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Posts Tagged: wildfire

The worst fire in California history illuminates fire preparation needs

Fire resilient forests have the benefit of offering greater access for recreation. (Photo: Butte County Fire Safe Council)
Four months have passed since the Camp Fire, the worst wildfire in California history, ravaged bucolic communities in the Butte County foothills, including Paradise, Concow, Butte Creek Canyon, Cherokee, Yankee Hill and Magalia. Eighty-five people died, many of them elderly and unable to safely evacuate from an area where a wind-driven fire raced from home to home.

The unspeakable loss of human life and the serious challenges being faced by survivors has dominated the Camp Fire conversation. Now, UC Cooperative Extension is beginning a dialog with many agencies involved to understand how such tragedies can be prevented in the future.

UC Cooperative Extension fire scientists and representatives of many California organizations conduct fire behavior research, study forest treatments – such as prescribed burns, timber harvest and mastication – and share best practices for home and community preparation. In the Butte County area where the Camp Fire took place, cooperating agencies include CalFIRE, the U.S. Forest Service, the Butte County Fire Safe Council, the Yankee Hill Fire Safe Council, Sacramento River Watershed Program, the Sierra Nevada Conservancy, the Bureau of Land Management, and others.

While the Camp Fire was devastating, it could have been far worse. Working together for decades, the partner agencies have improved community safety and resilience.

They have educated the public about defensible space, fire resistant homes, and evacuation plans. They have coordinated fuels treatments along evacuation routes and around the communities. Through their actions, they saved many lives and structures, protected the town's drinking water supply, and in some cases, provided access for hiking in areas that had been overgrown by brush.

“When you drive for miles through blackened, burned trees and then arrive in a thinning project area full of green tree tops, you know that these efforts are worth it, we are having success and we can make a difference together,” said Calli-Jane DeAnda, executive director of the Butte County Fire Safe Council

Because of the Camp Fire tragedy, the partner agencies learned many lessons that can inform future maintenance and treatments to improve fire resilience in Butte County and other wildland areas. Kate Wilkin, the UC Cooperative Extension fire advisor for Sutter, Yuba, Butte, and Nevada counties, is able to point to projects implemented in the Camp Fire zone that saved lives and structures.

For example, one family in Paradise was featured by the news media for their successful advance fire planning, which even included the installation of sprinklers on top of the house.

“When I think about what saves a house, a sprinkler is a cherry on top of the cake,” Wilkin said. “If a house is constructed with a combustible roof and siding, if unprotected vents allow embers to get into the attic, or the landscape is not maintained, a sprinkler isn't going to save the house. The sprinkler's power from the grid or a generator will likely fail. High winds may even prevent the sprinkler's mist from hitting the house.”

Rather, passive resistance to fires through better building design, materials and maintenance greatly reduce structure loss.

“Maintenance is an unsung hero of fire resilience,” Wilkin said. “Individual actions at our homes matter.”

First 5 feet around a structure

State law requires homeowners in wildfire areas to clear 100 feet of defensible space around their structures. Most towns in wildfire-prone areas also have their own defensible space codes. Wilkin said where she lives in Grass Valley, anyone with less than an acre of land must maintain their entire property as defensible space.

This guideline is a start, but there is more that people who live in wildfire-prone areas can do to make their homes resilient to fire. UC Cooperative Extension scientists recommend creating a five-foot buffer immediately surrounding the home almost completely devoid of plants and anything that can burn - including wooden fences, firewood, deck chairs and pillows, brooms and other wooden tools.

This extra precaution is important as embers from a distant wildfire can land on or adjacent to a house and ignite combustible items which in turn ignite the home. It was evident in the Camp Fire that the first five feet around homes was a critical factor in the survivability of structures.

The zone can include noncombustible materials such as rock mulch, stone pavers, cement, bare earth, gravel or sand. Low combustibility materials, such as irrigated and maintained lawn or herbaceous plants less than five inches high, are okay. All leaves, needles or other vegetation that falls in this five-foot zone must be removed during the fire season.

“The non-combustible space adjoining the house may be the difference between losing it and all the contents to a wildfire versus returning to the property with the home unscathed,” Wilkin said.

Community fire resilience

Fire survival measures can also be taken at the community level.

