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Forest Research and Outreach Blog

Wildfire risk should be considered when planning new developments

San Diego County officials want to approve construction of about 10,000 homes in areas largely labeled by CAL FIRE as posing a "very-high" fire hazard, reported Joshua Emerson Smith in the San Diego Union Tribune.

County supervisors said the subdivisions are badly needed and developers have laid out exhaustive fire-prevention blueprints. However, UC Cooperative Extension fire specialist Max Moritz said these building codes and other rules don't take into account whether a particular project should be built there at all.

“There are all these hazards that we use to guide our building and our zoning from floods to landslides, and fire is not one of them,” Moritz said.

“In the end, the taxpayer is left holding the bill for all this,” he said. “The developer may do a really good job at designing and convincing everybody that it's the right thing to do, but after they walk away, the public is left doing fuels maintenance for decades, and the public picks up the bill when there's a disaster.”

The Carr Fire burned 1,077 homes in Northern California during the summer of 2018. (Photo: Bureau of Land Management)
 
Posted on Wednesday, December 5, 2018 at 12:05 PM
  • Author: Jeannette Warnert
Tags: development (1), Max Moritz (2), wildfire (43), zoning (2)

Catastrophic wildfires and climate change lead to growing acceptance of ‘pyrosilviculture’

Reposted from the UCANR Green Blog

For millennia, fires periodically burned through California forests, thinning trees, reducing shrubbery and clearing out downed branches and debris. Without periodic fire, the forests became more dense, with spaces between large trees filling in with a thick carpet of duff, seedlings and shrubs.

As a result, today's forests are prone to more intense and damaging fires, like the Rim Fire, King Fire, and — most recently — the Camp Fire in Butte County. These fires are burning with unprecedented severity and speed, threatening large swaths of forest, towns, and even urban areas.

The Camp Fire in Butte County on Nov. 8, 2018. (Photo: NASA)
 

Using fire as part of forest management is not a new concept. Native Americans were known to burn brush to open up hunting grounds and clear shrubbery for gathering. Decades ago, iconic Berkeley forestry professor Harold Biswell said, “Fire in the Sierra Nevada is as important as rain.”

Competing forces, however, pushed foresters and fire officials toward fire prevention and suppression, particularly the cataclysmic fires of the early 20th century that leveled entire towns and left dozens of residents and firefighters dead. The fear of out-of-control blazes and the perceived damage to timber resources launched a war on fire that has lasted a hundred years. Some forest managers are urgently trying to negotiate a truce.

Making peace with fire and turning it into a useful tool, rather than a raging threat, was the objective of an October meeting in Shaver Lake of UC Cooperative Extension forestry and natural resources scientists, Southern California Edison forest managers, CALFIRE officials and U.S. Forest Service representatives.

Participants in the pyrosilviculture training gather at a recent prescribed burn site near Shaver Lake.
 

The event also raised awareness of “pyrosilviculture,” a new forest management term coined by UC fire scientist Rob York to emphasize the importance of fire in silviculture, the management of forests for wood.

Forests have myriad benefits – recreational, environmental and economic. Nature lovers value the whisper of pine trees in the wind and green shade over hiking trails and ski slopes. Owls, bears, deer and other wildlife make their homes among firs, pines, oaks and cedars. Forests stabilize mountain slopes, which store water as snow for agriculture and drinking. People build their homes, businesses and schools out of the planks and boards cut from the straight, soft wood of conifer trees.

The value of California forest products was about $429 million in 2017, according to the USDA. Because fires can damage and destroy trees, the timber industry has historically been reluctant to use fire as a tool. That's changing.

“Fire is such an important ecological process, you can't manage for timber without fire,” York said.

York is the manager of the Blodgett Forest Research Station, UC Berkeley's 4,000-acre mixed conifer and oak forest near Georgetown where researchers study forest management practices for increasing timber yield while taking advantage of fire to enhance forest health and make forest stands more resilient to wildfire.

Controlled burning can be used to treat fuels and reverse these trends, but it has been inhibited by a number of barriers, including landowners' concerns about liability, risk aversion among fire management agencies, narrow burn windows, air quality limitations and other regulatory challenges. Now, public demand for prescribed fires is growing.

“I believe what moved the needle was, for several years in a row, there were high-severity fires in the news,” York said. “Wildfires were in the pubic zeitgeist. People began asking, ‘Why aren't we doing more prescribed fire?'”

