Posts Tagged: wildfire
Are cattle a secret weapon for taking on California wildfires?
California's cattle ranchers contribute a significant amount to the region's culture, economy and food supply, but do they also inadvertently help to temper the wildfires that have been plaguing the state? And if so, is it a better alternative – environmentally speaking – to letting grasslands burn?
A new study published in the journal Sustainability delves into the topic, weighing the advantages – and disadvantages – grazing cattle bring to the table. Researchers, including scientists from University of California, Davis and UC Agriculture and Natural Resources, set out to calculate the greenhouse gas emissions of cows consuming vegetation that would otherwise burn in wildfires. Then they estimated the GHG emissions that would result should that forage be untouched and therefore, consumed by fire, eventually comparing the two.
Feeling the burn
Given the severity of California's recent wildfires and the belief they will continue and even escalate in the near future, it's a discussion worth having, said Frank Mitloehner, an expert in animal agriculture and air quality from UC Davis, director of the CLEAR Center and one of the researchers who contributed to the peer-reviewed article.
“Each year from 2010 to 2020, California lost on average 89,000 acres of grassland to wildfires,” said Mitloehner, who is also a Cooperative Extension specialist. “In addition to the obvious disruption and devastation they caused, the fires spewed greenhouse gases and harmful particulate matter such as black carbon into the air and into our atmosphere. Those alone threaten climate health and human well-being.”
A fast and furious gas
Cattle are adept at eliminating herbaceous fuel as they graze. However, at the same time, their specialized digestive system produces methane that is expelled most often in the form of enteric emissions … more commonly known as belches. By way of background, methane is a potent greenhouse gas that warms the atmosphere at 25 times the rate of carbon dioxide over 100 years. But it's only in the atmosphere for 10 to 12 years after it's emitted. Following that, it's broken down into carbon dioxide and water vapor.
For that reason, Mitloehner refers to methane as a “fast and furious” gas. Furious because it warms with a vengeance and fast because it does so for only a short time, especially when compared to carbon dioxide. Furthermore, because of the biogenic carbon cycle, whereby plants extract carbon dioxide from the atmosphere for photosynthesis, the warming of methane and its byproducts can end entirely when it's hydrolyzed and used by plants.
How researchers calculated emissions
In order to determine if grazing, methane-emitting cattle are better for the atmosphere than burning grasslands, Mitloehner and the other researchers employed a method known as “Monte Carlo simulation,” a mathematical technique used by scientists to predict outcomes of an uncertain event.
Looking exclusively at methane emissions, they found it's better to have cows eat vegetation than to have wildfires burn it. Granted, it's only marginally better, but when one considers other advantages of animal agriculture and conversely, other disadvantages of widespread, uncontrolled fire, the conversation suddenly shifts.
“Even if cattle provided no other benefit to us, which certainly is not true, we can now make the case that they are helpful to us in yet another way,” Mitloehner said.
Friends or foes?
It goes without saying that one would be hard pressed to find much good to say about wildfires, but that doesn't hold true for animal agriculture. The industry provides jobs and supports the economy in other ways as well. Plus, it is a major source of protein-rich food that is in increasing demand as the world's population continues on a trajectory toward 10 billion people by the year 2050.
Where global warming is concerned, the industry is in the unique position of being able to reach net-zero warming, also known as climate neutrality, if it continues to aggressively chip away at its methane emissions, which Mitloehner asserts is of critical importance to the planet. “Few other sectors can reduce its warming to net zero and still be of service to society, but agriculture can because of the way methane behaves in the atmosphere,” he says.
To be clear, grazing cows are no match for wildfires. Yet, in addition to everything else the sector does for us, slowing the burn and keeping relatively more methane from entering the atmosphere are not nothing.
In addition to Mitloehner, authors of the study are Cooperative Extension advisors Sheila Barry, Devii Rao and Theresa Becchetti; Rowan Peterson, Ermias Kebreab and Minju Jung of UC Davis; and Felix Ratcliff and Kaveh Motamed of LD Ford.