In Paradise, the Butte County Fire Safe Council funded CalFIRE crews to thin a number of areas in the watershed below Paradise Lake in 2013 and 2014. Taking these actions allowed an area for firefighters to start a defense and start putting out the flame front, Wilkin said.

“A CalFIRE chief told residents, ‘You provide the offense, we provide the defense.' Homeowners and communities need to get everything set up for successful firefighting,” she said.

Forest thinning has the added benefit of improving recreational opportunities. Near Magalia Pine Ridge School, an 11-acre mastication project in 2018 funded with $30,000 from the Butte County Fire Safe Council cleared overgrown vegetation around the school. This helped strengthen the area's public assembly location, which was identified on the community's evacuation map, and opened up access to a forest hiking trail that was blocked by tangled brush.

The open space dramatically slowed the raging Camp Fire when it approached the school, which is now one of the only schools open in the Paradise Ridge community.

Note the No. 9 marker in the lower left corner of each photo. (Click the photo to see a higher resolution version.) The the image on the right was taken after mastication, which opened up the forest for recreation and made the forest more resilient before the Camp Fire. (Photos: Butte County Fire Safe Council)

Forest thinning also protected the drinking water for the town of Paradise. A combination of projects undertaken by U.S. Forest Service, Sierra Pacific Industries and the Butte County Fire Safe Council aligned to allow fire fighters to combat the fire and ensure that the source of drinking water was protected.

Concow wildfire safety zone

In 2013 and 2014, the Butte County Fire Safe Council and Yankee Hill Fire Safe Council created a wildfire public assembly safety zone in Concow. The work was completed by inmate crews. During the Camp Fire, dozens of lives were saved when sheriff deputies, firefighters and citizens were able to shelter in the area.

“Wildfire safety zones are pretty uncommon and we may want to create more in wildfire prone areas,” Wilkin said. “But there is a hitch.”

CalFIRE is reluctant to designate temporary refuges because they don't want people to rely on them in place of evacuation. During a quick-moving firestorm, it could be an area where people can shelter if they cannot get out.

“It's a complex and dangerous puzzle,” Wilkin said. “In Australia, they had a similar idea and some places where people sheltered in a fire caused them to die.”

Wilkin is working with Paradise parks to identify areas ahead of time with enough space to meet new national firefighter standards to protect people's lungs from superheated air.

“Historically, we thought sufficient space was four times as great as the flame heights. If you have a Ponderosa pine that's torching 150 feet high, you would need 800 feet around the people,” Wilkin said. “New research has found that the safety zone calculation must also consider potential wind speed and slope. Significantly more space may be needed.”

A wildfire safety zone at Camelot Meadow. (Photo: Butte County Fire Safe Council)
Posted on Wednesday, April 3, 2019 at 2:55 PM
Tags: Kate Wilkin (8), wildfire (123)
Focus Area Tags: Environment

ANR in the news March 1-11

Surendra Dara, UC Cooperative Extension advisor, explores innovative options to control pests using microbials as biological controls.

Western Innovator: Putting biologicals to work

(Capital Press) Padma Nagappan, March 11

Early in life, Surendra Dara decided that no matter which field he chose, he needed to make an impact on it. Always interested in science, he chose agriculture and specialized in entomology.

“It attracted me because it dealt with arthropods and there are a lot of physiological similarities to the human world,” Dara said. “It was also critical for growing food and feeding humans.”

Dara is now an entomopathologist with the University of California's Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources in San Luis Obispo, and has an established reputation for exploring innovative options to control pests using microbials as biological controls, and showing growers how they can also help with plant growth, drought resistance and fighting diseases.

https://www.capitalpress.com/ag_sectors/research/western-innovator-putting-biologicals-to-work/article_8c651204-41f3-11e9-b34b-bf15d317bffd.html

 

Group linked to Ocasio-Cortez seeks ag input after Green New Deal backlash

(Politico) Helena Bottemiller Evich, March 11

After watching that drama unfold, Frank Mitloehner, a leading scientist on agricultural emissions at the University of California, Davis, was thrilled when two outreach staff affiliated with AOC's network reached out to set up a call to discuss the potential for climate mitigation efforts in agriculture. The call, held earlier this month, lasted more than an hour, Mitloehner said.

