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CDFA and UC ANR join forces to advance climate-smart agriculture in California

Reposted from UCANR News

California Secretary of Agriculture Karen Ross and UC Agriculture and Natural Resources vice president Glenda Humiston signed a memorandum of understanding in Sacramento Oct. 26 to initiate a new partnership to advance climate-smart agriculture in California.

This partnership will provide $1.1 million to hire 10 UC Cooperative Extension community education specialists who will be deployed to 10 counties statewide to assist and encourage farmers to participate in CDFA programs aimed at increasing adoption of smart farming and ranching practices.

UC ANR vice president Glenda Humiston (left), and California Secretary of Agriculture Karen Ross sign a memorandum of understanding to initiate the new partnership to advance climate-smart agriculture.
 

“Agriculture is an important part of the climate solution,” Ross said. “This funding enables CDFA and UC ANR to partner with farmers to scale-up climate smart agricultural practices.”

The new program is funded by California Climate Investments dollars through the Strategic Growth Council (SGC),

“Farmers and ranchers are key to carbon sequestration and a sustainable California,” said SGC chair Ken Alex.  “The Strategic Growth Council is pleased to fund this partnership for smart agricultural practices.”

The partnership is focused on implementing on-farm solutions to improve soil health, nutrient management, irrigation management, on-farm composting and manure management – smart farming practices that reduce greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere.

The CDFA programs involved are:
Memorandum of Understanding.
 

“This new joint effort reflects our commitment to extending research-supported solutions to our farming community so they have the information and tools they need to make climate-smart decisions,” Humiston said. “It also demonstrates our shared goal of promoting new practices that are grounded in science.”

 

The 10 new education specialists will serve in Mendocino, Glenn, Yolo, San Joaquin, Merced, Kern, Imperial, San Diego, San Luis Obispo and Santa Cruz counties.

Three UCCE advisors will mentor and assist the new educators: water quality and management advisor Laurent Ahiablame, based in San Diego County; area dairy advisor Betsy Karle, based in Glenn County; and irrigation and cotton advisor Dan Munk, based in Fresno County.

In addition to working with the new educators, the UCCE advisors conduct research on farming and ranching practices that boost efficiency and protect the climate, therefore serving as a conduit between discovery and implementation.

“This is a great opportunity to really support growers find the right balance between food production and effective management of natural resources,” Ahiablame said. “With the 10 community education specialists we will be one step closer to the producers across the state. I look forward to the opportunity to mentor these specialists, who in turn will be making direct impacts on the community.”

Karle said she was interested in participating in the program as a way to encourage dairy operators to try practices they are interested in but consider too costly.

“I've worked here locally with dairy producers who wanted to implement practices but need financial assistance in order to make it feasible,” Karle said. “They need assistance in the grant application process and technical support to make changes on their farms.”

Doug Parker, director of the UC California Institute for Water Resources, is the UC ANR point of contact and liaison with CDFA. To contact Parker, email doug.parker@ucop.edu.

The rapidity of water infiltration into the soil is a measure of soil health. Building soil health is one of the areas in which the UC ANR-CDFA partnership will help farmers implement climate-smart farming.
 
Posted on Friday, October 26, 2018 at 1:41 PM
  • Author: Jeannette Warnert

Does wildfire mitigation work?

Fifteen Hundred Structures Gone, but Not This One

by Yana Valachovic

Note: This story originally appeared on the Fire Adapted Communities Learning Network blog. Subscribe to have more stories like this delivered to your inbox.

Randall Hauser knew that building in the Redding, California, area meant that his family's dream home, to be located in a blue oak and pine forest, would likely one day see a wildfire. Consequently, when they began construction in 1994, they kept fire in mind and paid close attention to the home's design and construction. Fast forward 24 years, to the Carr Fire. Over 1,500 structures were destroyed in that fire, 17 of which were Randall's neighbors' homes. But his remained standing, unharmed. What made the difference? Here are a few of my observations after visiting his home.

