Reposted from California Alumni Magazine
Detail of photo by Bobby Lee / The Daily Californian
Expert: Grizzly Peak Wildfire Response Reveals a Potential Flaw
Last week's wild fire on Grizzly Peak Boulevard ended up scorching about 20 acres of brush and grass near the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, with no major damage to property and no loss of life. That was due in large part to a fuel reduction program pursued by Berkeley Lab since the 1990s, says Scott Stephens, a professor with UC Berkeley's Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management and one of the country's foremost wildfire experts.
“The lab has done a good job of treating blue gum [eucalyptus] stands around their facilities and generally removing or reducing fuels,” says Stephens, noting the ubiquitous eucalypts that grow across the East bay hills are notorious for their flammability. Due at least partially to Berkeley Lab's efforts, says Stephens, the fire never “crowned”—that is, it didn't leap up the “fuel ladders” of brush and branches to the interconnected canopies of the trees, then rage across the landscape.
Firefighters also were able to jump on the flames in short order, due in large part to a signage system put in place by Tom Klatt, Stephens' predecessor at Berkeley.
“I try not to promote draconian scenarios, but I am concerned about them,” Stephens says. “A fire driven by a strong east wind on a hot day would've acted very differently.”
“Tom was concerned about just this kind of situation: a fire breaking out on Grizzly Peak Boulevard, with firefighters delayed because there are so many twists and turns to the road and it can be difficult to determine location,” Stephens said. “So he was able to get a series of sign posts installed up there. Last week's fire started at sign post 14, and firefighters were able to respond very rapidly because they knew exactly where they were going.”
But the East Bay Hills dodged an incendiary bullet for another reason, Stephens says: On the day the fire ignited, the weather was mild and a west wind was blowing, more or less pushing flames away from Berkeley Lab and the UC Berkeley campus. If the fire had started on a hot day with an east wind—the conditions that prevailed during the disastrous Oakland Hills fire of 1991—things might have concluded tragically.
“I try not to promote draconian scenarios, but I am concerned about them,” Stephens says. “A fire driven by a strong east wind on a hot day would've acted very differently. It not only would've burned very quickly, but where particularly volatile fuels such as eucalyptus are concerned, it would have thrown embers miles ahead, starting hundreds of spot fires that would also burn explosively and merge. That's what happened in 1991.”
Normally, wildfires burn more rapidly uphill than downhill, observes Stephens, but in extreme conditions such as those that characterized the Oakland Hills Fire, “the fire overwhelms the topography. If last week's fire had occurred under Oakland Hills fire conditions, there would've been impacts to university property. I'm particularly concerned about the Clark Kerr campus dormitories. They seem at significant risk.”
Stephens has long supported major fuel reduction programs for the East Bay Hills, and was particularly distressed when FEMA pulled funding for a plan to remove eucalyptus and restore native vegetation on land owned by the university along Claremont Canyon. But fuel reduction, he avers, is not enough. Public facilities in the East Bay Hills also need effective response programs. Berkeley Lab evacuated its employees during the Grizzly Peak fire, says Stephens, “and I watched from the campanile for about 45 minutes as cars slowly snaked down the hill. People were particularly vulnerable at that time. If the fire had burned down that road rapidly, as you could expect with a strong east wind, they would've been in trouble. The natural instinct for people surrounded by wildfire is to get out of their cars and run, which can put them at even greater risk. Fatalities occurred during the Oakland Hills Fire because of that reaction, and it happens regularly during Australian wildfires.”
Many of Berkeley Lab's buildings are heavy concrete structures that could be largely impervious to wildfire, particularly given the aggressive fuel reduction policies the lab has pursued for the past 20 years, Stephens observes.
“I think it might be time for them to consider a shelter-in-place policy for their wildfire response strategy,” he says. “It would warrant an evaluation, at least. And they might also consider additional entrances and exits, a major reason the cars were so slow in getting out is because access is so limited. I also think UC needs to revisit and update its evacuation policies for its buildings, including the Clark Kerr dorms.”
Reposted from UC Berkeley College of Natural Resources news
BERKELEY - The first of three large land donations from Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) to the University of California has been officially transferred, expanding UC's research forest lands by 1,459 acres.
