Central Sierra
University of California
Central Sierra

Posts Tagged: Maggi Kelly

Standiford retires from 37-year UC ANR career

Reposted from the UCANR report

From left, Vice Provost Chris Greer, Rick Standiford and Peggy Mauk at Sierra Foothill Research and Extension Center. Greer presented Standiford with a certificate of appreciation for his 37 years of service to UC ANR.

Wrapping up a remarkable 37-year career with UC ANR, Richard B. Standiford IV, UC Cooperative Extension forest management specialist at UC Berkeley, will retire June 30. 

In addition to being a highly regarded forestry expert, Standiford served as UC ANR's associate vice president from 2005 to 2009, and provided stability for the division as acting vice president during the 11-month transition from Reg Gomes stepping down to retire until Daniel Dooley succeeded him as vice president in 2008.

“There are a select few individuals who both excel at research, teaching, service and outreach and can lead and motivate others to try to do the same. Rick belongs to this rarest subspecies of academic,” said Keith Gilless, dean of the College of Natural Resources at UC Berkeley, who has worked with Standiford for 35 years.

In 1980, after working two years as a research and extension forester at Purdue University, Standiford joined UC Cooperative Extension at UC Berkeley. The New Jersey native developed a research and extension program focused on sound management of California's forests, rangelands and other natural resources.

Standiford “personifies all that is best about Cooperative Extension,” said Maggi Kelly, director of the UC ANR Statewide Informatics and Geographic Information Systems Program, professor and Cooperative Extension specialist in the Department of Environmental Sciences, Policy & Management at UC Berkeley. 

“There are a select few individuals who both excel at research, teaching, service and outreach and can lead and motivate others to try to do the same,” said Keith Gilless, shown on right with Standiford.
“Part of his legacy has been the ways in which he navigates the Cooperative Extension mission - intuiting and understanding natural resource and environmental problems, reaching stakeholders, liaising with state officials, finding funding, conducting quality applied research, and leading practical,impactful extension activities,” Kelly said. 

His legacy in Cooperative Extension continued to grow as associate vice president of ANR, says Peggy Mauk, former director for Central Coast and South Region.

“Rick empowered people, empowered regional directors and county directors to implement programs for the betterment of California,” Mauk said. “Rick had the ability to bridge the gap between administrative concepts and regional (county) implementation. He wanted to know how higher level decisions would impact ANR's county-based personnel and programs and then adjust for those impacts. Above all, Rick valued people and positions, and supported the ANR mission.”

He also has provided leadership for county Cooperative Extension advisors developing programs in forestry and conservation of oak woodlands.

“Rick has a tremendous ability to pull people together,” said Yana Valachovic, UCCE director and forest advisor for Humboldt and Del Norte counties, noting his leadership in getting people to work together to contain sudden oak death disease. “It takes passion, vision and an ability to communicate effectively.”

While tackling the emerging forest disease, Standiford also devoted time to mentoring young scientists.

“Early in 2000, Rick bounced into my office with the news that he had found emergency funds to study the disease, and had assembled a team of pathologists, ecologists, arborists, homeowners and forest managers to attack the problem,” said Kelly, a remote-sensing expert. “Rick asked if I would be able to use the money to fly to Marin County and develop critical baseline maps of the nascent disease. I was, and I did, and that generosity and foresight launched my applied research and extension program at Berkeley.”

“The disease was subsequently named Sudden Oak Death, and in 2015 ANR was been given a nationwide award in extension for its timely, quality, impactful multidisciplinary approach to the disease,” Kelly said, “and it all started with Rick.”

Standiford, shown doing research in the forest in the early 1980s, may be best known for his work in oak woodlands and forest stewardship.
In addition to academics, he has worked with professional foresters and natural resource managers,forestandrangeland owners and managers, timber operators, government agencies, forestry organizations, policymakers and others interested in natural resource management.

 Standiford said working with people was the part of his career he enjoyed most. He recalled driving with UCCE colleagues to Mariposa County to deliver a workshop on managing oaks. 

