How did we get here and where shall we venture together?
This spring, the 100th California Naturalist class is being offered in Sonoma County – the very same county where we first piloted the curriculum. The UC Agriculture and Natural Resources California Naturalist Program is designed to introduce Californians to the wonders of our unique ecology and engage the public in study and stewardship of California's natural communities. The program mission is to foster a diverse community of naturalists and promote stewardship of California's natural resources through education and service. California Naturalist certification courses combine classroom and field experience in science, problem-solving, communication training and community service. Students are taught by an instructor and team of experts who are affiliated with the University of California, local nature-based centers, community colleges, land trusts, or natural resource focused agencies such as California State Parks and cooperating “friends groups.”
A California Naturalist explores the creek.
What inspired the first California Naturalist class? Georgia, Florida, Texas and 22 other states have Master Naturalist-like programs, so why not California? After all, California is a global biodiversity hotspot filled with nature enthusiasts. It took a volunteer, Julia Fetherston, to get excited about the potential for a California program before our director Adina Merenlender was convinced to attend the 2005 National Master Naturalist Annual Conference in Estes Park, Colo. She was impressed with the impact these programs were having and decided to see what we could do in the Golden State. A good deal of effort followed to advance the cause within UC, secure grant funding, write the California Naturalist Handbook, develop ways to work with organizations across the state, and build a team to run California Naturalist. In 2012, we officially launched the program with five intrepid institutional partners (Santa Rosa Junior College/Pepperwood Foundation, Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History, UC Santa Cruz Arboretum, UC Berkeley Sagehen Creek Field Station, and Santa Barbara Botanical Garden). Four years later California Naturalist received Program of the Year from the national network, the Alliance of Natural Resource Outreach and Service Programs.
The 100th California Naturalist class is being offered at Stewards of the Coast and Redwood this spring. Stewards of the Coast and Redwoods is a non-profit, environmental and interpretive organization that works in partnership with California State Parks in the Russian River Sector of the Sonoma Mendocino Coast District to support volunteer, education and stewardship programs. Participants in this year's spring class have worked hard on a wide range of capstone projects, including multiple wildlife monitoring citizen science projects, improving fish habitat in the watershed, and creating educational materials on ticks, wetland birds, water quality and more. Co-instructors Meghan Walla-Murphy and David Berman have been teaching California Naturalist courses since 2013, first with Occidental Arts and Ecology Center and now with Stewards. Meghan is the author of Fishing on the Russian River and a well-respected wildlife tracker whose workshops are not to be missed. David is an extraordinary environmental educator, watershed expert, and Project Wild facilitator with the Sonoma County Water Agency.
2017 Stewards of the Coast & Redwoods class at their Bodega Dunes campout.
Now that we have 100 classes under our belt, oh, the places we can go! California Naturalist is a community of practice started deliberately with the goal of gaining natural history knowledge. We are working on releasing a citizen science challenge to provide an opportunity for California Naturalists to discover more about California's ecosystems - Discovery!
Surveys show that California Naturalists feel more empowered to address environmental challenges after their training and knowing they can lean on their fellow naturalists. We would like to know more about how California Naturalists are participating in civic engagement. With a new volunteer management system on the horizon, we plan to learn more about the many ways Naturalists are becoming involved in issues that affect their communities. - Action!
In particular, what activities are Naturalists doing that will help communities and natural ecosystems be more resilient to climate change – improving habitat connectivity, restoring riparian areas, or pre/post fire management? We are looking for support to start an advanced training aimed at helping today's climate stewards learn more about climate science and adaptation to support their efforts on climate-wise - Stewardship!
Congratulations to the graduates of the 100th California Naturalist class and all those who went before you.
Naturalists from the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority's Bridge to Park Careers program.
Middle school teachers attending the Forestry Institute for Teachers hear about Project Learning Tree curriculum and other resources they can use to teach environmental education.
California's K-12 teachers are being challenged by the Next Generation Science Standards to find new and more engaging ways to teach science. Adopted by California in 2013, the science-education standards guide how science, technology, engineering and math education are delivered to students in the classroom. The Forestry Institute for Teachers (FIT) offers free environmental education training for teachers in a northern California forest.
