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Caging kids! The next generation of wildlife biologists

Mikayla McWilliams shows a tiny frog at the Sustainable You Summer Camp, UC Hopland Research and Extension Center.

As 10-year-old Dominic Vargas crouched on the ground, in a cage not much larger than himself, trying to forage for tasty treats (candy) on the woodland floor...CRASH! The cage door came falling down and he realized that he had inadvertently tripped a tiny fishing line in his efforts to reach that candy - he was now trapped. Dominic seemed to accept his fate with good humor, shrugging, smiling and getting to work on that candy. Wildlife biologist, Jessie Roughgarden, commented that Dominic will now be collared, tagged and measured before returning him to the wild ... or in this case his parents.

This seemingly terrifying experience is in fact all part of the new "Sustainable You - 4-H Summer Camp" held at the UC Hopland Research and Extension Center. Sustainable You is a five-day camp allowing students to experience science and nature while learning about ways in which to conserve the land, water, air and energy.

View Dominic's experience in this 44-second video:

The camp is conducted at three of the UC Agriculture and Natural Resources' Research and Extension Centers across the state and each center tweaks the curriculum to suit their landscape and the kinds of research conducted at their sites. At Hopland this means getting the chance to meet with wildlife biologists from the UC Berkeley "Brashares Lab," led by professor Justin Brashares. It's an amazing opportunity for these kids to meet and ask questions of scientists conducting experiments in the countryside that surrounds them. Dominic may not be collared, but more than 10 deer on the property went through the same experience last week (minus the candy) as they were carefully captured by researchers and fitted with collars to better understand their movements and population across the 5,358-acre center.

The young team of scientists enjoying summer camp were also working to understand what wildlife shares the landscape with them by setting wildlife cameras daily and improving their positioning and locations each day. Advice from Brashares and Jessie Roughgarden helped the students improve their chance of catching footage of raccoons, foxes and maybe even a mountain lion. Day one  produced fox video footage and shots of raccoons feeling around in the last pools of creek water to catch some of the tiny young frogs currently in residence.

Hear what Ahmae saw on her wildlife camera in the 59-second video below:

A raccoon captured on one of the wildlife cameras set up by campers.

Exposure for these kids not only to hands-on activities exploring sustainability, but also to wildlife biologists, young researchers and professors working on today's wildlife and land management challenges, gives them an open door to explore their own future careers and interests.

Local Americorps watershed steward Alejandara Prendergast disects a salmon with campers

As 9-year-old Ahmae Munday so sweetly put it, when asked what her favorite part of the Sustainable You Summer Camp was, "Everything! Especially the cameras."

The UC ANR network of Research and Extension Centers provide the perfect location to offer exposure to youth and communities to better understand and interact with the science going on in their own back yards and to inspire the next generation of researchers - as camp attendee and scholarship recipient Kaiden Stalnaker described in his scholarship application, "When I grow up I dream of a career in science and your camp would be a boost in the right direction."

Thanks to the researchers, camp counselors and students who have allowed the Sustainable You summer camp to inspire young people like Kaiden.

Campers enjoy a woodland hike and discover slender salamanders and a discarded lizard skin.
 
Posted on Monday, July 17, 2017 at 9:19 AM

Orange County mountain lion attack a reminder to keep livestock safe

A mountain lion entered an Orange County corral last week where nine pygmy goats belonging to members of the Trabuco Trailblazers 4-H Club were housed. Only one goat survived the encounter.

UC Cooperative Extension human-wildlife interactions advisor Niamh Quinn said she was heartbroken, but not surprised.

“We know that this is happening all over California,” Quinn said. “Sixty to 85 percent of depredation permits are issued to hobby farmers and ranchers who seek to kill wild animals that threaten their livestock.”

The loss of the goats is a sad reminder for Californians to be aware of wildlife predators in their areas and make sure that livestock enclosures are secure against them. The Mountain Lion Foundation has information for keeping livestock safe in mountain lion country, including plans for inexpensive lightweight enclosures that work well in Southern California. Quinn — along with UC Davis veterinarian Winston Vickers, UC Cooperative Extension specialist in youth science literacy Martin Smith, and the Mountain Lion Foundation — is developing a comprehensive 4-H curriculum focused on protecting both livestock and wildlife.

