Peter Berck, one of the world's foremost forestry economists and a professor in UC Berkeley's Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics, or ARE, died of cancer Aug. 10 at age 68.
Berck earned a bachelor's degree in mathematics from UC Berkeley and a doctorate in economics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He returned to campus as an assistant professor in 1976, where he remained for the duration of his career. Berck never retired, continuing to advise students and conduct research even as his illness worsened, according to his wife, Cyndi Berck.
“Peter was probably the most beloved professor in any field,” Cyndi Berck said. “He had an open door policy in his office — he always had tea and coffee and loved hearing his students' life stories.”
Cyndi Berck said her husband had a love of the outdoors that began after he joined the Boy Scouts of America while growing up in New York. He became involved in leadership positions with the Boy Scouts as a district chair and assistant scoutmaster of Berkeley Troop 6 when his youngest son joined the organization.
“He wanted to expand ethnic diversity in the sense that scouting is for everyone,” Cyndi Berck said. “He was supportive of progress in the last several years of opening the scouts up regardless of sexual orientation or gender and he was in a position to be part of that process.”
Peter Berck's love for the outdoors translated into his academic pursuits — he wrote more than 100 research papers on a variety of topics, including forestry economics, management of natural resources and agricultural adaptation to climate change, according to Cyndi Berck.
Peter Berck recently developed a computer model to simulate impacts of environmental regulation on the California economy, which is now widely used by the California government to inform the state's fiscal policy, according to the ARE website. Cyndi Berck said her husband used this model to analyze the impacts of California greenhouse gas regulation, which determined that moving toward renewable energy would reduce the price of energy in California.
Though a prominent researcher, Peter Berck was also well-known for his dedication to his students, according to ARE professor Jeffrey Perloff. Upon hearing of Peter Berck's illness, some of his former graduate students created a Facebook page dedicated to him that received more than 900 comments, according to Perloff. He added that “not many people can generate that kind of love.”
ARE professor Sofia Villas-Boas said some people on the Facebook page created the term “BERCKonomics” — the capitalized letters stand for bonding over environment, resources, coffee and kindness — to summarize Peter Berck's legacy. Villas-Boas said that although there were many qualities repeated in the comments to describe Peter Berck, the quality most often noted was that “he brought us all together.”
“We had a connecting open door between our offices and we became really good friends,” Villas-Boas said. “Later we realized that I was like his sister and he was my brother. It was really a blessing.”
Peter Berck is survived by his wife, three children — David, Michelle and Joseph — his brother, Alan, and four grandchildren.
The 10-campus UC system is approaching a tipping point where it it may not be able to excel without increased state support. (UC Berkeley photos by Elena Zhukova)
After years of sagging funding and rising enrollment, the University of California system is nearing a “tipping point” where it cannot continue to grow with California's population and labor needs without seeking new revenues and state reinvestment, according to a new report from UC Berkeley's Center for Studies of Higher Education.
The report, published this week, provides the first detailed historical analysis of the 150-year-old, 10-campus UC system's funding model, which was once based on enrollment workload. A stable source of state funding provided the foundation for UC's growth in students, research, and public service programs.
“Look, California is the fifth-largest economy in the world and our pioneering public higher education system is a big reason for this,” said John Aubrey Douglass, one of the paper's authors and a senior research fellow at the center, which is affiliated with the Goldman School of Public Policy. “UC has been a terrific engine for socio-economic mobility.”
The 47-page paper provides a picture of a university that has navigated state funding cuts while enrolling increasing numbers of students, maintaining its research productivity and serving California's economy and social life.
Among the findings are the successes of UC system assets:
UC awards 33 percent of the state's bachelor degrees, and 85 percent of students graduate within six years, compared to the national average of 59 percent
The UC system produces 75 percent of California's life science Ph.D.s, 65 percent of the state's engineering and computer science Ph.D.s and roughly half of the state's medical students and residents
Forty-two percent of undergraduates are from households where neither parent has a college degree.
Just four of the 10 UC campuses enroll more low-income students than all the Ivy League universities combined. These students graduate at the same rates as their wealthier peers and earn more than their families soon after graduation.
UC researchers generate an average of five new inventions a day, and roughly 500 patents a year
And the changing financial picture:
While state support for the UC system shrank dramatically beginning in 1990, the UC system continued to expand enrollment in line with California's population growth, from 166,500 in 1990 to nearly 273,000 today
Tuition hikes have not fully replaced cuts in state funding, and 33 percent of all tuition increases are returned to students in the form of financial aid
California residents have not borne the brunt of tuition hikes. At UC Berkeley, nonresident undergraduates make up roughly 19 percent of the student body and pay almost 40 percent of the tuition the school collects
Roughly 57 percent of UC undergraduates from California pay no tuition
Compared to the size of California's economy, the government's per-student contribution to the UC system has fallen by 66 percent since 2000
And while the report also found that there is little statistical evidence to suggest the quality of a UC education has declined as state funding has shrunk, Douglass and his co-author Zachary Bleemer, who directs the UC ClioMetric History Project at the higher education study center, argued that that trend is unlikely to last.
