- Author: Jeannette E. Warnert
California oak woodlands are highly prized ecoregions where stately trees, many of them hundreds of years old, are cornerstones of a habitat for wildlife and native plants. Sadly, some of these ecosystems are seriously threatened by exotic pests and diseases, encroachment by less desirable vegetation, and wildfire.
Each year, UC Cooperative Extension hosts workshops to share scientific developments aimed at conserving these important habitats – and the economic value of ranching – on oak woodlands, which are found on the lower elevation slopes of the Sierra Nevada, the Coast Range and other foothill areas of California.
Typically, the workshops are held in person and draw moderate-sized audiences for presentations, questions and answers, and field trips. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, this year's workshop was offered online in April with pre-recorded presentations available for viewing at the participants' convenience and a live question-and-answer session on Zoom.
The retooled event garnered 500 registrants, over 300 views of the YouTube videos and 140 participants in the live Q&A session. The presentations and Q&A session are still available online for future viewing as well.
“People from all walks of life participated, including those with professional and personal interest in oak woodlands,” said Yana Valachovic, UCCE forest advisor in Humboldt and Del Norte counties and a conference organizer.
Presentations at the 2020 conference included the following topics:
Encroachment by Douglas-fir
In Northern California, the biodiversity of oak woodlands is being threatened by Douglas-fir encroachment. The oaks' shade helps the young conifers get established with protection from harsh sun. In time, the fast-growing Douglas-fir trees pierce the oak canopies and begin to crowd out the areas' native understories, which are important for the diversity of birds, mammals and reptiles attracted to oaks.
As the Douglas-fir continue to grow and multiply, they threaten the very lives of the oak trees and the unique ecosystem they dominate.
To better understand the Douglas-fir encroachment, Valachovic established 10 research sites in Humboldt and Mendocino counties to gather information about the fate and the age of oaks. She and her research partners determined the ages of the oaks and firs, and counted the seedlings, saplings, snags and understory vegetation.
“With this research, we were able to demonstrate that even though the oak trees can be smaller in diameter they are much older than the Douglas-fir trees,” Valachovic said. “The encroachment process is happening quickly, and the oaks are falling out of the system.”
The shift appears to have been initiated in the mid-19th and early-20th centuries, coinciding with the Gold Rush and wildfire suppression.
With the data confirming Douglas-fir encroachment, Valachovic turned her attention to oak woodland restoration. At 14 sites in Humboldt and Trinity counties, her team studied the effects of Douglas-fir removal.
“Grasses and forbs under the oaks reestablished. Diameter growth on the oaks increased,” she said.
These research findings contributed directly to changes in policy that had previously limited land owners' ability to remove and sell conifers encroaching on oak woodland. The research also helped create new funding opportunities to support oak woodland restoration and conservation in Northern California.
Case study of oak woodland wildfire recovery
In July 2018, about two-thirds of the 5,289-acre UC Hopland Research and Extension Center was burned by the River Fire.
The transformation of the land, which had likely been without a large wildland fire for at least 100 years, was intense and stressful, said UC Cooperative Extension forest advisor Michael Jones. However, it also provided a unique opportunity for researchers to compare the impact of wildfire on the resiliency of vegetation on grazed and ungrazed oak woodland.
Jones established 35 one-fifth acre research plots at the research center and collected data two months following the fire and one year later. The research will continue in the future to better understand long-term impacts, but Jones was able to share revealing early results at the workshop.
Right after the fire, in severely burned areas areas, the future of the oaks looked ominous. Jones predicted 40% tree mortality.
“The oaks were exposed to persistent, intense heat. They were cooked,” he said. “But two months after the fire, we were already seeing basal sprouts. This was an amazing response by the trees. Oaks are pretty damn tough.”
A year after the fire, surveys showed that tree mortality in the burned areas was 25%, much less than Jones' early predictions. While some management for specific situations in severely burned areas may be necessary – such as removal of hazard trees, reducing fuels in defensible spaces or removal to control invasive species – the results of this work show the trees recover naturally.
“Esthetically, I know these systems aren't as pleasing as they were before, but ecologically, they are healthy and recovering,” he said. “In 100 years, it will look just as good as before the fire.”
Fire impacts in woodland areas previously grazed and not grazed
The fire on the research station also permitted Jones to compare the fire's differing impact on non-grazed and grazed oak woodland. At first, the grazed areas looked almost unscathed with minimal flame scorching on the bark, while an area where the pasture hadn't been grazed for 25 years had evidence of much higher severity fire.
