Posts Tagged: wildfire
Are Blackouts Here to Stay? A Look into the Future
(E&E News) Anne C. Mulkern, Nov. 15
…Throughout the United States, between roughly 2000 and 2010, about 75% of homes that burned in wildfires were located in the WUI, said Van Butsic, a land use specialist at the University of California, Berkeley. The rest was mostly in rural areas, with about 2% in cities.
People go back after they lose homes, Butsic said. He surveyed the 28 largest fires in California from about 1975 to 2005, and through aerial photos tracked what was rebuilt. About 90% of destroyed homes were rebuilt within a decade, he found. New homes also filled in large tracts of undeveloped land in formerly burned areas.
Climate Considerations for Processing Tomatoes
(AgNet West) Nov. 15
Research models show that increases in overall temperatures in California will have a direct effect on how some crops are going to be produced in the future. In one study looking at processing tomato production in the Central Valley, researchers found that changing temperatures will likely have a noticeable impact on the timing of the growing season.
“We looked at the data all the way starting from 1950, into the future by 2030-2040 and see how the time of maturity is changing,” said Tapan Pathak, UC Specialist in Climate Adaptation in Agriculture. “What we saw is, in general the time from emergence to maturity, the timeframe for processing tomatoes in that region, is going to shrink down almost by two to three weeks.”
What's Growing On: American rose trials test sustainability
(Stockton Record) Marcy Sousa, Nov. 15
Did you know San Joaquin County Master Gardeners have been part of a National Rose Trial since 2018? The trial is part of the American Rose Trials for Sustainability (A.R.T.S.) program that has trial sites across the United States. It was initiated in 2012 by individuals representing multiple rose stakeholder groups, including: industry, the scientific community and public gardens. There are only two Mediterranean climate trial locations and both are in California. The trials at the Fullerton Arboretum started in 2019 and the UC Cooperative Extension office in San Joaquin County began in 2018.
…Our Environmental Horticulture Advisor, Karrie Reid, has been managing and overseeing the trial since 2018. Our roses were planted in unused turf areas that were converted to the trial grounds. One of the selling features of converting the turf sections was the calculated water savings: 3,656 square feet of turf used 103,000 gallons of water, while 60 roses in the same area on drip use 6,175 gallons, a 94 percent savings. Trial sites are covered with a 3-inch layer of wood mulch.
Report: California ag is a major economic driver for the state
(Agri-Pulse West) Brad Hooker, Nov. 13
A new report by the University of California Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources (ANR) adds new dimensions to the “massive economic juggernaut” of the California agricultural industry. The findings reveal that agriculture contributed more than $263 billion to the economy in 2018 through direct sales and employed more than 1.2 million people, while benefiting urban and rural regions alike.
The report examines the entire “working landscape,” which also includes fishing, forestry, mining, outdoor recreation and renewable energy, in addition to agricultural distribution, production, processing and support. Together, the sectors represent $333 billion in sales, 1.5 million jobs and 6.4% of the total California economy, outranking the healthcare, real estate, construction and retail sectors. Agriculture accounted for 85% of the working landscape businesses and 79% of the sales income. According to ANR Vice President Glenda Humiston, the working landscape likely surpasses the finance sector as well.
UCCE Addressing Watergrass Issues in California Rice Fields
(AgNet West) Brian German, Nov. 13
Researchers from UC Cooperative Extension (UCCE) are looking closely at the watergrass issues in California rice fields to get a better understanding of the problem. Watergrass has historically been a fairly common weed species that growers face, however in recent years the issue has been compounded by a number of factors. Several watergrass species have demonstrated resistance to the materials available and it appears that one or two new species may have emerged.
“In the past few years watergrass is becoming more and more of a problem, whether it's the ones that we know that we have or these possible new species,” said Whitney Brim-DeForest, UC Rice Farm Advisor serving Sutter, Yuba, Placer, and Sacramento Counties. “It's just becoming more difficult to control with the herbicides that we have.”
