Forest Research and Outreach Blog
Reposted from the UC Berkeley news
UC Berkeley announced today the establishment of the Institute for Parks, People, and Biodiversity to tackle the most pressing issues facing the future of parks, including climate change and equitable access. The institute's inaugural executive director will be Jonathan B. Jarvis, who served 40 years with the National Park Service (NPS) and as its 18th director from 2009 to 2017.
“Our national, state and local parks are facing a myriad of challenges from climate change while simultaneously expected to provide recreation, wildlife refuge, public gathering space, health benefits and environmental justice,” Jarvis said. “I am very excited by this opportunity to bring together the extraordinary academic talents at UC Berkeley with the professionals in the parks and public lands to tackle these challenges.”
Jarvis brings a lifetime of park management experience to the institute. During his tenure as NPS director, Jarvis initiated extensive programs to address climate changes in the national parks, expanded the NPS by 22 new parks, and led the service through its Centennial with a vision for a second century of park stewardship, engaging communities through recreation, conservation, and historic preservation programs.
Resource Legacy Fund (RLF) provided $250,000 in seed money to launch the institute, continuing its nearly 20-year history of advancing conservation across the West. The nonprofit recently led efforts to help modernize the California park system through the Parks Forward Commission.
“The new institute will help inform future policy and management directions for parks,” said Michael Mantell, the founder and president of RLF. “Today we understand better than ever the economic, ecological and societal values of protecting parks and biological diversity. That's why we need a new vision for parks that includes equitable access and climate resilience, and policy to achieve that vision. Resources Legacy Fund is pleased to help UC Berkeley pioneer the interdisciplinary approach that can help advance our parks and serve society for the 21st century and beyond.”
The new institute continues Berkeley's long tradition of involvement in the national parks system, starting with its very foundation. In 1915, Stephen T. Mather, class of 1887, and Horace M. Albright, class of 1912, gathered a group at Berkeley's campus to plot a future for the country's existing and evolving national parks. The result of their efforts was legislation establishing the NPS in 1916, with Mather serving as its first director and Albright as its second.
For more than 100 years, research at Berkeley has helped guide evidence-based management policies and actions for parks. Berkeley's faculty, graduate students and natural history museums' curators conduct research in and for parks that produce key data and insights. Interdisciplinary studies of ecosystems yield important information about the management of biodiversity in the face of climate change, introduced species and other threats, and assess how protected land contributes to the health of the economy and the health of the planet, including carbon sequestration and ecosystem services. Research on the social, cultural and health benefits of parks contributes to decisions on park use and human enjoyment. The new institute will connect field managers and researchers to improve management of national, state, and local parks and other public lands.
Creation of the institute comes as the original concept of managing parks as discrete natural areas is increasingly out of date. Wildlife do not obey boundary lines, and climate change makes the historical record an unreliable predictor of future conditions. Park access must be expanded for underserved communities and urban populations, and to ensure continued support, parks must be managed in ways that engage younger generations.
One hundred years after the founding of the NPS, Berkeley hosted the 2015 summit “Science for Parks, Parks for Science: The Next Century” to advance the conversation about the future of parks. In the wake of this summit, the institute will help prepare parks, people and biodiversity for multiple futures, incorporating the best available science. The institute will bring together Berkeley faculty, researchers and practitioners across diverse disciplines to chart the course of park and protected space management for future. Berkeley's College of Natural Resources will host the institute, but the academic talents of the university's various colleges and disciplines will be involved, including public health, environment, education, design, business and law.
“We have world-class faculty who are already working on these issues, and we can look long term to study difficult questions across disciplines,” said Steven Beissinger, Berkeley professor of conservation biology in the College of Natural Resources, who led the push to start the institute.
Reposted from UCANR News
Given California's changing climate, should Sierra Nevada residents replant pine trees after so many died during the 2010-2016 drought? The short answer is yes, says Susie Kocher, UC Cooperative Extension forestry advisor.
“We have every reason to believe that pines will continue to be an important part of mixed conifer forests in the Sierras,” Kocher said.
Kocher spoke at a meeting for UC Master Gardeners, volunteers who provide landscape advice to the public in California. Questions have been coming in to Master Gardener hotlines from mountain residents wondering what to do after unprecedented tree loses in the last few years.