“Grazing is a phenomenal way to help manage fuels,” Jones said. However, the grazed areas displayed ecological shortcomings a year later.
“In grazed pastures, the large mature trees were still alive, but there was no oak regeneration (basal sprouting or seedlings),” Jones said. “In the ungrazed area, a lot of biomass had been killed, but there's nearly 100% resprout of oak trees and we have an impressive amount of oak seedling recruitment.”
Jones said he isn't discouraging grazing.
“But it is important to protect sites from grazing, and especially wildlife browse, when a landowner or land managers' objectives are to regenerate or conserve oak woodlands,” Jones said.
New ambrosia beetle another threat to California oaks
Akif Eskalen, UC Cooperative Extension specialist in the Department of Plant Pathology at UC Davis, has identified a new insect-fungus team that causes oak borer wilt in Northern California Valley and Blue Oaks. It is an ambrosia beetle, commonly known as Mediterranean Oak Borer, which carries several fungi in its mouth. The beetle bores into the tree and introduces fungi to grow for food. The fungi spreads and disturbs the transportation of water and nutrients, causing wilt in the tree.
The oozing and staining lesions on the bark are similar to other oak fungal diseases, such as Sudden Oak Death. The beetle – native of Mediterranean basin countries in Africa, Asia and Europe – cannot fly far, so most likely is transported for long distances on infested firewood.
During the workshop, Eskalen suggested not moving firewood, removing heavily infested trees and chipping infested wood into 1-inch particles to reduce the spread of the ambrosia beetle and its fungal partner. He asked viewers to report any suspected oak tree infestations to the local agricultural commissioner, CDFA Diagnostic Laboratories, UC Cooperative Extension advisors or CALFIRE. Chemical options for sparing oaks from the ambrosia beetles' devastation are under investigation.
Threats to oaks and other native plants from root rotting Phytophthora
Restoration plantings have inadvertently introduced plant pathogens to native oak woodland ecosystems in California, said Ted Swiecki of Phytosphere Research, an organization that provides consulting services related to natural resource management, horticulture, urban forestry, and agriculture. The group of pathogens causing the damage are largely from the Phytophthora genus, first described in the 1860s. The name translates from Greek to “plant destroyer.”
Swiecki has observed when Phytophthora infested plants and soils are introduced to native habitats, the pathogens can attack various native plants, including toyon, madrone, manzanita and full-grown oaks. Once established, the pathogen can spread along drainages, by moving soil from one area to another and by hitchhiking on equipment, tires and hiking boots.
The pathogen can easily be overlooked at nurseries, which, by their nature, have conditions that favor Phytophthora development. Plants at nurseries are well watered, have high root density and are often placed on the ground where they can pick up pathogens.
He said the best approach to tackling Phytophthora is not using nursery stock for restoration or beautification of natural oak woodland. Direct seeding, using natural regeneration, or onsite propagation are safer ways to enhance vegetation in oak woodland.
“It's easier to prevent Phytophthora from being introduced in the first place and much cheaper and more effective than trying to eradicate it later,” Siewcki said.
- Author: Pamela Kan-Rice
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.
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 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.
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.”
- Author: Tracy Schohr
“We focused on fostering a good dialogue and facilitating co-learning among attendees,” said event co-chair Leslie Roche, assistant UC Cooperative Extension specialist in rangeland management. “We hosted university faculty, statewide CE specialists and academics, and county-based CE advisors—as well as local policymakers and leaders from non-governmental organizations and statewide programs.”
UC researchers who have successfully engaged in the public policy arena provided numerous models of linking research and policy. There were five key take-aways for scientists:
- Honest broker role – Present policymakers with various policy options, based on sound research. Have a clear understanding of the science behind your messaging. Use qualitative data to tell the story of the hard quantitative data.
- Active engagement – Be part of informational and oversight hearings. Empower communities to take action and foster community engagement.
- Build coalitions – Collaboration is imperative. Develop unexpected allies and foster long-term relationships, realizing it may take some time to bear fruit.
- Disseminate information – Share your data in user-friendly formats. Target local community, Legislature and state agencies to inform policies. Get your science into trainings and continuing education programs. Leverage your coalition to expand the circulation of your research results.
- Target messages – Develop a strong, concise message to deliver your research. Use an emotional connection – “Old-growth oak woodlands” versus “oak woodland.”