  • The house includes a well-maintained, simple, “Class A” metal roof (PDF, 1.15MB). The house did not have dormers (i.e., small rooms that project from the roof) or other, more complex roof designs. I've seen several homes, that despite having metal roofs, did burn. In many of those instances, accumulated leaf litter in the gutters gave fire an entry point into the home.
  • The Hausers incorporated and maintained a non-combustible zone (3–5 feet wide) around the outside of their home. There are cement and crushed-rock walkways adjacent to the house, and they regularly rake leaves and cut the dry grass. During the Carr Fire, this helped prevent an ember landing in vegetation adjacent to the house and bringing fire to the house.
  • The landscaping closest to their home is well maintained. Tree limbs are pruned, and vegetation is open structured and includes low-growing cactus and succulents.
  • They designed the house with boxed-in or soffited eaves with the venting located at the outside edge, making it more difficult for embers to enter the attic. Note: The latest research suggests that homeowners should replace ¼-inch attic and foundation vents with -inch mesh screen. Download the NFPA/IBHS fact sheet on vents (PDF, 1MB) to learn more.
  • Their siding is well-maintained stucco, rather than horizontal plank siding with lap joints. Similar to metal roofs not being a guarantee for wildfire resilience, resilient siding is not as simple as stucco versus wood; a resilient home depends on the design, installation and maintenance over time.
  • They provided water for firefighters, and their fire hoses are labeled with reflective signs. This made the water accessible to firefighters.

Review the University of California's Home Survival in Wildfire-Prone Areas: Building Materials and Design or the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety's wildfire research archives for more information. While replacing the roof may not be in next year's budget for you, upgrading the venting and maintaining the vegetation around the house could be a good goal for 2019.

Thank you, Randall, for showing us how to have a resilient, aesthetically pleasing and functional home in a fire-prone region.

Editor's Notes: Yana Valachovic is a county director and forest advisor with the University of California Cooperative Extension. She recently delivered a version of this webinar presentation to Carr Fire survivors. Afterwards, and much to her surprise, a gentleman approached her said, “my house survived, and I implemented many of the elements you just talked to us about.” That gentleman was Randall Hauser. In September, Yana visited his home to record his successes. After touring the North Bay, Mendocino and Carr Fires, where many homes with metal roofs and stucco siding did not survive, it's clear to Yana and her colleagues that fire resilience is more than just defensible space or having a specific building product . Or as Yana puts it, “Fire resilience is about understanding and recognizing the vulnerabilities of your home and landscape, and making modifications so that the home and landscape are complementary to each otherYes, defensible space is important, but equally important is the condition of the house!” 

Posted on Friday, October 26, 2018 at 11:07 AM
  • Author: Yana Valachovic

Bring the wild back into our farmlands to protect biodiversity, researchers say

Reposted from the UCANR News

Berkeley — With a body the size of a fist and wings that span more than a foot, the big brown bat must gorge on 6,000 to 8,000 bugs a night to maintain its stature. This mighty appetite can be a boon to farmers battling crop-eating pests.

But few types of bats live on American farms. That's because the current practice of monoculture – dedicating large swathes of land to a single crop – doesn't give the bats many places to land or to nest. 

Diversifying working lands – including farmland, rangeland and forests – may be key to preserving biodiversity in the face of climate change, says a new review paper published this week in Science by conservation biologists at the University of California, Berkeley.

The Benzinger Family Winery is a diversified vineyard in Sonoma County. (Photo: Corey Luthringer)
 

Diversification could be as simple as adding trees or hedgerows along the edges of fields, giving animals like birds, bats and insects places to live, or as complex as incorporating a patchwork of fields, orchards, pasture and flowers into a single working farm.

These changes could extend the habitat of critters like bats, but also much larger creatures like bears, elk and other wildlife, outside the boundaries of parks and other protected areas, while creating more sustainable, and potentially more productive, working lands.

“Protected areas are extremely important, but we can't rely on those on their own to prevent the pending sixth mass extinction,” said study co-author Adina Merenlender, a UC Cooperative Extension Specialist in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management at UC Berkeley. “This is even more true in the face of climate change, because species will need to move around to adapt to shifts in temperature and climate.”

Diversified farms could include crops, pastures, orchards and woodland. (Photo: Xerces)
 

A win-win for wildlife and for farms

Maintaining even small pieces of the original landscape – even a single tree– can help conserve the original diversity of species, Merenlender said. Clearing oak woodlands and shrublands to establish large vineyards hits many native species hard. Animals that are well adapted to urban and agricultural areas, such as mockingbirds, house finches and free-tail bats, continue to flourish, while animals that are more sensitive to disturbance, like acorn woodpeckers, orange-crowned warblers and big brown bats, begin to drop away. “If you can leave shrubs, trees and flowering plants, the habitat suitability -- not just for sensitive birds but also for other vertebrates – goes way up,” Merenlender said. This is true not only in California's vineyards, but on working lands around the world.

