We were sampling plots in the Delta in July 2016, and found a small clump of this plant – pickerelweed (Pontederia cordata). Generally considered a desirable native wetland plant, it happens to fall in the same botanical family as the baddest of...
Since the inception of the California Naturalist program in 2012, we have been committed to embracing inclusion in all its forms and creating an open, diverse, and equitable community. It is embedded in our mission to foster a diverse community of naturalists and promote stewardship of California's natural resources through education and service. With 10 bioregions and over 39 million people, California is a diverse state naturally and culturally, and we are striving to provide greater access for underserved populations to this new statewide education and service program.
There are several ways in which we're addressing this critical work. One approach is identifying gaps in who we're reaching so we can prioritize filling those gaps. Using GIS to integrate environment, health and socioeconomic data from Cal Enviroscreen, the program prioritizes gaps in our geographic coverage and areas with the most disadvantaged communities.
To reach these communities we are working to expand partnerships with community colleges and organizations offering workforce development. California Naturalist certification can be integrated into a college course and to engage students embarking on their careers or those learning new skills for a change in career or work. For example, Pasadena City College offers certification as a part of their field biology class. Students gain valuable hands-on experiences, build their resume, and make connections to the wider naturalist community.
We also work with institutions that focus on training young underserved adults. For instance, Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority (MRCA) in Greater Los Angeles incorporated California Naturalist into “Bridge to Park Careers,” a competitive 20-week training program that equipped young adults from urban areas with knowledge and multiple certifications needed to secure jobs as educators and naturalists with park agencies. We maintain this program partnership with nonprofit Community Nature Connection, who continues the educational programming previously conducted under MRCA.
Finally, scholarships are available in many locations to cover program fees for participants. To further increase scholarship opportunities, we are excited to announce our newest initiative, the California Naturalist Scholarship Fund. The fund will help break down barriers people face in accessing the program, off-set course participation costs, and ultimately build a more inclusive community of naturalists. In 2016, 29 percent of California Naturalist course participants and 21 percent of statewide conference attendees received a need-based scholarship to attend courses and training events.
2018 holds much promise for strengthening our commitment to inclusion. As we enter the holiday season and prepare for the new year, please consider giving the gift of knowledge and the spark of curiosity. Together we can help protect and preserve nature by engaging more Californians in stewardship, discovery, and action.
On the fifth anniversary of the United Nations' recognition of Dec. 5 as World Soils Day and just in time for the California Department of Food and Agriculture's awarding of $5.23 million in funding to promote the adoption of soil health conservation practices, the California's Healthy Soil Initiative celebrated its first ever California Healthy Soils Week.
For most, that might not sound like a holiday worthy of week-long festivities (a celebration style often reserved for birthdays), but to the passionate folks who've spent the last three years building the nation's leading climate-smart agricultural program, it marks the beginning of a new story of how California agriculture can contribute to feeding the world, saving water and cleaning our air, all while fighting climate change and buffering against its negative effects.
As the inaugural year's theme “Healthy Soils = Healthy Lives” implies, soil health and human health are one and the same. So, in an effort to educate Californians on how vital soil truly is, the week focused on “highlight[ing] all the remarkable gifts healthy soils have to offer,” as CDFA Secretary Karen Ross commented.
From Dec. 4 to 7, CDFA, in partnership with a broad swath of stakeholder groups ranging from state organizations to the private sector (Fibershed, including Community Alliance with Family Farmers, California Farm Bureau, CalCAN, CA Resource Conservation Districts, Roots of Change, and Fibershed, hosted a variety of panels, webinars, and tours to better demonstrate what soil health actually is, what it looks like, how to promote it, as well as barriers to adoption and on-farm challenges.
CDFA kicked off the week by unveiling a series of Healthy Soils Information Panels directly outside Governor Jerry Brown's office. The information panels included an Natural Resources Conservation Service-inspired infographic defining healthy soils as a dynamic interface of the four elements, containing approximately 45 percent minerals, 5 percent organics, 25 percent air, and 25 percent water and teeming with life on the order of 100 million to 1 billion individual bacteria per teaspoon. The next few banners featured the major benefits of healthy soils. Quite simply: More food. Less water-use. Cleaner air. Healthier planet. The last banner brings it all home with a case-study of all-star farmer, Jesse Sanchez, once honored in Washington, DC as a “Champion of Change.”
