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The California Naturalist program hits its stride

California Naturalist Scott Van Tyle takes a close look at a sea kelp rootball on the beach at Asilomar.
Under sunny skies, a cool breeze blowing off the ocean at Asilomar State Beach, California Naturalist Scott Van Tyle pulls out a knife and begins dissecting a seaweed root ball that had washed up on the sand. A group of fellow naturalists quickly gather around to see what tiny sea creatures call the massive tangle home.

Similar scenes were repeated frequently during the three-day California Naturalist conference in October. The legless lizards and gopher snake brought in by a Fort Ord Dunes State Park ranger, a family of raccoons under the dining hall deck, deer browsing among the cottages and a beautiful sunset drew quick attention from participants. It is this enthusiasm that defines California Naturalists, a community with more than a love of nature, but a strong inclination toward gaining new knowledge, conserving the natural world and sharing their passion with others.

“We are in a room full of early adopters,” said Adina Merenlender to certified California Naturalists, instructors and aspiring naturalists at the conference. “It's amazing to see the seeds we planted growing into a real community. Everyone here has helped start this new community of practice.”

Naturalists Justine Faust, left, and Chris Lay with legless lizards at the California Naturalist statewide conference.
“Community of practice” is a relatively new concept that has been embraced by the California Naturalist program. Coined by Etienne Wenger, communities of practice are groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly.

“This is exactly what we are doing,” said Merenlender, co-director of the California Naturalist statewide program and UC Cooperative Extension specialist in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management at UC Berkeley.

At the conference, California Naturalists learned from world-class experts about engaging with nature and interpretation, coupling science and art, taking part in citizen science, preparing for global change, and protecting the state from invasive species. But perhaps the most important outcome was the opportunity for kindred spirits to share the weekend, forge lasting relationships and set future collaborations in motion.

“We're building a movement here,” said one of the conference speakers, nature writer and artist John Muir Laws. “We want to be strengthening ourselves. Our strength comes from the strands of the web between us.”

California Naturalists from around the state will reconvene in 2016. In the meantime, plans are being formulated to further develop the program, both in numbers and form, by reaching out to new audiences that will enhance the community of practice.

Naturalist Margaret Otto draped a gopher snake around her shoulders.
Since the program's inception, the majority of new California Naturalists have been volunteers who serve as stewards, data collectors, or as labor for restoration projects at land management, informal education, and conservation organizations in conservation organizations. The program aims to widen the scope in order to bring in naturalists with a range of skills, backgrounds and experiences.

Sabrina Drill, co-director of the California Naturalist program and UC Cooperative Extension advisor in LA County, is reaching out to the Los Angeles Conservation Corps to see if the California Naturalist curriculum can be used to enrich the training now offered to young people enrolled in the program.

“The LACC participants learn important practical skills, like how to fell a tree and how to use a chain saw,” Drill said. “They have told me they would like to provide environmental background to participants so they learn why they are thinning forests and why they are removing invasive plants. We would provide them with the environmental science context.”

Another area where the California Naturalist program is poised to grow is with organizations that connect with regional, state and national parks.

“We can work with these groups to increase capacity in resource management at parks,” Merenlender said. “Government agencies can accomplish the nuts and bolts of local operations, but they can rarely provide the scientific and environmental literacy training for staff and volunteers.”

A third initiative aims to reach out to teachers. Drill and Merenlender are exploring a host of potential partnerships that can connect the California Naturalist community of practice to children, including UC's Project Learning Tree, the long-running Forestry Institute for Teachers, the San Jose Children's Discovery Museum, and the UCCE 4-H Youth Development program.

“If teachers take part in the California Naturalist program, they will bring what they learned back to the classroom,” Merenlender said. “As a community of practice, we are committed to helping our teachers ensure youth the environmental literacy intended by the increasingly popular slogan, ‘No child left inside.'”

For more information, see the California Naturalist website.

Posted on Thursday, October 30, 2014 at 9:56 AM

Is that a light brown apple moth?

It's easy to confuse light brown apple moth caterpillars (above) with look-alikes, including orange tortrix, omnivorous leafroller, avocado leafroller and apple pandemic moth.
Nursery workers are the first line of defense in detecting light brown apple moth when growing ornamental plants in commercial nurseries. A new brochure and video can help those in the field distinguish light brown apple moth from several look-alike caterpillars.

Light brown apple moth is currently under a California Department of Food and Agriculture quarantine that regulates the interstate shipment of plants to keep the moth from spreading to new areas. It has been quarantined in various counties throughout coastal California ranging from Mendocino to San Diego.

An exotic and invasive pest from Australia, light brown apple moth has a host range of more than 2,000 plants. It is a pest to a wide range of ornamental and agricultural crops, including caneberries, strawberries, citrus, stone fruit, apples, and grapes. The caterpillars eat leaves and buds, leading to weak or disfigured plants. They also can feed directly on fruit, causing the fruit to be unmarketable.

