California Naturalist
University of California
California Naturalist

ANR Green Blog

National Poison Prevention Week — March 19-25, 2017

Never eat while wearing personal protective equipment or without washing up. This increases your risk of pesticide poisoning!
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), poisoning is the No. 1 cause of injury-related death in the United States, and 1,073 people in California were poisoned by pesticides in 2014 alone. Each year since 1962, National Poison Prevention Week has taken place during the third week of March to raise awareness about avoiding these tragedies. No one wants their workers or family members to experience illness or death from pesticide exposure, so the UC IPM Pesticide Safety Education Program (PSEP) would like to bring special attention to preventing pesticide poisoning this week. The program also published a new edition of The Safe and Effective Use of Pesticides in 2016, which contains a wealth of pesticide safety and hazard prevention information for people who work with pesticides.

Both agricultural and household pesticides can poison people if they are not properly handled. In agriculture, poisoning most often results from pesticide mixing and loading, and the most harm occurs due to spills, splashes and equipment failure. In the home, many pesticide poisoning incidents involve children swallowing pesticides, including garden products, disinfectant cleaners, or other chemicals used to control pests.

One of the most important things you can do to prevent pesticide poisoning is to follow the instructions on the pesticide label. Labels address critical information about how to use a pesticide safely, including the kind of personal protective equipment (PPE) you should wear to prevent overexposure, how much of the product to apply, the minimum time you must wait to enter the area after applying the pesticide (the restricted entry interval), and the minimum time that must pass between application and harvest (preharvest interval).

Labels also include important signal words such as “Danger,” “Warning,” or “Caution” that indicate how acutely toxic the chemical is to humans, as well as directions to avoid pesticide contamination of sensitive areas such as schools and hospitals. These instructions are meant to protect anyone who is at risk of being exposed to hazardous pesticide residues. It is essential to thoroughly read and understand the pesticide label before working with the pesticide, and to carefully comply with label instructions throughout the process. The UC IPM guide to Understanding Pesticide Labels for Making Proper Applications can help you do this, and is available in both English and Spanish.

Never store pesticides in food or drink containers. It is illegal!

If you apply pesticides in or around your home, be sure to store them properly and keep them out of the reach of children. Keep in mind that even mothballs may look like candy to very young children. It is illegal and unsafe to store pesticides in food or drink containers, which can easily fool people into consuming them and being poisoned. According to the California Department of Pesticide Regulation, these mistakes caused 62 incidents of child poisoning from pesticide ingestion in California in 2014, and 47 of those cases involved children under six years of age.

To learn more about poisoning and how to prevent it, consider visiting the following resources:

Read the label every time you handle a pesticide. Don't rely on your memory.


Posted on Wednesday, March 22, 2017 at 1:35 PM

UC water institute announces 2017 grant recipients

The UC California Institute for Water Resources (CIWR) has announced the recipients of six grants to address the most critical water issues in the state. For this program, the Institute leverages funds it receives from the Water Resources Research Act of 1964 through the Department of Interior.

CIWR, which is part of UC Agriculture and Natural Resources, facilitates collaborative research and outreach on water issues across California's academic institutions and with international, federal, state, regional, nonprofit, and campus communities.

Small grants to support initial work will be dispersed to the following projects (click the headline for more information):

Farmer Jim Morris on an alfalfa field being flooded for groundwater recharge.

Suitability of alfalfa for winter groundwater recharge
Helen Dahlke, professor in the Department of Land, Air and Water Resources, UC Davis
One proposed solution for recharging overdrawn aquifers is flooding farmland during the rainy season. Optimizing agricultural groundwater banking for specific crops can be challenging. The goal of this project is to better understand how alfalfa, which is grown year-round, responds to winter flooding.

Fish habitat response to streamflow augmentation
Ted Grantham, UC Cooperative Extension specialist in the Department of Environmental Science Policy and Management, UC Berkeley
Declining water levels can degrade or eliminate fish habitat during California's summer season. Storing water off-channel during the rainy season can improve flow during the summer. The study is designed to gain a better understanding of the relationship between stream flow and habitat.

Remote sensing of turfgrass response to irrigation
Amir Haghverdi, UC Cooperative Extension specialist in the Department of Environmental Science, UC Riverside
Turfgrass is common in urban landscapes and provides valuable recreation areas and ecosystem services. This project will help determine the best irrigation strategies for common turfgrass species.

UC Santa Cruz professor Eric Palkovacs in the field.

Habitat restoration impacts on water management
Eric Palkovacs, professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, UC Santa Cruz
The natural conditions of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta have been changed by habitat alteration and non-native predacious fish introduction. This project will examine the interplay between altered habitat and predatory fish, and how they impact native salmon populations.

