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Scientists complete eventful fisher monitoring season

The UC Berkeley Sierra Nevada Adaptive Management Project (SNAMP) Fisher Team has just finished closely monitoring reproductive-age female Pacific fishers living in the Sierra National Forest near Bass Lake for the spring 2011 denning season.  Each year the denning season for fishers starts around late March and ends in mid June.

Female fisher F01 about to squeeze into the opening for a den cavity inside a black oak tree. The cavity opening is about 25 feet up the tree.

The fact that one of the study's radio-collared female fishers moved her kit from a natal den tree (where the kits were born) in the Sierra National Forest to a maternal den tree in the Mariposa Grove area of Yosemite National Park was a highlight. The event was significant for the park service because it represents the first known fisher den tree location in Yosemite National Park. The National Park Service produced a news release detailing the story.

The Fisher Team also hosted a visit to the project area by a reporter and photographer from the Fresno Bee, which resulted in positive coverage in that newspaper and in the Sacramento Bee.

Below are images captured by den tree cameras this spring. The images illustrate the types of photographic evidence the SNAMP Fisher Science Team uses to document natal and maternal den trees being used by fishers.

Fisher leaving a den tree (the oak in the background) to forage.

Fisher climbing down her maternal den tree.

One of the projects key goals during the denning season is to estimate the typical number of kits that adult females produce each year. One way to do this is by climbing the den tree while the mother fisher is out foraging, and then lowering a specialized camera down into the den cavity. Below is an edited portion of the video footage recorded from inside the den cavity of female fisher F07. The one-minute clip shows two fully furred fisher kits snuggled up together inside the F07 den tree cavity.

Unfortunately, the 2011 denning season was not without life/death drama for the population. Last year two denning females were killed, leaving five orphan kits  behind. The Fisher Team rescued and later released the orphan kits into the wild. This year it was looking like there would not be any denning females killed during den season, up until Saturday, June 4, just two weeks before the typical end of den tree use.

On that day the researchers found the predator-killed carcass of adult female F28 about 150 yards from her den tree. After last year's orphan rescue, the California Department of Fish and Game (DFG) worked with a group of wildlife researchers (including the SNAMP Fisher Team) and agency stakeholders to develop an official policy to help guide researchers on how to deal with orphan kit situations.

In keeping with this new policy, the SNAMP Fisher Team carefully considered the characteristics of the den tree structure (a rotting white fir snag), consulted with DFG, and reached the difficult decision not to attempt to rescue the one or two orphan fishers in the den tree. Attempting to climb the tree would have been dangerous and overly risky for the SNAMP Fisher Team crew. Therefore, in this specific case, nature was left to take its course; F28’s fisher kits perished in a den cavity somewhere near the top of the white fir snag.

The SNAMP Fisher Team is currently preparing information on a wide variety of preliminary results and findings from the ongoing research, which will be reviewed during the SNAMP Fisher IT Meeting in Fresno on July 19. More analytical details from the spring 2011 denning season will be presented at that venue.

The SNAMP Fisher Study is funded by the USDA Forest Service. The agency also provides an airplane and full-time pilot to assist in locating radio-collared fishers living in remote parts of the forest. The image below is a logo for the SNAMP Fisher Project affixed to the tail section of the Cessna 185 airplane used to track fishers by aerial radiotelemetry.

SNAMP logo on the Cessna 185 Tail
SNAMP logo on the Cessna 185 Tail

Posted on Wednesday, June 15, 2011 at 8:11 AM
  • Author: Rick Sweitzer

These bees 'cut it'

We're in the midst of a housing crisis, so why not build a 30-unit, high-rise condo in your yard?

No, not for people--for native bees.

We just installed a bee condo for leafcutting bees (Megachile spp.), on a five-foot high pole overlooking catmint, lavender and salvia.  The "housing development" is actually a wooden board drilled with small holes to accommodate our tiny tenants. Comfy and convenient. Rooms with a view. No housing permits or EIR required. Rent-free, mortgage-free.

Leafcutting bees, aka leafcutter bees, are about the size of a honey bee but darker, with the characteristic light-banded abdomens. They are important pollinators.

Why are they called leafcutter bees? Because the females cut leaf fragments to construct their nests to raise their brood. In nature, they build their nests in soft, rotted wood or in the pithy stems of such plants as roses, raspberries, sumac and elderberry. 

Unlike honey bees, which are social, the leafcutting bee is a solitary nesting bee.  She provisions her leaf-lined nest with nectar and pollen, lays an egg, and seals the cell before leaving.

Commercially made bee condos are available at beekeeping supply stores or on the Internet. You can make or buy a board with different sized-holes so other native bees, such as blue orchard bees, aka mason bees, receive a "home, sweet home," too, and deliver pollinator services.

And enable you to tell your family and friends that you're a "bee landlord" or beekeeper.

The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation offers tips on building bee condos on its website and in its publications, including Farming for Bees: Guidelines for Providing Native Bee Habitat on Farms.

If you don't want bee boards housing your tenants, you can provide straws or hollow bamboo stems.

