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Graduate Students in Extension study key California concerns

In 2013, a group of graduate students in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management (ESPM) at the University of California, Berkeley sought out faculty support and successfully collaborated with UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) to launch the Program for Graduate Students in Extension (GSE). Participants receive up to a year of funding to conduct applied research and outreach to California communities, coordinate workshops and training events, and co-author materials with ANR academics. Over the course of the three-year pilot program, 14 students from across the College of Natural Resources at UC Berkeley have participated.

“There's really no program quite like this, where students can gain hands-on, graduate-level training in extension and outreach,” says ESPM professor John Battles, who chaired the program's steering committee. He adds, “We're grateful to all the UC ANR advisors and specialists who have offered invaluable mentorship to student fellows.”

Image of a schoolyard garden. (Photo: Alana Siegner.)

Sustainable Food Systems and Climate Education

Alana Siegner (Energy and Resources Group, 2016–17 fellow) believes that to ensure the environmental sustainability of agricultural landscapes and to improve health outcomes for young people, it's important that students understand the scientific and social causes and consequences of climate change as it plays out in the U.S. food system. During her fellowship, she adapted existing climate change curricula to fit within farm-to-school programs, integrating food- and farming-specific examples into general lessons on climate adaptation and mitigation. The lessons, designed for students in grades 8 through 10, are hands-on, interdisciplinary, and solutions oriented, unfolding in both the classroom and the school-garden environments. Siegner piloted the curricula and other professional development resources with teachers at schools in Oakland and in Washington State's San Juan Islands. 

Kripa Akila Jagannathan

Climate-Resilient Agriculture

Despite several advances in modeling techniques, climate projections are not widely used in agricultural decision-making. Kripa Akila Jagannathan (ERG, 2015–16 fellow) wanted to bridge this gap between climate science and decision-making needs by improving the understanding of what farmers consider relevant climate information. She interviewed almond growers in California about how they'd previously used climate information, what climatic variables were most relevant to them, and the content and communication methods that could make information on future climate more usable. Jagannathan's interviews showed that almond growers have experienced changes in climate over the past few decades that have affected plant growth. She hopes that providing growers with appropriate information on past trends and future projections can help them to make decisions that are better adapted to future climate.

(Photo: Stella Cousins)

Forestry and Ecosystem Education

Stella Cousins (ESPM, 2014–15 fellow) collaborated with the Forestry Institute for Teachers, a free program that provides K–12 teachers in California with knowledge and tools for teaching their students about ecosystem science and forest resource management. In addition to presenting current research to participating educators, she shared do-it-yourself miniature microscopes that can help learners of all ages explore seeds, cells, fur, and other tiny wonders. Magnifying tree-core samples from the Sierra Nevada as an example, she demonstrated how a lesson in dendrochronology can facilitate classroom learning on the ways forests grow and are shaped by climate. Cousins says, “I hope that this project will support existing efforts to make sound and sustainable ecosystem-management choices, and also help foster lifelong curiosity in California's youth about the natural world.”

Conservation and Land Easements

Conservation easements are currently one of the primary channels for protecting private land. Since easements restrict development for both current and future owners, resale value is presumably diminished, and landowners are typically compensated with a one-time payment from a conservation group. Reid Johnsen (Agricultural and Resource Economics, 2016–17 fellow) wanted to explore the relationship between rancher identity, community, and potential preferences for alternative payment structures. He surveyed landowners in Marin and Sonoma counties to gauge their support for different options, including leases and annual payments for ecosystem services. He also constructed an economic model of stakeholder behavior to help assess which payment structure delivers the greatest combined welfare to landowners, conservation groups, and the public.

(Photo: Luke Macaulay)

Hunting and Conservation

Luke Macaulay (ESPM, 2014–15 fellow) surveyed private landowners and land managers in California to determine how recreational hunting may influence decisions regarding land-use and conservation practices. He regularly spoke on his survey findings and ran a workshop in Montana to encourage cooperative conservation efforts between hunters and environmentalists. “The feedback from the advisors on my mentorship team was invaluable in improving the quality of my research,” he reflects. The experience also had an impact on his career: In 2016, Macaulay was hired by CNR as a Cooperative Extension specialist in rangeland planning and policy.

