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UC leads a long tradition of environmental stewardship in California

Stewardship: \ˈstü-ərd-ˌship: the activity or job of protecting and being responsible for something.

In 1862 the Morrill Act was passed to support and maintain colleges of agriculture and mechanical arts, including a later provision that included the donation of public land. As one of the first land grant Universities, the University of California was well positioned to manage agricultural extension across the state as part of the Smith Lever Act of 1915. Today, many people think of California agriculture as strawberries, broccoli and rice; but it is livestock and forestry that dominated California working landscapes in those early days.  

Farmer seeks assistance from UCCE farm advisor on the running board of a historic UC Cooperative Extension vehicle.
Research and extension efforts to improve forestry practices and range production throughout California have evolved over time. Research questions gradually changed over the last 100 years from a “how can we economically produce more” perspective to how can rangeland management practices improve ecosystem composition and function? How can extension programs be employed to educate stakeholders and help land managers implement change? How can we conserve working landscapes for biodiversity conservation in a period of rapid development? How can we assess and monitor management effectiveness?

This year, the University of California Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources celebrates 100 years of UC Cooperative Extension serving as a research and outreach partner in communities throughout California. For an interesting read on this rich history and the evolution of UC rangeland management perspectives, see M. George, and W. J. Clawson's The History of UC Rangeland Extension, Research, and Teaching: A Perspective (2014). Additionally, UC ANR California Rangelands Website includes a free Annual Rangeland E-book; current project descriptions, publications, and online learning modules: http://californiarangeland.ucdavis.edu/.

Maintaining and improving environmental quality on public and private land requires an informed strategy that encourages stewardship by land owners and community members. In present times, we face the challenges of managing land in the face of growing population, drought, invasive species, and climate change, just to name a few forces of global change. Out of necessity, our broader perspective on land management has shifted to one of “ecosystem stewardship” which is defined as a strategy to respond to and shape social-ecological systems under conditions of uncertainty and change to sustain the supply and opportunities for use of ecosystem services to support human well-being (Chapin et al. 2010). The stewardship framework focuses on the dynamics of ecological change and assesses management options that may influence the path or rate of that change. 

Tejon Ranch Conservancy California Naturalists help with a pipe capping project to keep small animals and birds from getting trapped (Photo: Scot Pipkin)
Using an ecosystem stewardship framework, the UC ANR's California Naturalist Program is building a statewide network of environmental stewards. The program is designed to introduce the public, teachers, interpreters, docents, green collar workers, natural resource managers, and budding scientists to the wonders of our unique ecology and engage these individuals in the stewardship of California's natural communities.

The California Naturalist Program uses a science curriculum which includes chapters in forest, woodland, and range resources and management, geology, climate, water, wildlife, and plants. Experiential learning and service projects instill a deep appreciation for the natural communities of the state and serve to engage people in natural resource conservation.

UC Berkeley's Sagehen Creek Field Station California Naturalists examine watershed maps (Photo: Jeannette Warnert)
Land management is the focus of many of the partnering organizations that offer the California Naturalist Program. For example, land conservancies and preserves are involved including, Tejon Ranch Conservancy, at 270,000 acres the largest contiguous private ranch in California; Pepperwood Preserve, a private rangeland preserve dedicated to conservation science in the Northern SF Bay Area; UC Berkeley's Sagehen Creek Field Station, a forested research station in the Sierra; UC Hopland Research & Extension Center, a rangeland research and education facility in California's north coast region; and the Sierra Foothill Conservancy, a non-profit land trust in the Western Sierra Nevada including Fresno, Madera, eastern Merced, and Mariposa counties. Land trusts are increasingly responsible for conserving working landscapes and open space across the state and often rely on a trained volunteer corps to steward these valuable landscapes. UC ANR is pleased to advance training opportunities for those actively managing these lands.

California Naturalists trained at these locations and more are involved in ecosystem stewardship, rangeland management, watershed restoration, and helping outdoor education programs that benefit the environment and people of all ages. Naturalists have donated over 13,000 hours of in-state service in the last three years. These types of stewardship opportunities are essential for the active adaptive management that both public and private lands need to ensure resilience and continue to provide ecosystem services that we all rely on. These trained environmental stewards are an important part of this growing community of practice who not only steward land but pass on critical knowledge about California's natural and managed ecosystems. 

Posted on Friday, July 25, 2014 at 11:59 AM

Connecting wildfires to climate change and drought

Longer summers, less moisture and warmer climates are predicted for California's Sierra Nevada mountains. These changing patterns bring frequent droughts and extended wildfire seasons — as seen from the current extreme drought. The question no longer is whether wildfires will be more common or more intense — they already are — but how forest managers want these fires to burn.

Jens Stevens, a postdoctoral researcher in disturbance ecology at the University of California, Davis, has tracked how forests thinned for wildfire react to high-intensity burns. The answers he found touch on growing concerns over how the state can protect its forests.

Under the context of climate change, Stevens studies how understory plants recover from wildfires, measuring the effects fuel treatments — such as the thinning of small trees — have on the way these forests burn.