Named the “Grouse Ridge Forest” after the dominant feature of the property, the land is located on three parcels in the headwaters of the Yuba River in Nevada County. In conjunction with the land donation to UC, a conservation easement was conveyed to the Bear Yuba Land Trust (BYLT), ensuring the permanent protection of the forest land and important wildlife habitat there.
“As California's forests experience increased stresses from droughts, beetles, fires, and climate change, we need more “living laboratories” to learn how we can increase the resiliency of these critical watersheds over the next century,” said Bill Stewart, forestry specialist and co-director of the UC Berkeley Center for Forestry (CFF). “This new addition of research forest land is valuable as another site along a north-south transect of the Sierra Nevada that ensures that research results are broadly applicable and not just valid in one specific location.”
The University of California now has 6,452 acres of research forests, which are managed by the Center for Forestry. Through research, education and public service, the CFF continues to improve scientific understanding of the interconnected role of California's forests and state watersheds, renewable wood products, fish and wildlife habitat, scenic and recreational opportunities, and climate benefits.
These new lands will allow for increased research on the effects of climate change on forest ecosystems, expanded experimentation of forest-management techniques, and broadened outreach efforts to students of all levels, researchers, and the interested public.
“The importance of research forests as a space for studies on both mitigation of and adaptation to climate change was highlighted again this week with the announcement that we had just had the hottest year on record, for the third year in a row,” said J. Keith Gilless, CNR dean and professor of forest economics.
This is the first time UC has owned a forest property while another entity holds the conservation easement. “The Land Trust is excited for the opportunity to be a partner with the University of California in this endeavor,” said BYLT Executive Director Marty Coleman Hunt in an announcement made by the organization in December. “The forest has been a habitat for wildlife like mountain lion, deer and coyote and will remain so for as long as the forest can support them. As the forest changes over time, the University of California will study how nature adapts, and how the impact of humans can harm or benefit the natural processes.”
The land donation became official with the close of escrow in December 2016. It was originally approved by the Pacific Forest and Watershed Lands Stewardship Council in 2004 as part of PG&E's bankruptcy settlement, with the goal of ensuring that over 140,000 acres of California's lakes and watershed lands are conserved for the public good and to serve California's young people.
Two more forests have also been pledged to UC by PG&E and are expected to be officially transferred over the next few years: one along Marble Creek in eastern Shasta County and another near along the Bear River that is the dividing line between Placer County and Nevada County.
Once complete, these three donations will more than double the number of acres of UC research forest lands.
More information about the Grouse Ridge Forest Conservation Easement can be found on the Bear Yuba Land Trust Website.
For decades, people have flocked to a series of four waterfalls about 12 miles outside Georgetown in El Dorado County to slide down smooth granite rocks, lounge in the crystal-clear, cool water and spend time enjoying the forest.
The nearly 6-mile round-trip hike – some of it through fairly steep terrain – did little to dissuade an estimated 600 people each weekend in summer months from visiting University Falls, as the area is popularly known.
But that all ended on Aug. 14, when the owner of the land, UC Berkeley, shut down access to the site, blocked part of the trail with tree limbs and erected no-trespassing signs along the trail to the area, which is formally named Pilot Creek Falls.
The shutdown was ordered by Rob York, the research stations manager for the university's 4,000-acre Blodgett Forest research project, which studies forest and wildfire issues and includes the falls as part of its property.
“Over time, more and more people were not obeying the rules, and it was clear they were doing that so we really had no other option except to close it down,” York said last week as he walked through the area picking up discarded beer cans, plastic water bottles and a large, smashed bottle of Jack Daniels whiskey. “It's been a cumulative impact. ... Really, in the end, I was spending a third of my budget trying to mitigate the impacts.”
In addition to the trash problems, York said, visitors have ignored rules banning alcohol, dogs and firearms. The influx of visitors also created headaches for nearby residents and travelers dealing with people parking along two-lane Wentworth Springs Road. There were also problems with fire hazards and illegal overnight campers, he said.
The site's popularity also affects the El Dorado County Sheriff's Office, which found itself frequently responding to calls for help from injured citizens or to break up fights.
“It takes officers quite a while to get there. It usually takes an hour,” sheriff's Sgt. Chris Felton said. “You can't get a vehicle all the way down there. It's actually an old Jeep trail.”
