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New mobile app to track close encounters with coyotes

A coyote pup is captured on a game camera in Irvine. Hikers can use the Coyote Cacher app to report coyote sightings.

As urban coyote numbers rise, the animals are increasingly crossing paths with residents. There have been police reports of coyotes attacking pets and even people, but there has been no place to report casual coyote encounters. Now there is a new mobile app to help keep track of where those wily coyotes are coming into contact with people. Hikers and people walking their dogs can use Coyote Cacher, created by the University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources, to report coyote sightings.

“I'm so excited about this app because it will help us to collect better information on coyote conflict in California,” said Niamh Quinn, UC Cooperative Extension advisor, who studies human-wildlife interactions. “Coyote conflict appears to be particularly high in Southern California and it seems to be emerging in other areas. The information people provide through Coyote Cacher will help inform government agencies, wildlife researchers, park managers and residents to make better coyote management decisions.”

By reporting encounters with coyotes in their neighborhoods, residents can share information to help neighbors keep their pets and children safe.  

“There is a coyote encounter map that will allow the public to keep track of what is happening in their areas,” said Quinn, who is based in Orange County.

Individuals can use the app to check a map to see locations of coyote sightings. Pet owners may decide not to let their pets out at night unsupervised in areas where coyotes have been reported. 

Coyote Cacher's map shows locations of coyote encounters. Green dots are the lowest level alert, yellow indicates a pet interaction and red, the most serious, warns of an attack on a pet on a leash or person.

“The app allows users to sign up for email alerts,” Quinn said. “These alerts – green, yellow and red – notify users when there is a coyote encounter reported in their zip code.”  

Green is the lowest alert level and will give alerts for all coyote encounters in the user's zip code, from sightings to a person being bitten. Yellow will not alert users about sightings, but will let them know about all levels of pet interactions, including pets being chased or attacked off-leash by coyotes, and red alerts. Red is the highest alert level and allows for users to be informed only about the more serious incidents, for example, a coyote attacking a pet on a leash or biting a person. 

“This app will also allow me to gather baseline information on coyote activity and the success of community hazing,” Quinn said.

Community hazing involves people shouting and waving their arms at coyotes and generally being obnoxious to make the nuisance animals afraid of humans.

“It would be great if everyone would do this when they see a coyote, but at the moment this is not really happening,” Quinn said. “Also, coyotes in Southern California appear to take a lot of risks and come in close contact with humans so community hazing may not deter them.”

More intense hazing, like shooting them with paintball guns, might be more effective techniques for government agencies to manage urban coyotes, she said.

To find out if any of these techniques work, the UC wildlife scientist would like to put collars on urban coyotes to study whether the animals move away from locations after hazing.   

Quinn would like to put collars on urban coyotes to study whether the animals move away from locations after hazing.

“We are seeking funding to collar coyotes to find out more about their activity and social structure and how they react to different types of management,” Quinn said. “We would need to figure out if the effects of the hazing are long-lasting, or if the coyotes just revert to ‘bad behavior' when the hazing is stopped.”

Although Quinn's research is focused on California, Coyote Cacher can be used anywhere in the United States. The website also offers information about urban coyotes.

Coyote Cacher can be used on a computer or on a mobile device at http://ucanr.edu/CoyoteCacher.

The Coyote Cacher app was designed by UC ANR's Informatics and Geographic Information Systems and funded by UC Cooperative Extension in Orange County.


Posted on Monday, February 13, 2017 at 12:07 PM

South American palm weevils are destroying SoCal palms

Communities in Southern California are watching their valued landscape palm trees suffer mortal damage from an invasive pest that is making its way northward from Mexico, reported Marty Graham in San Diego Reader. The South American palm weevil lays eggs in the palm tree's crown, where its grubs destroy tissue that holds the fronds.

"The first sign of infestation is seeing the crown droop and turn brown," said Mark Hoddle, UC Cooperative Extension biological control specialist at UC Riverside. In time, the crown can fall off.

Dead palms Hoddle observed at a high school in Tijuana, Mexico.

"The crowns weigh a couple of hundred pounds and, if they fall on something like a car or house, they can do considerable damage," Hoddle said. 