Incorporating natural vegetation makes the farm more hospitable to more creatures, while reducing the use of environmentally degrading chemicals like herbicides, pesticides and man-made fertilizer.

A vineyard in California's central coast is an example of industrialized agriculture. (Photo: Steve Zmak, https://stevezmak.com/)
 

The ideal farming landscape includes woodland pastures and vegetable plots bumping up against orchards and small fields, said Claire Kremen, a professor in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management. Integrating livestock produces manure which can fertilize the crops, while those same crops produce feed for livestock. Birds and bats provide pest control, and bees boost crop production by pollinating plants.

“It is possible for these working landscapes to support biodiversity but also be productive and profitable,” Kremen said. “And ultimately, this is where we have to go. We just can't keep mining our soils for their fertility and polluting our streams – in the end, this will diminish our capacity to continue producing the food that we need. Instead, we must pay attention to the species, from microbes to mammals, that supply us with critical services, like pollination, pest control and nutrient cycling”

“We have some amazing diversified farms, sustainably managed forests and species-rich rangelands here in California that exemplify working lands for conservation around the world,” Merenlender said. “We are calling for a scaling up of this approach around the world, and to do that we champion community-based action and more supportive polices” Kremen concludes.

Posted on Monday, October 22, 2018 at 8:46 AM
  • Author: Kara Manke

Dry conditions keep sudden oak death in check, yet significant outbreaks continue

 
Google map shows results of the SOD blitzes available online at sodblitz.organd SODMAP.org. Green icons identify trees sampled that tested negative for SOD. Red icons were SOD-infected trees.
 
 
Sudden oak death, which has killed millions of trees in California over the past 20 years, is spreading more slowly, according to California's most recent citizen-science sudden oak death survey. The 2018 SOD Blitz results indicate Phytophthora ramorum (the pathogen known to cause SOD) infection is currently less prevalent in many wildland urban interface areas, though significant outbreaks are still occurring in some locations.

Overall, 3.5 percent of the trees (based on those areas sampled during the blitzes) were found to be P. ramorum positive, a threefold drop from 2017. Yet, in San Mateo, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz counties, infection levels were estimated to be as high as 19 percent, followed by 12.7 percent in the East Bay.

 
"SOD blitzes detected the highest levelsoffoliar infections by OD in 2017,” said SOD BlitzfounderMatteoGarbelotto, UC Berkeley forest pathology and mycology Cooperative Extension specialist and adjunct professor. “As predicted, those high levelsoffoliar infections were responsible for a high increase of infection of oaksandtanoaks by SOD.

"Oaks and tanoaks were infected last year and will be showing symptoms such as bleeding in the stem and canopy drying this year and in the next two years to follow. Hence, despite a reduction of SOD infection on leaves of California bay laurels and leaves of tanoaks in 2018, we can expect a sharp increase in oak and tanoak mortality in 2018, 2019 and 2020."

Notable outbreaks were detected in Alameda (El Cerrito and Oakland urban parks, San Leandro, Orinda, Moraga), Marin (Novato, Day Island, Woodacre, Sleepy Hollow, McNears Beach, China Camp State Park, north San Rafael, Tiburon Peninsula, east and west peak of Mt. Tamalpais, Marin City), Mendocino (south of Yorkville), Monterey (Carmel Valley Village, Salmon Creek Trail in southern Big Sur), Napa (east Napa city), San Mateo (Burlingame Hills, west of Emerald Hills and south of Edgewood Rd, Woodside ), Santa Clara (Los Altos Hills, Saratoga, Los Gatos, along Santa Cruz Co border), Santa Cruz (along the Santa Clara Co border, Boulder Creek), and Sonoma (near Cloverdale, east and west of Healdsburg, west of Windsor, east of Santa Rosa, west of Petaluma) counties.

Several popular destinations where P. ramorum was found positive during the 2017 Blitz were negative for the pathogen in 2018, including Golden Gate Park and the Presidio of San Francisco, the UC Berkeley campus, and Mount Diablo State Park. Samples from San Luis Obispo and Siskiyou counties were also pathogen-free as were those from the southern portion of Alameda County.

