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UC Cooperative Extension works in local communities to help Californians adapt to climate change

Californians received bleak news last month when the state released its fourth assessment of climate change in California. The report predicts severe wildfires, more frequent and longer droughts, rising sea levels, increased flooding, coastal erosion and extreme heat.

“It's great to be living in a state where science and facts around climate change are valued,” said UC Cooperative Extension specialist Adina Merenlender, “but the recent forecasts may make you want to devour a quart of ice cream in a pool of salty tears.”

Modern civilization has changed the world climate, and even dramatic reductions in global greenhouse gas emissions at this point won't turn back the clock. The warming now predicted by Cal-Adapt is likely already “baked in,” even with our best mitigation efforts, said Igor Lacan, UC Cooperative Extension advisor in the Bay Area of California.

UCCE specialist Ted Grantham is the lead author of the Fourth Climate Assessment's North Coast Region Report.
Although the changes can't be reversed, people and communities can take several measures to prevent even greater warming – mostly by reducing the use of fossil fuels – and adapt to the changing environment. In fact, researchers are already helping California adapt to the warmer, more variable and extreme weather expected in the next 100 years.

California has been a leader in facing the future climate head on. The state's first comprehensive assessment on climate change was produced in 2006 under then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. The second assessment, released in 2009, concluded that adaptation could reduce economic impacts of loss and damage from a changing climate. The third assessment was shaped by a request for more information on the adaptation options in the 2009 report. The fourth assessment was the first effort to break down global climate predictions and their impacts onto specific regions of California.

Author of the North Coast Region Report of the Fourth Assessment, Ted Grantham, praised state leaders for pushing forward efforts to slow climate change and adapt to the new weather conditions expected in California.

“California is playing a unique role in filling the void of leadership on this issue that the federal government was beginning to address under the Obama administration,” Grantham, a UC Cooperative Extension specialist based at UC Berkeley, said.

Across California, UC Cooperative Extension specialists and advisors are working in their local communities to prepare for warming temperatures and adapt to the changing climate. Following are examples of the efforts now underway.

Following years of drought, millions of trees succumbed to bark beetles in the Sierra Nevada.

Managing forests to survive the future

Among the suggested adaptation strategies in the 81-page North Coast Region Report, written by Grantham and his colleagues, the authors encourage government agencies and private forest owners to use prescribed fires and active forest management to reduce an overgrowth of trees and shrubs that fuel the more frequent and intense fires expected in the future.

Although climate change will create conditions conducive to catastrophic wildfire, the reason for dangerous forest overgrowth is related to decades of fire suppression on the landscape.

“Our forests are much denser and have more fuel buildup than they would have under a natural fire regime,” Grantham said. “Mechanical thinning, removing wood from the landscape and prescribed fires can help limit the impacts of wildfire.”

Native American tribes are being tapped to share their traditional ecological knowledge to inform this practice.

“Native Americans have used fire since time immemorial to manage their landscapes,” Grantham said.

Plants and wildlife, like this mountain lion, will need to find natural corridors to migrate into areas with suitable climates. (Photo: National Park Service)

Connecting habitats to allow species movement

When climate changes, plant and animal species may find their current habitats no longer fit the environment where they evolved. The fourth assessment technical report, Climate-wise Landscape Connectivity: Why, How and What Next, written by UCCE specialist Adina Merenlender, documented potential techniques to erase barriers to plant and animal movement.

“When we talk about wildlife corridors today, we might view a road as a barrier,” Merenlender said. “With climate change, the movement is over a much longer range for species to find suitable habitat at the end of the century.”

The report says research is needed to compare different approaches to designing climate-wise connectivity, determining how wide corridors need to be, and quantifying the impact of natural and anthropogenic barriers on possible range shifts.

The Italian grape variety falanghina could be a sought-after white wine varietal in the future. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
New varieties for California wine industry

California's wine industry is based on international varieties that come from Northern France, where the climate is cool, mild and consistent.

“They really require a cool to warm climate, not a hot climate,” said Glenn McGourty, UCCE viticulture advisor in Mendocino County.

