Center for Forestry at UC Berkeley
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Center for Forestry at UC Berkeley

Forest Research and Outreach

Study refutes findings behind challenge to Sierra Nevada forest restoration

Reposted from the UC Berkeley News

A study led by ecologists at UC Berkeley has found significant flaws in the research used to challenge the U.S. Forest Service plan to restore Sierra Nevada forests to less dense, and less fire-prone, environments.

An example of a mixed-conifer forest in the Sierra de San Pedro Martir National Forest.

An example of a mixed-conifer forest in the Sierra de San Pedro Martir National Forest, Baja California Norte, Mexico. This forest experienced active, natural fires until the 1970s. (Photo by Carrie Levine).

Until recently, the consensus among forest ecologists was that before European settlers arrived in the Sierra, the forests were mostly open conifer forests dominated by big trees and low-to-moderately severe fires every eight to 12 years. The Forest Service recently released a plan to restore the range's forests back to this state following decades of fire suppression and timber harvesting regulations, which have created dense, fire-prone forests.

But recent studies, using a newly developed methodology, have argued that the Sierra Nevada was actually a more dense forest than the consensus view. These new studies were used to back a lawsuit to stop the agency's plan to restore Sierra forests following the 2013 Rim Fire. The Berkeley study refutes the conclusions of these studies and identifies flaws in their methods.

“We went through the data and showed that, in every case, this method estimated that the density of trees was two to three times higher than was the reality,” said Carrie Levine, a Ph.D. student of forest ecology at Berkeley and lead author of the study.

The study was recently published online in the journal Ecological Applications. Berkeley professors John Battles and Scott Stephens and research scientist Brandon Collins were co-authors on the publication. Also involved in the study were researchers from Harvard Forest, the USDA Forest Service Pacific Southwest Research Station, the University of Montana, Utah State University, University of California, Davis, and the USDA Forest Service Pacific Southwest Region.

An example of a densified mixed-conifer forest in the Plumas National Forest, California, USA.

An example of a densified mixed-conifer forest in the Plumas National Forest in Northern California. Fires have been suppressed in this forest for more than 100 years. (Photo by Carrie Levine).

When the U.S. was divvying up land in the West in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the General Land Office performed surveys so that the land could be parceled and sold. Land was divided into square-mile blocks, with markers used to indicate every corner point. In case a marker was moved, so-called “witness trees” near the stake were identified as reference points. The result of this data is a grid survey of the entire American West.

Using this historic field data, two ecologists at the University of Wyoming, Mark Williams and William Baker, developed a method that claims to calculate the area that a tree occupies, which is then used to calculate a forest's density. This approach is based on the observation that trees create space to keep other trees from cramming next to them, and that this space correlates to a tree's species and size.

To assess the validity of this area-based method of density estimation in the Sierra Nevada, Levine and her co-authors assembled data from plots of mapped trees across the Sierra and Baja California, Mexico. They tested the performance of the area-based method in these mapped stands where the true density was known.

Levine and colleagues found that the area-based method has two basic flaws when applied to the Sierra, the most notable being an inability to actually predict the area that a tree occupies based on its species and size due to a weak relationship between these variables. The other flaw was a failure to account for differences in the number of trees sampled at each corner. The methodological flaws led to an inflated number of trees estimated in a pre-European Sierra Nevada forest, Levine and colleagues argue.

“We have a mapped plot where every tree is measured, so we know the true density,” Levine said.

The study is important not only for the current state of the Sierra Nevada, but for its future.

“As climate changes, we want to have an accurate understanding of the past. This allows us to manage for forests that are resilient to the changes we're expecting in the future,” Levine said.

Posted on Tuesday, May 9, 2017 at 12:13 PM
  • Author: Brett Israel

Celebrating the 100th California Naturalist class

Reposted from the UCANR Green Blog

How did we get here and where shall we venture together?

This spring, the 100th California Naturalist class is being offered in Sonoma County – the very same county where we first piloted the curriculum. The UC Agriculture and Natural Resources California Naturalist Program is designed to introduce Californians to the wonders of our unique ecology and engage the public in study and stewardship of California's natural communities. The program mission is to foster a diverse community of naturalists and promote stewardship of California's natural resources through education and service. California Naturalist certification courses combine classroom and field experience in science, problem-solving, communication training and community service. Students are taught by an instructor and team of experts who are affiliated with the University of California, local nature-based centers, community colleges,  land trusts, or natural resource focused agencies such as California State Parks and cooperating “friends groups.”