“The sun was setting, it's pretty dark, pretty desolate and we're wondering, ‘Is anybody going to be at the workshop?'” Standiford said. “At the grange hall in Catheys Valley, there's a ton of pickup trucks and cars. Inside, everybody is excited that the university has shown up to help figure out how to manage their trees. That's what my job has been about. It was always a lot of fun.”

An early adopter of technology, Standiford has used webinars to teach oak woodland management from a distance. While acknowledging the convenience of virtual meetings, he said, “I hope we don't lose sight of the value of personal contact.”

From 1985 to 1987, Standiford served as ANR program director for natural resources, leading efforts in forestry, wood products, wildlife and range management.

From 1988 to 1999, Standiford led collaboration among UC, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, and the California Department of Fish and Game for the ANR statewide Integrated Hardwood Range Management Program, which was established in 1986 by the California Legislature to address poor oak regeneration and ongoing woodland losses. The program continued for 23 years until its budget was cut in 2009.

At UC Berkeley, he coordinated all Cooperative Extension activities in the Department of Forestry and Resource Management from 1989 to 1993, served as associate dean for forestry and director of the Center for Forestry from 1998 to 2002 in the College of Natural Resources, and oversaw the College's capital projects program, space planning and research infrastructure as associate dean for forestry and capital projects from 2002 to 2004.

The four Managing Oak Woodlands webinars are archived at http://ucanr.edu/sites/oak_range/Oak_Webinars.
Standiford earned a bachelor's degree in forestry from North Carolina State University, where he ranked second in his graduating class. He earned his master's degreeinwildland resource science, with an emphasisonsilviculture, from UC Berkeley and his doctoral degree in agricultural economics from UC Davis. The American Association of Agricultural Economists honored his “ABioeconomic Model of California'sHardwoodRangelands” as Dissertation of the Year in 1989. Over his career, he has published hundreds of articles and publications on the sound management of forestandrangelands.

 In retirement, Standiford plans to teach at the UC forestry camp and remain active with the Society of American Foresters. He also plans to travel with his wife, Judy, and spend time coaching and camping with his five grandchildren 

“I have been blessed with the most wonderful job in the world,” Standiford said. “The best part was the honor of working with such wonderful people on campus, in the counties, and the wide group of landowners and managers who taught me so much.”

Posted on Friday, June 2, 2017 at 11:50 PM
  • Author: Pamela Kan-Rice

California's majestic trees are declining - a harbinger of future forests

Reposted from the original at theconversation.com.
In the 1920s and 1930s crews surveyed much of California, collecting information about vegetation. This photo was taken in 1936 by Albert Wieslander. Marian Koshland Biosciences Library

Scientists in my native state of California were handed a gift: a trove of detailed information about the state's forests taken during the 1920s and 1930s and digitized over the past 15 years. When we compared this historical data – covering an area bigger than Great Britain – to current forests surveys, we found that California's famed giant trees are suffering due to drier and warmer conditions.

This change to the forest landscape is important not only to the people of California. Large trees are huge sinks of carbon dioxide, provide habitat for many creatures and play a vital role in the water supply by, for example, providing catchment areas for snow. Forests that are denser with smaller trees are also more likely to burn.

Studying how the structure of forests is shifting over time provides us insight into how forests — a resource we depend on for many environmental and economic reasons — could change in a world of warmer temperatures.

Saved from destruction

Researchers from the University of California at Berkeley and Davis, the Department of Forest Management at the University of Montana, and the US Geological Survey's California Water Science Center worked together on a paper on California's forests published last week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The historical data for our study came from the Wieslander Vegetation Type Mapping (VTM) collection, which was created in the 1920s and 1930s. It's been described in a 2000 paper as “the most important and comprehensive botanical map of a large area ever undertaken anywhere on the earth's surface.”

This botanical map was pioneered by Albert Wieslander, an employee of the Forest Service Forest and Range Experiment Station in Berkeley, California. The collection consists of 18,000 detailed vegetation plots, over 200 vegetation maps, 3,100 photographs and hundreds of plant specimens. Overall, the collection covers about 280,000 square kilometers, or just over a third of the state. Combined, the data created a detailed picture of the state's vegetation in the early 20th century — an important marker ecologists today can use for comparison.

