California must continually increase its use of renewable fuels to meet mandated reductions in greenhouse gas emissions (GHG). The state's historic Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 (AB32) requires that alternative fuels displace 6 percent of gasoline and diesel use now, and 9 percent by 2012. The number goes up to 11 percent in 2017 and 26 percent in 2022.
California has been meeting these goals by importing millions of gallons of ethanol: 80 percent of the supply is corn ethanol from the Midwest, 12 percent is sugarcane ethanol from Brazil, and the rest is ethanol from corn grown here. By 2012, demand for ethanol fuel will rise to 1.62 billion gallons per year. If California does not increase its production of corn for ethanol, it will need to import 95 percent of that amount.
In the search for a better alternative, scientists have been investigating conversion of cellulose to ethanol. Technical challenges remain, but cellulose offers a potentially abundant feedstock for biofuels.
One of the plants seen as a possible dedicated biofuel crop in the United States is switchgrass. It is about 40 percent cellulose and grows widely in the Midwest and the South. However, it is not native to California and has not been produced here.
Recent studies by UC Davis scientists are the first ever to report tests of different switchgrass ecotypes in California, - and are published in the current California Agriculture journal.
Scientists evaluated the productivity of the two main ecotypes of switchgrass, lowland and upland, under irrigated conditions across four diverse California ecozones — from Tulelake in the cool north to warm Imperial Valley in the south.
”It is important to know how much biomass can be produced in the state before deciding to pursue cellulosic ethanol," says UC Davis plant scientist Gabriel Pedroso. "California has very diverse climatic regions, which affect the adaptability and productivity of switchgrass.”
Because it is a deep-rooted perennial grass, switchgrass promotes soil conservation. It stores carbon in its root system, and makes efficient use of water by virtue of its C4 photorespiration.
Switchgrass requires an establishment year.
"In the second year of production, the lowland varieties grown in the warm San Joaquín and Imperial valleys yielded up to 17 tons per acre of biomass, roughly double the biomass yields of California rice or maize," Pedroso said.
Because it can be used both as forage and as a biofuel crop, switchgrass may be well suited to California, a state with a large livestock industry and higher ethanol consumption than any other.
While the field trial results are promising, commercial, large-scale conversion processes for cellulose to sugars and fuels are just beginning to be demonstrated.
Cellulose is a complex matrix of smaller sugar molecules and fibrous material in plant cell walls. It is the principal structural component of all plant material, including residues and organic materials in municipal solid waste. If it were possible to efficiently break it down into simple sugars, if would become a productive source of ethanol, and would significantly reduce GHG.
The Coast Redwood Forests in a Changing California Science Symposium was held June 21-23, 2011, at UC Santa Cruz with just under 300 registrants in attendance. Participants ranged in background from graduate level students to university forestry and natural resource faculty, land managers, conservation groups, public agencies, and land trust members. The symposium was strategically held in Santa Cruz, near the Southern end of the redwood region. Designed to present the state of our knowledge about California’s coast redwood forest ecosystems and sustainable management practices, this symposium was built on earlier redwood science symposia held in Arcata, CA in June, 1996 and in Santa Rosa, CA in March, 2004. The symposium was jointly organized by the forestry programs at UC Berkeley, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, and Humboldt State University, and partially supported by a grant designed to encourage research and outreach collaboration between the University of California and the California State University systems.
Attendees participated in a day long field trip and two days filled with opening sessions, concurrent presentations on research and management case studies, and a poster session. An ongoing theme of the symposium was the need for action and collaboration from all directions, including public and private land owners and managers, as well as academics and policy makers.
During the opening panel, local historian Sandy Lydon gave a synopsis of the settlement of the area and how the redwoods will always have a special history in the region. He recounted stories from his boyhood about roaming through the forests. He reminded the audience to take time from their schedules to spend time in the forests, and to urge their children to play outside to develop an appreciation for the outdoors and cultivate their imaginations.
Ruskin Hartley, Executive Director and Secretary of Save the Redwoods League, questioned what it means to save the redwoods today and argued that buying and placing land in public ownership is not enough. He believes the next 100 years will focus on restoring forests collaboratively between public and private entities. Hartley called on the audience to set “audacious goals and take collaborative actions.” He maintained that nature does not develop boundaries and that in moving forward, we should focus on a shared set of goals so that public and private land can progress simultaneously. In a time of climate change, the lines we draw on maps become increasingly irrelevant, instead we need a new paradigm to “think about building resilience and adaptability to climate change into the system to benefit both public and private owners.”
