Poor management of grazed rangelands can "exacerbate the effect of drought," the report said.
The Forest Service identified the need to reduce cattle numbers on public land during a severe drought - in come cases to 50 or 70 percent of total carrying capacity, which is the number of animals the land can support before causing environmental degradation. Plants that have been overgrazed "are less able to recover after a drought," the report said.
For expert commentary, Danovich turned to a UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) source. Sheila Barry, the livestock and natural resources advisor for UC ANR Cooperative Extension, said ranchers do have to reduce herd size in times of extreme drought.
Cattle that graze on the open range are usually finished at a feed lot. In the first year of drought, ranchers have the option of weaning cattle early to reduce demands on the land without reducing the herd size. In the second year of drought, ranchers have to consider cutting into their herds. "As soon as they do that," Barry said, "it can take up to eight years to build it back."
In years past, canning knowledge was passed down from grandmothers and mothers to children. Access to commercially canned and frozen fruits and vegetables put home food preservation on the back burner. The Master Food Preserver program was established in the 1980s, but is now seeing a surge in interest as consumers want more control over the sources and additives in their food.
"The UC Master Food Preserver Program serves as a reliable resource for research-based information on home food preservation," said Missy Gable, who overseas the program for UC Agriculture and Natural Resources.
Improperly preserved food can cause serious illness. Meats, vegetables and any food containing meats or vegetables - such as soup or spaghetti sauce - must be pressure-canned to prevent potentially fatal botulism. Incorrect procedures can allow micro organisms to spoil canned foods.
"Each UC Master Food Preserver volunteer understands food safety and the steps needed to safely preserve and store foods," Gable said. "They also understand the science behind home food preservation and help the public identify the best food preservation methods for the items they would like to store."
The Master Food Preserver Program is available in 10 California counties. Learn more about food preservation and find a local program on the UC ANR Master Food Preserver website.
A UC Agriculture and Natural Resources researcher has been working for 15 years to develop Pierce's disease-resistant grapevines and he's read to unleash them into the world.
"Spraying to control for PD won't pass environmental muster," said Andy Walker, UC ANR viticulture geneticist and professor in the Department of Viticulture and Enology at UC Davis. "And GMOs are problematic. For us, the best way forward is through classical breeding."
The project is based on the identification several years ago of a single dominant gene in a Mexican grape species - Vitis arizonica - that promises to confer resistance to Pierce's disease. After making a series of cross breeds resulting in a vines that are 94 percent Vitis vinifera, Walker has developed vines that are similar to any Zinfandel or Sauvignon Blanc grapes, but will never get PD.
The writer reviewed the wines produced with Walker's research grapes and declared them impressive overall.
For more on this research, see Breeding and genetics key to stemming Pierce's disease in UC ANR's California Agriculture journal.
Despite the state's four-year drought, almond production continued its steady rise over the last 15 years. The plunge in global demand may impact the trend, according to UC Agriculture and Natural Resources Cooperative Extension advisor David Doll. Last year Philpott asked Doll how long the almond boom would continue.
"He told me it would only stop 'when the crop stops making money,'" Philpott wrote.
Doll explained that, under normal water supply conditions, the break-even farmer price for almonds is $1.45 per pound. But when water is scarce and farmers pay more for water, the break-even price rises to $2.60 to $2.85 per pound. The Fresno Bee this month reported that almond prices dropped about 20 percent to $2.50 to $2.75 per pound.
Growers are hoping that El Niño will reduce water costs and that the Asian and European appetite for almonds returns to normal, pushing up the almonds' value once again.
Ezra David Romero of Valley Public Radio reported that the strength of the U.S. dollar also reduced buyer interest in California almonds.
"We probably pushed the price up too high," said Darren Rigg of Meridian Growers in Tulare, Calif. "It killed off demand, and people at a certain point, they just don't buy."
In the web version of Romero's story, he used a picture of UC ANR's David Doll in an almond orchard.
In December, Lake Nacimiento was at 16 to 17 percent of capacity. It has now risen to 22 percent. Lake San Antonio, which dropped to 3 percent of capacity last summer, is still at 3 percent now. It is so low that engineers refer to it as a "dead pool" because gravity cannot pull water out of the reservoir when it is at that level.
The Monterey County lakes don't fill as quickly as other lakes - such as Shasta, Folsom and Oroville - because they are fed by relatively small watersheds. Nacimiento and San Antonio were built in the 1950s and '60s for flood control and to recharge aquifers. With dropping aquifer water levels, farmers have had problems with their wells, the story said.
“Some growers' wells pull in as much air as water, so that they need repairs or lose the wells entirely. I've seen well drillers around, which indicates re-drilling,” said Michael Cahn, a UC Agriculture and Natural Resources Cooperative Extension advisor in Monterey County. “This is a cost for agriculture.”
As they drill deeper, farmers also risk more seawater flooding in, contaminating the limited water supply. It was seawater intrusion that originally led to the construction of the Nacimiento and San Antonio dams.
Cahn was quoted at the end of the story with a positive message.
“The aquifers are currently at the lowest levels ever recorded, but they can go back up,” he said.