A California Naturalist explores the creek.

What inspired the first California Naturalist class? Georgia, Florida, Texas and 22 other states have Master Naturalist-like programs, so why not California? After all, California is a global biodiversity hotspot filled with nature enthusiasts. It took a volunteer, Julia Fetherston, to get excited about the potential for a California program before our director Adina Merenlender was convinced to attend the 2005 National Master Naturalist Annual Conference in Estes Park, Colo. She was impressed with the impact these programs were having and decided to see what we could do in the Golden State. A good deal of effort followed to advance the cause within UC, secure grant funding, write the California Naturalist Handbook, develop ways to work with organizations across the state, and build a team to run California Naturalist. In 2012, we officially launched the program with five intrepid institutional partners (Santa Rosa Junior College/Pepperwood Foundation, Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History, UC Santa Cruz Arboretum, UC Berkeley Sagehen Creek Field Station, and Santa Barbara Botanical Garden). Four years later California Naturalist received Program of the Year from the national network, the Alliance of Natural Resource Outreach and Service Programs.

The 100th California Naturalist class is being offered at Stewards of the Coast and Redwood this spring. Stewards of the Coast and Redwoods is a non-profit, environmental and interpretive organization that works in partnership with California State Parks in the Russian River Sector of the Sonoma Mendocino Coast District to support volunteer, education and stewardship programs. Participants in this year's spring class have worked hard on a wide range of capstone projects, including multiple wildlife monitoring citizen science projects, improving fish habitat in the watershed, and creating educational materials on ticks, wetland birds, water quality and more. Co-instructors Meghan Walla-Murphy and David Berman have been teaching California Naturalist courses since 2013, first with Occidental Arts and Ecology Center and now with Stewards. Meghan is the author of Fishing on the Russian River and a well-respected wildlife tracker whose workshops are not to be missed. David is an extraordinary environmental educator, watershed expert, and Project Wild facilitator with the Sonoma County Water Agency.

2017 Stewards of the Coast & Redwoods class at their Bodega Dunes campout.

Now that we have 100 classes under our belt, oh, the places we can go! California Naturalist is a community of practice started deliberately with the goal of gaining natural history knowledge. We are working on releasing a citizen science challenge to provide an opportunity for California Naturalists to discover more about California's ecosystems - Discovery!

Surveys show that California Naturalists feel more empowered to address environmental challenges after their training and knowing they can lean on their fellow naturalists. We would like to know more about how California Naturalists are participating in civic engagement. With a new volunteer management system on the horizon, we plan to learn more about the many ways Naturalists are becoming involved in issues that affect their communities. - Action!

In particular, what activities are Naturalists doing that will help communities and natural ecosystems be more resilient to climate change – improving habitat connectivity, restoring riparian areas, or pre/post fire management?  We are looking for support to start an advanced training aimed at helping today's climate stewards learn more about climate science and adaptation to support their efforts on climate-wise - Stewardship!

Congratulations to the graduates of the 100th California Naturalist class and all those who went before you.

Naturalists from the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority's Bridge to Park Careers program.
 
Posted on Thursday, April 20, 2017 at 12:09 PM

Free forestry workshops to help teachers meet new science standards

Reposted from the UCANR Green Blog


Middle school teachers attending the Forestry Institute for Teachers hear about Project Learning Tree curriculum and other resources they can use to teach environmental education.
 

California's K-12 teachers are being challenged by the Next Generation Science Standards to find new and more engaging ways to teach science. Adopted by California in 2013, the science-education standards guide how science, technology, engineering and math education are delivered to students in the classroom. The Forestry Institute for Teachers (FIT) offers free environmental education training for teachers in a northern California forest.

“Teachers who participate in the Forestry Institute for Teachers learn to apply Next Generation Science Standards concepts as they develop or refine class lessons using the forest as a lens through which all classroom subject matter can be taught,” said Mike De Lasaux, UC Cooperative Extension natural resources advisor for Plumas and Sierra counties and a FIT instructor.

Teachers wade into a stream to learn about aquatic life.
 

Learning science through FIT's participatory model is more exciting than memorizing facts from a textbook. In the forest, FIT instructors point out opportunities for students to use technology, engineering and math to better understand the world around them. For example, math can be used to estimate the height of a towering tree. Seeing the “web of life” relationships, such as the effects of rainfall and insects on tree growth, leads to more critical thinking to solve problems.

