- Author: Jeannette Warnert
Omnipresent and homely, turkey vultures are a native California wildlife species that doesn't get a lot of research attention.
But UC Cooperative Extension advisor Greg Giusti has found a surprising level of interest from the public in his Northern California research project about turkey vultures' nesting preferences in oak woodland.
“Animals with cute fuzzy faces are far more attractive in our culture,” said Giusti, a wildland ecology expert. “Turkey vultures have been overlooked. Very little is known about their biology and environmental needs.”
In the study area, the researchers counted 417 trees in all; seven of them had suitable nesting elements for turkey vultures. They found that the vultures at the Hopland facility select large hollow trees – either dead or alive, either shaded or in the sun – to lay eggs and rear their young. The tree species in the study included blue oak, interior live oak, Oregon white oak and valley oak.
The nesting trees were widely dispersed and ranged in diameter from 36 inches to 65 inches around at breast height. The nesting cavities are vertical tubes in the tree trunks that drop down as much as 13 feet from the entrance to the ground.
“This is very different from other large birds, like eagles and osprey, who build open cup nests high up in tall trees, which they may use for generations,” Giusti said.
After turkey vulture chicks hatch, the parents drop into the cavity five or six times a day to feed their young, Giusti said. How birds with a five-foot wingspan traverse a deep vertical tunnel is a mystery.
“They just shimmy up and down, I would imagine,” Giusti said. “We don't know how the young birds do it when they fledge. We've never witnessed the adult birds calling them out.”
Giusti said the scientists will continue to build on the turkey vulture nesting database they have started with results from this project. In the coming years, they hope to learn whether turkey vultures will re-use successful nesting sites and whether they may be found nesting in fallen logs or rock piles.
An initiative to maintain and enhance sustainable natural ecosystems is part of the UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources Strategic Vision 2025.
- Author: Pam Kan-Rice
- Posted by: Susie Kocher
If you have a real Christmas tree, University of California pest management experts ask that you to recycle the tree to prevent the spread of insects and diseases that may harm our forests and landscape trees.
“Invasive insects, diseases and plant seeds can move on cut Christmas trees and other holiday greenery,” said Janice Alexander, UC Cooperative Extension forest health educator in Marin County. “These pests can escape out into backyards and neighboring forests to begin new populations, upsetting the balance of our native ecosystems. Proper purchasing and disposal of holiday greenery helps reduce that risk.”
Alexander recommends taking advantage of local tree recycling programs.
“Many municipalities and service organizations offer this service right at your curb,” she said. “If you aren't able to find or use this option, take the tree to your local solid waste facility, dump or landfill. This will keep any pests that might be in the tree from spreading and the landfill uses the material as cover.”
“You should not try to burn the wood indoors as fresh sap can create fire hazards,” she added, “and don't set the tree out in a backyard brush pile where pests and weed seeds could escape onto your property.”
“The most worrisome pests that might be traveling on Christmas trees or greenery this year include P. ramorum, pine shoot beetle and gypsy moth,” Alexander said.
The movement of some fresh trees is regulated. For example, Douglas fir trees are regulated because they are hosts for Phytophthora ramorum, which causes sudden oak death. The disease has killed millions of tanoak trees and several oak tree species in forests throughout California since the mid-1990s.
Pine shoot beetle and gypsy moth are not currently in California, but they could damage the state's Christmas tree plantations and forests if they were to become established.
Pine shoot beetles, Tomicus piniperda, feed on shoots, stunting the growth of pine trees. Large populations of the insects can kill apparently healthy trees.
Gypsy moth, Lymantria dispar, attacks forests and landscape trees, including manzanita, western hemlock, Douglas fir and live oak. Gypsy moth caterpillars feed on hundreds of plant species and are capable of defoliating trees at an alarming rate. A single gypsy moth caterpillar can eat up to one square foot of leaves per day, according to the California Department of Food and Agriculture.
“According to the Don't Move Firewood website, Christmas trees are generally deemed safer than firewood in terms of invasive pests,” Alexander said. “However, safe disposal of trees is still important.”
For more information about sudden oak death and forest health, visit Alexander's website athttp://cemarin.ucanr.edu/Programs/Custom_Program816. More information about holiday greenery pests can be found at theUSDA APHIS website and the Don't Move Firewood websitehttp://www.dontmovefirewood.org/HolidayGreenery.