Experts Warn Of Surge In Sudden Oak Death Infections In North Bay
(KPIX) Wilson Walker, Nov. 12
“And then, of course, these limbs that have just fallen off,” said Kerry Wininger of UC Cooperative Extension as he stood beneath a dying tree in Sonoma County's Fairfield Osborn Preserve. “And big patches will come out at once.”
Wininger is with the UC team working to measure the problem, and the numbers are up dramatically. She oversees a yearly survey conducted by volunteer citizen scientists.
…“For Sonoma County in general, Sudden Oak Death numbers look about double where they were last year,” said Wininger. “So it's actually increasing at a rate a little bit faster than we would expect.”
Shelter exercise at the fairgrounds
(Appeal Democrat) Ruby Larson, Nov. 12
Some Glenn County agencies came together at the Glenn County Fairgrounds to participate in a shelter management training exercise last week.
…Travis said agencies that participated included Health and Human Services, sheriff's office, animal control, UC Cooperative Extension and North Valley Animal Disaster Group.
California's Wildfire Policy Totally Backfired. Native Communities Know How to Fix It.
(Mother Jones) Delilah Friedler, Nov. 11
…“We aren't anywhere near bringing fire back at the scale we need to,” says Lenya Quinn-Davidson, a fire advisor with the University of California Cooperative Extension who helped lead that burn. “It's important to push forward with a grassroots model that empowers people to do the work, instead of having bottlenecks with the agency that's in charge.”
The Humboldt County Prescribed Burn Association, which Quinn-Davidson leads, was the first organization of its kind in the West when it started in 2018, and has already inspired similar groups to start up in northern California's Plumas, Nevada, Sonoma, and Mendocino counties. These groups bring landowners and neighbors together to provide the manpower that controlled burns require. Quinn-Davidson says she's hosted 25 lecture and field-based workshops in the past year to increase people's comfort with prescribed fire, and in the past two years, she's led 20 burns on private lands.
Zediker honored as CattleWoman of the year
(Siskiyou Daily News) Nov. 10
Siskiyou County native Jacki Zediker was honored on Saturday, Oct. 26 as the 2019 Siskiyou County CattleWoman of the Year during the annual Cattlemen and CattleWomen's dinner in Yreka.
… Zediker has been the 4-H Youth Development Program Representative with the UC Cooperative Extension in Siskiyou County for more than 20 years, and has served as the regional coordinator for the North State counties in recent years, the CattleWomen said.
Insect entrepreneurs use almond hulls as feed source for bugs
(Daily Democrat) Ching Lee, Nov. 8
…Maurice Pitesky, a UC Cooperative Extension veterinarian and specialist in poultry health and food-safety epidemiology, conducted an experiment two years ago on pastured layers, feeding up to 20% of the birds' diet with soldier fly larvae “with no change in welfare, egg quality, mortality.” The larvae feed provides methionine, an essential amino acid for poultry, and has “significant potential” to increase poultry production while freeing “more corn and soy calories for humans,” he said, though he warned of two caveats: economics and consistency of manufacturing the feed.
Paradise rebuilds, but fire safety sometimes takes a back seat to economic realities
(LA Times) Laura Newberry, Nov. 8
…“Having this zone right next to a building is pretty important,” said Steve Quarles, a senior scientist with the Institute for Business & Home Safety who studied homes in Paradise after the fire. “No matter what the homeowner does in terms of vegetation management on the property, embers can blow over and ignite that woodpile next to the house.”
For the Record (LA Times) Nov. 12
Camp fire: In the Nov. 8 Section A, an article looking at the changes in Paradise, Calif., since the Camp fire a year earlier misidentified Steve Quarles as a senior scientist with the Institute for Business & Home Safety. Quarles has retired from that post and now serves as a UC Cooperative Extension advisor emeritus.
