UC Hopland REC Reduce Sheep Flock
For over 65 years, the Hopland Research and Extension Center (HREC) has been well known as one of the last large scale sheep ranches and research facilities in the northwest. Their woolly forms are a familiar sight against the backdrop of the 5,358 acre site, well loved by the community for school field trips during the lambing season and for the sheepdog trials during the fall. In addition, they have a long history of being on the forefront of emerging research and management strategies related to sheep for topics such as: sheep biology and management, rangeland management, livestock/predator/wildlife interactions, as well as grazing as a tool for vineyard owners, fire prevention, and noxious weed control.
This summer the HREC flock will be reduced from 500 breeding ewes to approximately 125 and their full time shepherd position will be cut. The sheep will be sold at auction on the site (4070 University Road, Hopland, CA) on June 3. The sale will allow sealed bids from 8am-11am, with a minimum lot size of 20 animals. This reduction echoes a change that can been seen across the state in flock size and management styles.
Agriculture moves in cycles, following both the seasons and market demands. The sheep population in Mendocino County has fallen from 140,000 in 1954 (UCANR) to 10,400 in 2018 (USDA), and statewide sheep numbers have fallen from 2,034,000 in 1954 (UCANR) to 550,000 at the end of 2018 (USDA). As California flock numbers have declined, so has sheep research interest and funding.
Magnifying the impact of these changes, HREC is facing a significant reduction in funding from the University of California system. HREC is one of nine Research and Extension Centers (RECs) under the University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) division which has seen significant budget challenges in the last few years due to flat state funding. Overall, budget reductions of $3.1 million from central (ANR) funding across the REC system are planned, and HREC's share of these cuts will amount to over 30% of its budget. The scale of this budget reduction is driving a statewide reevaluation of priorities and strategic decisions about where ANR should allocate limited funds to best meet its mission of strengthening the health of California's people, communities, food systems, and environment.
“While we must strategically adjust to financial realities and changes in research and extension priorities, we are sad to see the flock reduced and to face the coming loss of our dedicated and talented shepherd Jim Lewers. The smaller HREC flock will continue to fulfill an important role at the site, allowing us to continue to offer sheep focused educational programs and events, and to share our experience and research with sheep owners. The flock is a key tool in reducing the risk of wildfire through grazing for fire fuel reduction. Targeted grazing also helps to reduce invasive species and provides food and fiber. We plan to continue to welcome our community youth to “meet the lambs” and celebrate the services and products provided from the HREC flock at our events, for example our Wool Growers Field Day which takes place on June 1” said John Bailey, Interim Director at HREC. “We are also working to pivot our livestock programs to meet a broad array of identified research and extension needs. This will include working with private producers and potential diversifying into other species such as cattle.”
Although sheep have been considered a core feature of HREC, many other aspects of natural resource management and education are offered at the site. The diverse landscape offers oak woodland, chaparral, and riparian areas, as well as the ability to compare areas affected and unaffected by the 2018 River Fire. This landscape provides an important site for researchers from across the University of California system and beyond to study diverse aspects of the ecosystem services and working landscapes that makes California the wonderfully productive and diverse state that it is. Currently 19 research projects are studying topics including: climate change effects on soils and oaks: to tick-borne diseases: to wildlife ecology and management: rangeland ecology: fire science and sustainable land management practices.
In addition to diverse research opportunities, HRECs Community Education Specialist, Hannah Bird, has built and continues to develop a rich portfolio of extension and education events including workshops, field trips, and field classes. With the goal of educating and inspiring connection to and knowledge of diverse aspects of agriculture and natural resources, program offerings include not only sheep and wool focused events but also naturalist trainings, fire science education, birding trips, a youth summer camp, and extensive field trips which have brought over 2000 community members to the site in the past year.
“We are excited to share this wonderful site and extend the deep and broad knowledge which researchers and passionate individuals have developed about California ecosystems and agricultural systems. In this era of increasing focus on digital devices, we offer an alternative of hands-on, science-based educational opportunities for youth and people of all ages to engage with and deepen their love for our rich environmental and agricultural heritage.”
Despite the system-wide budget challenges, HREC continues to build its research and educational programs. Donor support and grants have become an integral part of their future. “Over the last year, we have been successful in obtaining grant awards from the Environmental Protection Agency with our partner REC in the Sierra Foothills for $100,000 to support fire education for middle school youth and adults, local grants to support youth education from the Mendocino Community Foundation, and individual donors have supported us with over $18,000 in 2018. Never has there been a time when such support is more needed at HREC to help us to continue to fulfill our important role in northern California.” commented Bailey in closing.
For further information regarding the sheep sale on June 3rd please visit http://bit.ly/HRECSheep . For information regarding the Wool Growers Field Day on June 1st please visit http://bit.ly/WoolGrowers . To find out more about HREC or donate to their work visit: http://hrec.ucanr.edu/ or call Hannah at (707) 744 1424 ext 105.
