Forest Research and Outreach Blog
Reposted from the UCANR news
The Camp Fire that destroyed the town of Paradise and other wildfires that have devastated communities in recent years have convinced wildfire experts that Californians need to take more than one approach to coexist with fire.
To better protect new houses against wildfire, California has building codes, but where residential communities are built on the landscape and how they are designed are also very important to limit wildfire-related losses, according to University of California Cooperative Extension specialists Max Moritz and Van Butsic.
“Defensible space and vegetation management is important, but in the long term, where and how we build new developments will be equally important for keeping Californians safe,” said Butsic, who studies land use.
To develop their recommendations for reducing wildfire risk for future community development, Moritz, who specializes in wildfire, and Butsic reviewed fire studies and consulted firefighters and community planners.
Their new publication, “Building to Coexist with Fire: Risk Reduction Measures for New Development,” is designed for city planners, fire districts and communities to incorporate community-scale risk reduction measures when building or rebuilding in fire-prone areas.
“There is currently little codified guidance for where and how to build our communities in California, aside from building codes for individual structures and a few requirements for road access and water supplies,” said Moritz, who is based at UC Santa Barbara.
Wildfire consultant and architect David Shew, who retired as a CAL FIRE chief after 31 years, said, “I can state without hesitation that the land use planning principles and design recommendations identified in this study are necessary steps to help increase wildfire resiliency to existing and future communities. Being a first-hand witness to the increasingly destructive nature of wildfires, I can attest to the value and necessity for these improvements to be integrated into our built environment. This should become a much-used reference for every planning and fire official who face wildfire impacts.”
To reduce fire vulnerability of communities, Moritz and coauthor Butsic, who is based at UC Berkeley, recommend including fire professionals and biological resource experts early in the community planning process. They also recommend considering the placement of communities on the landscape, such as near bodies of water and agricultural land, and how they are laid out to minimize exposure to wildfire. Key considerations include defensibility, risk of ignition and ease of evacuating residents.
“This report provides both a robust justification for integrating resilience practices into land use planning and community design, and a toolbox for doing so,” Sarah G.Newkirk, director of disaster resilience with The Nature Conservancy in California. “The risk reduction measures described can be put to use immediately – ideally in combination with each other – both in ongoing wildfire recovery planning, and in local hazard mitigation planning. Furthermore, the report should be a wake-up call to FEMA to think broadly about how best to support wildfire mitigation in California.”
To more efficiently reduce fuel in new communities, Moritz and Butsic write, “The design, maintenance and use of defensible space for fire protection is easier when neighborhoods are developed more densely and are built to stringent fire-resistant building codes.”
In the 31-page publication, they present risk reduction measures for four design contexts:
- landscape setting – engage in strategic planning much earlier, use hazard maps and use major landscape features
- separation from wildfire source—use nonflammable amenities in design, employ safe setbacks on slopes and concentrate on inner side of roadways
- density management – cluster with other homes
- protective infrastructure – harden public facilities and refuges, locate power lines underground and augment water requirements.
They provide examples for each risk reduction measure, along with some discussion of challenges associated with each measure.
“Our hope is that this guidance will be helpful for agency personnel involved in evaluating and approving future development in California,” Moritz said. “Because there is a pressing need for additional housing in California, communities must be built with design principles that make them safer to inhabit and less vulnerable to inevitable wildfires.”
The publication “Building to Coexist with Fire: Risk Reduction Measures for New Development” can be downloaded for free at https://anrcatalog.ucanr.edu/Details.aspx?itemNo=8680.
Reposted from the UCANR News
California oak woodlands are highly prized ecoregions where stately trees, many of them hundreds of years old, are cornerstones of a habitat for wildlife and native plants. Sadly, some of these ecosystems are seriously threatened by exotic pests and diseases, encroachment by less desirable vegetation, and wildfire.
Each year, UC Cooperative Extension hosts workshops to share scientific developments aimed at conserving these important habitats – and the economic value of ranching – on oak woodlands, which are found on the lower elevation slopes of the Sierra Nevada, the Coast Range and other foothill areas of California.
