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UCCE leads Northern California Fire Science Consortium

UCCE fills the need for the latest fire science in joint program.
Fire is the focus of increasing attention and interest in California and throughout the country. However, the interpretation and application of science remains a challenge, and fire scientists and managers often find themselves in separate spheres, with limited opportunities for shared learning and knowledge exchange.

The Joint Fire Science Program – a multi-agency program that funds wildland fire research – has recognized this issue, and fire science delivery has become one of its core objectives. Using Joint Fire Science funding, the newly formed California Fire Science Consortium (CFSC) is now a statewide educational organization with five regional teams.

UCCE staff members in Humboldt County are leading the northern California region of CFSC, along with partners from the USDA Forest Service Pacific Southwest Research Station and Humboldt State University. They have formed a multi-agency advisory committee, which includes 11 scientists and managers from different agencies and organizations in the region, to offer guidance and support for consortium activities. The Northern California team is also working closely with faculty and staff at UC Berkeley, who act as a central hub for the statewide effort.

As fire managers develop new management plans, navigate permitting and other regulatory hurdles, and attempt to adapt to changing social, political, and environmental climates, they need access to current, science-based information that is digestible and readily applicable to their unique landscapes and management challenges.

In leading the Northern California CFSC effort, UCCE has helped to harness the vast array of scientific data on fire that is applicable for the Northern California region and make it available and understandable for the non-scientific community, contributing to the integrity and efficiency of fire management, both in the region and throughout the country.

“Responses from all of our educational events suggests that we are filling a void and helping regional fire managers and landowners become aware of the latest science,” said Yana Valachovic, forest advisor and county director for UC Cooperative Extension in Humboldt and Del Norte counties.

Posted on Thursday, August 21, 2014 at 9:50 AM
Tags: wildfire (15), Yana Valachovic (2)

A healthy start back to school

With integrated pest management, school yards are healthier environments for children.
As summer is quickly coming to a close, and most kids have already headed back to school or will be returning in the next couple of weeks, integrated pest management will be an expected and important tool for the upcoming school year.

Classrooms, playgrounds, and athletic fields that were quiet during the summer months will once again be filled with the sounds of learning and playing. Landscape and pest management professionals have been taking advantage of the slow summer months preparing the grounds and facilities for the upcoming year. While at one time this may have meant heavy applications of pesticide to rid the facilities of pest problems, today schools are healthier environments for our kids.  

Schools are required to follow the Healthy Schools Act (HSA), a law passed in 2001 in response to increasing concern of pesticide exposure and resulting heath issues. The HSA gives parents and staff the “right to know” about what pesticides are being applied and requires schools to keep records of applications and report information to the state. The HSA also encourages the use of integrated pest management (IPM) and the adoption of least toxic pest management practices as the primary way of managing pests in schools. Each school or district appoints an IPM coordinator to carry out the requirements of the Healthy Schools Act.

Healthy Schools Act Reminders for the School Year
At the beginning of each academic year, schools must provide parents and staff in writing of all pesticide products expected to be used throughout the year. The notice must include the names of the products and active ingredients. Parents and staff who wish to be notified of each specific pesticide application at their school site can register to be notified individually by mail 72 hours before the application. At least 24 hours prior to a pesticide application, schools must post warning signs. The signs must remain up for at least 72 hours after the treatment.

Each school is also required to maintain records for at least four years of all pesticides used and to report pesticide use to both the county agricultural commissioner and the Department of Pesticide Regulation. There are certain products that are exempt from the notification and posting requirements of the HSA. These include reduced-risk pesticides, such as self-contained baits or traps or gels or pastes used for crack-and-crevice treatments. Antimicrobials and pesticides exempt from registration are exempt from all aspects of the Healthy Schools Act, including reporting.

While not required, schools are strongly encouraged under the HSA to adopt an integrated approach to managing pests. IPM focuses on long-term prevention of pests by monitoring and inspecting to find out what caused the pest and taking steps to eliminate those favorable conditions to reduce future problems. IPM uses a combination of methods to solve pest problems using least toxic pesticides only after other methods have allowed pests to exceed a tolerable level.

With IPM, schools get long-term solutions to pest problems. There is less pesticide used reducing the risk of pesticide exposure. Finally, less notification, posting, and recordkeeping is required from schools.

The California Department of Pesticide Regulation School IPM Program has a new handout reminding schools of the requirements of the HSA. For more information on the School IPM program and the Healthy Schools Act, visit the DPR website, and for more on IPM, visit the UC Statewide IPM website.

