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Posts Tagged: Climate Change

Forest management can help giant sequoias and coastal redwoods survive

In 2020, 9,000 fires scorched more than 4 million acres of California, a record-breaking year, reported Alejandra Borunda in National Geographic. Fires burned through homes and oak forests, grasslands and pines — and also through patches of giant sequoias and coast redwoods, respectively the most massive and the tallest trees on earth.

Giant sequoias are not the oldest living trees, but some have been growing in Sierra Nevada forests for more than 3,200 years. They are found in 68 groves on the Sierra's western flank. The state's redwood forests grow in a narrow strip along the coast of Northern California and Southern Oregon.

The 2020 fires burned through about 16,000 acres of sequoia groves, about a third of their total area. In redwood forests of the Santa Cruz Mountains, 40,000 acres burned.

But because redwoods are well-adapted to fire, they'll likely recover pretty quickly, said Scott Stephens, a UC Berkeley fire scientist. “In some ways, this fire could make redwoods more dominant in the landscape," he said, because other trees — like the hardwoods or Douglas firs that crowded the local forests — died outright in the burns.

However, scientists are concerned one cause of the fires, climate change, could have additional impacts on these natural treasures.

Since the mid-1800s, temperatures in the western U.S. have increased by 1.6 degrees Fahrenheit. Fog banks are fading in coast redwood territory, and snows are less consistent in the Sierras. The changes leave redwoods and sequoias without their preferred climate conditions.

The most responsible thing to do now, Stephens said, is to “take the opportunity that has been handed to us,” and make a plan to go back in and burn again—soon, within the next few years.

UC Cooperative Extension forestry advisor Lenya Quinn-Davidson agrees that California must manage fire to help the trees survive. Tree-ring records show that humans have influenced the fire regime for better and worse as long as they've been in these forests.

“The empowering message there is, human management can actually override the effects of climate in a fire contest,” Quinn-Davidson said. “It's not just a climate story. We can't just throw in the towel, feel overwhelmed, and tell ourselves these trees are done for. That's not true!”

Towering coastal redwoods frame a Northern California highway. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
Posted on Thursday, January 7, 2021 at 10:33 AM
Focus Area Tags: Natural Resources

Climate change is converting cities into 21st century ghost towns

In California, most ghost towns were created when a local industry collapsed. Now, climate change is more often to blame when booming communities whither and die, reported Daniel Cusick in E&E News.

In an eerie horror story released just before Halloween, Cusick wrote about five towns around the nation that have died or are dying from climate-related disasters. Historic Shasta and Helena, Calif., are featured in one of the vignettes. 

"Those are two towns that are getting more ghostly," said Yana Valochovich, UC Cooperative Extension forestry advisor in Humboldt and Del Norte counties.

A 19th-century mining town, Shasta City had been a preserved tourist destination in Shasta State Historic Park since 1937 when it was burned in the 2018 Carr Fire, the seventh most destructive wildfire in California history. Helena, a 170-year-old pioneer mining settlement, burned in the Helena Fire of 2017.

There almost certainly will be more "dead towns" as fires consume more of Northern California, Valochovic added.

The Helena Fire of 2017 burned down a pioneer mining town. (Photo: U.S. Forest Service)
Posted on Friday, October 30, 2020 at 11:14 AM
Tags: climate change (97), wildfire (152), Yana Valachovic (19)
Focus Area Tags: Environment

North Coast forests are more dense and dry, fueling fires

Five of California's six largest fires have occurred in 2020, reported Julie Cart in CalMatters.

Lenya Quinn-Davidson.
“There is a collective sensation that we are reaching a tipping point,” said Lenya Quinn-Davidson, a fire specialist with the University of California Cooperative Extension. “This year was not just the fluke burning horrifically. This is 3.2 million acres of fire that burned in a month.”

Quinn-Davidson is based in Humboldt County, with typically rainy, foggy redwood forests. However, she said, the forests don't resemble their former state.

"They are suffering from the same things that the rest of the state forests are. They are poorly managed and have fuels buildup," Quinn-Davidson said. 

Redwood and pine forests are many times more dense than at any time in their history.

"We are now entering a new regime, the climate is changing and we are seeing drier conditions and we are seeing a longer fire season. We are not getting that fall precipitation," she said.