Correct field identification of the light brown apple moth is the first step in containing the spread of this moth. Unfortunately several other leafroller caterpillars, including the orange tortrix, omnivorous leafroller, avocado leafroller, and apple pandemic moth, look similar to light brown apple moth caterpillars. This makes photo identification tools that can go into the field with workers, like the Field Identification Guide for Light Brown Apple Moth in California Nurseries, a useful resource for nursery workers.

The field guide was created by Steven Tjosvold, Neal Murray, University of California Cooperative Extension; Marc Epstein, Obediah Sage, California Department of Food and Agriculture; and Todd Gilligan, Colorado State University with the UC Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program (UC IPM).

For more information on light brown apple moth and other leafrollers found in nurseries, see the UC Pest Management Guidelines for Floriculture and Nurseries.

Posted on Tuesday, October 28, 2014 at 10:03 AM

UCCE helps span the boundary between fire science and fire management in California

UC Cooperative Extension is conveying fire science to wildland managers.
After academics complete fire science research, the results often end up gathering dust on a shelf. UC Cooperative Extension is now playing a significant role in bridging the gap between wildland fire science and wildland managers across the United States.

“It is a classic disconnect,” said Susie Kocher, UC Cooperative Extension advisor in the Central Sierra office. “That's why Cooperative Extension was formed almost 100 years ago. Policymakers could see that research advances weren't being implemented on farms. The same thing has happened in natural resource management.”

For example, Kocher said, scientists have known since the 1960s that systematic fire suppression has many negative consequences, but it took a very long time to get that message into practice by agencies charged with managing wildfire.

“After the Great Burn of 1910, which killed 87 people, there was a public clamor to attack fire and treat it as an enemy,” Kocher said. “We've come a long way since then. Now land managers have a good understanding of how important it is to have low-intensity fire in Sierra forests.”

Fire agencies are now beginning to understand that they must pay attention to technology transfer. Kocher believes UC Cooperative Extension is a logical player in the process.

“Cooperative Extension is the exemplar,” Kocher said. “We try to get new and evolving understanding into the hands of people who use the information to made decisions – not just land managers, but the public and policy makers as well.”

Beginning in 2009, the federal Joint Fire Science Program created 15 regional fire science exchanges to accelerate awareness, understanding and use of wildland fire science. Scott Stephens, professor in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management at UC Berkeley, leads the California consortium. Stacey S. Frederick serves as the consortium's full-time coordinator. Other UC academics involved are Kocher and Yana Valachovic, UCCE advisor in Humbolt and Del Norte counties.

Since its inception four years ago, the consortium has hosted webinars, conferences and symposia, and offered field consultations, field trips, tours, demonstrations and expertise. Another significant role of the group has been distilling academic fire science research reports into easy-to-read one-to two-page research briefs. To date, well over 100 briefs have been written by the consortium on a wide range of topics.

The California Fire Science Consortium maintains a comprehensive website that contains links to the research briefs, webinar recordings and information about upcoming events. The consortium also offers a twitter feed @cafirescience and Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/CaliforniaFireScienceConsortium and you can sign up for their monthly newsletter here.

Posted on Tuesday, October 28, 2014 at 9:58 AM

Students design a solar home for farmworkers

When a team of UC Davis students packs up its house and travels to Irvine next year for the U.S. Department of Energy's 2015 Solar Decathlon competition, its members will bring not only a desire to win, but also to make zero-net-energy homes more affordable.

After submitting an entry for the first time, UC Davis was one of 20 universities selected in February to compete in the Solar Decathlon. The competition draws students and scientists from universities across the nation — from Yale and Vanderbilt to CalPoly and Sacramento State — to design and build solar-powered homes that are energy efficient and attractive.

The front rendering of the UC Davis students' farmworker housing unit.
Meeting a competition milestone, UC Davis' team, Aggie Sol, submitted 80 percent-complete design documents to the department on Oct. 9. The UC Davis project is designed to be a marketable, sustainable house for farmworkers and other low-income communities. Complete plans for the home are due in January, when construction will begin at UC Davis. In October 2015, the home will be disassembled, packed in pieces and transported to the competition site in Irvine.  

“I really want to see solar homes everywhere,” said Aggie Sol team member Payman Alemi, a civil and environmental engineering major. “I want every house to be solar powered, and I want every car to be electric. I want everything to be sustainable, and I think that developing a mass marketable house is a big stepping stone.”

Connecting a campus

In addition to addressing a social and environmental problem, the project also provides unique educational opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students.

It connects students in the fields of engineering, architecture, design, communication and development. They've drawn on the expertise and support of faculty in the colleges of Letters and SciencesEngineering, and Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. They've also tapped the experience of several energy centers on campus—most located at West Village—including the Institute of Transportation StudiesEnergy Efficiency CenterPlug-In Hybrid and Electric Vehicle Research Center, and Center for Water Energy Efficiency.