The wonderful NCCC Gold Seven team have been working at HREC for the past 3 weeks, they have been so helpful - all the HREC staff will be so very sad to see them go! In this blog post we learn a little about the team members and get an overview of the work that they have been involved in, the interviews were conducted by Hannah Wood, the media lead for the team.
As the AmeriCorps NCCC team stationed at the UC ANR Hopland Research and Extension Center, we've had plenty of projects to keep us busy! In the three weeks we've been volunteering here, we've helped repair fence lines previously burnt in the River Fire, were put in charge of some daily barn chores, helped build infrastructure for upcoming research projects, assisted with K-12 educational programs, cleared brush, helped tidy up the place, and sometimes worked closely with the sheep (tagging, paint branding, raising bummer lambs, and giving vaccines).
Although the work was daunting at times, and the weather was never perfect, we were thankful to be working and living on this beautiful property right alongside the welcoming staff and their families. We learned loads of information about California seasons and climates, lambing, the important research projects going on, Northern California ecosystems, wildlife in the area, and wildfire mitigation and recovery. And the baby lambs made our days brighter… even with rainy skies!
I've asked a few of my fellow Corps members some questions about their personal experiences at the UC ANR Hopland Research and Extension Center… and here's what they said!
Q: What was your favorite part of volunteering at HREC?
I enjoyed learning a ton from the very knowledgeable HREC staff. Their welcoming attitude enabled us to get a firsthand experience of what living and working at a research extension center entails. We worked with each and every person on staff and they all showed us the details and unique experiences of their work duties, while also being very open and friendly toward us.
-Jared Gasper: 19 yrs old, from Nebraska
Q: What has made your experience at HREC?
I liked getting insight into the life of a shepherd and seeing the day to day responsibilities of working on a ranch. I also really enjoyed learning about all the research projects! Overall my time here has been extremely educational and useful for developing myself and my interests, specifically when working with the Forest Advisor for Mendocino Lake and Sonoma counties on post fire vegetation plot surveys.
-Dariel Echanis: 18 yrs old, from Vermont
Q: What's it like living at the HREC?
I think we all can say it's been extremely comfortable living and working on the HREC campus. We were very cozy in the dorm house, and enjoyed going for hikes and doing physical training on our off time.. which included beautiful views of course! Hannah Bird made us feel right at home with her caring and immediate attention, giving us fresh lamb meat, welcoming us into her home for dinner, and making sure we were always having new and exciting experiences:)
-Hannah Wood: 22 yrs old, from New York State
Q: What was it like as the Team Leader coordinating daily projects with the staff?
The staff at HREC are all incredibly helpful and organized so I had a really great experience working with them. I never had trouble getting into contact with anyone and every member of the staff was happy to answer questions. The team got to work with a number of staff members who all had diverse bodies of knowledge and we learned a lot from them! Working at HREC has been a wonderful experience for me and for the team.
-Jessi Hagelshaw: 22 yrs old, from California
Q: What was it like volunteering on the weekends with the Ukiah Animal Shelter?
It was really rewarding! It was good to see that none of the animals we worked with before Christmas break were still there when we returned in January. I'm glad we got a chance to help out and I would love to do more work with animal shelters in the places we'll work at in the future.
-Alex Faeth: 22 yrs old, from New Jersey
Q: How was it working with the K-12th graders that came to HREC to learn about sheep?
Working with the school children was a great experience. The weather was cold and wet a lot of the days we did field trips but the teachers and students were enthusiastic to hike the property, which in turn, energized the staff and volunteers!
-Danny Zoborowski: 24 yrs old, from New York State
Q: Anything you'd like to say to the HREC and Hopland/Ukiah communities?
HREC's hospitality was great. The entire staff was welcoming and helpful, the dorms are nice and cozy, the land is beautiful, and it is a great place to hike... or just roam. Thank you HREC staff!
-Amir Corbett: 20 yrs old, from Pennsylvania
Amir and Alex show the "bummer" or adopted lambs to the K-12 students.
Hard work on the hill!
All the Americorps Gold Seven team worked so hard rain, snow or shine!
Clearing brush, to be prepared for future fire was one of the key tasks that the team helped HREC with.
- Author: Valentina Evans
My name is Valentina Evans, and I am a new volunteer at the UC Hopland Research and Extension Center. My partners Benjamin Evans, and Zane Petersen have chosen to volunteer with me at the HREC for our senior project at Ukiah High School. A few weeks ago on the twenty-first of December we volunteered to help two researchers, Paulo who studied at UC Santa Cruz, and Wyath, who is still studying at Humboldt State University, to plant acorns from different ecosystems, and analyze how they will adapt to conditions with more water, less water, more sunlight or a lack of sunlight. This study is part of Dr. Blair McLaughin's study from the Zavaleta Lab at UC Santa Cruz.