The state's 2018 Fourth Climate Assessment included dire predictions for the North Coast: “Future wildfire projections suggest a longer fire season, an increase in wildfire frequency, and an expansion of the area susceptible to fire.”

Average annual maximum temperatures in Mendocino, Humboldt, Del Norte, Lake, Trinity and Siskiyou Counties could increase by as much as 9 degrees through the end of the century, the report concluded.

Scott Stephens
“The weather and climate is impacting these areas. Last year we were at  60% of average precipitation. We're drier than normal,” said Scott Stephens, a fire scientist at UC Berkeley. “So when lighting strikes, you get an overwhelming number of ignitions in fuels that have been preconditioned to burn.”

The fog that reliably blankets the North Coast is dissipating. Research from UC Berkeley found that fog frequency has declined by a third compared with a century ago.

Even here in Humboldt County — we are right on the ocean, basically in a rainforest  — people are starting to look around and say, ‘Is my house ready for a wildfire?' I'm hearing those conversations,” Quinn-Davidson said.

Posted on Wednesday, September 30, 2020 at 9:01 AM
Focus Area Tags: Environment

Protected areas needed across climates to safeguard biodiversity

Fjordland National Park in New Zealand. Some protected area networks, such as in New Zealand, are projected to capture more of the current climate than others in the future as climate warms. Photo by Paul Elsen

Around the world, countries have established protected areas as the primary defense to reduce widespread biodiversity loss and guard vulnerable habitats. However, species and ecosystems are adapted to particular climates—as those climates shift across and outside of protected area boundaries, species may track them into unprotected landscapes where human land uses degrade conservation potential. 

In a new study published in Science Advances  today, Berkeley researchers offer a broad analysis of how protected areas will continue to capture the climates suitable for species into the future. The study was led by Paul Elsen, a climate adaptation scientist at the Wildlife Conservation Society and former postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management, and it was co-authored with Cooperative Extension specialist Adina Merenlender, recent Ph.D. graduate Eric Dougherty, and Bill Monahan, currently with the U.S. Forest Service. 

The authors first determined how climate is expected to change within all terrestrial protected areas globally by utilizing data from several major global climate models and maps of protected areas. They found that over the next 50 to 80 years, the total amount of protected land situated in both warm and cold climates, over a wide range of annual precipitations, is expected to decline significantly.

“We calculate that most countries will fail to protect over 90% of their available climate at current levels, forcing many species to shift into unprotected lands,” says Merenlender.

Species or ecosystems adapted to specific climatic conditions would disproportionately be impacted, such as those in tropical and subtropical moist broadleaf forests, boreal forests, tundra, savannas, grasslands and shrublands.

The authors then tested how different mitigation and adaptation strategies might work to limit the amount of change species may experience in protected areas within countries, thereby reducing species' vulnerability. For example, they investigated whether greenhouse gas mitigation or the addition of new protected areas were more effective for building resilience to climate change. 

“Protected areas are invaluable to conserving biodiversity, but where those protected areas are positioned in relation to available climates can have a huge influence on their ability to reduce species' vulnerability to climate change,” says Elsen.

In Gorongosa National Park in Mozambique, biodiversity is less likely to find the same suitable climates in protected areas in the future as the climate changes. Photo by Paul Elsen

If countries were to expand protected areas to double the diversity of climates under protection, the authors find, they would retain 118% more land area of today's protected climates into the future. By contrast, reducing greenhouse gas emissions in accordance with global targets would increase retention of currently protected climates by 102%.  

“If we adopt a strategy for increasing protection that seeks to maximize the diversity of climate types represented within protected areas—for example, cold, warm, hot, wet, temperate, arid, etc.—we stand a much better chance that protected areas will continue to encompass the climatic conditions that support currently protected biodiversity,” says Elsen, lead author of the study.

The authors were surprised to find that simply establishing more protected areas wasn't the solution to building resilience. “Whether it's ‘half-earth' or a more modest target, we need more protected areas but they must be climate smart,” says Merenlender. “This means protecting a full range of climate types, or parks will not protect biodiversity as intended into the future.”