“I was very glad to inform of what I know, and they were very receptive to it,” Mitloehner said on Agri-Talk last week. During the segment, he urged agricultural producers to not dismiss the left-wing climate effort.

https://www.politico.com/story/2019/03/11/aoc-linked-group-seeks-ag-input-after-green-new-deal-backlash-1252568

 

Sudden surge in an unusual crime in Fresno County: Goat theft

(LA Times) Hannah Fry, March 11, 2019

…Picquette's two sons have been raising goats for the last five years as a 4-H project. Losing their animals has been especially hard for the boys, Picquette said, adding that they had planned to use money won during competitions to pay for college.

“They feel very violated. They don't understand how somebody could just come and take something they worked so hard for,” she said. “The bond we have with the goats is incredible. I'm just heartbroken. I don't know if they're scared or hungry. … They've always been treated so well.”

https://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-fresno-goat-theft-20190311-story.html

 

California's ambitious plan to stop deadly wildfires may not be enough, experts say

(SF Chronicle) Kurtis Alexander, March 9

… “It's not fair to say that fuel treatments won't do any good,” said Max Moritz, a UC Cooperative Extension wildfire specialist at UC Santa Barbara. “It may provide some protection in some places. But most of us studying this agree that you can't just do this and (expect to) make much headway.”

The plan by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or Cal Fire, comes at the request of Gov. Gavin Newsom. On his second day in office, Newsom asked the agency to develop a proposal to address the increasingly destructive fire seasons that have rattled the state and are expected to worsen with climate change.

…In the meantime, many researchers say the most effective approach to fire protection is not in the forests, but in communities. They recommend making homes more resistant to fire with hardier construction materials, and clearing the vegetation around them.

“You have to address the home vulnerabilities themselves,” said Moritz at UC Santa Barbara. “If you don't, you're just not going to make a lot of progress on fire.”

https://www.sfchronicle.com/california-wildfires/article/California-s-ambitious-plan-to-stop-deadly-13675194.php

 

After more than 140 years, a massive fig tree gracing the plaza where Los Angeles was founded collapses

(LA Times) Matthew Ormseth, March 9

… The four figs were planted at El Pueblo by agriculturalist and City Councilman Elijah Hook Workman, KCET reported in 2013. The Ficus macrophylla was brought from Australia to Southern California in the 1860s and 1870s, probably to provide shade and ornamentation, said Donald Hodel, a horticulture advisor for the University of California's Cooperative Extension.

Hodel described the Moreton Bay fig as a commanding breed of tree with an enveloping canopy that threw plenty of shade.

His reasons for admiring the Moreton Bay fig: “Their grandeur; their size — they have an imposing habit; their root structure is incredible; the spreading nature of their branches.”

Hodel said he last saw the El Pueblo figs about six years ago.

“I wasn't too impressed by their health or their size, considering they're 140-something years old,” he said.

https://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-pueblo-tree-falls-20190309-story.html

 

California's 2018 Was the Worst Ever Recorded for Wildfires

(Gizmodo) Tom McKay, March 9

University of California, Santa Barbara UC Cooperative Extension wildfire researcher Max Moritiz told the Chronicle, “It's not fair to say that fuel treatments won't do any good. It may provide some protection in some places. But most of us studying this agree that you can't just do this and (expect to) make much headway.”

https://earther.gizmodo.com/californias-2018-was-the-worst-ever-recorded-for-wildfi-1833180368

 

4-H leader who taught lost Benbow girls outdoor skills being flown to Washington, DC for recognition

Kym Kemp, March 7

When Leia Carrico, age 8, and her sister, Caroline, age 5, disappeared into the woods around their home near Benbow on March 1, the whole nation held its breath for the next 44 hours until they were found. But, though their 4-H leaders were worried, too, they say they also knew the girls had something many other children don't–they had survival skills from a class taught by their Outdoor Adventures 4-H project leader, Justin Lehnert.

