- Author: Sarah Nightingale
Reposted from University of California News
When plant matter burns, it releases a complex mixture of gases and aerosols into the atmosphere. In forests subject to air pollution, these emissions may be more toxic than in areas of good air quality, according to a new study by the University of California, Riverside and the U.S. Forest Service's Pacific Southwest Research Station.
The results suggest biomass burning of polluted forest fuels may exacerbate poor air quality—and related health concerns—in some of the world's most heavily polluted areas, among them, the Los Angeles metropolitan area, which is expected to suffer from more wildfires as drought conditions continue.
The study, which was led by Akua Asa-Awuku, a researcher at the Center for Environmental Research and Technology (CE-CERT) at UC Riverside's Bourns College of Engineering, was published online recently (March 2) in the journal Environmental Research Letters.
As people burn fuels—in cars, power plants and factories—nitrogen is released into the atmosphere and absorbed by plants. While essential for plant growth, an over-abundance of this biologically-available nitrogen can result in ‘nitrogen saturation,' a phenomenon previously reported by Forest Service scientists in Riverside. Nitrogen saturation can cause a cascade of adverse effects including a decrease in biodiversity, changes in plant species, soil acidification and water contamination.
In this paper, UCR and Forest Service researchers teamed up to explore a previously unstudied aspect of nitrogen saturation: its effect on the gases and aerosols released during burning of forest fuels from an area experiencing nitrogen saturation.
Polluted sites released up to 30 percent more nitrogen oxides than clean sites
Scientists conducted the study in the San Bernardino Mountains, a 60-mile stretch of federal and private forest land to the east of the Los Angeles metropolitan area. Since the pollution concentration decreases from west to east, as the distance from Los Angeles increases, the forests offered a rare opportunity to compare emissions from wildland fuels subjected to different levels of chronic air pollution. At sites 55 miles apart, the researchers collected recently deposited material from the forest floor, called litter, which is a primary fuel in these forests. Both sites have a similar mixture of conifer tree species, and, at the time of collection, had experienced similar temperatures and rainfall.
As shown in previous studies, the litter from the polluted site, which had endured high levels of atmospheric nitrogen oxides and ozone, had higher nitrogen content than litter from the clean site. The researchers then burned the litter in controlled lab tests, collected the emissions and analyzed them. The results showed:
- Fuel from the polluted site released more nitrogen oxides, which contribute to the formation of smog and ozone. In some cases, polluted fuels released 30 percent more nitrogen oxides than fuels from the clean site.
- Polluted fuels released more small fine particles (PM<2.5), which are known cause of respiratory health problems.
- The composition of the particles from polluted regions were different; they were less likely to evaporate but underwent similar atmospheric processing as emissions from clean fuels exposed to sunlight.
Implications for agencies in charge of controlled burns
Asa-Awuku, an associate professor of chemical and environmental engineering at the CE-CERT, said agencies that oversee prescribed burns should consider these findings when they predict the likely impact of prescribed burning of forest fuels in areas subjected to chronic air pollution.
“The environmental impact of prescribed burns has historically been based on data from clean fuels in areas of good air quality, so we have likely been under-predicting the impact of biomass emissions in polluted areas,” Asa-Awuku said.
She added that the study supports growing evidence that humans need to reduce our pollutant footprint associated with burning fossil fuels.
“This study, and specifically the concern that biomass grown and burned in polluted areas is potentially more toxic to human health, is additional evidence that human activities have consequences not yet explored and therefore not understood,” she said.
The research was conducted by Asa-Awuku and Michael Giordano, at UCR's CE-CERT, and Research Forester David Weise and Physical Science Technician Joey Chong from the Forest Service's Pacific Southwest Research Station.
Headquartered in Albany, Calif., the Pacific Southwest Research Station develops and communicates science needed to sustain forest ecosystems and other benefits to society. It has research facilities in California, Hawaii and the U.S.–affiliated Pacific Islands. For more information, visit www.fs.fed.us/psw/./h3>/h3>
- Author: Pam Kan-Rice
Reposted from UCANR News
The loss of oak woodlands in California's North Coast is a critical conservation concern because it is associated with losses of biodiversity and wildlife habitat, range values, cultural resources, and other oak-dependent ecosystem services. In the absence of natural disturbances like fire, conifers can outcompete deciduous oaks and eventually the oaks die. In recent years, the effects of conifer encroachment on oaks have become a focal point for UC Agriculture and Natural Resources, which has conducted important research on oak woodland conservation in Humboldt and Mendocino counties.
