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The City Nature Challenge: A win for science and nature

All of our certified California Naturalists know how to use iNaturalist. Since uploading at least one observation is part of the course requirements, the City Nature Challenge was the perfect opportunity for Naturalists to reconnect with each other, offer their skills to their city's efforts, and contribute to a global scientific database.

The 4th annual City Nature Challenge was a huge success around the world. Together with the 159 cities that participated, we uploaded almost one million observations of biodiversity to iNaturalist in just 4 days. More than 35,000 people took part across the globe, and over 31,000 species were documented, including more than 1,100 rare, endangered, or threatened species.

This was also the biggest week for observations recorded in iNaturalist history, as demonstrated in the graph below.

With the San Francisco Bay Area, Los Angeles County, and San Diego County organizers publicizing the Challenge for their cities and working to highlight events, we wanted a chance for our Sacramento Region Naturalists to join the fun, too. Beginning in September of 2018, we co-organized for the Sacramento Region with Ryan Meyer and Julianna Yee from the UC Davis School of Education's Center for Community and Citizen Science, our UC Davis Evolution and Ecology California Naturalist instructor Laci Gerhart-Barley, and environmental educator Chelle Temple-King.

Douglas Iris from Certified California Naturalist Bruce Hartsough.
The California Naturalist program wants to recognize the contributions of our Naturalists to their city's final counts. We know many of you were out there at bioblitzes or in your backyards taking photos all weekend, and celebrate all that you contributed to science and nature. Congratulations on your achievements both large and small! We want to take a moment to highlight a few of our certified Naturalists, instructors, and partners for their involvement this year:

  • Partners that held Bioblitzes outside of city boundaries over the weekend: Hopland Research & Extension Center, UC Santa Cruz Arboretum
  • Sacramento Region CalNat partners: Many thanks to American River Conservancy, Yolo Basin Foundation, Effie Yeaw Nature Center, and UC Davis' Wild Davis for organizing Bioblitzes as first year guinea pigs
  • Bay Area CalNat partners: thanks to Sonoma Ecology Center for a Bioblitz and Grassroots Ecology for contributing observations during their class field trip
  • Certified California Naturalist Cedric Lee as the number one observer for Los Angeles County!
  • Certified California Naturalist and Tuleyome instructor Mary Hanson came in 5th for the Sacramento Region; UC Davis' Wild Davis instructor Laci Gerhart-Barley and 3 current CalNat students came in the top 10
  • Certified California Naturalist Millie Basden came in 8th for San Diego County
  • Certified California Naturalist Amy Jaecker-Jones is a co-organizer for the international City Nature Challenge through the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County

Despite the final results, the real winner of the City Nature Challenge is science and nature. A database holding a greater number of research-grade observations to draw from allows scientists to further study our natural world. You can take a look at publications that have used data from iNaturalist to see just where our contributions are going. And of course, the more people who get outside during the Challenge, the more people engage with the nature around them. Everybody wins!

California Sister butterfly from Certified California Naturalist Kim Moore

Highlights of San Francisco Bay Area City Nature Challenge 2019:

  • 1st place for number of observers with 1,947 (This includes more than 550 observers who were new to iNaturalist)
  • 1st place for number of identifiers with 813
  • 4th place for number of observations with 38,028
  • 5th place for number of species found at 3,183
  • Participants submitted anywhere from 1 to 698 observations
  • Most observed species: California poppy (Eschscholzia californica)

 

Western Kingbird from California Naturalist Academic Coordinator Greg Ira

Highlights of Los Angeles County City Nature Challenge 2019:

  • Los Angeles had the greatest increase in number of observations over last year: increase of 14,702 observations!
  • Los Angeles had the greatest increase in number of people observing over last year: increase of 700 people!
  • Over 1/3 of our observers were new to iNaturalist in the two weeks before CNC began

Highlights of Sacramento Region City Nature Challenge 2019:

