Posts Tagged: Climate Change
Effort Will Develop Ways to Minimize Risk from Climate Extremes for Southwest Growers
Researchers from the University of California, Davis, have been awarded a $10 million grant by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Institute of Food and Agriculture to find ways to sustain irrigated agriculture while improving groundwater quantity and quality in the Southwest under a changing climate.
Isaya Kisekka, associate professor of agrohydrology and irrigation at UC Davis, is leading a team of more than two dozen climate, plant and soil scientists; hydrologists; engineers; economists, educators and extension specialists from UC Davis and other institutions in California, Arizona and New Mexico. They will develop climate change adaptation management strategies that ensure sustainability of groundwater and irrigated agriculture.
Kisekka says the project team in California will work with Groundwater Sustainability Agencies to develop tools and data to enhance water management at both the farm and groundwater basin scales to improve crop production and achieve sustainability goals under the state's Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, which provides a statewide framework to help protect groundwater resources over the long-term. The research team will also work with grower coalitions to achieve the groundwater quality goals of the Central Valley Salt and Nitrate Management Plan.
“For farmers, the biggest challenge threatening their business is water,” Kisekka said. “Our project is going to develop climate-smart adaptation management practices to help growers achieve their production goals while addressing the co-benefits for the environment and human health. We are going to develop cutting edge tools to manage groundwater quantity and quality as well as study how policies impact behaviors such as water use in agriculture.”
The practices, models and tools developed will be used by growers or their advisors, policymakers, irrigation districts, coalitions and groundwater sustainability agencies to address climate change extremes such as drought or floods.
Growing dependence on groundwater
Growers have increasingly depended on groundwater during multi-year droughts and heat stress. Part of the five-year project includes looking into aquifer systems in California's Central Valley, central Arizona and the lower Rio Grande basin in New Mexico. These regions have all experienced unprecedented overdraft, which happens when more water is pumped from a groundwater basin than is replaced from sources, including rainfall.
“For a long time, a lot of farmers would use groundwater as an insurance policy whenever there was a drought,” Kisekka said. “The negative consequences of that became obvious: groundwater levels declined, we had subsidence which causes land to sink, we had deterioration in water quality and so on. What are growers going to do when we have another drought like we are now? We have to think more broadly.”
Kisekka says they will also come up with management practices to improve soil health, develop alternative water supplies and reduce water demand so the region can continue to produce various agriculture commodities, such as vegetables, grapes and almonds.
“We grow crops in California that we cannot shift to another part of the country because they won't grow well there,” Kisekka said. “We can't grow almonds in the Southeast where they have a lot of water because they require a certain climate. We want to ensure food and nutritional security of the United States by sustaining irrigated agriculture in the Southwest.”
Project researchers will also establish innovative education and extension programs to teach students of all backgrounds and ages, as well as the public, about the importance of water in agriculture.
“Part of this is to develop educational curriculums from elementary to high school to college, where instructors can pull our modules on water management or sustainable agricultural systems and teach that in their classes,” Kisekka said.
While the depletion of groundwater supplies, among other factors, puts major pressure on agricultural operations in the southwestern region, Kisekka hopes the management practices and tools that will be developed during this project will help improve production and resource sustainability and help make California and the country more resilient to climate change. UC Davis will establish the Agricultural Water Center of Excellence as part of the grant. This unique Center of Excellence will also have capacity to support agricultural water research, education and extension activities at collaborating institutions with potential impact at local, state, national and international levels.
“We hope at the end of the day we can still grow food in California and the Southwest in general without drying out our groundwater aquifers,” he said. “We have to learn to adapt to climate change. We may not be able to stop it in the short term, but we should be able to adapt.”
Researchers from University of California, Berkeley, UC Agriculture and Natural Resources, Stanford University, CSU Fresno, University of Arizona, New Mexico State University, USDA Agricultural Research Service (Sustainable Agricultural Water Systems Research: Davis, CA and Water Management and Conservation Research: Maricopa, AZ) and USDA Climate Hub are also participating in the project.
Wildfires that generate their own weather, drought, record-breaking heatwaves, and frequent flooding are compelling more people to try to mitigate and adapt to climate change. A new book co-authored by Adina Merenlender, UC Cooperative Extension specialist at UC Berkeley, shows how Californians are working together across diverse communities and landscapes to improve resilience and address climate justice.