Sudden oak death rebounds in Sonoma County, spreads in California
(Press Democrat) Guy Kovner, Nov. 8
… Matteo Garbelotto, director of the forest pathology and mycology laboratory at UC Berkeley, said discovery of the two infected tanoaks in Del Norte County was a signature finding of this year's sudden oak death survey, known as the SOD Blitz, organized by his lab since 2008.
“It's a good thing that we detected it because the sooner we know, the more options available to minimize the impact of the disease,” he said.
The 2050 challenge
(Iowa Farm Bureau) Teresa Bjork, Nov. 8
…Dr. Frank Mitloehner, an air quality extension specialist at the University of California-Davis, said American consumers don't realize that modern agriculture practices have helped increase our food supply while decreasing potential greenhouse gas emissions.
“It's time for us to explain what we do in agriculture in a way that the public understands,” Mitloehner said.
Sudden oak death spreading fast, California's coastal forests facing devastation
(San Francisco Chronicle) Peter Fimrite, Nov. 7
…The rate of trees infected almost doubled in 2019 — from 3.5% to 5.9% — and was 10 times higher in some places compared with the 2018 survey, said Matteo Garbelotto, the director of the UC Berkeley Forest Pathology and Mycology Laboratory, which tested leaf samples taken by 422 volunteers.
...“There was a significant increase in infection rates over last year, but that's not totally surprising because we had a lot more rainfall,” Garbelotto said. “But it was a surprise to see them all at once. It's telling us we are entering a different phase of the disease, where the organism isn't really establishing itself in new areas, but is showing itself more when weather conditions are favorable.”
We mapped every wine country fire. They're larger and more destructive than ever
(Los Angeles Times) Priya Krishnakumar, Nov. 7
…Why is this happening? Scientists point to rising temperatures and the effects of Santa Ana and Diablo winds on increasingly dry terrain.
“In a way, climate change is priming the landscape to ignitions,” said Max Moritz, a wildfire specialist at UC Santa Barbara.
…Experts say many of the losses are due to increased development, as more and more homes have been built in areas prone to fire.
“The homes are the fuels,” Moritz said. “We see these burned neighborhoods where there are still shrubs and trees, and it's clear the homes propogated the fire.”
Water users making case in bankruptcy court; Cal Fire says dry canal poses fire hazards
(Chico News & Review) Ashiah Scharaga, Nov. 7
…Gosselin said the county is scheduling another meeting with water users for January. While “we cannot get in the middle and restore water to the Middle Miocene,” he said, it is exploring a project with Del Oro to extend water service on Pentz Road, which would help some of the folks who have been served by the canal. The UC Cooperative Extension is also close to completing an economic study related to the loss of the Miocene on water users, and Gosselin intends to seek grants and other funding for water supply reliability projects.
Farm City Newsday Thursday, 11-07-19
(AgNet West) Danielle Leal
Get the latest agriculture news in today's Farm City Newsday, hosted by Danielle Leal. Today's show is filled with stories covering the current disconnect in state and federal hemp regulations, California's working landscape sector providing significant economic value and details on the Almond Board of California's conference silent auction that benefits FFA students and how you can help. Tune in to the show for these news stories, recipes, features and more.
California working landscapes generate $333 billion in sales and 1.5 million jobs
(News release) Pam Kan-Rice
Power shutoffs leave some farmers feeling ‘helpless'
(Ag Alert) Ching Lee, Nov. 6
… "If they've lost cooler capacity or the ability to wash product, not only are they taking a hit on the expense side, but they have less to sell," Placer County sheep rancher Dan Macon said. "That's kind of a double whammy for a number of folks."
… Wineries also are running into this problem, said Anita Oberholster, an enology specialist for University of California Cooperative Extension. Those operating on generators are running low on fuel and can't get it to their wineries, which need power not only to process fruit but to control temperature during the fermentation process. Because yeast can generate a significant amount of heat during fermentation, an inability to control temperature could affect the quality of the wine, she said.
… "People are making the investments they need to make, but it's stuff that's outside the normal course of business, and I think there'll be some financial impacts from that in terms of this season's profitability," he said.
