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UC ANR publication helps hikers co-exist with cows

Hikers, cyclists and runners can learn to enjoy nature alongside grazing cattle with information from a new UC Agriculture and Natural Resources publication, reported Andrew McGall in the Contra Costa Times.

Sharing Open Space: What to Expect from Grazing Livestock, written by Stephanie Larson, UC ANR Cooperative Extension livestock advisor, is available free in ANR Catalog.

The publication explains how to read the behavior patterns of cows with calves, heifers, steers and bulls. For example, when approaching a cow on the trail, it's best to stay in it's "flight zone" to encourage it to move out of the way.

The guideline says dogs accompanying hikers must be kept under control.

"Cattle see dogs as predators," the brochure warns. "This is especially true for mother cows, who naturally become aggressive when trying to protect their young."

A new free UC ANR publication helps hikers, bikers and runners peacefully co-exist with grazing animals.
Posted on Friday, May 1, 2015 at 11:08 AM

Desert dwellers getting used to dry landscaping

Drought-tolerant plants, like artemisia (above), gravel, sand and stones can be combined into a beautiful, low-water-use landscape.
More and more, lush green golf courses and residential lawns in desert communities are giving way to swaths of sand, gravel and flowering bushes that use much less water, reported Rosalie Murphy in the Desert Sun.

"I don't think anybody realized how attractive it could be," said Stu Stryker, president of the homeowners association board.

Janet Hartin, UC Agriculture and Natural Resources Cooperative Extension advisor, said people in the Coachella Valley are getting used to the look of desert landscaping.

"A lot of people move here from Ohio, from Minnesota, from Florida, and they love the traditional green look … and they want to bring that image to the desert," Hartin said. "They're a harder sell. They'll walk through this park and think it's beautiful, but it doesn't look like home."

With good education and “a peek at some of their (rising) water bills,” she thinks most people will at least cut back on turf.

"This drought is one of the worst in modern history. We don't know whether it will continue or not — Mother Nature will let us know — but we have to assume it will," Hartin said.

Recent state water conservation mandates give additional incentive to replace turfgrass with rock, sand or gravel. Four of the Coachella Valley's five water agencies will be required by the state to shave off 36 percent of their 2013 water usage.

The Desert Sun also posted an article under Hartin's byline titled Ten ways to conserve water in your landscape. The article is accompanied by a video featuring Hartin describing many of her water conservation tips.

Posted on Wednesday, April 29, 2015 at 11:53 AM

King Fire provides learning opportunities

Rubicon River, El Dorado National Forest

Over a dozen UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) California Naturalists, fire ecology experts, wildlife biologists, resource managers, educators, and artists met at UC Berkeley's Blodgett Forest Research Station and the adjacent El Dorado National Forest April 23 and 24, and not one of them complained about the much-needed deluge of rain and intermittent hail that soaked the group. The weekend's ambitious goal? To dive deeply into a UC California Naturalist Program and California Fire Science Consortium advanced training workshop on the subject of wildfire effects on Sierran mixed conifer forests.

With the 2014 El Dorado National Forest's King Fire as a case study, a mix of lectures, field studies, art, field journaling techniques, and Native American story telling were used to examine land management practices that influence fire behavior and explore how the landscape recovers from fire. UC ANR Cooperative Extension Central Sierra's forestry advisor Susie Kocher and community education specialist Kim Ingram organized and facilitated the workshop.

King Fire soil burn severity map

Blodgett Forest, situated on the Georgetown Divide in El Dorado County, was donated to the University of California in 1933 to provide a research site and practical demonstrations of forestry for students, forest industry, and the public. The adjacent El Dorado National Forest is home to the notorious September-October 2014 King Fire that burned 97,000 acres of forest, including 63,000 acres of public land. Aided by low relative humidity and wind, the fire spread quickly up the steep Rubicon River and surrounding subwatersheds. According to the incident report, approximately 46 percent of the burn area burned at a high and moderate soil burn severity, consuming all organic duff on the soil surface along with leaves and needles on standing live vegetation.

Workshop participants were treated to a lecture and field studies of basic fire ecology concepts by Scott Stephens, professor of fire science at UC Berkeley. Stephens lectured in class, and later demonstrated on a number of wet, lush forested treatment plots in the field, topics ranging from fire policy, fuels management options and objectives, and carbon sequestration to fire suppression consequences, fire behavior and severity, soil stability, and post-fire forest structure.  Stephens is a researcher with the Sierra Nevada Adaptive Management Project (SNAMP), a long-term collaborative research project investigating how forest fuels thinning impacts fire behavior, fire risk, wildlife, forest health, and water. Fire is a vital to maintaining healthy California forests and ecosystems and Stephens's work demonstrates that both prescribed fire and its mechanical thinning replacements can successfully change forest structure and fuel loads, resulting in potential overall improvement of forest health. He finds that treated forest stands are more resistant and resilient to high-intensity wildfire and that these treatments have minor to negligible negative impacts on birds and small mammals, understory plant diversity, exotic plant invasions, and insect attack. Current and future research is in part focused on the impact and feasibility of treatments across the landscape.

Also joining participants was Sheila Whitmore from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Whitmore is the assistant project leader on SNAMP's owl team, which studies how fuel reduction treatments affect California spotted owl survival, forest occupancy, and reproductive success. The California spotted owl is one of three sub-species of spotted owls and the only spotted owl that has not yet been placed on the endangered species list, although its population is widely thought to be declining. Late in the evening, accompanied by Whimore, three nocturnal field technicians, and armed with tools of the trade like bird call whistles and flashlights, participants quietly slogged deep into the forest along the 22-mile system of El Dorado Irrigation District canals, listening for the territorial four-note hoot of the California spotted owl. While the crew eventually found one female owl on the night hike, the owl team has just started surveying breeding territories this spring and are uncertain how and if the owls will be impacted by the King Fire. Modeling efforts and a radio telemetry study seek answers to questions about demography, habitat, individual range size, and foraging preferences, given different levels of severity in burned forests.