The long-term conservation potential of protected areas depends on careful maintenance of appropriate biotic and abiotic conditions that promote biodiversity. The authors stress that decisions about land use, which are socio-economic in nature, need to also account for conservation and ecosystem health. “Species that track climate into unprotected landscapes may face landscapes that are highly modified by agriculture, infrastructure, development, and other human activities, so it is still critical that we work to increase the suitability of unprotected lands for biodiversity, too,” says Elsen.

The study includes recommendations for planning for future reserves that stand to better protect biodiversity and will be more resilient to climate change over the long term.

Read the study on the Science Advances website.

Posted on Wednesday, June 17, 2020 at 8:34 PM
  • Author: Jacob Shea,
Focus Area Tags: Environment

Imperial Valley farmers bring home over $1 million in CDFA Healthy Soil grants

We would like to congratulate the 13 Imperial County farmers who received a total of $1,073,697.97 from CDFA's Healthy Soil Incentive Program.

California Department Food and Agriculture (CDFA) has been providing financial initiatives to California growers and ranchers through its Healthy Soil Program to enable farmers to implement conservation management practices that sequester carbon, reduce atmospheric greenhouse gases (GHGs), and improve soil health. 

These 13 award-winning projects will reduce GHG emissions by an estimated 3,689.1 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year, which is equivalent to 797 passenger vehicles driven for one year. 

This is a groundbreaking achievement for our county and a huge jump from last year's HSP solicitation period, demonstrating that farmers in this region are becoming very interested in adopting climate smart agricultural practices, provided they have funding. 

“These climate smart agriculture incentive programs assist farmers in doing their part to try to sequester carbon and help sustain the environment,” Ronnie Leimgruber, one of the 13 Healthy Soils grant recipients, says. “Being awarded this grant will allow me to apply more compost than I normally would.” 

2020 is the first year that Imperial County growers and ranchers applied for the Healthy Soil grants, which began in 2017. 

Imperial County farmer Ronnie Leimgruber said, “Being awarded this grant will allow me to apply more compost than I normally would.” Photo courtesy of CDFA

With a maximum award of $100,000 per award, this grant was a great opportunity for California farming operations to pilot conservation management practices such as compost application, cover crops, nutrient management, and reduced till/no till for 3 to 10 years (depending on the practice) with minimal financial investment on their part. For the farmers and ranchers interested in the environmental benefits but unable to afford the cost of implementing these practices on their own, this program is a chance to try them firsthand. 

UC Cooperative Extension in Imperial County and Imperial County Farm Bureau partnered to provide technical assistance for the Healthy Soils Program and Alternative Manure Management Program for 2020. Together we conducted outreach, held a series of workshops and assisted individuals with their grant applications. 

The goal was to bring awareness to these climate smart agriculture incentive programs and assist growers in applying and maximizing their chances of receiving grants. Overall, Imperial County saw great progress from the prior year in the number of applicants and amount of awards, drawing recognition from Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia. 

We are optimistic that these programs will continue to grow in future years, assisting local farmers in implementing additional farming practices that continue to benefit the environment. We encourage grant recipients to contact us for assistance with project implementation and data collection. 

This year, CDFA's Healthy Soil Incentive Program received a total of 578 applications requesting $37.87 million, exceeding the $22 million available funds. 

CDFA secretary Karen Ross stated, "Soil has the transformative power to help us stabilize our changing climate by capturing greenhouse gas emissions from the atmosphere and storing them underground, through the assistance of living plants and microbes, that improve both the atmosphere and the soil." 

These conservation management practices are known to promote on-farm sustainability by building organic matter, encouraging nutrient cycling, increasing water holding capacity, reducing soil compaction, and lessening the need for synthetic fertilizers. In general, if you enrich your soil, it will boost the productivity of your cropping systems. However, every agricultural operation varies in its needs, the benefit it obtains from different conservation management practices depends on the location, size, crop rotation, irrigation system, and soil type. To enhance applicability according to site specific needs, CDFA allows applicants to choose from four categories, totaling 28 eligible practices selected from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Services (NRCS) conservation practices standards. 

For more information about climate smart agriculture, please contact me, Kristian Salgado, at or at (442) 265-7700.


Posted on Friday, June 12, 2020 at 2:16 PM
Focus Area Tags: Agriculture, Environment, Natural Resources

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