Evaluating water conservation policy in California
Leah Stokes, professor in the Department of Political Science, UC Santa Barbara
During the recent drought, California required that on-average urban water districts conserve 25 percent of their water. While some districts were successful, others failed to meet their target. This project will examine how variation in policy – pricing, messaging and penalties – and drought severity affected water conservation.

Sacramento State geology professor Amelia Vankeuren and graduate students collect samples at the American River.

Groundwater dynamics after California drought
Amelia Vankeuren, professor in the Department of Geology, Sacramento State University
As part of California's groundwater management act, some basins were designated as high management priorities. This project will characterize groundwater using age, location and temperature. This information will be valuable for stakeholders creating a groundwater sustainability plan.

Posted on Monday, March 13, 2017 at 9:27 AM
Tags: CIWR (1), grants (1), water (14)

Reevaluate the Sierra Nevada landscape after removing dead trees

This winter, a generous amount of rain and snow has fallen on California, but it can't erase the brown swaths of dead and dying trees in the Sierra Nevada caused by five years of drought and decades of forest mismanagement.

Fire suppression and the harvest of the largest and most resilient trees in the forest led to a large population of weak trees. The prolonged drought further weakened the trees' defenses against native insects. Aerial detection surveys show that more than 102 million trees have died since 2010; more than 62 million died in 2016 alone. Public and private landowners are now struggling to recover from this natural disaster.

UC Cooperative Extension forester and natural resources advisor Susie Kocher recommends dead trees be removed and the landscape reevaluated.

“The dead trees will eventually fall,” Kocher said. “Removing trees around homes and other buildings is especially important for safety. Also, when they fall on the ground they become large fuels on the forest floor, leading to more intense fires.”

Dead trees in the Sequoia National Forest. (Photo: U.S. Forest Service)

The cost of removing the trees can be substantial. The State of California is funneling disaster relief funds through California counties, utilities are felling trees that pose a threat to power lines, and local jurisdictions are removing trees that could fall on roads and other public infrastructure. However, most tree removal is the responsibility of private landowners.

When the dead trees are gone, before considering replanting, Kocher suggests Sierra residents carefully assess what has survived.

“There is often a lot of live vegetation remaining,” Kocher said. “Make a map and mark where you find living trees and shrubs and identify them by species and size. If you have a significant number of trees left, you may not need to replant.”

Kocher suggests nurturing the remaining young trees.

“You may want to thin trees out so that available sun and soil moisture are focused on the healthiest individuals. Some watering in the summer may help counter stress caused by increased solar radiation,” she said.

If removing the dead trees leaves the landscape too bare, replanting native conifers is a good strategy. Conifers include pine, cedar and fir trees, but in California's dense forests, firs and cedars – which do well in shady conditions – are beginning to dominate. Replanting may be a time to give native pines – such as Jeffrey, ponderosa and sugar pines – a chance to recover ground.

Replanting may be a time to give native pines a chance to regain a foothold in Sierra forests.

“The fact that many pines have died does not necessarily mean they are no longer adapted to your location, even with our warming climate,” Kocher said. “There may be a few locations that are less suitable for trees that have grown there in the past, but for most areas, local growing conditions should support native conifers in the near future.”

Native plants and shrubs that died during the drought or were damaged during tree removal will likely come back on their own without replanting. Shrubs and oaks can re-sprout and native herbaceous plants generally store seed in the soil that will grow under native rainfall conditions.

Replanting of trees also gives landowners the chance to shape the landscape for best effect. Kocher offers the following recommendations on replanting trees in natural landscapes:

  • Space trees at least 10 feet apart.
  • Trees and flammable vegetation should be kept at least 10 feet away from the home, planted sparsely within 30 feet of the home and spaced widely enough in the 30 to 100-food zone so the crowns of the trees will not touch when they are mature. Beyond 100 feet, trees can fill into a more natural looking forest.
  • Plant trees at least 10 feet from power lines.
  • Do not plant trees within the road right of way to prevent interference with snow clearance, maintenance and construction projects.
  • Plant pines where there is a lot of sun. Do not plant sugar pine on the driest sites.
  • Avoid planting where the mature trees will block desired views.


Posted on Thursday, March 9, 2017 at 1:21 PM

Fine feathered friends forever

Jarred Burkett holds Twilight and Frostbite, chocolate red cochin bantams. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Forget BFF (Best Friends Forever).

For Solano County 4-H'er Jarred Burkett, it's also FFFF (Fine Feathered Friends Forever).

Jarred, 10, a member of the Sherwood Forest 4-H Club in Vallejo raises free-range chickens at his American Canyon home — not for showing at fairs or selling at junior livestock auctions, but as pets. The self-described “Chicken Dude” is as proud, protective and possessive of his poultry as the owner of the best-of-show at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show.