For now, the pest appears to be focusing on Canary Island palms, but have been known to lay eggs in other ornamental palms and date palms.

"I hate to think of what could happen if they reach the palm oases in the Anza-Borrego Desert," Hoddle said of the treasured California native palms that grow in Southern California desert canyons.

South American palm weevil is a relatively large pest capable of flying substantial distances. 

"We've tested their flying capacity and our data suggests it can fly quite far," Hoddle said. "It's potential territory in California and the Southwest is enormous."

South American palm weevil can fly tens of miles in a day.

The only control measure at the moment is repeated treatment with pesticides.

"There are palm trees in the Mediterranean with PVC pipes up the side and a shower head at the top where a pump blasts pesticides every few months," he said. "There are also systemic pesticides you can put in the tree roots."

For more information or to report a possible South American palm weevil infestation, see the Center for Invasive Species Research website

Posted on Wednesday, February 8, 2017 at 1:27 PM

Changes in breast milk sugars impact babies’ health and growth

When it comes to nursing moms and their babies, an elegant web of cause and effect connects climate, breast milk, gut microbes and infant health.

That web was clearly illustrated by a recently published study involving 33 women and their babies in the West African nation of The Gambia. The research team, including scientists from UC Davis and UC Agriculture and Natural Resources, found that complex breast milk sugars called oligosaccharides helped protect nursing babies from illness and also influenced the mixture of microbes in the infants' guts.

The researchers also showed that changes in food availability from season to season could affect the composition of the women's breast milk and the protective quality of the babies' gut microbiota. And those changes, in turn, impacted the health and growth of the breastfed infants.

UC research in The Gambia has revealed microbial changes in breast milk characteristics during the country's two distinct seasons - when food supplies differ significantly. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Composition of breast-milk sugars and infant health

Oligosaccharides occur abundantly as more than 200 different chemical structures in human breast milk. It's been known for some time that these complex sugars contribute to infant health by supporting the growth of beneficial bacteria in the baby's gut. And these gut bacteria have been shown to play a key role in fending off infectious illnesses.

But little has been known about how changes in the composition of the breast milk sugars might affect the health and growth of infants, especially those living in areas where infection rates are high.

To explore that relationship, the researchers monitored the composition of the oligosaccharides in the mothers' milk and examined the infants' gut microbiota at 4 weeks, 16 weeks and 20 weeks after the babies were born. Then they analyzed the data, looking for possible relationships to the health and growth of the babies and the status of their gut microbes.

They found that two of the oligosaccharides, lacto-N-fucopentaose and 3′-sialyllactose, had a direct relationship to the babies' health and growth. High levels of the former were associated with a decrease in infant illness and with improved growth, measured as height for age, while the latter proved to be a good indicator of infant growth, measured by weight per age.

“Our findings provide evidence that specific human milk oligosaccharides can alter the composition of breast milk, making it more protective against infection and allowing the infant to invest energy in growth rather than fending off disease,” said the study's corresponding author Angela Zivkovic, an assistant professor of nutrition at UC Davis.

Influence of wet and dry seasons

The researchers also were curious how seasonal shifts in food availability, which significantly impact the mothers' diets, might be reflected in breast milk composition and infant health.

The Gambia has two distinct seasons, the wet season from July to October and the dry season from November to June.

The wet season is also known as the “hungry” season because it is the time of year when food supplies tend to be depleted, infection rates rise and the farming workload is highest. In contrast, the dry, or “harvest,” season is characterized by plentiful food supplies as well as significantly higher energy stores and less illness among the local people.

The researchers found that mothers who were nursing during the wet or “hungry” season produced significantly less oligosaccharide in their milk than did those nursing during the dry season.

In examining the makeup of the babies' gut microbiota, the researchers noted that most of the bacteria belonged to the Bifidobacteria genus. They also discovered that higher levels of Dialister and Prevotella bacteria were accompanied by lower levels of infection.

In addition, higher levels of Bacteroides bacteria were present in the infants' guts that had abnormal “calprotectin” – a biomarker associated with intestinal infections.