There are many wine grape cultivars from Southern Europe – areas in Italy, Portugal and Spain – that are adapted to heat and make quality wines, but aren't well known. The varieties include Monepulciano, Sagrantino, Periquita and Graciano.

McGourty is studying how these cultivars perform in the warm interior of Mendocino County at the UC Hopland Research and Extension Center.

“We have many options as climates warm in the interior part of California to make wine that needs less amelioration in the winery compared to cultivars from Northern France,” McGourty said.

Recruiting and training climate stewards

The UC California Naturalist Program is moving full steam ahead with a new Climate Stewards Initiative to build engaged communities and functioning ecosystems that are resilient to changing climates.

California Naturalist, with trained volunteers across the state working with myriad conservation organizations, will be using its educational network to improve the public's understanding of climate change and engage the public in community action and local conservation.

“Climate stewards will offer in-person communication with your neighbors, tapping into science,” Merenlender said. “Improving climate literacy is an important outcome, but that won't happen through a website.”

Volunteer UC California Naturalists will be recruited to engage the public in climate change resilience.

Helping growers modify farming practices due to changing climate

USDA Climate Hub has awarded a grant to UC Cooperative Extension to support tools to assist growers in making strategic decisions in season and long term.

“We have many credible sources of weather and climate data, but often times we are challenged with translating it into decision support tools tailored to growers' needs,” said Tapan Pathak, UCCE specialist in climate change adaptation in agriculture. “It's too early to say which specific tools we will develop, but we are aiming to help farmers use weather and climate information in decision making processes.”

Pathak is also working with colleagues to analyze how generations of navel orangeworm, a significant almond pest, might shift for the entire Central Valley under climate change and how growers can adapt their practices to manage the higher pest pressure.

Identifying drought tolerance in sorghum may help scientists impart drought tolerance in other crops. (Photo: Peggy Lemaux)

Using epigenetics to impart drought tolerance

At the UC Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Parlier and the UC West Side Research and Extension Center in Five Points, sorghum nurseries are being grown under drought and well-watered conditions to compare the environmental impacts on the plants' gene expression.

“We hope to tease out the genetics of drought tolerance in sorghum,” said Jeff Dahlberg, UCCE specialist, who is managing the trials at Kearney. “Using sorghum as a model, we expect this research to help us understand drought tolerance in other crops as well.”

Historically, the genetic manipulation of crops, which has been critical to increasing agricultural productivity, has concentrated on altering the plant's genetic sequence, encoded in its DNA.

Recent studies have shown that environmental stresses – such as drought – can lead to epigenetic changes in a plant's genetic information. Because epigenetic changes occur without altering the underlying DNA sequence, they allow plants to respond to a changing environment more quickly.

Read more about the study.

 

Cities can plant street tree species suited to future climate

Many common street trees now growing in the interior of California are unlikely to persist in the warmer climate expected in 2099, according to research published in the July 2018 issue of the journal Urban Forestry & Urban Greening. (Read the research report here until Sept. 27, 2018)

“Urban foresters in inland cities of California should begin reconsidering their palettes of common street trees to prepare for warmer conditions expected in 2099 due to climate change,” said the study's co-author, Igor Lacan, UC Cooperative Extension environmental horticulture advisor in the Bay Area.

Common trees in Coastal California cities appear to be better suited to withstand the 2099 climate.

“Our research shows that some trees now lining the streets of cities like Fresno, Stockton and Ukiah are likely to perform poorly in 2099,” Lacan said. “Those cities need to look at the conditions – and trees – now found in El Centro, Barstow and Fresno respectively.”

Read more about the study and see a chart that shows cities in 16 California climate zones along with the corresponding cities that approximate their climates in 2099.

Cities in inland areas can begin planting street trees that are suited to their future climates.

Trees to shade California in a warmer future

The changing climate predicted for California – including less rain and higher day and nighttime temperatures – is expected to cause chronic stress on many street tree species that have shaded and beautified urban areas for decades.

Realizing that popular trees may not thrive under the changing conditions, UC Cooperative Extension scientists are partnering with the U.S. Forest Service in a 20-year research study to expand the palette of drought-adapted, climate-ready trees for several of the state's climate zones.