As a UCCE livestock and natural resources advisor, Macon said the outage has prompted him to start sending a survey to farmers in an effort "to catalog resources that are out there and available for sharing in situations like this," whether it's generators, water-hauling capacity or, in the case of fire, the ability to load livestock quickly and safely.
Spring rains likely caused waterlogging of walnut trees
(Farm Press) Logan Hawkes, Nov. 6
…Luke Milliron, UCCE Farm Advisor in Butte, Glenn, and Tehama Counties and Janine Hasey, UCCE Farm Advisor Emeritus, also addressed the topic in a recent blog post.
“Plant roots need to breathe,” they wrote. “This process of respiration is critical to energy production in roots. Saturated surface soil moisture levels restrict root access to atmospheric oxygen, limiting the energy production of respiration and eventually resulting in root asphyxiation (death).”
California agriculture in 2050 – where we are headed and why
(CDFA blog) Nov. 5
At its monthly meeting today, the California State Board of Food and Agriculture heard a cautiously optimistic appraisal of agriculture's future through 2050 from economist Dr. Daniel Sumner, director of the Agricultural Issues Center at UC Davis. Dr. Sumner believes that net farm income will continue to grow, even though it may experience ups and downs, and that growth specifics will hinge on the management of five key cost factors:
Beckstoffer Vineyards, in Partnership with University of California, Davis and Duarte Nursery, Launches Groundbreaking Clonal and Rootstock Trial Addressing Climate Change and Improved Grape Quality in Cabernet Sauvignon
(Wine Industry Advisor) Nov. 5
Andy Beckstoffer, perhaps the most recognized California grower of wine grapes, announced that Beckstoffer Vineyards, in partnership with University of California, Davis and Duarte Nursery, has launched a groundbreaking trial addressing climate change and improved grape quality for Cabernet Sauvignon at Beckstoffer's Amber Knolls Vineyard in the Red Hills of Lake County. University of California, Davis called the trial “the mother of Cabernet research trials.”
Study: California's working landscape supports more than 1.5 million jobs
(Fruit Grower News) Nov. 5
California's working landscape and the industries associated with agriculture and natural resources contribute significantly to the state's economy, according to a new study by the California Community Colleges Centers of Excellence for Labor Market Research, California Economic Summit and the University of California's Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources.
UC scientists seek innovative uses of ag waste
(Farm Press) Chris Brunner, Nov. 5
…Historically these waste materials have been used as a rich source of compost. However, scientists at UC Cooperative Extension are researching innovative uses for this material.
Dr. Pramod Pandey, a faculty member and Cooperative Extension specialist at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, focuses on better ways to manage waste material for both large and small farms. Dr. Pandey researches how to convert the organic matter in manure and other waste materials into a renewable energy source that can be used to power our state.
Shifting Winds in Fire Management
(Noozhawk) Harrison Tasoff, Nov. 4
…“We are mixing up the problem of forest and fuel management with the problem of wildland-urban interface fires,” said Max Moritz, an adjunct professor at UC Santa Barbara's Bren School of Environmental Management and a statewide Cooperative Extension wildfire specialist.
Early UC hemp research already yielding results
(Farm Press) Jeannette Warnert, Nov. 4
For the first time ever, UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) researchers harvested an industrial hemp crop at one of its nine research and extension centers this fall.
“It's an interesting crop,” said UC Cooperative Extension specialist Bob Hutmacher. “There is a tremendous amount of research that can be done to understand its growth and best cultural practices, optimal planting dates either by seed or transplants, irrigation and fertilization management, and, particularly, to address pest and disease management.”
Day of the Dead – More Than a Colorful Sugar Skull, UC ANR Says
(Sierra Sun Times) Ricardo A. Vela, Nov. 2
- Many of us in the US have seen or heard something about the Mexican celebration El Dia de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead), whether it's a reference in a horror movie or a community fair where children get their faces painted as colorful skulls. For many, that is the extent of their knowledge of this millenary, radiant and vibrant Mexican celebration.