 “The goal of the Forestry Institute for Teachers is to provide K-12 teachers with knowledge, skills and tools to effectively teach their students about forest ecology and forest resource management practices and much more,” said De Lasaux.

Teachers make wildlife track casts as part of a wildlife education activity.
 

California teachers from rural and urban settings are invited to spend a week during the summer working outdoors with natural resources experts to gain a deeper understanding of forest ecosystems and human use of natural resources. The participants are organized by grade level for age-appropriate activities. They take field-trips and do hands-on activities such as examining the rings in a tree's cross-section to learn about events – such as wet or dry periods, insect or disease damage – that have occurred during the tree's lifetime.

Participants use clinometers to measure angles to estimate tree height.
 

The Forestry Institute for Teachers has been providing science education and other subject content to California K-12 teachers since 1993 with more than 2,500 educators completing the program. 

FIT is a week-long residence program developed by the Northern California Society of American Foresters in collaboration with the University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources' Cooperative Extension, the USDA Forest Service, CALFIRE and other entities. The FIT Program is underwritten by a consortium of public and private sources.

FIT is offered in forested settings in four different Northern California locations:

  • June 11-17 in Plumas County
  • June 18-24 in Tuolumne County 
  • July 2-8 in Shasta County
  • July 9-15 in Humboldt County 

There is an application fee of $25, but training, meals and lodging are free for first-time participants.To watch videos of past participants discussing their FIT experience and to apply to attend, visit www.forestryinstitute.org.

FIT participants learn how changes in one part of the ecosystem affect others in the web of life.
Posted on Tuesday, April 18, 2017 at 11:32 AM
  • Author: Pamela Kan-Rice

Extreme Precipitation and Water Storage in California

Reposted from the California Institute for Water Resources Blog

Dr. Safeeq measures snow depth at the Kings River Experimental Watersheds site in the Southern Sierra Nevada. Photo by Michelle Gilmore.

 California's recent drought was the worst in memory. However, in a relatively quick turnaround, this year the state's water infrastructure is full and water managers are battling the wettest winter on record in quite some time. Now, by many accounts, the drought is over for much of the state.

The uniquely wet winter of 2016-2017 has highlighted a key issue surrounding our surface and ground water storage infrastructure: We could have stored this abundant water, not in new reservoirs, but right under our feet. The cycles of drought and flood will continue in California; in order to survive the droughts we have to move winter precipitation to groundwater storage in greater quantity and more efficiently.

 

From Oct. 2016- Feb. 2017, the statewide precipitation total was 28.5 inches. At 180% above average, this year ranked first of the 122-year period of record. In the San Joaquin and Tulare Lake region, the amount of precipitation was greater than the statewide average, but not enough to break records.

 Just as spring is showing bluer skies, and we have a handle on local flooding, there's yet more water to come from the mountains. After five years of thin and, in some cases, non-existent snow cover, the California Department of Water Resources  snow survey data shows nearly 47 inches of snow water equivalent. That is, there's nearly four feet of water sitting on top of the Sierras ready to melt and fill our rivers, reservoirs, floodplains, and where possible, percolate into underground aquifers.

 

Snowpack at the beginning of the rainy season (November, 28, 2016) at the Southern Sierra Critical Zone Observatory. Photo by M Safeeq.

At the beginning of the calendar year, as heavy precipitation continued, reservoir managers started holding back and reserving water behind dams, uncertain how much precipitation we might get through the rest of the rainy season. But the heavy rain and snow turned out to be overwhelming, and reservoirs were near capacity by mid-February, losing the ability to further store runoff and mitigate for floods. In other words, there is a limit to how much water we can store behind these dams.

On the other hand, the amount of groundwater storage potential (between 850-1300 million acre feet) in California dwarfs our current surface water storage capacity (42 million acre feet). Unfortunately, with some inspiring exceptions, California does not typically manage or store surface water and groundwater conjunctively. But with patterns like a long drought followed by an extremely wet winter, we have the opportunity to prepare groundwater storage infrastructure that will help us to take excess surface water and store it in aquifers.

With Sierra Nevada sensor networks and remote sensing, we can account for how much water is available in snow, how much water should be stored as groundwater, and how much can be safely stored in reservoirs. With sites like the Southern Sierra Critical Zone Observatory on the Kings River and San Joaquin River watershed, and its expansion to UC Water'sAmerican River Hydrological Observatory, we can measure in near-real-time how much water is in the Sierra Nevada and model the timing of its arrival to streams and reservoirs.