This article was first published on the website of the CLEAR (Clarity and Leadership for Environmental Awareness and Research) Center at UC Davis./h3>/h3>/h3>/h3>/h3>
Surrogates to wildfire
Trial by fire
UC ANR among sponsors of 10th International Fire Ecology and Management Congress
Scientists, land managers, educators and students from a variety of organizations worldwide will gather from Dec. 4-8 in Monterey, California for the 10th International Fire Ecology and Management Congress. The conference is hosted by the Association for Fire Ecology in cooperation with the California Fire Science Consortium.
Major sponsors include University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources, with the Esselen Tribe of Monterey County as the host tribe. There are more than 25 additional sponsors and exhibitors representing federal and state agencies, universities, nonprofits, tribal organizations and companies.
“As we know from recent fire events across the globe, wildland fire issues are complex and there is an urgent need to work together in new and creative ways to address wildfire-related challenges,” said Lenya Quinn-Davidson, Fire Network director at UC ANR. “We need to identify opportunities to promote fire-resilient communities and environments.”
This event will include workshops, field trips and three full days of presentations, discussion groups and networking opportunities around the theme, “Igniting Connections: Celebrating Our Fire Family Across Generations, Cultures and Disciplines.”
On Monday, Dec. 4, the Fire Congress will kick off with 10 workshops and trainings, offering opportunities for participants to build and apply new skills in modeling, collaborative planning, risk management and more. From Tuesday morning to Thursday afternoon, the Fire Congress program is filled with innovative plenary sessions, more than 500 oral and poster presentations, and opportunities for sharing information through discussion groups and meetings.
For the first time, the conference will also feature an Indigenous Culture and Art Showcase, taking place on Tuesday, Dec. 5. The entire event concludes on Friday, Dec. 8 with field trips to explore nearby natural areas to see how the concepts discussed at the Fire Congress are being applied in California.
Participants will be encouraged to share and explore proactive solutions that apply Western science and Indigenous knowledge to meet desired management and societal outcomes.
More conference information at http://afefirecongress.org.
Lenya Quinn-Davidson (University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources): email@example.com, 707-272-0637
Morgan Varner (Tall Timbers Research Station): firstname.lastname@example.org, 707-845-1659
Jeffrey Kane (Cal Poly Humboldt): Jeffrey.Kane@humboldt.edu, 928-637-4128/h3>
Study highlights 4 strategies to overcome barriers to prescribed fire in the West
Prescribed fire, which mimics natural fire regimes, can help improve forest health and reduce the likelihood of catastrophic wildfire. But this management tool is underused in the fire-prone U.S. West and Baja California, Mexico, due to several barriers.
A paper from the University of California, Davis, pinpoints those obstacles and suggests four key strategies that policymakers and land managers can take to get more “good fire” on the ground in North America's fire-adapted ecosystems. The paper also provides examples of how people are surmounting some of these obstacles.
“Prescribed fire is one of the most important tools we have for restoring natural fire regimes and undoing the effects of a century of fire suppression,” said lead author John Williams, a project scientist with the UC Davis Department of Environmental Science and Policy. “But there are a number top-down barriers at the upper levels of management that keep us from growing the workforce and getting burns done at the scale and extent needed. We point out some of the big ways that agency leaders and policymakers can dismantle those barriers and empower the full range of people capable of doing this work, from burn bosses and citizen-prescribed burn associations to nonprofits and tribal groups.”
The paper, published in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, centers on the North American Mediterranean climate zone, which includes most of California, southwestern Oregon, western Nevada and northern Baja California in Mexico. Lenya Quinn-Davidson, director of UC Agriculture and Natural Resources' Fire Network, is a co-author of the paper.
A natural process
Fire is a natural process that has helped shape this region, but the area has experienced a spike in destructive, high-severity wildfires over the past decade. In fact, three of the five largest wildfires in continental U.S. history occurred in this region in just the past five years. This is due to a combination of climate change and fuel accumulation driven by a century of policies that encouraged fire suppression, curtailed Indigenous cultural burning, and favored harvest of the largest, most fire-tolerant trees, the study notes.
While scientists and resource managers recognize the need for more prescribed fire, its application has not kept pace with the enormity of the challenge. The study said that is because management policies prioritize fire suppression over prevention. There is also a limited fire workforce; regulatory hurdles like permitting, insurance and liability; and few incentives or protections for landowners, tribal members and other people who burn responsibly.