The difficulty in accessing the site is obvious walking in. There are at least two abandoned vehicles that have been slowly deteriorating for years on the hillsides below the trail. For sheriff's deputies or the local volunteer fire department, the steep terrain lengthens response time when people need help, Felton said. About six weeks ago a young woman died after hitting her head going over the fourth waterfall, which is extremely steep and dangerous, he said.
“That's the one that kills people,” York said, as he stood above the final waterfall last week.
The decision to close off the falls has been a long time in the making, York said, and came after consultations with UC Berkeley's legal staff and officials at Sierra Pacific Industries, which owns property in the area that includes a portion of the old fire road that leads to the falls.
But the move has not been without controversy. On social media sites like Yelp.com, some users have raised questions about the university's legal right to keep people off the land. Some have openly defied the no-trespassing edict.
“Upon arriving, I noticed the sign saying that the falls were closed,” one Yelp commenter from Lafayette wrote Aug. 17, three days after the falls were closed. “A nasty old man drove by and told us ‘not to risk it' and that people were getting fined $750 for trespassing. ...
“I didn't drive to the middle of nowhere for 2 hours just to turn around. The falls are not private property, however the surrounding land might be.”
In fact, the ownership of the surrounding land complicates the closure somewhat. Accessing the site requires walking around a locked steel gate and onto an unpaved U.S. Forest Service road. After about a mile, the road crosses into private property owned by Sierra Pacific, and eventually the route winds into a steep hiking trail on UC Berkeley land that leads down to the waterfalls.
York said he has contacted sites like Yelp and Alltrails.com to get them to note that the falls are closed, and he has sent messages to people offering reviews of the falls telling them that they no longer can be accessed legally.
York said he also has talked with Sierra Pacific and the forest service about the decision to close off access and to post signs reading “No Entry Ahead” and “Falls Closed.”
Some of the no-trespassing signs are attached high up on pine trees out of reach, but many of his signs have been torn down by people who have chosen to ignore the closure and hike in to the falls.
Felton, the sheriff's sergeant, said the department has issued some warnings to people but has yet to issue any trespassing citations.
York has posted signs at the trail head listing six alternative sites for hikers to visit, complete with driving directions and estimated drive times, in the hope that visitors will decide to go elsewhere. A listing of those sites can be found at www.sacbee.com/links/.
In the long term, York said he is hopeful that a way can be found to reopen the area to the public, but with rules in place that don't harm the university's forest research programs.
“We'd like to be able to open it up in the future for safe and managed recreation, but we don't have the capacity to do that at this point,” he said. “It's UC regents (property) with the primary objective of research, and it has a long history of being used for that.”
from California State Board of Forestry:
NEWS RELEASE: California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, Board of Forestry and Fire Protection
CONTACT: Matt Dias, Board Staff, RELEASE DATE: August 5, 2014
University of California, Berkeley Forestry to be Honored for Outstanding Contributions to California Forestry
Sacramento - The California State Board of Forestry and Fire Protection will present the University of California (UC), Berkeley Forestry Program with its highest honor, the “Francis H. Raymond Award for Outstanding Contributions to California Forestry.” The presentation will be made during the Board Meeting scheduled for Wednesday, August 27, 2014 in the first floor auditorium of the Resources Building located at 1416 9th Street in downtown Sacramento.
UC Berkeley Forestry represents a strong cadre of Cal Foresters that today are well-represented as leaders in the management, conservation, regulation and research of California's vast forestlands. Academic contributions of the program have positively impacted forest management and policy throughout the world since the program started a century ago, in 1914. Some of the notable achievements include: developing the underpinnings for modern remote sensing, the first milling studies of second growth redwood and giant sequoia, research on seedling physiology that revolutionized seedling production, and ecological investigation on the role of fire in forested environments. Over the past century, the UC Berkeley Forestry program has provided opportunities for students with an interest in forest management, science, and policy with the skills to succeed in their academic careers. The UC Berkeley Forestry program is responsible for producing many of the Registered Professional Foresters within the state.
Additionally, the UC Berkeley Forestry program, through the Blodgett Research Forest Station in the Sierra Nevada, continues to work diligently at promoting forest stewardship through demonstration and research and annually extends informative tours to local and state elected representatives as a means of informing policy makers on the art and science of sound forest management. The UC Berkeley Forestry program is a well deserving of this prestigious award given the breadth of involvement and influence on forestry in California over the past 100 years.
