- Author: Mike Hsu
Reposted from UC ANR News
Despite recent rains, fire remains a danger across California, as there's still plenty of time this fall for grass, woody debris and other flammable material to become dry and ignite.
“The smaller the fuels – pine needles, grass, and small twigs – the faster they can dry out, meaning they will be ready to burn again a few days or weeks after a large rainstorm,” said Susie Kocher, a UC Cooperative Extension forestry and natural resources advisor for the Central Sierra, urging residents to take steps to prevent or limit potential fire damage.
When it comes to “home hardening” and essential wildfire preparations in this age of drought and climate change, not every project requires a bank-breaking budget and an army of contractors.
There are small – but significant – home and landscaping improvements that most people can complete by themselves during a single weekend, with a quick run to the hardware store and some basic planning and safety precautions.
“There are a lot of factors that play into your home's vulnerability to ignition; small changes and upgrades can help reduce some of that risk for people living in high wildfire risk areas,” Kocher explained. “The bigger projects like replacing windows and roofs are very important, but there are definitely smaller projects that people can tackle right away at lower cost that also reduce risk. The main goal of these actions is to reduce the risk that wildfire embers can ignite your home.”
Kocher recommends these five measures as simple but crucial ways to bolster your home's wildfire resiliency.
Clean debris from your roof. Because of its expansive surface, the roof is the most susceptible area of your house to embers. Removing accumulated leaves and needles is especially important if you have a “complex roof” with dormers or other elements – that's where embers gather, too, and could come in contact with flammable siding. (And while you're up there, give those gutters a good swabbing.) Learn more about protecting your roof and gutters.
Install metal flashing in vulnerable spots. Replacing all your siding with noncombustible material can be pricey, but a more manageable task would be adding corrosion-resistant metal flashing to select areas: roof-to-wall intersections, the place where the chimney comes out of the roof, and the edge where the deck meets the house. Learn other ways to shore up your siding.
Remove debris from between the boards of your deck and fence. Embers can ignite leaves and needles stuck between the boards, so be sure to keep those gaps clean and clear. Learn additional steps to harden your deck and prepare your fence.
Take out all vegetation (alive or dead) within five feet of your home. Creating defensible space immediately next to your home is a top priority, so be sure there's nothing combustible within this “Zone Zero.” Plants, mulch, woodpiles, wicker furniture or anything that can catch fire should be removed. Learn what to do in the other “zones” as you move farther from your home.
Inspect vents and upgrade to finer mesh screens. Install or swap in noncombustible, corrosion-resistant metal mesh screening that is at least 1/8” (1/16” would be even better but requires more frequent maintenance). These screens help prevent embers from entering your attic and crawl space. In addition, put together some vent covers that can be deployed if you have time before a wildfire arrives. Learn other ways to reduce vulnerability of vents.
For more in-depth explanations and next steps, Kocher suggests visiting the UC ANR wildfire website (https://ucanr.edu/sites/fire/Prepare) and reviewing this home retrofit guide (https://bit.ly/3RaL54u).
- Author: Kim Ingram
You may have seen historic photos of Sierra Nevada forests with cars driving between the large trees, or heard how one could ride their horse from the woods into town with little difficulties. Those open forests with fewer trees were highly variable in structure and more resilient than forests of today. But what does that actually mean? Ryan Tompkins, Forestry and Natural Resources Advisor and Registered Professional Forester with the University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources, explains the connection between fewer trees and a resilient forest.
Photo: USDA Forest Service
What is forest resilience? Forest resilience is a measure of adaptability. It focuses on retaining a forest's essential structure and composition to a range of stresses or complex disturbances. In other words, a resilient forest may lose some trees to drought, fire or insect attack, but the mortality rate will not overtake the forest's ability to continue growing trees and provide habitat. Some will die, but many will live.
Today's forests have huge increases in basal area and tree density compared to the historical record. Historically, forests were generally low in density yet highly variable in their structure, with open patches and clumps of trees. Twenty-two trees per acre was not uncommon in the Sierras, but those 22 trees were huge! The older and bigger trees get, the more adaptations they have, like thicker bark, a high canopy and higher levels of resilience to disturbances. We have normalized high density, homogeneous stand structure and high competition forests that would not have occurred historically. Today's forests are more vulnerable to fire and drought related mortality due to a legacy of timber harvesting in early 1900's that focused on large tree removal; a century of fire suppression policy and action, and climate change effects such as less humidity recovery in the night.