“The idea is to look at available but under-planted, drought-tolerant, structurally sound, pest resistant trees for Southern California that do well in even warmer climates,” said Janet Hartin, UCCE horticulture advisor in San Bernardino County.

Twelve tree species were selected for each climate zone in the comparative study, with several area parks used as control sites.

Read more about this study

Managing the forest for survival in warmer conditions

UC Cooperative Extension scientists are part of a collaborative research project with the University of Nevada, Reno, CAL FIRE and the U.S. Forest Service aimed at developing new strategies to adapt future forests to a range of possible climate change scenarios in the Sierra Nevada.

“It includes the idea that we may be struggling just to keep forests as forests, let alone having the species we value,” said Rob York, manager of UC Berkeley's Blodgett Forest Research Station near Georgetown.

Forests sequester a tremendous amount of carbon. As the climate changes, foresters will need to be proactive to reduce the risk of these massive carbon sinks becoming carbon sources.

“We're working to mitigate predicted impacts to forests, including regeneration failures, drought mortality and catastrophic wildfire,” Ricky Satomi, UCCE natural resources advisor in Shasta County.

At three separate study sites across the Sierra Nevada, novel approaches to forest management are being implemented to develop treatments that scientists believe will increase resilience, resistance and adaptability of Sierra Nevada mixed conifer forests.

The 2018-21 project is led by Sarah Bisbing, forest ecology professor at the University of Nevada, Reno, and funded with $2.7 million from CAL FIRE.

Climate change impacts on vulnerable communities

The latest climate assessment also reports on the serious nature of climate threats to vulnerable communities and tribal communities in California, with a focus on working collaboratively with these communities on research and solutions for resilience.

“The impacts of climate change will not be experienced equally among the population,” Grantham said. “The most significant public health and economic impacts – from flooding, extreme heat, air quality degradation, etc. – will be disproportionately experienced by vulnerable populations, including people of color, the poor and the elderly.”

The assessment includes a Climate Justice Report, which shares the idea that no group of people should disproportionately bear the burden of climate impacts or the costs of mitigation and adaptation. The report suggests collaborating with these communities on research and solutions for resilience.

Posted on Wednesday, September 12, 2018 at 1:33 PM

UC ANR scientists contribute to California’s Fourth Climate Change Assessment

The California Natural Resources Agency released California's Fourth Climate Change Assessment today (Monday, Aug. 27), at http://www.ClimateAssessment.ca.govUC Agriculture and Natural Resources scientists contributed substantially to the report.

The Fourth Assessment is broken down into nine technical reports on the following topics:

  • Agriculture 
  • Biodiversity and habitat 
  • Energy 
  • Forests and wildlife 
  • Governance 
  • Ocean and coast 
  • Projects, datasets and tools 
  • Public health 
  • Water 

The technical reports were distilled into nine regional reports and three community reports that support climate action by providing an overview of climate-related risks and adaptation strategies tailored to specific regions and themes.

The regional reports cover:

  • North Coast Region 
  • Sacramento Valley Region 
  • San Francisco Bay Area Region 
  • Sierra Nevada Region 
  • San Joaquin Valley Region 
  • Central Coast Region 
  • Los Angeles Region 
  • Inland South Region 
  • San Diego Region 

The community reports focus on:

  • The ocean and coast 
  • Tribal communities 
  • Climate justice 

All research contributing to the Fourth Assessment was peer-reviewed.

UC Cooperative Extension ecosystem sciences specialist Ted Grantham – who works in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management at UC Berkeley – is the lead author of the 80-page North Coast Region Report.  Among the public events surrounding the release of the Fourth Assessment is the California Adaptation Forum, Aug. 27-29 in Sacramento. For more information, see http://www.californiaadaptationforum.org/. Grantham is a speaker at the forum.

