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Lessons to be learned from Northern California fires

A wind-driven fire glows ominously over homes in Sonoma County in October 2017. Photo by Adam Giusti

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.

Cobb Mountain after the Valley Fire burned more than 76,000 acres in 2015. UC Cooperative Extension helped replant the area with ponderosa pine seedlings.

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.

Fire-fighting equipment may need to be scaled to accommodate old, narrow rural roads to improve fire response.
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.

 

Posted on Friday, October 20, 2017 at 10:12 AM
  • Author: Greg Giusti
Tags: Greg Giusti (6), wildfire (3)

Communities reel in revenue from sport fishing

In 2015, fishing tournaments were held at Clear Lake on 121 days.
Angling is a multi-million dollar recreational affair in California that local businesses can capitalize on, says UC Cooperative Extension advisor.
 

In August, the Clayton Fire burned nearly 4,000 acres and 198 homes and businesses in Lake County. In 2015, the Valley, Rocky and Jerusalem fires together burned 170,623 acres and destroyed 2,078 structures. But the devastating Lake County wildfires haven't put a damper on fishing at Clear Lake, which reels in roughly $1 million to the community annually, according to a report from UC Cooperative Extension.

“The lake's economic attraction has not been negatively impacted by the fires,” said Greg Giusti, UC Cooperative Extension advisor in Lake County and author of the study. “The fish are fine and the anglers keep coming.”

Giusti's report outlines the economic value of fishing on Clear Lake, highlighting the importance of the outdoor pastime to the local economy.

Bass, crappie, catfish and bluegill thrive in Clear Lake's warm water, with its rich plant life and abundant food supply.

“People come from all over the country to fish Clear Lake,” said Giusti, who studies fisheries and freshwater ecology.

Teeming with fish, Clear Lake's reputation attracts serious anglers. Bass Master Magazine (July/August 2016) rated Clear Lake third out of the top 100 bass fishing lakes in the country and first among the nine western states.

Adam Giusti holds a fish he caught at Clear Lake. Each angler spends $58 per day on average, according to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

More data need to estimate true economic value of fishing

Based on a conservative estimate of the number of anglers and multiplying by $58.16, (the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's estimate of an angler's average daily fishing-related expenditure), Giusti concluded Clear Lake fishing is a $1 million enterprise. He considers the true value of fishing on Clear Lake to be much higher because limited data was available to understand the full economic value.

To estimate the number of anglers, Giusti doubled the number of quagga mussel stickers sold and added the number of people registered for Clear Lake fishing tournaments. Before entering the lake, boats must pass the county's monthly quagga mussel inspection for the invasive species and receive the sticker. Giusti assumed an average of two anglers per boat, for a total of 10,156 spending $590,673 annually. Since 6,498 Lake County residents have fishing licenses, he estimated that they spend at least $377,923.68 on fishing annually.

He thinks local businesses can capitalize on fishing to bring even more revenue into the community by enticing anglers and their families to engage in other activities during their visit.

“Because access to the lake is open and free, we don't know how often anglers return to Clear Lake and for how long they stay,” Giusti said. “While they're here, folks are spending money on food, gas, tackle and maybe lodging. If they bring their families, Dad may be fishing while Mom and the kids might be at the movies.”

California Department of Fish and Wildlife collects about $57 million in fishing license sales each year. Giusti found that more than 150,000 licenses were sold in 2014 to anglers in Lake County and neighboring Mendocino, Sonoma, Colusa and Sacramento counties, which are close enough to make a day trip to Clear Lake.

Businesses should market to anglers in spring and fall, says report author and fishing enthusiast Greg Giusti.
Opportunities to catch more angler dollars

Although local businesses typically gear up for summer tourists, Giusti sees marketing opportunities around fishing during the spring and fall, as the primary angling months occur before and after summer.

“Right now all the focus is on summer tourism and wine, while the most active visitor months are not recognized,” Giusti said. “Spring months are the most popular boating months. Businesses should be hanging banners downtown, putting posters in the windows welcoming anglers with specials for meals, promotional events highlighting fishing, and even sponsored fishing tournaments.”

Other California communities could also benefit by capitalizing on fishing, in Giusti's opinion.

“Freshwater fishing in California represents a $1.4 billion industry, generating 22,000 jobs and providing more than $920 million in salaries and wages,” said Giusti. “California ranks fifth in the nation based on the value of fishing economics.”

