launched a Healthy Beverage Initiative. UC Berkeley held a Sugar Challenge this year, and UC Davis is conducting a Sugar Beverage Study on women.

Scientists at UC San Francisco, UC Davis, UC ANR's Nutrition Policy Institute, and other universities are studying the health effects of sugar and implementing health outreach programs. And UC's Global Food Initiative is building on the momentum of excessive sugary-drink consumption.

A healthy alternative to sugary drinks? Water, of course. Many universities and public places are replacing traditional drinking fountains with water stations so that students and others can fill their own bottles and have water “on the go.” And UC President Janet Napolitano is working with the Nutrition Policy Institute on a bold and sensible request to place water on the USDA's MyPlate nutrition guidelines.

The next time you're thirsty, drink wisely to your good health.

Additional information:

Posted on Tuesday, July 28, 2015 at 8:23 AM

Bird flu in the Midwest causing egg prices to rise

Eggs are getting more expensive because of bird flu in the Midwest.
An outbreak of bird flu in the Midwest is forcing farmers to euthanize many sick chickens, causing egg prices to rise dramatically, reported Jonathan Bloom on ABC News 7 in San Francisco. Bloom spoke with UC Agriculture and Natural Resources Cooperative Extension poultry specialist Maurice Pitesky via Skype. He said the disease, highly contagious in chickens and turkeys, is being spread by migrating geese.

"And they're not, for the most part, affected by the disease, but they can be carriers of it," Pitesky said. "It means we're euthanizing those flocks that are affected."

The story said 40 million laying hens, one-eighth of the country's laying population, had to be euthanized, dramatically reducing the egg supply. Turkeys are still more susceptible to the condition.

“Turkey prices are going up also, and we're still not sure how that will affect turkey prices around Thanksgiving," Pitesky said.

California chickens haven't been hit by bird flu, but they are producing fewer eggs because new laws went into effect this year requiring more room for hens to move around, reducing some farms' capacity.

Posted on Friday, July 24, 2015 at 11:02 AM

Glenda Humiston named vice president of UC Agriculture and Natural Resources

Glenda Humiston
Longtime Sonoma County resident Glenda Humiston has been named vice president of UC Agriculture and Natural Resources, reported Angela Hart in the Santa Rosa Press Democrat. Humiston was appointed by UC President Janet Napolitano and confirmed by the UC Board of Regents. Her first day in her new post is Aug. 3.

"I'm excited beyond belief," Humiston told the Press Democrat. "This is such an opportunity to make a difference on many levels."

Humiston succeeds Barbara Allen-Diaz, who retired June 29.

The new vice president grew up raising cattle in Colorado and credits her participation in 4-H as a child with developing her interest in farmland preservation and environmental sustainability. She served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Tunisia, was deputy undersecretary for the USDA during the Clinton administration, and her most recent position has been California state director of USDA Rural Development.

“I've spent my whole life trying to bridge agriculture and environmental issues,” Humiston said. “What people don't realize is it's a natural bridge. When people get past the fighting, they often realize we have 80 percent in common.”

Stephanie Larson, UC ANR Cooperative Extension advisor and director of the Sonoma County office, called the appointment of the Sonoma County resident "exciting."

“If you think about Sonoma County, we have a half-million acres that can function as some form of working landscape — like forest lands, croplands and water," Larson said. "Everything has an opportunity and these are going to be key to address drought and climate change.”

Posted on Thursday, July 23, 2015 at 3:39 PM

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