Other UC ANR authors of the North Coast Region Report are:

  • Lenya Quinn-Davidson, UC Cooperative Extension area fire advisor for Humboldt, Siskiyou, Trinity and Mendocino counties 
  • Glenn McGourty, UC Cooperative Extension viticulture and plant science advisor in Mendocino and Lake counties 
  • Jeff Stackhouse, UC Cooperative Extension livestock and natural resources advisor for Humboldt and Del Norte counties 
  • Yana Valachovic, UC Cooperative Extension forest advisor for Humboldt and Del Norte counties

UC Cooperative Extension fire specialist Max Moritz contributed to sections of the main report on Forest Health and Wildfire and to the San Francisco Bay Area Report

UC ANR lead authors of technical reports were:

  • Economic and Environmental Implications of California Crop and Livestock Adaptations to Climate ChangeDaniel Sumner, director of UC ANR's Agricultural Issues Center 

  • Climate-wise Landscape Connectivity: Why, How and What NextAdina Merenlander, UC Cooperative Extension specialist 

  • Visualizing Climate-Related Risks to the Natural Gas System Using Cal-AdaptMaggi Kelly, UC Cooperative Extension specialist 
Dan Stark, staff research associate  for Humboldt and Del Norte counties, contributed to the pest section of Fuel Treatment for Forest Resilience and Climate Mitigation: A Critical Review for Coniferous Forests of California.
Posted on Monday, August 27, 2018 at 3:23 PM
  • Author: Jeannette Warnert
Focus Area Tags: Environment

California touts benefits of healthy soils in week-long celebration

Soil health informational panels adorning the wall just outside Governor Brown’s office remind visitors of the value and importance of soil health.

On the fifth anniversary of the United Nations' recognition of Dec. 5 as World Soils Day and just in time for the California Department of Food and Agriculture's awarding of $5.23 million in funding to promote the adoption of soil health conservation practices, the California's Healthy Soil Initiative celebrated its first ever California Healthy Soils Week.

For most, that might not sound like a holiday worthy of week-long festivities (a celebration style often reserved for birthdays), but to the passionate folks who've spent the last three years building the nation's leading climate-smart agricultural program, it marks the beginning of a new story of how California agriculture can contribute to feeding the world, saving water and cleaning our air, all while fighting climate change and buffering against its negative effects.

Jenny Lester Moffit led a legislative staff briefing on soil health.
As the inaugural year's theme “Healthy Soils = Healthy Lives” implies, soil health and human health are one and the same. So, in an effort to educate Californians on how vital soil truly is, the week focused on “highlight[ing] all the remarkable gifts healthy soils have to offer,” as CDFA Secretary Karen Ross commented.

From Dec. 4 to 7, CDFA, in partnership with a broad swath of stakeholder groups ranging from state organizations to the private sector (Fibershed, including Community Alliance with Family Farmers, California Farm Bureau, CalCAN, CA Resource Conservation Districts, Roots of Change, and Fibershed, hosted a variety of panels, webinars, and tours to better demonstrate what soil health actually is, what it looks like, how to promote it, as well as barriers to adoption and on-farm challenges.

CDFA kicked off the week by unveiling a series of Healthy Soils Information Panels directly outside Governor Jerry Brown's office. The information panels included an Natural Resources Conservation Service-inspired infographic defining healthy soils as a dynamic interface of the four elements, containing approximately 45 percent minerals, 5 percent organics, 25 percent air, and 25 percent water and teeming with life on the order of 100 million to 1 billion individual bacteria per teaspoon. The next few banners featured the major benefits of healthy soils.  Quite simply: More food. Less water-use. Cleaner air. Healthier planet. The last banner brings it all home with a case-study of all-star farmer, Jesse Sanchez, once honored in Washington, DC as a “Champion of Change.”  

Farmers Rory Crowley of Niclaus Nut Company, Michael Crowell of Bar-Vee Dairy and Bruce Rominger of Rominger Brothers Farms discussed benefits and challenges of no-till farming.