  • Overall, Sacramento came in 30th out of 159 participating cities
  • Of 27 the other participating cities with a population of 2,500,000-5,000,000, Sacramento came in 9th
  • In all of 2019 leading up to the Challenge, post-Challenge our region was able to increase the number of observations by 7.8% (9832 observations), species by 2% (124 species), and observers by 3.5% (233 observers).
  • Sacramento came in 5th for the number of total observers for a region > 20,000 km2
  • For all the observations we collected in the Sacramento region, 57% ID'd to species became research grade (or useable for scientific quality data).
Posted on Thursday, May 16, 2019 at 8:49 AM
Focus Area Tags: Natural Resources

New video series to spark interest in vegetable production of the future

A 26-episode weekly video series will debut May 13 on YouTube to help train the next generation of vegetable crop workers and increase their use of effective stewardship practices in vegetable production.

Projections for near-future retirements of people working in California's agricultural production, marketing and post-harvest handling sectors indicate severe re-staffing needs in the coming years. Technological advances have reduced manual labor in agriculture, but increased the need for skilled labor to maintain the sustainability of the vegetable industry.

“We already see it happening,” said Jeff Mitchell, UC Cooperative Extension vegetable crops specialist. “Robotic machines are now used for lettuce thinning in Salinas, but these technologies must be serviced by an educated workforce with knowledge in both mechanics and science.”

The first video in the series focuses on urban farming, and the myriad social, economic, ecological, recreational, therapeutic and nutritional benefits of urban agriculture.

Mitchell assembled a team of professors from California's public universities with agricultural programs – UC Davis, Chico State, Fresno State and CalPoly San Luis Obispo - to pull together a series of videos designed to spark the interest and begin training future farmers and ag workers in sound agronomic, economic and environmental stewardship skills. The team received financial support from the California Department of Food and Agriculture Specialty Crops Block Grant Program.

“We know that maintaining California's leading role in producing abundant, safe vegetables is critical not only to Americans' health, but also to the state's economy,” Mitchell said.

The video series is offered on the UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) YouTube page on a playlist titled “Training of a New Generation of California Vegetable Producers.” UC ANR is the outreach arm of the University of California which, among other services, provides agricultural research, teaching and advising in all California counties.

Each Monday morning from May 13 through Nov. 4, a new video will premiere in the playlist. The video length ranges from 47 minutes to 7 minutes. The videos will also be made available to high school and college ag professors to use in the classroom.

“We believe that this series of videos on vegetable production will have broad interest beyond the classrooms,” Mitchell said. “The agricultural industry, students in other parts of the United States and the world, and the broader public all have an interest in understanding how the vegetables we eat are produced at the ever-increasing scale at which they are needed.”

The videos depict state-of-the-art technologies and techniques that are in use in many production regions of California today, vegetable farming systems used in other parts of the world, and increasingly popular cottage farming systems that are popping up in urban areas for easy access to healthful foods.

To receive a notification of each video premiere, follow the UC ANR Twitter feed at http://twitter.com/UCANR or set a reminder by visiting the playlist on YouTube.

UC Cooperative Extension vegetable crops specialist Jeff Mitchell shoots video for the vegetable production series.
Posted on Thursday, May 9, 2019 at 9:34 AM
Tags: Jeff Mitchell (18), Vegetables (4)
Focus Area Tags: Agriculture

Birds are beneficial too!

Across the globe, scientists have shown that birds can be farmer allies. Insectivorous birds feed on damaging insect pests in many crops including coffee, cacao, oil palm, corn, cabbage and apples. Raptors, including hawks and barn owls, feed on rodents, including gophers, voles and mice (see blog, Barn owls help clean up rodents naturally).

Despite this deep historic knowledge that birds are important predators of crop pests, over time the perception of birds as natural enemies of pests has been generally replaced with the idea that birds are often major crop pests themselves. Indeed, some bird species — like some types of insects — can cause trouble for farmers, but many others — especially those that eat insects and rodents — can be beneficial.

Western bluebird eating a caterpillar pest. Image by Glen Bartley/VIREO.
Western bluebird eating a caterpillar pest. (Photo: Glenn Bartley/VIREO)

 

Do birds control insect pests on farms in California's Central Valley?