“This loss would have never happened if they had a properly constructed pen,” Quinn said. “The pen had holes and was held together in places with zip ties. 4-H members have to understand what predators are in their areas, how the animals can get into enclosures – whether they will dig, if they jump and how high.”

A properly constructed livestock enclosure can thwart mountain lion attacks. (Stock photo: Pixabay)

The killing of eight goats and injuries to the ninth goat by a single mountain lion may seem overly vicious, but the animal was acting according to instinct. Once inside a pen or paddock, a mountain lion will often kill until all movement stops, according to the Mountain Lion Foundation. Lions are most vulnerable to injury when taking down natural prey like deer that have lethal antlers and hooves. In a natural setting, a deer herd will run away, leaving a lion with just one catch to be concerned about. Not so for penned or fenced-in livestock.

The 4-H curriculum now being developed will empower 4-H youth to protect both predators and livestock by understanding wildlife behavior and proper animal husbandry practices. The curriculum will be available to all 4-H clubs in California – which include 27,444 youth enrolled in livestock projects – and to 4-H clubs nationwide.

In the video, a mountain lion returns to the goat pen the evening after
killing eight goats, but cannot re-enter. (Video: Winston Vickers)

The night after the Trabuco Canyon pygmy goat attack, the same mountain lion was caught on camera returning to the pen, but he was unable to enter the shored up enclosure. Vickers said the lion shouldn't cause any more problems.

“It is likely that the lion may come by the area as part of his normal territorial circulation periodically, but I would not expect further losses given the additional pen improvements that are planned, and I would not expect any greater risk to people at the location versus any other in the Santa Anas (canyons of Orange County),” Vickers said.

Vickers said he hopes that the 4-H members will not choose to kill the mountain lion responsible for the late March attack.

“The lions in their area are in serious trouble, and the loss of a single lion could affect their genetic viability for years to come,” Vickers said.

Posted on Tuesday, April 4, 2017 at 8:23 AM
Tags: 4-H (1), mountain lion (1), wildlife (23)

Recreation on private land offers potential for conservation

Opening the door for recreational activities - such as wildlife watching - on private land is an incentive for conservation. (Photo: Robin Eliason, USDA)
Successfully integrating human activities with ecosystem conservation forms the foundation of sustainability and is key to maintaining biological diversity. A new study has found that recreational use of private land in the U.S. could have significant benefits for both conservation efforts and economic return, especially when coupled with certain policy mechanisms.

The study, published Aug. 5, 2016, in the journal Land Use Policy, found that approximately 440 million acres of private land — roughly 22 percent of the contiguous land area of the U.S. — are either leased or owned for wildlife-associated recreation, which is defined as fishing, hunting and wildlife-watching. Hunting was the most widespread recreational use, accounting for 81 percent of the total acreage (356 million acres).

Luke Macaulay, an UC Cooperative Extension specialist in the department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management at UC Berkeley, authored the study, which used 18 national surveys over 14 years for a comprehensive analysis. Drawing upon multiple years and multiple sources of surveys, this study provides the most detailed and precise estimates available of private land recreation in the U.S.

The study estimated the annual spending for wildlife-associated recreation on private land to be $814 million in day-use fees, $1.48 billion for long-term leases, and $14.8 billion for ownership of land primarily for recreation.

It also found that on crop and grazing land, landowners who earn income from recreation are more likely to participate in government conservation programs and are more likely to pay for private conservation practices, such as creating buffers around sensitive streams or controlling invasive weeds on rangelands.

Macaulay suggests that this data provides support for the idea that recreation incentivizes conservation at higher rates than agricultural activities alone.

“Wildlife habitat on private land is vulnerable to degradation and loss, but this study highlights recreation as an incentive for conservation," he said. "That's because many landowners are receiving either personal enjoyment or financial benefit from the wildlife that live on their land.”

The study showed that hunters own or lease much larger properties than anglers or wildlife-watchers, which indicates that hunting may provide a greater economic incentive for maintaining large, unfragmented properties that provide a variety of conservation benefits.

