Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources
Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources
Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources
University of California
Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources

News stories

Youngsters learn cooking from 4-H teens in Imperial County

Two UC Cooperative Extension programs - 4-H Youth Development and UC CalFresh nutrition education - collaborate to give Imperial County elementary school students an introduction to the culinary arts, reported Vincent Osuna in the Imperial Valley Press.

The 4-H Teens-As-Teachers Cooking Academy runs seven sessions in which the high school students use evidence-based curriculum from 4-H to teach the elementary school students how to cook.

"I think this is a really good experience for the kids because it shows them the pathways that are here at the high school that could lead them into their future," said a Calexico High School senior Nelly Rodriguez, who serves as an academy teacher. "It gets them a start way ahead of what we got, because we started in ninth grade, and they get to start young in elementary."

A 4-H mini-grant funded equipment, aprons, skillets and other materials; UC CalFresh provides the food ingredients.

"It's to basically teach kids how to cook, but also just to empower them to help them feel like they have a little more control over their food," said Chris Wong, UCCE Imperal County community education specialist. "At the same time, it serves purpose to the high school culinary class because it professionally develops them for their food demos and their competitions at the end of the year."

4-H teen teacher Julio Ramirez said the young students were nervous at first, but by the fourth session, "They're anxious to do it. It's just a good thing to see."

Elementary school students learn from 4-H teens how to cook healthy meals. (Photo used with permission.)
Posted on Monday, January 14, 2019 at 9:04 AM
Tags: 4-H (85), Chris Wong (1), UC CalFresh (29)
Focus Area Tags: 4-H Food

Bigcone Douglas-firs are suffering the effects of wildfires and droughts

Bigcone Douglas-fir is an evergreen conifer native to the mountains of Southern California. Repeated wildfires and drought are threatening the species' existence in its native range, reported Bettina Boxall in the Los Angeles Times.

The reporter visited a Santa Barbara County site peppered with tall, dead trees where UC Cooperative Extension fire specialist Max Moritz is studying the species' fate. 

"You don't see anything," he said. "It has a fairly depressing quality to it, given the mortality and no regeneration."

The area was burned by the Zaca Fire 11 years ago, something the fire-resistant conifer can generally withstand. Moritz and research assistant Ryan Salladay found evidence that the trees survived the fire, but then died sometime later. They are trying to determine what did them in by recording the aspect of the slope, collecting tree core samples, measuring the water stress in living trees, looking for wildfire impacts, and checking for seedlings.

“The drought-following-fire issue is a total reshuffling of what might come back or survive,” Moritz said.

Bigcone Douglas-fir occurs from the San Rafael Mountains in central Santa Barbara County and the Tehachapi Mountains of southwestern Kern County, south through the Transverse Ranges, to the Cuyamaca Mountains in San Diego County. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
Posted on Friday, January 11, 2019 at 2:11 PM
Tags: climate change (83), drought (180), Max Moritz (30), wildfire (137)
Focus Area Tags: Environment

U.S. President's threat to cut FEMA funding to California chided

U.S President Donald Trump criticized forest management in California and threatened to cut off federal emergency funding this week, eliciting confusion and condemnation, reported Ryan Bort in Rolling Stone.

The International Association of Fire Fighters released a statement calling Trump's move "disgraceful." "While our president is tweeting on the sidelines in DC, our fellow Americans 3,000 miles to the west are mourning loved ones, entire communities have been wiped off the map and thousands of people are still trying to figure out where they are going to call home."

The reporter wrote that the president is fixated on the state's role in causing forest fires, but the federal government owns the majority of forested land in California. Moreover, the devastating Camp and Woolsey fires of 2018 were not forest fires; they were wildland-urban interface fires, according to UC Cooperative Extension wildfire specialist Max Moritz.

"In these environments, as we've seen, it can be the homes themselves that are burning and spreading fire to other nearby homes. Managing vegetation can thus have relatively little effect on fire spread," Moritz said. 

A Paradise resident surveys his home destroyed by the Camp Fire in Butte County. (Photo: 25th Air Force 25af.af.mil)

The federal government shutdown itself is having a major impact on wildfire prevention, reported Ezra David Romero on Capital Public Radio.

Typically, forest managers analyze their budgets and plan for the next fire season during the winter. But the government shutdown has suspended these efforts because the U.S. Forest Service - which has been furloughed since Dec. 22 - plays a big role.

Crews in Redwood National Park are “just sitting on their hands,” according to UC Cooperative Extension fire advisor Lenya Quinn-Davidson in Humboldt County, because they can't work on federal land during the shutdown. She said that workers were “excited to do more” on the heels of the state's worst fire season in history. “This is just taking the wind out of their sails."

The shutdown is also causing challenges for UCCE forestry specialist Bill Stewart. He's working on collaboration between the UC system and the Forest Service to streamline the cost of preventing wildfires. But the shutdown is making the five-year project, which has end-of-January deadlines, difficult to accomplish.

“Everything has come to a total stop,” Stewart said. “They are not even allowed to answer their emails. If this continues it may be hard to restart for this next season.”