“Teachers who participate in the Forestry Institute for Teachers learn to apply Next Generation Science Standards concepts as they develop or refine class lessons using the forest as a lens through which all classroom subject matter can be taught,” said Mike De Lasaux, UC Cooperative Extension natural resources advisor for Plumas and Sierra counties and a FIT instructor.
Teachers wade into a stream to learn about aquatic life.
Learning science through FIT's participatory model is more exciting than memorizing facts from a textbook. In the forest, FIT instructors point out opportunities for students to use technology, engineering and math to better understand the world around them. For example, math can be used to estimate the height of a towering tree. Seeing the “web of life” relationships, such as the effects of rainfall and insects on tree growth, leads to more critical thinking to solve problems.
“The goal of the Forestry Institute for Teachers is to provide K-12 teachers with knowledge, skills and tools to effectively teach their students about forest ecology and forest resource management practices and much more,” said De Lasaux.
Teachers make wildlife track casts as part of a wildlife education activity.
California teachers from rural and urban settings are invited to spend a week during the summer working outdoors with natural resources experts to gain a deeper understanding of forest ecosystems and human use of natural resources. The participants are organized by grade level for age-appropriate activities. They take field-trips and do hands-on activities such as examining the rings in a tree's cross-section to learn about events – such as wet or dry periods, insect or disease damage – that have occurred during the tree's lifetime.
Participants use clinometers to measure angles to estimate tree height.
The Forestry Institute for Teachers has been providing science education and other subject content to California K-12 teachers since 1993 with more than 2,500 educators completing the program.
FIT is a week-long residence program developed by the Northern California Society of American Foresters in collaboration with the University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources' Cooperative Extension, the USDA Forest Service, CALFIRE and other entities. The FIT Program is underwritten by a consortium of public and private sources.
FIT is offered in forested settings in four different Northern California locations:
June 11-17 in Plumas County
June 18-24 in Tuolumne County
July 2-8 in Shasta County
July 9-15 in Humboldt County
There is an application fee of $25, but training, meals and lodging are free for first-time participants.To watch videos of past participants discussing their FIT experience and to apply to attend, visit www.forestryinstitute.org.
FIT participants learn how changes in one part of the ecosystem affect others in the web of life.
Dr. Safeeq measures snow depth at the Kings River Experimental Watersheds site in the Southern Sierra Nevada. Photo by Michelle Gilmore.
California's recent drought was the worst in memory. However, in a relatively quick turnaround, this year the state's water infrastructure is full and water managers are battling the wettest winter on record in quite some time. Now, by many accounts, the drought is over for much of the state.
The uniquely wet winter of 2016-2017 has highlighted a key issue surrounding our surface and ground water storage infrastructure: We could have stored this abundant water, not in new reservoirs, but right under our feet. The cycles of drought and flood will continue in California; in order to survive the droughts we have to move winter precipitation to groundwater storage in greater quantity and more efficiently.
From Oct. 2016- Feb. 2017, the statewide precipitation total was 28.5 inches. At 180% above average, this year ranked first of the 122-year period of record. In the San Joaquin and Tulare Lake region, the amount of precipitation was greater than the statewide average, but not enough to break records.
Just as spring is showing bluer skies, and we have a handle on local flooding, there's yet more water to come from the mountains. After five years of thin and, in some cases, non-existent snow cover, the California Department of Water Resources snow survey data shows nearly 47 inches of snow water equivalent. That is, there's nearly four feet of water sitting on top of the Sierras ready to melt and fill our rivers, reservoirs, floodplains, and where possible, percolate into underground aquifers.
Snowpack at the beginning of the rainy season (November, 28, 2016) at the Southern Sierra Critical Zone Observatory. Photo by M Safeeq.
At the beginning of the calendar year, as heavy precipitation continued, reservoir managers started holding back and reserving water behind dams, uncertain how much precipitation we might get through the rest of the rainy season. But the heavy rain and snow turned out to be overwhelming, and reservoirs were near capacity by mid-February, losing the ability to further store runoff and mitigate for floods. In other words, there is a limit to how much water we can store behind these dams.
On the other hand, the amount of groundwater storage potential (between 850-1300 million acre feet) in California dwarfs our current surface water storage capacity (42 million acre feet). Unfortunately, with some inspiring exceptions, California does not typically manage or store surface water and groundwater conjunctively. But with patterns like a long drought followed by an extremely wet winter, we have the opportunity to prepare groundwater storage infrastructure that will help us to take excess surface water and store it in aquifers.