The American Sportfishing Association estimates that more than 33 million people enjoy fishing in America, and spend an average of $1,441 per year on fishing.

To download the full report, “Understanding the economic value of angling on Clear Lake – A profile of a famous lake,” visit http://ucanr.edu/sites/ClearLakeAquaticWebsite.

 

Posted on Tuesday, September 13, 2016 at 2:08 PM
Tags: economics (1), fishing (1), Greg Giusti (6), Lake County (2)

Lake County plants 100,000 seeds to reforest area destroyed by Valley Fire

Native conifer seedlings will be planted to reforest burned areas such as Cobb Mountain

Lake County community groups have raised nearly $60,000 to reforest the areas ravaged by last September's Valley Fire. The funds have allowed the greenhouse planting of 100,000 native conifer seedlings that will be ready for distribution in time for the winter 2016 planting season. The Valley Fire, which started in Cobb on Sept. 12, burned more than 76,000 acres.

In October, Greg Giusti, UC ANR Cooperative Extension director and forestry advisor in Lake County, and Korinn Woodard, district conservationist with the Natural Resources Conservation District (NRCS), began to estimate the numbers of seeds needed for the first year of planting.

Dan Desmond, East Lake RCD director and UC ANR Cooperative Extension advisor emeritus (right), and Mark Egbert, El Dorado RCD manager, show ponderosa pine seedlings from this year’s crop.
“We determined that 100,000 trees could be needed this first year,” said Giusti. “We knew getting the seeds ordered and in the planting medium during the winter was the only way to have seedlings ready for planting in late 2016, early 2017.”

Two local entities have provided funds to jumpstart the much-needed reforestation in the areas affected by fire. #LakeCountyRising is a collaborative fundraising effort of the Lake County Winegrape Commission, Lake County Winery Association and Lake County Wine Alliance. The Lake Area Rotary Club Association (LARCA) is a nonprofit foundation that comprises the four Rotary Clubs in Lake County – Lakeport, Middletown, Clearlake and Kelseyville. Together they have allocated the nearly $60,000 to the East Lake Resource Conservation District (RCD) to get the seedlings planted and the program in place.

By collaborating with the El Dorado/Georgetown Divide RCD's established native-plant seed collection and propagation program, the funds have resulted in the greenhouse planting of 100,000 native conifers – mostly ponderosa pine, but also some Douglas fir and sugar pine. The species available are suitable for higher elevation burned areas such as Cobb Mountain.

“Getting our forest lands replanted as soon as possible is a cornerstone in the healing process of the spirit of these communities,” said Andy Peterson, chair of the LARCA Fire Relief Committee. “The LARCA Fire Relief Committee identified that as a top priority from day one and we are extremely pleased to be partnering with these other agencies to get that done.”

#LakeCountyRising representatives were interested in helping to support the effort, but any donation would need to go to an established organization responsible for the program. At the same time, LARCA had also identified funding for reforestation efforts as a major priority.

“An experienced agency was needed to lead this effort, and our board agreed that we had the experience and resources to make it happen, if funds were available,” said Charlotte Griswold, East Lake RCD president.

This is where #LakeCountyRising and LARCA stepped up to the plate. Timing was of the essence, as seeds would need to be purchased in time for winter planting in order to have seedling stock available by late 2016.  

“It was evident there was urgency, so we presented it to our steering committee and they wholeheartedly supported it,” said Debra Sommerfield, president of the Lake County Winegrape Commission, one of the three organizations involved in the #LakeCountyRising fundraising effort.

“The intention is to make conifer seedlings available for planting each winter for the next few years at a pace that will align with the community rebuilding process and demand,” Griswold said. “We expect to work with NRCS to start taking advance orders before the end of April and to partner with the ag and natural resources programs at area high schools to organize several community planting projects.”

 

Posted on Thursday, March 24, 2016 at 1:43 PM
Tags: Greg Giusti (6), Lake County (2), wildfire (3)

Burned forestland needs erosion protection

After a forest fire, burned trees both standing and on the ground, help protect the soil from erosion.
Many forest areas burned by wildfires this year are now facing a new threat – erosion. A UC Agriculture and Natural Resources expert says there are steps landowners can take to reduce the risk of losing soil and polluting waterways when rain falls.