During the 2000s, several groups, including my lab, launched efforts to digitize the plot data, maps and photograph portions of the collection. There still are some missing pieces. Indeed, the journey from paper collection to digital data has been a long one, with several cases in which documents were nearly destroyed either intentionally or by accident. It's a cautionary tale about the importance of rescued and shared historical data in ecological and geographical analysis.

An example of one of the vegetation maps from the VTM collection. Shufei Lei, photographer


In our large trees study, we wanted to look at forest structure throughout the state by comparing the 1920s and 30s data with contemporary data collected through the Forest Inventory and Analysis (FIA) program. The FIA program is similar to the VTM project: Forest Service crews report on the species, size, and health of trees across all forest land ownerships. Our study was comprehensive, covering the five ecological regions of the state - over 120,000 square kilometers in total – and took into account land-management and land-use history.

Denser forests with more smaller trees

We found that statewide, tree density – or the number of trees in a given area – in forested regions increased by 30% between the two time periods and that forest biomass declined by 19%. This means that there are more smaller trees filling in the forest, while the number of large trees is shrinking. (A large tree was defined as having a diameter larger than 60 centimeters or two feet.)


Wieslander's photo of French Lake and English Mt. looking north, morphing into 2014 photo by Joyce Gross. Wieslander's photo shows a large area of barren and semi-barren oak. University of California, BerkeleyCC BY


Also, we found that forest composition in California in the last century shifted toward increased dominance by oaks relative to pines, a pattern consistent with warming and increased water stress. It also fits the shifts in vegetation we can surmise from the paleorecord in California over the last 150,000 years.

Why this shift from fewer large trees to more smaller trees?

Water stress seems to be the best explanation for the pattern we observed. Water stress in a forest is caused by a combination of rising temperatures, which cause trees to lose more water to the air and to earlier melting of snowpacks, which reduces the amount of water available to trees. And indeed, large tree declines were more severe in areas experiencing greater increases in water deficit since the 1930s.

Large trees, in general, seem to be more vulnerable to water shortfalls. This might be because larger, taller trees have trouble getting water to the tops of the trees when water is short, a phenomenon being studied by many tree physiologists.

It might also be that these big trees – some likely 300 years old or more – grew up in a different, colder and moister climate. Regardless of the reasons for large tree decline, we likely can expect more water stress in California from rising global temperatures.

A different forest than what your grandparents saw

Apart from the fact that we tend to love and admire our emblematic large trees, they also serve very important roles in the forests. And changes to forest structure – a shift to fewer large trees and more smaller trees – are important for us to pay attention to.

Forests with large trees store more carbon; groups of larger trees provide preferential habitat for many species; forest structure impacts the way fires burn and impacts the way forests store and release water. These changes are a warning of possible changes to come. The loss of these trees, for example, would take away a massive carbon sink, change the way wildlife use these forests, and change the way they burn.

This photo was taken by Albert Wieslander in 1936 in a redwood grove in San Mateo County. The tree in the front has a diameter around 6 feet. Marian Koshland Biosciences Library


Finally, we would like to stress the importance of rescuing, curating and digitizing historic data. The changes we observed here, although large, did not happen over night – indeed, they really took two or three generations to occur.

Each generation perhaps sees the nature around them as the “normal.” Yet the forests of our grandparents and great-grandparents, observed by the Wieslander crews, were very different than ours today and they will be different again for our grandchildren. We need these historic data to document these changes and demonstrate the rate of change in the natural world.

Some key references:

Jepson, W. L., R. Beidleman, and B. Ertter. 2000. Willis Linn Jepson's ‘‘Mapping in Forest Botany''. Madroño 47:269–272.

Kelly, M., B. Allen-Diaz, and N. Kobzina. 2005. Digitization of a historic dataset: the Wieslander California vegetation type mapping project. Madroño 52(3):191-201

Wieslander, A. E. 1935. A vegetation type map of California. Madroño 2:140-144

Posted on Wednesday, January 28, 2015 at 2:12 PM
  • Author: Maggi Kelly

Warmer drier climate altering forests statewide

Reposted from the UC Berkeley News Center:

Historical California vegetation data that more than once dodged the dumpster have now proved their true value, documenting that a changing forest structure seen in the Sierra Nevada has actually happened statewide over the past 90 years.

water stress correlates with large tree decline
Severe water stress (left red) since the 1930s mirrors the decline of large trees (right red) seen throughout the state, from the Sierra Nevada to the Coast Ranges.

