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Posts Tagged: Climate Stewards

New book shows how Californians are bolstering climate resilience


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.” 

“Climate Stewardship offers an uplifting way to learn about climate science that is most relevant for California's communities and ecosystems,” said co-author Adina Merenlender.

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.”

Fresno County farmers Siong and Fong Tchieng shade vegetables to protect the crop from sunburn. Photo by Ka Tchieng

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 To buy the book from UC Press, visit

Posted on Friday, September 10, 2021 at 1:40 PM
Focus Area Tags: Environment

For UC Climate Stewards, every day is Earth Day

Climate Stewards thin live oak regrowth as part of the Columbia College fire fuel reduction project. Photo by Lisa Murphy

From cities to rural communities, UC Climate Stewards are fostering climate resilience

Earth Day has strong California roots: Senator Gaylord Nelson was inspired to organize the first event in 1970 after witnessing the 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill. Today, California is once again the focus of a national conversation about the health of the planet — both because of the state's groundbreaking climate policies and the scale of its climate challenges: wildfires, drought, extreme heat and sea level rise are redefining life in the country's most populous state. 

This year, a growing cohort of UC Climate Stewards are carrying forward the mission of the original Earth Day: informed action. Graduates of the 40-hour certification course, which is under the umbrella of the UC California Naturalist Program, learn how to communicate with community members about complex and sometimes traumatic scientific issues and carry out climate resilience strategies in their communities. Each course is hosted by one of 17 partner institutions including Community Environmental Council, Pasadena City College and the Pepperwood Foundation — see the full list of partners below. Now in its second year, the program is on track to graduate roughly 300 Climate Stewards by the end of 2021. 

The curriculum is also in action across California State Parks: Together with senior park interpreters and managers, the UC Climate Stewards team delivered a two-week climate change interpretation training to 54 park staff members in March. Natural Resources Secretary Wade Crowfoot, who oversees state parks, has made climate resilience a priority since his appointment in January 2019. Crowfoot and Department of Parks and Recreation Director Armando Quintero spoke at the beginning of the training. 

Due to COVID-19, many UC Climate Stewards completed their coursework online. That hasn't dampened their impact across the state: Giangelo Leos completed the course remotely as part of a cohort hosted by the Pepperwood Foundation. His capstone project focused on changing community narratives about wildfire. The 2020 Bobcat Fire burned in the San Gabriel Mountains above Leos's hometown of Monrovia, triggering evacuations and ongoing recovery and planning efforts. Leos said that post-fire responses have been fear-driven and fixated on the worst aspects of the damage — rather than treating fire as a regular and ongoing feature of life in Monrovia.

Climate change communication is a key component of the UC Climate Stewards course and Leos recognized the need to change the tone of the conversation in his community to one of hope and action. He is planning a series of speaking events and initiatives, including a push to establish a city Fire Safe Council. Connecting to the positive, Leos plans to tell event participants about Braunton's Milkvetch, an endangered plant species that is propagated by fire and only appears in 20 sites in Los Angeles County; Monrovia is one of them. “When the land is managed appropriately...there are great things that fire can do,” Leos said in a video recording of his capstone presentation. 

Vineyard and winery owner Hal Hinkle was also part of the Pepperwood Foundation course. Hinkle recruited five other course participants, including some of his colleagues at Sei Querce Wines and California Land Stewardship Institute Executive Director Laurel Marcus. Hinkle and Marcus signed up for the UC Climate Stewards course partly to advance and refine the rollout of the institute's Climate Adaptation Certification (CAC) program, in which Hinkle's vineyard is participating as a pilot site. The voluntary CAC program is designed both to push winegrowers' existing sustainability practices towards more climate-aware actions and to serve as an on-the-bottle message to make wine consumers more aware of climate-friendly practices. 

“The UC Climate Stewards program helped us envision and position the message of how wine can be climate-sensitive for both consumers and producers,” Hinkle said. 

UC Climate Stewards is seeking to partner with more community-based organizations that are led by or serve Black,Latinx and Indigenous Californians. UC California Naturalist Program Director Greg Ira said that relationships with organizations such as Community Nature Connection and Pasadena City College ensure that the course is accessible to and usable by many California communities. “We recognize that climate education and stewardship needs to be culturally relevant, address local priorities and issues, and recognize root causes of the climate crisis,” Ira said. Contact the program at if you are interested in hosting and co-designing a UC Climate Stewards course for your community. 

Sarah-Mae Nelson, academic coordinator for UC Climate Stewards, says there's something in the course for anyone wanting to talk about and take action on climate resilience. 

“From a small winery in a rural agricultural setting to a suburb of the largest city in the state, from a community college student just starting their career to a retiree working to create a more resilient future for their grandchildren, we are all in this together,” Nelson said. 

List of UC Climate Stewards partners: 

  • American River Conservancy 

  • Columbia College 

  • Community Environmental Council

  • Community Nature Connection

  • Conservation Society of California 

  • Hopland Research and Extension Center 

  • National Estuarine Research Reserve/Coastal Training Program 

  • Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History 

  • Pasadena City College 

  • Pepperwood Preserve

  • Point Reyes National Seashore Association

  • Riverside-Corona Resource Conservation District 

  • Santa Clara County Parks 

  • Sierra Streams Institute 

  • Sonoma Ecology Center 

  • UC Riverside Palm Desert

  • USC Sea Grant 

UC Agriculture and Natural Resources brings the power of UC to all 58 California counties. The California Naturalist Program and other UC ANR statewide programs rely on donor contributions. To learn more about how to support or get involved with California Naturalist in your community, visit  


Posted on Thursday, April 22, 2021 at 10:45 AM
Focus Area Tags: Environment

UC Climate Stewards take action to protect communities

One action Climate Stewards propose to save water in the desert is to replace turfgrass with native plants if the area is not used for recreation. Photo by Elizabeth Ogren Erickson

Water availability, food production and biodiversity are being affected by climate change. There are actions individuals can take to protect their communities. Climate Stewards is a new public education and service effort by the University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources designed to improve climate understanding and empower community-level stewardship.