Dec. 5 – the official World Soils Day – was jam packed, starting with a 9 a.m. webcast on Climate Smart Agriculture, followed by a legislative staff briefing led by CDFA Deputy Secretary Jenny Lester Moffitt, and a reception to celebrate the connection between soil and food by indulging in the fruits of California agriculture. The briefing included two discussion panels -- one that featured scientists including UC Cooperative Extension advisors Daniel Munk and Glenn McGourty, East Stanislaus Regional Conservation District agent Jeff Borum and Margaret Smither-Kopperl of the USDA-NRCS Plant Materials Center, and one that featured pioneering farmers, Rory Crowley of Niclaus Nut Company, Michael Crowell of Bar-Vee Dairy, and Bruce Rominger of Rominger Brother's Farms. The growers discussed the benefits and challenges of no-till farming, or conservation agriculture, on their own farms.

The next day turned a bit more hands-on, with California EPA and CalRecycle helping deliver bags of compost, along with educational materials to legislative offices and with tours taking legislators out into the field -- first to the Recology compost facility, and then to Sierra Orchards where some of that compost ends up.

Calrecycle took legislators and stakeholders on a tour of the Recology compost facility in Dixon.

Capping it all off, Southern California got looped into the festivities with a tour of the Urban Farm in Los Angeles and keeping in the urban food systems theme, Sacramento Food Policy Group and ReSoil Sac hosted one last panel and reception at Hot Italian, a local restaurant that sources seasonally fresh, California-grown ingredients and is committed to improving communities and the environment. And it's not just talk, these guys walk the walk with a worm-bin on site to help process their waste into a valuable resource for local growers. 

Throughout the week, the message was clear: the California Healthy Soils Initiative is here to stay. And while it might take an internationally recognized holiday or a statewide weekly celebration to remind us, soils are the foundation of life, of agriculture, and their health is inextricably linked to that of our own. As Rory Crowley of Niclaus Nut company reminded us, “Every day is World Soil Day on the farm.”

 

Posted on Monday, December 11, 2017 at 11:00 AM
  • Author: Jessica Chiartas
Tags: Daniel Munk (1), Glenn McGourty (8), Soil (19)

Organic farmers are counting on UC to control exotic Virginia creeper leafhoppers

Organic farmers are struggling with invasion of exotic Virginia creeper leafhoppers in Lake and Mendocino counties.
When Virginia creeper leafhopper made its way into Mendocino and Lake county wine country a few years ago, some certified organic winegrape producers threw in the towel.

“They lost too much income,” said Glenn McGourty, a UC Agriculture and Natural Resources Cooperative Extension advisor in Lake and Mendocino counties. “They decided they were not going to risk their crop until there is a workable biological control solution to this new pest.”

Meanwhile, other organic grape producers are hanging on to their organic certification and counting on UC ANR researchers to come through with a biological control option soon.

“Organic farmers are spending a couple hundred dollars per acre for organic pesticides,” McGourty said. “They don't want to use them. It takes out beneficial insects and it doesn't even control Virginia creeper leafhopper very well.”

Three leafhopper species are pests of California grapes. Western grape leafhopper is a native insect that's present throughout California north of the Tehachapi Mountains. Several natural enemies keep the pest in check most years. Variegated leafhopper migrated north from the Imperial Valley to Central California in the 1980s, and is established in Napa Valley and other valleys of Napa County. Virginia creeper leafhopper, a native of the northern Midwest, made its way to Northern California in the early 1980s. It migrated southward to the northern Sacramento Valley and Sierra foothills, and most recently was detected in Lake and Mendocino counties, where the population boomed.

“The farmers were devastated, especially financially,” McGourty said. “Conventional growers had to begin spraying pesticides. Some organic vineyards were completely defoliated.”

The leafhoppers' key natural enemies are fairyflies (Genus: Anagrus), among the tiniest flying insects in the world. Certain species of fairyflies attack certain species of leafhoppers. What has scientists perplexed at the moment is the fact that Virginia creeper leafhoppers' natural enemies are present in Mendocino and Lake counties, but they are failing to do their job.

Generally, fairyflies lay their eggs in leafhopper eggs, killing them. The fairyflies known to attack Virginia creeper leafhopper are successfully parasitizing the pest's eggs in Yolo County. However, the very same species of fairyfly is not recognizing Virginia creeper leafhopper eggs as a host in Mendocino and Lake counties.

