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.
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, email@example.com, (707) 744-1424 x 112
Fire has a vitally important role in the California landscape and many fire-related studies have been conducted at the UC Hopland Research and Extension Center (HREC) since 1951. The majority of these fires have been prescribed burns, well controlled to manage invasive species and reduce fuel load, but on July 27 the staff had to deal with a very different kind of fire, as the River Fire swept across the site.
Below I share my experiences of both prescribed fire and wildfire at HREC:
Just a few short months ago, I enjoyed an afternoon with staff on site watching as CalFire conducted a prescribed burn to reduce invasive grass species and fuel load. The sight of the flames racing through the grasses was exciting and the skill of the CalFire team in controlling the fire inspired both respect and a feeling of safety – we were in good hands! The crews worked hard to protect some of the great oak trees we have on the site and to respect areas of cultural significance, including a rock inscribed with ancient petroglyphs. Tankers flew over sprinkling us with red fire retardant as they passed, allowing a new pilot some practice while keeping this burn well controlled. This burn inspired hope and in the space of just a month we were already seeing green shoots replacing the black of the burned areas, a new chance for the native grass species adapted to fire.
How different an experience last week as a wildfire, the River Fire, began to burn close to our site on the afternoon of July 27. This fire was not under control, its power and size increasing so rapidly that by the afternoon it had spread to HREC and was quickly moving through oak woodland, grassland and chaparral. I'm very lucky to be able to live and work on this beautiful site, but suddenly the oak woodlands that once held much joy for me all just looked like fuel. It was clear that the homes that we lived in were at significant risk and difficult decisions were made about what items should be loaded into the car and what we must drive away from – not knowing if we would return to find them intact.
While residents on site prepared to evacuate, other HREC staff were making decisions about the many lives that depended on them for their wellbeing, the flock of 500 sheep and their accompanying 6 guardian dogs and 1 sheepdog. Shepherd Jim Lewers was quick to consider the safest space for the flock and they were herded swiftly downhill to the flat irrigated pasture at our lowest elevations. Our wonderful neighbors on the Poor Ranch were working hard to protect their homes and to consider how they might also link with efforts to save HREC homes. As the sun set, the fire looked more daunting to all, HREC residents had left the site, but a few staff stayed on to do what they could as they waited for CalFire – who were stretched thin with numerous fires to attend to.
My last phone conversation that evening with our interim director John Bailey was worrying.“I'm not feeling confident, the fire is headed downhill towards headquarters, is there anything else you need from your house?” he asked.
Although I know of the huge benefits of fire to our lands, this fire was now encroaching on our homes and it was hard to consider any positive role it might have. At around 9 p.m., CalFire moved their incident command to HREC alongside a team of at least 3 bulldozers, a water tanker and 6 engines. It's hard to express the gratitude you feel to these men and women who will put themselves at such risk to save the homes of strangers. This was certainly a turning point for HREC, all buildings and animals were kept safe although around two-thirds of the site did burn above headquarters and spread east towards Lake County. Although the fear for headquarters could dissipate – it was with grim understanding that now others were at risk and this fire was still burning strong.
As I write this, a few days on, we are now assessing the damage to the site. Our water supply is severely affected, pipes that carried water from springs on site simply burst as the water inside them boiled due to the heat. Our team is out checking for dangerous trees, which still smoke ominously along the road. The many research projects that used our site as their “living laboratory” are impacted to various extents. And yet – we know how lucky we are. On our minds are all the people facing evacuation and the potential loss of their homes or worse. The role of HREC in sharing advice on fire safe measures alongside the Mendocino Fire Safe Council becomes stronger and clearer.
Now that the immediate fear has subsided, I can think again about the healing power that this fire will have on parts of our landscape. Many of our oaks did survive and prescribed burns over the years have aided in ensuring some parts of the site suffered only quick moving grass fires. Although the important wildlife research conducted by the UC Berkeley Brashares lab will be significantly impacted, we will now be able to see the movements of the many GPS collared deer that live on our site in relation to fire. This fire will offer many more opportunities for researchers from different fields to study post fire impacts with access to long-term pre-fire data to support their work.