A team of scientists from the University of California, Berkeley, UC Davis and the U.S. Geological Survey compared unique forest surveys collected by UC Berkeley alumnus Albert Wieslander in the 1920s and ‘30s with recent U.S. Forest Service data to show that the decline of large trees and increase in the density of smaller trees is not unique to the state's mountains.

“Older, larger trees are declining because of disease, drought, logging and other factors, but what stands out is that this decline is statewide,” said study leader Patrick McIntyre, who began the research while a postdoctoral fellow at UC Berkeley and now manages biodiversity data for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. “Forests are becoming dominated by smaller, more densely packed trees, and oaks are becoming more dominant as pines decline.”

The authors found that the density of large trees declined in all regions of California, with declines up to 50 percent in the Sierra Nevada highlands, the south and central coast ranges and Northern California.

“Based on our data, water stress helps to explain the decline of large trees,” McIntyre said. “Areas experiencing declines in large-tree density also experienced increased water stress since the 1930s.”

The increased density of smaller trees is usually attributed to fire suppression statewide, he noted. Scientists debate the cause of the decline of larger trees, which has been observed in other parts of the world as well, but many suspect that larger trees need more water than smaller trees to withstand droughts and disease.

Co-author David Ackerly, a professor of integrative biology, said that stressed forests and the loss of large trees could exacerbate the global carbon situation, especially since many are hoping that forests will soak up more and more fossil fuel emissions.

French Lake in 1930s and today
Wieslander's photo of French Lake and English Mt. looking north, morphing into 2014 photo by Joyce Gross. Wieslander's photo shows a large area of barren and semi-barren oak.

“There's no question that if you are losing large trees, you are losing the standing carbon in the forest,” he said. “Loss of these big trees and the impact of drought stress become a big concern going forward in terms of its impact on the carbon cycle; they can turn a carbon sink into a source of carbon released to the atmosphere.”

The results may help forecast future forest responses to climate change, and in particular suggest that increased temperatures and changing water availability may lead to large-scale changes in forest composition throughout western North America.

The study was published online this week in the early edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Oaks taking over California forests

One change the study observed occurs repeatedly throughout California's history, as documented by paleoclimatic records in pollen, McIntyre said. Oaks are becoming more prevalent, replacing pines. Pines tend to dominate during cooler, wetter periods.

“Our study shows that areas of greater water stress tend to be dominated more by oaks than by pines, a signal we see despite variation in logging and fire around the state,” McIntyre said.

The study might never have happened if Wieslander's data, stored both in Sacramento and at Berkeley, had not been saved several times from the trash bin, said co-author Maggi Kelly, a UC Berkeley cooperative extension specialist and professor of environmental science policy and management (ESPM). Wieslander acquired the vegetation data while he worked for the California Forest Experiment Station, a Berkeley outpost of the U.S. Forest Service and the forerunner of UC Berkeley's Department of Forestry, now part of ESPM.

“This is really an astonishingly broad and detailed depiction of vegetation in California at that time and it's important that through its nearly 100-year life it has almost been lost a number of times,” she said. “Patrick's is one of the largest and most comprehensive looks at this historic data set in comparison to comparable contemporary data.”

Most of the plots, maps and photos have been digitized thanks to efforts by Kelly, co-author James Thorne of UC Davis and campus librarians who saw future value in the data. Digitization and the study were funded by the Keck Foundation through the Berkeley Initiative on Global Change Biology (BiGCB), as part of an ongoing effort to create an ecological informatics engine, or EcoEngine, for analyzing historical digitized data relating to ecological change.

“All these records are now brought together in digital form in the EcoEngine, which will allow more people to plumb the data and ask more questions, such as, What about logging? What do the photographic records show?” Kelly said. “We need to remember that there are a lot of valuable collections of data that we can use to make inferences about the future.”