With Sierra Nevada sensor networks and remote sensing, we can account for how much water is available in snow, how much water should be stored as groundwater, and how much can be safely stored in reservoirs. With sites like the Southern Sierra Critical Zone Observatory on the Kings River and San Joaquin River watershed, and its expansion to UC Water'sAmerican River Hydrological Observatory, we can measure in near-real-time how much water is in the Sierra Nevada and model the timing of its arrival to streams and reservoirs.
This year we largely missed the groundwater storage opportunity, especially for basins battling with overdraft issues. If we focus on groundwater storage potential now, we could be ready for the next very wet winter when it comes.
To help California forest property owners adapt to the changing climate, UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) has produced a 13-page peer-reviewed paper that outlines actions owners can take to sustain their forests' value even when temperatures rise.
“Managers of forest land have always had to adapt to changing conditions – such as markets, urban encroachment, droughts and floods,” said Susie Kocher, UC Cooperative Extension forestry and natural resources advisor. “We wrote this paper to help forest managers better understand the evolving science of climate change and how they can help their forests adapt to the climate of the future.”
Thinning trees in a mixed conifer forest is one way to improve its resiliency to climate change. (Photo: Will Suckow)
Forests are shaped by the climates in which they grow. The current rapid pace of climate change has not happened for thousands of years, according to climate scientists. Nevertheless, the authors assure forest landowners that there are land management decisions they can make to ensure the resiliency of their resources, and perhaps even improve them.
“Some trees may grow faster under the warmer conditions we experience with climate change,” Kocher said, “especially those at highest elevation where there is adequate precipitation.”
The paper details the solid scientific evidence that indicates the rise in global average temperatures over the past 100 years. The temperatures, it says, “will likely continue to rise in the future, with impacts on natural and human systems.”
The document provides specific recommendations for care of three common types of forest in California: mixed conifer, oak woodland and coastal redwood forests.
Oak woodland forests have moderate to high capacity to adapt to climate change. (Photo: Stephanie Drill)
Mixed conifer forests – typically composed of white fir, sugar pine, ponderosa pine, incense cedar and California black oak – are susceptible to moisture stress caused by warmer temperatures and reduced snow and rain. The drier conditions make the trees more vulnerable to fire and insect attack.
The drought of 2010-2016 has already had a substantial impact on mixed conifer forests in the Sierra Nevada. Aerial detection surveys show that more than 102 million trees have died since 2010; more than 62 million died in 2016 alone.
The UC ANR climate change adaptation paper suggests reducing competition for water by thinning trees and managing for species and structural diversity. The authors suggest property owners consider the source of seedlings when planting new trees.
“Select seedlings adapted to a slightly lower elevation or latitude than your property,” Kocher said. “These would be more likely to thrive under the 3- to 5-degree warmer temperatures we expect in 50 years or so.”
Oak woodlands are widely distributed and diverse in California, which gives them moderate to high capacity to adapt to climate change. Mature oaks are more resilient than young trees and seedlings.
One potential impact of climate change on oak woodlands is increasing precipitation variability and increasing spring rains. The moisture change could increase the spread and prevalence of Sudden Oak Death (SOD), a disease caused by a bacterium that was introduced into California from outside the U.S. SOD is primarily a concern in areas with tanoaks in Central to Northern California coastal areas.
“To reduce the spread of sudden oak death, land owners should prevent the movement of infected leaves, wood and soil,” according to the paper.
Fog frequency in California's redwood forests is significantly lower now than 100 years ago. (Photo: Jason Sturner, Wikimedia Commons.)
The primary concern for coastal redwood forests is the decline in fog. Fog frequency in coastal redwoods is 33 percent lower now compared to the early 20th Century. Less fog and rain plus warmer temperatures would leave coastal areas where redwoods typically thrive drier. But that doesn't mean redwoods will disappear. Areas with deep soil and areas close to streams and rivers may provide refuge for redwood forests.