“The climate leaders profiled in this book are inspirational,” said Wade Crowfoot, California's Natural Resources secretary, in his review of “Climate Stewardship: Taking Collective Action to Protect California.”
“Their stories reflect the diversity of California's people and landscapes and show the power of collective action to create change,” he wrote. “They also reveal our profound connection with nature and with one another, and the power of nature-based solutions to address the climate crisis. Perhaps most importantly, this wonderful book reminds us of what we are capable of as individuals to improve the future of our planet and people.”
Published by UC Press, “Climate Stewardship” will be required reading for participants of the UC Climate Stewards certification course, but it isn't a textbook. The book is a collection of personal stories of individuals who are striving to improve climate resilience.
“The stories, many gathered through UC Cooperative Extension efforts, show what everyday people can do together to improve community resilience across agricultural, natural and urban landscapes,” Merenlender said. “‘Climate Stewardship' also offers an uplifting way to learn about climate science that is most relevant for California's communities and ecosystems.”
Michael Yang, UC Cooperative Extension small farms and specialty crops agricultural assistant, works with Hmong farmers in Fresno County, such as the Tchieng family, to advance climate-smart agriculture. In the book, Ka Tchieng, whose family grows vegetables, wrote about how they are adapting their farming practices to climate change. "My parents, Siong and Fong Tchieng, are picking green bell, purple bell and sweet Italian peppers. The shade is to help prevent sunburn on the peppers during the hot summer in Fresno,” she wrote.
While the book is research-based, it is written for a general audience, Merenlender said.
“It is written in narrative form with stories meant to showcase what can be done and some relevant climate science is woven throughout,” she said. “For this reason, it is meant to be of interest to a wide California audience.”
The book is illustrated with original paintings by Obi Kaufmann, author of “The California Field Atlas,” and co-authored by Brendan Buhler, an award-winning science writer.
For more information about the book, see the California Naturalist blog at http://calnat.ucanr.edu/cs/Climate_Stewardship. To buy the book from UC Press, visit https://www.ucpress.edu/book/9780520378940/climate-stewardship.
Partnering for California
Spring 2021 proved to be one of the hottest in California, breaking heat records in several cities. It was a perfect opportunity to plant “climate-ready landscape trees” in inland cities identified in a study conducted by the University of California Cooperative Extension in partnership with the U.S. Forest Service.
The idea of bringing together community groups and volunteers to enhance tree canopies that cool urban heat islands --which can be more than 50 degrees hotter than surrounding areas -- in the Redlands area was spawned by Janet Hartin, UC Cooperative Extension environmental horticulture advisor for Riverside, San Bernardino and Los Angeles counties.
It became a reality when Mandy Parkes, district manager of Inland Empire Resource Conservation District, and Shelli Stockton of the University of Redlands received partner grants from the Climate Action Corps to start a nursery and get the “climate-ready landscape trees” in the ground. To date, nearly 100 trees from the study have been planted, including over 40 at the Redlands Sports Complex. As the volunteers in Redlands know, planting trees helps to cool these heat islands. After a long day of digging and planting in June, the volunteers were satisfied with their hard work and looked forward to sharing their experiences.
According to Parkes: “The project is moving along quickly due to excellent work of the Climate Action Fellows; inspiring research and support from Janet Hartin and the UC Cooperative Extension Master Gardeners who will ensure that residents continue to receive proper tree care help long after the planting ends; outreach by Mario Saucedo and his Redlands-based community action nonprofit organization, Common Vision Coalition.”
Saucedo, chairman of Common Vision Coalition, said, "It came together, all of us round-tabling on how we could do this pilot project and reach out to the community residents and offer them free trees for their homes."
Once the community accepted the project, the outreach began. James Berry of the California Climate Action Corps was excited after they got the green light from the city of Redlands to plant the trees.
"They are from two different species," said Berry. "The Western Bud and the Red Push Pistache. Both are heat tolerant and drought tolerant, making them ideal for the high temperatures we are facing, and the ones in the coming years as a result of the climate change."