Climate change is also intensifying the interest among the public and silviculture professionals. Because California is getting warmer and fire seasons are growing longer, high-severity fires are expected to increase.

“There would logically be a tipping point. Even though we reduce the growth of trees when we use fire, if it can prevent the loss of the forest entirely, it would be meeting the timber objective,” York said.

The vast tree die-off during the 2011-2016 drought was another jarring sign that the Sierra Nevada ecosystem is out of balance.

The U.S. Forest Service, which manages 20 million acres of forest in California, is using prescribed fire to reduce fire risk on federal forestlands, but scientists say it's not nearly enough to reduce the threat of catastrophic wildfire. CAL FIRE is ramping up its controlled burn efforts, but it will take time to address far-reaching areas of overgrown forestlands. The agency sometimes uses mechanical measures such as mastication and chaining before burning to pre-treat fuels and prepare units for burning.

“We need to work around communities first, and then move out to the wider landscape,” said CAL FIRE division chief Jim McDougald. “If a prescribed fire moves into a subdivision and burns houses, we take 100 steps back.”

UC Cooperative Extension forestry and natural resources advisor Susie Kocher. (Photo: @UCsierraforest)
 

UC Cooperative Extension is working with private landowners to encourage more prescribed burning to reduce fire risk, protect communities and timber. UCCE forestry and natural resources advisor Susie Kocher coordinated training sessions this year in four mountain communities. The sessions included local fire history and current fire research, prescribed fire permitting and legal considerations, fire weather forecasting and online tools, air quality and smoke management, fire terms and fire behavior, burn plan development, burn unit preparation and fire tools and equipment.

“Burning is a key element of forestland management and it can be safe if done properly,” Kocher said. “We provide classroom instruction and invite participants to join a live prescribed fire at Blodgett Forest as part of their training so they become familiar with the process.”

At the training sessions, UC Cooperative Extension advisor Lenya Quinn-Davidsonsaid that in some cases, private landowners can conduct burns themselves. In her hometown in Trinity County, many ranchers and landowners conduct small broadcast burns to reduce fuels and improve forage. These burns are typically quite small and usually conducted in the winter.

“This can be a good option for landowners who wish to burn small areas, but we need other options for bigger, more complex burns” Quinn-Davidson said.

In other parts of the country, landowners have formed Prescribed Burn Associations (PBAs) that allow landowners to work with neighbors and other community members on controlled burns, sharing equipment and labor while developing skills. The PBA model provides a low-cost, grassroots option for prescribed burning, and empowers landowners to work together, and with other key experts and partners, to bring fire back to the landscape, says Quinn-Davidson.

“People are desperate to do something about fire, and the PBA model gives them an option to actively engage with each other and with fire as a tool—it's very empowering,” said Quinn-Davidson.

UC Cooperative Extension area fire advisor Lenya Quinn-Davidson.
 
Posted on Thursday, November 15, 2018 at 10:42 AM
  • Author: Jeannette Warnert

Sanchez named UCCE woody biomass specialist

Daniel Sanchez
 

Daniel Sanchez joined UCCE on Sept. 1, 2018, as a UC Cooperative Extension specialist in woody biomass utilization in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy & Management at UC Berkeley. Sanchez is an engineer and energy systems analyst studying the commercialization and deployment of energy technologies that remove COfrom the atmosphere. Sanchez's work and engagement spans the academic, nongovernmental, and governmental sectors. As an assistant Cooperative Extension specialist, he runs the Carbon Removal Lab, which aims to commercialize sustainable negative emissions technologies, and supports outreach to policymakers and technologists in California and across the United States.

Sanchez earned a Ph.D. and a M.S. in energy and resources at UC Berkeley.  He completed a B.S.E in chemical and biomolecular engineering at University of Pennsylvania.

Prior to joining the faculty of UC Berkeley, Sanchez was a AAAS Congressional Science and Engineering Fellow serving in the Office of Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO). He has previously held positions with the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, Green for All, and the California Public Utilities Commission.

Sanchez is located in Mulford Hall and can be reached at (215) 593-4493 (cell) and sanchezd@berkeley.edu. Follow him on Twitter @Dan_L_Sanchez.

Posted on Wednesday, November 14, 2018 at 10:07 AM
  • Author: UCANR Report

Jones named UCCE forestry advisor

Reposted from the UCANR report

 

Michael Jones
 

Michael Jones joined UCCE on Oct. 1, 2018, as the area forestry advisor in Mendocino, Lake and Sonoma counties. He specializes in forest entomology with a focus on forest health and integrated pest management of invasive and endemic forest pests.