The new publication, Adapting Forests to Climate Change, can be downloaded free from the UC ANR Catalog. It is the 25th in the Forest Stewardship series, developed to help forest landowners in California learn how to manage their land. It was written by Adrienne Marshall, a doctoral student at the University of Idaho; Susie Kocher, UC Cooperative Extension forestry and natural resources advisor; Amber Kerr, postdoctoral scholar with the UC John Muir Institute of the Environment; and Peter Stine, U.S. Forest Service.
UC Santa Cruz music professor David Dunn has joined forces with two forest scientists from Northern Arizona University to combat an insect infestation that is killing millions of trees throughout the West.
They are applying the results of nearly a decade of acoustic research in an unconventional collaborative effort to stop bark beetles from tunneling through the living tissue of weakened, drought-stressed pine trees.
The trio has now received a patent for a device that uses sound as a targeted sonic weapon to disrupt the feeding, communication, reproduction, and various other essential behaviors of the insects.
Dunn explained how this research came about.
“When massive tree death started occurring in Northern New Mexico where I was living, I became curious if there were sounds associated with such a large amount of biological activity,” said Dunn.
“At that time there was still the assumption that this was the result of a local bark beetle infestation due to drought conditions. Since then, we have come to realize that this was not just a local outbreak but one of many outbreaks across all of the western states and Canadian provinces that has been driven by climate change conditions. Many scientists think that we are experiencing the largest insect infestation of North America in the fossil record of the Earth,” he added.
Dunn spent a few weeks thinking about how to listen to the interior of trees and soon came up with a simple listening device that cost less than $10 to build. Designing unique and inexpensive devices in order to listen to sound had long been a part of his artistic work.
“After making hundreds of hours of recordings inside hundreds of trees, I made a large sound composition that represented the incredible diversity of sounds made by a couple of species of bark beetles and their changing responses to the life cycle of tree hosts that they invade,” said Dunn. “This was released as a CD (The Sound of Light in Trees) that garnered a lot of attention from both the sound, art, and music community, as well as various scientists involved in bio-acoustic research.”
“After that interest emerged, I was approached by my future colleagues at Northern Arizona University who not only wanted to replicate what I had done, but to collaborate on how to push this research further. These further results led to the device and protocol that we have just patented.”
Dunn noted that it is very unusual for a scientific patent to be awarded to an artist and added that there are very few examples of concrete results from collaborations between artists and scientists.
“My contribution to the project mostly concerned the technical design aspects of the audio, electronic circuit designs, and the novel sound gathering techniques,” Dunn explained. “In a very real sense, this represented a kind of reverse "tech transfer" from the arts to the sciences. Historically, it has usually been the other way around.”
“We have now entered into a period of common interests between art and science largely driven by the commonality of digital tools,” Dunn added.
“Artists are now just as involved in designing such tools as the scientific community and often create software and instrumentation in order to facilitate their creative visions that may ultimately be of even greater value to scientific research. I think that this was one of those instances and a couple of fortuitous events conspired to allow something interesting to happen.”
Dunn observed that one important aspect of art/science collaborations is the peculiar ability of artists to trust their imagination over their rational faculty.
“Most of the best scientists I know have fantastic and expansive imaginative capacities but often have to strategically mask those skills in order to operate within disciplinary and professional constraints,” said Dunn. “I personally believe that science must be a deeply rigorous enterprise, but it is not an either/or issue. It is the balance between the rational and imaginative that will ultimately solve the most serious problems that threaten us.”
“Artists can sometimes ask the pithy or embarrassing question that needs to be asked, or cuts across disciplinary constraints, or politics, without paying a professional price. As Gregory Bateson, a former faculty member of UC Santa Cruz put it: ‘rigor alone is paralytic death, imagination alone is insanity.'"
Dunn said that he and his colleagues at Northern Arizona University — Richard Hofstetter and Reagan McGuire — hope to produce a range of products as a result of their patent to combat bark beetles, as well as other insects related to them.
He added that scaling up the device to be effective in saving large forests might be possible through the use of local wireless or FM broadcast to protect select areas of forest, depending on how cheaply they can produce an effective system that can be applied to individual trees.
“One major obstacle is the issue of how to miniaturize the analog circuits and sample playback,” said Dunn. “One of my brilliant graduate students, David Kant in music, has been working on putting all of this into digital form and has largely succeeded. If we can solve that problem and come up with viable output transducers, amplification, and solar power solutions, it's very doable.”