Posted on Tuesday, May 23, 2017 at 9:27 AM

Enjoy nature, but don't love it to death

Spring is here and that means time to get outside and enjoy California's beauty. This year people are out in record numbers to see wildflowers and experience all the recreational opportunities that parks offer. CNN reported triple the usual number of visitors to Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. Numbers of recreational visits have surged at National Parks across the county with 330 million visitors recorded last year, during the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service.

Recreational bird watchers in Yosemite National Park. Photo courtesy of NPS.
Recently published research shows there are recreational impacts on wildlife, even from quiet recreation activities such as hiking and bird watching. Findings were based on 274 scientific articles published between 1981 and 2015 describing the effects of recreation on a variety of animal species across all geographic areas and recreational activities.

More than 93 percent of the articles reviewed indicated at least one impact of recreation on animals, the majority of which (59 percent) were negative. Hiking, for example, a common form of outdoor recreation in protected areas, can create a negative impact by causing animals to flee, taking time away from feeding and expending valuable energy. Among the negative impacts observed were decreased species diversity; decreased survival, reproduction, or abundance; and behavioral or physiological disturbance (such as decreased foraging or increased stress). These types of negative effects were documented most frequently for reptiles, amphibians, and invertebrates.

Park managers often struggle to balance the need to protect wildlife with the importance of accommodating visitors in support of the many essential benefits nature provides people and the importance of spreading conservation awareness. UC California Naturalists can often be found on the trail helping to interpret nature and focusing on leave no trace in an effort to ensure we don't love nature to death. When out enjoying nature please stay on the trail, respect seasonal closures, minimize noise, do not approach animals, and reduce your driving speed – all recommended steps to minimize the impacts of recreation on wildlife. A light touch now ensures wildlife viewing for many years to come.

Death Valley National Park visitors enjoy wildflowers from the road. Photo courtesy of the NPS.

Visit a UC Master Gardener demonstration garden, learn and be inspired

Birds are chirping, the sun is shining and flowers are in bloom – it is time to get out into a garden and enjoy nature's beauty. UC Master Gardeners have been working hard to bring demonstration and community gardens to life across California, and volunteers are eager to teach how you can create sustainable splendor in your own landscape.

UC Master Gardener demonstration gardens offer knowledge and examples on how to grow a variety of plants in your garden. Visit one today and be inspired!

The UC Master Gardener Program is in your community

Be inspired. Visit a garden that has the power of the University of California and the UC Master Gardener Program behind it. With thousands of volunteers, hundreds of demonstration, school and community gardens across California and programs in 50 counties plus Lake Tahoe basin it is easy to discover the joy of gardening in your community. 

Hit the road and get excited about gardening

UC Master Gardener demonstration gardens showcase best practices for garden management from plant selection to ground covers and irrigation. Demonstration gardens can appeal to everyone as they often include multiple themes like bumble bees, growing veggies, historical roses and low water–use plants. 

Things you can discover in a demonstration or community garden: 

  • Mediterranean or native plants
  • Roses
  • Ornamental grasses
  • Succulents
  • Orchard trees and vegetables
  • Pollinator habitats
  • Composting
  • Irrigation methods
  • Mulch

Whatever your interest, you'll be sure to take something away from your visit to one of the many gardens across California. Find a location by visiting the UC Master Gardener Program garden map: http://bit.ly/2qqWRM4

Visit one or all of the beautiful gardens across California that UC Master Gardeners play an active role in bringing the garden and educating the public to life! UC Master Gardener Program garden map: http://bit.ly/2qqWRM4

“When on a road trip I love to stop, stretch my legs and walk around a garden in a new town or city. It gives me an opportunity see new and unique plants that grow in different areas, plus I have the opportunity to recharge,” says UC Master Gardener volunteer Lauren Hull. “Recently, I was driving to Lake Tahoe and made a point to stop and visit the Sherwood Demonstration Garden, it was the perfect break during the long drive!”

