- Author: Mike Hsu
When Laura Snell first came to the far northeastern corner of California, she was amazed to find that the Board of Supervisors in Modoc County – where cows outnumber people by a ratio of 13 to 1 – was composed almost entirely of women.
Snell, who arrived in the high desert town of Alturas in 2015 as the University of California Cooperative Extension livestock and natural resources advisor, said she now has a theory as to why.
“It's a great example of the rural and agricultural lifestyle we have here where women get involved in everything from civic organizations to local government,” she said. “In a lot of ways, there isn't a glass ceiling in an area where everyone is needed and most people are wearing multiple hats to keep the community going.”
Snell has worn the “county director” hat for UCCE in Modoc County since 2017, bringing a range of UC Agriculture and Natural Resources programs to local communities. In the subsequent years, she has established herself as one of the region's most prominent and respected voices.
“Laura is a strong leader, an excellent communicator, and extremely knowledgeable in the fields of wild horses, groundwater, livestock and grazing – among many other topics,” said Geri Byrne, vice chair of Modoc County's Board of Supervisors (which is presently 75% female).
Snell's broad base of knowledge – as well as her bachelor's in water science and master's in agronomy, both from the University of Nebraska – have served her well in her dream job in a “one-advisor” county.
“This is what I always wanted to do – know a little bit about a lot of things and be the person who connected people with what they needed, connecting them with information, connecting them with different experts,” Snell explained.
One of her most recent accomplishments is launching UC Master Food Preserver classes in Modoc County this year. About 130 people – in a county of 9,000 – have been served by this UC ANR program, and four are on the cusp of graduating as Modoc's inaugural class of certified Master Food Preservers. The vast majority of program participants, Snell notes, have been women.
“They're not only preserving for their own families; they're also using these tools and harvesting things from their gardens and then having a value-added product to sell at the farmers market and our local food hub,” said Snell, citing one participant who learned how to make and sell celery salt.
The contributions of women to the local economy, county leadership and organizations such as the Modoc County Cattlewomen's group continue to inspire Snell in her work – and in nurturing the next generation of leaders.
An avid participant in 4-H growing up in Story County, Iowa, Snell said one of the most fulfilling aspects of her job is mentoring the interns who come through her office, and presenting them with opportunities to learn and grow in their careers.
It was a personal connection that brought Snell to Modoc. A former Bureau of Land Management director in the county, who happened to be the father of her college friend, encouraged Snell to apply for the advisor position. So she flew from Nebraska to Reno and then made the three-hour drive north for the interview.
“I loved it; I immediately loved it,” Snell recalled. “I called my parents that night and said, ‘If they offer me this job, I'm staying.' This is it – this is what I've always really wanted to do, but not only that: this is the kind of community I've always wanted to live in.”
Snell – along with her canine companion, an Airedale-German Shepherd-Rottweiler mix named Zuri – have become an essential part of the fabric of Modoc County. She has provided guidance on everything from managing wild horses on the Devil's Garden Plateau to optimizing agritourism operations for greater profitability to improving the livelihoods of farmers and ranchers by alleviating regulatory burdens.
“Working in this county and for this county, for the people here, that's what fills my cup,” she said. “That's what is most satisfying about this work.”
And the county, in turn, has been appreciative of Snell's wide-ranging expertise and unflappable demeanor. According to Supervisor Byrne, Snell has been instrumental in taking on complex issues such as wild horses and the Big Valley Groundwater Sustainability Plan – four years in the making and greatly enhanced by Snell's background in water and her passion for bringing science to the people.
“Laura has a ready smile and manages to stay calm in the face of adversity,” Byrne said. “Modoc is very blessed to have such an articulate, knowledgeable, hard-working and personable director.”