Photo: Forest Stewardship Education Initiative Program
What about forest understory? The mosaic effects of fire in historic fire regimes was due to greater understory diversity characterized by grasses, forbs, limited shrubs, and more bare ground. Today's thick understory means a less diverse understory, more resource competition between shrubs and small trees, and greater fuel loads to carry fire throughout the forest. Once impacted by severe fire, it is more likely that shrubs will take over burned areas and overtake any seedlings that are planted or regenerated.
What should today's forest landowners do to increase forest resilience? Aiming for historical tree density may be hard depending on your overall management goals, and the California Forest Practice Rules may not even allow for it. Optimal forest density for your forest depends in part on the productivity of your site and your objectives, but many forest ecologists and managers are advocating for maintaining lower densities of trees. Think about forest structure in two regards: 1) how fire moves through forests during the peak of fire season, and 2) how trees might compete for water during a drought, when considering what management actions to take.
Activities to reduce forest density and increase forest resilience include:
Hand thinning, piling and burning
- This is a good first step for DIYers to remove ladder fuels and some surface fuels;
- Generally, no permits are required if you are on your own property and not using cost-share funding to support the work; and
- It's a nice way to introduce prescribed fire activities if you let the fire in the piles start to creep around, after you put a fire line around them!
- It's a great way to address surface and ladder fuels, but depending on your forest structure may not remove enough competing trees to make your forest resistant to drought
- Changes vertical fuel (like small trees and shrubs) down to ground fuel but does not remove them. It simply adds them to surface fuels;
- When masticated fuels burn, they have lower flame lengths but can continue to burn/smolder for a longer time period which can increase fire effects to residual trees;
- It delivers quick results, and can operate most of the year; and
- Decomposition rates will vary between locations.
Mastication plus fire: A combination of treatments that can have unexpected results, both positive and negative. Though flame lengths are low, the fire has a long residence time, which can cook and kill residual trees. It's better to wait a few years after mastication for the material to decompose before burning it.
Timber harvesting or commercial thinning:
- Sometimes you have to commercially thin in order to restore lower density forest conditions;
- You can leverage saw logs/forest products to pay for other management activities; and
- It is effective in reducing tree density in the canopy and ladder fuels and reduces competition for the remaining trees.
Commercial thinning plus prescribed fire: Very effective in reducing tree density, ladder fuels and surface fuels. Combining meaningful thinning and prescribed fire can mitigate fire hazard and improved the growth and vigor of your trees to maximize resistance and resilience to wildfire and drought-related tree mortality!
For more information on what forest resilience is and how it is measured, read “Operational resilience in western US frequent-fire forests” by Malcolm P. North, Ryan E. Tompkins, Alexis A. Bernal, Brandon M. Collins, Scott L. Stephens, and Robert A. York. Click here to view a virtual panel discussion and presentation with the authors.
For more background on the history of California forests, visit Forest Stewardship Series 4 – Forest History. For more information on tree growth and competition, as well as vegetation management activities, visit Forest Stewardship Series 5 – Tree Competition and Growth. and Forest Stewardship Series 6 – Forest Vegetation Management.
- Author: Mike Hsu
Reposted from UC ANR News
UC ANR hires more fire advisors to address growing threat to California communities
Bringing more expertise to more places across the state, University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources continues to hire fire advisors to help communities prepare for one of the most devastating climate-fueled threats.
With wildfires a constant danger as drought grips California, three highly skilled UC Cooperative Extension advisors have joined the organization since early May: Luca Carmignani, serving Los Angeles and Orange counties; Barb Satink Wolfson, serving Monterey, San Benito, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz counties; and Tori Norville, serving Sonoma, Napa and Marin counties.
These positions – as well as other recent additions in agriculture and natural resources fields – are made possible by California's commitment, as reflected in the state budget, to improve the lives of residents in the face of a changing climate.