Jones completed a Ph.D. in entomology from State University of New York, College of Environmental Science and Forestry and a B.S. in environmental biology and management from UC Davis.

Prior to joining UCCE, Jones was a graduate student and research project assistant at State University of New York. He developed and maintained research projects on delimitation, management, and biological control of the invasive forest pest emerald ash borer in New York. From 2010 to 2013, Jones was a research associate in the UC Davis Department of Entomology, in collaboration with the US Forest Service, Forest Health Protection in Southern California. He participated in a variety of forest pest research projects involving the detection, evaluation and management of endemic and invasive forest pests. He has been active in leading training activities for land managers and land owners in the field identification and management of forest pests, and training and supervising field crews in the collection of field data. As an undergraduate at UC Davis, he worked on sudden oak death with David Rizzo's lab group in the Department of Plant Pathology.

Based in Ukiah, Jones can be reached at (707) 463-4495 and mjones@ucanr.edu.

Posted on Wednesday, November 14, 2018 at 10:04 AM
  • Author: UCANR Report

CDFA and UC ANR join forces to advance climate-smart agriculture in California

Reposted from UCANR News

California Secretary of Agriculture Karen Ross and UC Agriculture and Natural Resources vice president Glenda Humiston signed a memorandum of understanding in Sacramento Oct. 26 to initiate a new partnership to advance climate-smart agriculture in California.

This partnership will provide $1.1 million to hire 10 UC Cooperative Extension community education specialists who will be deployed to 10 counties statewide to assist and encourage farmers to participate in CDFA programs aimed at increasing adoption of smart farming and ranching practices.

UC ANR vice president Glenda Humiston (left), and California Secretary of Agriculture Karen Ross sign a memorandum of understanding to initiate the new partnership to advance climate-smart agriculture.
 

“Agriculture is an important part of the climate solution,” Ross said. “This funding enables CDFA and UC ANR to partner with farmers to scale-up climate smart agricultural practices.”

The new program is funded by California Climate Investments dollars through the Strategic Growth Council (SGC),

“Farmers and ranchers are key to carbon sequestration and a sustainable California,” said SGC chair Ken Alex.  “The Strategic Growth Council is pleased to fund this partnership for smart agricultural practices.”

The partnership is focused on implementing on-farm solutions to improve soil health, nutrient management, irrigation management, on-farm composting and manure management – smart farming practices that reduce greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere.

The CDFA programs involved are:
Memorandum of Understanding.
 

“This new joint effort reflects our commitment to extending research-supported solutions to our farming community so they have the information and tools they need to make climate-smart decisions,” Humiston said. “It also demonstrates our shared goal of promoting new practices that are grounded in science.”

 

The 10 new education specialists will serve in Mendocino, Glenn, Yolo, San Joaquin, Merced, Kern, Imperial, San Diego, San Luis Obispo and Santa Cruz counties.

Three UCCE advisors will mentor and assist the new educators: water quality and management advisor Laurent Ahiablame, based in San Diego County; area dairy advisor Betsy Karle, based in Glenn County; and irrigation and cotton advisor Dan Munk, based in Fresno County.

In addition to working with the new educators, the UCCE advisors conduct research on farming and ranching practices that boost efficiency and protect the climate, therefore serving as a conduit between discovery and implementation.

“This is a great opportunity to really support growers find the right balance between food production and effective management of natural resources,” Ahiablame said. “With the 10 community education specialists we will be one step closer to the producers across the state. I look forward to the opportunity to mentor these specialists, who in turn will be making direct impacts on the community.”

Karle said she was interested in participating in the program as a way to encourage dairy operators to try practices they are interested in but consider too costly.

“I've worked here locally with dairy producers who wanted to implement practices but need financial assistance in order to make it feasible,” Karle said. “They need assistance in the grant application process and technical support to make changes on their farms.”

Doug Parker, director of the UC California Institute for Water Resources, is the UC ANR point of contact and liaison with CDFA. To contact Parker, email doug.parker@ucop.edu.

The rapidity of water infiltration into the soil is a measure of soil health. Building soil health is one of the areas in which the UC ANR-CDFA partnership will help farmers implement climate-smart farming.
 
Posted on Friday, October 26, 2018 at 1:41 PM
  • Author: Jeannette Warnert
Focus Area Tags: 4-H

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