Lehnert is being honored in Washington, DC, on Tuesday for his role in teaching Leia and Caroline outdoor skills.

http://kymkemp.com/2019/03/07/4-h-leader-who-taught-lost-benbow-girls-outdoor-skills-being-flown-to-washington-dc-for-recognition

 

Researchers highlight plan to eat healthy on a budget

(Consumer Affairs) Kristen Dalli, March 7

Following a healthy diet can come with a hefty price tag, but a team of researchers has outlined a way for consumers to stick to a healthy diet -- and also stick to their budgets.

According to the team, consumers -- and their families -- can have healthy meals if they focus on buying items in bulk and planning meals in advance.

“This study determines the likelihood that families living in low-income households could create meals that meet the USDA dietary guidelines presented in MyPlate nutrition education materials,” said researcher Karen M. Jetter, PhD. “In addition to food cost, the other factors considered were access to stores, time for meal preparation, and whether the menus included culturally appropriate foods.”

https://www.consumeraffairs.com/news/researchers-highlight-plan-to-eat-healthy-on-a-budget-030719.html

Healthy eating is possible on a limited budget, study shows

https://www.news-medical.net/news/20190307/Healthy-eating-is-possible-on-a-limited-budget-study-shows.aspx

Study: Eating healthy on a budget is possible

https://www.upi.com/Study-Eating-healthy-on-a-budget-is-possible/9951551904010/

Eating Healthy Is Possible on a Small Budget, Says Study

https://www.askmen.com/news/sports/eating-healthy-is-possible-on-a-small-budget-says-study.html

 

Sorry, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, but “farting cows” aren't the problem

(New Food Economy) Sam Bloch, March 7

…As it turns out, neither side was accurate. Republicans are likely to continue linking Green New Deal priorities to a supposed hamburger ban. But if you don't hear about cow farts anymore from AOC, it may not be because of GOP criticism. Frank Mitloehner, an animal scientist and air quality specialist at the University of California, Davis, insists cattle flatulence isn't the problem it's made out to be, and says he helped set the record straight.

Here's what seems to have happened. On February 4, shortly before Ocasio-Cortez announced the Green New Deal, she was speaking to school children in Queens, New York. When one asked how they could “combat” climate change, Ocasio-Cortez offered two practical options—stop using disposable razors, and skip meat and dairy for one meal.

Mitloehner tweeted at her.

“Dear @AOC: we all try to help the climate,” he wrote. “However, the two options you offered have low impacts compared to the 800lb gorilla, which is to reduce fossil fuel use. About ⅔ of greenhouse gas emissions in the US stem from transport and energy prod&use. Meat/milk = 4 % of total GHG,” referring to findings in a recent EPA report.

… “I give her team a lot of credit for reaching out,” Mitloehner says. “If we really are serious about making a difference in carbon emissions, you cannot do this without agriculture involved.”

https://newfoodeconomy.org/alexandria-ocasio-cortez-green-new-deal-livestock-cow-greenhouse-gas-emissions-climate-change

 

California supplies a quarter of the world's sunflower seeds

(Capital Press) Padma Nagappan, March 7

…Khaled Bali is a University of California Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources statewide water and irrigation specialist who has been working since 2016 on a four-year trial on sunflower varieties.

He was asked by the University of Georgia to help ascertain which varieties were drought resistant. He chose to conduct his trial in the low desert region of the Imperial Valley, since it gets little rain during the growing season between February when it's planted, and June when it's harvested. This would make it easier to control and measure the actual water applied to the crop varieties.

“We're looking at 285 varieties of sunflowers, to see which ones do well under stress,” Bali said. He has tested different plantings each growing season for the past three years, and will finish the trial this year.

https://www.capitalpress.com/specialsections/seed/california-supplies-a-quarter-of-the-world-s-sunflower-seeds/article_07f424e6-3079-11e9-97b7-b7d9fc02b12a.html

https://plantingseedsblog.cdfa.ca.gov/wordpress/?p=17375

 

Livestream coverage of fire protection panel discussion in Nevada City

 (Sierra Sun) March 7

…Following the films, the community is invited to join an ongoing conversation around the new reality of living with fire in the wildland urban interface. Panelists represent a diverse cross-section of the wildfire prevention community including: Cal Fire, Fire Safe Council of Nevada County, Nevada County Office of Emergency Services, Nevada County Resource Conservation District, Pacific Gas and Electric Company, Tahoe National Forest and University of California Cooperative Extension. The panel discussion will be moderated by YubaNet Co-founder Pascale Fusshoeller. [Kate Wilkin, UCCE fire advisor, participates on the panel in the last hour of the video.]