Two more fire advisors are slated to be announced in the coming weeks, further broadening the knowledge and practical advice that UC ANR academics can share on a wide range of topics, including fire hazard mitigation, fire ecology, prescribed fire, wildland fire research, forest and wildlife management, and climate change effects. Together, they form a robust team of fire experts.
Although their specific areas of expertise vary, all the new fire advisors are dedicated to helping residents and community groups across California become more fire-aware, adapted and resilient. They share vital information on how Californians can prepare homes, landscapes and property for wildfire.
Luca Carmignani joined UCCE as a fire advisor for Orange and Los Angeles counties May 2. His research interests include image analysis, computer programming and scientific outreach.
Prior to joining UC ANR, Carmignani was a postdoctoral researcher in the Berkeley Fire Research Lab at UC Berkeley. His research has focused on fire and combustion applications, from wildland fires to material flammability.
He earned his Ph.D. in engineering sciences from the joint doctoral program between UC San Diego and San Diego State University after obtaining his bachelor's and master's degrees in aerospace engineering from the University of Pisa in Italy.
Barb Satink Wolfson
Barb Satink Wolfson began in her role as UC Cooperative Extension fire advisor for Monterey, San Benito, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz counties on June 30.
Her primary responsibilities include wildland fire-related research and outreach for the Central Coast region, while building trust, strong partnerships and collaborative relationships within both professional and non-professional communities.
Satink Wolfson earned her B.S. and M.S. in forestry from Northern Arizona University, and brings to UC ANR more than 20 years of fire-research and outreach experience in Arizona. Her favorite job, though, was working as a backcountry ranger in Yosemite National Park during her undergraduate years.
In her new role, Satink Wolfson hopes to address some of the questions behind the use of prescribed fire in a variety of ecosystems (such as coastal prairies and oak woodlands), and help all Central Coast communities build resilience to wildland fire so residents can live safely within fire-adapted landscapes.
Satink Wolfson, based at the UCCE office in Hollister, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tori Norville started on Aug. 1 as the new UC Cooperative Extension fire advisor for Sonoma, Napa and Marin counties.
In this capacity, Norville will work with residents and organizations within the wildland-urban interface to encourage and cultivate fire-adapted communities. She aims to provide education and outreach on home hardening, defensible space and the importance of forest and fuel management on the landscape.
While pursuing her bachelor's degree in forestry and natural resources at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, Norville became interested in “disturbance ecology” – how factors such as disease, insects and fire affect landscapes and environments.
“Many of the forest health problems we are seeing are stemming from a lack of disturbance, which traditionally was fire,” Norville said.
Her understanding of fire and its effects deepened during her master's degree studies in forestry science (also at Cal Poly SLO), as well as through her seven years with CAL FIRE at the Jackson Demonstration State Forest in Mendocino County. She worked as the Registered Professional Forester for its Timber Sales Program, and then the Research and Demonstration Program.
Norville's firsthand experiences from the past few fire seasons have helped shape her goals and approach. She hopes to “work holistically with disturbances” – specifically fire – on the landscape to foster healthy forests and ecosystems that are adaptable and resilient, while also researching the environmental and social aspects of fuel-reduction projects and prescribed fire.
“Hopefully, I can begin to change the perception of fire from something we need to fear, to something we respect,” she said.
Norville, based at the UCCE office in Santa Rosa in Sonoma County, can be reached at email@example.com.
- Author: Lorena Anderson
Mechanical thinning of overstocked forests, prescribed burning and managed wildfire now being carried out to enhance fire protection of California's forests provide many benefits, or ecosystem services, that people depend on.
In a paper published in Restoration Ecology, researchers at UC Merced, UC ANR and UC Irvine reported that stakeholders perceived fire protection as central to forest restoration, with multiple other ecosystem services also depending on wildfire severity. Researcher Max Eriksson, lead author on the paper, noted that "forest restoration involves multiple fuels-reduction actions that were perceived as benefiting fire protection, with some also offering strong benefits to other ecosystem services such as air quality, wildlife habitat, soil retention and water supply."
The study showed that the total effect of an action such as mechanical thinning of forests aimed at reducing fuels includes not only the direct effect on reducing wildfire severity, but also secondary effects that improving fire protection has on benefits such as providing water and hydroelectricity for agriculture and communities across the state or storing carbon and reducing carbon-dioxide emissions from wildfire to the atmosphere. Fire management is therefore central to human well-being.