Posted on Thursday, January 10, 2019 at 1:25 PM
Focus Area Tags: Environment

Buying insurance for homes in wildfire-prone areas is becoming more challenging

The dramatic wildfire losses in California the last two years has homeowners' insurance companies canceling policies in similarly high-risk areas, reported Austin Colbers in the Aspen Times. The story was distributed by the Associated Press and picked up in numerous newspapers and websites.

Most homeowners can still get a policy, however, insurers often make coverage conditional on homeowners managing trees and undergrowth. 

The story said the challenge is most acute in California, where wildfires caused $9 billion in losses to insured property in 2018. Advocates for property owners are pressuring lawmakers to help people find and keep their insurance. 

Maintaining defensible space around dwellings can reduce chances the home will be burned in a wildfire.

California law requires homeowners in high-risk areas to maintain a 100-foot defensible space around their homes. Since 2008 it has required them to use fire-resistant methods, such as installing vents that won't trap embers, in new home construction.

But the new building codes don't apply to existing homes, said Yana Valachovic, forestry and natural resources advisor for the University of California Cooperative Extension in Humboldt County. And the defensible space rules don't focus enough on landscaping immediately around a home, she said.

Posted on Wednesday, January 9, 2019 at 3:24 PM
Tags: Yana Valachovic (17)
Focus Area Tags: Environment

Documenting urban nature in the City Nature Challenge

Have you ever been on a walk and observed an interesting plant you couldn't identify? Encountered an unusual insect trapped in your home? Have you wondered why you used to see certain species in nature and you don't now? Or have you thought it might be neat to compile a species list for a special place, like a favorite park or your own backyard? All California Naturalists already know that there's an app (and website) for all that!

What is iNaturalist?

The free iNaturalist app is an online social network of people sharing biodiversity information to help each other learn about nature. Available for android, iPhone, and by a website, iNaturalist is a joint initiative by the California Academy of Sciences and the National Geographic Society that allows users to upload one or more pictures, provide a location, and make relevant notes like whether the subject is captivate or wild.

In response, the artificial intelligence in the app suggests what the species might be based on visual similarity and whether the species has been observed nearby. Members and organizations can set up projects and download data within defined taxa or locations to follow presence and absence, abundance, seasonality and change over time.

All California Naturalists use the iNaturalist app.

Verified observations are sent to the Global Biodiversity Information Facility, an international network and research infrastructure funded by the world's governments and aimed at providing anyone, anywhere, open access to data about all types of life on earth. Valuable open-source data is available to aid scientific research, government and conservation organizations, and the interested public. Nearly instant gratification for species ID combined with the ability of members to contribute to a greater good whenever they venture outdoors are huge motivators for much of the existing iNaturalist community, which currently exceeds one million users and 14 million observations.

iNaturalist observations and the upcoming City Nature Challenge

One of the biggest BioBlitzes naturalists and others can participate in is the annual City Nature Challenge. The City Nature Challenge — essentially a four-day global urban bioblitz — began in 2016 as a friendly nature-observation competition between the San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles County, organized around a simple charge: “which city can find the most nature?” Participants use the iNaturalist app to photograph, catalog, identify and organize observations of wildlife in their areas. The city with the highest number of observations wins. Since the first challenge, the competition has expanded rapidly, and this year more than 150 cities will participate worldwide.

How does it work?

The City Nature Challenge takes place April 26-29, 2019. During this window, anyone can contribute observations via iNaturalist. There will are also be a variety of events organized to help cities win the challenge. Cities are competing against each other to see which city can make the most observations of nature, find the most species, and engage the most people. At the end of the observation window on April 29, other events will be held to help participants identify and complete their observations in iNaturalist. 

A California Naturalist from the Dominguez Rancho Adobe course takes a photo to upload to iNaturalist.

How can we participate in 2019?

The UC Agriculture and Natural Resources' California Naturalist program is teaming up with the UC Davis School of Education's Center for Community and Citizen Science, UC Davis Evolution and Ecology Department, and other partners in the region to put the Sacramento region in the competition for the first time. Stay updated and learn more information about how to join the fun on the Sacramento City Nature Challenge website as we add events. Experienced and beginner naturalists alike are invited to attend these events.

For those outside of the Sacramento region, participate in the Natural History Museum of LA County's Los Angeles County City Nature Challenge, San Diego Natural History Museum's San Diego County City Nature Challenge, and the California Academy of Sciences' San Francisco Bay Area City Nature Challenge. All you have to do is log in to your account and join the project. Any observations uploaded from within the project boundaries from April 26-29 are automatically contributed to the challenge.

Last year, 6 percent of the nearly 7 billion total observations uploaded to iNaturalist were contributed during the City Nature Challenge, making the challenge the single-most uploaded period of 2018. With the City Nature Challenge growing internationally in 2019, even more observations will be added in the hopes of getting more people outside, engaging with the natural spaces within urban environments, spending time with fellow nature enthusiasts and community organizations, and learning and contributing to science.

California Naturalists learn to identify flora and fauna using iNaturalist at the UC Berkeley Sagehen Creek Field Station.
Posted on Tuesday, January 8, 2019 at 9:01 AM
Focus Area Tags: Environment

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