The first group of certified UC Climate Stewards graduated in December from the 40-hour course taught by Cameron Barrows, UC Riverside research ecologist in the Center for Conservation Biology, at the UCR Palm Desert campus.

“I am already using what I learned!” said Elizabeth Ogren Erickson, who was one of 32 participants in the inaugural UC Climate Stewards course led by Barrows. “Two Coachella Valley organizations contacted me in December, requesting that I speak to their organizations virtually.” She is preparing a presentation that describes the climate crisis and offers some climate resilience solutions. 

The Climate Stewards course is delivered through a collective impact network – organizations with common goals, but with unique strengths and strong local connections. To reach a variety of audiences, the organizations tailor the course content and delivery to be culturally relevant and address local needs and priorities. Each participant completes a capstone project as part of the certification process.

Ogren Erickson and her husband Robert Erickson, who took the course with her, assessed landscaping in their neighborhood for their capstone project. Based on their findings, they have proposed landscape changes to their homeowners association. For example, to save water, they propose converting turfgrass areas that are not used for recreation to native plants.

“Did you know that one square foot of turfgrass, on average, requires 73 gallons of water per year, whereas one square foot of desert landscaping, on average, requires only 17.2 gallons of water per year?” she asked.

Hot spot in Coachella Valley

Cameron Barrows interviews Randy Buckmaster for the Climate Stewards Palm Springs windmill tour. Colin Barrows and Tracy Bartlett shoot video for the virtual field trip. Photo by Elizabeth Ogren Erikson

“The Coachella Valley is warming faster than the rest of the planet,” said Barrows, explaining local interest in the program. “The desert community is feeling the effects more rapidly than other places. Scientists say the average desert temperature increase is already above 4 degrees C. Only the arctic is warming faster.

Greg Ira, director of the UC California Naturalist Program, who oversees the new course, said, “The UC Climate Stewards certification course is a first step in a long-term project in which our partner organizations delivering the course will try to improve community resilience to climate change and ultimately measure that change.” 

To build their community's resilience to climate change, UC Climate Stewards are encouraged to engage in community-scale efforts, including volunteer service that draws on the knowledge and skills gained from the course. These may include conducting community education and outreach, participating in local adaptation planning efforts, facilitating community and participatory science projects, or addressing issues of environmental or climate justice.

During the course, participants read Climate Stewardship: Taking Collective Action to Protect California written by Adina Merenlender, UC Cooperative Extension specialist, and Brendan Buhler. Rather than a reference text, the book is a collection of stories from diverse voices and shows how specific actions enhance the resilience of communities and ecosystems across California's distinct bioregions.

Together, UC Climate Stewards academic coordinator Sarah-Mae Nelson, Merenlender and Ira form the core UC ANR team who have partnered with local organizations, other UC experts and practitioners around the country to design and move the course forward.

“The program differs from many other climate education efforts because it goes beyond the science of climate change to address the social and emotional challenges climate change presents,” says Nelson. Participants also explore root causes and environmental justice issues. They learn to communicate about climate change and leverage community and state resources to advance collective solutions.

“There are components of the training that are gut-wrenching, like an assignment that relives a personal experience with climate extremes, such as flooding or landslides, and yet every segment of the training is important for each of us to learn, whether an elementary, middle school, high school, or adult education student,” Ogren Erickson said.

While the course was planned to include field trips, because it launched in October amid coronavirus restrictions, Barrows gave the students a tour of a local solar panel construction firm and wind energy site via video.

Measuring community resilience

Serving plant-based foods, sourcing locally and reducing food waste are among the criteria UC Climate Steward Tamara Hedges uses to evaluate restaurants. Photo courtesy of Chef Tanya’s Kitchen in Palm Springs.

Before teaching the UC Climate Stewards course, Barrows and one of his co-instructors, Tamara Hedges, the executive director of UC Riverside Palm Desert Center, conducted a baseline community resilience assessment.

The assessment tool – developed by the Community Resilience Assessment Organizations – examines 26 indicators of community resilience in four broad categories: basic needs, environment and natural systems, physical infrastructure and community connections and capacity. They will rank specific actions, for example, reducing food waste at restaurants. Like all Climate Stewards partners, the UC Riverside Palm Desert Center team will repeat the assessment every year to identify changes over time.  

To launch UC Climate Stewards, UC ANR collaborated with existing partner organizations from the California Naturalist certification course. To expand the program, they are seeking new partners from a wide range of organizations that have training capacity and an interest in addressing climate change at the community level. Current UC Climate Stewards partners include:

American River Conservancy

Coastal Training Program - National Estuarine Research Reserves

Columbia College

Community Environmental Council

Community Nature Connection

Conservation Society of California - Oakland Zoo

Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History

Pasadena City College

Pepperwood Preserve

Point Reyes National Seashore Association

Riverside-Corona Resources Conservation District

Santa Clara County Parks

Sierra Streams Institute

Sonoma Ecology Center

UC Hopland Research and Extension Center

UC Riverside Palm Desert Center

USC Sea Grant

The UC Climate Stewards course is currently being offered online throughout California, but will shift to a hybrid “online and in-person” delivery format when appropriate. For more information about the UC Climate Stewards, and to find a course near you, visit

Posted on Thursday, February 25, 2021 at 11:51 AM
Focus Area Tags: Environment

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