- Author: Adina M. Merenlender, UC Cooperative Extension Specialist, UC Berkeley
- Author: Mary Tran, Spring 2021 intern and recent B.S. graduate, SF State University
Field research in agricultural and natural resource science has been ongoing at UCANR Research and Extension Centers for over 70 years, making an impact on the food we eat and the management practices we recommend. What afforded us the opportunity to have these living laboratories? The University of California is a land grant institution and is directly linked with the federal Morrill Act of 1862, also known as the Land-Grant College Act. The Act granted land mostly taken from indigenous tribes to states that used the proceeds from the sale of these lands to fund colleges specializing in agriculture and the mechanical arts.
A recent article in High Country News, "Land-Grab Universities," provides interactive spatial data revealing the direct connection between the ~10.7 million acres of stolen Indigenous land and land-grant institutions. Many of these Morrill Act parcels were in California and, thanks to Andy Lyons at UCANR IGIS, we can view the overlap between UC land and these parcels in a geographic information system.
We created an ESRI Story Map to provide a synoptic history of the land that Hopland Research and Extension Center (HREC) currently occupies before it became part of the University of California. The map is the result of a collaborative effort that included the UC ANR Native American Community Partnerships Work Group, the Tribal Historic Preservation Officer for the Hopland Band of Pomo Indians, HREC staff, local long-time residents, and UC ANR IGIS. Our hope is that educators, researchers, landowners and other Hopland community members will learn about the historical context of the area, including injustices Indigenous people endured, and develop a sense of appreciation and admiration for the land we study.
This story map builds on an acknowledgment of the Shóqowa and Hopland People on whose traditional, ancestral and unceded lands we work, educate and learn, and whose historical and spiritual relationship with these lands continues to this day. It contains some details on the Indigenous history, a brief history of the Spanish/Mexican land grant and other facts from the early colonial period, a timeline of notable events, and ways HREC and neighboring Indigenous communities are collaborating to foster a sincere and mutually beneficial relationship for the land and the community. Please explore HREC's land history story map and if you are interested in building your own see our methods in the reference section.
- Author: Pamela Kan-Rice
As the Beckwourth Complex Fire and Dixie Fire spread in Plumas and Lassen counties, Ryan Tompkins reminded residents of ways they could help limit damage.
“If you're under evacuation orders, abide by the evacuation notice, because lingering too long can complicate tactics of emergency responders,” said the University of California Cooperative Extension forestry and natural resources advisor, who recommends packing up important documents and valuables with an overnight bag in advance for a quick exit to safety.
Plan for pets and livestock and water access for a quick response to falling embers that ignite fires. The Plumas County resident said he packed a “go bag” for his dog filled with dog food and other necessities. Every year, Tompkins clears defensible space around his house, including defensible space around his chicken coop in case a fire starts while he isn't home. During wildfire season, he keeps a shovel and a backpack sprayer filled with water staged near his woodshed for easy retrieval if a fire were to start in his yard. If Tompkins needs to evacuate, he switches his circuit box to his generator so any firefighters performing structure triage can access his well water when the power grid shuts down.
To document possessions for insurance purposes if the house burns, Tompkins recommends shooting video. “Just walk through the house with your phone shooting video and narrating to document the household assets.”
Residents outside of the wildfire evacuation area can take more steps to improve the odds their homes will survive a wildfire.
Even with fire imminent, there are several actions you can do to help prepare your home to withstand fire exposure. UC Cooperative Extension guidance can help residents prepare their home in the days or hours before wildfire exposure.
If you believe you have at least a couple of hours before fire exposure, review the area around your home and outbuildings for flammable items that could lead fire to the structures, said Yana Valachovic, UC Cooperative Extension forestry advisor in Humboldt and Del Norte counties.
She recommends the following:
- Move combustible items inside or away from the buildings, especially within the first 5 feet of any structure or attached deck
- Clean gutters and other places where pine needles and leaves accumulate on or near the house
- Move BBQ propane tanks away from structures
- Bring in cushions from outside furniture
- Move doormats away from the house
- Seal vents (attic, foundation, drier, etc.) with plywood or heavy foil to prevent embers from entering
- Close all windows and pet doors
“The goal is to remove combustible items away from structures so that embers don't ignite these materials and result in flames touching the house,” Valachovic said. “Temporarily sealing up vents can help prevent embers, or small bits of burning vegetation, from being blown inside the home.”