https://www.sierrasun.com/news/livestream-coverage-of-fire-protection-panel-discussion-in-nevada-city 

 

Bees, blooms off to slow start

(Western Farm Press) Logan Hawkes, March 6

…This year, almond bloom started around a normal time, with some early varieties showing a few open flowers in the first week of February,” reported Franz Niederholzer, UCCE farm advisor for Colusa, Sutter, and Yuba Counties. “For most of the month bloom progressed very slowly,”

By the middle of February, he says, “bloom for Nonpareil was at least two weeks behind, and bee hours were limited until the last week of the month. Last year, between Feb 1-20, we accumulated 130 bee hours of good honey bee flying weather [55 F., no rain, and wind less than 10 mph]. For the same interval this year, we had around 10 hours and only six of those occurred with open flowers in the orchard.”

On the positive side of the slow start, Niederholzer says, the colder weather tends to suppress activity of key bloom diseases such as blossom brown rot and anthracnose. “However, cold weather at bloom was conducive to blossom blast (pseudomonas) bacteria, and some growers were considering adding materials to their normal bloom fungicides with bactericide activity.”

https://www.farmprogress.com/tree-nuts/bees-blooms-slow-start

 

Wet winter aids groundwater replenishment

(Ag Alert) Christine Souza, March 6

… Helen Dahlke, a hydrology expert and professor with the University of California, Davis, Department of Land, Air and Water Resources, has been working with farmers, studying on-farm groundwater recharge locations and suitability for various crops.

"In many regions, we can definitely do more actively recharging our groundwater aquifers," said Dahlke, who currently has trials on alfalfa at the UC Kearney Agricultural Center. "It really depends on what region, how much surface water is available for recharge, what kind of sediment structure or hydrogeology we have underneath and whether it's suited for conveying large amounts quickly."

Despite abundant precipitation in recent weeks, she said the timing is not the best for studying impact of recharge on certain crops.

"We prefer on-farm recharge to happen in January and February, just because that is considered the dormancy season for most crops," Dahlke said. "With almond trees already blooming, often there is a greater risk of applying water on those crops."

She said recent precipitation has helped groundwater recharge overall, but there is "very little way of estimating how much it is helping."

http://www.agalert.com/story/?id=12797

 

Drip irrigation improves yields of Imperial sugar beets

(Ag Alert) Padma Nagappan, March 6

Halfway through a two-year irrigation trial to test furrow irrigation versus drip on sugar beet in California's Imperial Valley, Ali Montazar is looking for ways to boost yields with as little water consumption as possible in a region where furrow irrigation is the common practice.

Montazar, irrigation and water management advisor with the University of California department of agriculture and natural resources (UCANR) in Imperial County, is comparing and evaluating sugar beets for crop water use, sugar percentage, and yield, using both furrow and drip, since growers are now thinking of switching to subsurface drip.

Preliminary results from year one of the trial show that yield and crop water use are better with drip. Yield was 21 percent higher, and water use was a few points lower.

http://www.agalert.com/story/?id=12782

 

NFU says “No” to Green New Deal

(DTN) Jerry Hagstrom and Chris Clayton, March 6

Frank Mitloehner, an animal-science professor and air-quality Extension specialist at the University of California-Davis, reached out to Ocasio-Cortez's team about agriculture and the Green New Deal after seeing social media posts late last month about “farting cows” that drew a great deal of attention.

“I appreciate her interest in climate-change mitigation, but the 800-pound gorilla is the use of fossil fuels, and I told her that even the notion of cow flatulence makes this whole thing sound silly, and that's not what we need this discussion to be,” Mitloehner told DTN in an interview.

https://www.wlj.net/top_headlines/nfu-says-no-to-green-new-deal/article_6444641e-405e-11e9-aba1-8320a30a52af.html

 

From Farting Cows to More Beans; Anti-Livestock Claims Fall Short

(AgriTalk) Jennifer Shike, March 5

The EAT-Lancet Commission on Food, Planet, Health is backpedaling as industry leaders and scientists poke holes in its “planetary diet” released in mid-January that is supposed to improve human health and planet health. 