“Large properties are beneficial for a variety of reasons; for example, some species require large expanses of unbroken habitat to thrive, while others are particularly sensitive to the impacts of roads, fences, and invasive plant and animal species that oftentimes accompany more fragmented landscapes," Macaulay said.

Macaulay believes that the role of recreation in private land conservation has largely been overlooked due to the relatively low participation rate of landowners earning income from recreation. For example, only 7.3 percent of forest landowners earn income from recreation, but this study found that those individuals own much larger properties that account for 33.5 percent of all private forestland.

Macaulay stressed that the conservation benefits of hunting depended on a system of scientifically-developed game laws and effective enforcement, which is generally the case across the U.S.  These mechanisms are important to curtail problems of over-harvesting and poaching.

The study also emphasized the importance of encouraging conservation practices in conjunction with recreation in order to yield benefits for both conservation and landowner economic return. Macaulay suggested several policy measures to achieve this, including tying habitat improvement practices to property tax breaks that rural landowners receive — an approach that some states have already taken — as well as evaluating, enhancing, and expanding state programs that give regulatory flexibility for hunting in exchange for conservation practices.

Read the research article on the Land Use Policy website.

Posted on Tuesday, August 9, 2016 at 8:57 AM
Tags: Luke Macaulay (1), wildlife (23)

Living with wildlife while managing working landscapes

Good fencing is one tool that allows coyotes and sheep to share the open range.
The UC Hopland Research and Extension Center (UC HREC) will host workshops on Dec. 1 and 2 to foster understanding and encourage community dialog about ranching on a landscape with populations of coyote, black bear, mountain lions and other wildlife.

“Mendocino County supports many ranchers and our communities enjoy locally produced lamb, beef, milk, cheese and other agricultural products,” said Kimberley Rodrigues, director of UC HREC. “Along with these opportunities come challenges associated with living alongside some of our resident wildlife. The workshops will help local residents deal with these challenges.”

Rodrigues – who has a doctorate degree in environmental science and has been a leader in outreach, strategic facilitation and partnership development for 25 years – has been actively involved in wildlife management at the 5,300-acre HREC since she arrived in mid-2014.

“I quickly realized the biggest challenge to maintaining a sustainable flock of sheep here in our location is addressing predation issues, primarily by coyotes,” Rodrigues said. “With some improvements to our fences, changes in pasture rotations and increased use of guard dogs, losses of sheep to coyotes are now at an acceptable level. We hope to share our own experience, hear from diverse perspectives and experiences at these events and would like HREC to become a hub for future learning on this topic.”

Recent discussion and decisions made by the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors regarding their contract with USDA Wildlife Services (WS) and their use of an integrated wildlife damage management program prompted UC HREC to provide a space for two workshops to allow learning on wildlife management and community conversation.

The Dec. 1 workshop will focus on scientific design and is implemented by USDA WS. It provides an opportunity to hear experts from USDA, the Californi Department of Fish and Wildlife, UC Cooperative Extension and Defenders of Wildlife to discuss the most up-to-date research in wildlife behavior and non-lethal control methods.

The Dec. 2 community conversation workshop is hosted by UC HREC and includes current research from UC Agriculture and Natural Resources, wildlife biologists and discussion of the challenges associated with ranching in Mendocino County from the Magruder family and other local ranchers. The day will culminate in discussion groups on topics ranging from integrated wildlife management tools to understanding local, state and federal connections.

The public may attend either day or both days. Registration for the two workshops is separate.

“Topography, surrounding environments, community viewpoints, available funds and the kind of animals being farmed are all part of the picture – there is no easy solution,” said Hannah Bird, UC HREC community educator. “Ranchers and land managers need to know what tools are available to them and the implications and benefits of each of these tools. Attending both workshops will provide a deeper understanding of the issues.”

Community members, ranchers, land managers and members of non-profit organizations are invited to attend. The workshops will be at the Rod Shippey Hall, Hopland Research and Extension Center, 4070 University Road, Hopland, CA 95449. Registration is $30 for each day (including lunch) and must be made in advance. The registration deadline is Nov. 23. Space is limited.

Sign up for the Dec. 1 USDA WS workshop at http://ow.ly/TYhBd and the Dec. 2 community conversation workshop at http://ow.ly/TYhos.