Typically, the workshops are held in person and draw moderate-sized audiences for presentations, questions and answers, and field trips. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, this year's workshop was offered online in April with pre-recorded presentations available for viewing at the participants' convenience and a live question-and-answer session on Zoom.
The retooled event garnered 500 registrants, over 300 views of the YouTube videos and 140 participants in the live Q&A session. The presentations and Q&A session are still available online for future viewing as well at http://cemendocino.ucanr.edu/Forestry/Workshops/California_Oak_Health.
“People from all walks of life participated, including those with professional and personal interest in oak woodlands,” said Yana Valachovic, UCCE forest advisor in Humboldt and Del Norte counties and a conference organizer.
Presentations at the 2020 conference included the following topics:
Encroachment by Douglas-fir
In Northern California, the biodiversity of oak woodlands is being threatened by Douglas-fir encroachment. The oaks' shade helps the young conifers get established with protection from harsh sun. In time, the fast-growing Douglas-fir trees pierce the oak canopies and begin to crowd out the areas' native understories, which are important for the diversity of birds, mammals and reptiles attracted to oaks.
As the Douglas-fir continue to grow and multiply, they threaten the very lives of the oak trees and the unique ecosystem they dominate.
To better understand the Douglas-fir encroachment, Valachovic established 10 research sites in Humboldt and Mendocino counties to gather information about the fate and the age of oaks. She and her research partners determined the ages of the oaks and firs, and counted the seedlings, saplings, snags and understory vegetation.
“With this research, we were able to demonstrate that even though the oak trees can be smaller in diameter, they are much older than the Douglas-fir trees,” Valachovic said. “The encroachment process is happening quickly, and the oaks are falling out of the system.”
The shift appears to have been initiated in the mid-19th and early-20th centuries, coinciding with the Gold Rush and wildfire suppression.
With the data confirming Douglas-fir encroachment, Valachovic turned her attention to oak woodland restoration. At 14 sites in Humboldt and Trinity counties, her team studied the effects of Douglas-fir removal.
“Grasses and forbs under the oaks reestablished. Diameter growth on the oaks increased,” she said.
These research findings contributed directly to changes in policy that had previously limited landowners' ability to remove and sell conifers encroaching on oak woodland. The research also helped create new funding opportunities to support oak woodland restoration and conservation in Northern California.
Case study of oak woodland wildfire recovery
In July 2018, about two-thirds of the 5,289-acre UC Hopland Research and Extension Center was burned by the River Fire.
The transformation of the land, which had likely been without a large wildland fire for at least 100 years, was intense and stressful, said UC Cooperative Extension forest advisor Michael Jones. However, it also provided a unique opportunity for researchers to compare the impact of wildfire on the resiliency of vegetation on grazed and ungrazed oak woodland.
Jones established 35 one-fifth acre research plots at the research center and collected data two months following the fire and one year later. The research will continue in the future to better understand long-term impacts, but Jones was able to share revealing early results at the workshop.
Right after the fire, in severely burned areas areas, the future of the oaks looked ominous. Jones predicted 40% tree mortality.
“The oaks were exposed to persistent, intense heat. They were cooked,” he said. “But two months after the fire, we were already seeing basal sprouts. This was an amazing response by the trees. Oaks are pretty damn tough.”
A year after the fire, surveys showed that tree mortality in the burned areas was 25%, much less than Jones' early predictions. While some management for specific situations in severely burned areas may be necessary – such as removal of hazard trees, reducing fuels in defensible spaces or removal to control invasive species – the results of this work show the trees recover naturally.
“Esthetically, I know these systems aren't as pleasing as they were before, but ecologically, they are healthy and recovering,” he said. “In 100 years, it will look just as good as before the fire.”
Fire impacts in woodland areas previously grazed and not grazed
The fire on the research station also permitted Jones to compare the fire's differing impact on non-grazed and grazed oak woodland. At first, the grazed areas looked almost unscathed with minimal flame scorching on the bark, while an area where the pasture hadn't been grazed for 25 years had evidence of much higher severity fire.
“Grazing is a phenomenal way to help manage fuels,” Jones said. However, the grazed areas displayed ecological shortcomings a year later.