Air Quality Extension Expert Frank Mitloehner of the University of California Davis joined Chip Flory on AgriTalk Monday to discuss EAT-Lancet and Green New Deal in more depth. 

https://www.agweb.com/mobile/article/from-farting-cows-to-more-beans-anti-livestock-claims-fall-short/

 

4-H instructor who taught NorCal sisters how to survive in wilderness speaks out

(ABC7) Dion Lim, March 4

ABC7 News spoke exclusively to the 4-H instructor who taught two young girls the life-saving skills they needed to survive a weekend lost in the woods.

… Their mom, Misty Carrico, says she's not sure her daughters would have survived, if not for their 4-H program.
"The group leader Justin has taught them fire making skills and wilderness survival skills."
Justin Lehnert, the girls' 4-H leader, said, "I'm ecstatic that they did the job that they did. They're very strong girls and they stayed calm."

… Nine-year-old Caroline Gelormini has been a member of the San Bruno-South San Francisco 4-H Program for five years. Thanks to 4-H, she feels like she'd have a shot at surviving in the woods too.

https://abc7news.com/society/exclusive-instructor-who-taught-norcal-sisters-how-to-survive-in-wilderness-speaks-out/5168327

 

Ocasio-Cortez Seeks Ag Data on Green New Deal

(Drovers) John Herath, March 4

When freshman congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez released her Green New Deal plan, social media lit up with talk of her plan's mentions of “farting cows.” That drew the attention of agriculture's preeminent expert on air quality, Dr. Frank Mitloehner of the University of California at Davis, who tweeted back at the congresswoman. 

“I don't know whether my tweet was the reason, but a few hours after I tweeted her, all mentioning of cow flatulence were taken off the web pages and of all social media outlets and was never to be heard again,” Mitloehner told Chip Flory on the AgriTalk Radio Show Monday.

https://www.drovers.com/article/ocasio-cortez-seeks-ag-data-green-new-deal

 

2 missing Humboldt County girls found — ‘absolute miracle

(SF Chronicle) Michael Cabanatuan, March 3

…Little additional information was available on how the girls went missing or how they survived, but Honsal said they had been trained in outdoors survival as members of a 4-H program.

 https://www.sfchronicle.com/news/article/Absolute-miracle-as-missing-Humboldt-County-13659375.php

http://www.ktvu.com/news/sheriff-2-young-humboldt-co-sisters-found-alive-in-good-spirits-after-frantic-3-day-search

https://www.npr.org/2019/03/04/699998181/in-absolute-miracle-girls-found-safe-after-2-days-in-california-woods

 

Organic farm east of Denair does its part on climate change. It's getting an award

(Modesto Bee) John Holland, March 2

…The family won in the farmer/rancher category of the Climate Leadership Awards. The others:

  • Researcher: Tapan Pathak of the University of California Cooperative Extension in Merced, who helps farmers adapt to climate change.
  • Policymaker: Ken Alex, who was director of former Gov. Jerry Brown's Office of Planning and Research
  • Legislative staff: Brett Williams, office of Assemblywoman Jacqui Irwin, D-Thousand Oaks
  • Agricultural professional: Ruth Dalquist-Willard, UC Cooperative Extension, Fresno

https://www.modbee.com/news/article226956529.html

 

Eructation Inflation: Greenhouse Gas Emissions of Livestock

(Science for the Rest of Us) March 1

Put your nerd hat on -- we cover a lot of ground in this fast-paced discussion with Dr. Frank Mitloehner of the University of California-Davis about the greenhouse gas emissions associated with the meat and dairy we consume.  We consider how livestock emissions compare to other sectors of the US and global economies, the carbon footprint of vegetarian diets and what is the most effective way to reduce individual carbon emissions.

http://scienceforus.libsyn.com/eructation-inflation-greenhouse-gas-emissions-of-livestock?tdest_id=766265

 

Keeping the Carbon Footprint of Livestock in Perspective

(AgNet West) Brian German, March 1

…“It is irresponsible and it's misguiding the public to believe that the true sources of pollution are downplayed, and the impacts of animal agriculture are grossly inflated,” said Dr. Frank Mitloehner, Professor and Air Quality Specialist in Cooperative Extension in the Department of Animal Science at the University of California, Davis. 

http://agnetwest.com/carbon-footprint-livestock-perspective/?fbclid=IwAR0u4SZqYGtNxCj-9C3vTgiD83ZFCpWuA7J0lmUnTUe-2G5mkKKWT9kVsK0

Posted on Wednesday, March 13, 2019 at 2:55 PM

Livestock grazing helps California tackle wildfire

California is searching for solutions to the wildfire crisis. Livestock ranchers believe they can help.