“UC ANR research has shown that conifer encroachment is threatening oak woodlands throughout the North Coast. This project is really exciting because it will give landowners the resources they need to restore their oak stands — resources that haven't been there in the past,” said Lenya Quinn-Davidson, UC ANR Cooperative Extension staff research associate, who led development of the project proposal.
Oak woodland restoration requires removing conifers from oak stands with prescribed fire or by cutting down the conifer trees.
“The North Coast Oak Woodland Conservation Project will provide technical guidance and resources for landowners who wish to restore or conserve their oak woodlands, and foster a strong alliance of organizations and agencies who can continue oak woodland conservation efforts into the future,” said Quinn-Davidson, who is based in Eureka.
For more information about the project or funds for oak conservation activities on private lands, contact Quinn-Davidson at firstname.lastname@example.org and (707) 445-7351.
The North Coast Oak Woodland Conservation Project was one of six projects in California selected for Regional Conservation Partnership Program funding. The funded projects focus on a range of issues, including bird habitat, climate change and forest health. The program, which is funding 84 projects totaling $220 million nationwide, is highly competitive, requiring strong partnerships that address critical conservation issues.
"We are excited and energized by these new projects that bring together a diverse mix of partners to improve California's ecosystems and landscape," said Carlos Suarez, Natural Resources Conservation Service state conservationist. "It is very powerful to be able to engage in partnerships that embrace both agricultural and environmental interests and perspectives—and find collaborative ways of making progress on critical issues."
Partners in the North Coast Oak Woodland Conservation Project include University of California Cooperative Extension, CAL FIRE, the Watershed Research and Training Center, the North Coast Regional Land Trust, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Mattole Restoration Council, Yager/Van Duzen Environmental Stewards, and the Mendocino County Resource Conservation District.
Date: September 13-15, 2016. The symposium will include plenary speakers, concurrent sessions, a poster session, reception, and field trips opportunities to view and explore the North Coast. The symposium field trips will take place on Wednesday September 14th.
Location: Sequoia Conference Center, Eureka, CA.
Background: There is no more iconic tree or closely watched forest ecosystem than coast redwood. With its limited range and high value, the coast redwood forest is a microcosm of many of the emerging science and management issues facing today's forested landscapes. As new information is collected and new management approaches and treatments tried, it is critical that policies and strategies guiding use and management within the redwood region be reviewed and updated based on objective scientific information. With changes in California's demographic makeup, land ownership, and the regional economy, great interest has developed in forest sustainability and restoration, watershed assessment, fish and wildlife habitat conditions, and new silvicultural strategies. This symposium is part of a continuing effort to promote the development and communication of scientific findings to inform management and policy decisions. In 1996 the first Redwood Symposium was held in Arcata, in 2003 the next symposia occurred in Rohnert Park, and the last occurred in Santa Cruz in 2011. A proceedings is available for each previous symposium and will be prepared for the 2016 symposium.
Audience: Intended for anyone involved in research, education, management and conservation of coast redwood systems. This includes RPFs, landowners and managers, community and conservation groups, land trusts, scientists, and policy makers.
Call for Posters/Papers: Abstract submission deadline May 1st, 2016.
- Author: Jeannette Warnert
Reposted from the UCANR Green blog
After conducting extensive forest research and taking into consideration all aspects of forest health – including fire and wildlife behavior, water quality and quantity – a group of distinguished scientists have concluded that enough is now known about proposed U.S. Forest Service landscape management treatments for them to be implemented in Sierra Nevada forests.
“There is currently a great need for forest restoration and fire hazard reduction treatments to be implemented at large spatial scales in the Sierra Nevada,” the scientists wrote. “The next one to three decades are a critical period: after this time it may be very difficult to influence the character of Sierra Nevada forests, especially old forest characteristics.”
The scientists' recommendation is in the final report of a unique, 10-year experiment in collaboration: the Sierra Nevada Adaptive Management Project (SNAMP). A 1,000-page final report on the project was submitted to the U.S. Forest Service at the end of 2015. In it, scientists reached 31 points of consensus about managing California forests to reduce wildfire hazards and protect wildlife and human communities.
“SNAMP was founded on a desire to work collaboratively to protect the forests of the Sierra Nevada,” said John Battles, professor of forest ecology in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management at UC Berkeley and SNAMP principle investigator. “The challenges are multifaceted with a huge diversity of perspective among the public, among managers, and among scientists. SNAMP tried to bring all these interests and talents together to safeguard a vital resource and a natural wonder."
SNAMP was created to help develop a collaborative management and monitoring plan consistent with the Sierra Nevada Forest Plan Amendment, signed by regional forester Jack Blackwell on Jan. 21, 2004. The amendment called for the use of fuel reduction treatments – such as prescribed burning, mechanical chopping of underbrush, and harvesting certain trees – in strategically placed areas to slow down potential wildfires and improve forest health.
Because of disagreements over forest treatments in the past, which often led to lawsuits that languished in court for years, the U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the California Natural Resources Agency decided to take a new approach in 2005. They asked the University of California to provide unbiased scientific assessments of the impacts of the proposed treatments. UC was also charged with engaging the public concerned about repercussions of the forest treatments on wildlife habitat and water quality.
The scientific efforts and the forest treatments were all conducted in an open and transparent process. To ensure the greatest number of stakeholders were taking part, SNAMP included a public participation team of social scientists and UC Cooperative Extension outreach professionals to conduct and study the collaboration process.
Susan Kocher, UC Agriculture and Natural Resources Cooperative Extension forestry advisor in the Central Sierra, was a member the project since 2008 and served as the leader of the public participation team during the final two years, succeeding Kimberly Rodrigues, a UC forestry scientist who is now the director of the UC Hopland Research and Extension Center in Mendocino County. Kocher said having outreach and public participation included as a funded part of a science project is unusual.
“We were able to make great strides in getting everybody on the same page,” Kocher said. “That's what our data shows, too.”
A large volume of new scientific information was generated by the science team, and was published in 46 journal articles. The science spread fast and far, according to citation analysis conducted by the public participation team.
“We found that the average time it took for a SNAMP publication to be cited in another journal was about seven months,” Kocher said. “Citations to our articles came from all over the United States and around the globe.”
In addition, SNAMP science-based information was immediately useful to forest managers, according to a 14-page response to the SNAMP final report by the Forest Service, Fish and Wildlife and the California Natural Resources Agency. For example, an excerpt of the response submitted by California Fish and Wildlife noted that “SNAMP proved successful at modifying treatment methodology to meet the ever-changing reality of forest management.”
“The results were able to prove useful for managers past and future regarding how management can be implemented, in the face of wildfires while still retaining important owl nesting/roosting and foraging habitat features in and near owl activity features,” the document said.
SNAMP – funded with $15 million in grants mainly from the U.S. Forest Service, with support from U.S. Fish and Wildlife, California Natural Resources Agency and University of California – ran from 2007 to 2015. The project ended with the submission of the final report that contains details about the study areas, the treatment processes and reports from each of the six science teams. The science teams and their final reports are:
- Fire and forest ecosystem health
- Spatial - The study of forest canopy and understory with remote sensing technology called lidar, which uses reflected light for analysis.
- Wildlife: California spotted owl – A bird that is dependent on high-canopy forests.
- Wildlife: Pacific fisher – A weasel-like nocturnal animal that roams a wide area and nests in the hollows of old-growth trees.
- Water quality and quality
- Public participation
A key chapter in the publication is titled Integrated Management Recommendations. In it, the 31 points of consensus are outlined.
“The integration in this project is also unique,” Kocher said. “Scientists tend to work in their own focus areas, but we can learn a lot from each other's research projects.”
Working together, the scientists looked at all the research outcomes. The first 18 recommendations in the chapter are the direct result of scientific research conducted in SNAMP projects; the remainder of the recommendations are based on other scientific work and research.
Each of the recommendations is linked to a management goal. Some goals may conflict with achieving one or more of the other management goals. This approach to organizing the recommendations was taken to demonstrate that, while many of the management recommendations do not clash, a few may. For example, suggesting treatments across a landscape in a way that minimizes the negative effects on wildlife might reduce the efficiency of treatments aimed at reducing wildfire behavior and impacts.
The next steps are for the U.S. Forest Service to consider and adapt the SNAMP results and recommendations to continue to restore and protect the natural resources at risk in the Sierra.