Early UC Hemp Research Already Yielding Results
(CalAg Today), Nov. 2
For the first time ever, UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) researchers harvested an industrial hemp crop at one of its nine research and extension centers this fall.
"It's an interesting crop," said UC Cooperative Extension specialist Bob Hutmacher. "We don't have a lot of experience in UC ANR with hemp at this time. There is a tremendous amount of research that can be done to understand its growth and best cultural practices, optimal planting dates either by seed or transplants, irrigation and fertilization management, and, particularly, to address pest and disease management."
In Woodlake, One Motivated Couple And A Mile-Long Garden Inspire Children And Flowers To Flourish
(KVPR) Alice Daniel, Nov. 1
…And that's the point, right there. It's why two life-long Woodlake residents, Olga and Manuel Jimenez started the garden 16 years. Ago. It's named for the lake next to it. Taking care of the garden builds character, Manuel says. And strong work skills, and relationships.
… It sits between a lake and a road on land the city bought with a rails to trails grant, so it's far longer than it is wide. Manuel's retired now but he designed it when he was still a UC small farm advisor.
California Fire Danger Continues to Worsen, Experts Say
(Wall St J) Jim Carlton, Nov. 1
…“There's no simple problem and no one simple answer,” said Max Moritz, statewide fire specialist based at the University of California, Santa Barbara.
On the Hunt: Study Seeks Answers on Wildlife Exposure to Lethal Rat Poison
(CSU Fullerton) Nov. 1
…Under the mentorship of Paul Stapp, professor of biological science, and in collaboration with scientist Niamh Quinn, a human-wildlife interactions advisor with the University of California Cooperative Extension in Irvine, Burke is studying how native wildlife is exposed to rodenticides. Burke has been working on the research over the past two years for his thesis project.
…For his project, Burke set up bait stations — tamper-proof black boxes — at 90 sites in Orange County — in the backyards of homeowners who participate in the Master Gardeners of Orange County program, and grow large amounts of fruits and vegetables, which attract animals, including rats.
As fires rage, pressure mounts to train California's next generation of forest stewards
(Edsource) Sydney Johnson, Nov. 1
… Blake Schmidt, a math teacher at Ross Middle School in Marin County, decided to take his students to Forestry Challenge after participating in a free [UC ANR] statewide program for California teachers called the Forestry Institute for Teachers.
Lenya Quinn-Davidson worries that last year's Camp Fire has put too much focus on utility companies as the cause of fires, reported Tara Law in TIME.
Major fires are sometimes caused by utilities, but there are many other potential causes, including lightning, arson and sparks from dragging chains. All of these factors, are compounded by "lack of fuel management, poor land-use planning, and homes that aren't ready for fire and aren't resilient to fire," Quinn-Davidson said.
Power outages can complicate response and evacuation efforts should a fire break out, Quinn-Davidson said. Phone lines have been jammed during this week's outages and people have had trouble communicating with loved ones.
“If a fire starts because of other causes — which could easily happen under severe conditions — now we have no way to communicate,” she told the TIME reporter. “Seriously, like, if this power outage happened when the Carr Fire (sparked by a vehicle) happened — how would you evacuate people? That's completely possible. You could have a power outage and have a fire start from a roadside cigarette. Or arson. Or anything. And then what?”
The TIME article also quoted Jeffrey Stackhouse, UCCE livestock and natural resources advisor in Humboldt and Del Norte counties, about the sweeping power outages.
“People are freaking out around here,” he said.
Nevertheless, Stackhouse and Quinn-Davidson agree that scheduled power outages shouldn't be eliminated as a tool for preventing fires. They believe outages should be used sparingly, and in conjunction with preventative measures, such as fire-proofing homes and managing land.
“The disruption is pretty huge for something we're not sure is going to prevent a major wildfire. The actual likelihood of that event was not equal to the impact that this is having,” Quinn-Davidson said.