They do! Recent studies by Dr. Sacha Heath, UC Davis, and Rachael Long, field crops and pest management advisor, UC Cooperative Extension, showed that birds help control insect pests in walnut orchards. Dr. Sara Kross (UC Davis postdoctoral alumnus, now with Columbia University) showed that birds help control alfalfa insect pests.

Birds are voracious predators of codling moth pests in walnuts

Codling moth is a major worm-like pest that infests walnuts, apples and pears. The larvae go dormant during winter, living in cocoons in crevices in trees. Adult moths emerge in the spring, lay eggs and infest crops.

 

Codling moth larva feeding on walnuts. During winter, the larvae form cocoons and live the bark of trees.
Codling moth larva feeding on walnuts. During winter, the larvae form cocoons under bark flakes and in crevices of orchard trees.
 

We evaluated bird predation of codling moth using “sentinel prey” and exclosure cages. We glued codling moth cocoons to walnut trunks and covered them with cages, allowing insects and spiders to access the cocoons, but not bird predators. This allowed us to count how many larvae were eaten inside and outside of the cages to estimate pest reduction by birds.

 

Codling moth larva cocoon in a cage, excluding birds. Image by Sacha Heath.
Codling moth larva cocoon in a cage, excluding birds. (Photo: Sacha Heath)

 

Codling moth larva cocoon outside a cage, eyed by a northern flicker, a predator of codling moth pests. Video still by Sacha Heath.
Codling moth larva cocoon outside a cage, eyed by a northern flicker, a predator of codling moth pests. (Video still: Sacha Heath)

 

What did we find?

Natural enemies, like parasitic wasps and lacewings, alone reduced codling moth larval numbers by 11%; adding birds into the pest control system reduced them by 46%! Nuttall's woodpeckers and white-breasted nuthatches did a lot of the work; these birds travel up and down the trunks of trees, searching for insects.

Above, a white-breasted nuthatch preys on a codling moth larva “sentinel cocoon” on a walnut tree. Video by Sacha Heath.

 

Alfalfa weevils are no match for insectivorous birds

Alfalfa weevils are key pests of alfalfa, reducing yields and hay quality if left uncontrolled. Dr. Sara Kross looked at bird predation of this pest by excluding birds from alfalfa plants via cages, and counting the number of weevils inside and outside the cages. She found that birds reduced the number of weevils by more than 30%, showing their importance in helping to protect alfalfa from this serious pest.

 

Bird exclusion cages were used to show that birds feed on alfalfa weevils, helping to protect alfalfa from this key insect pest. Image by Sara Kross, Yolo County alfalfa field.
Bird exclusion cages were used in a Yolo County alfalfa field to show that birds feed on alfalfa weevils, helping to protect alfalfa from this key insect pest. (Photo: Sara Kross)

 

Does field edge habitat, like hedgerows, help attract beneficial birds?

Yes! Hedgerows are important habitat for beneficial birds, serving as nesting, foraging and roosting sites. In a study in the Sacramento Valley, crop margins with hedgerows, tree lines and riparian buffers harbored up to six times more birds and up to three times more bird species than bare or weedy margins.

Walnut orchards adjacent to hedgerows and riparian areas had higher numbers of beneficial birds along with more species. In alfalfa, there were more beneficial birds in fields when at least two tall trees were present along the field edges. More beneficial birds were associated with better pest control, that is, fewer codling moth cocoons and alfalfa weevils.

 

A native plant woody hedgerow in Yolo County, California. Image by Sacha Heath.
A native plant woody hedgerow in Yolo County, California. (Photo: Sacha Heath)
 

Birds have large territories, fly long distances, and are influenced by what happens on the farm as well as by what happens in the landscape around the farm. For example, we found that codling moth predation by birds greatly increased in walnut orchards as the amount of habitat in the landscape around the orchards increased (including hedgerows, tree lines, riparian and oak woodlands, and grasslands).