“We are very interested in which specific dietary factors influence the oligosaccharide composition of mother's milk,” Zivkovic said. “If we can find the mechanisms that change the composition of breast milk sugars, we may have a new approach for modifying the infant microbiota and ultimately influencing the health and vigor of the nursing baby.”

The study by Zivkovic and colleagues appears online in the journal Scientific Reports. The research is part of a long-running, cross-disciplinary project at UC Davis examining milk and its role in nutrition.

Funding for the study was provided by the National Institutes of Health, UK Medical Research Council, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, and Peter J. Shields Endowed Chair in Dairy Food Science at UC Davis.

Posted on Wednesday, February 8, 2017 at 8:33 AM

A super bowl of chili: Something to crow about

Life is just a bowl of…ch...no, not cherries!


Make that chicken chili.

When the New England Patriots and the Atlanta Falcons square off at Super Bowl Sunday on Feb. 5 in Houston, odds are that feathers will fly and football fans will flock to heaping bowls of chili.

All chili aficionados have their favorite recipes, but white chili proved to be the winning alternative to red chili at the annual Solano County 4-H Chili Cookoff, held Jan. 14 in the Community Presbyterian Church in Vallejo.

The winning team, the Lil' Peppers from the Pleasants Valley 4-H Club, Vacaville. From left are Maleah and Elijah Desmarais and Jessie Means. At far right is their advisor, Marlene Means. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

The Lil' Peppers — three members of the Pleasants Valley 4-H Club, Vacaville — took home top honors with their “White Chili with Avocado Cream.” It was like putting a feather in the caps of chefs Jessie Means and Elijah Desmarais and his sister Maleah Desmarais. Advised by their cooking leader Marlene Means, they made the dish at home, delivered it to the cook-off in a crockpot, and answered a series of questions from four-judge panel.

They based their entry on a Cooking Light magazine recipe, but added agave to suit their tastes (they acknowledged they're not partial to one ingredient, serrano chile). They also substituted a can of white beans for a 15-ounce can of unsalted chickpeas (garbanzo beans).

The cook-off, which drew a total of five teams, was part of the Solano County 4-H Project Skills Day, an opportunity for youths to showcase what they've learned in their projects and to hone their display and presentation skills. The day ended with the cook-off.

4-H'ers from the Pleasants Valley 4-H Club, Vacaville, await the judges. From left are Brayden Gish, Justin Means, Maya Prunty and Shayley Gish. They made a recipe reportedly favored by "The Duke": John Wayne. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

“The Chili Cook-Off continues to be a big draw at Project Skills Day,” said Solano County 4-H program representative Valerie Williams. “Through their participation, 4-H team members develop life skills like organization, decision-making and communication. Not to be overlooked, team members gain practical knowledge about kitchen safety, food safety, food preparation and nutrition, while developing their chili recipes.” 

The chili judges — John Vasquez Jr. of Vacaville and Skip Thomson of Dixon, both members of the Solano County Board of Supervisors; and fellow chili enthusiasts Robert Reed of Benicia and Will Cant of Vallejo — said they enjoyed all the dishes, but especially the chicken chili. They went for seconds.

“It was really good,” said Vasquez, a veteran cook-off judge, praising the intermingling of the flavors and the competence of the chefs.

Coordinator Connie Reid of the Sherwood Forrest Club in Vallejo escorted the judges to each team's table, where the 4-H'ers introduced themselves and talked about their chili, the ingredients, the preparation and the outcome.

The Chili Girls of the Sherwood Forest 4-H Club, Vallejo, dressed as penguins, await the judges. From left are Julietta Wynholds, Selah Deuz, Celeste Harrison and Hanna Stephens. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

The Lil' Peppers' project all started with Jessie Means wanting to participate in the cook-off. She asked her mother and 4-H cooking project leader, Marlene Means, to help, and then Jessie recruited Elijah and Maleah Desmarais.

What to prepare? At most cook-offs, teams make red chili. The Lil Peppers decided on white chili, made with chicken and pork instead of beef.

For the cook-off, they donned blue aprons appliquéd with chili peppers, made by Jessie. They kept the decorations simple: a black tablecloth graced with a few chili peppers.

It was a great learning experience, Marlene Means said.

