California is searching for solutions to the wildfire crisis. Livestock ranchers believe they can help.
At the 14th Annual Rangeland Summit in Stockton in January, more than 150 ranchers, public land managers and representatives of non-profit organizations that work on land conservation gathered to share research and experiences that outline the value of cattle and sheep grazing on rangeland.
Since California was settled by Europeans, cattle and sheep have been an integral part of the state's history.
“Cattle can control brush,” said Lynn Huntsinger, UC Cooperative Extension specialist at UC Berkeley in a presentation on brush management. She discussed research she conducted in the early 1980s to understand the role of cattle in Sierra Nevada brush control.
“We need to make livestock into firefighters,” she said. “Constant, deliberate, targeted grazing is needed for fire management.”
However, thick, overgrown brush requires intensive treatment that cattle can't handle on their own.
“You have to start from a good place,” Huntsinger said. “Start early, such as post fire. Plan when you have a blank slate for the forest you want.”
The tragic loss of homes and lives to wildfire in the last few years has increased the public demand for answers and action. However, the reasons for greater frequency and intensity of wildfire are not well understood.
“Is it climate change? Past decisions? Land use? What can we do about it?” asked UC Cooperative Extension specialist Van Butsic. “Research.”
At the summit, Butsic presented the results of his recent research to determine whether ownership has an impact upon whether land will burn. He and his colleagues studied the burn histories of forest and rangeland areas that were matched with the same characteristics, except in ownership.
“We controlled for all factors – slope, elevation, the likelihood of ignition,” he said. “We found that on forest and rangeland, federal ownership led to .3 percent higher fire probability. Ownership is dwarfing the impact of climate change.”
There is still much more research to be done.
“We can't say the impact of grazed vs. ungrazed land,” Butsic said. “We also need to look at fire severity as well as fire frequency.”
The UC Cooperative Extension advisor in Modoc County, Laura Snell, shared preliminary results at the rangeland summit that provide information for landowners making decisions about returning livestock to burned areas.
She and a team of colleagues studied the fire history of U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management rangeland in Lassen and Modoc counties where fires had burned through 5, 10 and 15 years before. The dataset included information about whether the land was “rested” for two years after the fire, or whether livestock were returned to graze soon after the blaze.
The scientists set out to determine whether fire intensity and climate at the site (measured by soil temperature and moisture) had an impact on the future diversity of plant species and growth of cheat grass, an invasive species that animals don't like.
“No matter what we did, graze or not graze, after 15 years, the species richness stayed the same,” Snell said. “Grazing was not the driving factor.”
The results are also important in terms of fuels accumulation and the prevention of future wildfires.
“Federal land managers have typically used a policy to rest the land for two years after a fire. During the interval, the fuels sometimes burn again and livestock producers have to wait another two years,” Snell said. “Our research showed you don't necessarily need to rest the land after the fire.”
Two ranchers who were recently impacted by wildfire presented their experiences and perspectives during the rangeland summit.
Mike Williams of Diamond W Cattle Company had livestock on 6,500 acres of leased land in Ventura County when the Thomas Fire ignited on Dec. 4, 2017. Over more than a month, the fire burned 281,893 acres and consumed 1,000 structures.
Williams had stockpiled feed on certain pastures by limiting grazing, which during the fire turned into hazardous fuel.
Adam Cline, rangeland manager for the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation Preserve in the Capay Valley, had a similar experience when the County Fire burned more than 90,000 acres in western Yolo and eastern Napa counties in June and July 2018. To reserve feed for later, Cline had left 2,500 pounds per acre of residual dry matter on grazing land as a drought mitigation strategy. He said he plans to reconsider this grazing plan.
“Now, cattle feed looks like a lot of fuel,” he said.
My name is Valentina Evans, and I am a new volunteer at the UC Hopland Research and Extension Center. My partners Benjamin Evans, and Zane Petersen have chosen to volunteer with me at the HREC for our senior project at Ukiah High School. A few weeks ago on the twenty-first of December we volunteered to help two researchers, Paulo who studied at UC Santa Cruz, and Wyath, who is still studying at Humboldt State University, to plant acorns from different ecosystems, and analyze how they will adapt to conditions with more water, less water, more sunlight or a lack of sunlight. This study is part of Dr. Blair McLaughin's study from the Zavaleta Lab at UC Santa Cruz.
