- Author: Lenya Quinn-Davidson
- Editor: J. M.
We all know that fire is one of the oldest and most powerful tools that humans have. For millennia, we have used fire to improve our home lives—food, winter warmth, etc.—but what we often forget is that most of the landscapes we know and love have also been shaped by fire, and in many cases, by fires that humans have started.
We both grew up in rural northern California, and if you talk to old timers in our communities, you'll hear stories of the deep connections between people and fire: of Native Americans lighting off of trails as they hiked out of their hunting grounds in the fall, and ranchers burning their fields to improve range and keep things open. Unfortunately, across much of California, these types of stories have become mere folklore—wistful anecdotes from a time with less regulation and more personal and cultural autonomy. In most parts of the state, landowners aren't using fire anymore; the fear of liability, the perceived complexity of permits and regulations, and the generational and cultural gaps in fire experience have virtually eliminated fire from the toolbox for most landowners. But that's about to change.
In recent history, CAL FIRE has been the leader in private lands burning. In the 1980s, their Vegetation Management Program (VMP) was responsible for 30,000-65,000 acres of prescribed burning every year, but in recent decades, those numbers have consistently fallen short of 10,000 acres a year—a drop in the bucket given the habitat and fuels issues that we face in California. CAL FIRE is currently revamping and reinvesting in the VMP, which is great news, but it's become clear that other pathways are needed for landowners to reclaim fire as the important tool that it is.
Last year, we started looking into prescribed fire models from other parts of the country. We know that other regions have impressive burn programs that blow California out of the water, and in most of those places, they've been successful because landowners are doing the burning themselves—something that's almost unheard of in California. We were curious how those efforts are structured, and what it would take to do something similar here.
One of the most promising models of landowner-led burning is the prescribed burn association (PBA) model, through which landowners and other interested partners can work together to burn each other's properties. In many regions, these PBAs are spearheaded by the ranching community, in collaboration with conservation organizations like the National Wild Turkey Federation, Pheasants Forever, and others that see direct benefits for wildlife. In 2015, there were 62 PBAs in the United States, almost all of which were in the Great Plains and Texas. The PBA model has spread into parts of the Southeast, too, but these types of efforts have been noticeably absent in the West.
In March of 2017, we traveled to Nebraska to burn with and learn from two well-established PBAs. Our Californian convoy included the two of us from UCCE, a colleague from the Natural Resources Conservation Service, and Dean Hunt, one of our key ranching partners here in Humboldt County. During our five-day visit, we spent two days burning with the PBAs and learning about their organizational structure. In both cases, the PBAs have local leaders who are not traditional fire practitioners; rather, they are local landowners—one a corn farmer and the other a cattle rancher—who have a vested interest in healthy rangelands and habitats. Throughout the year, these PBA leaders work with other local landowners to develop burn plans and prep units, and when optimal weather windows present themselves, the group gets together and conducts the burns. The PBA is mostly volunteer, and members contribute tools and equipment to help make the burns happen. On the two days that we burned with them, an email was sent out to the PBA mailing list, and within hours, more than forty people arrived on site with trucks, UTVs equipped with small water tanks, and hand tools. The PBA leaders also have burn trailers, which were funded by various conservation groups and are fully equipped with hand tools, radios, drip torches, and other key items.
PBA members typically volunteer on two or more burns before their projects make it onto the group's priority list. In this way, there is clear incentive to help each other out, and everyone benefits in the long term. Because of PBAs, burning has become a viable and effective treatment—one that provides unprecedented training opportunities to landowners, encourages community-wide collaboration, and is reversing trends of habitat and rangeland losses throughout the middle of the country. So why aren't we doing this in California?
When we got back from Nebraska, we hit the ground running. We organized a training burn on Dean Hunt's ranch that June, and we've completed another eight burns since then. Burns have targeted a wide range of objectives, including invasive species control, oak woodland restoration, coyote brush management, and fuels reduction.