Other co-authors are Christopher Dolanc of UC Davis and Alan and Lorraine Flint of the USGS California Water Science Center in Sacramento.

Posted on Thursday, January 22, 2015 at 9:54 AM
  • Author: Robert Sanders
Tags: climate change (1), Maggi Kelly (4), oaks (1)

Taming Sierra Flames - UC Team Tamps Down Fire Danger and Finds Common Ground

Tintype photography by Michael Shindler“Anyone can talk about ‘resilient forests,' but if you go to the Rim Fire you can . . . show someone that this is how a high-severity fire sterilizes the soil.”— Kim Rodrigues with her “triangle of success”— balancing relationships, process, and results to reach shared goals. PHOTO: Michael Shindler

“You have to keep listening to your participants. These kinds of networks . . . can be fragile, but they can also be really strong if nurtured correctly.”— Maggi Kelly with her Trimble GeoXT GPS receiver, which collects data about her location in the forest. PHOTO: Michael Shindler

“You have to keep listening to your participants. These kinds of networks . . . can be fragile, but they can also be really strong if nurtured correctly.”
Maggi Kelly with her Trimble GeoXT GPS receiver, which collects data about her location in the forest.

The summer of 2002 was a bad fire season in the United States. Twice as many acres burned than in 2001, and more total acres were destroyed than in all but one of the previous 40 years. The McNally Fire in Sequoia National Forest was only the second largest fire in California that year, and it alone cost more than $50 million to extinguish. It was against this smoky backdrop that George W. Bush launched the Healthy Forests Initiative, a wide-ranging plan to reduce the severity of western wildfires.

In California, the plan coalesced around the concept of Strategically Placed Landscape Treatments, colorfully shortened to SPLATs. Mark Finney, PhD '91, Environmental Science, Policy, and Management (ESPM), a researcher at the Missoula Fire Lab in Montana, proposed that instead of thinning entire old growth forests, land managers could “treat” a fraction of the land with tree thinning and prescribed burns. These treated plots would slow a fire's rate of spread, acting like speed bumps along a road. It was an interesting but untested idea, and by 2004 the plan ran into bureaucratic roadblocks. Because while the federal government owns the national forests, the old-growth dwelling wildlife—fishers, goshawks, spotted owls—can fall under state or federal management, depending on the species. Closer to the action, the local communities of Foresthill and Oakhurst were concerned about large-diameter trees being cut as part of the thinning effort, and about the effect of prescribed burning on issues like home safety, wildlife, and water quality.

“All parties deeply care about the fate of these landscapes, and it was this care that sustained SNAMP for the long haul.”— John Battles with his logger's tape, used to measure distances and the diameter of trees. PHOTO: Michael Shindler

“All parties deeply care about the fate of these landscapes, and it was this care that sustained SNAMP for the long haul.”
John Battles with his logger's tape, used to measure distances and the diameter of trees.

It was beginning to look like then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican and a self-professed environmentalist, was going to sue the Bush administration over its forest policy mandates—an expensive, bitter process that nobody relished. Instead, a novel approach was conceived: The U.S. Forest Service agreed to test the unproven SPLAT approach along with state agencies, like Fish and Game, Department of Water Resources, and Cal Fire, as long as a neutral third party could be tasked with analyzing the results. And that third party would be the University of California.

And thus, the Sierra Nevada Adaptive Management Project was born, with another endearing acronym, SNAMP. Today, as SNAMP reaches the end of a 10-year run, the project has proven to be a multidisciplinary, multiagency, multimedia success that has the potential to transform not only how we view forest fires, but more intriguingly, how scientists, government agencies, and public stakeholders interact in the pursuit of common goals.

“The stakeholders ended up influencing the kinds of research questions that the scientists asked.”— Lynn Huntsinger with her ever-present clipboard PHOTO: Michael Shindler

“The stakeholders ended up influencing the kinds of research questions that the scientists asked.”
Lynn Huntsinger with her ever-present clipboard

“Honestly, nobody wanted to do this,” recalls John Battles, a professor of forest ecology and the chair of ESPM's Ecosystem Science Division. “It seemed like it was going to be a quagmire of wasted time.” Take the always contentious issues of fire, water, and wildlife, then add in an alphabet soup of local, state, and federal agencies, and it's easy to see why most academics would keep their heads down and hope not to be called upon. But the governor was looking to the UC system to step up, and Battles, as head of Berkeley's Center for Forestry, felt that he could not refuse. “That's what we do,” he says. “That's the stuff that we should do.”

