Posts Tagged: Scott Stephens
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!”
Five of California's six largest fires have occurred in 2020, reported Julie Cart in CalMatters.
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, 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.
Three news articles over the last weekend shared comments from UC Agriculture and Natural Resource's experts about forest management practices that can help reduced the catastrophic wildfires being experiences in the West.
Prescribed burns and management change fire behavior
Shaver Lake forest historian Jared Dahl Aldern tweeted that, when the high-intensity Creek Fire arrived at the Shaver Lake forestlands, it turned into a low-intensity “surface fire,” which does not threaten the bigger and older trees. “The fire comes up to @SCE land,” tweeted Aldern, “drops to the ground, and stays out of the tree crowns.”
Whatever happens to Shaver Lake, says University of California Cooperative Extension specialist Rob York, “There are lots of cases in the scientific literature of prescribed burns having changed fire behavior.”
The image below shows a “shaded fuel break,” consisting of selectively-thinned forest surrounded on both sides by dense forest. “The strip of forest may change fire behavior in the treated area,” said York, “but not on either side.
Forbes, Sept. 13, 2010
Millions of dead trees fueling unprecedented firestorms in the Sierra Nevada
“I don't want to be alarmist. But I think the conditions are there,” said Scott Stephens, a UC Berkeley professor of fire science and lead author of a 2018 paper that raised the specter of future mass forest fires as intense as the Dresden, Germany, and Tokyo firebombings.
“As those [trees] continue to fall, the physics of it are unchanged. If you have dead and downed logs … the fires described in warfare are possible.”
A combination of prescribed fire, restoration thinning and making rural communities more fire resistant are needed, Stephens said.
“If we don't come out of this year focused on that and try to move forward, I just don't know if there's much hope,” he said. “I'm always hopeful. But I'm getting tired.”
Los Angeles Times, Sept. 13, 2020
Results of long-time fire suppression
Perhaps the most present term in news articles as one of the main causes for fires getting so big so fast is fire suppression, which has resulted in a lack of fire for more than a century.
In the 1920s, this idea of suppressing wildfires grew even more when the Forest Service decided intentional burning was a bad idea. In 1924 a Siskiyou National Forest Supervisor said the ‘“Brushy Hell' of shrublands must be protected for the benefit of future timberland succession, ‘so leave them alone.'”
“The Forest Service said it ruins forests, it was bad forest management,” said Kocher. “Then in 1924, California followed suit and said it was not legal to burn forests on purpose.”
Kocher says this idea of letting trees grow and not letting forests burn naturally every decade wasn't this malicious idea either.
“They would have thought, ‘Oh, we're doing this great work where we're leaving all these extra trees for people to use for timber moving forward,'” she said. “I don't think those early foresters ever could have foreseen how fire could get away from them.”
Capitol Public Radio, Sept. 12, 2020
Ezra David Romero
The raging fires sparked during August have raised the visibility of UC fire scientists, who provide critical information to state and national media. Below are a sampling of stories and comments offered by UC Cooperative Extension experts:
Forest management needed
“When we started suppressing fires 100 years ago all the time, we actually allowed a huge buildup of fuels and debris,” said UC Cooperative Extension forest advisor Susie Kocher, who is based in the Lake Tahoe region.
She is an advocate for requiring residents to clean up the extra fuel — grasses, trees, shrubs and clutter — around their homes, making them fire ready, and for more prescribed burns.
“There's a need for more frequent, low-severity fire across the landscape, so that we wouldn't have quite so much explosion in the burning in the fields that we have currently,” Kocher said.
In August, the state and federal government agreed to clean up 1 million acres by 2025, with practices such as prescribed burns. Part of that agreement also included a commitment to create a 20-year plan by next year to prioritize areas for forest-thinning. But even this plan is sliver of what's needed to protect California from devastating future wildfires.
“I think it's a good indication they're paying attention now and that we're moving in the right direction,” said Michael Jones a UC Cooperative Extension forestry advisor in Mendocino, Lake and Sonoma counties. “My hope is that once we start with a million, then it's really easy to scale up to multiple millions.”Capitol Public Radio, Sept. 3, 2020
Taking steps to reduce fire danger
“There are things that we can and should be doing to address the fire problem and fire risk in California, and to get ahead of it, and to make ourselves more resilient,” said Lenya Quinn-Davidson, a fire advisor with the University of California Cooperative Extension and director of the Northern California Prescribed Fire Council.
Quinn-Davidson said she was encouraged when California Gov. Gavin Newsom and U.S. Forest Service officials announced an agreement this month on a joint strategy to reduce wildfire risks.
“We need more coordination and more collaboration among all of the different groups who work on these issues,” Quinn-Davidson said. “The number one thing we need is more coordinated vision around what fire is going to look like in California, how people can live with fire.”