Postdoctoral researcher Jens Stevens (right) inspects an untreated forest after a wildfire.
Historically Sierra forests had gaps and openings, which prevented the spread of fires. More than a century ago land management agencies began a campaign of extinguishing all wildfires. Today's forest floors are blanketed with litter — fallen branches, leaves and shrubs — and many of the fire-tolerant pines have been replaced by firs, which handle shade well but act as fuel sources.

Stevens' research showed fuel treatments encourage resilience to wildfires, giving forests a greater ability to withstand a burn. Under really hot, dry summer conditions this makes a powerful difference.

“If you get warmer temperatures you're going to dry out the fuels,” says Stevens. “If we want to retain forest-dominated landscapes, we don't have the choice of doing nothing, because eventually these stands are going to burn."

To preserve forests, Stevens looked to native plant diversity under each management strategy. After a high severity fire, the tree canopy is non-existent. This new high-light environment favors other species, such as shrubs and flowering plants, which crowd out young trees.

A treated forest has more resilience to high-intensity wildfires.
In treating a stand before a fire, land managers are already encouraging plant diversity and when the stand burns, diversity increases even more, Stevens discovered.

While the treatments do protect the forest and encourage plant diversity, they are expensive and lead to uncertainty over how sensitive wildlife species are affected. Yet these areas will burn eventually, Stevens argues. The choice is either a more open forest or no forest at all.

He points out research by UC Davis ecologist Malcolm North, which shows the current pace of treatments can't keep up with the extent of Sierra forests that have been fire suppressed. The US Forest Service can treat up to 40 percent of a forest before managers must start over for follow-up treatments. The other 60 percent doesn't get touched.

“So the only real way to address that is to let the fire do the work for you,” says Stevens.

The proposal North and his colleagues arrived at relies on “firesheds.” These fire-prone areas would have boundaries that allow officials to efficiently manage the fires. If a burn begins after a treatment, they don't put it out. Allowing the fire to burn fuels they would otherwise be removing frees up resources to treat other areas.

“So if it's going to burn,” says Stevens, “you need to figure out ways the fire's going to give you your desired outcome.”

Watch Stevens explain more in his seminar.

This post was adapted from a longer piece by the UC Davis Department of Plant Sciences.
 

Posted on Wednesday, July 16, 2014 at 10:17 AM

Peel back the layers and see what the onion is all about

Red onions. Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey
For crying out loud, who doesn't love an onion? Whether you enjoy them in burgers, broths, sandwiches or soups, or deep-fry them as onion rings or serve them with liver, they're to die for and to cry for.

The average American eats 21 pounds of onions per year. Indeed, our appetite for the fresh green as well as yellow, red, and white bulb onions is increasing in the United States, up 70 percent from several decades ago. A valued crop generating $1.2 billion a year, the onion currently ranks No. 2 in the vegetable industry, right behind the potato. Yellow onions account for nearly 90 percent of all onion consumption, followed by red and white varieties.

Onions, cultivated for more than 5,000 years, are one of the most versatile vegetables. They are found in every ethnic cuisine from breakfast to lunch to dinner and are rich in vitamin C and fiber. As Julia Child noted, “It's hard to imagine civilization without onions.”

With a thriving onion industry comes a “crying” need for onion seed planting stock; onions have to flower and set seed. California is a major worldwide supplier of onion seed, with growers producing about 3,000 acres of hybrid onion seed worth about $12 million, and generating an additional $40 million annually in subsequent retail sales. The major growing areas in our state are the Imperial Valley and Colusa County.

Seed companies from around the world contract with growers here in California to produce hybrid onion seed. The many different varieties include red, yellow and white bulbs, including types that are adapted to different day lengths from our northern to southern hemispheres. Growers plant onion bulbs or seedling transplants in late summer with distinct male (male fertile) and female (male sterile) onion lines in the same field. Generally, the field ratio is one row of males for every three female rows and they're tough to tell apart from a distance, but males produce pollen.

Honey bees visiting an onion umbel. Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey
In Northern California, flowering occurs for a short four to five weeks the following May and June, with scapes from each bulb producing a white umbel with multiple florets. Growers rely on honey bees for cross pollination, that is moving the pollen from male to female rows. Each acre usually includes 10 to 12 hives. Native bees are also important for pollinating onion flowers, as are flies. No pollinators? No onion seed production.

Thankfully, there are few pests of onion seed, although the recent introduction of the iris yellow spot virus vectored by the onion thrips has resulted in increased insecticide use to control this potentially devastating pest and disease. Recent research by UC Cooperative Extension specialists in Yolo County and UC Davis, however, documented that more than three insecticide sprays applied pre-bloom per year can reduce honey bee visitation to flowers. Insecticides may also interfere with the ability of female flowers to receive pollen; that is, sprays applied near to bloom time can lead to overall lower pollen germination. As a result, growers are now careful to minimize insecticide use in onion seed production fields to ensure good pollination and yields.

Monitoring honey bee activity in onion seed production
Likewise, growers must carefully manage their irrigation water to ensure that the onion flowers produce good nectar rewards to maximize honey bee visitation. Honey bees are attracted to flowers with ample nectar production. Fields that are too wet or too dry show reduced floral nectar rewards and a decrease in honey bee visitation.