Looking over the Simplex design.

“I heard about what we were going to do about ZNE housing for low-income families, and that really struck a chord with me, being from a low-income neighborhood,” said team member Alejandro Perez, a civil and environmental engineering major. “I really want to make my own house energy efficient, but it's really costly, and it's not really practical where I'm from. Just being part of that effort to make it more affordable really inspired me to be part of the team.”

And while team Aggie Sol is made of about 20 students, an estimated 200 to 500 students from various disciplines will study the project in the coming months, including students from UC Davis Extension, the continuing education division of UC Davis.  

The project students are also working with the UC Davis Graduate School of Management and the Division of Social Sciences to create a business plan for the home.

“We want to use this as a way to showcase the ability for zero net energy to be affordable and to do it with a business model in place to implement change in California,” said faculty adviser Frank Loge, a professor of civil and environmental engineering. “If we don't win the competition and still market it, some of us will feel like this has been a very successful effort.” 

Nothing but net

UC Davis has proven itself a national leader in zero-net-energy design. In 2011, it opened West Village, a public-private partnership with West Village Community Partnership LLC and the nation's largest planned zero-net-energy community. This past spring, it debuted the Honda Smart Home, which produces enough renewable energy to power both the home and a Honda Fit electric vehicle in its garage.

Private builders and homeowners worldwide have also taken on the challenge of creating homes that produce as much energy as they consume, and the California Public Utilities Commission has a goal for all new residential homes to be zero net energy by 2020. Yet such residences still tend to fall on the upper financial spectrum of the real est

ate market.

“As part of our effort at UC Davis, we want to make zero-net-energy housing affordable for everyone,” Loge said. “We're trying to drive down the price point of zero-net-energy housing to help the housing market understand that you can have affordable, nice homes that are zero net energy.”

Big cut in price

Price estimates for most homes that compete in the Decathlon range from $300 to $350 per square foot. Team Aggie Sol intends to cut that price by more than half, to $70 to $150 per square foot.

One way they're doing that is by creating a relatively simple, modular design using prefabricated materials. The Aggie Sol design also addresses the health and living concerns associated with farmworkers' current housing conditions, such as poor air quality, crowding and lack of shade.

The home combines public and private spaces in three linear zones: Two climate-controlled living spaces are separated by an enclosed deck. The zones act as climate buffers that maximize passive cooling in summer and passive heating in winter. It will also feature “smart home” technology that aligns the home's needs with the electrical grid, communicating with the resident and power provider to manage energy systems more effectively.

The team plans to begin building the house in January on the UC Davis campus but has not yet chosen a location. Loge said they intend for the home to be built in a public place. 

The Department of Energy provided a $50,000 grant to Aggie Sol, while the team is attempting to raise at least another $700,000 for training, travel, equipment, uniforms and team-building costs.

Posted on Wednesday, October 22, 2014 at 9:57 AM

Ranching and California's drought: A workshop & webcast

A UC Davis forum draws in ranchers and drought experts to discuss the U.S. Drought Monitor, along with new climate forecasts and survey insights.
One image has had every Californian cringing this year: the U.S. Drought Monitor map. Like a slice of molding bread, the drought began in the middle, grew darker and moved outward in concentric rings that gradually devoured the state. The reaction was shock. Yet what does such a large map mean to individual ranching operations? Where does this information come from? And how does it affect research and policy? With forecasts shaping up for yet another drought this fall and winter, serious ramifications may be coming for ranchers.

These concerns and more are being discussed at an upcoming meeting called “Ranching and California's Drought” a public workshop and webinar to be held on the UC Davis campus Nov. 7 and broadcast at local satellite locations throughout the state.

Drought experts from a range of organizations will open the dialogue with ranchers, to discuss the science and the policies of how drought is declared and mapped in California. UC Davis researcher Leslie Roche will present new insights from an extensive study, having surveyed and interviewed ranchers throughout the state. Other topics include new feeding strategies, how ranchers can qualify for drought relief assistance and a seasonal forecast from the state climatologist. The workshop will be a learning opportunity for researchers as well.

“There are impacts of drought on a ranch that these models are blind to or just can't integrate,” says UC Davis Cooperative Extension specialist Ken Tate, one of the meeting organizers. “But these things need to be integrated into policy.”

As an example, he explains how late April showers in northern California gave this year's totals a deceptively positive review: “It may not look like that big of a drought on the annual forage production basis, when in reality it was horrendous in December and January,” he says. “April rain and forage were too late to save the day.”

The forum will allow Drought Monitor experts to better integrate local knowledge into their analysis and decision making, Tate says, adding: “They're really open and really interested in having these conversations.”

A ranch manager uses feed supplements to account for little forage.
After light rain in December and January, a ranch manager uses feed supplements to make up for less forage.
Posted on Tuesday, October 21, 2014 at 1:23 PM

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