Day two of the workshop, under warm sunshine, began with a discussion of Native American fire ecology and traditional stories shared by Kimberly Shiningstar Petree. Petree is a Tumelay Nissenan Miwok, the cultural preservation officer for her tribe, and the founder of the Cosumnes Culture and Waterways, a non-profit dedicated to promoting, preserving, and stewarding Indigenous Culture and waterways of their land. As told by a descendant of the first stewards of the area's forests and a carrier of an ancient oral tradition, the fire stories that Petree shared with the group were both relevant to today's fire management practices, and moving, setting a positive tone for the rest of the day.

Patricia Trimble, El Dorado National Forest's Georgetown district ranger, and Laurie Wigham, illustrator, painter and art teacher, accompanied participants on field activities. Trimble took participants on a road-based tour of the King Fire, demonstrating the effects of low, moderate and severe fire on the landscape. She shared information on consequences of long-term fire suppression, fire impacts, Forest Service strategies for protecting cultural resources, forest replanting and erosion abatement efforts, National Environmental Policy Act regulations, and public perception of fire. More than seven months after the fire, the Forest Service has just opened the burn back up to the public, and the public was out in force mushroom hunting, fishing, and cutting firewood within the high severity areas of the King Fire.

Wigham thoughtfully braided art and field journaling techniques seamlessly into the stops along the way. She shared inexpensive and novel ways to document the landscape in a group or individual setting at difference scales. She offered low-tech tricks to help participants deepen their ability to absorb dense and technical information, observe nature closely and scientifically, and to connect with feelings about a place and time in nature.

Lectures, field study, art, field journaling techniques, knowledge sharing, and Native American story telling: supported by a solid framework of current science topics and research results, they all had their place in this advanced training workshop. Each individual piece of the fire ecology workshop was enriching and informative, and forced participants to move deeper and more thoughtfully into their understanding of the dense topic than they might on their own. The regeneration of the El Dorado National Forest after the King Fire will undoubtedly provide inspiration, research, and education opportunities far into the future.

The UC California Naturalist Program uses a science curriculum, hands-on learning and service to inspire stewardship of the state's natural resources. The public and UC-certified Naturalists alike may sign up for future California Naturalist Advanced Trainings here.

Posted on Wednesday, April 29, 2015 at 9:05 AM

UC ANR researchers aim to minimize water use in blueberries

UC ANR researchers want to know how little water it takes to grow blueberries.
UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) researchers don't want to know how much water it takes to grow blueberries, but how little, reported Bradley Zint in the Los Angeles Times.

The story featured Darren Haver, a UC ANR Cooperative Extension advisor in Orange County and director of the UC South Coast Research and Extension Center in Irvine. At the center, blueberries are being grown with varying amounts of water to compare yield and quality. Because of the drought, farmers need to know how to minimize water use while maintaining a viable business.

"Part of my job as an advisor is to take that information and put it in a format that a farmer could use or the general public could use," he said. "It's my job to distill it down."

The story also notes that drought-tolerant dragon fruit are under study at that at the South Coast REC.

"We need to find more crops like this," Haver said.

Other drought news:

Diversification: A Response to Drought
Richard Jones, Growing Produce, April 27
Growers must prepare to make changes, especially if their sole focus is high-value crops, said Samuel Sandoval, UC ANR specialist in water resources management at UC Davis. “We're seeing many growers put a lot of investment risk on a resource — water — that's very unreliable. We need to think ahead of the curve and find systems that are more flexible,” he says. Sandoval's suggestion: diversifying with both permanent and annual crops.

Your water footprint is bigger than you realize
Laura Bliss, The Atlantic CityLab, April 28, 2015
In the developed world, every bite of food, every mile we drive, every light switch we flip relies on water. The average American has a "water footprint" of 2,220 gallons per person, per day. "The numbers are pretty accurate," says Doug Parker, director of the UC Agriculture and Natural Resources California Institute for Water Resources. "But my question is, what do you do with it? If I'm interested in solving the drought in California, using less energy from power plants doesn't really matter because that water can be used downstream by a farmer."

 

Posted on Tuesday, April 28, 2015 at 10:22 AM

California showing signs of groundwater exhaustion

A farmer applies water on his crop. (Photo: California Dept. of Water Resources)
The huge reservoir of water under the soil surface is typically the place where California farmers turn during droughts, when surface water becomes scarce. After three years of drought and persistent groundwater use for water-intensive crops, the water table is dropping steadily, reported Todd Frankel in the Washington Post.

The aquifer accumulated over thousands of years, but is now dropping as much as two feet per year in some parts of the Central Valley. As the water is pumped, the ground sinks down too, said Thomas Harter, UC Agriculture and Natural Resources Cooperative Extension hydrologist based at UC Davis. When the soil compresses, groundwater can never be fully recharged again.

Harter said the state's groundwater reserve reached historic lows last year.

“With little recharge, many areas are currently at the lowest recorded levels ever,” Harter said. “It's worrisome.”

Last year, state lawmakers passed California's first extensive groundwater regulation, allowing for the creation of local boards to oversee how the water is used. But it will take up to two decades before the new law takes full effect.

Posted on Monday, April 27, 2015 at 1:53 PM

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