At the 14th Annual Rangeland Summit in Stockton in January, more than 150 ranchers, public land managers and representatives of non-profit organizations that work on land conservation gathered to share research and experiences that outline the value of cattle and sheep grazing on rangeland.

Since California was settled by Europeans, cattle and sheep have been an integral part of the state's history.

“Cattle can control brush,” said Lynn Huntsinger, UC Cooperative Extension specialist at UC Berkeley in a presentation on brush management. She discussed research she conducted in the early 1980s to understand the role of cattle in Sierra Nevada brush control.

“We need to make livestock into firefighters,” she said. “Constant, deliberate, targeted grazing is needed for fire management.”

However, thick, overgrown brush requires intensive treatment that cattle can't handle on their own.

“You have to start from a good place,” Huntsinger said. “Start early, such as post fire. Plan when you have a blank slate for the forest you want.”

UCCE specialist Lynn Huntsinger suggested cattle may be viewed as a team of firefighters.

The tragic loss of homes and lives to wildfire in the last few years has increased the public demand for answers and action. However, the reasons for greater frequency and intensity of wildfire are not well understood.

“Is it climate change? Past decisions? Land use? What can we do about it?” asked UC Cooperative Extension specialist Van Butsic. “Research.”

At the summit, Butsic presented the results of his recent research to determine whether ownership has an impact upon whether land will burn. He and his colleagues studied the burn histories of forest and rangeland areas that were matched with the same characteristics, except in ownership.

“We controlled for all factors – slope, elevation, the likelihood of ignition,” he said. “We found that on forest and rangeland, federal ownership led to .3 percent higher fire probability. Ownership is dwarfing the impact of climate change.”

There is still much more research to be done.

“We can't say the impact of grazed vs. ungrazed land,” Butsic said. “We also need to look at fire severity as well as fire frequency.”

Research by UCCE advisor Laura Snell and her colleagues showed that rangeland doesn't need to be 'rested' following a fire.

The UC Cooperative Extension advisor in Modoc County, Laura Snell, shared preliminary results at the rangeland summit that provide information for landowners making decisions about returning livestock to burned areas.

She and a team of colleagues studied the fire history of U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management rangeland in Lassen and Modoc counties where fires had burned through 5, 10 and 15 years before. The dataset included information about whether the land was “rested” for two years after the fire, or whether livestock were returned to graze soon after the blaze.

The scientists set out to determine whether fire intensity and climate at the site (measured by soil temperature and moisture) had an impact on the future diversity of plant species and growth of cheat grass, an invasive species that animals don't like. 

“No matter what we did, graze or not graze, after 15 years, the species richness stayed the same,” Snell said. “Grazing was not the driving factor.”

The results are also important in terms of fuels accumulation and the prevention of future wildfires.

“Federal land managers have typically used a policy to rest the land for two years after a fire. During the interval, the fuels sometimes burn again and livestock producers have to wait another two years,” Snell said. “Our research showed you don't necessarily need to rest the land after the fire.”

Sheep and cattle grazing can reduce the fuel load for a potential wildfire. (Photo: Dan Macon)

Two ranchers who were recently impacted by wildfire presented their experiences and perspectives during the rangeland summit.

Mike Williams of Diamond W Cattle Company had livestock on 6,500 acres of leased land in Ventura County when the Thomas Fire ignited on Dec. 4, 2017. Over more than a month, the fire burned 281,893 acres and consumed 1,000 structures.

Williams had stockpiled feed on certain pastures by limiting grazing, which during the fire turned into hazardous fuel.