“We may be at the end of California's once coherent effort, from 1910 to approximately 1990, to provide resources for UC to grow with California's population and help meet the state's labor and research needs and desire to mitigate inequalities in our society,” they wrote.
The report found that there is little statistical evidence to suggest the quality of a UC education has declined as state funding has shrunk, but that trend may not last.
Such a trend could leave UC leaders faced with difficult choices: limit enrollment and undermine the UC system's mission to serve Californians, or continue to expand enrollment as California's population grows and sacrifice educational quality, according to the paper.
Douglass and Bleemer go on to examine possible – and sometimes controversial – ways the UC system could adapt to an unpredictable future with limited state funding, including charging higher tuition for prestigious campuses like UC Berkeley or UCLA, cutting the amount of financial aid offered to students, charging higher tuition for lucrative degrees like computer science or offering online degree programs.
And while those changes may be necessary even with increased state support, Douglass and Bleemer conclude that the only sustainable solution is increased government support.
“The resources are there, and the total investment needed to allow UC, and CSU, to grow and maintain access to future Californians are relatively small compared to the state's GDP,” Douglass said. “California's knowledge-based business are already clamoring for more people from UC, and more people with Bachelor's and Ph.D.'s.”
In severely burned areas, nearly all lichen were gone, even 16 years after a fire.
As increasingly hot and severe wildfires scorch the West, some lichen communities integral to conifer forests aren't returning, even years after the flames have been extinguished, according to a study from scientists at the University of California, Davis.
Lichen, an often overlooked organism that forms fuzzy, leaflike layers over tree bark and rocks, is an unsung hero in forest ecosystems. It provides food for deer, caribou and elk, and is sometimes the only food source for flying squirrels, which are key prey for threatened spotted owls. Birds and insects use it to eat and nest. An important contributor to the nutrient cycle, it also helps fix nitrogen in forest soils.
“Lichen are beautiful, ecologically important, are all around us and tell us important things about the environment,” said lead author Jesse Miller, a postdoctoral scholar in the Department of Environmental Science and Policy at UC Davis. “But even if you don't notice lichens, you would notice the consequences in ecosystems when they are lost.”
Lichen loss and fire severity
For the study, published Aug. 9 in the journal Global Change Biology, researchers sampled lichen communities in about 100 study plots across California's Sierra Nevada region. Five wildfires had burned, at varying levels of severity, in and around the plots between four and 16 years before the study's sampling.
The results show that lichen communities were largely unaffected by low-severity fires. This suggests that prescribed fires and natural wildfires under moderate weather and fuels conditions are compatible with lichen diversity.
But areas that experienced higher severity wildfires had significantly lower abundance and diversity of lichen.
In severely burned areas where most of the trees died, nearly all the lichen were gone, even 16 years after the fire.
The lichens' recovery is likely held back by the loss of tree canopy after the fire, the researchers said. The hot, dry microclimate left in the forest post-fire is not conducive to lichen growth. This indicates that lichen communities burned in Sierra Nevada forests likely won't recolonize until mature trees regrow and the forest canopy is restored. This may exacerbate the effects of climate change that already threaten lichens.
“If the species could keep pace with the rate of climate change, the effects of fire might not be so bad,” Miller said. “But the concern is they might not. These fires happen so quickly and in such a large area, they could cause species ranges to contract faster than they are expanding.”
The study also indicates that the trend of increasingly dry forests and hotter, bigger and more severe wildfires could cause broad impacts to lichen diversity across the landscape, which could impact nutrient cycling and multiple food-chain interactions among wildlife.
The study areas included:
Yosemite, in areas burned by the Rim (2013) and Grouse (2009) fires
Greater Lake Tahoe Basin, in areas burned by the Showers (2002) and Long (2009) fires
Warner Mountains, in northeastern California, in areas burned by the Blue Fire (2001).
The study's co-authors are Hugh Safford of UC Davis and the USDA Forest Service, Pacific Southwest Region; and Heather Root from Weber State University in Utah.
The research was funded by the USDA Forest Service, Pacific Southwest Region.