Arizona Central, Aug. 28, 2020
What's at stake
“Every part of California is receptive to wildfire,” said Yana Valachovic, a UC Cooperative Extension forestry advisor on the North Coast. “Especially in a year like this, when we had a pretty dry winter and spring, so a lot of the state is in drought conditions.”
Sacramento Bee, Aug. 27, 2020
Fires are getting worse
"They are certainly getting worse over time," said Susan Kocher, a forestry advisor at the University of California-Cooperative Extension Central Sierra. "We burned fewer acres in wildfires in 2019 than 2018, but overall, yes, the trend is progressing to burning more and more acres at high severity over time and affecting more people through evacuations and damages to homes and communities."
Yana Valachovic, a forest advisor and county director at University of California Cooperative Extension–Humboldt and Del Norte counties, said that 100 years of fire suppression is catching up to the state as well. Valachovic said before California was settled by white pioneers around the gold rush in the 1850s, Native Americans frequently used fire as a tool —for example, to clean out an infestation of bugs in acorns.
"Fire can be really important for stimulating biodiversity and creating more food sources," Valachovic said. "After years of suppressing those fires, now we get an ignition, whether human-caused or lightning-caused or power lines down, and you have an accumulation of materials that have accumulated over various time periods, but the quantity of fuel is substantially greater than it was historically."
Salon, Aug. 25
“At the statewide level, we do get into this mode where we start wondering where the biggest loss is going to be, what's the highest priority, and that is where the resources are going to go,” said Lenya Quinn-Davidson, a fire specialist with the UC Cooperative Extension.
Los Angeles Times, Aug. 24, 2020
Q: Beyond widely accepted reasons for wildfires growing in size, severity, and frequency, why hasn't California made more progress in slowing the trend?
Lenya Quinn-Davidson: Our fire management and our land management haven't kept pace with the scientific understanding we have of fire in California. There's this fear of active land management – prescribed burning, thinning – that sometimes gets in the way of us making good choices. If we're not protecting the resources we care about and we're not taking action, then we will continue to lose them to big fires.
Bill Stewart: Many of the fires around the greater Bay Area are in areas that didn't burn 30 years ago because they were cattle ranches. They had cattle on them, and that helped reduce fuels. Now those areas have turned into parks or 5- and 10-acre residential lots. So much development has been about what's aesthetically pleasing, so we've ended up with a landscape that, during hot and dry seasons, there's a lot more fuel and it becomes a much riskier situation.
Q: The era of megafires in California has been decades in the making. How can public agencies begin to counter that over the next few years?
Quinn-Davidson: We need to create a more robust and sustainable fire workforce. Right now, they're so beat down at the end of fire season – especially as fire season is getting longer in California – that there's basically no capacity the rest of the year to do any of the proactive stuff we need to be doing. So we need to create more jobs, and those jobs need to be dedicated to fire management and land management.
Christian Science Monitor, Aug. 24, 2020
Historical fire suppression
“We have put out fires for 100 years. Now we are paying the price,” said Scott Stephens, a professor of fire science at UC Berkeley. “It will take a while to make these forests healthy again. But it's absolutely possible.”
Stephens, the UC fire scientist, estimates that before the Gold Rush, roughly 4.5 million acres a year in California burned. By the 1950s and 1960s, that was down to about 250,000 acres a year. In recent years, it has approached 2 million acres a year.
San Jose Mercury News, Aug 23, 2020
Limited firefighting resources
At the statewide level, we do get into this mode where we start wondering where the biggest loss is going to be, what's the highest priority, and that is where the resources are going to go,” said Lenya Quinn-Davidson, a fire expert with the University of California Cooperative Extension.
Los Angeles Times, Aug. 22, 2020
Smoke impact on fresh produce
According to a 2018 preliminary UC Cooperative Extension Sonoma study, smoke from 2017 fires had little impact on local Sonoma County produce.
Based on preliminary findings, "...produce safety was not significantly affected by the fires and may be mitigated by washing produce."
The Californian, August 21, 2020
Above average rainfall in February benefits strawberry crops in the Central Valley
(ABC 30) Reuben Contreras, Feb. 28
…Above average rainfall in February will help this year's harvest last through October.
"It looks like it is in full bloom right now and it looks like it is going to rain. So we need the water as much as we can right now," said Michael Yang, University of California Cooperative Extension.
He works with small farms and specialty crops in the Hmong community, including a strawberry field in Northeast Fresno near Willow and Behymer.
Yang said the rain will add to the groundwater supply most farmers use to grow their crops plus it will help make the strawberries sweeter.