The award is named for Francis H. Raymond, who was the Director of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection from 1953 to 1970. Mr. Raymond was one of the primary advocates for the passage of the Professional Foresters Law in 1973. Since 1987 it has been awarded to a group or individual who has achieved excellence in forestry in California.
Source: California State Board of Forestry
By Carli Baker | Staff, reposted from the Daily Californian
Ten weeks ago, two strangers in a green Volvo picked me up from my house to begin to a life-changing adventure in the northern Sierra Nevada mountains. Our destination was nestled deep in the sleepy town of Meadow Valley: the University of California Forestry Camp, a 98-year-old university-owned camp dedicated to nurturing the next generation of foresters and natural resource managers.
After a three-hour drive getting to know my driving buddies, listening to Fleetwood Mac and reveling in the forested landscape, we arrived. Lines of small wooden shanties and long dormitories circled around a campfire classroom, and small hand-painted signs directed us to various camp buildings, classrooms and bathrooms. As I tried to contain my excitement, I saw a handful of other campers who looked just as overwhelmed as I felt, unable to believe that this was to be our home for the next two months.
That first day of camp transported me back to a time when friends were made around picnic tables instead of 600-person lecture halls or random parties. After I found one of my friends, we sat near the entrance of camp and attempted to get to know the people we’d be spending all our time with. We helped people unload, found unclaimed rooms, played table tennis and shared our fears of spending the next two months without reliable cellphone service or social media.
One of my friends from the Volvo became my new roommate, and we chose our room based on the beautiful piece of bark near the door and the giant sugar pinecone hanging from the ceiling. Our “suga’ shack,” as it came to be known as, was a tiny, room-sized building with two tiny beds, two desks, fold-up chairs and little room for anything else. The rooms were open to the air, with screened doors and wooden walls that turned into metal mosquito netting about five feet up. We noticed that there were already families of spiders throughout it, with their intricate webbing tying together various pieces of furniture. Although we swept away the webs that day, by the end of camp, various critters — including squirrels, crickets, ants, yellow jackets and spiders — were normal companions in any building we inhabited.
During these eight weeks, I learned more about the forest than I thought I’d ever know. We learned about soil site indexes, forest pathogens, measurements and logging techniques. We took field trips to lumber mills and logging shows, and we climbed mountains and took plant quizzes on the way up. I learned how to climb a tree, hold a fire hose and properly chop wood. I woke up to the call of the Mountain Chickadee’s “Heeyyyy hippieee” call and went to sleep cradled by the light of the moon. Our days were hard; there’s no denying the struggle of waking up at 7 a.m. and not being done with class until 5:30 p.m., but now, comfortably sitting in my house with a hot cup of coffee and a cat, it’s incredible how lucky we were to have a living classroom that we could shape and be shaped by.
It’s difficult to properly articulate all of the memories I’ve made at camp. Relating my experiences to my friends and family since I’ve been home seems to almost cheapen the activity or make it seem even more surreal than it already feels. We spent our afternoons crick-dippin’, Lover’s leapin’ and thriftin’ at the local thrift stores, but just saying that doesn’t let you feel the cold water of the leap after a five-hour day in the field or laugh at the strange variety of souvenirs we found in Quincy shops. Looking through the lens of real life, these seem like activities that you could do anywhere and with anyone. But sharing those memories with the beautiful individuals I was lucky enough to meet this summer made it an experience that I can never forget.
I first heard about Forestry Camp from various friends in the College of Natural Resources, who raved about the amazing food, the weekend adventures and the general debauchery that usually occurs when large groups of college students congregate. Sure, I thought, this would be an opportunity to have the camp experience I never received as a child, a time to make great friends and maybe learn a few things about trees. What I didn’t realize at the time was how meaningful those eight weeks would be in molding my future aspirations and providing a platform for clarifying my passions and talents. Not to mention the eight weeks of giggle fests, late night fires and inside jokes that have made me doubt my ability to assimilate back into faced-paced city living. Now, as I get ready to move into my apartment and start my senior year of college, I’m so proud that I took that initial jump of faith in applying for camp.
What I learned this summer is that whether it’s a difficult class, a university-accredited forest camp in the summer or committing to Ultimate Frisbee, trying new things can have some great rewards. And, as college students, what better time is there than now to start exploring?