“In grazed pastures, the large mature trees were still alive, but there was no oak regeneration (basal sprouting or seedlings),” Jones said. “In the ungrazed area, a lot of biomass had been killed, but there's nearly 100% resprout of oak trees and we have an impressive amount of oak seedling recruitment.”
Jones said he isn't discouraging grazing.
“But it is important to protect sites from grazing, and especially wildlife browse, when a landowner or land managers' objectives are to regenerate or conserve oak woodlands,” Jones said.
New ambrosia beetle another threat to California oaks
Akif Eskalen, UC Cooperative Extension specialist in the Department of Plant Pathology at UC Davis, has identified a new insect-fungus team that causes oak borer wilt in Northern California Valley and Blue Oaks. It is an ambrosia beetle, commonly known as Mediterranean Oak Borer, which carries several fungi in its mouth. The beetle bores into the tree and introduces fungi to grow for food. The fungi spreads and disturbs the transportation of water and nutrients, causing wilt in the tree.
The oozing and staining lesions on the bark are similar to other oak fungal diseases, such as sudden oak death. The beetle – native of Mediterranean basin countries in Africa, Asia and Europe – cannot fly far, so most likely is transported for long distances on infested firewood.
During the workshop, Eskalen suggested not moving firewood, removing heavily infested trees and chipping infested wood into 1-inch particles to reduce the spread of the ambrosia beetle and its fungal partner. He asked viewers to report any suspected oak tree infestations to the local agricultural commissioner, CDFA Diagnostic Laboratories, UC Cooperative Extension advisors or CALFIRE. Chemical options for sparing oaks from the ambrosia beetles' devastation are under investigation.
Threats to oaks and other native plants from root rotting Phytophthora
Restoration plantings have inadvertently introduced plant pathogens to native oak woodland ecosystems in California, said Ted Swiecki of Phytosphere Research, an organization that provides consulting services related to natural resource management, horticulture, urban forestry and agriculture. The group of pathogens causing the damage are largely from the Phytophthora genus, first described in the 1860s. The name translates from Greek to “plant destroyer.”
Swiecki has observed when Phytophthora infested plants and soils are introduced to native habitats, the pathogens can attack various native plants, including toyon, madrone, manzanita and full-grown oaks. Once established, the pathogen can spread along drainages, by moving soil from one area to another and by hitchhiking on equipment, tires and hiking boots.
The pathogen can easily be overlooked at nurseries, which, by their nature, have conditions that favor Phytophthora development. Plants at nurseries are well watered, have high root density and are often placed on the ground where they can pick up pathogens.
He said the best approach to tackling Phytophthora is not using nursery stock for restoration or beautification of natural oak woodland. Direct seeding, using natural regeneration, or onsite propagation are safer ways to enhance vegetation in oak woodland.
“It's easier to prevent Phytophthora from being introduced in the first place and much cheaper and more effective than trying to eradicate it later,” Siewcki said.
“When I came face to face with beaver dams for the first time, I had what can only be described as a transformative experience,” says Emily Fairfax, an assistant professor of environmental science and resource management at California State University, Channel Islands. While leading a canoe trip through the Boundary Waters of northern Minnesota, she encountered what she describes as “just these enormous, impressive features” – created by beavers. “You truly realize how sturdy beaver dams are while dragging your canoe over them,” she adds, laughing. “They are incredible from an engineering perspective.”
Despite being taken by the handiwork of beavers in that initial encounter, Fairfax says “I just put that experience in my back pocket for a long time.” After majoring in chemistry and physics in college, she went on to work as an engineer. “But, I kept going fishing, visiting wetlands and creeks, and realized I wanted to be out in these places in my day to day life.”
“Then, I watched the documentary Leave it to Beavers. It was about how beavers fundamentally alter landscapes. I was reminded of the beavers I'd seen in Minnesota and was like, I want to study this. On a bit of a whim, I applied to graduate school, and haven't looked back. Now it's all beavers, all day, and they make me so happy. It turns out rather than being an engineer, I was called to study nature's engineers.”