Ventura County Helps Keep Farming Alive in Southern California
(KCET) Teresa O'Connor, Feb. 27
…Connecting the community to the food system is vitally important for the health of individuals and the survival of local farms, according to Rose Hayden-Smith, Ph.D., who is the editor of the UCFoodObserver.com, an online publication for the University of California (UC). A long-term county resident, Hayden-Smith was previously sustainable food systems initiative leader for UC's Ag and Natural Resources division.
“Everyone eats: everyone is a stakeholder,” says Hayden-Smith. “I would like people to be engaged with the food system, and to advocate for positive change. Think about where your food comes from and ask critical questions about the supply chain. Meet people who are involved in producing, processing, distributing and preparing the food you eat. Honor them with questions about and interest in their work.”
Gene-edited animal creators look beyond US market
(Nature) Heidi Ledford, Feb. 20
…It isn't always easy to pick up a research project and move it to a different country. About ten years ago, difficulties finding funding for his research drove animal geneticist James Murray to move his transgenic goat project from the University of California in Davis to Brazil. The goats were engineered to produce milk that contained lysozyme, an enzyme with antibiotic properties. Murray hoped that the milk could help to protect children from diarrhoea.
Newly discovered nematode threatens key crops
(Farm Press) Logan Hawkes, Feb. 20
“The arrival of this nematode (Meloidogyne floridensis) in California is a little surprising — it has the potential to infect many of California's economically important crops,” says UCCE Kern County Advisor Mohammad Yaghmour. “Root samples had been collected from an almond orchard in Merced County last year, and confirmed at the California Department of Food and Agriculture's (CDFA) Nematology Lab as M. floridensis.”
Yaghmour facilitated the second discovery of the nematode in a Kern County orchard a month after the first was uncovered in an almond orchard in Merced County.
Ag Innovations Conference and Trade Show returning to Santa Maria for third event
(Santa Ynez Valley News) Mike Hodgson, Feb. 19
The Ag Innovations Conference and Trade Show will return to Santa Maria for its third event, this time focusing on biologicals, on March 5. The deadline for discounted early registration is next week.
… Considering the growing interest in biologicals and the demand for sustainably produced food, organizers selected topics on biocontrol agents, biostimulants and botanical and microbial pesticides and fungicides for the third conference, said organizer Surendra Dara, UC Cooperative Extension adviser for entomology and biologicals.
“The use of biocontrol agents, biopesticides, biostimulants and other such tools is gradually increasing in our efforts to produce with sustainable practices,” Dara said.
Almond Update: Orchard Recycling Research Showing Strong Results
(AgNet West) Taylor Hillman, Feb. 14
Orchard recycling research has been going on for over 10 years. UC Cooperative Extension Advisor Brent Holtz has been leading the project and said they continue to see positive results. There is an expense that comes with the practice but Holtz said their longest trial is making that cost back in added production.
NASA tech helps agriculture
(Hanford Sentinel) Julissa Zavala, Feb 13,
…In keeping with the expo's theme, “Harvesting Technology,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine visited the International Agri-Center in Tulare and spoke about how technology originally developed for space exploration is now being repurposed and used to improve numerous aspects of agriculture around the world.
…The measurement, also taken with LIDAR, can be used to calculate precise irrigation needs of plants and crops. Bridenstine said this pilot program, in partnership with the University of California Cooperative Extension and other agencies, is only being used in California.
UC Davis, wine industry cultivate relationship
(Fruit Growers News) Robin Derieux, Feb. 13
Under the hot summer sun of the San Joaquin Valley, just south of Merced, Miguel Guerrero of The Wine Group is trying a new high-wire act. In collaboration with University of California-Davis Cooperative Extension, Roduner Ranch vineyard manager Guerrero is experimenting with Cabernet Sauvignon vines and other varieties elevated by a single wire at 66 inches – plantings that are 2-3 feet higher than the traditional winegrape canopy.
…“The beauty of the high-wire system is that the fruit zone is really defined – a solid wall of grape clusters – and the pruning machine can just zip right alongside the vines,” said Kaan Kurtural, a UC Davis Cooperative Extension viticulture specialist. “We can carry more crop, and with mechanical leaf removal, we get that sun-dappled exposure that feeds the fruit. Less leaf cover means the vines require less water, and the grape quality is much better.”
There's Still So Much We Need To Learn About Weed—And Fast
(Wired) Matt Simon, Feb. 11
… But late last month, UC Berkeley opened the Cannabis Research Center to start tackling some of these social and environmental unknowns. With its proximity to the legendary growing regions of Northern California, the center can start to quantify this historically secretive industry, measuring its toll on the environment and looking at how existing rules affect the growers themselves. The goal is to create a body of data to inform future policies, making cannabis safer for all.
… So for the past few years Van Butsic, codirector of the Cannabis Research Center, and his colleagues have been sifting through satellite images to pinpoint those unaccounted-for farms. “We have an army of undergraduates who look at high-resolution imagery and digitize how big the farms are, how many plants we can see,” Butsic says. Because cannabis plants love light, growers usually keep them out in the open. The researchers still miss many trespass growers, however, who tend to hide their plants in the brush to avoid detection.