- Author: Pam Kan-Rice
- Posted by: Susie Kocher
One approach to improving science literacy of children is to train their teachers in environmental education. Using the forest as a classroom, Project Learning Tree, now a program delivered through UC Cooperative Extension, educates teachers about the environment and provides ideas and the tools needed for integrating environmental education into their core curriculum.
The primary goal of PLT is to teach people how to think, not what to think, about complex environmental issues. This has been the vision of PLT since the mid-1970s, inspiring educators to teach and students to learn about their environment, by doing.
At the outdoor workshops, foresters demonstrate forest practices and talk about forest science. For example, Mike De Lasaux, UC Cooperative Extension forestry advisor in Plumas and Sierras counties, leads participants out to take tree measurements and shows them how foresters determine the age of a tree by taking a core sample and counting the rings.
“The program is designed for teachers and other educators, parents and community leaders who work with youth from preschool age up through grade 12,” said Sandy Derby, UC Cooperative Extension statewide coordinator.
Studies have shown that when environmental education and outdoor learning activities are integrated into curricula, student achievement increases, including their test scores in science and math. Recognized as a leader in environmental education for more than 35 years, the program started by the American Forest Foundation enhances critical thinking, problem-solving and effective decision-making skills, Derby said.
How does it all work? Project Learning Tree collaborates with a network of more than 200 facilitators, natural resources professionals and researchers across the state to provide three types of trainings: educator workshops, training with the Forest Institute for Teachers and train-the-trainer workshops.
Project Learning Tree's educator workshops are six to eight hours on one or more days and offered at UC ANR Research and Extension Centers located around the state. They focus on introducing the goals and vision of teaching and learning using PLT best practices. Each educator receives a PLT guide for use in the classroom.
Every summer, PLT participates in the Forest Institute for Teachers, a six-day intensive training offered at four locations. The participants spend the mornings with forestry experts or researchers on field excursions to learn about science, current research and issues, and management challenges from different perspectives. Their afternoons are spent applying that knowledge, working in grade-level teams to engage in best practices of integrating content into experience-based teaching. After taking the PLT educator workshops, graduates can take a two-day training to learn how to train others. Train-the-trainer workshops are offered a few times each year in different locations.
Project Learning Tree in California was delivered by CALFIRE for 25 years before becoming part of UC Cooperative Extension. In 2013, under UCCE advisor De Lasaux's guidance, Project Learning Tree was brought into UC Cooperative Extension to create more collaborative partnerships, engage more natural resources professionals and to expand the number of educators trained to use PLT materials.
For more information about Project Learning Tree, updates on workshops, or questions on how to become part of this expansive network, contact Sandy Derby at email@example.com or visithttp://ucanr.edu/sites/PLT_UCCE. To learn more about the Forest Institute for Teachers, visithttp://www.forestryinstitute.org.
Reposted from the UCANR Green Blog.
Hike off-trail through most any part of the Sierra Nevada and you may find yourself losing your hat to a low hanging branch, your shoe to a thicket of dead and dying brush, or your companion to the crevice hidden by the wall of young trees.
There is no doubt that the forests of the Sierra Nevada, while amazingly beautiful, have grown dense with vegetation. Consequently, forests have become increasingly susceptible to high severity fires, which negatively impact the forest's overall health and our ability to enjoy it.
There is a relationship between a healthy forest and its density. The denser the forest, the more competition individual trees have for valuable resources, such as water, light and nutrients. The effects of competition on tree growth and death are profound – the more trees per acre, the smaller the diameter of the individual trees (meaning less growth) and the higher the likelihood trees will be negatively impacted by pests, diseases, and poor health, ultimately leading to tree mortality. Theories in ecology, supported by field data and statistical analysis, predict that some trees will outperform others and the difference in performance increases with crowding. Unfortunately, evidence suggests that excess density is causing increased mortality in the Sierra.
John Battles, forestry professor at UC Berkeley and member of the Sierra Nevada Adaptive Management Project (SNAMP), is leading a team of UC Berkeley researchers and graduate students in developing vulnerability profiles that will help to quantify individual trees' probability of survival. The growth response of individual trees is the primary measure of forest health in the SNAMP study. The team believes growth is an excellent indicator of tree vitality and that a necessary (but not sufficient) condition for a healthy forest is healthy trees.