UC Master Gardener classes share science-based gardening practices

For more direct educational opportunities, attend a gardening workshop hosted by local UC Master Gardener Program.  Workshops are free or very low cost and cover a vast array of gardening topics. To find a UC Master Gardener event in your area, visit: mg.ucanr.edu/Events.

As you plan your summer travel, consider attending a workshop or event where you are vacationing. The UC Master Gardeners of Orange County are teaching the power of perennials on May 20, UC Master Gardeners of Santa Barbara County will present at the Santa Ynez Valley Earth Day celebration May 21, the UC Master Gardeners of Tuolumne County will have a Kids' Day in the Garden on June 3 … and so many more events to choose from!

“Attendees at workshops, classes and on demonstration garden tours can expect to hear from gardening experts in their local community. UC Master Gardener volunteers have been trained by UC scientists to become a 'master' in the garden and are proud to share their expertise and knowledge with an inexperienced gardener or an industry professional,” said Missy Gable, UC Master Gardener Program director.

UC Master Gardener volunteer Lauren Hull stops at a local community garden in Davis, Calif. and helps harvest blackberries for the resident chickens.

Take ideas home

Whether your landscape needs a total overhaul, a few new plants or nothing at all, the knowledge and new ideas gained from workshops and demonstrations gardens is inspiring. Invite bees, butterflies and hummingbirds into your life by adding pollinator friendly plants to an existing landscape. Become more water-wise by adding mulch, changing out sprinkler heads and replacing high water user plants. Continue growing as a gardener by staying connected with your local UC Master Gardener Program, and stopping at demonstration gardens throughout the state. 

The UC Master Gardener Program extends to the public free UC research-based information about home horticulture and pest management. In exchange for the training and materials received from the University of California, UC Master Gardeners perform volunteer services in a myriad of venues. If you are interested in becoming a certified UC Master Gardener contact your local UC Cooperative Extension office.

 

Posted on Thursday, May 4, 2017 at 1:46 PM

Free forestry workshops to help teachers meet new science standards

Middle school teachers attending the Forestry Institute for Teachers hear about Project Learning Tree curriculum and other resources they can use to teach environmental education.

California's K-12 teachers are being challenged by the Next Generation Science Standards to find new and more engaging ways to teach science. Adopted by California in 2013, the science-education standards guide how science, technology, engineering and math education are delivered to students in the classroom. The Forestry Institute for Teachers (FIT) offers free environmental education training for teachers in a northern California forest.

“Teachers who participate in the Forestry Institute for Teachers learn to apply Next Generation Science Standards concepts as they develop or refine class lessons using the forest as a lens through which all classroom subject matter can be taught,” said Mike De Lasaux, UC Cooperative Extension natural resources advisor for Plumas and Sierra counties and a FIT instructor.

Teachers wade into a stream to learn about aquatic life.

Learning science through FIT's participatory model is more exciting than memorizing facts from a textbook. In the forest, FIT instructors point out opportunities for students to use technology, engineering and math to better understand the world around them. For example, math can be used to estimate the height of a towering tree. Seeing the “web of life” relationships, such as the effects of rainfall and insects on tree growth, leads to more critical thinking to solve problems.

 “The goal of the Forestry Institute for Teachers is to provide K-12 teachers with knowledge, skills and tools to effectively teach their students about forest ecology and forest resource management practices and much more,” said De Lasaux.

Teachers make wildlife track casts as part of a wildlife education activity.

California teachers from rural and urban settings are invited to spend a week during the summer working outdoors with natural resources experts to gain a deeper understanding of forest ecosystems and human use of natural resources. The participants are organized by grade level for age-appropriate activities. They take field-trips and do hands-on activities such as examining the rings in a tree's cross-section to learn about events – such as wet or dry periods, insect or disease damage – that have occurred during the tree's lifetime.

Participants use clinometers to measure angles to estimate tree height.

The Forestry Institute for Teachers has been providing science education and other subject content to California K-12 teachers since 1993 with more than 2,500 educators completing the program. 

FIT is a week-long residence program developed by the Northern California Society of American Foresters in collaboration with the University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources' Cooperative Extension, the USDA Forest Service, CALFIRE and other entities. The FIT Program is underwritten by a consortium of public and private sources.