In March of this year, we held a meeting and officially formed the Humboldt County Prescribed Burn Association—the first of its kind in the West. At that meeting, we easily brainstormed 17 different projects that we'd like to complete in the coming year or two, and we formed an 11-person Board of Directors that includes a wide array of ranchers and other community members. Since then, we've applied for two grants and continued to build out our burn trailer, which was funded by the California Deer Association last year and is full of drip torches, hand tools, and other equipment for burning.
On August 1, we hosted a workshop with Stephanie Larson and other partners. The workshop covered some of the nuts and bolts of prescribed fire on private lands in California, and it gave us a chance to share more information about prescribed burn associations. For more information on prescribed burning, please send us an email: Lenya Quinn-Davidson, Area Fire Advisor, UCCE, firstname.lastname@example.org, and Jeffery Stackhouse, Livestock and Natural Resources Advisor, UCCE, email@example.com.
To promote the exchange and sharing of agricultural extension information, several U.S. Land Grant institutions have formed an alliance with 10 Chinese agricultural universities. From June 17 to 22, UC Agriculture & Natural Resources took a group of scientists from Chinese agricultural universities on a tour of agriculture in Northern California.
Extension in China
As Anne Megaro, director of governmental and community relations for UC Agriculture & Natural Resources explained “They have extension in China, but it is not like ours. They are looking to strengthen their advisor positions and develop a mechanism for career advancement, similar to what we have in the U.S.”
Visit to Sonoma County
On June 19 and 20, the delegation visited Sonoma County to learn about our Ombudsman, Master Gardener, 4-H and Rangeland programs in Sonoma County. Photos at end of the story.
The evening of June 19, Agriculture Ombudsman, Karen Giovannini, shared how she helps farmers and ranchers navigate permitting and regulations. She explained how, at their most refined, regulations are in place to protect resources, that is, people and the environment. China also has many ‘rules' as the delegates called them. Karen shared locally made sheep, goat and cow cheeses with the delegates as an example of how a dairy operation could expand their product offerings to help them stay viable. Although cheese is not a ‘traditional' product in China, Karen explained that it could be a way to help keep some of the younger generation in rural areas.
China is continuing to experience the largest migration in world history. The rural population is migrating into the urban areas for better pay and opportunities raising concerns about the negative impacts on their agriculture sector and food security. Fun fact, in 2013: “Roughly one out of every 25 people in the world was a resident of a Chinese city who arrived, or was born, since the current round of [Chinese] economic reforms began in 1978.” Like United States, labor shortages in agriculture in China are creating a need for more agriculture technology. By the way, of the delegates that tried the cheeses, their favorite was the goat cheese.
Master Gardener and Bayer Farm Programs
On morning of June 20, Master Gardener Food Gardening Specialists and Jonathan Bravo from Bayer Farm kindly hosted the Chinese delegation. Jonathan, the garden manager, showed the delegation the community garden at Bayer Farm and talked about the programs there and then the FGS team led the delegation through the demonstration garden and discussed the sustainable food gardening principles being shown in the garden, such as integrated pest management and square foot gardening, and discussed their educational outreach programs in the garden. Because so much of China's population lives in the cities, this example of urban farming is of interest to the delegates.
The delegates were also very interested in the bilingual interactions. In China, there are many dialects and it will be important for youth extension programs to reach out to the rural population in their native dialects. The delegation was also quite interested in 4-Hers selling market livestock at the fairs as they observed when visiting Shasta County fair earlier that week.
Final stop in Sonoma County was a visit to Taylor Mountain Regional Park. Dr Stephanie Larson shared the experiences she had with setting up grazing on public lands and the many benefits it provides, including exposing the non-farming community to livestock on working lands. They hiked to one of the educational signs along the trail that UCCE advisors developed, along with videos and fact sheets, to educate the public about the importance of maintaining proper livestock grazing and rancher stewardship on California's rangelands with public access.