Cultured meat: Good or bad, promise or peril?
(Agweek) By Jonathan Knutson, Feb. 11
…To Alison Van Eenennaam, University of California-Davis Extension specialist in animal biotechnology and genomics, proponents of cell-based meat are "overhyping the environmental benefits" and providing an incomplete, misleading case for it.
Broomrape Weed Spreads Quickly
(AgNet West) Taylor Hillman, Feb. 8
By the time you see broomrape weed in your fields, it may be too late. There has been a resurgence of broomrape reports over the last decade in California. Retired UC Cooperative Extension Farm Advisor Gene Miyao said although the parasitic weed is far from widespread, it could become so quickly. “The seeds are very small, the growth is primarily underground until it starts sending up shoots and then it very quickly starts setting seed,” he said. “A single seed attached to a tomato plant may send up half-a-dozen shoots, and each shoot might have 1,000 seeds or more.”
New CA Bill Aims to Help Prepare Farmers for Extreme Weather, Changing Climate
(YubaNet) CalCAN, Feb. 7
The state and University of California have made significant investments in research to better understand agriculture's unique vulnerabilities and adaptation strategies to a changing climate, including in the state's recently released Fourth Climate Change Assessment. But not enough has been done to translate climate risks to the farm level and assist farmers in adapting to climate change.
…The bill would also fund trainings for technical assistance providers and agricultural organizations. According to a 2017 survey of 144 University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources staff, 88% of respondents believe it is important to incorporate climate change information into farm extension programs, but only 43% actually do. Respondents cited a lack of access to climate information relevant to farmers and expressed interest in education on technical tools and information resources.
Top administrators from UC ANR visit Imperial Valley
Imperial Valley Press
They were also briefed about UCCE and DREC projects, accomplishments and barriers by the directors, county advisors and CES representatives.
Drought concerns loom for California farmers, ranchers despite recent rain
(KSBY) Dustin Klemann, Feb. 6
Even with the onslaught of rainy weather, the U.S. Drought Monitor states San Luis Obispo County and Santa Barbara County remain in a moderate drought.
On Wednesday, the UC Cooperative Extension held a workshop in Solvang titled “Weather, Grass, and Drought: Planning for Uncertainty.”
“Leave it to a drought workshop to bring the rain,” Matthew Shapero joked. He is a livestock and range advisor for UCCE.
Shapero pointed out a call he received questioning the monitor's accuracy on a local level.
“He said ‘I really don't think the drought monitor accurately reflects what I am seeing on the ground.'”
… “We Californians are constantly accused of not having seasons. We do,” said Dr. Royce Larsen, an advisor of the UCCE. “We have fire, flood, mud, and drought. That's what we live with. And it's getting more and more so every year.”
California legislators honor Summit's Steward Leader Award Winners
(California Economic Summit, Feb. 5
Monday, February 4 was a red-letter day for stewardship in California. Not only was the California Legislature celebrating the Chinese Lunar New Year and “National Wear Red Day” as a symbol of support for women's heart health, but members of both houses also paused to recognize Glenda Humiston and Paul Granillo as recipients of the California Economic Summit's 2018 Steward Leader Awards.
Revealed: how big dairy pushed fattier milks into US schools
(Guardian) Jessica Glenza, Feb. 4
…A nutritionist for the University of California called the idea that chocolate milk could help athletes “preposterous”.
“Milk is a very healthy beverage, it's got protein, calcium, vitamin D – there's a reason we are mammals and grow up drinking milk,” said Lorrene Ritchie, the director of the Nutrition Policy Institute at the University of California. “There's nothing about adding chocolate to it that's going to help an athlete.”
California's water paradox
(Morning Ag Clips/The Conversation) Faith Kearns and Doug Parker, Feb. 4
These days, it seems everyone is looking for a silver bullet solution to California's drought. Some advocate increasing supply through more storage, desalination or water reuse. Others propose controlling demand through conservation or restriction of water use by urban and agricultural users.
Camp Fire: When survival means shelter
(Mercury News) Lisa Krieger, Feb. 2
“We have to talk about it, as a community, to reduce vulnerability – especially for citizens who don't drive,” said Scott Stephens, co-director of UC-Berkeley's Center for Fire Research and Outreach. “In the Camp Fire, people didn't die because they wanted to stay. They had to stay. All of a sudden, the fire was at their front door step.”
For Australia's policy to work in California, residents must be physically and mental trained, said wildfire specialist Max A. Moritz with UC's Division of Agriculture & Natural Resources. In Australia, which conducts formal training, “there is active participation from homeowners … so both homes and people are better prepared.”