Gradually, a plan took shape. With the ultimate goal of moderating fire behavior, the U.S. Forest Service would conduct prescribed burning and tree thinning as they saw fit. It would then be up to UC scientists to study the results—not just in terms of fire, but also the impact on wildlife, water, and forest health.

Working with Stakeholders

Modern adaptive management takes into account complex factors—climate change, human impact, a century of fire suppression, marijuana farms on federal lands—requiring forest managers to continually adapt their strategies to new information, new methods, and new facts on the ground. Even so, a traditional study of various fire treatments would have been fairly straightforward: Do a range of experiments, analyze the results, publish some papers.

Public meetings were central to the SNAMP project. Kim Rodrigues leads an April 2013 workshop. PHOTOS: Shufei Lei
Public meetings were central to the SNAMP project. Scott Stephens at the 2012 annual meeting. PHOTOS: Shufei Lei
Public meetings were central to the SNAMP project. A participant comments on a spotted owl presentation. PHOTOS: Shufei Lei

But SNAMP's goals went far beyond simply figuring out the best way to slow a wildfire's spread. The experiment proceeded along parallel tracks, studying fire, forest health, fishers, owls, water quality issues, and spatial data. And crucially, public participation wasn't an afterthought or an also-ran, but the key piece of the puzzle. According to Kim Rodrigues, PhD '08 ESPM, a UC Cooperative Extension regional director at the time, “The overall goals of public participation are efforts to reduce conflicts around resource management on the ground.” Rodrigues focused on figuring out how to make public participation more meaningful and relevant.

While the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act both require public comment periods, actual community participation is often disappointingly low. “You really can't just pay lip service to interaction when you have contentious issues,” says Maggi Kelly, Geography '88, an ESPM professor and Cooperative Extension specialist who is a principal investigator (PI) of SNAMP's Public Participation Team as well as its Spatial Team. “You have to dive in and do it in a committed way. You have to keep listening to your participants. These kinds of networks and coalitions can be really fragile, but they can also be really strong if nurtured correctly.”

How to best engage the public was an open question. The team eventually settled on a simple strategy: try everything. Kelly and others created a comprehensive, interactive website stuffed with videos, summaries of scientific findings, and a huge trove of documents available for scientists, agency employees, and any member of the general public who took an interest. Perhaps the best feature was the discussion section, where people submitted questions about topics as varied as fuel break maintenance, government intrusion onto private lands, and the affects of the Native American practice of gathering pine roots. The questions received thorough responses from the team members, a level of public engagement that's truly unusual for scientists who are more accustomed to responding only to peer reviewers.

The website was moderately successful. “But our stakeholders really prefer face to face,” says Kelly, so her team ramped up its in-person efforts. Extension agents who lived in the affected communities of Oakdale and Auburn made themselves available for public questions and concerns at board of supervisors meetings, PTA gatherings, and fire-safe councils. Beyond the standard bad-coffee talkathons, the scientists also held field trips to show these theoretical issues in action.

“Anyone can talk about ‘resilient forests,'” Rodrigues says, “but if you go to the Rim Fire [the massive 2013 Yosemite blaze] you can operationalize these terms. You can show someone that this is how a high-severity fire sterilizes the soil.” And the learning went both ways, according to Lynn Huntsinger, MS '82 Rangeland Science, PhD '89 Wildland Resource Science, an ESPM professor recruited by Battles for her experience working with landowners. “I've seen management programs in the past where scientists don't come to meetings and face stakeholders,” she says. “But in this case, the stakeholders ended up influencing the kinds of research questions that the scientists asked.”