If first responders get to your home, Valachovic says you can help them by leaving a ladder against the house, placing buckets or garbage cans of water around the home, and leaving connected garden hoses in easy-to-locate places. Also, leave out a shovel or other tool that could be used to put out small spot fires.
“After you have packed your essentials and your go bag, dress for the evacuation by wearing cotton or wool clothing, a hat, boots, bandanna or mask to protect your nose and mouth, and pack leather gloves,” she said. “These items will help you be prepared if you have to get out of your vehicle or move fallen trees during your escape to safety. Additionally, it may be helpful to pack a shovel, digging bar, chainsaw, or other tools just in case your evacuation route gets blocked.”
As you evacuate, Valachovic suggests leaving gates open or unlocked so first responders can access your property.
If time allows, turn on the lights in your house to increase visibility and leave a note on the door indicating where you went and who is with you. These instructions can help you reunite with your loved ones.
Thinking through these steps and implementing them if fire is near can help your home and your family survive wildfire. For more evacuation guidance, visit https://ucanr.edu/sites/fire/Safety/Evacuation.
If you have more time to prepare for wildfires, UC Cooperative Extension provides more information at https://ucanr.edu/sites/fire/Prepare, including a fire map and tips for home hardening and defensible space strategies.
How to Harden Homes against Wildfire, a free 20-page publication by University of Nevada, Reno Extension, UC Cooperative Extension, Tahoe Resource Conservation District and CAL FIRE is also available online at http://ucanr.edu/HomeRetrofitGuide. It includes recommendations for 12 vulnerable components of homes in wildfire-prone areas, including roofs, gutters, vents, siding, windows, decks and fences.
- Author: Jeannette E. Warnert
As a child, Sandra Bonilla had a strong connection with the natural world, however, when she grew up and began introducing people of color from Southern California's poorest neighborhoods to local mountains and forests, she said they felt marginalized.
“Almost immediately I saw the outdoor showcased as place for white privilege families, and those of us with colorful backgrounds were not welcomed,” Bonilla said. “As time went on, I realized that my own people were no longer being connected to nature and that our youth had no idea what was camping, or hiking or just enjoying the flight of birds through the top of Jeffrey Pines.”
Bonilla founded the Southern California Mountains Foundation Urban Conservation Corps of the Inland Empire. The program offers young men and women paid work in environmental conservation on meaningful projects where they develop skills that increase job readiness.
To further enhance the educational aspect of the program, the conservation corps partnered with UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) California Naturalist and 4-H Youth Development programs to train a group of corps members to become certified naturalists as part of a unique cohort called Los Naturalistas.
With funding from the National Forest Foundation, UC Cooperative Extension 4-H Youth Development advisor Claudia Diaz Carrasco and conservation corps staff members Gaby Nunez and Lizzet Pineda met with the cohort every Saturday for four months to coordinate presentations by the U.S. Forest Service, CalFire and other professionals and to cultivate an appreciation for the beautiful natural resources that surround their community. The group also gathered for weekly cafecitos, early morning study sessions that helped all the participants get through the training materials together.
Translated materials, creative teaching methods, a diverse expert speaker pool, and incorporation of the strengths the students bring to the table ensured that the cohort received training that was culturally relevant. All 12 emerged as Los Naturalistas, ready to make positive changes in environmental justice and access to public spaces for their communities through nature and Spanish-language interpretation.
“I give thanks to people such as Fabian Garcia, USDA Forest Service; Henry Herrera, CalFire; and Claudia Diaz, UC Agriculture and Natural Resources, who are making new career pathways for Latinos, African Americans, Native Americans and Asian Americans and are ensuring that programs such as Los Naturalistas are changing the color of green outdoor spaces,” Bonilla said.
Diaz Carrasco's involvement in the movement was sparked by an early-career research project funded by UC ANR to identify the most effective ways to reach Latinx communities.