“The team learned to read and follow the recipe," she said. "They did have a few teary moments — cutting the onions. They were careful working with the peppers.  All three worked very hard.”

When the 4-H'ers tasted their finished product, they decided it was "a little too spicy!” So they added a tablespoon of agave.

Evaluator John Vasquez Jr., (right foreground) talks to the Lil' Peppers. From left are Elijah and Maleah Desmarais, and Jessie Means. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

The end result: the team loved it, the judges loved it, and so did the crowd that grouped around their entry for samples.

“There were many repeat tasters,” Marlene Means said.

All three members of the Pleasants Valley 4-H Club are enrolled in cooking projects, but also a variety of other projects. Jessie, the club's historian, is enrolled in swine, rabbits, horse, sewing, food preservation, cooking, outdoor cooking, indoor mini gardens, baking and bread making, and dog care and training. Maleah is enrolled in fine art, outdoor cooking, rabbits, and cooking projects, while Elijah's projects are poultry, outdoor cooking and rabbits.

All the cook-off teams delighted in creating their own costumes. The Chili Girls of Sherwood Forest 4-H Club, Vallejo, dressed as penguins. Two Harry Potter fans from the Tremont 4-H Club, Dixon, opted for "tie attire." Another team from the Pleasants Valley 4-H Club, Vacaville, donned sunglasses; they were just chillin' when they served a chili reportedly favored by "The Duke" (John Wayne). Another group from Dixon, the Mean Green Chili Cooking Machine of the Dixon Ridge 4-H Club, came as themselves, in 4-H attire.  Their chili lived up to their name; it was the hottest and was quite delicious, the judges agreed.

Chili Cook-Off Cooordinator Connie Reed (far left) of the Sherwood Forest 4-H Club, Vallejo, tests the temperature of the chili. From left are the Mean Green Chili Cooking Machines of the Dixon Ridge 4-H Club: Maritiza Partida Cisneros, Rudy Cisneros Radillo and Miguel Partida Cisneros. At far right is evaluator Solano County Supervisor John Vasquez Jr. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

The members of the other teams:

  • The Chili Girls from the Sherwood Forest 4-H Club, Vallejo: Selah Deuz, Celeste Harrison, Hanna Stephens and Julietta Wynholds
  • Harry Potter and the Order of Chili, Tremont 4-H Club, Dixon: Isabel Martinez and Trinity Roach
  • Just Chillin', Pleasants Valley 4-H Club, Vacaville: Braydon Gish, Shayley Gish, Justin Means and Maya Prunty
  • Mean Green Chili Cooking Machines, Dixon Ridge 4-H Club, Dixon: Maritiza Partida Cisneros, Miguel Partida Cisneros and Rudy Cisneros Radillo

Here's the winning recipe that the Lil' Peppers prepared:

White Chili with Avocado Cream

1 serrano chile (this is hot and can be omitted, the 4-H'ers agreed)
1 jalapeño pepper
1 medium onion, peeled and halved
Cooking spray
4 cups unsalted chicken stock, divided
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1-1/2 teaspoons adobo sauce
1 chipotle chile, canned in adobo sauce
2 (15-ounce) cans unsalted cannellini beans, rinsed, drained, and divided
5 -1/2 teaspoons olive oil
5 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon dried oregano
3/4 teaspoon ground coriander
1 pound ground pork
2 pounds skinless, boneless chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized pieces, browned
3 cups fresh white corn kernels
1 (15-ounce) can unsalted chickpeas (garbanzo beans), rinsed and drained (the 4-H'ers substituted 1 can of white beans)
1 cup half-and-half
3/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro, divided
1/3 cup plus 1-1/2 teaspoons fresh lime juice, divided
2-3/8 teaspoons kosher salt, divided
1 medium ripe peeled avocado
1/3 cup light sour cream
3/4 cup diced tomatillo
1 tablespoon agave or honey