Posted on Wednesday, August 20, 2014 at 9:44 AM

$7.12 billion state water bond to appear on November ballot

The 70-year-old Shasta Dam forms the largest reservoir in California.
The Water Quality, Supply, and Infrastructure Improvement Act of 2014 (Proposition 1) is set to appear on the November 2014 ballot. If approved by voters, it would “authorize $7.12 billion in general obligation bonds for state water supply infrastructure projects, such as public water system improvements, surface and groundwater storage, drinking water protection, water recycling and advanced water treatment technology, water supply management and conveyance, wastewater treatment, drought relief, emergency water supplies, and ecosystem and watershed protection and restoration.”

Per the full text of the proposition, the distribution of funds would be approximately as follows:

$810 million for expenditures and competitive grants and loans to integrated regional water management plan projects.

$520 million to improve water quality for “beneficial use,” for reducing and preventing drinking water contaminants in disadvantaged communities, and creating the State Water Pollution Control Revolving Fund Small Community Grant Fund.

$725 million for water recycling and advanced water treatment technology projects.

$900 million for competitive grants, and loans for projects to prevent or clean up the contamination of groundwater that serves as a source of drinking water.

$1.495 billion for competitive grants for multi-benefit ecosystem and watershed protection and restoration projects including:

  • Conservancies $327.5M.
  • Wildlife Conservation Board $200M (restoration of flows)
  • Department of Fish and Wildlife $285M (out of delta, no mitigation on Bay Delta Conservation Plan)
  • Department of Fish and Wildlife $87.5M (in delta with constraints)
  • State settlement obligations including CVPIA $475M
  • Rivers and creeks $120M

$2.7 billion for water storage projects, dams and reservoirs.

$395 million for statewide flood management projects and activities

To read the full text of the proposition visit Ballotpedia.

Posted on Monday, August 18, 2014 at 3:11 PM
Tags: Drought (13), Proposition 1 (1), water (8)

15 simple ways to participate in California Invasive Species Action Week, Aug. 2 - 10

Help the California Department of Fish and Wildlife celebrate their first annual California Invasive Species Action Week, Aug. 2 – 10, and protect California's diverse landscapes. Hundreds of invasive plants and animals have already established themselves in California's landscapes and populations are quickly expanding each year.

Yellow Flag Iris, Iris Pseudocaris, is a fast-growing and spreading invasive plant found in wetlands, streams and riverbanks. It is known to outcompete native plants and reduces habitats for waterfowl and fish. Photo credit: Joe DiTomaso
Invasive species are organisms that are not native to an environment. Once they are introduced, they establish themselves quickly and spread - causing harm to the environment. Invasive species threaten our waters, native plants, animals, agriculture, economy and popular recreational sites.

Prevention is the most effective strategy to manage invasive species in California. Action Week is dedicated to increasing public awareness and inspiring action by residents of California.

How can you help? Here are 15 simple ways to participate in California Invasive Species Action Week from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife:

  1. Find out which species are threats to California from the Invasive Species Council of California.
  2. Learn about California's invasive plants from the California Invasive Plants Council
  3. Remove invasive plants from your property.
  4. Select native or non-invasive plants for your home's landscape.
  5. Make sure to Clean, Drain, and Dry (PDF) your boat after each outing.
  6. Use only certified “weed-free” forage, hay, seed, mulch, soil, and gravel.
  7. Avoid spreading forest pests: buy your firewood where you burn it.
  8. Learn alternatives to releasing unwanted fish, aquatic plants, and other pets.
  9. Get to know your local invaders.
  10. Eat them. Yes, really. Check out these interesting websites to find out who is edible and how to prepare them, Invasivore.org, EatTheWeeds.com, and EatTheInvaders.org.
  11. Monitor plants and trees for symptoms of infestations and disease.
  12. Share your knowledge.
  13. Visit your favorite local, state, or national park, ecological reserve, recreational area, or nature center and ask about their volunteer programs.
  14. Have you spotted an invasive species? Tell us where by reporting your sighting.
  15. Volunteer for invasive species removal/habitat restoration projects.

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife are hosting events across the state to spread the word about invasive species for Action Week. Visit their schedule of events to find an event and location near you!

Resource: http://www.dfg.ca.gov/invasives/ActionWeek/ 

Posted on Friday, August 1, 2014 at 2:14 PM

Mozilla information scientist finds her passion at UC Sheep Shearing School

Stephany Wilkes shears a 150-lb Targhee-Columbia ewe at Hopland Research and Extension Center.
It's May in Hopland, and the sparse winter rains are nothing more than a memory. Sharpened shears at the ready, Stephany Wilkes, an information science Ph.D. who works for Mozilla, walks a 150-pound sheep into the shearing area. Under the watchful eye of expert instructors, she flips the sheep on its side and starts methodically removing the fleece, smoothing the skin with her left hand, clippers in her right, moving the sheep with her legs.

“It's like a dance,” she says. “Once you have it right (and I mean, really have it), suddenly the whole method makes sense. You expend much less energy. You're controlling the sheep with your legs, which leaves your hands free, one to hold the shearing hand piece and the other to smooth out the skin so you don't nick the sheep.”

Since there are 400 ewes whose fleeces must be shorn before the hot summer months, that's important for her and her classmates.

The University of California Cooperative Extension Sheep Shearing School is the only program of its kind in California. It has been run in Mendocino County since at least 1990, but in 2009, it moved to the Hopland Research and Extension Center south of Ukiah.

Students are taught the New Zealand method of shearing, where the entire fleece is cut from the sheep as a single unit so it can be sorted and graded according to micron count. The method is designed to be comfortable for both shearer and sheep.

John Harper, UCCE natural resources advisor for Mendocino County, has been running this program for more than 20 years. Although these sheep weigh enough to make handling them a workout, he says that hip flexibility is more important than upper body strength. Since this is something women tend to have more of than men, they are often successful students.

More than 250 students from across the western U.S. as well as Canada and Mexico and have graduated from the program. Many come back year after year to practice under supervision, but also to connect with each other.

This year, a wool grading section was added to the course, taught by Ron Cole and Rodney Kott. Sheep have recently been bred much more for meat than wool in the region but there is a growing demand for high quality fleeces. The finest merino sheep do not do well in damp North Coast conditions but thrive in the dryer Central Valley and foothills, and there is a need for trained graders. Only 3 percent of California's 5 million pounds of wool is currently being processed within the state, and yet California remains a net importer of wool goods, while falling second only to Texas in sheep production. California fleeces are either composted or sent to China for processing, something another graduate of Shearing Class, Matt Gilbert, is keen to avoid.

“There used to be lots of mills in the U.S. to process our wool,” he said. “Now there are hardly any. That's why I wanted to start my own mill to process fine wool. We will be selling to handspinners and knitters and to commercial textile manufacturers. It's about trying to keep the product of this place in the region.”

Gilbert was inspired by the Fibershed movement started by Rebecca Burgess in 2010. Drawing on the locavore movement, Burgess committed to clothing herself for an entire year with textiles grown and produced within 200 miles of her house in Fairfax. The movement is gaining adherents across the country and beyond.

Wilkes says the Fibershed movement is what got her interested in learning to shear, too.

“Eight years ago, I walked into a yarn store in San Francisco and asked where the local yarn was. I knew California was a major producer of wool. I was told there wasn't any. I was curious about why, and became involved with Fibershed and attended their first symposium in October 2012. During a panel involving shearers [one of whom was Matt Gilbert], I found out that small flock owners had a hard time finding people to shear their sheep. That got me thinking that I could learn to do the work," Wilkes said.

The UC certificate really means something to ranchers and farmers. As a woman who provided a Shearing School scholarship put it recently, “When I see UC Certification, I know I'm not going to have butchered animals.”

Harper explains that the North Coast sheep herding trends have changed over time – from large producers to smaller flocks – but now there is a move back to some larger flocks, driven in part by the Vines and Ovines project established in Mendocino County by UCCE advisor Morgan Doran with help from UCCE advisor Roger Ingram of Placer and Nevada counties, UCCE advisor Stephanie Larson of Sonoma County and UCCE specialist emeritus Mel George. The sheep were subjected to aversion training so they would not eat grape leaves. Now they browse through vineyards, conducting weed control and fertilization without harming the vines. One vintner, Clay Shannon, has 1,500 ewes. He pairs premium lamb with his wines in sales to niche markets. The idea is catching on.

Meanwhile, Wilkes is shearing sheep across Northern California on weekends or before work.

“I can't express how much Shearing School means to me and to California,” she says. “There's almost no way to break into agriculture if you didn't inherit land here. I found my calling late ... I love developing open source software and working on information privacy, but shearing is my passion. Shearing School is one of the few feasible avenues into agriculture in the state.”

The 2014 Shearing School class.

Wool classing.
Wool classing.

Stephany Wilkes at the Sonoma County Fair.
Stephany Wilkes at the Sonoma County Fair.

Posted on Thursday, July 31, 2014 at 8:07 AM

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