Across the western United States, researchers are addressing the huge challenge of transforming forest management from the historical goal of maximum resource extraction (e.g., timber production) to a paradigm built on multiple benefits, or ecosystem services.
The study involved a series of virtual workshops with natural-resource professionals, including forest managers, to understand their perceived effects of management actions on ecosystem services and the interactions of the various services. Eleven ecosystem services and nine currently used management actions were considered.
Safeeq Khan, co-author and UC ANR Cooperative Extension specialist in water and watershed sciences, adds, "Understanding both actual and perceived benefits provided by restoring overstocked forests is crucial to guiding the choice of management actions, public support, policy initiatives and investments by beneficiaries, i.e., monetizing ecosystem services."
UC Merced Professor and co-author Roger Bales points out that "reducing fuel loads is increasingly being recognized as an effective measure to transition our forests across the western United States from a destructive to a beneficial wildfire regime."
Bales adds, "Our research supports the perception that California's wildfire-vulnerable forests should primarily and urgently be restored to conditions that better regulate wildfire severity, and thus provide greater fire protection and other ecosystem-service benefits. Lower-severity wildfire is a natural and beneficial part of these ecosystems."
An important contribution of this study is the breadth of both ecosystem-service benefits and management actions considered. Study collaborator and ecosystem-service expert Benis Egoh, an assistant professor at UC Irvine, points out that, "This research recognized that given the complexity of forest ecosystems across the western United States, the investments required and the management constraints, increasing forest resilience requires a range of actions." She adds, "Accounting for perceived interactions of ecosystem services is key to multi-benefit valuation of restoration investments and to monetizing those benefits in equitable ways."
- Author: Pam Kan-Rice
Reposted from the UC ANR News
Butte, Feather River, Lake Tahoe, Reedley and Shasta community colleges, Chico State, UC ANR and Sierra Business Council to train workers for urgently needed work
California's forested, rural communities are suffering from record-breaking wildfires that burned 2.5 million acres and destroyed multiple communities in 2021 alone. To create well-paying jobs and improve forest health and fire safety, the Sierra Nevada and Cascade regions have received $21.5 millionfor a project that will strengthen the infrastructure for workforce development and increase access to those jobs for local community members from all backgrounds.
The project, funded by the federal Good Jobs Challenge, is being rolled out by the Foundation for California Community Colleges, California State University Chico, University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources, and the Sierra Business Council.
“There is so much work to be done in California to increase the resilience of forests and communities to wildfires and climate change, and there are just not enough trained workers to do all this work,” said Susie Kocher, UC Cooperative Extension forestry and natural resources advisor for the Central Sierra. “A recent assessment estimated upcoming shortages of 6,000 fire managers, 4,000 conservation scientists and foresters, 7,000 loggers and 1,500 utility line clearance technicians. California desperately needs skilled workers to fill those jobs to protect and rebuild communities in rural parts of the state. And these are well-paying jobs with benefits.”
The four-year project will help train and place qualified workers into high-quality jobs in the forestry sector, responding to urgent needs to build economic and climate resilience in California's forested, rural communities. Five community colleges – Butte College, Feather River College, Lake Tahoe Community College, Reedley College and Shasta College – California State University Chico, University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources and the Sierra Business Council are partnering on the project. This group has proven experience delivering effective workforce-training programs in partnership with industry and communities.
The emerging forestry and fire-safety sector has the potential to grow into a $39 billion industry. By working to recruit, support and train local community members in partnership with Hispanic-serving institutions, Indigenous-led partners and other community-based organizations, the project will expand the industry's talent pool while diversifying the field.
The “California Resilient Careers in Forestry” project is being awarded one of 32 grants from the $500 million Good Jobs Challenge funded by President Biden's American Rescue Plan and administered by the Commerce Department's Economic Development Administration.
“We are honored to be selected as one of the Good Jobs Challenge award recipients alongside a talented group of partners serving rural communities, including several of our California community colleges,” said Keetha Mills, president of the Foundation for California Community Colleges. “This work is critical to help Californians access good jobs, especially as we help our state respond to the urgent needs of climate change and support economic growth in regions greatly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and natural disasters.”