We started off by digging holes about 1 foot deep and laying a thin square piece of chicken wire at the bottom of the holes to prevent gophers from entering and eating the acorns. We then took a circular strip of chicken wire and placed it on top of the flattened piece at the bottom. With the second strip of chicken wire standing horizontal, we continued by covering the holes with the same dirt we originally dug out. Now with the metal secured in place, Paulo came around and gently placed the acorns inside of the holes. The hands-on experience was extremely fascinating, not to mention peaceful. The view at the top of the hill was breathtaking, and the weather was just perfect. The entire process was tiring, but having had the opportunity to participate in a lab/research project made the whole experience worth it.
Although the project will not produce any data until the acorns sprout, the idea behind the project is captivating. Paulo and Wyath are studying the growth of oak trees from all sorts of climates, locations, and ecosystems. Some of the acorns are from northern California and others from way down in southern California. They will be monitoring the water levels, and amount of sunlight the oak trees will receive, all in hopes to see how the oak trees will adapt to different changes in their environments. Seeing as how I want to major in Biological Sciences in college, this experience was exceptionally informative for me and has taught me how critical patience, effort and time are in order to successfully accomplish a lab and receive the most accurate facts. I am very grateful to have been able to participate in this ongoing project and am looking forward to continuing to be a part of the younger generation who can benefit from having the Hopland Research and Extension Center available to us, to further our knowledge about the environment.
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Have you ever been on a walk and observed an interesting plant you couldn't identify? Encountered an unusual insect trapped in your home? Have you wondered why you used to see certain species in nature and you don't now? Or have you thought it might be neat to compile a species list for a special place, like a favorite park or your own backyard? All California Naturalists already know that there's an app (and website) for all that!
What is iNaturalist?
The free iNaturalist app is an online social network of people sharing biodiversity information to help each other learn about nature. Available for android, iPhone, and by a website, iNaturalist is a joint initiative by the California Academy of Sciences and the National Geographic Society that allows users to upload one or more pictures, provide a location, and make relevant notes like whether the subject is captivate or wild.
In response, the artificial intelligence in the app suggests what the species might be based on visual similarity and whether the species has been observed nearby. Members and organizations can set up projects and download data within defined taxa or locations to follow presence and absence, abundance, seasonality and change over time.
Verified observations are sent to the Global Biodiversity Information Facility, an international network and research infrastructure funded by the world's governments and aimed at providing anyone, anywhere, open access to data about all types of life on earth. Valuable open-source data is available to aid scientific research, government and conservation organizations, and the interested public. Nearly instant gratification for species ID combined with the ability of members to contribute to a greater good whenever they venture outdoors are huge motivators for much of the existing iNaturalist community, which currently exceeds one million users and 14 million observations.
iNaturalist observations and the upcoming City Nature Challenge
One of the biggest BioBlitzes naturalists and others can participate in is the annual City Nature Challenge. The City Nature Challenge — essentially a four-day global urban bioblitz — began in 2016 as a friendly nature-observation competition between the San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles County, organized around a simple charge: “which city can find the most nature?” Participants use the iNaturalist app to photograph, catalog, identify and organize observations of wildlife in their areas. The city with the highest number of observations wins. Since the first challenge, the competition has expanded rapidly, and this year more than 150 cities will participate worldwide.
How does it work?
The City Nature Challenge takes place April 26-29, 2019. During this window, anyone can contribute observations via iNaturalist. There will are also be a variety of events organized to help cities win the challenge. Cities are competing against each other to see which city can make the most observations of nature, find the most species, and engage the most people. At the end of the observation window on April 29, other events will be held to help participants identify and complete their observations in iNaturalist.
How can we participate in 2019?
The UC Agriculture and Natural Resources' California Naturalist program is teaming up with the UC Davis School of Education's Center for Community and Citizen Science, UC Davis Evolution and Ecology Department, and other partners in the region to put the Sacramento region in the competition for the first time. Stay updated and learn more information about how to join the fun on the Sacramento City Nature Challenge website as we add events. Experienced and beginner naturalists alike are invited to attend these events.
For those outside of the Sacramento region, participate in the Natural History Museum of LA County's Los Angeles County City Nature Challenge, San Diego Natural History Museum's San Diego County City Nature Challenge, and the California Academy of Sciences' San Francisco Bay Area City Nature Challenge. All you have to do is log in to your account and join the project. Any observations uploaded from within the project boundaries from April 26-29 are automatically contributed to the challenge.
Last year, 6 percent of the nearly 7 billion total observations uploaded to iNaturalist were contributed during the City Nature Challenge, making the challenge the single-most uploaded period of 2018. With the City Nature Challenge growing internationally in 2019, even more observations will be added in the hopes of getting more people outside, engaging with the natural spaces within urban environments, spending time with fellow nature enthusiasts and community organizations, and learning and contributing to science.
Season-long weed control in orchard crops with sequential herbicide programs in California orchard crops
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