Most California forests are suffering from severe overcrowding due to 100 years of aggressive fire suppression and selective harvesting of the largest and most resilient trees. They were then subjected to five years of drought.
“There were just too many stems in the ground,” Kocher said. “The drought was very warm, so trees needed more water, but got less. These were optimal conditions for bark beetles.”
Western pine beetle is a native pest that attacks larger ponderosa pine and Coulter pine trees weakened by disease, fire, injury or water stress. Bark beetles are tree species specific, so other beetles target other species of trees in California's mixed conifer forests. Typically, bark beetles bore through tree bark and create long winding tunnels in the phloem. An aggregating pheromone attracts additional bark beetles to the tree, and heavily attacked trees invariably die.
During the drought, 102 million Sierra Nevada trees died from bark beetle attack or simply lack of water; 68 million of those died in 2016 alone. But after the abundant rainfall in the 2016-17 season, the bark beetle population seems to have crashed.
Landowners with 20 acres or more may be eligible for a state cost-sharing program to remove trees, reduce the fire hazard and replant new seedlings. Landowners in mountain communities who wish to revitalize their properties can contact local UC Master Gardeners for recovery advice.
UC Master Gardeners are plant enthusiasts who have passed an intense training program presented by UC academics. They participate in continuing education annually to update and maintain their knowledge. More than 60 Master Gardeners from Mariposa, Madera and Fresno counties gathered in Oakhurst in October to learn from UC scientists how to work with mountain homeowners whose towering trees have died. Similar training sessions, all funded by a grant from UC Agriculture and Natural Resources, were held in El Dorado and Tuolumne counties in June.
“There is life after beetles,” said Jodi Axelson, UC Cooperative Extension forestry specialist at UC Berkeley.
“Eco systems are stretched, and then they come back,” she said. “You must remember the time scale of forest change is long and pines have been a major species in the Sierra Nevada for at least 28,000 years. As long as there have been pines, there have been bark beetles.”
The scientists suggest that people who own forestland take a step back and assess the landscape after their dead trees have been removed.
“We're seeing a lot of young cedar and white fir surviving the drought. Oaks seems to be doing really well,” Kocher said.
She suggests landowners thin young trees so available sun and soil moisture are focused on the healthiest trees. Water seedlings that are receiving more sun than before to reduce stress. Planting native conifers is the best option. Due to climate change, she recommends choosing trees from a slightly lower elevation to hedge against warmer temperatures in the future.
Pines are adapted to the California forest, but may need help to regenerate. When the ground is moist in the late fall or spring, plant seedlings 10 to 14 feet apart. New trees should be planted well away from homes to maintain defensible space and at least 10 feet from power lines.
“Please don't set them up for future torture,” Kocher said. “That's just sad.”
To help the new trees become established, cover the ground around the tree, but not touching the bark, with two or three inches of mulch and irrigate weekly during the dry season for the first few years.
Questions about special circumstances may be directed to local UC Master Gardeners. Find the local program here: http://mg.ucanr.edu/FindUs/
Reposted from the UCANR Green Blog
It's Deja Vu all over again
- Yogi Berra
Once again I'm asked to provide some perspective on yet another catastrophic situation affecting the North Coast. In 2015, it was the Valley Fire. In 2016, it was the Clayton Fire. This year there are so many fires I'm having difficulty recalling their names...14 at last count.
The cause for these 2017 conflagrations will be apparent once the elements of the fires are assessed. Tornadic winds hitting 50 mph Sunday, October 8, will most likely have started most if not all. Winds of this intensity can ignite fires by impacting electrical infrastructure by breaking lines and causing transformers to explode. The cause of the fires will come out in time. Thick stands of vegetation, the result of mid-20th century land management practices, years of fire suppression, homes built in rural locations in steep terrain, old legacy roads too small to accommodate modern fire-fighting equipment, and exurban development without the necessary resources to address fire prevention. All this leads to almost impossible conditions to arrest a fire being pushed by wind.
I would argue there is no better fire-fighting force in the world than those found in California. What these men and women do is nothing short of extraordinary. But they are faced with an impossible task in the absence of an equally focused program of fire prevention.
What have I learned from Lake County as a result of the Valley and Clayton fires?