“Our ‘Trees for Tomorrow' workshop we held last fall for city planners, wholesale and retail nursery personnel, landscape architects, landscapers, water districts community groups, and Master Gardeners resulted in pockets of multidisciplinary projects, tree planting projects across Southern California, including the Redlands project. The Redlands project exemplifies the core principles of a well thought out and executed project that includes long-term tree care, a real key to maximizing benefits of trees over their lifespans of 50 years and more.”
With a statewide drought forcing water restrictions, people are looking into options to save water. Hartin advises against sacrificing any trees.
"One of the things that I think is important to prioritize is to make sure that when we have to reduce our water use outside in urban areas, we maintain our trees as a top priority," said Hartin. "If that means for a year or two that our lawns and our flowering beds are going to go by the wayside, then that's just the situation."
She recommends something as simple as dragging a hose out and into the tree's drip line, making sure not to water the trunk, but the other side of the drip line where the active root system is.
"Climate-ready tree study: update for Southern California communities" by E. Gregory McPherson, Alison Berry, Natalie van Doorn, Janet Hartin, Jim Downer, Darren Haver and Erica Teach is published at https://www.fs.usda.gov/treesearch/pubs/60414.
To learn more about the study or how to combat climate change with trees:
UC Thelma Hansen Fund to host climate webinar series, April 27-29
Members of the public are invited to attend a free webinar series discussing the effects of climate change on Southern California. At the three-day webinar Climate Change: What Does It Mean for Southern California?, UCLA climate scientist Daniel Swain and UC Agriculture and Natural Resources scientists will discuss climate changes anticipated, impacts on agriculture, wildfire risk and how to prepare for it, and ways to communicate about climate and to build resilience in communities.
“We are hearing a lot about climate change, but it can be difficult for the average person to figure out what it means for where they live and to understand the science behind it,” said Annemiek Schilder, director of UC Cooperative Extension in Ventura County and UC ANR Hansen Agricultural Research and Extension Center.
Topics of discussion include drought, adaptation for agriculture, fire management on rangelands and wildland-urban interface areas, and how UC Climate Stewards might improve climate understanding and empower community-level stewardship.
“All of us need to be better informed about this new reality and know how to respond to it,” said Schilder, who is organizing the event. “For Southern California, as a region with intense agricultural production and huge urban populations living in proximity to the coast, climate change could have devastating impacts. One of my favorite Latin sayings applies: Serius est quam cogitas – it is later than you think!”
Although residents may be concerned about climate change, they may not know what to do. The scientists will offer suggestions.
“People may feel powerless in the face of something that is happening on a global scale, but there are indeed things that can be done by individuals to mitigate the effects and to build resilience in the face of small and large disasters,” Schilder said. “In fact, doing nothing has a huge cost associated with it. Think of the economic damage already incurred by climatic extremes in recent years and the costs associated with possible future waves of climate refugees coming to the U.S.”
Registration for the webinar series, which is sponsored by the UC Thelma Hansen Fund, is free. To register and see the agenda and speaker biographies, visit http://ucanr.edu/hansensocalclimate.
- Daniel Swain, Ph.D., climate scientist, UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability – Climate Change in California: A Drier or Wetter Future—or…Both?
- Sarah-Mae Nelson, M.S., UC Climate Stewards academic coordinator – UC Climate Stewards: Fostering Resilience in California Communities and Ecosystems
- Tapan Pathak, Ph.D., UC Cooperative Extension specialist in climate adaptation in agriculture, UC Merced – Climate Change Trends and Impacts on Agriculture in California and Ventura
- Ben Faber, Ph.D., UCCE soils, water and subtropical crops advisor, Ventura County – Heat, Wind, Freeze, Wind, Repeat
- Nicki Anderson, UCCE community education specialist, Ventura County – Overview of the Healthy Soils Program
- Max Moritz, Ph.D., UCCE wildfire specialist, Bren School of Environmental Science & Management, UC Santa Barbara – How Can We Address the Growing Wildland-Urban Interface Problem in California?
