Center for Forestry at UC Berkeley
University of California
Center for Forestry at UC Berkeley

Forest Research and Outreach

Study: Wildfires, Climate Change Could Make Sierra a Polluter

Reposted from UC Merced News


Yosemite Valley in the western Sierra Nevada Mountains.

Yosemite Valley in the western Sierra Nevada Mountains.

What if nature were to become a polluter, discharging millions of tons of planet-warming carbon into the atmosphere in much the same way as diesel-fueled trucks or coal-fired power plants?

This nature-as-polluter scenario might seem far-fetched, but it's well on its way to becoming reality, according to a recent study co-authored by UC Merced Professor LeRoy Westerling.

In a paper published recently in Scientific Reports Opens a New Window.— “Potential decline in carbon carrying capacity under projected climate-wildfire interactions in the Sierra Nevada” — Westerling and collaborators from the University of New Mexico and Penn State University used three climate models and data from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to examine how rising global temperatures and increasingly severe wildfires will affect Sierra Nevada forests.

Their conclusion: Changing conditions will turn today's Sierra Nevada forests into tomorrow's greenhouse gas emitters.

Forests play an important part in regulating the levels of atmospheric carbon,” Westerling explained. “Forests are carbon sinks, essentially giant stockpiles of carbon. Forests are also active carbon consumers. They remove carbon dioxide from the air and convert it into biomass. This traps the carbon, which is no longer free to act as a greenhouse gas in Earth's atmosphere.”

Professor LeRoy Westerling.

Professor LeRoy Westerling

But projections from Westerling and colleagues suggest that this may change. According to their models, Sierra Nevada forests will experience both a dramatic loss of stored carbon and a substantial decline in their ability to remove CO2 from the atmosphere.

Rising temperatures are creating a warmer, drier Sierra Nevada climate. Westerling previously showed that these changes are leading to dramatic increases in the frequency, size and duration of wildfires. The new study suggests that these same changes will make it harder for forests to regenerate, leading to a loss of forest density, with plants better suited to the new climate eventually replacing trees.

As trees are displaced, the Sierra Nevada will lose its ability to sequester carbon,” Westerling explained. “The plants that spring up in their place will be significantly smaller, making them less effective carbon sinks than the trees they replaced.”

But the carbon stored in forest trees has to go somewhere.

As trees are burned in more frequent wildfires, and as dead trees undergo decomposition, Westerling and his colleagues predict that as much as 73 percent of the carbon in Sierra Nevada forests will be released, resulting in a dramatic spike in atmospheric carbon. This will transform the Sierra Nevada from a carbon sink into a carbon emitter, making the nature-as-polluter scenario a reality.

Westerling and his collaborators note that their predictions are actually conservative. The effects might be more extreme than their models suggest.

Our study does not account for a number of factors that might influence the dynamics of forest carbon,” Westerling said. “However, the factors we ignored are likely to accelerate the loss of forest. Our predictions likely underestimate the severity of actual effects.”

Though the predictions are alarming, the authors remain optimistic, hopeful that their findings can contribute to a larger conversation about environmental policy and promote avenues of research that lead to sustainable forest management.

Posted on Thursday, June 15, 2017 at 2:56 PM
  • Author: Jason Alvarez. University Communications

Standiford retires from 37-year UC ANR career

Reposted from the UCANR report

 
From left, Vice Provost Chris Greer, Rick Standiford and Peggy Mauk at Sierra Foothill Research and Extension Center. Greer presented Standiford with a certificate of appreciation for his 37 years of service to UC ANR.
 

Wrapping up a remarkable 37-year career with UC ANR, Richard B. Standiford IV, UC Cooperative Extension forest management specialist at UC Berkeley, will retire June 30. 

In addition to being a highly regarded forestry expert, Standiford served as UC ANR's associate vice president from 2005 to 2009, and provided stability for the division as acting vice president during the 11-month transition from Reg Gomes stepping down to retire until Daniel Dooley succeeded him as vice president in 2008.

“There are a select few individuals who both excel at research, teaching, service and outreach and can lead and motivate others to try to do the same. Rick belongs to this rarest subspecies of academic,” said Keith Gilless, dean of the College of Natural Resources at UC Berkeley, who has worked with Standiford for 35 years.

In 1980, after working two years as a research and extension forester at Purdue University, Standiford joined UC Cooperative Extension at UC Berkeley. The New Jersey native developed a research and extension program focused on sound management of California's forests, rangelands and other natural resources.

Standiford “personifies all that is best about Cooperative Extension,” said Maggi Kelly, director of the UC ANR Statewide Informatics and Geographic Information Systems Program, professor and Cooperative Extension specialist in the Department of Environmental Sciences, Policy & Management at UC Berkeley. 

“There are a select few individuals who both excel at research, teaching, service and outreach and can lead and motivate others to try to do the same,” said Keith Gilless, shown on right with Standiford.
 