Ron Jarvis, Home Depot’s Vice President of Sustainability talked candidly about the role of environmental sustainability practices and policies as part of the home improvement retailer’s business model. He noted that when he began in the sustainability department he undertook a two year long project to understand where every sliver of wood from over 9,000 products originated to ensure sustainable wood practices. Recently, Home Depot sent a memo to their current vendors asking them to supply Home Depot with the names of their “green products.” The green product inventory exceeded over 10,000 products, yet when Jarvis’s team investigated further they deemed only about 2,000 to be worthy of the green standard. Jarvis showed that products today, because of packaging or brand names, may seem green, but the consumer must really investigate what they are buying. Jarvis hopes that in his position he can take some of that burden off of the consumer so that the majority of products that reach Home Depot shelves have already passed the test.
During the concluding ceremony on the future of research in the redwood region, the panel, as well as audience members, recognized the need for more communication among those working with redwoods to spread research findings and best practices. Inspired by the concurrent presentations and research presented at the poster session, participants were looking for a way to stay in touch and collaborate - as Hartley noted in the opening session is crucial for the next steps of redwood growth and preservation. 100% of participants who completed the follow up survey are excited to network and collaborate at similar events, meaning there are opportunities to further enhance the redwood and green movements.
Proceedings of the symposium are anticipated to be available in early Fall 2011 to document the various studies in the literature.
For a full summary of the 2011 Redwood Symposium, please visit: The Forest Research and Outreach Blog.
For ways you can get involved or if you have ideas for collaboration: Like us on Facebook and join the discussion!
The beauty of rolling hills studded with majestic oaks, other trees and shrubbery isn't the only reason to regenerate vegetation. The trees and shrubs create a much more hospitable habitat for a wide assortment of wildlife. Oak woodland vegetation also protects the quality of California water. The majority of the state’s water flows through oak woodlands in streams and rivers that support fisheries, farms and cities. Plants and trees anchor the soil, preventing erosion and stream sedimentation.
One of the difficulties ranchers face in regenerating trees is supplying water for seedling establishment. Ranches often stretch for thousands of acres. Hauling water to remote sites or installing irrigation can be prohibitively expensive.
Third-generation San Miguel rancher George Work heard about a new tree establishment invention from Holland – a Groasis Waterboxx. Over the years, Work has collaborated with UC Cooperative Extension on oak planting projects and consulted with UCCE experts about squirrel diseases, ranch animal vaccinations and pasture management. He turned to UCCE natural resources advisor Royce Larsen for his thoughts on the Waterboxx.
“Because of Royce here, our Cooperative Extension agent, he provided a little added incentive when I wanted to try this thing,” Work said. “Royce said, ‘I’ll help you.’ Well, that was enough to get the job done.”
Work, Larsen and UC Cooperative Extension natural resources specialist Bill Tietje installed 10 Waterboxxes, which cost about $30 each, in a remote area of the 12,000-acre Work Ranch in southern Monterey County. Other plant regeneration methods – including traditional drip irrigation and tree teepees – were also installed for comparison.
The Waterboxx is a round plastic hat box-shaped reservoir that fits around the seedling trunk. When the seedling is planted, the reservoir is filled with about four gallons of water. A rope on the bottom continuously wicks moisture to the plant roots.
The box is covered with an inward-slanting corrugated top that cools during the night and channels condensed dew and fog into the reservoir, keeping it full of water. The Waterboxx provides a protective barrier around the trunk and shades and cools the soil beneath. At the Work Ranch, the plants are also enclosed in bale-wire fence to keep out wildlife poking around for water or hungry for tender green growth.
“The trees are doing surprisingly well," Larsen said. "In just three months, the seedlings have grown more than two feet."
Larsen said he will continue monitoring the project to see if the self-watering system can establish trees. If successful, UC scientists may study the Waterboxx more thoroughly in a replicated research design in Monterey County, San Luis Obispo County and other parts of the state.
See the components of a Waterboxx in the video clip below.
The Las Conchas fire that recently consumed nearly 137,000 acres in Los Alamos, N.M., serves as a reminder of how quickly fire can move if given fuel. I can’t light a barbecue with matches and lighter fluid, but a small ember drifting on the wind can find so many ways to burn down people’s homes if given the right conditions.
Removal of vegetation near Los Alamos National Laboratory, which is part of the UC system, created a buffer and helped spare the lab from the Las Conchas fire, which came within 50 feet. Creating a buffer is one of many preventive measures that can be taken to protect property from wildfires.