At the UC Davis Department of Entomology, doctoral candidate Emily Bzdyk is doing research on leafcutter bees. "Basically I'm doing a revision of the subgenus Litomegachile, part of the large genus Megachile, which includes leafcutter and resin bees," she said. "They are native to North America. My goals are to find out how many and what the species are in Litomegachile, and find out as much as I can about their biology, or how they make a living."

"I also want to identify clearly what the boundaries between the species are, or how to tell them apart from one another," said Bzdyk, whose major professor is Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology. "Litomegachile are very common and hard-to-identify to species, and I feel they deserve attention."

Bzdyk noted that some Megachile are used in commercial alfalfa production. The alfalfa leafcutter bee, native to Europe, is used for commercial pollination of alfalfa, she said. "The Litomegachile is probably very closely related."  

The alfalfa growers erect giant bee condos in their fields to draw bees to their plants.

With home gardeners, the effect is the same.

If you build them, they will come.

Leafcutting bees, aka leafcutter bees (genus Megachile) head toward a bee condo built for these and other pollinators. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Leafcutting bees, aka leafcutter bees (genus Megachile) head toward a bee condo built for these and other pollinators. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Leafcutting bees, aka leafcutter bees (genus Megachile) head toward a bee condo built for these and other pollinators. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Home sweet home: Oblivious to ants, a leafcutter bee heads for home. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Home sweet home: Oblivious to ants, a leafcutter bee heads for home. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Home sweet home: Oblivious to ants, a leafcutter bee heads for home. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Male leafcutter bee (genus Megachile) sips nectar from a rock purslane. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Male leafcutter bee (genus Megachile) sips nectar from a rock purslane. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Male leafcutter bee (genus Megachile) sips nectar from a rock purslane. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Wednesday, June 8, 2011 at 9:41 AM

Forest Biology Research Center opens at UC Davis

A Forest Biology Research Center has been created at UC Davis, bringing good news for students, researchers, and all of us who like to breathe clean air.

“Trees are as important as agriculture to the landscape of California and the world,” says UC Davis Department of Plant Sciences Professor David Neale, a forest geneticist and the driving force behind the new center. “Creation of the center culminates the work of many people over many years to bring a visible presence to forest biology research and education on the UC Davis campus.”

UC Davis is a prime location for forest biology research and education because of its proximity to the Sierra Nevada and coastal mountain forest ecosystems and its extensive faculty expertise in all aspects of forest biology, says UC Davis Plant Ecology Professor Mark Schwartz, director of the John Muir Institute for the Environment (JMIE) where the new center is located.

“The creation of this forest-focused center is both an affirmation of what UC Davis has been doing really well for a long time, and a big step forward in JMIE’s efforts to rally faculty expertise around the central environmental issues facing California and the world”, Schwartz says. “As California joins Europe in adopting carbon standards, developing a better understanding of the role of forests in carbon sequestration has become a priority for environmental organizations.”

The new center will also provide a framework for the cross-disciplinary work so central to forest biology.

“Forest biology draws from many of the core biological sciences such as genetics, ecology, plant pathology, entomology, plant biology, and geography,” Neale explains. “Before this framework was in place, graduate students could study genetics with me, for example, but they couldn’t really go broader into other areas of forest biology. Now when they come to UC Davis to do graduate work in, say, ecology, they will also have access to interdisciplinary work in forest biology.”

The Forest Biology Research Center is working to develop a certificate program in forest biology that can be awarded along with a degree from an existing graduate program.

At the Forest Biology Research Center website, you can learn more about the 24 UC Davis faculty and affiliated members of the US Forest Service who founded the center. They look forward to working with others to help develop forest biology research and education at UC Davis.

In addition to Neale and Schwartz, the executive committee includes UC Davis Plant Pathology Professor Dave Rizzo, UC Davis Plant Biology Professor Alison Berry, and Research Ecologist Malcolm North with the UC Davis Department of Plant Sciences.

Posted on Wednesday, June 1, 2011 at 10:46 AM
  • Posted By: John Stumbos
  • Written by: Diane Nelson,, (530) 752-1969

California's climate-change law: Behind the scenes

Read the bill. That was the first policy lesson that Linda Adams, Secretary of the California Environmental Protection Agency, brought to the newly minted Ph.D.’s at the Graduate Research Symposium of UC Berkeley’s Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management (ESPM) earlier this month, where she delivered the keynote address.

The bill Adams was referring to was AB 32, the landmark Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, on which she was the lead negotiator. She told a harrowing tale of the legislative pipeline.

“When Governor Schwarzenegger appointed me in 2006… I was just vaguely aware of AB 32, which was actually very close to his desk,” Adams said. “Being a good former legislative staffer, the first thing I did was read the bill. And much to my horror, what the governor wanted — a market-based approach to reducing emissions — was not only not in the bill but actually prohibited.”