FIT is offered in forested settings in four different Northern California locations:

  • June 11-17 in Plumas County
  • June 18-24 in Tuolumne County 
  • July 2-8 in Shasta County
  • July 9-15 in Humboldt County 

There is an application fee of $25, but training, meals and lodging are free for first-time participants.To watch videos of past participants discussing their FIT experience and to apply to attend, visit www.forestryinstitute.org.

FIT participants learn how changes in one part of the ecosystem affect others in the web of life.

Posted on Tuesday, April 18, 2017 at 9:38 AM

New era of western wildfire demands new ways of protecting people, ecosystems

Humans will have to adapt to living with wildfire, write University of Colorado Boulder and UC ANR scientists. Adaptation includes reforming federal, state and local policies that have the unintended consequence of encouraging people to develop in fire-prone areas.

Current wildfire policy can't adequately protect people, homes and ecosystems from the longer, hotter fire seasons climate change is causing, according to a new paper led by the University of Colorado Boulder.

Efforts to extinguish every blaze and reduce the buildup of dead wood and forest undergrowth are becoming increasingly inadequate on their own. Instead, the authors—a team of wildfire experts—urge policymakers and communities to embrace policy reform that will promote adaptation to increasing wildfire and warming. 

“Wildfire is catching up to us,” said lead author Tania Schoennagel, a research scientist at CU Boulder's Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research. “We're learning our old tools aren't enough and we need to approach wildfire differently.”

This means accepting wildfire as an inevitable part of the landscape, states the new paper[1]  published today in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The western U.S. has seen a 2-degrees-Celsius rise in annual average temperature and lengthening of the fire season by almost three months since the 1970s; both elements contribute to what the authors refer to as the “new era of western wildfires.” This pattern of bigger, hotter fires, along with the influx of homes into fire-prone areas—over 2 million since 1990—has made wildfire vastly more costly and dangerous.

“For a long time, we've thought that if we try harder and do better, we can get ahead of wildfire and reduce the risks,” said Schoennagel, who also is an adjunct faculty member in CU Boulder's Geography Department. “We can no longer do that. This is bigger than us and we're going to have to adapt to wildfire rather than the other way around.”

As part of this adaptation process, the authors advocate for actions that may be unpopular, such as allowing more fires to burn largely unimpeded in wildland areas and intentionally setting more fires, or “controlled burns,” to reduce natural fuels like undergrowth in more developed areas. Both these steps would reduce future risk and help ecosystems adapt to increasing wildfire and warming.

They also argue for reforming federal, state and local policies that have the unintended consequence of encouraging people to develop in fire-prone areas. Currently, federal taxpayers pick up the tab for preventing and fighting western wildfires—a cost that has averaged some $2 billion a year in recent years. If states and counties were to bear more of that cost, it would provide incentive to adopt planning efforts and fire-resistant building codes that would reduce risk.

Re-targeting forest thinning efforts is another beneficial reform suggested by the authors. The federal government has spent some $5 billion since 2006 on thinning dense forests and removing fuel from some 7 million hectares (17 million acres) of land, often in remote areas. But these widespread efforts have done little to reduce record-setting fires. Directing thinning projects to particularly high-risk areas, including communities in fire-prone regions and forests in particularly dry areas, would increase adaptation to wildfire, the authors said.

Additionally, as climate change forces species to move their ranges, some may vanish entirely. Familiar landscapes will disappear, a fact that makes many people balk. But such changes, including those caused by wildfire, could be necessary for the environment in the long run, says Max Moritz, University of California Cooperative Extension wildfire specialist and a co-author on the paper.

“We need the foresight to help guide these ecosystems in a healthy direction now so they can adjust in pace with our changing climate,” Moritz said. “That means embracing some changes while we have a window to do so.”

Critical to making a policy of adaptation successful, said Schoennagel, will be education and changing people's perception of wildfire. “We have to learn that wildfire is inevitable, in the same way that droughts and flooding are. We've tried to control fire, but it's not a control we can maintain. Like other natural disasters, we have to learn to adapt.”

 

Posted on Monday, April 17, 2017 at 1:00 PM
Tags: Max Moritz (2), wildfire (26)

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