The team collected and processed more than 12,000 tree cores to develop long term growth and vulnerability profiles for different tree species. Their results supported the accepted notion that, in general, good growth was an indicator of good health. However, they also found that "bad years," when growth was substantially lower than normal, were strong predictors of death. In addition, they reported that bad years had a cumulative impact that spanned decades. In other words, the best predictor of potential death was for a tree to experience two or more bad years over the most recent 20 – or even 40 – years. The team has been working to translate these relationships between tree growth and survival to produce a vulnerability index by species and size. One goal is to have some sense on how vulnerable a stand is before many trees start to die.
Another key question being asked by SNAMP researchers is whether fuels treatment projects designed to modify fire behavior also improve forest health. Battles and his team hypothesize that thinning a dense forest will improve individual tree and overall forest health, as well as reducing fire risk. Resilience, or the capacity to recover from adverse conditions, is the goal. Histories captured in tree core samples show that trees can survive adverse conditions such as fire and drought. While studies have shown that properly implemented fuel treatments are effective at reducing hazardous fire potential, there are secondary ecological effects that can impact forest resilience either positively or negatively depending on the treatment type, timing and intensity. In a study at the UC Blodgett Forest Research Station, researcher Brandon Collins and others looked at large, dominant tree growth responses, measured seven years after the implementation of some of the most common fuel treatments, to estimate that forest's health. Across the five tree species analyzed, observed mortality and future vulnerability were consistently low in the areas where only mechanical treatment occurred. Fire-only treatment had results similar to areas that did not receive treatments for all species except Douglas-fir. Mechanical-plus-fire treatments, however, had high observed mortality and future vulnerability for white fir and sugarpine. Given that these large, dominant trees play a key role in terms of wildlife habitat, carbon sequestration and soil stability, these results have implications for understanding longer-term impacts of common fuel treatment types on forest resilience.
Through the analysis of tree core samples, Battles and his team hope to provide clarification on conditions that improve individual tree health and the overall health of the forest. The final report on SNAMP, with the results of the forest health study described here, will be available May 31, 2015, athttp://snamp.cnr.berkeley.edu/.
- Author: jeannette warnert
- Posted by: Susie Kocher
Published on: October 28, 2014 on the UCANR Green Blog
After academics complete fire science research, the results often end up gathering dust on a shelf. UC Cooperative Extension is now playing a significant role in bridging the gap between wildland fire science and wildland managers across the United States.
“It is a classic disconnect,” said Susie Kocher, UC Cooperative Extension advisor in the Central Sierra office. “That's why Cooperative Extension was formed almost 100 years ago. Policymakers could see that research advances weren't being implemented on farms. The same thing has happened in natural resource management.”
For example, Kocher said, scientists have known since the 1960s that systematic fire suppression has many negative consequences, but it took a very long time to get that message into practice by agencies charged with managing wildfire.
“After the Great Burn of 1910, which killed 87 people, there was a public clamor to attack fire and treat it as an enemy,” Kocher said. “We've come a long way since then. Now land managers have a good understanding of how important it is to have low-intensity fire in Sierra forests.”
Fire agencies are now beginning to understand that they must pay attention to technology transfer. Kocher believes UC Cooperative Extension is a logical player in the process.
“Cooperative Extension is the exemplar,” Kocher said. “We try to get new and evolving understanding into the hands of people who use the information to made decisions – not just land managers, but the public and policy makers as well.”
Beginning in 2009, the federal Joint Fire Science Program created 15 regional fire science exchanges to accelerate awareness, understanding and use of wildland fire science. Scott Stephens, professor in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management at UC Berkeley, leads the California consortium. Stacey S. Frederick serves as the consortium's full-time coordinator. Other UC academics involved are Kocher and Yana Valachovic, UCCE advisor in Humbolt and Del Norte counties.
Since its inception four years ago, the consortium has hosted webinars, conferences and symposia, and offered field consultations, field trips, tours, demonstrations and expertise. Another significant role of the group has been distilling academic fire science research reports into easy-to-read one-to two-page research briefs. To date, well over 100 briefs have been written by the consortium on a wide range of topics.
The California Fire Science Consortium maintains a comprehensive website that contains links to the research briefs, webinar recordings and information about upcoming events. The consortium also offers a twitter feed @cafirescience and Facebook pagehttps://www.facebook.com/CaliforniaFireScienceConsortium and you can sign up for their monthly newsletter here.