"We encourage everyone in affected counties to look at the Blitz results online and to attend one of the fall workshops to learn how to protect their oaks from SOD,” Matteo Garbelotto.

“It is encouraging that SOD has yet to be found in the forests of California's northern-most counties, San Luis Obispo County and southern Alameda County,” said Garbelotto.

“It is also encouraging to see that despite its continued presence in the state for more than 20 years, SOD infection rates drop during drier years,” he said. “However, in 2018, we identified a number of communities across several counties where significant outbreaks were detected for the first time, and the Salmon Creek find in Monterey County is the southernmost positive WUI (wildland-urban interface) tree detection ever. Until the 2018 Blitz, only stream water had been found positive in the Salmon Creek area. We encourage everyone in affected counties to look at the Blitz results online and to attend one of the fall workshops to learn how to protect their oaks from SOD.”

Citizen-science SOD Blitz workshops

SOD Blitz Workshops are being held this fall in Santa Rosa (Oct. 10), Portola Valley (Oct. 16) and Berkeley (Oct. 17). The trainings will discuss Blitz results and recommendations for protecting oaks in the WUI. Workshops are intended for the general public, tree care professionals and land managers (see www.sodblitz.org for details). Two International Society of Arboriculture continuing education units will be offered at each training. Data collected from the Blitz (both positive and negative samples) have been uploaded to the SOD Blitz map (www.sodblitz.org ) as well as to SODmap (www.SODmap.org) and to the free SODmap mobile app, which can serve as an informative management tool for people in impacted communities.

SOD Blitz volunteers collect leaf samples and record the location using the SODmap mobile app.

Twenty-five SOD Blitz surveys were held in 2018 in the WUI of 14 coastal California counties from the Oregon border to San Luis Obispo County and included three tribal land surveys. The 304 volunteers surveyed approximately 13,500 trees and submitted leaf samples from over 2,000 symptomatic trees to the Garbelotto lab for pathogen testing.

SOD Blitzes are a citizen science program, which train participants each spring to identify symptomatic tanoak and California bay laurel trees in the WUI and to properly collect samples in the interest of generating an informative map of P. ramorum disease symptoms over time. Samples are tested for the presence of the pathogen at UC Berkeley and results are posted electronically each fall. Now in its eleventh year, the SOD Blitz program is one of the first in the world to join researchers and volunteers in a survey for a tree disease.

SOD Blitz surveys were made possible thanks to funding from the US Forest Service State and Private Forestry, Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District, and the PG&E Foundation. The Blitzes were organized by the UC Berkeley Garbelotto lab in collaboration with the National Park Service, Presidio Trust, San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District, Save Mount Diablo, Land Trust of Santa Cruz County, East Bay Regional Park District, Santa Lucia Conservancy, Sonoma State University, UC Santa Cruz Arboretum, Los Padres National Forest, City and County of San Francisco Department of Recreation and Parks, UC Berkeley Botanical Garden, and California Native Plant Society.

Video of Dr. Matteo Garbelloto describing the three steps to managing sudden oak death.

For information on the status of P. ramorum/SOD tree mortality in California wildlands, see the US Forest Service 2018 Aerial Detection Survey results at https://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/r5/forest-grasslandhealth/?cid=fseprd592767.

For more information on the SOD Blitzes, visit www.sodblitz.org or contact Katie Harrell at (510) 847-5482 or kmharrell@ucdavis.edu. For more information on Sudden Oak Death and P. ramorum, visit the California Oak Mortality Task Force website at www.suddenoakdeath.org or contact Harrell.

 
Posted on Tuesday, October 9, 2018 at 4:30 PM
  • Author: Katie Harrell

Clean Water Act dramatically cut pollution in U.S. waterways

Reposted from the UC Berkeley News

The 1972 Clean Water Act has driven significant improvements in U.S. water quality, according to the first comprehensive study of water pollution over the past several decades, by researchers at UC Berkeley and Iowa State University.

The team analyzed data from 50 million water quality measurements collected at 240,000 monitoring sites throughout the U.S. between 1962 and 2001. Most of 25 water pollution measures showed improvement, including an increase in dissolved oxygen concentrations and a decrease in fecal coliform bacteria. The share of rivers safe for fishing increased by 12 percent between 1972 and 2001.