The Lake County fires have provided insights that can help with the recovery and reconstruction of the most recent events. Specifically, resources must be secured to assist landowners and communities in better incorporating fire resilience into local rural and suburban planning and projects, to prepare for the eventuality of another fire by creating and maintaining conditions that allow the fire to be controlled before getting out of hand. Admittedly, the recent fires were wind-driven events that became uncontrollable. However, these fires are the exception to the rule. There are hundreds of fires a year in California that are quickly controlled and extinguished. Fire resiliency must incorporate plans and projects that can address less catastrophic conditions, in the hopes of arresting a fire before it becomes a conflagration.
Other aspects for communities to consider when addressing fire resiliency may include fire-fighting equipment scaled to accommodate old, rural roads, resources to retrofit old roads to accommodate evacuees and first responders, and rural lands with poor or non-existent internet service need to re-establish fire sirens to alert residents of impending danger. Local statutes need to establish and enforce vegetation management standards on absentee parcels. And, finally, a sustained dialogue addressing fire resiliency must be incorporated into all land-use planning discussions to help landowners recognize and implement actions to help reduce the risk of catastrophic fire.
None of this will be easy or inexpensive. But neither is fighting hundreds of thousand acres of wildland fires every year.
Admittedly, the weather conditions responsible for these fires may negate the best plans and efforts. But again, those conditions are the exception to the rule.
For every acre burned this year there are ten more, in the same condition, that didn't, providing next year's opportunity for a conflagration. The road forward to address California's wildland fire threat is long, and full of twists and turns. But as with all long journeys, each begins with the first step.
Greg Giusti is a UC Cooperative Extension advisor emeritus specializing in forests and wildlands ecology.
Reposted from UCANR News
Preventing embers from getting inside may save homes
Photos and video of the Northern California communities that have been hit by wildfires this week show buildings reduced to ash. How could so many homes and businesses burn so quickly in Wine Country fires? Many houses that burned to the ground in the Northern California fires likely burned from the inside out, says Yana Valachovic, UC Cooperative Extension forest advisor for Humboldt and Del Norte counties.
Red hot embers carried on the wind can enter the attic via the venting. “In the case of the wind-driven fires on October 8, these fires created ember storms that blasted little coals into everything in their pathway,” Valachovic said. These embers also create small spot fires near the home that fuel new sources of embers.
Weather played a large role in these fires and generated a fire storm of embers that ignited grass, shrubs, trees and anything in its path. “While the landscape can be the fuse, the homes really can be the most burnable part of the landscape,” Valachovic said. “These embers likely lodged in the small spaces and openings of homes and buildings. A common location is for the embers to enter via attic venting or HVAC systems distributing little fires into the buildings.
“Embers also landed on receptive leaves, outside furniture, and other flammable materials outside the buildings that created fires adjacent to the buildings. Once enough buildings were engulfed in fire, the radiant heat of each building fire led to exposures on the neighboring buildings, creating a house-to-house burn environment.”
Residents can reduce the risk of embers setting their house on fire by removing dry plants around the structure.
“These fires remind us that everyone in California could help the fire situation by managing the vegetation, leaves in the gutters and decks, newspaper piles, brooms and other flammable sources near to their houses now before they get the evacuation call,” Valachovic said. “If you are likely to have to evacuate soon, temporarily covering or sealing up the vents with metal tape or plywood can help harden your home to an ember storm.”
Steve Quarles, UC Cooperative Extension advisor emeritus, who spent his career studying fire behavior on building materials and around homes, created an online Homeowner's Wildfire Mitigation Guide at http://ucanr.edu/sites/Wildfire. Quarles, who now does research for the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety, demonstrates how embers can ignite and quickly engulf a house in flames in a video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IvbNOPSYyss. After the 3-minute mark, video shows embers drifting up and flying through a screened vent into the house, where they could ignite combustible materials in the attic resulting in fire starting on the inside of the home.
“If you have time to prepare your home, use the wildfire last-minute check list at http://disastersafety.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/IBHS-Wildfire-Last-Minute-Checklist.pdf,” Valachovic said.
Valachovic has co-authored publications in home survival in wildfire prone areas http://anrcatalog.ucanr.edu/pdf/8393.pdf and how landscape plants near homes can create more vulnerability to wildfire http://anrcatalog.ucanr.edu/pdf/8228.pdf.
Once these fires are extinguished, a more detailed analysis will be possible.