The documentary also piqued Fairfax's interest in something she hadn't considered: beavers in the desert. “I was struck by these aerial shots of beaver dams in the desert, surrounded by green. At the same time, there were so many news articles about droughts and how everything was drying up. Except the beaver ponds, which were still green and still had water, but I couldn't find any quantitative research behind it.”
Fairfax began to examine satellite imagery of beaver ponds and the large complexes of beaver dams that exist all over the U.S. “The great thing about using remote sensing tools is that I can look back decades and see how the surrounding vegetation responded to beavers during droughts.” Fairfax found that the trees and plants around beaver ponds stayed as green as nearby irrigated agriculture fields. “In essence, beaver ponds made it so surrounding areas didn't experience drought.”
That finding led Fairfax to her current interest in beaver ponds as refuge areas during wildfires. “Again, I would see news stories about dry vegetation as ‘kindling' for wildfires. I started to wonder if beaver dams and ponds might reduce the flammability of the surrounding vegetation. I found that while beavers can't exactly put out fires, they can create what I think of as ‘ribbons of fire resistant landscape.' And that ribbon effect is consistent across different topographies, ecosystems, and climates. Beavers create critically important refuge for many different plants and animals to survive fires,” she says.
Trying to succinctly explain her work led Fairfax to develop what became a viral animation short. “I was job searching and needed an ‘elevator pitch,' but I was struggling with it. I had a mental image that never quite came across in words. I'm not good at sketching, but I had my phone camera and a small beaver toy. It dawned on me that I could make a stop motion animation. I downloaded an app and set up my kitchen table with a cork board I had in the house, leftover fake plants from my wedding, rocks from outside, and felt I had for crafts. Then I just sat there filming while moving the little toy beaver around.”
“All in all, it took four hours to put together this 45 second video. I posted it on Twitter, where I had about 50 followers, but figured at least other beaver people would enjoy it. Then I went on a hike with no phone service. When I got back, a friend had messaged me to say I needed to look at Twitter, and it turned out it had just exploded. There were thousands of views already, which I hadn't expected at all. I think part of what made it engaging was that it was short and all visuals and music with no language, so it was easily shared.”
Fairfax says the best part was not how many people watched it, but that so many people from all over the world wanted to ask her about beavers. “By responding to people's questions, sometimes using Google translate, I got good at being concise because I only had 240 characters. I responded to everyone and wanted people to feel heard. That's ultimately why I do science communication – I want people to be able to ask me science questions, especially about beavers.”
Fairfax notes that there is still a lot of misinformation about beavers. Because they do chew and knock trees down, and create ponds that can lead to flooding, they can be seen as problematic. “Every state, and sometimes county, handles beavers differently. In the last decade or so, there have been advancements in non-lethal beaver management that are more cost-effective than, for example, removing a beaver dam with dynamite. Plus, if you try to remove a beaver, it's inevitable another one will show up, so it's best to learn how to live with them and understand the good they do. For example, that flooding they can cause is also recharging groundwater.”
Working in California, Fairfax's biggest task now is locating beavers. She notes that before beaver trapping there were likely upwards of 400 million beavers in North America, meaning they were everywhere. “Trapping took them down to 100,000, and now estimates put them back up to 10 or 20 million. They are prevalent in certain areas like the Colorado Rockies and the Sierra Nevada, but we still don't see them often in many downstream areas that provide great habitat.”
For now, she says, “I've got students hiking streams just looking for signs of them, and when I give public talks, people will sometimes tell me about how they used to see them on a creek in the 70's. That might not seem relevant, but that kind of information is so valuable. So now I'm basically saying to people, if you see a beaver dam anywhere in California, please tell me about it!”
Follow Dr. Fairfax on Twitter @EmilyFairfax.
Reposted from the UCANR Knowledge Stream
Theories abound as to what life will be like when we come out of our current predicament. And who can say?
However, the focus for many is simply on dealing with the immediate. What can I eat? How do I visit the supermarket safely? Can I drink the water? I want to get outdoors, but is it safe? Can I garden? If so, how? How can I provide my kids meaningful engagement? What resources are available for the agriculture industry? How do I cope?