We started off by digging holes about 1 foot deep and laying a thin square piece of chicken wire at the bottom of the holes to prevent gophers from entering and eating the acorns. We then took a circular strip of chicken wire and placed it on top of the flattened piece at the bottom. With the second strip of chicken wire standing horizontal, we continued by covering the holes with the same dirt we originally dug out. Now with the metal secured in place, Paulo came around and gently placed the acorns inside of the holes. The hands-on experience was extremely fascinating, not to mention peaceful. The view at the top of the hill was breathtaking, and the weather was just perfect. The entire process was tiring, but having had the opportunity to participate in a lab/research project made the whole experience worth it.
Although the project will not produce any data until the acorns sprout, the idea behind the project is captivating. Paulo and Wyath are studying the growth of oak trees from all sorts of climates, locations, and ecosystems. Some of the acorns are from northern California and others from way down in southern California. They will be monitoring the water levels, and amount of sunlight the oak trees will receive, all in hopes to see how the oak trees will adapt to different changes in their environments. Seeing as how I want to major in Biological Sciences in college, this experience was exceptionally informative for me and has taught me how critical patience, effort and time are in order to successfully accomplish a lab and receive the most accurate facts. I am very grateful to have been able to participate in this ongoing project and am looking forward to continuing to be a part of the younger generation who can benefit from having the Hopland Research and Extension Center available to us, to further our knowledge about the environment.
Great to have Michael Jones our new UCCE Forestry Advisor in post! Read more about Michael here:
HREC and Post-Fire Research Opportunities
What is HREC?
The UC Hopland Research & Extension Center (HREC) is a multi-disciplinary research and education facility in Mendocino County located in the foothills of the Coast Range about two hours north of Berkeley. As part of the UC system for over 65 years, we are stewards of more than 5,300 acres of oak woodland, grassland, chaparral, and riparian environments. Elevation at the center ranges from 500 ft to 3,000 ft. HREC currently maintains a research flock of about 500 breeding ewes that have been the subjects of numerous studies on ranching practices, range management, livestock nutrition, wool production and breeding. Field experiments and demonstrations conducted here since 1951 have led to more than 1,500 publications in animal science, entomology, plant ecology, public health, watershed management, and wildlife biology. Our website is hrec.ucanr.edu.
The River Fire
As part of the Mendocino Complex fire, the River Fire burned through HREC on the evening of July 27 and into July 28. Approximately 3,000 acres of our center burned in this fire. Due to the concentrated efforts of Center staff and Cal Fire crews, all of our employees, residents, sheep, livestock dogs, offices and residences were saved. Below please find the burn map of our property. All of the black area to the north was burned and the dark red patches were areas of vegetation that remained unburned. The fire intensity varied greatly as did oak survival. You will see two smaller burned areas in the southern part of the property that were prescribed burns performed in June of this year.
While this was a blow to current research, pastures, and water infrastructure, we also see this as a wonderful opportunity. Due to extensive historical data sets and ongoing research projects, coupled with a variety of grazed and ungrazed pastures, and prescribed burn plots for comparison with wildfire, there is enormous potential for pre- and post-fire studies in the fields of:
- Watersheds and hydrology; fire science; plant science; soil science; entomology and parasitology; wildlife and wildlife ecology; rangeland management; grazing practices as fire suppression…..
To support this research, HREC offers:
- A well maintained network of roads that accesses almost all parts of the property, vehicles to use.
- A fully equipped shop staffed by employees skilled in fabrication and repair of research equipment
o Electrical, wood working, welding and metal fabrication, mechanical
- Skilled staff trained in field work techniques, with long histories of successful research support
- Fiber optic internet with Wi-Fi access throughout headquarters, strong cell service in most areas
- A vault of raw data, photos, and final papers from research conducted at HREC.
- Warehouses for storing equipment, a variety of accommodations from dorms to private houses
- Wet and dry lab space (undergoing renovation during fall 2018, available spring 2019)
- Lysimeter with available watering system, electrical connections, and fiber optic access point
- A research flock of sheep consisting of just under 500 breeding ewes, with all needed facilities and RFID tracking
- Fenced pastures and biological reserve areas for different treatment plots and controls
- A fully equipped conference facility with A/V equipment and fiber optic connections
- Zoom meeting on September 7th, 10am. More in depth information, Q&A.
- Field day on October 19th, 10am-5pm. Presentations, brainstorming, Q&A, site tours, available accommodations
- To register for either event follow this link: http://ucanr.edu/survey/survey.cfm?surveynumber=25451
Contact: HREC Interim Director John Bailey, firstname.lastname@example.org, (707) 744-1424 x 112