More habitat in agricultural landscapes (such as riparian habitat along Cache Creek, left) brought in more beneficial birds to farms compared to less habitat (right). Google Earth image.
More habitat in agricultural landscapes (such as riparian habitat along Cache Creek, left) brought in more beneficial birds to farms compared to less habitat (right). (Image: Google Earth)

 

Will hedgerows increase the numbers of pest birds?

Pest birds are present on farms regardless of field edge habitat (such as weedy vegetation or hedgerows). Cases will be different, depending on the crop, but in the fields and orchards of Yolo County, researcher Hillary White (formerly with UCCE and now with U.S. Fish and Wildlife) found that three of the most common avian crop pests (American crow, red-winged blackbird and Brewer's blackbird), were up to 10 times more abundant in agricultural fields with bare or weedy margins than in fields with hedgerows.

A red-winged blackbird in winter wheat, Yolo County, California. Image by Sacha Heath.
A red-winged blackbird in winter wheat, Yolo County, Calif. (Photo: Sacha Heath)

 

What can I do to attract beneficial birds to my farm?

Our avian research team has been quantifying the conditions under which birds are helpful or harmful to growers. We are looking for ways to help farmers create bird habitat on their farms to harness the beneficial pest control services birds can provide, while also protecting crops from the damaging effects of some bird species. This information is available in the new publication “Supporting Beneficial Birds and Managing Pest Birds,” co-authored by the Wild Farm Alliance and Drs. Kross and Heath, and technically advised by UC Cooperative Extension and several farmers. This is a user-friendly guide for farmers and conservation practitioners, with the goal of co-managing farmlands for biodiversity and farming.

A loggerhead shrike, an insect predator, perches on elderberry on a Sacramento Valley farm.  Image by Sacha Heath.
A loggerhead shrike, an insect predator, perches on elderberry on a Sacramento Valley farm. (Photo: Sacha Heath)

 

Dr. Sacha Heath received her PhD from UC Davis's Graduate Group in Ecology and will soon be starting a postdoctoral fellowship with the Living Earth Collaborative in St. Louis, Missouri.

A white-breasted nuthatch preys on a codling moth larva “sentinel cocoon” on a walnut tree. (Video still: Sacha Heath)
A white-breasted nuthatch preys on a codling moth larva “sentinel cocoon” on a walnut tree. (Video still: Sacha Heath)

A white-breasted nuthatch preys on a codling moth larva “sentinel cocoon” on a walnut tree. Video still by Sacha Heath.

Posted on Wednesday, April 24, 2019 at 8:37 AM
Tags: alfalfa (7), birds (1), hedgerows (5), IPM (18), orchards (1), Rachael Long (12), Sacha Heath (1), walnuts (3)

Education and research needed in battle against California wildfires

UC ANR vice president Glenda Humiston presented the keynote address, 'Moving Toward a Fire-Resilient California,' at the April Fire Summit. (Photo: Evett Kilmartin)
I'm trained in soil chemistry, what on earth could I get from a Fire Summit? If you get the right speakers together, you can learn a lot! UC ANR and the California Fire Science Consortium sponsored a Fire Summit in Redding in April for some 150 participants representing more than 50 organizations. The intent was to help California better understand the wildfire challenges and to identify actionable solutions. The ongoing and seemingly increasing number of wildfires across the state was the background for bringing people together. As one speaker said, “It's not a matter of if, but when” the next fires comes. We need to accept fire as a part of our system - just as we accept the potential (and take the necessary steps to counter) earthquakes. So how can we better live with fires?

Why are we in this situation? Multiple factors are involved. We suppressed wildfires in our forests for 100 years, and stopped using prescribed fire as a tool for ecosystem benefits and fuel reduction. Further, we have been experiencing hotter summers (so the window for burning is wider) and we've continued to build into wildfire-prone areas with home construction, lot layout and community planning that often are not up to the fire challenge. 