Jesse Miller, Environmental Science and Policy, firstname.lastname@example.org
Kimberly Hale, UC Davis News and Media Relations, 530-752-9838, email@example.com
Kat Kerlin, UC Davis News and Media Relations, 530-752-7704, 530-750-9195 (cell), firstname.lastname@example.org, Kerlin will be out of the office Aug 9-13.
The news that Americans are getting about California's devasting fires is not being hyped up by the media, said UC Cooperative Extension area fire advisor Lenya Quinn-Davidson on the nationally broadcast NPR program On Point.
Host Eric Westervelt of WBUR in Boston got a Northern California perspective from Quinn-Davidson, who works with communities in Siskiyou, Trinity and Mendocino counties on managing the threat of wildfires and is the Northern California coordinator of the California Fire Science Consortium.
"I definitely don't think the situation is being hyped up," Quinn-Davidson said. "I'm in Ukiah and there's a thick blanket of smoke. Everyone can feel the tension of the Mendocino Complex Fire."
Quinn-Davidson said she grew up in the vicinity and, back then, major fires like those burning today only happened every few years. Lately, such super fire seasons are happening every year. She said it's time for Californians to take a different approach when thinking about fire.
"Fire is the only natural disaster that we fight against," Quinn-Davidson said. "With hurricanes and earthquakes, we adapt and try to identify vulnerabilities and change our behavior. We haven't treated fire like that. We need to learn how to adapt and make changes that make us more resilient to fire."
On Point is NPR's only call-in program. One caller asked whether climate change has reached an irreversible tipping point at which little can be done to reverse the damage that is causing extreme flooding, heat, hurricanes and wildfires.
Quinn-Davidson said she offers hope to the people in communities she serves.
"They're not powerless," she said. "I don't want people to feel that we are beyond some tipping point and they should just throw in the towel. I think we need to feel empowered to make the changes we can make - whether on a personal scale, at at the mid-grade community scale, or if it is taking political action to make larger change ... We still have some place to make a difference. I really believe that."
Michael Mann, professor of atmospheric science and director of the Earth System Science Center at Pennsylvania State University, was also a guest on the On Point program. He said that, as a nation, we may have breached a different tipping point - a tipping point in public consciousness. Recent news reports have informed the public about extreme flooding in Japan, record-breaking heat in Europe and catastrophic wildfires in California.
"This summer has made a difference in the public perception of how profound the threat of climate change already is," Mann said. "And I like to think that when they go to the voting booths in less than 100 days, they're going to be thinking about climate change and the need to act on this problem. I think we will see progress."
Many common street trees now growing in the interior of California are unlikely to persist in the warmer climate expected in 2099, according to research published in the July 2018 issue of the journal Urban Forestry & Urban Greening.
“Urban foresters in inland cities of California should begin reconsidering their palettes of common street trees to prepare for warmer conditions expected in 2099 due to climate change,” said the study's co-author, Igor Lacan, UC Cooperative Extension environmental horticulture advisor in the Bay Area.
Common trees in Coastal California cities appear to be better suited to withstand the 2099 climate.
Urban foresters in inland cities of California should begin reconsidering their palettes of common street trees to prepare for climate change.
Urban foresters in inland cities of California should begin reconsidering their palettes of common street trees to prepare for climate change.
“Our research shows that some trees now lining the streets of cities like Fresno, Stockton and Ukiah are likely to perform poorly in 2099,” Lacan said. “Those cities need to look at the conditions – and trees – now found in El Centro, Barstow and Fresno respectively.”
To reach these conclusions, Lacan and co-author, professor Joe McBride of UC Berkeley, used space-for-time substitution. They compared the most common street tree species in cities representing each of the 16 California climate zones with trees in cities that currently have climates that approximate the expected warmer conditions in the 16 cities 80 years from now.
For example, Eureka can expect a climate like Berkeley's today; Fresno's climate will resemble the climate of El Centro today. (Find the complete list of cities below.) The corresponding cities were determined with climate predictions from Cal-Adapt, which synthesizes California climate change scenarios to reach a consensus view of the magnitude of climatic warming.
“We used the mid-range models,” Lacan said. “It's very reasonable to say the warming predicted by the model we used is already ‘baked in,' regardless of any mitigation efforts. While we should take measures to prevent even greater warming – mostly by reducing the use of fossil fuels – this study aims to help adapt California urban forests to the warming that can be reasonably expected to occur.”
Lacan said he and McBride were surprised to find that coastal cities and their warm equivalents contain most of the same common urban tree species, while the warm equivalents of inland cities seemed to lack most and, in some cases, all of the common trees there today.
“It's really a sharp distinction,” Lacan said. “Perhaps they were lucky, but coastal cities are better positioned for the climate of 2099 than the inland cities.”