Adams’ discovery resulted in a fight for a comprehensive approach to reducing emissions that California businesses would support, including a cap-and-trade program and complementary measures such as low-emissions vehicles, renewable energy, and increased energy efficiency. The bill that ultimately passed was the nation’s first major climate-change legislation, and was what the California Air Resources Board refers to as the “first-in-the-world comprehensive program of regulatory and market mechanisms to achieve real, quantifiable, cost-effective reductions of greenhouse gases.”

Her achievements resonated with the audience; environment and climate-change related work is the one common thread among the diverse lines of scientific inquiry pursued at ESPM. Research presented by the graduating Ph.D. students included modeling the impact of climate change on a Bay Area redwood forest, studying changes bird populations in the Sierrra Nevada, analyzing the politics of chemical monitoring, and studying the growth of eco-labels and sustainability ratings—so-called “green” products and services.

Putting the science in government

This broad spectrum of inquiry meshed well with the key theme of Adam’s talk: Science matters.

“Every policy regulation we make here at Cal EPA is based on science,” Adams said. “We rely on our experts when developing policies and… we depend on the accuracy, the timeliness, the relevance, and the needed answers they can supply,” she said.

To the delight of a room filled with fresh job-seeking Ph.D.'s, Adams said that Cal EPA employs hundreds of scientists in various areas of expertise.

What do they do? As an example, Adams cited an agency-wide investigation into a spike in birth defects in the small town of Kettleman City.

“It involved scientists from each department looking into potential links to water, soil, air, and/or pesticide pollution,” she said. “The Department of Pesticide Regulation provided models of pesticide activity in the formative months of pregnancy; the Air Resources Board (ARB) monitored the air in the area; the Water Board tested the tap water and canal for arsenic and other pollutants; and the Department of Toxic Substances Control tested the soil for contamination.

The role of forests

The new world of AB 32 will generate the need for new areas of scientific expertise at Cal EPA. In additional to a full spectrum of chemical and environmental monitoring, there will be growing demand for forestry and reforestation knowledge.

In the legislative negotiations, businesses asked for, and won, the market-based cap-and trade-program. They were not so keen on the “cap” part, according to Adams, but the “trade” part gave them the ability to purchase offsets. This means that not all their reductions have to come at their factory or refinery location; a limited portion can from areas outside their actual area of operation.

That translates to forests. Of the four offset protocols adopted by the ARB, two were forestry protocols: one for urban forestry and one for U.S. forest reforestation and forest management projects.

“We already have over 100 forestation and forest management projects submitted for approval as offsets all over the United States,” Adams said. Cal EPA is also exploring the international market for carbon reduction, through cutting-edge pilot forest redevelopment programs in Chiapas, Mexico, and Acre, Brazil.

Calling to account

As the state begins to implement AB 32 and build a national and international accounting framework, Adams said science will be especially important.

“We need to ensure that all reductions achieved are real, permanent, quantifiable, verifiable, and enforceable, and we rely on the science to provide reduction and emission calculation methods, to identify procedures for project monitoring, reporting parameters, and verification,” she said. “We need the scientific backing to reinforce the policy outcomes we seek, and the research to determine if those sought-after outcomes are possible.… It’s all one continuous cycle.”

In addition to the keynote address, the May 6 Berkeley symposium, dubbed “Gradfest,” also had 15 research presentations, two poster sessions, and a career panel and to help usher ESPM graduates into the various professional arenas of academia, government, nonprofit, and the private sector.

Pictured above, left to right: Alex Harmon-Threatt, Graham Bullock, Mike Wasserman, Secretary Linda S. Adams, Pauline Kamath, Morgan Tingley, and Ben Ramage

Posted on Wednesday, May 25, 2011 at 4:38 PM
  • Author: Ann Brody Guy

Volunteer weather observation helps scientists track storms

Sponsored in part by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network (CoCoRaHS) is a grassroots volunteer network of backyard weather observers.

With a presence in every state in the country, volunteers from all backgrounds work together to measure and map precipitation (rain, hail and snow) in their local communities. The data is used to help scientists across the country measure and track this very important and highly variable part of the climate system. By having thousands of volunteers nationwide providing precipitation data, scientists can track each storm system as it passes across the country and see how precipitation systems vary geographically, seasonally and inter-annually.

Many additional volunteers are needed to provide data for this long-term effort. CoCoRaHS provides training, education and an interactive website to which data is uploaded. It takes about five minutes a day to observe and upload data.

Volunteers can participate as much or as little as they wish. Individuals, groups and schools are welcome to participate. Currently volunteers range from kindergarteners to people in their 90s.

In addition to data collection, CoCoRaHS has many other opportunities for volunteers to become involved in this exciting project – locally, statewide and nationally.

To learn more or to sign up, please visit the CoCoRaHS website.

For additional questions, contact Nolan Doesken at the State Climatologist Colorado Climate Center, Department of Atmospheric Science, Colorado State University Fort Collins, CO 80523.  He can be reached by email at or by phone 970.491.3690.


CoCoRaHS Volunteers with gauges. Photo from CoCoRaHS' website.


Posted on Wednesday, May 18, 2011 at 9:00 AM
  • Author: Chris M. Webb

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