Throughout the conference, speakers highlighted the multiple levels of engagement for researchers in the policy arena, with different roles matching different needs – some take a center stage, while others play imperative behind-the-scenes roles.
Keynote speaker Jason Delborne, associate professor of science, policy and society at North Carolina State University, encouraged engaging the public. “Science is a social process,” he said, noting that community and public engagement is often key to successfully applying research to policy. Delborne also touched on the tension between expertise and democracy, commenting that we can't always resolve it and often we have to learn to live with this tension.
A diverse set of researchers shared their perspectives from experiences in engaging in policy. The panel included Thomas Harter, Robert M. Hagan Endowed Chair in Water Management and Policy and UCCE specialist in the Department of Land, Air, and Water Resources at UC Davis; Lorrene Ritchie, director of the UC ANR Nutrition Policy Institute; Mindy Romero, founder and director of California Civic Engagement Project at UC Davis Center for Regional Change; and Yana Valachovic, UCCE forest advisor and county director in Humboldt and Del Norte counties. They discussed the importance of building strong science-based programs, actively engaging local communities and building coalitions of support.
Guests from both government and non-government organizations who use research to shape policy shared their perspectives on translating science to decision-making.
“Science is the foundation for developing programs,” said Amrith Gunasekara, science advisor for the California Department of Food and Agriculture.
Tina Cannon Leahy, attorney with the State Water Resources Control Board, noted that policymakers and decision-makers are often looking for a clear, “black-and-white” answer, while for scientists, there is “no answer,” but rather information.
Anne Megaro, consultant to the California Senate Committee on Agriculture, and Rebecca Newhouse, consultant to the California Senate Environmental Quality Committee, both emphasized the importance of making sure science is accessible and digestible.
Juliet Sims of the Prevention Institute explained how her organization uses both published scholarly literature and community stories to effectively inform its advocacy platform.
Keynote speaker Rachel Morello-Frosch, associate professor in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management at UC Berkeley, introduced the concept of moving from “translational research” to “transformational research,” a shift that requires deep community engagement in meaningful ways to effect policy change.
In the afternoon, four breakout sessions were offered: “Policy structures and opportunities for engagement” with Robert Waste, “Relational approaches to science communication and engagement” with Faith Kearns, “Putting it into practice–UC ANR case studies” with Dave Campbell, Clare Gupta and Lucas Frerichs, and “Navigating policy engagement: Education vs advocacy,” with Adrian Lopez and Kit Batten. These training modules helped participants build technical skills and analytical frameworks for successful policy engagement.
The Research to Policy Conference was a forum to exchange ideas and share perspectives, continuing to bridge the gap between science and policy communities. It challenged attendees to be open to new ways of thinking, shared innovative outreach methods and showcased how research can have an impact in the policy arena.
“The event brought cross-fertilization and co-learning between disciplines – nutrition, forest management, water quality – and there were common themes that resonated for all participants,” said event co-chair Gupta, assistant UCCE specialist in public policy and translational research.
VP Glenda Humiston wrapped up the policy conference by saying, "Good science is vital for good policy. It's great to see UC folks enhancing these skills to bring science together with policy."
For more information on applying research to policy, contact Frerichs, UC ANR government and community relations manager, at (530) 750-1218 or email@example.com, or Research to Policy Program Team contacts Gupta at firstname.lastname@example.org and Roche at email@example.com.
- Author: Pamela Kan-Rice
The university opened its first Cooperative Extension office in Eureka in 1913, but April 27 marked the first official visit to Humboldt County by a UC president.
“I hope to show the president how local residents benefit from UC Cooperative Extension and to give President Napolitano and Vice President Humiston ideas on how the university may get more involved in solving local challenges,” said Yana Valachovic, UC Cooperative Extension director and forest advisor for Humboldt and Del Norte counties, as the tour she organized got underway.
Valachovic introduced Napolitano and Humiston to community members at Potawot Health Village, where they learned about UC's nutrition education projects. Next, they boarded a boat with a shellfish producer and members of California Sea Grant, who briefed them on climate change research in Humboldt Bay.
At City of Arcata Community Forest, where UC has been conducting forest research since the 1920s, the City of Arcata environmental services director discussed how the city works with UC to manage its 2,300 acres of redwoods for timber, wildlife, water quality and to sequester carbon while providing recreational areas for city residents.
The president and Humiston ended the tour by reciting the 4-H pledge and listening to 4-H members and volunteers describe their projects.
To read more about the tour, visit http://ucanr.edu/?blogpost=21065&blogasset=52096.