Although China has the third largest population of cattle, they import most of their beef to meet the increasing demand due to increasing standard of living of the Chinese people. As recent as 2016, “small farms with 9 or fewer cattle slaughtered per year are responsible for a major portion of Chinese beef production.” Plus, their native cattle breeds far underperform when compared to fast growing beef cattle breeds in the United States and other countries. Developing grazing programs on public park lands in China will keep their heritage alive while producing the many benefits grazers provide. The delegates were fascinated to see the cattle enjoying the grasses.
The delegates loved their visit to Sonoma County. Next stop was UC Davis and the Russell Ranch Sustainable Agriculture Facility, UCD's living laboratory.
Glenda Humiston, VP of UC ANR summed up the visit best, “The Chinese face many of the same issues that we do here in the U.S. The Chinese universities want to improve rural economic development to lift up the quality of life for people in rural communities. They are also responding to global climate change, drought and pests while trying to improve food security and water use efficiency. They see UC Cooperative Extension as an effective research model; we hope that scientific collaborations will accelerate solutions and help maintain relations for California agriculture with China.”/h3>/h3>/h3>/h3>/h3>/h3>/h3>
- Author: Phil McRea, Sonoma County Master Gardener
- Contributor: Karen Giovannini, Agriculture Ombudsman, UCCE Sonoma
Many residents in Sonoma County live in or near fire danger. For those who do live in a high fire area, knowing what to do when conditions are ideal for a forest (or urban fire) is essential.
Red Flag Warning
- Sustained wind speeds averaging 15 mph or greater
- Relative humidity 25% or less
- Temperature over 75 degrees F
Fuel Moisture Index
The fuel moisture index is a tool used to understand fire potential. 10-hour fuel moisture also known as Dead Fuel Moisture; when fuel moisture is <30%, it is essentially considered dead. 10-hour fuel moisture applies to grasses and bushes up to 1 inch in diameter. Learn more at NOAA.
The US National Weather Service warning is to inform area fire fighters and land management agencies that conditions are ideal for wild-land fire combustion. Cal Fire and local fire agencies all go on a high alert status under these conditions.
The Wind Cries...Santa Ana or Diablo?
The Santa Ana and Diablo winds occur throughout the year, but are extremely dangerous during dry periods (which, in Southern CA is practically year round). Santa Ana occurs in Southern CA, Diablo in the north. Winds come from the east from hot surfaces (deserts) and are compressed and speed up as they head towards the ocean. Learn more from SFSU. Check out current wind conditions at Windy.com.
Here are some things you can do when Red Flag Warnings are issued. State and local news agencies usually announce Red Flag Warning 24-48 hours in advance on TV and radio, so there is time to act on short-term fixes.
During Fire Season
- Make sure garden hoses are hooked up and ready to use with spray nozzles attached; best practice is to never leave a garden hose randomly piled up as it will always tangle – if you want it coiled, coil it in equal sized oval loops with each successive loop offset few inches in the same direction.
- All portable propane tanks (BBQ, smoker, etc.) should be turned off and moved away from your house.
- If you have a pool: in an emergency, a pressure washer can be used to pump water from your pool and should be left in an available location; fire fighters should have clear access to your pool.
- Decks should be cleared above and below of flammable objects.
- Gas cans – for lawn mowers, chippers, whatever – should be moved away from house or garage/barn.
- Cover firewood stacks next to house with a fire resistant cover.
- Make sure cell phones are charged and ready for alerts and within hearing at all times.
- Close exterior doors and windows. Leave doors unlocked. Leave lights on inside and outside of house.
- If you have a ladder, leave it available outside, next to the house, in case fire fighters need to access roof.
- Have all your evacuation supplies such as flashlights and a good portable radio ready to go.
- Make sure your cars have plenty of gas and are parked outside, or garage door is capable of manual operation and all capable family members know how to open it.
- If appropriate, shut off gas supply line at the meter.