 
“Part of his legacy has been the ways in which he navigates the Cooperative Extension mission - intuiting and understanding natural resource and environmental problems, reaching stakeholders, liaising with state officials, finding funding, conducting quality applied research, and leading practical,impactful extension activities,” Kelly said. 

His legacy in Cooperative Extension continued to grow as associate vice president of ANR, says Peggy Mauk, former director for Central Coast and South Region.

“Rick empowered people, empowered regional directors and county directors to implement programs for the betterment of California,” Mauk said. “Rick had the ability to bridge the gap between administrative concepts and regional (county) implementation. He wanted to know how higher level decisions would impact ANR's county-based personnel and programs and then adjust for those impacts. Above all, Rick valued people and positions, and supported the ANR mission.”

He also has provided leadership for county Cooperative Extension advisors developing programs in forestry and conservation of oak woodlands.

“Rick has a tremendous ability to pull people together,” said Yana Valachovic, UCCE director and forest advisor for Humboldt and Del Norte counties, noting his leadership in getting people to work together to contain sudden oak death disease. “It takes passion, vision and an ability to communicate effectively.”

While tackling the emerging forest disease, Standiford also devoted time to mentoring young scientists.

“Early in 2000, Rick bounced into my office with the news that he had found emergency funds to study the disease, and had assembled a team of pathologists, ecologists, arborists, homeowners and forest managers to attack the problem,” said Kelly, a remote-sensing expert. “Rick asked if I would be able to use the money to fly to Marin County and develop critical baseline maps of the nascent disease. I was, and I did, and that generosity and foresight launched my applied research and extension program at Berkeley.”

“The disease was subsequently named Sudden Oak Death, and in 2015 ANR was been given a nationwide award in extension for its timely, quality, impactful multidisciplinary approach to the disease,” Kelly said, “and it all started with Rick.”

Standiford, shown doing research in the forest in the early 1980s, may be best known for his work in oak woodlands and forest stewardship.
In addition to academics, he has worked with professional foresters and natural resource managers,forestandrangeland owners and managers, timber operators, government agencies, forestry organizations, policymakers and others interested in natural resource management.

 Standiford said working with people was the part of his career he enjoyed most. He recalled driving with UCCE colleagues to Mariposa County to deliver a workshop on managing oaks. 

“The sun was setting, it's pretty dark, pretty desolate and we're wondering, ‘Is anybody going to be at the workshop?'” Standiford said. “At the grange hall in Catheys Valley, there's a ton of pickup trucks and cars. Inside, everybody is excited that the university has shown up to help figure out how to manage their trees. That's what my job has been about. It was always a lot of fun.”

An early adopter of technology, Standiford has used webinars to teach oak woodland management from a distance. While acknowledging the convenience of virtual meetings, he said, “I hope we don't lose sight of the value of personal contact.”

From 1985 to 1987, Standiford served as ANR program director for natural resources, leading efforts in forestry, wood products, wildlife and range management.

From 1988 to 1999, Standiford led collaboration among UC, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, and the California Department of Fish and Game for the ANR statewide Integrated Hardwood Range Management Program, which was established in 1986 by the California Legislature to address poor oak regeneration and ongoing woodland losses. The program continued for 23 years until its budget was cut in 2009.

At UC Berkeley, he coordinated all Cooperative Extension activities in the Department of Forestry and Resource Management from 1989 to 1993, served as associate dean for forestry and director of the Center for Forestry from 1998 to 2002 in the College of Natural Resources, and oversaw the College's capital projects program, space planning and research infrastructure as associate dean for forestry and capital projects from 2002 to 2004.

The four Managing Oak Woodlands webinars are archived at http://ucanr.edu/sites/oak_range/Oak_Webinars.
Standiford earned a bachelor's degree in forestry from North Carolina State University, where he ranked second in his graduating class. He earned his master's degreeinwildland resource science, with an emphasisonsilviculture, from UC Berkeley and his doctoral degree in agricultural economics from UC Davis. The American Association of Agricultural Economists honored his “ABioeconomic Model of California'sHardwoodRangelands” as Dissertation of the Year in 1989. Over his career, he has published hundreds of articles and publications on the sound management of forestandrangelands.

 In retirement, Standiford plans to teach at the UC forestry camp and remain active with the Society of American Foresters. He also plans to travel with his wife, Judy, and spend time coaching and camping with his five grandchildren 

“I have been blessed with the most wonderful job in the world,” Standiford said. “The best part was the honor of working with such wonderful people on campus, in the counties, and the wide group of landowners and managers who taught me so much.”

Posted on Friday, June 2, 2017 at 11:50 PM
  • Author: Pamela Kan-Rice

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

Next 5 stories | Last story

 
E-mail
 
Webmaster Email: billstewart@berkeley.edu