Adam Cline, rangeland manager for the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation Preserve in the Capay Valley, had a similar experience when the County Fire burned more than 90,000 acres in western Yolo and eastern Napa counties in June and July 2018. To reserve feed for later, Cline had left 2,500 pounds per acre of residual dry matter on grazing land as a drought mitigation strategy. He said he plans to reconsider this grazing plan.

“Now, cattle feed looks like a lot of fuel,” he said.

Posted on Tuesday, January 22, 2019 at 8:40 AM
Tags: cattle (17), Laura Snell (3), Lynn Huntsinger (6), rangeland (26), sheep (9), Van Butsic (9), wildfire (123)
Focus Area Tags: Environment

Bigcone Douglas-firs are suffering the effects of wildfires and droughts

Bigcone Douglas-fir is an evergreen conifer native to the mountains of Southern California. Repeated wildfires and drought are threatening the species' existence in its native range, reported Bettina Boxall in the Los Angeles Times.

The reporter visited a Santa Barbara County site peppered with tall, dead trees where UC Cooperative Extension fire specialist Max Moritz is studying the species' fate. 

"You don't see anything," he said. "It has a fairly depressing quality to it, given the mortality and no regeneration."

The area was burned by the Zaca Fire 11 years ago, something the fire-resistant conifer can generally withstand. Moritz and research assistant Ryan Salladay found evidence that the trees survived the fire, but then died sometime later. They are trying to determine what did them in by recording the aspect of the slope, collecting tree core samples, measuring the water stress in living trees, looking for wildfire impacts, and checking for seedlings.

“The drought-following-fire issue is a total reshuffling of what might come back or survive,” Moritz said.

Bigcone Douglas-fir occurs from the San Rafael Mountains in central Santa Barbara County and the Tehachapi Mountains of southwestern Kern County, south through the Transverse Ranges, to the Cuyamaca Mountains in San Diego County. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
Posted on Friday, January 11, 2019 at 2:11 PM
Tags: climate change (81), drought (162), Max Moritz (28), wildfire (123)
Focus Area Tags: Environment

U.S. President's threat to cut FEMA funding to California chided

U.S President Donald Trump criticized forest management in California and threatened to cut off federal emergency funding this week, eliciting confusion and condemnation, reported Ryan Bort in Rolling Stone.

The International Association of Fire Fighters released a statement calling Trump's move "disgraceful." "While our president is tweeting on the sidelines in DC, our fellow Americans 3,000 miles to the west are mourning loved ones, entire communities have been wiped off the map and thousands of people are still trying to figure out where they are going to call home."

The reporter wrote that the president is fixated on the state's role in causing forest fires, but the federal government owns the majority of forested land in California. Moreover, the devastating Camp and Woolsey fires of 2018 were not forest fires; they were wildland-urban interface fires, according to UC Cooperative Extension wildfire specialist Max Moritz.

"In these environments, as we've seen, it can be the homes themselves that are burning and spreading fire to other nearby homes. Managing vegetation can thus have relatively little effect on fire spread," Moritz said. 

A Paradise resident surveys his home destroyed by the Camp Fire in Butte County. (Photo: 25th Air Force 25af.af.mil)

The federal government shutdown itself is having a major impact on wildfire prevention, reported Ezra David Romero on Capital Public Radio.

Typically, forest managers analyze their budgets and plan for the next fire season during the winter. But the government shutdown has suspended these efforts because the U.S. Forest Service - which has been furloughed since Dec. 22 - plays a big role.

Crews in Redwood National Park are “just sitting on their hands,” according to UC Cooperative Extension fire advisor Lenya Quinn-Davidson in Humboldt County, because they can't work on federal land during the shutdown. She said that workers were “excited to do more” on the heels of the state's worst fire season in history. “This is just taking the wind out of their sails."

The shutdown is also causing challenges for UCCE forestry specialist Bill Stewart. He's working on collaboration between the UC system and the Forest Service to streamline the cost of preventing wildfires. But the shutdown is making the five-year project, which has end-of-January deadlines, difficult to accomplish.

“Everything has come to a total stop,” Stewart said. “They are not even allowed to answer their emails. If this continues it may be hard to restart for this next season.”

Posted on Thursday, January 10, 2019 at 1:25 PM
Focus Area Tags: Environment

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