“The loosened soil and ash can move quickly under proper storm conditions,” said Greg Giusti, a UC ANR Cooperative Extension forestry advisor. “Property owners should take immediate action.”

A longstanding practice in the West has been spreading grass seed after a fire, however, the seed is slow to germinate and grow during the cold months that follow fire season.

“Seeding is generally ineffective,” Giusti said. “The seed simply moves and erodes with the soil and ash following an initial rain event.”

After losing a home, homeowners may feel the need to clean up their property. However, leaving woody debris, downed trees and limbs will arrest soil movement. Stumps and standing dead trees also help protect the soil.

“The roots are still in the soil and will help hold it in place,” Giusti said. “As long as they don't pose a danger, trees should be left in place.”

Spreading rice straw or weed-free hay on the ground is another way to protect the soil from erosion. Whole bales of hay can be placed in natural drainages to slow water movement and reduce erosion. Straw wattles – long tubes of compressed straw encased in jute or another material – may be laid out across a slope and secured with stakes.

“I suggest landowners focus on areas of their property where they can have the greatest positive effect,” Giusti said. “You can't cover a whole hillside with straw. People can only do what they can do.”

An initiative to maintain and enhance sustainable natural ecosystems is part of UC Agriculture and Natural Resources Strategic Vision 2025.

Posted on Wednesday, November 4, 2015 at 8:31 AM
Tags: erosion (1), Greg Giusti (6), wildfire (3)

The Clear Lake hitch get new protection

Clear Lake hitch spawning in Adobe Creek. (Photo: Richard Macedo, California Department of Fish and Wildlife)
The Clear Lake hitch, a large minnow found only in Clear Lake and its tributaries, was designated a “threatened species” last month under California's Endangered Species Act.

Introduced predatory and competitive fish species and low water flows in the hitch's spawning grounds have combined with other factors to throw hitch populations into decline, prompting its designation as a threatened species. With the new status, agencies can now solicit funds for stream and habitat improvements and any changes to the shoreline, tributaries and lake may only be made after carefully studying the potential impact on Clear Lake hitch.

“Anytime an animal gets listed, I believe it's an admission of failure on the part of society,” said Greg Giusti, UC Cooperative Extension natural resources advisor in Lake County. “We've been asleep at the switch.”

Giusti is mobilizing efforts to help the local residents, anglers and farmers deal with outcomes of the new designation.

Scientists determined the Clear Lake hitch was a distinct species in 1973. There are hitch in other Northern California lakes and waterways, but differences suggest the Clear Lake hitch took its form after geologic forces separated the lake from the Sacramento River watershed thousands of years ago.

The Clear Lake hitch spawn in creeks and streams in late winter and early spring. Eggs hatch in about seven days and a week later the free swimming young begin moving down stream. For 80 days the fish stay in marshy areas at the mouths of streams, feeding heavily on rice fly larvae. At about 2 inches in length, they move away from the shore into deeper water and, when mature, return to spawn in streams.

Pomo Indians traditionally harvested Clear Lake hitch in large numbers when free-flowing creeks and streams were teaming with spawning adults. The fish were dried and served as an important food source all year. Descendants of Native Americans wish to continue the practice.

According to Peter Moyle, professor in the Department of Wildlife, Fish and Conservation Biology at UC Davis, the fish were among the last native species in Clear Lake to be doing reasonably well until the early 1970s when three alien fishes became abundant in the lake - Florida largemouth bass, Mississippi silverside, and threadfin shad.

“The bass is a terrific game fish,” Moyle said. “The Florida bass was introduced to improve the fishery. However, they became very abundant and are voracious predators of hitch. Likewise, the silverside and shad likely prey on hitch larvae and compete with hitch for their zooplankton food.”

Clear Lake hitch have also been impacted by water extraction from the tributaries upstream, mainly for irrigation, plus the construction of bridges, dams and other structures in their spawning streams.

While in the past there were tens of thousands of Clear Lake hitch spawning in dozens of tributaries, in recent years, population has been reduced to a few thousand and they reportedly spawn in only two streams. Because of the low water flows in current drought conditions, Giusti said, there was virtually no Clear Lake hitch spawn at all in 2014.

Posted on Thursday, September 4, 2014 at 8:57 AM

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