Is there hope? I present these as my take always, noting there is more detail to be seen at the UC ANR fire and other websites (e.g., CFSC). I was impressed by the three relatively clear battle grounds we need to attend to:

  1. Our homes: how we build, layout and landscape our homes
  2. Our communities: how we structure our neighborhoods and communities
  3. Our forests and beyond: how we manage (what I'll call) the forests and wildlands. Each has particular needs and opportunities

Tom Garcia, fire management officer with the Whiskeytown National Recreation Area, spoke at the UC ANR Fire Summit. (Photo: Evett Kilmartin)
There is no single simple solution. We need to integrate options, including firefighters, decreasing fuel loads, prescribed fires, better community layout, better home construction and appropriate landscaping. And perhaps the biggest need of all is the sharing of information! In this respect, much is known, but to be successful, will require a massive educational and extension effort supported by ongoing research. While many organizations have a role to play, we have to ensure that funding gets to the organizations best suited to play the roles needed. 

While the above focuses on prevention and management of fires, the Summit had good representation of the health sector, reminding us of the need to help humans, domestic animals and wildlife affected and traumatized by fire events.

The Summit was deemed by the participants themselves as very successful. Kudos to the many organizations who participated. There is momentum building with a genuine desire to work together to help the people of California. 

Want to learn more? Contact some of our experts, who served as the chairs of the Summit coordinating committee:

David Lile, Leader, Sustainable Natural Ecosystems Strategic Initiative, UC ANR

Lenya Quinn-Davidson, fire advisor, Cooperative Extension, Humboldt County, UC ANR

Yana Valachovic, forest advisor, Cooperative Extension, Humboldt and Del Norte County, UC ANR

Want more? See UC ANR fire

 

Some 150 participants representing more than 50 organizations took part in the 2019 Fire Summit. (Photo: Evett Kilmartin)
Posted on Wednesday, April 24, 2019 at 8:36 AM
  • Author: Mark Bell
Tags: wildfire (36)
Focus Area Tags: Environment

UC Cooperative Extension ramps up its climate change response

While scientific reports continue to mount confirming that global climate change is increasing temperatures, causing more frequent weather extremes and raising the sea level in California, UC Cooperative Extension is working to ensure the worst predictions are avoided and California residents and businesses will be able to adapt to the change.

Each year, a diverse group of UC Agriculture and Natural Resources academics and program implementation professionals meet to share and collect the latest climate change experiences, ideas, science and solutions. The team works with farmers across the state to improve production practices and minimize environmental impact, conduct agricultural and natural resources conservation research, and coordinate programs like California Naturalist and UC Master Gardener, which recruit and educate volunteers to reach out to communities statewide to extend research-based information.

A possible climate change outcome in California may be returning farmland to less-intensive uses, such as grazing.

Reaching real people

In 2019, extension practitioners explored new approaches to delivery of information and services. For example, the first speaker addressed the way climate change impacts may be viewed through the lens of African-American or First Nation experiences, influenced by poverty, historical trauma and even spirituality.

Theopia Jackson, clinical psychologist at Saybrook University in Oakland, encouraged the team to consider whether assisting Americans navigating the changing climate or suffering the consequences of extreme weather events have “the bandwidth to take in one more helping hand.” Jackson has a long history of providing therapy services, specializing in serving populations coping with chronic illness and complex trauma.

Jackson suggested helpers ask themselves, “Are we inadvertently causing more stress than good? Do I have a sense for what they are already dealing with before bringing something new into the community?”

Jackson said the conversation about climate change in many communities might be more productive focused less on whether climate change exists or not, and instead on how to “join with them around the human experience.”

“If I'm trying to ‘talk them into it,' I need to step back,” Jackson said. “The conversation could be about scarcity or lifestyle. We need to find a way to join and hope they will get it before we've done irreversible damage.”

The careful selection of terminology and approach in climate change conversations was also raised by Dan Sonke, director of sustainable agriculture for Campbell's Soup. The company's primary and best-known product is soup, but it owns other familiar brands, including Pepperidge Farms, Snyder Pretzels, Kettle Chips and Emerald Nuts.