- Matthew Shapero, M.A.,UCCE livestock and range advisor, Ventura and Santa Barbara counties – Fire and Rangelands: Impacts on Ventura County Livestock Agriculture Counties
- Sabrina Drill, Ph.D., UCCE natural resources advisor, Ventura and Los Angeles counties – SAFER, Sustainable and Fire-Resistant Homes & Landscapes
If you missed the "Climate Change: What does it Mean for Southern California" webinars, watch the recordings:
April 27 https://youtu.be/8zfn3aaUAv0
April 28 https://youtu.be/dKlKk8sqoaE
April 29 https://youtu.be/2oh82L_wnTw
Urban trees are much more than lovely greenery and stately landscape features. Scientists believe trees are a key tool for combating climate change and living with warming temperatures in California.
UC Cooperative Extension is bringing together municipal and nonprofit organizations, homeowners associations, contractors, the green industry and educators to increase the tree canopy in urban areas by planting recommended species. Nearly 200 people gathered online in March 2021 to share research results, accomplishments and tree canopy growth strategies at the “Trees for Tomorrow Start Today” workshop.
“We need to act now and together to build community forests,” said Janet Hartin, UCCE area environmental horticulture advisor in Southern California and the event organizer. “This is the time to talk about challenges and opportunities for a healthier tomorrow. As our cities grow, so do associated urban heat islands like asphalt-covered parking lots and streets.”
For decades, temperatures have been rising across the planet. While governments work worldwide to reduce carbon dioxide and other emissions that contribute to the greenhouse gases warming the earth, trees are a particularly effective way to make a significant impact on the problem at the local level.
“With proper placement around homes, trees can reduce home energy cost by 30 to 50 percent,” Hartin said. “Treeless urban parking lots can be 20 to 25 degrees hotter than park-like settings in the same area.”
Trees have myriad additional benefits. They provide cooling shade to sidewalks, schools and shopping centers. Trees remove dust from the air, create windbreaks, capture runoff, reduce glare, muffle urban noise and provide a habitat for birds and other animals. In the process of photosynthesis, trees also absorb and store carbon dioxide, helping reduce greenhouse gas emissions to the atmosphere.
With so many reasons to plant and maintain trees in urban communities, and with the overarching threat of climate change, there's no time to waste in nurturing lush green canopies in California cities, schools, parks and neighborhoods. Hartin said ensuring the proper tree selection, placement and care is critical.
“Trees improperly selected or not properly cared for are taking precious time away from the future benefit of trees,” she said.
UC conducts long-term research to identify the best urban trees
Hartin is working with a team of UC Agriculture and Natural Resources and U.S. Forest Service scientists to identify the best drought- and heat-tolerant trees for different areas of the state. Six years ago, the team vetted 100 trees native to California, the Southwest and Australia, taking into account habitat, physiology and biological interactions. A selection of fast-growing, drought-, heat- and pest-resistant species were planted at UC Riverside, the UC South Coast Research and Extension Center in Irvine and in Northern California to be evaluated over 20 years. In addition, Hartin has a subset of trees in a ‘mulch, no mulch' study at Chino Basin Water District in Montclair.
“We're beginning to see the best performers in those areas,” said Hartin, who shared a few of the tree species that have already caught her fancy.
Island Oak (Quercus tomentella) – A disease-resistant evergreen California native adapted to many Sunset magazine zones and soils.
Netleaf Hackberry (Celtis laevigata var. reticulate) – A deciduous tree with small red berries that attract birds. “This is performing beyond our expectations,” she said.
Thornless Honey Mesquite – (Prosopis glandulosa ‘Maverick') – Native to the Southwest U.S., the tree is heat tolerant and cold hardy. It grows as wide as it is tall – about 35 feet.
Pistacia ‘Red Push' (Hybrid of Pistacia atlantica × Pistacia integerrima) – Developed in Arizona, the tree grows 20-feet tall. “The foliage makes you think of Maine or Minnesota in the fall, but this tree has a brilliant red tinge when it first leafs out in the spring,” she said. “It's performing really well in our studies.”
Bubba Desert Willow (Chilopsis lineraris ‘Bubba') – “My favorite tree from our study,” Hartin said. “It grows fast, has beautiful trumpet-like flowers and requires little maintenance.”
Hartin recommends finding more details about these and other trees at http://selectree.calpoly.edu. Read more about the project here: UC study seeks street trees that can cope with climate change.