In a wildfire-prone area, even if you have a house with a concrete tile roof and noncombustible siding, an ember landing on landscape mulch, igniting plants around the home or floating into a vent on the house or under decks may set the house ablaze, warns a UC Cooperative Extension fire expert.
“From years of observing the aftermath of fires and testing fire-resistant building materials, we have developed a much better understanding about what happens,” says Steve Quarles, UC Cooperative Extension wood performance and durability advisor.
Quarles lists six priority areas for evaluating the vulnerability of homes in fire hazard zones: the roof, vents, landscape plants, windows, decking and siding. For details on how you can reduce the threat of wildfire to your home, visit Quarles' Homeowner's Wildfire Mitigation Guide.
“We know that the zone within about five feet of the home is very important to home survival during a wildfire,” Quarles says.
Landscape mulch provides many benefits to a garden, but Quarles and his colleague Ed Smith, University of Nevada Cooperative Extension natural resource specialist, found that many types of mulch are capable of catching fire and burning. Within five feet of a house, they recommend placing only rock, pavers, brick chips or well-irrigated, low-combustible plants such as lawn or flowers.
Quarles and Smith have published a new manual comparing the relative susceptibility of eight mulch treatments to igniting and burning. To download a free copy of “The Combustibility of Landscape Mulches,” visit the UC Fire Center website.
The scientists tested eight types of landscape mulches, shown in this test plot.
A very wet spring brought a good deal of water to the floodplains this year—good news for juvenile salmon that thrive in this habitat. Floodplains — such as the Yolo and Sutter Bypass areas and the Cosumnes River floodplains — provide a link for juvenile salmon between the gravel bedded rivers where they hatched and the ocean where they will spend the next one to five years.
Although salmon may only use the floodplain for a month or two, this could mean the difference between success and failure in their long journey to the ocean and back again. When juvenile salmon spend time on the floodplain, they grow faster than those that use only the river channel during their migration to the ocean (Sommer et al. 2001, Jeffres et al. 2006). Because of the increased growth, the juveniles are larger when they head out to sea; they can survive better by swimming faster and being more able to avoid predators.
What makes a floodplain a good place for rearing salmon? First of all, it needs to be connected to the river. This sounds obvious, but most of the floodplain habitat in California is isolated behind levees and only gets flooded during extreme high water events when the levees are overtopped or breached. The reason that the levees are there is to protect housing and agricultural land (orchards, vineyards, etc.), which doesn’t allow for regular inundation of floodwaters.
Why are these multi-purpose floodplains better than the river channel for rearing salmon? As cold floodwater enters a floodplain from the river, it spreads out, slows down and deposits sediment. Throughout this process, the water also warms slightly. This is essentially the priming of the productivity pump that will ultimately feed the juvenile salmon for the next couple of months. As the water slows, clears and warms, phytoplankton and algae begin to grow. Populations of animals that feed on the fast-growing plant life, such as zooplankton and other aquatic invertebrates boom. These animals comprise the main food of juvenile salmon on the floodplains.
Because salmon are cold blooded, water temperature it is an important component to floodplain suitability. If water is too cold, juvenile salmon are lethargic and growth is slow. If the water is too warm it causes increased metabolic demands and reduced dissolved oxygen, inhibiting growth and increasing mortality. Fortunately for California salmonids, out-migration is in the spring when temperatures are generally moderate. The timing of spring high flows onto floodplains allows for ideal temperatures for juvenile salmonids compared to the relatively cold water in the main river channel. When temperatures are good and food is abundant, juvenile salmon can grow at impressively fast rates, especially when compared to fish using the main river channel.
The combination of complex physical processes and ecological function is what separates the floodplain from the river corridor in the eyes of juvenile salmon. Leveed river channels provide little complexity and less than ideal growing conditions during the annual spring out-migration. When juvenile salmon have access to complex floodplain habitats where temperatures are good and food resources are abundant, they will grow to larger sizes and thus be able to survive better than fish that remained in the main river channel.
So, next time you catch a big healthy salmon, thank your local floodplain.
Jeffres, C., J. Opperman and P. Moyle (2008), “Ephemeral floodplain habitats provide best growth conditions for juvenile Chinook salmon in a California river,” Environmental Biology of Fishes 83 (4): 449-458.
Sommer, T., B. Harrell, M. Nobriga, R. Brown, P. Moyle, W. Kimmerer and L. Schemel (2001), “California’s Yolo Bypass: Evidence that flood control can be compatible with fisheries, wetlands, wildlife and agriculture,” Fisheries 26 (8): 6-16.