Read about Quinn-Davidson and Stackhouse's efforts to improve fire resilience in Humboldt County by establishing a prescribed burn association.
Last week, Governor Gavin Newsom signed a series of bills aimed at improving California's wildfire prevention, mitigation and response efforts. AB 38, a bill aimed at reducing wildfire damage to communities, incorporates University of California research to help protect California's existing housing.
“Prior to AB 38, the State's wildfire building policy focus was centered around guiding construction standards for new homes and major remodels,” said Yana Valachovic, UC Cooperative Extension forest advisor for Humboldt and Del Norte counties. “How do we help incentivize homeowners to upgrade and retrofit the 10 million or more existing homes in California to help them become more resilient to wildfire? AB 38 is an attempt to start that important work and to protect Californians.”
AB 38, introduced by Assemblymember Jim Wood (D-Santa Rosa) provides mechanisms to develop best practices for community-wide resilience against wildfires through “home hardening,” defensible space and other measures based on UC ANR research. This bill is especially important to Wood because wildfires in 2017 destroyed lives and hundreds of homes in his district and because of his work as a forensic dentist following the Santa Rosa and Paradise wildfires.
“AB 38 was a huge effort by many partners as we sought the best policy solutions to address what is today one of our state's biggest challenges,” said Assemblymember Wood. “I could not have accomplished it without the support and guidance of the people at UC Cooperative Extension Humboldt-Del Norte, especially Dr. Steve Quarles and Yana Valachovic. Their expertise proved invaluable as we worked through this process.”
Studies conducted by Steve Quarles, emeritus UC Cooperative Extension advisor, and his continued work at the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety have identified building materials and designs that are more resistant to flying embers from wildfires. Embers are small, fiery pieces of plants, trees or buildings that are light enough to be carried on the wind and can rapidly spread wildfire when they blow ahead of the main fire, starting new fires on or in homes.
Evaluating the homes lost in wildfires that ravaged Paradise, Redding and Santa Rosa have also informed Valachovic and Quarles' recommendations.
Hardening a home to withstand wildland fire exposure does not have to be costly, but it does require an understanding of the exposures the home will experience when threatened by a wildfire.
Their recommended best practices for hardening homes against wildfire can be found in UC ANR Publication 8393 “Home Survival in Wildfire-Prone Areas: Building Materials and Design,” which can be downloaded for free. More information is also at the ANR Fire website https://ucanr.edu/fire.
California's 2018 wildfire season was the deadliest and most destructive the state has ever seen. Even before the flames were extinguished, politicians, researchers, foresters, firefighters, insurance and utility company representatives, homeowners and landowners in the state's wildfire-prone areas were trying desperately to figure out how such devastation could be prevented in the future.
One reason for the destructive fires is a 100-year history in California of aggressive fire suppression. Most of the state's natural ecosystems evolved over millennia with periodic fires. Without fire, natural areas build up a great deal of vegetation – trees, shrubs, leaf litter and pine needles – that once ignited, can fuel a raging blaze.
Two UC Cooperative Extension advisors in Humboldt County believe the best way to bring back natural equilibrium on the land is by bringing back fire, and they believe it can be done in a way that is safe, effective, affordable and even fun.
Prescribed fire is part of California's past. Native Americans used fire to favor the plants and trees that provided their most nutritious foods, to open up areas for ease of travel and to attract game. In the 1980s, the California Department of Forestry and Fire (CAL FIRE) launched a Vegetation Management Program to share the cost and liability of prescribed fire on private land. At the height of the program, 65,000 acres of private lands were burned per year. However, by the mid-2000s, the agency had cut program funding, and private lands burning reduced to less than 5,000 acres per year in 2015. CAL FIRE is currently revamping their Vegetation Management Program, but UCCE experts say other pathways are also needed to regain ecosystem function on California's wildlands.
Born and raised in northern Californian, Lenya Quinn-Davidson, UCCE fire advisor, and Jeff Stackhouse, UCCE livestock and natural resources advisor, were deeply concerned about habitat loss and fuel buildup on private lands in Humboldt County. They investigated a concept being implemented successfully in other parts of the country, the formation of Prescribed Burn Associations (PBAs).