4 key strategies
Researchers identified four key areas where supportive institutional and agency leadership can help expand prescribed fire in the region:
1) Fire culture. After decades of emphasizing wildfire suppression, current fire management culture “does not adequately promote prescribed fire as a management tool,” the study said. Support for prescribed fire along the entire chain of command within agencies is needed to foster a new culture that incentivizes and enables prescribed fire practitioners within and outside of government agencies.
2) Funding. Prescribed fire is considerably more cost-effective than wildfire suppression, which can cost more than $2 billion a year in the U.S., but there is little dedicated funding for prescribed fire projects and lack of flexibility as to when such money can be spent. This impedes fire staffing and limits the kinds of projects that can be done. Year-round, dedicated funding and resources could help increase prescribed fire capacity.
3) Capacity building and cooperation. Connecting agencies with landowners, community members, tribes, prescribed burning associations (PBAs), prescribed fire training exchanges (TREXs) and others can facilitate responsible, effective prescribed fire and cultural burning exchanges. Such groups have limited reach and require investment and support to meet demand.
Inter-organizational agreements can also help local, state and federal agencies share resources and staffing. Formalizing and fully integrating such agreements into fire management plans remains a challenge, the study said. Collaborations that support Indigenous cultural burning are also key.
Partnerships must recognize the unique dimensions of cultural burning, which are inseparable from Indigenous culture. Educating land managers and decision makers about tribal sovereignty and federal American Indian law is critical. Introducing legislation that supports cultural burning can also foster such collaborations.
4) Monitoring and adaptive management. Designated funding and personnel for quantitative monitoring after a prescribed burn can help practitioners better measure success and then apply lessons to future burns.
“All of the barriers identified in the study can be overcome, and they have been at least partially resolved in other parts of the U.S., as well as in other Mediterranean climate regions, such as southwestern Australia,” said co-author Hugh Safford, a research ecologist in the UC Davis Department of Environmental Science and Policy and director of the California Prescribed Fire Monitoring Program. “Fundamental to setting the situation right is developing a culture of safe and regular fire use in California and neighboring states by all landowners and managers, and reducing the officiousness, risk aversion and bureaucracy that hinders access to the tool by the public.”
Additional co-authors include Ashley Grupenhoff and Beth Rose Middleton of UC Davis; Joe Restaino of CAL FIRE; Edward Smith of The Nature Conservancy; Chris Adlam of Oregon State University; and Hiram Rivera-Huerta of Autonomous University of Baja California, Mexico.
This research received financial support from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE).
This story was originally published on the UC Davis News site./h3>/h3>/h3>
Planning brochure for pets, livestock fills crucial need as fires an increasing threat
With the McKinney Fire creeping closer to Yreka in the summer of 2022, Emily Jackson and her mother potentially faced the enormous task of getting all their goats, chickens, dogs and cats to safety – while Emily's father and twin sister Lindsay were away fighting the fires.
Fortunately, Emily and Lindsay had gained crucial knowledge about evacuating animals through a 4-H service-learning project they helped lead in 2018. A group of eight 4-H youths, ages 14 to 18, had created a “Pet Emergency Evacuation Plan” (PEEP) brochure, aimed at educating their neighbors in Siskiyou County about the necessary preparations for livestock and pets.
The brochure, available through the Siskiyou County website, remains in use today in this densely forested region that saw another spate of wildfires this summer. The PEEP project team was composed of Kylie Daws, Emily Jackson, Lindsay Jackson, Will Morris, Madison Restine, Maryssa Rodriguez, Emily Smith and Callahan Zediker.
Within those stressful hours in 2022 when the McKinney Fire prompted an evacuation warning during which residents could be required to leave at any moment, Emily Jackson said she and her mother had a game plan in place – thanks to her work on the PEEP project.
“At the time, it wasn't even on my mind,” Jackson said, “but looking back now, I know that having the experience from making that brochure was driving my thought process at the time.”
And while the Jackson family and their neighbors ultimately were not asked to evacuate in 2022, many community members have benefited from the hundreds of copies of the PEEP brochure in circulation, which prompts residents to at least think about what their animals would need in an emergency, Jackson said.
Pet and livestock evacuation tips were needed
Such a resource previously had not been available among the county's emergency preparation materials, according to Jacki Zediker, the 4-H regional program coordinator in Siskiyou County who advised the PEEP project group.
“One piece that was missing was how to help our communities understand that when they evacuate, and they take their pets with them…it's not as simple as just taking their pets with them,” said Zediker, citing the example that some shelters do not take in animals – or do not take animals without proof of vaccination.
Other items to add to the pet's emergency kit include food for several days, water, medications, comfort items or toys, and recent photos of the owner with their animal (proof of ownership).
Zediker had connected the young people with Jodi Aceves, senior deputy agriculture commissioner/sealer for Siskiyou County, who had been overseeing the county's Animal Control programs and emergency response.
“There's a lot of information out there for people evacuating, but not necessarily for livestock and pets,” Aceves said. “Unfortunately, we have had some fires where there were lots of pets and livestock lost.”
She met several times with the 4-H group, discussing the county's evacuation systems and processes and the role of the Office of Emergency Services and law enforcement agencies, and sharing key considerations in preparing for emergencies – such as having a pre-agreement in place with someone who could house an evacuee's animals.
Aceves praised the teens for distilling the vital information into a short and simple brochure that community members could easily read and remember. She also was impressed by the energy and genuine care that the young people put into the project.
“Most of their lives, every summer, they've been in fire,” Aceves said. “It's close to their hearts, and they've seen a lot of their neighbors and other people in the county either affected by fire or evacuated at some point.”
For Lindsay Jackson, in particular, fire and serving the community have been lifelong passions, inspired by her father's work in the area.
“My dad was a volunteer fire chief for the South Yreka Fire Department; he was doing that since I was about two or three, so I grew up watching him go to the trainings, go to a call,” she explained. “When I was 15, I joined the fire department as a cadet to help out with the medical side, but the more I volunteered, I really liked the fire side, too.”
Jackson added that Zediker has a special knack for nurturing and encouraging the interests of the 4-H participants and applying them in a productive way.
“Jacki was really good at figuring out where our passions were and then how we could put our passions into a service-learning project,” she said. “She knew I was really big into fire and helping the community in that way since I was young.”
Zediker also helped the Jackson twins on their senior project, a fire-safety field day at the South Yreka fire station. More than 100 schoolchildren learned fire safety basics, met firefighters and emergency personnel, and heard about 4-H from Lindsay and Emily.
4-H experiences, mentorship inspire career paths
The PEEP project group also was asked by several organizations to share their knowledge about emergency preparations for animals. In addition to presenting a poster about their work at the 4-H California Focus conference in 2018, the group handed out the brochure and shared information at a table during a Juniper Flat Fire Safe Council workshop and resource fair.
Beyond distributing the PEEP brochure at 4-H club meetings, school events and community meetings, the youths have lent their voices to advocating for emergency resources for animals. Zediker noted that they contributed testimonials that helped the county acquire grants for purchasing more portable kennels.
But the most enduring impact of 4-H participation and community service, however, is that those experiences were a springboard for the young adults' careers. Emily Jackson – who participated in 4-H from age 5 to 19 – is now working toward a master's degree in biology at Cal Poly Humboldt, studying how fire suppression and other factors have changed plant communities in the Russian Wilderness.
Whether training colleagues as a U.S. Forest Service crew lead for the past couple of summers, or leading lab sections in general botany as a graduate student, Jackson said she draws on her 4-H experiences – and Zediker's inspirational example – as she pursues a career in teaching.
“In my development as a young adult into an adult now, I cannot overstate how big of a role Jacki played in that,” Jackson said.
Her sister Lindsay, meanwhile, has pursued her passion for fire all the way through the fire academy at College of the Siskiyous, where she also earned her emergency medical technician (EMT) license. Most recently working on fires near Pondosa in Siskiyou County, Jackson has been a seasonal firefighter based at the McCloud CAL FIRE station since 2020.
“It's hard because, in the last three years, I haven't left Siskiyou County, there's just been so many fires here,” she said. “But it's nice being able to help your community and know you're making a difference.”
Lindsay Jackson intends to pursue a bachelor's degree in leadership studies at Cal Poly Humboldt in hopes of getting a full-time position with CAL FIRE./h3>/h3>/h3>