More on the University of California Hopland Research and Extension Center:

The Hopland Research and Extension Center is a multi-disciplinary research and education facility run by the University of California, Agriculture and Natural Resources Division. As stewards of more than 5,300 acres of oak woodland, grassland, chaparral, and riparian environments their mission is to find better ways to manage our natural resources and conduct sustainable agricultural practices, through science, for the benefit of California's citizens.

Author: Hannah Bird

Posted on Monday, November 23, 2015 at 10:38 AM
Tags: coyotes (2), Hopland REC (1), Kim Rodrigues (1), sheep (1), wildlife (23)

Don’t feed wild animals, says UC ANR pest expert

Squirrels carry fleas that transmit plague.
Did you know that it is illegal to feed wildlife? As tempting as it is to put out bread crumbs for birds or deer chow for Bambi, there are downsides to feeding wild animals, says a UC Agriculture and Natural Resources expert in human-wildlife conflict resolution.

California law states: “Except as otherwise authorized in these regulations or in the Fish and Game Code, no person shall harass, herd or drive any game or nongame bird or mammal or fur-bearing mammal. For the purposes of this section, harass is defined as an intentional act that disrupts an animal's normal behavior patterns, which includes but is not limited to, breeding, feeding or sheltering. This section does not apply to a landowner or tenant who drives or herds birds or mammals for the purpose of preventing damage to private or public property, including aquaculture and agriculture crops.”

Feeding wild animals may help non-native, invasive, nuisance and feral animals survive, says Niamh Quinn, UC ANR Cooperative Extension advisor in San Diego and Los Angeles counties.

“Many of these species have public health risks associated with them, which can cause serious illness in humans,” Quinn said. “Rats and squirrels carry fleas that transmit plague and feral cats also carry fleas that carry typhus. Both of these diseases can be transmitted to people and cause serious illness, or even death.”

During the summer of 2015, two tourists at Yosemite National Park contracted plague, but humans are not the only ones at risk from disease. Wildlife can also become more exposed to disease as a result of people feeding them.

The Pacific Flyway is a major north-south flyway for migratory birds in America, extending from Alaska to Patagonia. As part of the Pacific Flyway, California is a temporary home for many species of birds. Due to people feeding them, some of these birds no longer naturally migrate.

Adult roof rat
“Unfortunately, when we feed birds at parks with lakes and ponds, we are encouraging these unnatural situations and not helping the health of these bird populations,” Quinn said. “This can cause unnatural numbers of water fowl to congregate in ponds, rivers and lakes and creates perfect conditions for avian botulism and cholera to take hold. Bird die-offs can occur naturally in wilderness areas and are prominent in drought conditions due to low water resources.

Sustaining nonnative and feral animals can also have negative impacts on native wildlife, she said.

“For example, the eastern fox squirrel, which has now been released in many cities in the state, is competing with the native western gray squirrel,” said Quinn. “Sustaining the nonnative and invasive eastern fox squirrel could further aid in its distribution in the state, which would spell disaster for the native gray squirrel.”

Adult house mouse
Leaving nuts and seeds out for squirrels can also encourage other nonnative wildlife like roof rats and house mice.

“Not only do these species have public health issues associated with them, they also compete with native wildlife,” Quinn said. “They prey on bird eggs and can compete with native rodents for food resources.”

Indirect feeding of wildlife can also lead to serious conflicts between people and wildlife, Quinn warned.

“Bears that become accustomed to human food often have to be trapped and re-released and some are even euthanized,” Quinn said. “Coyotes are now common-place in some of our cities in California. Relying on human food could cause habituation of these wild animals and cause conflicts to rise. It is important that we cover our trash cans and make sure that we keep wildlife out of them.”

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife has an initiative called “Keep Me Wild” with the slogan “Wild animals don't need your handouts. They need your respect.” Quinn urges people to consider the long-term welfare of wildlife the next time they are tempted to feed wild animals.

For more information about managing pests around homes, visit the UC ANR Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program website: http://www.ipm.ucanr.edu/PMG/menu.homegarden.html.

Posted on Friday, October 30, 2015 at 11:01 AM

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