This year we largely missed the groundwater storage opportunity, especially for basins battling with overdraft issues. If we focus on groundwater storage potential now, we could be ready for the next very wet winter when it comes.

Dr. Safeeq is a Research Scientist with Sierra Nevada Research Institute, University of California, Merced and Investigator with the UC Water Security and Sustainability Research Initiative. Follow him on Twitter @safeeqkhan @ucwater, and keep up to date with California's weather patterns through a free service, the California Climate Tracker.

Posted on Monday, April 17, 2017 at 9:01 PM
  • Author: Mohammed Safeeq

UC helps forest owners adapt to climate change

Reposted from the UCANR Green Blog

To help California forest property owners adapt to the changing climate, UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) has produced a 13-page peer-reviewed paper that outlines actions owners can take to sustain their forests' value even when temperatures rise.

“Managers of forest land have always had to adapt to changing conditions – such as markets, urban encroachment, droughts and floods,” said Susie Kocher, UC Cooperative Extension forestry and natural resources advisor. “We wrote this paper to help forest managers better understand the evolving science of climate change and how they can help their forests adapt to the climate of the future.”

Thinning trees in a mixed conifer forest is one way to improve its resiliency to climate change. (Photo: Will Suckow)
 

Forests are shaped by the climates in which they grow. The current rapid pace of climate change has not happened for thousands of years, according to climate scientists. Nevertheless, the authors assure forest landowners that there are land management decisions they can make to ensure the resiliency of their resources, and perhaps even improve them.

“Some trees may grow faster under the warmer conditions we experience with climate change,” Kocher said, “especially those at highest elevation where there is adequate precipitation.”

The paper details the solid scientific evidence that indicates the rise in global average temperatures over the past 100 years. The temperatures, it says, “will likely continue to rise in the future, with impacts on natural and human systems.”

The document provides specific recommendations for care of three common types of forest in California: mixed conifer, oak woodland and coastal redwood forests.

Oak woodland forests have moderate to high capacity to adapt to climate change. (Photo: Stephanie Drill)
 

Mixed conifer forests – typically composed of white fir, sugar pine, ponderosa pine, incense cedar and California black oak – are susceptible to moisture stress caused by warmer temperatures and reduced snow and rain. The drier conditions make the trees more vulnerable to fire and insect attack.

The drought of 2010-2016 has already had a substantial impact on mixed conifer forests in the Sierra Nevada. Aerial detection surveys show that more than 102 million trees have died since 2010; more than 62 million died in 2016 alone.

The UC ANR climate change adaptation paper suggests reducing competition for water by thinning trees and managing for species and structural diversity. The authors suggest property owners consider the source of seedlings when planting new trees.

“Select seedlings adapted to a slightly lower elevation or latitude than your property,” Kocher said. “These would be more likely to thrive under the 3- to 5-degree warmer temperatures we expect in 50 years or so.”

Oak woodlands are widely distributed and diverse in California, which gives them moderate to high capacity to adapt to climate change. Mature oaks are more resilient than young trees and seedlings.

One potential impact of climate change on oak woodlands is increasing precipitation variability and increasing spring rains. The moisture change could increase the spread and prevalence of Sudden Oak Death (SOD), a disease caused by a bacterium that was introduced into California from outside the U.S. SOD is primarily a concern in areas with tanoaks in Central to Northern California coastal areas.

“To reduce the spread of sudden oak death, land owners should prevent the movement of infected leaves, wood and soil,” according to the paper.

Fog frequency in California's redwood forests is significantly lower now than 100 years ago. (Photo: Jason Sturner, Wikimedia Commons.)
 

The primary concern for coastal redwood forests is the decline in fog. Fog frequency in coastal redwoods is 33 percent lower now compared to the early 20th Century. Less fog and rain plus warmer temperatures would leave coastal areas where redwoods typically thrive drier. But that doesn't mean redwoods will disappear. Areas with deep soil and areas close to streams and rivers may provide refuge for redwood forests.

The new publication, Adapting Forests to Climate Change, can be downloaded free from the UC ANR Catalog. It is the 25th in the Forest Stewardship series, developed to help forest landowners in California learn how to manage their land. It was written by Adrienne Marshall, a doctoral student at the University of Idaho; Susie Kocher, UC Cooperative Extension forestry and natural resources advisor; Amber Kerr, postdoctoral scholar with the UC John Muir Institute of the Environment; and Peter Stine, U.S. Forest Service.

Posted on Wednesday, April 5, 2017 at 9:11 PM
  • Author: Jeannette Warnert

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