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UC Davis Lecture by Science Journalist Richard Harris: Why You Shouldn't Miss This

"Biomedical science was not always the hypercompetitive rat race that is has become in recent years. Consider the story of Charles Darwin, as he...

Posted on Friday, October 20, 2017 at 3:55 PM

October Miku

October wildfire skies
filled with ash and smoke
Lives and property lost
Thankful for firefighters
law enforcement and humanity
Nature and time bring recovery
Posted on Friday, October 20, 2017 at 10:15 AM

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 (12), wildfire (98)

Musical Flowers: Jockeying for Position

A black syrphid fly aims for the same Mexican sunflower, occupied by another syprhid fly. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

You've heard of "musical chairs," that anxiety-driven elimination game involving chairs, music and players.  When the music stops and a chair is...

Posted on Thursday, October 19, 2017 at 5:00 PM

Mission Blue Butterfly

A great deal of effort is being focused on saving a small blue butterfly. Why should we care whether this butterfly survives? Because, if humans can save the mission blue butterfly from extinction, there may be hope for other species that have been impacted by the loss of native grasslands due to human development.

I recently attended a presentation given by Price Sheppy, the Marin Program Manager of the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy (GGNPC), about the Mission Blue Butterfly Project. The plight of this fascinating butterfly reflects the environmental impact that human development has had on all indigenous wildlife. The mission blue butterfly is small – about the size of a quarter – and adults live for only 10 days. They were first discovered in San Francisco in 1937, and were placed on the federal endangered species list in 1976.

Like many butterflies, the larva of the mission blue feed on only one food source; native California lupines. The larvae, which hatch in mid-March through early July only eat the leaves of silver lupine (Lupinus albifrons), summer lupine (Lupinus formosus), and varicolor lupine (Lupinus variicolor). After hatching, the tiny, green caterpillars spend three weeks voraciously feeding on the leaves of the lupine. Afterward, they wait out most of the year in leaf debris, in a hibernation state called diapause. During diapause, when the caterpillars are highly vulnerable, they are protected from predators by native ant species. The ants surround and cover the caterpillars, and fight off foes. In return, the ants are provided with a sugary honeydew, obtained by “milking” the hibernating caterpillar.

When the lupine are again in season, the caterpillars feed for another four to five weeks before becoming pupae. During the pupae stage, which lasts for one week, the caterpillars transform into a primordial goo, and eventually emerge as adult butterflies.

At one time, large numbers of mission blue butterflies thrived throughout Marin County and the San Francisco peninsula. Now, approximately 25,000 live in small, fragmented spots in Marin, San Francisco, and San Mateo counties. The GGNPC, in conjunction with California Garden Clubs, Inc., is working to restore the environment where the butterfly is found, by removing invasive plants, and replanting native species. Through trial and error, they have developed a method of growing lupine – notoriously difficult to grow - from seed. Their work is beneficial to other native California wildlife, whose survival depends on native plants. The GGNPC is also working with local school children to create pathways of lupine and native grasses between the disparate butterfly colonies. This will enable the butterflies to interbreed and strengthen the genetic pool.

For more information on the mission blue butterfly, and the work being done to save them, visit:, or

Posted on Thursday, October 19, 2017 at 2:24 PM

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