A forest stream

The Clean Water Act has decreased measures of water pollution in U.S. lakes, streams and rivers.

Despite clear improvements in water quality, almost all of 20 recent economic analyses estimate that the costs of the Clean Water Act consistently outweigh the benefits, the team found in work also coauthored with researchers from Cornell University. These numbers are at odds with other environmental regulations like the Clean Air Act, which show much higher benefits compared to costs.

“Water pollution has declined dramatically, and the Clean Water Act contributed substantially to these declines,” said Joseph Shapiro, an associate professor of agricultural and resource economics in the College of Natural Resources at UC Berkeley. “So we were shocked to find that the measured benefit numbers were so low compared to the costs.”

The researchers propose that these studies may be discounting certain benefits, including improvements to public health or a reduction in industrial chemicals not included in current water quality testing.

The analyses appear in a pair of studies published in the Quarterly Journal of Economics and the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Cleaning up our streams and rivers

Americans are worried about clean water. In Gallup polls, water pollution is consistently ranked as Americans' top environmental concern – higher than air pollution and climate change.

Since its inception, the Clean Water Act has imposed environmental regulations on individuals and industries that dump waste into waterways, and has led to $650 billion in expenditure due to grants the federal government provided municipalities to build sewage treatment plants or improve upon existing facilities.

However, comprehensive analyses of water quality have been hindered by the sheer diversity of data sources, with many measurements coming from local agencies rather than national organizations.

To perform their analysis, Shapiro and David Keiser, an assistant professor of economics at Iowa State University, had to compile data from three national water quality data repositories. They also tracked down the date and location of each municipal grant, an undertaking that required three Freedom of Information Act requests.

“Air pollution and greenhouse gas measurements are typically automated and standard, while water pollution is more often a person going out in a boat and dipping something in the water.” Shapiro said. “It was an incredibly data and time-intensive project to get all of these water pollution measures together and then analyze them in a way that was comparable over time and space.”

In addition to the overall decrease in water pollution, the team found that water quality downstream of sewage treatment plants improved significantly after municipalities received grants to improve wastewater treatment. They also calculated that it costs approximately $1.5 million to make one mile of river fishable for one year.

Comparing costs and benefits

Adding up all the costs and benefits — both monetary and non-monetary — of a policy is one way to value its effectiveness. The costs of an environmental policy like the Clean Water Act can include direct expenditures, such as the $650 billion in spending due to grants to municipalities, and indirect investments, such as the costs to companies to improve wastewater treatment. Benefits can include increases in waterfront housing prices or decreases in the travel to find a good fishing or swimming spot.

The researchers conducted their own cost-benefit analysis of the Clean Water Act municipal grants, and combined it with 19 other recent analyses carried out by hydrologists and the EPA. They found that, on average, the measured economic benefits of the legislation were less than half of the total costs. However, these numbers might not paint the whole picture, Shapiro said.

“Many of these studies count little or no benefit of cleaning up rivers, lakes, and streams for human health because they assume that if we drink the water, it goes through a separate purification process, and no matter how dirty the water in the river is, it's not going to affect people's health,” Shapiro said.  “The recent controversy in Flint, MI, recently seems contrary to that view.”

“Similarly, drinking water treatment plants test for a few hundred different chemicals and U.S. industry produces closer to 70,000, and so it is possible there are chemicals that existing studies don't measure that have important consequences for well-being,” Shapiro said.

Even if the costs outweigh the benefits, Shapiro stresses that Americans should not have to compromise their passion for clean water — or give up on the Clean Water Act.

“There are many ways to improve water quality, and it is quite plausible that some of them are excellent investments, and some of them are not great investments,” Shapiro said. “So it is plausible both that it is important and valuable to improve water quality, and that some investments that the U.S. has made in recent years don't pass a benefit-cost test.”

Catherine L. Kling, professor of agricultural and life sciences and environmental economics and Cornell University, is a co-author on the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences paper.

Research funding was provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture through the National Institute of Food and Agriculture Hatch Project IOW03909 and Award 2014-51130- 22494 and a National Science Foundation Award SES-1530494. Much of the research was completed while Shapiro was at Yale University.

Posted on Tuesday, October 9, 2018 at 12:03 PM
  • Author: Kara Manke

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