In California, Sonke works closely with farmers producing fresh produce to be used in Campbell's products, particularly processing tomatoes. During his career, he also worked in Campbell's marketing, based on its “corporate purpose.”

“We make real food for real people,” says the Campbell's corporate purpose. “People love that our food fits their real lives, fuels their bodies, and feeds their souls. And they appreciate knowing what goes into our food, and why — so they can feel good about the choices they make, for themselves and their loved ones.”

Sonke was hired to increase the use of sustainable farming practices by the company's producers and help farmers apply for grant funding from the state to implement climate-smart irrigation practices. The company was able to track a 20 percent reduction in water use and document a significant reduction in the emission of nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas. The program is successful, but isn't driving their farmer communications or soup sales, Sonke said.

“Farmers don't think in terms of climate change, but they respond to what they know,” Sonke said. “Consumers don't respond to climate change adaptation in terms of what products they buy. They respect sustainability, but have no understanding of ‘sustainable agriculture' and ‘carbon sequestration.'”

More extreme weather events - such as heavy rain, flooding, cold snaps and heat waves - are expected due to climate change.

Growing UCCE climate mitigation, adaptation and resilience programs

UC ANR is working on new ways to reach out to farmers and the public with information on climate change. Six community education specialists have been hired and four more are being recruited to work in counties around the state to help farmers access programs that will help them reduce greenhouse gas emissions on farms and dairies, build resilience to climate change and increase profit.

The Climate-Smart Farming Program is a collaborative effort with the California Department of Food and Agriculture focused on implementing on-farm solutions to improve soil health, nutrient management, irrigation management, on-farm composting and manure management.

The CDFA programs involved are:

The new community education specialists are already deployed in Mendocino, Glenn, Yolo, Santa Cruz, Ventura and San Diego counties. The four positions under recruitment will serve Imperial, San Joaquin, Fresno and Kern counties. To get information about these programs, contact:

Climate stewards

To reach a broad swath of California residents with research-based information on climate change mitigation and adaptation, UC ANR's California Naturalist program is leveraging its well-established partnerships with formal and informal science education institutions across the state to create a legion of climate stewards. At the team meeting, CalNat coordinator Greg Ira announced that the California Naturalist program has hired an academic coordinator to develop curriculum that will allow existing partners to deliver the material as part of the California Naturalist program. The graduates of this California Naturalist course focused on climate change will be encouraged to engage in volunteer service that helps build community resilience to climate change. These include participation in local adaptation planning efforts, community and citizen science projects, or addressing issues of social justice. The coordinator begins Feb. 19.

Areas where peaches and cherries have flourished in the past may no longer provide adequate winter chilling due to climate change.

The future

Renata Brillinger of the California Climate Action Network shared optimistic thoughts about the opportunities for climate change mitigation, adaptation and resilience. In terms of politics, she said California leadership has accepted climate change as a settled matter and are supportive of programs to address the issue. At the federal level, it is not easy to talk about climate change, but “that will change,” she assured.

Brillinger said biodiversification of California is an exciting area for climate change adaptation. Research is needed to understand how to shift crop locations for future production, and determine where, for example, water-intensive crops or orchards with chill requirements should be grown. More information is needed, she said, on how healthy soil will relate to climate resilience in agriculture.

 “We have to reinvest in extension and Resource Conservation Districts,” Brillinger said.

Other possible climate change outcomes in California may be returning farmland to less-intensive uses, such as grazing. Fallowing land was one way that the agriculture industry coped with the drought of 2011-16, and implementation of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act – a direct result of the drought – is estimated to take 1 million acres of farmland out of production. This approach won't be a solution for all farmers and ranchers, said David Lile, UC Cooperative Extension natural resources advisor.

“Ranchers and farmers interested in long-term sustainability, keeping the farm in place, will need help to integrate competing forces,” Lile said. “Economics will not be the only driving force.”

Posted on Sunday, April 21, 2019 at 6:29 PM
Tags: Climate change (36)
Focus Area Tags: Agriculture Natural Resources

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