“My hope is the SNAMP will be seen as a promising first try to apply adaptive management in the Sierra Nevada,” Battles said. “We gained important new insights about the ecology of these forests and we learned how to conduct applied research in an inclusive manner that engages not only scientists from multiple disciplines but also managers and the public."
- Author: Glen Martin
Reprinted from California Magazine
With perhaps one of the most intense El Niño ever recorded simmering like a massive coddled egg off the coast, Californians are bracing for precipitation on an epic scale. More than that: They're hoping for it. There is a general sense that even the rampaging floods that can result from a full-blown El Niño-driven winter would be tolerable as long as our reservoirs fill and aquifers recharge and we can get back to long showers and adequately watered hydrangeas.
This is a good place to insert a couple of caveats. First, choose your wishes carefully. Recall, if you were in California at the time, the great El Niño of 1997-98, and the vivid images it provided of nature running amok: Highway 70 disappearing into the vast, churning inland sea that was once the Yuba River, with dead cows, outbuildings and giant hissing propane tanks bobbing downstream. That was the year the dikes failed on the Feather River, and thousands of Yuba City residents fled the rising waters. After it was all over, one staffer with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers chatted off the record, and said there had been very real fears that Folsom reservoir could have overtopped its dam. If that had happened, much of Sacramento would have flooded. People would have died. Four years of drought may have made people forget that California can be blighted by too much water as well as too little.
Second, observes Doug Parker, the director of UC's California Institute for Water Resources, the rain and snow may fizzle. A robust El Niño is no guarantee of record rainfall and snowpack.
“In fact, the research indicates a wet year for Southern California, but there's less confidence about a lot of precipitation for the north state, particularly in terms of snow,” says Parker.
And we need snow more than we need rain. Parker notes that intense rainfall can produce too much water too fast at the lower elevations and melt snow at the higher elevations. In such cases, the state's dams and reservoirs have to function as flood control structures; much or most of the water is shunted rapidly to the sea, not stored.
One wet winter could put a lot of water in our reservoirs and maybe help replenish some aquifers, but it will do nothing to address demand.
Further, cautions Parker, even an optimal El Niño that dumps heaps of snow in the Sierra without swamping the lowlands with Pineapple Express deluges may not get us back to “normal.” That's because surface water is only part of the issue. Brimming reservoirs alone cannot slake the state's thirst. According to theCalifornia Department of Water Resources, groundwater constitutes between 30 to 46 percent of the state's total water supply. Despite recent legislation to monitor and control groundwater withdrawals, pumping remains largely unregulated, and many of the state's aquifers are in “overdraft,” with more water being sucked up and out than trickling back underground. The results of this excessive pumping are particularly evident in the San Joaquin Valley, where massive ground subsidence—a sudden sinking or gradual sinking of the Earth's surface— is occurring as groundwater is withdrawn.
These effects are not temporary. Ground subsidence can destroy aquifer structure, reducing long-term storage capacity. And while heavy rains and deep snowpack are essential for recharging aquifers, the process isn't necessarily a rapid one.
“There are some areas where recharge happens fairly quickly, particularly if combined with decreased pumping,” Parker says. “But other areas may require decades or centuries to replenish. Also, you have to consider what you mean when you say ‘recharge.' In the Tulare Basin, the water table has fallen by hundreds of feet, it keeps dropping, and the pumping continues. So what does ‘recharge' mean? Getting water back up to 300 feet from 400 feet? What's your baseline? When water is that deep, it's unlikely you could get any significant or long-term replenishment from one year, especially considering the ongoing demand.”
And that may well be the ultimate rub: Demand. The problem with a state that has so many people and so much intensive agriculture is that water demand is by no means static. It's constantly moving, but it only moves one way: upward. No matter how much water we get, there will always be someone clamoring for it. Water rights claims exceed the amount of the state's developed water—the water controlled and distributed by government agencies—by 5.5 times. Even during the last four years of devastating drought, thousands of acres of new almond orchards have been planted in the Sacramento and San Joaquin Valleys, and almonds are a water-intensive crop, each tree requiring heavy irrigation for its entire productive span.
“One wet winter could put a lot of water in our reservoirs and maybe help replenish some aquifers, but it will do nothing to address demand,” says Parker, “so ‘getting back to normal' doesn't really speak to the biggest issues. People will always have a use for any water that's available. If we want a truly sustainable water policy, we can't be reactionary. We can't look at this from the perspective of one year, or a few years. We have to take a long-term view.”