“Past wildfire events have shown that this is the common way homes in the wildland urban interface (WUI) burn, and this scenario was likely translated to the urban environment,” she said.
Reposted from the Fire Adapted Communities Learning Network
On Labor Day weekend, my friends and I canceled a vacation rental on the Trinity River because of the heat and smoke. It was predicted to be 112 degrees inland that weekend, and we figured we'd be crazy to subject ourselves (and our posse of toddlers) to that when we could stay on the coast and enjoy fresh air and cool temperatures. Smart, right?
Saturday morning, we made breakfast at my friend's house and watched the temperature climb. By 10 a.m., it was over 80 degrees, and by noon, it was nearing 100 — unbelievably hot for our foggy redwood coast. And on top of the heat, it was the smokiest I've ever seen it here. Turns out, we hadn't escaped the heat or the smoke.
But here's the weird thing: the inland areas, which were predicted to be unusually hot that weekend, were actually cooler than the coast. My husband, who was working on the Eclipse Complex in the Klamath Mountains — in the heart of the projected heat wave — experienced a high in the low 80s that weekend. Meanwhile, we were grappling with almost unprecedented heat here by the ocean. To have a double-digit difference in temperature between the inland areas and the coast is the norm here, but the coast is never the hotter of the two.
The odd temperature patterns that weekend reminded me of an old paper I read years ago — something about the cooling effects of forest fire smoke, and the potential to use wildfires to better understand the potential impacts of “nuclear winter.” An odd topic, but intriguing, too.
Interestingly, in looking back at the paper, I realized that it was based on data collected in the Klamath Mountains exactly thirty years before this year's hot, smoky Labor Day weekend. The author, Alan Robock, analyzed surface temperature data from weather stations across northern California and southern Oregon, and he found that smoke from nearby wildfires had significant cooling effects in the Klamath River canyon in September of 1987 — temperatures were more than 27 degrees below normal for an entire week and more than 9 degrees cooler than normal for most of the month. During that time, the combination of an inversion and wildfire smoke created a positive feedback loop: smoke trapped by the inversion cooled the surface air temperature, which strengthened the inversion and trapped even more smoke. Of course, the smoke did more than cool the air that month; Robock notes that it also caused severe respiratory problems for people who were living in that area, and even caused tomato plants to shrivel up and die.
More recent studies show other important effects of temperature inversions. Earlier this year, Becky Estes and others published a paper in Ecosphere that looked at the factors influencing fire severity in the Klamath Mountains in 2006 — a year that had moderate burning conditions and is thus representative of years when wildfires might be managed for resource benefit. Of all the weather variables they looked at, temperature inversions had the strongest influence on fire severity that year. Earlier work by Miller et al. (2012) had noted similar patterns, including more surface fire and less crowning under inversions. 1987 and 2008, two of the biggest fire years in our region in the last several decades, had lower than average fire severities thanks to widespread temperature inversions.
Collectively, these studies reveal interesting tensions between humans and fire — not just here in the Klamath Mountains, but everywhere. In some ways, the inversions and smoke are producing conditions we want to see on the ground: lower fire intensities, cooler temperatures, etc. But these can come at the cost of unlivable air quality (not to mention stunted vegetables and wine that tastes like smoke!). And this isn't just about inversions — it's really about us finding ways to live in the crossfire of the natural checks and balances of these systems. We know that we need more fire, and that we need to take advantage of moderate burning conditions, even if that means more smoke. We just need to find good ways to do it — that's what fire adaptation is all about. (Also, I'd be lying if I said Robock's thoughts on nuclear winter didn't seem a little more relevant now than they did last time I read that paper … might be worth revisiting!)
Estes, B. L., Knapp, E. E., Skinner, C. N., Miller, J. D., & Preisler, H. K. (2017). Factors Influencing Fire Severity Under Moderate Burning Conditions in the Klamath Mountains, Northern California, USA. Ecosphere, 8(5).
Miller, J. D., Skinner, C. N., Safford, H. D., Knapp, E. E., & Ramirez, C. M. (2012). Trends and Causes of Severity, Size, and Number of Fires in Northwestern California, USA. Ecological Applications, 22(1), 184-203.
Robock, A. (1988). Enhancement of Surface Cooling Due to Forest Fire Smoke. Science, 242, 911-913./h2>