Research in a Fishbowl

For the scientists, the entire process was occasionally frustrating as well as eye-opening. With the Forest Service creating the treatment plans, the PIs didn't have the same experimental control that they might have had on UC-owned land. And not only did the researchers have to learn how to share their results with lay audiences, they had also committed to sharing their results with the public on an accelerated pace, before everything was in its final form and ready for publication. “It's risky work doing research in a fish bowl,” says Rodrigues, now the executive director of academic personnel at UC's Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources. “Scientists don't like to be questioned, especially by non-scientists. And this team was questioned by the public, by team members, by managers.”

To start things out on the right foot, the entire UC team signed an explicit Statement of Neutrality. While acknowledging that such impartiality is difficult after a career spent studying the exact issues at hand, Battles quickly came to see how valuable neutrality was. Many of the participants from both management agencies and environmental groups had long and contentious histories with each other, often on issues unrelated to SNAMP.

“You really had to listen, just say your piece, and then not repeat it,” said Battles. “People would come to our meeting who had been cross-examining each other in court the day before. But our meetings had different rules, and they became a safe haven.” Many of the regular participants were employees of environmental organizations, the very people who—for better or worse—often make life difficult for professional land managers. And yet, just having them at the table, engaged in dialogue, helped to defuse tensions at an early stage.

Amid all the great meta-research going on, hard scientific questions were still being asked, specifically: Does treating a fraction of the land have significant effects on the rate of fire spread? The answer seems to be yes. “The best outcome,” according to Battles, “is to have no treatment and also no fires. But you're just rolling the dice then. One percent of the landscape burns every year, and with climate change, that's going to increase. Are you willing to live with that? What if it goes to 2 or 3 percent?”

While the SPLAT speed-bump idea has proven effective, implementing it more widely is not a slam dunk. According to Forest Service ecosystem management director Deb Whitman, “In reality, it's hard to implement the way it was designed.” Managers must consider more than just fire spread when they lay out treatment plots. If a plot of land designated for clearing falls on an archaeological resource or a spotted owl nest, the ideal herringbone pattern of treatment must be adjusted.

Scaling Up

SNAMP has become a model for engaging the public on land management issues, but the resources simply aren't there to spend 10 years and $12 million—the timeframe and budget allotted to SNAMP—every time a forest must be thinned. By some estimates, if you extrapolate the current rate of fuels treatment over the next 30 years, as much as 60 percent of the land that needs treatment won't get it. “That's a nightmare scenario,” says Scott Stephens, PhD '95 Wildland Resource Science, a PI on the Fire Team. “Take the Rim Fire forward in an era of warming climate, and that's really unacceptable.”

More prescribed burning and thinning means more need for the stakeholder participation that has been SNAMP's hallmark. “We can't have a science team or a Cooperative Extension team at every site,” says Rodrigues, but her team now offers train-the-trainer seminars to teach community groups, agency representatives, and others how to lead collaborative group discussions, facilitate diverse groups, work through conflicts, document key agreements, and other skills. According to Christine Nota, the Regional Foresters' representative for the Forest Service, the techniques used in SNAMP “are very common now throughout our forests. We were just counting up forest-based collaborations, and I think we've got 17 or 18 scattered around the state.”

Even better, it seems that the tools used to talk about prescribed fires are applicable to other areas where public concern is high, issues as varied as youth development, water conflicts, and even urban housing disagreements. “I really wish I'd had this kind of experience and training when the spotted owl was listed in the '90s,” Rodrigues says ruefully. “Maybe we could have gotten better dialogue much earlier on.”

One point of general agreement that saw all SNAMP's constituencies through difficult times was that the forests of the Sierra Nevada are worth working to protect. “All parties deeply care about the fate of these landscapes, and it was this care that sustained SNAMP for the long haul,” Battles says.

Another key consensus was that being in the middle of this chaotic process is exactly where UC needs to be. Faculty members love to dive deep into theory and advanced research, but the essential framework of a land-grant institution will always be mission oriented, a quest to solve concrete problems on the land. “I'm not a Forest Service employee, and I don't work for an advocacy group,” Battles says. “And that's the pitch for the public university. You have the independence. You can speak to power. And when the state asks for your help, you say yes.”

Posted on Monday, May 12, 2014 at 9:19 AM
Webmaster Email: cecentralsierra@ucdavis.edu