The UC Davis research appears in a report, "Our Changing Climate," released today by the California Natural Resources Agency and the California Energy Commission. The report is the third assessment from the California Climate Change Center since 2006.
UC Davis scientists authored nine of the 35 studies contained in the report. The UC Davis work addresses climate change impacts on native fishes, agriculture, urban planning, water management and other issues:
* Peter Moyle, a wildlife, fish and conservation biology professor in the UC Davis Center for Watershed Sciences, studied the predicted effects of climate change on native fishes. His team found that most native fishes will suffer population declines, and some will likely go extinct. Fishes requiring cold water are particularly vulnerable.
Meanwhile, non-native fishes are expected to increase, although they will also experience habitat loss during severe droughts.
"California's unique native fishes are already in steep decline, and climate change is making the situation worse," Moyle said. "This is likely to increase the complexity of managing California's water supply. Preventing predictable extinctions is possible but will require planning now for increased water temperatures and more variable flows."
* James Thorne, a researcher in the Department of Environmental Science and Policy, helped create a model that simulates how rainfall interacts with the landscape. Thorne's research group looked at hydrologic data from the past and present to help predict what may happen in the future. That model was used for other studies in the report, such as those regarding fire and agriculture, allowing cross comparisons among the researchers' work.
Thorne also looked at six different policy options for urban growth, including smart-growth, infill and "business as usual" approaches.
"If we want the most lands preserved for a variety of different purposes -- agricultural and biodiversity protection, reduced fire threats -- the infill policy was best," Thorne said.
* Studies by Louise Jackson, UC Cooperative Extension specialist and professor in the Department of Land, Air and Water Resources at UC Davis, complemented Thorne's growth policy conclusion. Her group's case study focused on greenhouse gas emission mitigation and adaptation to climate change in Yolo County. They found that "channeling much or all future urban development into existing urban areas" will help preserve agricultural land and open space, reduce Yolo County's greenhouse gas emissions and enhance agricultural sustainability. Their research also found that farmers concerned about climate change were more likely to voluntarily adopt practices that would conserve water and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Jackson's group also developed an agricultural vulnerability index for California that identified four areas as especially vulnerable to the effects of climate change: the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta; Salinas Valley; the corridor between Merced and Fresno; and the Imperial Valley.
* Jay Lund, director of the UC Davis Center for Watershed Sciences, examined climate change adaptations for managing water in the San Francisco Bay Area. His group's research suggests that Bay Area urban water demands can be largely met even under severe forms of climate change, but at a cost. The cost includes buying water from agricultural users, using more expensive alternatives such as water recycling and desalination, and some increased water scarcity. A shared connection of public water systems, or interties, recently completed for emergency response, greatly aids adaptation, the study reports.
* Joshua Viers, associate director of the Center for Watershed Sciences, co-authored a study analyzing "water year" classifications.
These indices determine whether a year is considered wet, dry or in-between, as well as how much water is allocated and who gets it.
"Unfortunately, the method to distinguish different water year types is indexed to historical climatic conditions and is intended to represent an equal chance for any given year," said Viers. "Our science suggests that future climatic conditions are not likely to represent this history, and thus water management agencies may need to reconsider these arbitrary indexing thresholds going forward to achieve a more equitable situation."
Viers also co-authored a study about climate change's impact on hydropower production in the Sierra Nevada. It found that an 11 F increase in air temperature would reduce hydropower in the area by about 10 percent, and that most reductions would occur in the northern Sierra Nevada. The central Sierra Nevada would adapt better to changes in runoff, while hydropower generation in the southern watershed would decrease.
Other institutions, including UC Berkeley, UC Santa Cruz, Stanford, the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory researched climate change impacts on electricity consumption, sea level, wildfires and coastal flooding.
This assessment will provide a foundation for the state's 2012 Climate Adaptation Strategy, with completion expected in December 2012. Comprised of scientific studies from several academic institutions, the assessment is directed by the Governor's Office and intended to help state and local communities protect public health, grow the state's economy, ensure energy reliability and safeguard the environment.
“Mel has been a mentor and leader within the range science community his entire career,” said Ken Tate, UC Cooperative Extension specialist, who holds the Russell L. Rustici Endowed Chair in Rangeland Watershed Sciences. “Mel’s ability to see emerging issues on rangelands, and to position UC ahead of these issues, has allowed us to keep our research and extension at the forefront of rangeland management.”
When George arrived at UC Davis in 1978, he was responsible mainly for forage trials, helping ranchers keep their land productive. But George could see issues with grazing and water quality on the horizon and worked to head them off at the pass.
In the early 1990s, he spearheaded the UC Cooperative Extension Rangeland Watershed Program, which uses education and applied research to help ranchers and regulators mitigate the risk of pathogens in water runoff from rangeland. Some 80 percent of California’s water passes through or is stored on rangeland and the UC Cooperative Extension Rangeland Watershed Program has helped develop management practices that keep that water clean.
“The Rangeland Management Program has been a tremendous help in protecting open space, habitat for plants and wildlife and healthy watersheds that California rangelands provide,” says Tracy Schohr, director of the California Rangeland Conservation Coalition, a band of 100 diverse environmental, ranching and policymaking groups committed to protecting the state’s diminishing rangeland. “They educate land managers and provide the objective, accurate information we need.”
George’s research and extension has improved millions of acres of rangeland in the United States, Africa, Europe, China and beyond. In 1991, for example, George worked with Chinese researchers to develop a research site in the Tibetan Plateau of Szechwan Province, helping develop a winter feeding program for their yak herds that doubled the survival of yak calves. In 1994, George helped Albania develop grazing practices to protect new forest plantations to replace those destroyed during the transition from Communist to democratic rule.
The list goes on and on.
“Mel has a knack for taking a complicated process and making it navigable for ranchers and other land managers,” says Tate who, like George, has been based in the UC Davis Department of Plant Sciences. “He has greatly advanced both the art and science of rangeland management.”
George got into range management in a round-about way, a journey that passed through farming and animal science and was nearly cut short by a plane crash.
Farming is in George’s blood going back 15 generations, a fact he learned not too long ago when he became a genealogy buff. He was raised in the Butte County town of Gridley and was the first in his family to attend college, receiving his bachelor’s degree in animal science from California State University, Chico. During his senior year at Chico, a professor interested him in range management, which led him to Texas Tech where he received his master’s in range management in August 1969.
The Vietnam War was in progress and in October 1969, George was drafted into the U.S. Army. In November 1970, he boarded a plane bound for active duty that crashed during takeoff, killing 40 people aboard. George was severely burned.
“But I lived, and was released with a medical profile that prevented me from going to a war zone,” George says.
He was stationed at Fort Ord until the summer of 1971 when he and his wife, Gail, moved to Logan, Utah, where George earned his Ph.D. in range ecology at Utah State University. He worked nearly three years on the faculty at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, before coming to UC Davis in 1978.
George has earned countless awards over the years, including the Outstanding Alumnus at Utah State University in 2000, the prestigious James H. Meyer Distinguished Achievement Award at UC Davis in 2007 and the College of Agriculture Distinguished Alumnus Award from Chico State University in 2008.
George will stay busy in retirement, still working on a slew of rangeland research projects under way in the UC Davis Department of Plant Sciences.
“It’s such a fascinating field because rangeland is the most complex agricultural system there is,” George says. “You have to be willing to think outside the box to manage so many moving parts, and I like that. There are so many issues on the horizon like carbon storage and protecting biodiversity.”
And even in retirement, George will do all he can to keep our rangelands healthy and sustainable for generations to come.