Creating California's first Prescribed Burn Association
The members of PBAs pool their resources and energy to conduct burns to maintain productive grasslands, enhance wildlife habitat, and ensure safer communities. In 2018, Quinn-Davidson, Stackhouse, Cocking and Hunt pulled together fellow Humboldt County ranchers, volunteer firefighters, non-profit organizations, and other community members to form the first Prescribed Burn Association in the western United States.
The Humboldt County Prescribed Burn Association has a president, board of directors, a treasurer and 85 members.
“More than half of the members are not landowners,” Stackhouse said. “People have houses in town, but want to go outside and experience land improvement on other people's property.”
To join the PBA, individuals pay $25 per year; ranches, timber companies and non-profit organizations pay $200 per year; and volunteer fire departments join free.
“People are willing to pay member dues to be a part of this community experience, get the training and to feel positive about fire, not afraid of it,” Quinn-Davidson said.
The PBA provides training, equipment and labor to safely use fire and meet permit requirements. So far, the Humboldt County PBA has burned 1,022 acres. And after each burn, they celebrate with food and drink.
The PBA is providing a space for a community of cooperation to grow. Groups and individuals with views that previously seemed miles apart – environmental activists, long-time ranchers, industrial timber organizations and well-established environmental organizations – are forging new alliances.
“It's interesting to see different groups meeting and burning with each other, to listen to them speak from their corners of the universe, giving each other room to speak and actively listening,” Stackhouse said.
The association is so successful, Stackhouse and Quinn-Davidson invited their UC Cooperative Extension colleagues from across the state to Humboldt County for a four-day workshop to learn how they might be able to replicate the concept in other fire-prone areas of California.
“We led a training and conducted three consecutive burns totaling over 100-acres,” Quinn-Davidson said.
UCCE livestock advisor in San Benito County, Devii Rao, attended the workshop.
“As a total novice, I received training and feel more confident about use of personal protective equipment, how to use a drip torch, hand tools, a water tank/pump/hose, and how to start developing a Prescribed Burn Association (PBA) on the Central Coast,” Rao said.
Another participant, UCCE forestry advisor Yana Valachovic, valued the opportunity and believes events like these could help solve a serious problem facing California.
“Talking about the use of prescribed fire in the abstraction does not move the meter,” she said. “California desperately needs experiences like this to empower community leaders and reincorporate fire into our management tool boxes.”
About UC ANR
UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) brings the power of UC research in agriculture, natural resources, nutrition and youth development to local communities to improve the lives of all Californians. Learn more at ucanr.edu.
For more California wildfire information and to find local UC Cooperative Extension fire experts, see the UC Agriculture and Natural Resources' Fire in California website.
For millennia, fires periodically burned through California forests, thinning trees, reducing shrubbery and clearing out downed branches and debris. Without periodic fire, the forests became more dense, with spaces between large trees filling in with a thick carpet of duff, seedlings and shrubs.
As a result, today's forests are prone to more intense and damaging fires, like the Rim Fire, King Fire, and — most recently — the Camp Fire in Butte County. These fires are burning with unprecedented severity and speed, threatening large swaths of forest, towns, and even urban areas.
Using fire as part of forest management is not a new concept. Native Americans were known to burn brush to open up hunting grounds and clear shrubbery for gathering. Decades ago, iconic Berkeley forestry professor Harold Biswell said, “Fire in the Sierra Nevada is as important as rain.”
Competing forces, however, pushed foresters and fire officials toward fire prevention and suppression, particularly the cataclysmic fires of the early 20th century that leveled entire towns and left dozens of residents and firefighters dead. The fear of out-of-control blazes and the perceived damage to timber resources launched a war on fire that has lasted a hundred years. Some forest managers are urgently trying to negotiate a truce.
