Cooler weather in California is helping firefighters begin to get a handle on fires that have raged in the state for weeks. But concerns over the fires' consequences are sure to continue for months. Two articles over the weekend touched on such issues.
The Wine Spectator magazine raised the spector of 2008 vintage wines being imparted with a smoky character due to the fires.
"There are examples of smokiness from forest fires showing up in wines," the story quoted Roger Boulton, a viticulture and enology professor at UC Davis.
The article, by Augustus Weed, said chemicals in the smoke can coat grapes and be absorbed into the grape skins. The density of the smoke, how long it is in contact with the grapes and how far away the vineyards are from the fires, determines how extensive the effect is.
UC Cooperative Extension farm advisor Glenn McGourty was also quoted in the story. He said the main concern to vineyards from the fires is a dwindling supply of water.
The writer paraphrased McGourty as saying water will not be an issue for the majority of the Mendocino wine industry, which gets its water from the Russian River. But in dry regions like Anderson Valley and Redwood Valley, water supplies are low and it could become a problem.
The San Luis Obispo Tribune ran a story about the destruction of wildlife habitat by fire. Writer David Sneed reported that Bill Tietje, a UCCE natural resources advisor, said large, fast-moving fires can confuse and overwhelm even birds and fleet-footed animals.
Tietje noted that the 1994 fire on Highway 41 was so hot and burned so fast that firefighters observed quail flying into the flames and afterwards found the charred remains of deer and mountain lions.
“In the case of catastrophic wildfire,” Tietje was quoted, “animals may be killed directly or must move into adjacent habitat where their chances of making a living are reduced.”
The Humboldt County UC Cooperative Extension office has a new service for consumers and growers in the rural enclave. A Web site at redwoodag.com was designed to help local farmers find local markets for their products, according to a story posted today in Capital Press.
Written by Sacramento freelance writer Wes Sander, the story details the efforts of UCCE farm advisor Deborah Giraud, who received grants from the UC Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program to explore options for farm-to-institution marketing and to develop the Web site.
"This first season will be a tough one, until it evolves and catches on more," Giraud was quoted. "We will be working with (producers) to get their photos up, that kind of thing."
The story noted that the region's isolation, limited roads and high fuel prices give the northwest corner of the state a particular need to develop local markets for small scale farmers' products.
Officials looking for ways to eradicate light brown apple moth from California's Bay Area and North Coast seem to face skepticism of their every move. Aerial spraying of pheromones has been abandoned after opposition from residents in the infested areas. A story this week in the Contra Costa Times sheds doubt on a planned alternative program, releasing sterile moths to control the pest.
According to the article, UC Berkeley entomologist Andrew Guitierrez says the female light brown apple moth can mate several times in the one- to two-week period before laying eggs.
"Within a few days, 100 percent of them have mated, and they can mate up to five times. Most won't mate that many times, but all you need is a few who don't mate with sterile males, and the system doesn't work," Gutierrez was quoted.
Also, objections to plans to put pheromone-emitting twist ties in Sonoma Valley trees are being raised. CBS 5 ran a story on its Web site that said most of the 28 people who addressed the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors about the twist-tie program are concerned about the toxicity of the pheromone in the twist ties and the environmental and health consequences, especially to children.
The application of the twist ties within a 15-square mile area of the Sonoma Valley is on hold until the state Department of Fish and Game and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determine whether there are endangered species living near a creek in that area.
A light brown apple moth worm.
The New York Times today ran a story that mixed irony with admiration for California's ubiquitous agricultural fairs. The irony was in descriptions of festivals in areas where the featured crop -- for example apricots in Patterson and garlic in Gilroy -- is celebrated, but no longer widely grown.
"In Gilroy . . . (garlic) is now grown on only about 500 acres. Half of the garlic sold in the United States now comes from China; most California garlic comes from the Central Valley, near Fresno," the story says.
The story reported that ag festivals still have an educational component, noting that UC Cooperative Extension informed fairgoers of mandarin's natural decongestant properties at the Mountain Mandarin Festival in Auburn, Calif.
In addition to the apricot, garlic and mandarin festivals, the story mentioned the Dry Bean Festival in Tracy, the Pear Fair in Courtland, the Stockton Asparagus Festival and the Castroville Artichoke Festival.
Another festival in the press today is the California Youth Fair, featured in a Contra Costa Times article. The story said the fair began as "Youth Fair 2000" by the Contra Costa County 4-H program. Organizers changed the name in early 2007 and formed a nonprofit organization to run it.
The article said the change was made to permit more children to participate. Minimum age has dropped from 9 to 5 and exhibitors no longer have to be members of 4-H, FFA or the grange.
Apricots are featured in Patterson.
As 323 active fires in California threaten more than 10,000 homes, commercial buildings and other structures, the Sacramento Bee today offered a small consolation. Even though air quality is poor and the state has already spent more than $100 million fighting blazes, the situation isn't really anything abnormal.
The Bee story, citing research by UC Berkeley environmental scientists that was led by Scott Stephens, said the amount of land burning pales compared to acreage consumed historically, before Europeans settled in California.
"The scientists estimated that an average 4.4 million acres burned annually in California before 1800, compared with an average 250,000 acres a year in the last five decades," the story says.
The smoke-filled skies are, in historical terms, unexceptional. The Berkeley researchers found that wildfires emitted on average 1.3 million tons of smoke particles a year in prehistoric California, compared with about 78,000 tons in 2006, the most recent year for which the data is available.
Wildfire was not unusual in prehistoric California.