He and Frostbite, his chocolate red cochin bantam, born April 1, 2016, are good buddies, just like the iconic TV stars Lassie and Timmy. In this case, it's not about “a boy and a dog” but “a boy and his chicken.”

At the recent Solano County 4-H Presentation Day, held at the Tremont Elementary School, Dixon, Jarred eagerly talked about Frostbite in his presentation that won a blue seal (“very good”) award. The origin of the name? “She was the whitest chick and she always pecked.”

“He loves his chickens,” says his mother, Mary Ann Burkett, a co-community leader of the Sherwood Forest 4-H Club and the Vallejo-Benicia representative to the Solano County 4-H Leaders' Council. “He climbs The Hill behind our house, where the chickens are. I'd say he spends about two hours a day, total, with them. He hangs out with them, collects the eggs (about 8 to 10 a day) and cleans the pens.”

Mom Mary Ann, dad Rick and their three children, Jessica, 16, Jordan, 12, and Jarred, live in a residential area that allows backyard chickens. The benefits, the family agrees, include not only positive learning experiences, but companionship, fresh eggs, and a bug-free environment.

There are no bugs at the Burkett property, thanks to their flock of 11 chickens.

“The 4-H Poultry Project provides youth a fun and hands-on learning experience that develops life skills; as well the opportunity to learn about caring for and raising chickens responsibly and humanely,” said Solano County 4-H Representative Valerie Williams. “Although it should not be their only source of food, chickens will snack on weeds, vegetable trimmings, as well as eat insects in your garden, making them great recyclers!”

A boy and his chicken: Jarred Burkett reads a book, "Chickens Aren’t the Only Ones," to Frostbite on The Hill. (Photo by Mary Ann Burkett)
“Chickens,” Williams said, “can make great pets, although not all communities allow backyard chickens.  If you decide to raise chickens, you should first review local ordinances.”

The Burketts, who home-school their youngsters, have also found a way to encourage both reading and physical education. That involves climbing The Hill and tending to the flock. Jarred pulls up a chair and reads to his chickens.

When he or his sisters feel a little sad, a hike up the hill to be with the chickens is all it takes. “Therapy,” says mom.

Frostbite clings to Jarred, and Jarred to her, especially after the bantam's near-death experience in January with a hawk. Jordan helped rescue her. Now one of their dogs alerts the flock to pending danger and the chickens run for cover.

As a 4-H'er, Jarred shows Frostbite at 4-H events; at the Solano County Fair's Youth Ag Day; and at other special events, but not for competition at county fairs. She's a pet. For Jarred, that means he won't leave his pet there alone, especially in a cage. Besides, her wings are clipped (a disqualification).

Another chicken enthusiast is Jarred's sister, Jordan, who owns Frostbite's mother, Twilight. Known as “The Chicken Whisperer,” Jordan communicated with her chicken during her gold-award talk on “Fowl Language, How Chickens Communicate” at the Solano County 4-H Presentation Day. Twilight “talked” and Jordan “deciphered.”

“Buh dup” is a general greeting that means “Hello, how are you? What's up?” Jordan says, while “Doh, doh, doh” is a call heard when the flock is roosting at night, and with broody hens saying “It's okay” to her chicks. “Bwah, bwah, bwah, bwah” is a loud deliberate noise, saying “I'm going to lay an egg.” Then when she does, it's “Bah-Gaw-Gawk, Bah-Gaw-Gawk, Bah-Gaw-Gawk,” a sound starting low and reaching a crescendo.

Poultry does have its rewards. Last year Jarred's record book was named the county winner in poultry. The third-year 4-H'er also takes three other projects: remote control projects, recordkeeping and paper quilling. When he's not involved with his chickens or studying, he's hanging out with his friends and family or playing video games, hiking and bicycling.

Jarred also takes Frostbite, cradled in his arms, when the Burketts shop at the Tractor Supply Co., American Canyon. Now their new mode of transportation is a "pet buggy," a gift from a friend. In fact, Jarred and Jordan wheeled their chickens around the playground in the mesh-covered buggy at the Solano County 4-H Presentation Day. The buggy, resembling a baby buggy (yes, passersby do a double take), not only keeps them safe, they said, but soothes them.

Mary Ann Burkett is sold on 4-H. “If it weren't for his love of chickens, Jarred would probably never do Presentation Day,” she said, adding “4-H brings youth out of their shells, or out of their comfort zone. Kids tend to be more outgoing when they enroll in 4-H.”

Seven of Solano County's 11 4-H clubs offer poultry projects: Elmira 4-H Club, Pleasants Valley 4-H Club, and Vaca Valley 4-H Club, all of Vacaville; Roving Clovers 4-H Club and Tremont 4- Club, both of Dixon; Sherwood Forest 4-H Club, Vallejo-Benicia; and the Rio Vista 4-H Club. 