After cross-pollination occurs and seeds are set, growers knock down the male rows to remove them to facilitate harvesting of female lines and ensure purity of the seed. Once the female umbels dry down, they are harvested primarily by hand, placed on tarps to fully dry, and then the tiny black seeds from the florets are mechanically threshed with a combine, and cleaned and packaged for retail sales.

Although a small acreage crop in California, onion seed is an important specialty crop that significantly boosts our agricultural economy, as well as providing needed seed for farmers throughout the world.

But, before you can slice them, chop them or dice them, you have to grow them and our California growers do it best.

Additional information on onion seed production can be found at:

http://ceyolo.ucanr.edu/Custom_Program/Seed_Crop_Production/Onion_Seed_Production/

 

Onion umbel with seeds
Onion umbel with seeds

Posted on Wednesday, July 9, 2014 at 8:27 AM

UCCE wildlife specialist Robert Timm retires after 27 years

Bob Timm, shown next to sheep corrals, studied ways to prevent coyotes from preying on sheep.
Robert Timm, director of UC Hopland Research & Extension Center and UC Cooperative Extension wildlife specialist, retired July 1, wrapping up a 27-year career with the University of California.

Timm's career has focused on managing wildlife damage and providing science-based advice for people to solve conflicts between humans and wildlife, which increasingly arise as both human and wildlife populations expand. One of his research subjects was finding better ways to prevent coyotes from preying on sheep.

He compiled, edited and published the reference book “Prevention and Control of Wildlife Damage” in 1983 and co-edited the 2004 revision. Since 1989, he has served in many leadership roles on the Vertebrate Pest Council, including managing editor of the Vertebrate Pest Conference Proceedings since 2002.

In 2007, Timm planned the first Urban Coyote Symposium and published papers from the symposium as a management guide. He also created the website CoyoteBytes.org to provide current, science-based management recommendations to wildlife managers and decisionmakers at the city, county and state levels who were dealing with urban coyote conflicts.

As director of the Hopland Research & Extension Center, he was instrumental in the design and construction of Rod Shippey Hall, an outreach and research facility that was completed in 2012. The late Rod Shippey was a UCCE advisor in Mendocino County.

Timm, as a graduate student in 1977, holds a coyote pup.
"What I've loved about being at Hopland is the opportunity to get to know a variety of people who have conducted field research, including campus-based faculty, students and CE advisors," said Timm. "These colleagues and friends are wonderfully diverse in their backgrounds, fields of study, interests and knowledge. It's an ideal situation for interdisciplinary brainstorming, sharing of techniques, and creating new approaches to answer important questions about the management of our resources. At this center, there are always interesting things happening."

Timm earned a B.S. in biology at the University of Redlands and master's and Ph.D. in ecology at UC Davis. He began his career at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, where he served for nine years as Cooperative Extension vertebrate pest specialist and assistant professor. In 1987, he returned to California to become the second administrator in the history of the “Hopland Field Station,” as it was then known. The late Al Murphy served as the center's first administrator from 1951 to 1986.

In retirement, Timm and his wife Janice plan to stay in Ukiah and spend more time gardening, fishing, traveling and attending Giants games. Timm, who has been granted emeritus status, also plans to finish several publications and continue participating in the Vertebrate Pest Council.

Posted on Wednesday, July 2, 2014 at 12:56 PM

Northern California farmers are helping hospitals practice what they preach

Farm Fresh Healthcare How-to Guide

Inspired by an uptick of diet-related diseases and emerging antibiotic-resistant microbes, doctors are overdue when they insist that hospitals practice their prescriptions for healthy diets and healthier agricultural practices. Anything less would be a violation of their ethic to “first, do no harm. 

However, transitioning hospital food service to what they would like their patients to eat has been a two-year struggle. Many institutions do not systematically provide higher budgets for food procurement just because their doctors insist. Organic or antibiotic-free foods are consistently more costly and seldom available in the form that foodservice facilities have grown dependent on: prewashed, precut and preportioned.

Nonetheless, lessons have been learned and six hospitals in the San Francisco Bay Area are sharing those in a How-To Guide based on two years of collaboration through the Farm Fresh Healthcare Project (FFHP). The guide describes how the hospitals were able to purchase almost 67,000 pounds of local produce from 10 family farmers who practice sustainable agriculture.

The guide features a photo of Capay Organic mandarins arriving at UCSF. The other hospitals in the project are John Muir Health, San Francisco VA Medical Center and Washington. (Stanford recently joined.)

Participating farms also include Coke, Durst Organic Growers, Las Hermanas, GreenSolar, Greene & Hemly, Dwelley, Zuckerman's, Casteneda Brothers, and Gowan Orchards. 

The project and the guide is the result of a collaboration between Community Alliance with Family Farmers, Health Care Without Harm, and San Francisco Bay Area Physicians for Social Responsibility.

 

Posted on Wednesday, June 25, 2014 at 7:12 AM
Tags: farm (1), local (1), organic (6)

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