  1. Preheat broiler to high.
  2. Arrange first 3 ingredients on a foil-lined baking sheet. Coat with cooking spray. Place pan on middle oven rack; broil 15 minutes or until charred on all sides, turning occasionally. Wrap peppers in foil; let stand 5 minutes. Peel peppers; discard peels, stems, and seeds. Combine peppers, onion, 1/2 cup stock, flour, adobo sauce, chipotle, and 1 can cannellini beans in a blender; process until smooth.
  3. Heat a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add garlic to pan; sauté 30 seconds. Add cumin, oregano, and coriander to pan; sauté 30 seconds. Add pork; cook 4 minutes, stirring to crumble. Stir in onion mixture and remaining 3-1/2 cups stock. Bring to a boil; reduce heat, and simmer 20 minutes, stirring frequently.
  4. Add chicken to pan; cook 5 minutes. Stir in remaining can of cannellini beans, corn, and white beans; cook 7 minutes. Reduce heat to medium-low. Stir in half-and-half, 1/2 cup cilantro, and 1/3 cup juice; cook 3 minutes. Stir in 2-1/4 teaspoons salt.
  5. Place avocado in a small bowl; mash with the back of a fork. Stir in sour cream, remaining 1 1/2 teaspoons juice, and remaining 1/8 teaspoon salt. Serve chili with remaining 1/4 cup cilantro, avocado cream, and tomatillo.

(Nutritional Information. Amount per serving: Calories 380; fat 18.6 grams; saturated fat 6 grams; monofat 8.3 g; polyfat 1.9 g; protein 30 g; carbohydrate 24 g; fiber 6 g; cholesterol 85 mg; iron 2 mg; sodium 592 mg; and calcium 86 mg)

Solano County, said 4-H Program Representative Valerie Williams, has nearly 500 4-H members enrolled in a total of 11 clubs:

  • Dixon: Dixon Ridge 4-H, Maine Prairie 4-H, Roving Clovers 4-H and Tremont 4-H
  • Vacaville: Elmira 4-H, Pleasants Valley 4-H and Vaca Valley 4-H
  • Fairfield-Suisun: Westwind 4-H and Suisun Valley 4-H
  • Rio Vista: Rio Vista 4-H
  • Vallejo-Benicia: Sherwood Forest 4-H

The Solano County 4-H Youth Development Program, part of the UC Cooperative Extension Program of the UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR),  follows the motto, “Making the best better.” 4-H, which stands for head, heart, health and hands, is open to youths ages 5 to 19.  In age-appropriate projects, they learn skills through hands-on learning in projects ranging from arts and crafts, computers and leadership to dog care, poultry, rabbits and woodworking. They develop skills they would otherwise not attain at home or in public or private schools, said Williams, who may be reached at vawilliams@ucanr.edu for further information on the program.


Isabel Martinez (left) and Trinity Roach of the Tremont 4-H Club watch as judges sample their chili. From left are Robert Reed of Benicia, Will Cant of Vallejo, and Solano County Board of Supervisor Skip Thomson of Dixon. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
The scenario: crockpot of chili, gloved hands, spoons, and a judge's clipboard. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Posted on Monday, January 30, 2017 at 11:38 AM

Short-lived gag order on USDA raises concerns

UC ANR vice president Glenda Humiston says USDA communication with the public is critically important.
This week, the Trump Administration imposed a gag order on USDA agencies, then after public outcry, quickly rescinded it, reported Dan Nosowitz in Modern Farmer.

The peculiar actions prompted the reporter to find out why USDA must continue to communicate with the private sector and the public. He spoke to Glenda Humiston, vice president of UC Agriculture and Natural Resources, who previously served in USDA as undersecretary for agriculture and natural resources during the Clinton Administration and as California director of USDA Rural Development during the Obama Administration.

She said USDA collaborations with the university and the private sector are numerous and complex, involving satellite imagery, invasive pest control, and other issues of vital concern.

"Not only jobs could be lost, but frankly, the food supply could be put at risk," she said. "We are constantly battling pests and diseases and dealing with food safety issues and all of that requires constant communication."

As an example of the critical nature of USDA-public communication, Humiston pointed out that the USDA monitors dams, many of which are 50 to 100 years old, and, in the West, dealing with record rainfall and floods. Without transfer of data between USDA, other government agencies and the public, lives could be lost. 

"This isn't just a matter of keeping reporters from doing their jobs," Humiston said. "There are real safety issues at stake here."

Posted on Thursday, January 26, 2017 at 4:14 PM

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