Virginia creeper leafhopper adults have a reddish-brown zigzag marking on each front wing.
“Virginia creeper leafhopper only recently moved into the Mendocino area,” said post-doctoral researcher Houston Wilson. Wilson works in the lab of Kent Daane, UC ANR Cooperative Extension specialist based at the UC Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Parlier. “Although these Anagrus parasitoids can attack both Western grape leafhopper and Virginia creeper leafhopper, the Anagrus population in Mendocino County has been reproducing on Western grape leafhopper for so long, they seem to have lost their preference for Virginia creeper.”

The scientists believe that, in time, fairyflies in Lake and Mendocino counties will begin to parasitize Virginia creeper leafhopper eggs on their own. But, because of the severity of the situation to organic winegrape growers, they've hatched a plan to help out the natural enemies. This summer, they will be rounding up fairyflies in the Davis area – where they know how to attack Virginia creeper – and bring them to Lake and Mendocino county vineyards.

Beginning in April, Wilson will allow Mendocino area Virginia creeper leafhoppers to lay eggs on potted grapevines. The vines will be transported to Davis, where local fairyflies can parasitize the eggs. The plants will go back to the laboratory in Berkeley so scientists can rear populations of the parasitoids and later release them in Mendocino and Lake county vineyards.

“I just planted the grapevines this month,” Wilson said. “When leafhoppers become active in the summer, we'll start monthly releases. We hope our efforts will take some of the pressure off winegrape farmers soon.”

In addition to the work releasing natural enemies of Virginia creeper leafhopper, UC Agriculture and Natural Resources scientists are implementing an area-wide integrated pest management program in Mendocino and Lake counties. The program – a combination of biological, cultural and chemical controls for this pest – employs:

  1. Improved monitoring and mapping of Virginia creeper populations
  2. Cultural practices to reduce egg deposition in vineyards
  3. Earlier and coordinated pesticide applications (if a spray is necessary)

The Virginia creeper leafhopper pest control program is funded in part by the American Vineyard Foundation.

An initiative to manage endemic and invasive pests and diseases is part of UC Agriculture and Natural Resources Strategic Vision 2025.

Posted on Wednesday, February 25, 2015 at 9:01 AM

Grape growers grateful for 100 years of UC Cooperative Extension

Viticulture publication credits UC Cooperative Extension for helping California winegrape growers.
The vital link that UC Cooperative Extension provides between public universities and communities is nowhere more true than in viticulture, reported Paul Franson in Wines and Vines. Cooperative Extension advisors have helped winegrape growers improve cultural practices and overcome a host of pests, diseases and water and climatic issues by applying university research to solve problems.

The lengthy article was written in honor of UC Cooperative Extension's 100th anniversary. The organization was formed on May 8, 1914, when President Woodrow Wilson signed the Smith-Lever Act into law.

For the story, Franson interviewed Barbara Allen-Diaz, vice president of UC Agriculture and Natural Resources, and several UCCE advisors who work in Northern California viticulture. Allen-Diaz noted agriculture's wide scope in the Golden State.

“We farm 400 commodities in California with a value of $45 billion,” Allen-Diaz said. UC Ag and Natural Resources focuses on healthy food systems, healthy environments, healthy communities and healthy Californians.

Rhonda Smith, a UCCE advisor in Sonoma County, said she has seen many changes since she started in 1986.

"In early days, most growers were small, independent farmers," Now most of the people Smith works with are employees of large corporations, many multinational.

In the early days, farm advisors dealt with multiple crops, and the viticultural work and research was primarily focused on improving the culture of vines. Things soon changed. “Increasingly, the trials were associated with grapevine pests, especially exotic pests,” Smith said.

Monica Cooper, UCCE viticulture advisor since April 2009, walked into a big problem when she took her job: the European grapevine moth. She also conducts research with mealybugs and leafroll virus and believes red botch virus and water issues to be important concerns for winegrape growers in the near future.

Glenn McGourty, UCCE advisor in Mendocino County, agrees.

“I’ve been telling growers that they need to learn to farm without irrigation,” McGourty said.

Posted on Thursday, January 9, 2014 at 3:21 PM

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