Dec. 5 – the official World Soils Day – was jam packed, starting with a 9 a.m. webcast on Climate Smart Agriculture, followed by a legislative staff briefing led by CDFA Deputy Secretary Jenny Lester Moffitt, and a reception to celebrate the connection between soil and food by indulging in the fruits of California agriculture. The briefing included two discussion panels -- one that featured scientists including UC Cooperative Extension advisors Daniel Munk and Glenn McGourty, East Stanislaus Regional Conservation District agent Jeff Borum and Margaret Smither-Kopperl of the USDA-NRCS Plant Materials Center, and one that featured pioneering farmers, Rory Crowley of Niclaus Nut Company, Michael Crowell of Bar-Vee Dairy, and Bruce Rominger of Rominger Brother's Farms. The growers discussed the benefits and challenges of no-till farming, or conservation agriculture, on their own farms.
The next day turned a bit more hands-on, with California EPA and CalRecycle helping deliver bags of compost, along with educational materials to legislative offices and with tours taking legislators out into the field -- first to the Recology compost facility, and then to Sierra Orchards where some of that compost ends up.
Capping it all off, Southern California got looped into the festivities with a tour of the Urban Farm in Los Angeles and keeping in the urban food systems theme, Sacramento Food Policy Group and ReSoil Sac hosted one last panel and reception at Hot Italian, a local restaurant that sources seasonally fresh, California-grown ingredients and is committed to improving communities and the environment. And it's not just talk, these guys walk the walk with a worm-bin on site to help process their waste into a valuable resource for local growers.
Throughout the week, the message was clear: the California Healthy Soils Initiative is here to stay. And while it might take an internationally recognized holiday or a statewide weekly celebration to remind us, soils are the foundation of life, of agriculture, and their health is inextricably linked to that of our own. As Rory Crowley of Niclaus Nut company reminded us, “Every day is World Soil Day on the farm.”
Aerial drones are cool. But they can't do everything (just yet). Here are a couple tidbits of information you should consider if you are thinking about getting one (or more) to help you with your weed scouting or plan to use it for herbicide...
The thing is, though, it's not. Firefighters and researchers alike have a pretty solid understanding of why some houses are more vulnerable to wildfire than others. The real challenge ultimately lies in whether those with the power to act on that knowledge will do so.
It is commonly thought that it takes direct flame to spread a fire, but this isn't always the case. Small embers are instead often the culprits that begin house fires during wildfires. These small bits of burning debris can be lofted long distances by the wind. They can then end up igniting landscaping materials like combustible mulch, or enter homes through vulnerable spots – gutters teeming with debris, unscreened attic vents, open or broken windows, old roofs with missing shingles. Once there, the embers smolder and can ultimately catch a house on fire.
In California, iconic winds work to create ideal ember-driven ignition conditions. The Santa Ana winds in Southern California – known as the Diablo winds in northern part of the state – have generally followed fairly predictable seasonal and spatial patterns. “Red flag” fire warnings are often issued on dry days when the winds will be particularly fierce.
While humans can't really control as much as we'd like to believe when it comes to disasters, we do have the ability to control where and how we build. For decades, most wildfire education and enforcement campaigns have focused on creating so-called defensible space where landscaping vegetation is carefully selected and located on the property, as well as routinely maintained.
This is not enough, however. Officials in California – as in other fire-prone states – need to help homeowners, local governments and builders to understand there are also specific, science-based steps that can be taken to make structures themselves less vulnerable to fire.
Researchers recommend what is known as a “coupled approach” to home and building survival. This means the development and maintenance of an effective defensible space, as well as the careful selection of construction materials and correct installation to ensure that, for example, there are not gaps in siding or roofing that would allow embers to penetrate.
Decision-makers also need to be willing to take on the most taboo topic of them all: recognizing that there are places houses simply shouldn't be built, or rebuilt, at all.
(Not) too urban to burn
Earlier this year, California had the first strong winter rains after many years of drought. Now, after a typically dry summer, the state is experiencing a dry start to the rainy season, particularly in the south. At the same time, people have continued to build into places known to burn regularly. The result of this confluence of events has been fires deeply affecting many thousands of people up and down the state.
California residents are largely aware that not all fire is bad, and that many of our ecosystems thrive on regular fire. It's not something that we should, or ever could, hope to fully contain. Our only chance is learning, really and truly and finally learning, to live with it.
In that vein, the state must look long and hard at some of the steps that have been the hardest to take – not building in places that are particularly fire-prone and matching building codes with a modern understanding of wildfire risk – if there is to be any hope of alleviating the human suffering these fires cause.
We are being invited to free ourselves from the notion that wildfire destruction is random and unpredictable, and that therefore there is nothing to be done about it. As the fire season in California gets longer, the winds worsen and wildfires move into areas once deemed too urbanized to burn, maybe the knowledge about what makes houses burn can finally be put to good use.
Faith Kearns, Academic Coordinator, California Institute for Water Resources, University of California, Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources