- Author: Grace Dean
In the wake of California's increasing wildfire concerns, UC ANR has made a concerted push to expand their fire network by hiring more academic advisors like Barb Satink Wolfson. Satink Wolfson covers the central coast region of California, serving the communities of San Benito, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, and Monterey Counties. This is her first fire-focused position in California- but is far from her first time working in fire science and communications. Prior to moving to the Central Coast in 2022, Satink Wolfson established a presence among Arizona and New Mexico communities through creative methods of science communications.
Past projects in Flagstaff, AZ were focused on helping researchers communicate their findings to the public and on the ground land managers. One unique effort saw researchers partner with a local art council on a climate and fire art exhibit, which was exhibited in Flagstaff and Tucson. Local artists conveyed difficult fire ecology and management concepts in a more approachable medium, positively shifting visitors' attitudes towards active management. Satink Wolfson feels that her current position as fire advisor is a natural progression to scale these creative outreach efforts.
Now, Satink Wolfson has found that the people she serves are fairly fire-savvy, most likely due to the past wildfires such as the 2020 Lightning Complex Fire. “There's definite awareness, and some very active FireWise communities,” Satink Wolfson says, pointing to the region's Fire Safe Councils as a prominent example that assists with FireWise establishment.
She has endeavored to build on that community interest by inviting people to be curious about fire and management. For example, through her local Prescribed Burn Association (PBA), she invited the public to observe the prescribed fire process, from morning briefing to ignitions. “People really liked seeing that process,” she recounts. She expands on demystifying science, “I strive to use common language, limit acronyms, spell everything out.” Making those choices has a positive impact on community engagement and empowerment. Another essential part of empowering the community is ensuring that all community members are included, which is why Satink Wolfson is also a strong supporter of including tribal perspectives and tribal members for these projects.
“It's a long road to environmental justice,” Satink Wolfson tells me. There are some steps in the right direction, she says, including her local PBA allocating a portion of their grant funds for tribal apprentices, aiding the local Amah Mutsun Land Trust's efforts to bring fire education back to their members. The Association for Fire Ecology (AFE) is an organization Satink Wolfson has been contributing to for some time now, and their biannual conference is one that she “tried for years to bring in a larger component for indigenous people,” she says. This year is the first to include a large number of events specifically designed to welcome and pay respect to indigenous culture and history. “It makes me feel good that we're finally getting there, and the right partners make all the difference,” Satink Wolfson notes, referring to a local indigenous leader who is leading the facilitation of indigenous events, topics, and culture at the conference.
Environmental justice is not the only issue Satink Wolfson sees in her region. A more tangible hurdle is money- there's simply not enough to go around. She says that “For middle income people in my area, finances are one of the hardest hurdles for defensible space and home hardening.” Fire safety projects are typically done on an individual level, leaving it up to each homeowner to come up with resources and funds on their own.
Satink Wolfson points out that this concern infuses not only her advisor goals for the region, but the content she presents to the public. She's cognizant that “not everyone can afford to do everything at once,” and instead approaches management talks from the perspective of: “What can get people the biggest bang for their buck?” Her recommendation is to prioritize management projects through this lens, sharing: “The way that I look at my house is- I want to make it as likely as possible that it can survive a fire without intervention.”
This is why Satink Wolfson wants to work her way towards neighborhood-level action. She thinks about the impact of having large-scale, coordinated efforts that lead to saving an entire neighborhood from a wildfire. While working with Homeowner's Associations is a possibility, she would prefer a more grassroots effort. Community-led programs are the way to go, she notes, “That's why the Fire Safe Councils can be so effective.” This is the positive, people-powered model she sees groups like the PBAs building upon: “I see the PBAs as returning fire to the people. Anyone can do the work, they just need to know how.”
- Author: Richard Smith
Richard Smith, Joji Muramoto, Tim Hartz and Michael Cahn
UCCE Emeritus Farm Advisor, Extension Specialist, Emeritus, Extension Specialist and Irrigation and Water Resources Farm Advisor.
The winter of 2023 had the highest rainfall years in the last 25 years. The high rainfall resulted in flooding onto farmland along the main branch of the Salinas River in both January and March. The flood waters disrupted planting schedules as well as inundated established plantings resulting in a disruption to the beginning of the vegetable production season.
The river also deposited a layer of sediments in flooded fields (Photo 1). The sediments came from several sources: river sediments from as far away as San Luis Obispo County; sediments from side channels; and soil sediments scoured from upstream farms. Several growers and industry personnel have asked what is the composition of these sediments? In April after the flooding had subsided, we collected samples at river crossings from San Lucas to Salinas. The layer of sediment left by the flood waters tended to curled up as it dried out and were easy to collect. Any field soil was brushed from the bottom of the sediments and they were sent to the UC Davis Analytical Laboratory for analysis.
Tables 1 and 2 have analysis of the sediments collected. The data in the table is arranged with sites from south to north; the two side channels, Arroyo Seco and Monroe Canyon are listed separately. Monroe Canyon is the drainage that comes from the west side of Hwy 101 just south of the intersection of Hwy 101 and Central Avenue north of King City; it cuts through a large section of the Monterey shale formation that contains elevated levels of cadmium.
The San Lucas, Arroyo Seco and Monroe Canyon samples are coarser indicating that they were transported by rapid water movement, while the rest of the samples are dominated by silts and clays, indicating that they were transported by slower moving water. In general, there is a good correlation between the clay content of the sediments and nutrient and organic matter content. Higher nutrients in the silt and clay sediments include total nitrogen, calcium, magnesium, sulfate, zinc and iron. The sediments are generally fertile which may indicate that they are at least partially composed of soil eroded from farmed fields farther upstream. Sediments that are low in phosphorus likely originated from non-farmed or vineyard areas.
The elevated cadmium levels measured in sediments from the Arroyo Seco and Monroe Canyon indicate that these side channels carried sediments from the Monterey shale formation which has naturally high levels of cadmium into the Salinas River. Presumably these sediments originating in the Monterey shale formation are transported to areas further downstream by flood waters.
Photo 1. Sediments deposited in a field along the Salinas River
Table 1. Analysis of river sediment samples from locations from San Lucas to Salinas and two side channel locations.
Table 2. Analysis of river sediment samples from locations from San Lucas to Salinas and two side channel locations.
- Author: Jamie Tuitele-Lewis, Resource Conservation District of Monterey County
- Author: Barb Satink Wolfson, UC ANR
The Monterey Bay area will host part of the first California Central Coast Prescribed Fire Training Exchange, or Cal-TREX.
Fire practitioners from across the state, greater North America and international locations (Spain, Honduras, Costa Rica, Ecuador) are gathering for a Prescribed Fire Training Exchange on June 3-10.
The training is hosted by the Central Coast Prescribed Burn Association, which empowers the public to build a culture of “good fire” and helps private landowners conduct prescribed burns in Monterey, San Benito and Santa Cruz counties.
Prescribed burns will be open for the public to observe on various days throughout the training, most likely June 4-9, depending on the weather. Please see the CCPBA webpage for updates on upcoming burns: http://calpba.org/centralcoastpba.
Prescribed Fire Training Exchanges (TREX) first came to Northern California in 2013, and have made a dynamic, positive cultural shift concerning prescribed fire, within both regional fire services and the general public. These “good fire” TREX events have drawn significant attention, especially in the context of more severe wildfire seasons.
After months of cross-organizational cooperative planning, participants in the weeklong training will be burning a mix of grassland, oak woodland and shrub vegetation types, and make a lasting, positive change concerning “good fire” on the Central Coast.
The TREX will provide experiential training opportunities to advance regional prescribed fire capacity, while also enhancing research to better understand the ecological response of wild plant and animal species following fire.
At this TREX event, participants will learn how to safely conduct prescribed burns in various vegetation types across three counties. Along with multiple prescribed burns, the weeklong program will include lectures and seminars on local fire ecology of plant and animal species, tribal burning practices and burn planning led by multiple burn bosses and other experts.
Burn locations may include the Nyland property (owned by Trust for Public Land and San Benito Agricultural Land Trust) near San Juan Bautista, the Santa Lucia Conservancy near Carmel Valley and the Kechun Village (owned by the Nason family) in Arroyo Seco.
Be advised, while the CCTREX works closely with the Monterey Bay Air Resources District (MBARD) to assure good smoke dispersal, smoke may be seen and present in these areas during and after a burn. Please see the CCPBA webpage for updates on upcoming burns: http://calpba.org/centralcoastpba.
BurnBot, a new technology featuring a mobile burn chamber, remote-controlled mastication and fire drone systems, will be used for the prescribed burn on June 4. To observe the Nyland burn on June 4, register at https://bit.ly/CCPBApublicRxfire. Details including time and directions will be emailed to registered participants.
Participants and partners include members of the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band and the Esselen Tribe of Monterey County, University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources, Resource Conservation District of Monterey County, CAL FIRE, local land trusts, scientists, ranchers, students, researchers, land managers and others. The CCPBA is funded by two CAL FIRE wildfire prevention grants.
For more information, contact Jamie Tuitele-Lewis, fire fuel mitigation program and forest health coordinator, at email@example.com or Barb Satink Wolfson, UC Cooperative Extension area fire advisor, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Author: Mike Hsu
Salinas Valley lettuce growers lost about $150 million in 2022 due to diseases
A stormy winter could portend another devastating year for the lettuce industry in the Salinas Valley, which saw approximately $150 million in lost gross revenue in 2022 due to INSV (impatiens necrotic spot virus) and associated diseases. Recent drenching rains might mean more weeds – overwintering “reservoirs” for the tiny insect, the Western flower thrips, that carries INSV.
Or the extreme precipitation could benefit growers, as thrips in the soil – during their intermediate stage of development – might be drowned in the waterlogged fields.
As with so many aspects of the INSV crisis, the ultimate effects of flooded fields on thrips populations remain unknown.
“We don't know if thrips are just so persistent and so stable in that pupal stage that maybe they will emerge unaffected,” said Kirsten Pearsons, University of California Cooperative Extension integrated pest management farm advisor for Santa Cruz, Monterey and San Benito counties. “There's just so much about their biology and ecology in the Salinas Valley that we just don't know.”
The mystery of thrips, INSV and soilborne diseases (namely Pythium wilt) is why UC Agriculture and Natural Resources assigned Pearsons to the area last November and hired Yu-Chen Wang in October as UCCE plant pathology advisor for the three counties.
“They're stepping in at a critical moment,” said Richard Smith, the region's UCCE vegetable crop production and weed science advisor who retired in January after a 37-year career. “They've gotten grants funded already – and that's just incredible. They're hitting the ground running.”
Experienced in disease diagnosis and collaboration with growers and industry partners, Wang said her pathology background – paired with Pearsons' entomology expertise – will be crucial in addressing INSV and other diseases.
“It is important for Kirsten and me to work together and provide different insights for the vector and the pathogen, respectively,” Wang said.
‘It's going to take everything to get a crop'
One priority is untangling the dynamics of INSV and Pythium wilt co-occurrence – the subject of ongoing research by JP Dundore-Arias, a plant pathologist at California State University, Monterey Bay. While the vegetables may tolerate one disease or the other, their one-two punch often deals the lethal blow.
“The challenge is – which is why it's great to have Yu-Chen and Kirsten – is that we have so many problems now, whether it's Fusarium (wilt), or Verticillium (wilt), or Pythium, or INSV,” said Mark Mason, pest control adviser for Nature's Reward, which primarily grows lettuces on 5,000 acres across the Salinas Valley.
Mason said that co-infections on his crops (sometimes with three or four diagnosed diseases) make it difficult to assign monetary damages to a specific pathogen, but he noted he has seen fields with “100% loss.” According to the Grower-Shipper Association of Central California, about 11,500 acres were deemed not harvestable in 2022, representing 12% of lettuce industry acreage.
Given the gravity and complexity of the disease dilemma, Pearsons said she has been fielding calls from growers seeking new and better solutions – ways to improve existing tools, techniques borrowed from other crop systems, and additional biological or chemical means of control.
And although there are a couple of pesticides that manage the disease-carrying thrips reasonably well, growers and researchers are worried about their diminishing efficacy due to overuse. Plus, they only constitute a short-term fix.
“Managing the thrips will only reduce the amount of INSV that can get transmitted,” Pearsons explained. “You can kill 99.9% of the thrips, but you get one thrips that has INSV that enters a field, and now you have an infected lettuce plant. All of the thrips are going to come and they can spread it from there; pesticide slows things down, but it's not going to eliminate it.”
Finding disease-tolerant lettuce cultivars is a more sustainable approach. Trials conducted last year by Smith, Wang and others identified several varieties that appeared to hold up well to Pythium and INSV. While additional research could maximize their potential benefit, Wang said even the hardier cultivars will lose their resistance over time, and a multi-layered INSV strategy with “integrated management tools” is crucial.
“We realized, when this thing started happening, that we cannot spray our way out of this problem,” Mason said. “We need varieties; we need management practices; we need pesticides…it just seems like it's going to take everything to get a crop.”
Weeds key to disease control
An all-hands-on-deck approach helped control thrips-harboring weeds last winter. With fields drying out from January storms, Smith said communities must get back to weed management – with a focus on prominent weed hosts for INSV and neglected areas adjacent to farms. Hotspots of infection last year were traced to industrial lots that were overlooked during the weeding process.
“People can't lose sight of the fact that we still need to be controlling the weeds in key areas, because that's the reservoir of the virus during the winter,” Smith said. “We have to stay on task with that.”
Yet despite the diligent weed abatement, crop damage from INSV and Pythium was widespread in 2022, and Smith said it's “very possible” that high heat during the summer was a contributing factor to especially prevalent disease in fall. Thrips populations tend to thrive in warmer weather, Smith said, but much more research needs to be done to understand the basic biology of the insect, including how they acquire the virus and how they spread it.
High hopes for future
Pearsons cited the work of Daniel Hasegawa, a research entomologist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, who leads teams in monitoring thrips populations in several locations across the Salinas Valley. Currently the counting of thrips on sticky card traps is done manually, but Pearsons and Mason mentioned the possibility of using AI and machine learning to expedite that process.
Mason said that the grower community is excited about the new technologies and ideas that Pearsons and Wang are bringing to the region. As a participant in the search for candidates to fill the advisor positions, Mason said “they were, in my opinion, by far the best fit for what we were looking for.”
“I hope they stay here for 30 years,” he added.
The new advisors both noted the palpable energy and cooperative spirit in the Salinas Valley to proactively meet the challenge.
“Looking to the past, there have been other outbreaks and diseases that they've managed to overcome,” Pearsons said. “These farmers are resilient and creative and I fully believe that lettuce will still be growing here for years to come – it might look a little different, and it might take a little bit of a painful period to get to that point, but I think that we're going to be able to come up with some solutions.”
And while there are concerns that some lettuce growers might decide to leave the region, Wang said she also believes in the industry's strong roots and rich history.
“Salinas Valley has had a beautiful climate for lettuce for so many years; there are some undeniable advantages here,” she said. “This is still the best place in the United States – and maybe the world – to grow lettuce.”/h3>/h3>/h3>/h3>
- Author: Kathy Keatley Garvey
UC Davis professor Jason Bond is seeking a species name for a new genus of trapdoor spiders he discovered on a sandy beach at Moss Landing State Park, Monterey County.
Bond proposes to name the genus, Cryptocteniza, part of which means “hidden or secret.” And the species name?
That's where you come in.
If your suggestion wins the competition, you will hold the bragging rights and be acknowledged in his upcoming manuscript on the new genus.
Bond, a noted spider authority and the Evert and Marion Schlinger Endowed Chair in Insect Systematics, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, is accepting suggestions until 5 p.m., June 1 at email@example.com.
“It will stay that name forever,” said Bond, who related that spiders are often named for their physical characteristics, location or behavior--or for celebrities. He has named many a spider, singling out characters from Star Wars, as well as Depression era photographer Dorothea Lange, talk-show host Stephen Colbert, singer-songwriter Neil Young, and actress Angelina Jolie.
Bond and manuscript co-author Joel Ledford, assistant professor of teaching, UC Davis Department of Plant Biology, will select the winner. Ledford, whose research interests include spider systematics and biology education, interviewed Bond May 18 for his Tree of Life-UC Davis YouTube channel. It is online at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NV_eTablJMk.
“We don't want a public vote on the spider name,” in deference to the British polar research vessel that garnered a top public vote of “Boaty McBoatface” a few years ago, quipped Bond.
Trapdoor spiders are so named because they construct their burrows with a corklike or wafer trap door made of soil, vegetation and silk.
Bond discovered the female spider in 1997 on the sandy beach, and figured at the time it might be a new genus. But despite repeated trips to the site, he could not find a male for 22 years. The male proved elusive until pitfall trap sampling in the fall of 2019.
“I have only one male specimen,” Bond told Ledford. He said he will be “relieved” when it is described and finds a home in the Bohart Museum of Entomology, UC Davis.
“This genus meets the criteria of an endangered living fossil,” Bond said, “and is consequently of grave conservation concern.”
Bond believes the genus is found only in that area, but thinks it may be closely related to a genus found in New Mexico and Arizona. “It is quite plausible that this genus was once likely far more widespread across California and the American Southwest, with potentially greater past species diversity throughout its larger hypothetical ancestral range,” he said.
Of the genus name, Cryptocteniza, Bond says that the adjective “hidden or secret” is prefixed to Cteniza, the Greek feminine noun “comb.” The latter refers to the comb-like rastellum (row of stiff spines on the chelicera) common in taxa and formerly assigned to the spider family Ctenizidae (e.g., Eucteniza). The prefix refers to both the diminutive form of the rastellum and the seemingly “hidden in plain sight” nature of the genus, he says.
Bond credited Vera Opatova, a postdoctoral fellow in his lab, with helping to formulate the genus name.
It is rare to find a genus in the field, the professor said. The usual place is in museum collections.
The trapdoor spider family Euctenizidae is comprised of some 76 described species in seven genera widely distributed throughout the United States, although a few species are known from Mexico.
(Please send name suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org)