Making peace with fire and turning it into a useful tool, rather than a raging threat, was the objective of an October meeting in Shaver Lake of UC Cooperative Extension forestry and natural resources scientists, Southern California Edison forest managers, CALFIRE officials and U.S. Forest Service representatives.
The event also raised awareness of “pyrosilviculture,” a new forest management term coined by UC fire scientist Rob York to emphasize the importance of fire in silviculture, the management of forests for wood.
Forests have myriad benefits – recreational, environmental and economic. Nature lovers value the whisper of pine trees in the wind and green shade over hiking trails and ski slopes. Owls, bears, deer and other wildlife make their homes among firs, pines, oaks and cedars. Forests stabilize mountain slopes, which store water as snow for agriculture and drinking. People build their homes, businesses and schools out of the planks and boards cut from the straight, soft wood of conifer trees.
The value of California forest products was about $429 million in 2017, according to the USDA. Because fires can damage and destroy trees, the timber industry has historically been reluctant to use fire as a tool. That's changing.
“Fire is such an important ecological process, you can't manage for timber without fire,” York said.
York is the manager of the Blodgett Forest Research Station, UC Berkeley's 4,000-acre mixed conifer and oak forest near Georgetown where researchers study forest management practices for increasing timber yield while taking advantage of fire to enhance forest health and make forest stands more resilient to wildfire.
Controlled burning can be used to treat fuels and reverse these trends, but it has been inhibited by a number of barriers, including landowners' concerns about liability, risk aversion among fire management agencies, narrow burn windows, air quality limitations and other regulatory challenges. Now, public demand for prescribed fires is growing.
“I believe what moved the needle was, for several years in a row, there were high-severity fires in the news,” York said. “Wildfires were in the public zeitgeist. People began asking, ‘Why aren't we doing more prescribed fire?'”
Climate change is also intensifying the interest among the public and silviculture professionals. Because California is getting warmer and fire seasons are growing longer, high-severity fires are expected to increase.
“There would logically be a tipping point. Even though we reduce the growth of trees when we use fire, if it can prevent the loss of the forest entirely, it would be meeting the timber objective,” York said.
The vast tree die-off during the 2011-2016 drought was another jarring sign that the Sierra Nevada ecosystem is out of balance.
The U.S. Forest Service, which manages 20 million acres of forest in California, is using prescribed fire to reduce fire risk on federal forestlands, but scientists say it's not nearly enough to reduce the threat of catastrophic wildfire. CAL FIRE is ramping up its controlled burn efforts, but it will take time to address far-reaching areas of overgrown forestlands. The agency sometimes uses mechanical measures such as mastication and chaining before burning to pre-treat fuels and prepare units for burning.
“We need to work around communities first, and then move out to the wider landscape,” said CAL FIRE division chief Jim McDougald. “If a prescribed fire moves into a subdivision and burns houses, we take 100 steps back.”
“Burning is a key element of forestland management and it can be safe if done properly,” Kocher said. “We provide classroom instruction and invite participants to join a live prescribed fire at Blodgett Forest as part of their training so they become familiar with the process.”
At the training sessions, UC Cooperative Extension advisor Lenya Quinn-Davidson said that in some cases, private landowners can conduct burns themselves. In her hometown in Trinity County, many ranchers and landowners conduct small broadcast burns to reduce fuels and improve forage. These burns are typically quite small and usually conducted in the winter.
“This can be a good option for landowners who wish to burn small areas, but we need other options for bigger, more complex burns” Quinn-Davidson said.
In other parts of the country, landowners have formed Prescribed Burn Associations (PBAs) that allow landowners to work with neighbors and other community members on controlled burns, sharing equipment and labor while developing skills. The PBA model provides a low-cost, grassroots option for prescribed burning, and empowers landowners to work together, and with other key experts and partners, to bring fire back to the landscape, says Quinn-Davidson.
“People are desperate to do something about fire, and the PBA model gives them an option to actively engage with each other and with fire as a tool—it's very empowering,” said Quinn-Davidson.