Our site is here to provide answers to scientific questions associated with a Northern California working landscape – and this fire has allowed us to gain knowledge, the opportunity to learn more and the impetus to share that knowledge to help where we can.
This picture was taken on Friday night, July 27 as the fire started to move downhill towards the headquarters area.
Research projects have been affected, for example this weather station was completely destroyed by the fire. On the positive side - there are now many opportunities to see the regenerative aspects of fire and the research associated with those.
Looking across to Cow Mountain from the higher points on the site through the chaparral.
Many of our oaks have survived, past prescribed fires and grazing decreased the fuel load beneath the trees reducing the temperature and allowing fire to move through quickly. However in this are a mid story of madrone led to higher temperatures and prolonged burning which may have killed some of the black oaks to be found in the area.
From the Barn to the Yarn in Hopland
On Monday morning a group of 25 strangers gathered in front of the lambing barn at the UC Hopland Research and Extension Center. “If you survive the week, you'll be in a rare group” commented John Harper, Livestock and Natural Resources Advisor to the class. This heralds the beginning of the sheep shearing school, an intensive week long class, which is so eagerly anticipated that space on the class was filled in just 4 minutes from the opening of online registration.
The participants are varied and have traveled from all over the USA. As they introduce themselves they explain their motivations for joining this class and a common theme begins to emerge “there's just no one else to shear my sheep”. Many of the participants work with smaller sheep flocks and it is not economical to employ travelling shearers, used to shearing flocks of hundreds or thousands, for just a few sheep. These small flocks are increasing across Mendocino County and the need for qualified shearers who are sympathetic to the needs of small producers is high. The group mix might surprise some, with over 20 female participants and a number of the group using vacation from their “day job” to attend this class including a hair dresser looking to expand her scope. During the introduction it is made clear to all that shearing is not as easy task “a full day of shearing is equivalent to running a marathon” concluded Harper as he led the class into the barn to get started.
“One of my favorite things about this school is the range of people who are brought together for such an intensive experience” commented Hannah Bird, HREC community educator. “At the end of the week you always see such pride in their achievement, and the possibility of a new economic string to their bow, we're proud to see that being expressed in our community through Matt Gilbert and his family, a past shearing school participant who has now opened Mendocino Wool and Fiber, our local wool mill”.
Alongside a renewed interest in keeping small flocks of sheep, there has also been increased practice of fiber arts such as knitting and felting in the last 20 years, particularly amongst millennials. Celebrity knitters such as Julia Roberts and Cameron Diaz might be partly responsible, but the many qualities of wool as a fiber are greatly appreciated by local spinners, knitters and artists.
To get a taste of the entire process from sheep to scarf, HREC invites the community to their 4th annual Barn to Yarn celebration on Saturday, May 12th. There will be displays and demonstrations including herding sheep with a sheepdog (performed by Tom Trent from the Redwood Empire Sheepdog Association), shearing, knitting, felting, spinning and weaving.
“Our amazing team of experts and volunteers will help attendees at Barn to Yarn to try their hand working with wool – this is such a great day for all the family from kids to the committed fiber artist. We'll even be creating a beautiful shawl during the event which will be offered at silent auction through the day. What could be a better Mother's Day present?” added Bird. Guest of honor, Jean Near (103) will be adding to the event with stories of over 100 years living in Mendocino, ranching merino sheep which are prized for their wool over many of those years. Matthew Topsfield brings rare knitting skills all the way from the Outer Hebrides of Scotland which he will share with attendees who might enjoy making a “fisherman's gansey”.
Admission is $10 for adults, children under 12 $5. HREC asks visitors to leave their pets at home to protect the site and the sheep resident there. Bring your own picnic and all utensils; tea, coffee and water will be available. Visit http://bit.ly/BarntoYarn2018 to find out more and purchase your ticket. Barn to Yarn will be held at the Rod Shippey Hall, 4070 University Road, Hopland, CA 95449 from 9am-3pm on May 12th. For more information contact Hannah Bird, (707) 744-1424, Ext. 105, firstname.lastname@example.org.