In response to these pressing needs, UC Agriculture and Natural Resources, like many other universities and extension organizations across the country, are moving quickly to get more information online. While I haven't seen the actual numbers, we know millions of students (both high school and university) are quickly transitioning to online classes.
In addition, millions are seeking information on topics from agriculture and food to gardening to nutrition to wellness. The activity behind the scenes is at times frantic. We at UC ANR already have large amounts of credible, practical “how to” information online, but we know we can provide more. Our 12 statewide programs and institutes (links below), along with our network of advisors and specialists, are moving quickly to enhance out virtual connections and getting more useful information online - videos, fact sheets, courses, etc. - to ensure our outreach continues. For example, the UC California Naturalist program already had its first virtual graduation. Advisors are providing virtual consultations to farmers and others.
Do you need help navigating life during the coronavirus crisis? Explore our portal - ucanr.edu/covid19communityresources - to find information on gardening, safe outdoor exploration, food access, water and food safety, nutrition, wellness and more.
Learn about our statewide programs:
UC Integrated Pest Management Program (how to manage pests)
Nutrition, food, water and wellness
Enjoying the outdoors
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Reposted from the UCANR employee news
Lynn Huntsinger, professor and Russell Rustici Chair in Rangeland Management at UC Berkeley, received the W.R. Chapline Research Award at the Society for Range Management's (SRM) 72nd Annual Meeting, Technical Training and Trade Show in Denver, Colo., Feb. 16-20, 2020.
The Chapline Research Award gives special recognition to members of the society for exceptional and sustained research accomplishments in rangeland science and associated disciplines, including the biology and ecology of plants, wildlife and domestic livestock and characteristics of the ecosystems they inhabit.
She is the first woman to receive the award, according to Mel George, UCCE specialist emeritus.
Huntsinger has made exceptional contributions to rangeland science and management through her path-breaking research on rangeland social-ecological systems, her international engagement, public communication and innovative teaching, according to Maria Fernandez-Gimenez, professor of rangeland ecology and management at Colorado State University, who nominated Huntsinger for the award.
Huntsinger pioneered the field of human dimensions of rangeland management and focused the attention of rangeland science on rangelands as integrated social-ecological systems. By the 1990s, it was clear that ecological science and technical solutions alone would not solve fundamental rangeland management challenges. Rangeland science is needed to address social and cultural values, landowner behavior, public policies and communal institutions.
Huntsinger's early work on private rangeland landowners' and public land managers' attitudes, values and management behavior was the first rangeland social science in North America to focus on social and cultural aspects of range management. Another of her papers laid the foundation for studying rangelands as linked social and ecological systems. Further work identified the interdependent fates of public and private rangelands and theorized a potential threshold in ranchers' perceptions of ranch viability in the face of urbanization, beyond which ranch sale and land conversion become inevitable.
The term “working landscape,” now widely used to express the understanding that landscapes used for grazing produce multiple benefits for people and nature, was co-introduced by Huntsinger. Her recent research advances the concept of social-ecological ecosystem services in rangelands and demonstrates how cultural landscapes and their benefits are produced and maintained by the interaction of natural processes and human management.
Huntsinger's international collaborations in China and Spain have produced influential articles, a special issue of SRM's scientific journal Rangeland Ecology and Management on Integrated Social-ecological Approaches to Sylvopastoralism, and a book on Mediterranean Oak Woodland Working Landscapes. Her mentorship of young international scholars has helped launch multiple careers, and through them, the trajectory of rangeland social-ecological research globally. She led the USDA International Delegation on Rangeland Ecology and Management to China and has addressed the UN Food and Agriculture Organization in Spain, Italy and Argentina, among other examples.
To translate science into management and policy, she helped lead the public engagement process for the Sierra Nevada Adaptive Management Plan, and has served on the National Academy of Sciences Committee to Review the BLM Wild Horse and Burro Program, the BLM and Minerals Management Science Advisory Board, the NW Great Basin Resource Advisory Council (BLM), the Malpai Borderlands Group Science Advisory Board, and the Central Coast Rangelands Advisory Board.