UC Master Gardeners provide advice on tree selection and maintenance
Proper location based on climate zone and specific conditions around one's home, planting and maintenance are important for tree longevity. Helpful information and support is available throughout California from UC Master Gardener Program volunteers.
Mandy Parkes of the Inland Empire Resource Conservation District said Master Gardeners are a “pivot point” for successful tree planting. She spearheaded a tree planting program in North Redlands that involves partnerships with the California Climate Action Corps, the city, ESRI, University of Redlands and UCCE to encourage residents to plant trees where the urban canopy is currently low.
“New tree owners need long-term support to aid selection and placement of trees,” Parkes said. “Master Gardeners can weigh in on yard design, irrigation and most importantly, guiding trees into the ground and caring for them correctly and in a way that works for the residents.”
Studies have shown that there is often less tree canopy cover in lower-income communities. In many under-served neighborhoods, canopy cover ranges from 0 to 11%, Hartin said, far short of the recommended 25% canopy cover.
“In wealthier neighborhoods, there tends to be higher canopy cover, and in addition, in those areas there is less asthma and cardiovascular disease,” Hartin said. “Encouraging planting in low-income neighborhoods is one of our goals.”
Andy Lyons, program coordinator for UC ANR's Informatics and GIS Statewide Program and a workshop participant said, “GIS technology and data offer exciting new possibilities for managing our urban trees, including the ability to create highly accurate maps of urban trees from aerial imagery, mobile data collection apps to monitor tree health, and the ability to overlay climate change projections for species selection and planning."
Threats to urban trees
Threats to trees were also discussed at the day-long Trees for Tomorrow meeting. West Coast Arborists' Cris Falco said he is frequently dismayed to see poorly pruned trees. “In my opinion, poor tree work is still the rule, not the exception,” he said.
A common mistake is cutting back, or heading, branches, while the goal should be a natural system of pruning to retain and promote characteristic growth. But, with 90% of the urban forest grown on private property, all too often poor tree architecture or inferior branch structure can lead to early tree failure. Falco and other speakers recommended regular pruning by a certified arborist.
Insect pests and diseases can also get in the way of long-term tree survival. Dave Rogers is a recently retired city arborist and currently acting director of the Community Services Department in Claremont, a college town in eastern Los Angeles County known as the “City of Trees and Ph.D.s.” He said the polyphagous shot hole borer reached Claremont and threated to kill heritage oaks and sycamores. Rogers gathered information and shared it with the city council, who provided $300,000 to treat infested trees. “The treatments worked,” he said.
But the pest continues to threaten trees in Los Angeles and Orange counties. One of the promising trees in the Trees for Tomorrow climate study, the Thornless Desert Museum Palo Verde, was found to be susceptible to shot hole borer, so experts are not recommending residents plant this tree.
Another pest, the ash borer, is in Eastern Texas and Boise Idaho, and will likely make its way to the West Coast eventually, said plantsman and workshop participant Nicholas Staddon of Everde Growers.
“It will kill every single ash tree we have,” said Staddon, who was a plant specialist at Monrovia Wholesale Nursery for many years. “We have to look at a broader diversity of trees. From the growers' perspective, trees are the most expensive items we grow. People who want to buy trees need to have some financial skin in the game for growing them.”
Making trees that are climate-tolerant but less common available to the public at nurseries is another hurdle. Nurseries carry what people are asking for, but people don't always know about tested species and even older, “tried and true” varieties.
“We have a list of trees adapted to the climate that are water wise, but at this point, it is difficult to find those in the nurseries,” said Debby Figoni, UC Master Gardener and water administrator for City of Beverly Hills. “It's one thing to know what you're supposed to plant. It's another to find that tree. We have to give people resources.”
The rich discussion regarding the need to enhance tree canopies with recommended species and proper long-term care did not end at the conclusion of the workshop, Hartin said.
“A goal of the workshop was to identify ways to work together more effectively across professions,” she said. “Lots of great ideas came out of the roundtable discussions that we'll be following up on. These include providing education on proper tree selection and care through local task forces consisting of members of the nursery and landscape industry and regular communication between these groups.”