- Make an evacuation plan and collect all necessary supplies.
- Clean gutters and roof debris regularly.
- Where possible, install mesh screening under decks to prevent burning material from blowing.
- Move firewood piles away from house.
- If you have a pool, research the special pump systems that are available for fire fighting.
- For more information obtain a free brochure: “Living with Fire in Sonoma County” from fire agencies of Sonoma County.
Learn more about disaster preparation and recovery on Disaster Recovery Resources./h3>/h3>/h2>/h3>/h3>/h2>
4-H is Helping Prepare Youth for College and Career
By Steven Worker, Ph.D., 4-H Youth Development Advisor and Diego Mariscal, UC 4-H Outreach Coordinator
Youth need to be prepared for higher education or a skilled profession after they graduate from high school. A college-ready young person is academically prepared for a four-year, two-year, or vocational course of study without the need for remedial coursework. College-ready youth are competent in reading, writing, mathematics and have social and life skills to succeed in a post-secondary program. Career-ready youth have the knowledge, skills, and dispositions needed for employment in their chosen career. Unfortunately, many high school graduates are not ready for college or the workforce. In California, less than one in three high school ACT-tested graduates were not ready for entry-level college courses. The cost of college tuition and social disadvantages contribute to access barriers for some families. In the fastest growing career fields, less than half of high school graduates interested in these fields meet the ACT College Readiness Benchmark. Companies are often finding it challenging to recruit qualified workers to fill needed positions. Solving these challenges and supporting our youth in becoming college and career ready will require collaborations between schools, youth programs, businesses, and families.
The University of California Cooperative Extension is strengthening its college and career readiness efforts through the 4-H Youth Development Program. 4-H is the only youth program connected to land-grant universities and geared to develop social and life skills needed for a successful transition to college and adulthood. 4-H programs fill a critical need in preparing youth to succeed in college and careers. In 4-H programs, youth develop important skills including social skills, stress management and grit, growth mindset, self-motivation, confidence, and responsibility. These are the kinds of “soft skills” (also referred to as “non-cognitive” skills or “life skills”) key to succeeding in college and in the workforce.
Cooperative Extension is beginning to focus on helping 4-H members gain awareness of higher education options (like vocational, community, and four-year college options), identifying relationships between careers and 4-H projects, or actively exploring careers. In this program year, 2017-2018, Sonoma County 4-H initiated two programs to support college and career readiness. The first is a career exploration program where Sonoma County teenagers were invited to visit a business, speak with employees, tour the facility, and learn about what it takes to succeed in that career. We thank Parker Hannifin and Double 8 Dairy for hosting teenagers at their workplaces.
Sonoma County 4-H will expand these two pilot programs next year by creating a Sonoma County 4-H Teen Club, which will focus on leadership development, career exploration, and social connection. 4-H will also start offering the Juntos family workshops at Cook Middle School. Through these efforts, 4-H is helping paper our young people for college and career options after they graduate high school. For more information, please visit http://cesonoma.ucanr.edu/4H/
- Author: Karen Giovannini
Decision makers and the public have little knowledge of animal agriculture production or the ecosystems services provided by livestock grazing on western open space lands, according to Larson and Barry. To address the issue, they created an information campaign promoting the value of cattle grazing and ecosystem services on open space through curriculum and interpretive trail signage.
The advisors collaborated with the California Rangelands Conservation Coalition and three park districts (East Bay Regional Park Districts, Mid-Peninsula Regional Open Space District, and Sonoma County Regional Parks) to produce signage, factsheets and videos describing ecosystem services and how they relate to California rangelands. The print materials can be found at Grazing on Public Lands.
The three videos are posted on UC ANR's YouTube channel:
Susie Kocher, UCCE forestry and natural resources advisor in the Central Sierra area, will accept the award on behalf of Larson and Barry during the awards ceremony May 2 at the ANREP conference in Biloxi, Miss./table>