“We found out it's best to go through organizations that are already connected with youth and families,” Diaz Carrasco said.
To learn how to encourage families and youth to participate, engage and stay involved over time, she interviewed leaders of organizations serving this population.
“We were able to identify 25 guiding principles for successful engagement with Latinx families and youth,” she said. “Things like creating a positive ethnic identity, responding to economic poverty, including families and communities, and recruiting culture brokers help build bridges. A lot of these concepts guided the development of Los Naturalistas.”
(For more on the guiding principles for reaching and engaging Latinx youth in youth development, see https://jyd.pitt.edu/ojs/jyd/article/view/19-14-02-FA-03)
The Southern California Mountains Foundation Urban Conservation Corps was a natural partner. They had a diverse corps membership and sought educational opportunities to complement the job skills their corps were gaining through field work.
“Los Naturalistas is a college-level course. You need to do the homework. You need to do the reading. When they get their certification, the participants learn that they can be successful in a college course,” Diaz Carrasco said.
With renewed confidence, the newly minted Naturalistas are encouraged to complete their high school diplomas and enroll in community college classes. They are also charged with completing volunteer time in natural stewardship, education and service. One way they can do that is by sharing their experiences and offering nature instruction to younger members of their communities.
“Instead of me directly reaching the youth, I was able to train corps members to generate interest in California's natural world and the career opportunities available to people who pursue an education. The crew is helping me hit my target audiences,” Diaz Carrasco said. “Part of my work in UC ANR is to mix science and culture. If don't do this work, there are few bilingual people who are able to teach this.”
- Author: Ricardo A. Vela
The CalFresh Healthy Living, UC Program, administered through UC Cooperative Extension (UCCE), works with ethnic communities to transform their environment by implementing a community garden. UCCE created three gardens in partnership with community organizations in an equal number of neighborhoods located in this populous county.
In the first one, adults and minors dug and planted seeds and various vegetable plants in a community garden located in Riverside's popular Latino neighborhood. The vegetable garden has brought people in this low-resource community together to address healthy food access and learn about healthy eating and nutrition.
Gonzalo Rodríguez, an active member of the Community Settlement Association, said, "We planted pepper plants, tomatoes and little seeds. Vegetables are an excellent food for us, and another thing that keeps children off the streets and helps them understand the process while having fun taking care of their plants."
The garden in this thriving Latino community has grown over the years and is now a place for families to get together to celebrate healthy living. Educating food-insecure families of different ethnicity, the importance of having a vegetable garden, and how to grow your own food is a goal of the CalFresh Healthy Living, UC Program, and UCCE in Riverside County.
The second garden is located on what used to be a vacant lot in the Riverside Faith Temple under Pastor Duane Sims' supervision, who spoke about his vision. "I would like to see it a complete food force, a source of food that won't cost anybody anything, and something for people that don't have anything to do, a place to put their hands in the dirt and accomplish something."
These community gardens collaborate with several programs from the University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources and partner with ethnic organizations to combat the poor eating habits that result in obesity, chronic diseases, and sometimes premature death.
"We're trying to get low-income families to eat more vegetables, and the best way to do this is to encourage them to plant their own fruits and vegetables in an orchard, and that's why we're promoting community gardens," said Chutima Ganthavorn, UCCE nutrition specialist in Riverside County.
Adela Torres and her children are involved in the project with the Community Settlement Association in Riverside. "It's beneficial for the children because they are fresh fruits or things that we can have at home," she said.
Ganthavorn reaffirmed the UCCE and CalFresh Healthy Living, UC's commitment to helping ethnic communities live a healthier diet. "We know that many people's diets today are fast food and soft drinks, and they are not consuming fruits and vegetables. We need to eat almost nine portions of fruits and vegetables a day, and most of us aren't getting close to that level. We are trying to encourage the consumption of fruits and vegetables, especially vegetables because they contain many nutrients and many health benefits," she said.