Tremont offers their poultry projects countywide, so youth in any Solano County 4-H may enroll, Williams said. Tremont offers poultry projects to two age groups: primary members, 5 to 8 years old, and all other members,  9 to 19 years old.

The Solano County 4-H Youth Development Program, part of the UC Cooperative Extension Program, follows the motto, “Making the Best Better.” 4-H, which stands for head, heart, health and hands, is open to youths ages 5 to 19.  In age-appropriate projects, they learn skills through hands-on learning in projects ranging from arts and crafts, computers and leadership to dog care, poultry, rabbits and woodworking. They develop skills they would otherwise not attain at home or in public or private schools. For more information, contact 4-H Youth Development program representative Valerie Williams at

Jarred Burkett, 10, of the Sherwood Forest 4-H Club, Vallejo, talks about his chicken, Frostbite, at the Solano County 4-H Presentation Day, held recently in Dixon. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

4-H'ers Jordan and Jarred Burkett wheel their chickens, Frostbite and Twilight in a specially designed pet buggy, a gift from a friend. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Chickens transported in crates? No, in a buggy at the Solano County 4-H Presentation Day. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Closeup of a chocolate red cochin bantam, a 4-H pet. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Wednesday, March 8, 2017 at 8:46 AM

National Invasive Species Awareness week: Feb. 27 – March 3, 2017

Glassy-winged sharpshooter
Invasive species are plants, animals, fungi or microbes that are not native to an area, but can quickly establish, multiply and become pests. These species can hurt the environment, agricultural production and even human health in some instances (e.g. the mosquito Aedes aegypti). According to the USDA, invasive species are responsible for $137 billion per year in economic losses in the United States.

In agricultural systems, invasive species may reduce yields, render crops unmarketable, or make rangeland unfavorable to livestock. In natural areas, they may squeeze out native species, change soil quality, and increase the frequency or intensity of wildfires.

Some of these species have been introduced intentionally (e.g., yellow sweetclover, which was originally imported from Europe as a forage species for livestock), while others arrived by accident (e.g., the glassy-winged sharpshooter which came to California inadvertently through nursery stock shipments).

Spotted wing drosophila
Just one species can be detrimental to crop production and revenues. The invasion of spotted-wing drosophila, for example, caused conventional raspberry growers in California to lose $36.4 million in revenue between 2009 and 2014, and would have reduced California raspberry yields by as much as 50 percent without control efforts.

The spread of invasive pests has become more prevalent in recent decades, and is linked to several factors, including global travel, produce trade and climate change. Many invasive pests spread by human movement — medusahead, for example, has long awns on its seeds that easily attach to clothing and animal fur, to be carried to other locations. A recent study by UC scientists also determined that due to climate change, invasive weeds are shifting their ranges at a faster rate than native plants, and will likely cause more problems in agriculture and natural resources in the future. The yellow starthistle, an invasive plant that dries out soil and degrades rangelands, is one of the pests that will expand its range further north in California (and beyond) due to climate change.

While invasive pests can be a major challenge to growers and land managers, there are successful stories of stopping exotic pest invasions with well-coordinated eradication efforts. Recently, the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) declared the European grapevine moth eradicated from California after no moths were found in the state from 2015 to 2016. This was due to a rapid response, largely by UC Cooperative Extension scientists after the moth was discovered in Napa vineyards in 2008.

Yellow starthistle

Here's what you can do to keep from introducing or spreading invasive species:

  • Fully cooperate with agricultural inspections at the California state border and in your fields. When coming into California from another state, declare any plant or animal material that you have in your vehicle. Inspectors will thoroughly examine your materials or crops to make sure that they do not hold any invasive pests. This greatly reduces the chance that your activities will spread harmful invasive species.
  • Check and clean your clothes, shoes, and equipment before you move from one location to another. For example, thoroughly cleaning your shoes with water and a disinfectant after hiking through an area known to have sudden oak death will prevent you from tracking the pathogen into uncontaminated areas. Similarly, checking your clothes or shoes for weed seeds before leaving an area will keep you from spreading invasive weeds.
  • “Burn it where you buy it.” Burn firewood in the same place you purchased it, rather than buying it and transporting it elsewhere. If you must transport firewood, be sure to declare it at the border and have it inspected, as described above.
  • Report invasive pests in your area. CDFA has a tool for reporting pests, but you can also contact your agricultural commissioner or UC Cooperative Extension to do so.

To learn more about invasive species, visit the UC IPM website. You will find a list of invasive insects, plants, diseases, and vertebrates in California, as well as links to other organizations and regulatory agencies that are also working to reduce their numbers.

Posted on Tuesday, February 28, 2017 at 5:55 PM

Next 5 stories | Last story

Webmaster Email: