- Author: Hannah Bird
Reposted from the UCANR News
California's most destructive wildfire year on record was 2018, with devastating fires occurring in Northern California oak woodlands. From 2015 to 2017, six of California's 20 most deadly and destructive fires in history occurred in these areas. The communities living in oak woodlands, which had been mostly spared from previous wildfires, were largely unprepared.
To prepare Californians to live with wildfire, Kate Wilkin, former UC Cooperative Extension forestry/fire science and natural resources advisor, and UC Sierra Foothill Research and Extension Center and Hopland Research and Extension Center community educators Alexandra Stefancich and Hannah Bird received a $100,000 Environmental Protection Agency Environmental Education grant.
In addition to delivering community workshops, the educators will offer online training for teachers this summer. The curriculum will be introduced by webinar on Tuesday, July 14, from 11 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. (PDT). Register online for this free webinar at https://bit.ly/firecurriculum.
“The goal of this project is to educate youth and adults about their natural ecosystems and how to reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfire,” Stefancich said.
Even before the current COVID-19 pandemic constrained activities, challenges arose: the federal government shutdown delayed the grant; a wildfire burned approximately two-thirds of the Hopland REC; Wilkin moved on from UCCE and Rebecca Ozeran, UCCE livestock and natural resources advisor, took over leading the wildfire education project.
Training kids, adults and communities
The team is educating children, adults and communities. Their three-pronged approach includes youth education for 500 middle school students and training for teachers; adult education through advanced training for California Naturalists; and community education by partnering with Fire Safe Councils in Butte, Mendocino and Yuba counties.
“One of the most exciting aspects of this grant has been the youth fire education component,” Bird said. “The grant has funded an adaptation of the US Forest Service's FireWorks Curriculum – first modeled for Rocky Mountains forests – to the California oak woodland ecosystem. This hands-on, place-based science curriculum aims to provide students an in-depth understanding of fire science. In working on this curriculum, the team wants to highlight the importance of not only oak woodland fire science, but the cultural history associated with fire on these landscapes.”
The grant allowed the team to work with local representatives from the Hopland Band of Pomo Indians, Kashia Band of Pomo Indians, United Auburn Indian Community and the Nevada City Rancheria to develop lessons shaped by the cultural value of fire as a tool and the long relationship between people and fire in California.
While developing the lessons, the team realized the importance of trauma-informed educational practices.
“Just five years ago, we often talked about wildfire theoretically, but now every student I speak with has their own experience to share,” Bird said. “It is important to give time in the lessons for the trauma experienced by our youth, and to educate them and encourage a sense of agency. These lessons focus on the positive! We don't spend time on things that we cannot change. We learn crucial concepts of fire science and build on them to make our schools, families and communities more fire prepared.”
Feelings about fire
The team piloted the new curriculum with more than 150 middle school students in Redwood Valley and Ukiah, just before schools closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Trialing the curriculum with students was really valuable,” Bird said. “These students have seen their communities affected by wildfire and it brings up many emotions for them.”
Students were asked to share their thoughts around fire at the beginning of the lessons and again at the end of the lesson series. Feelings of fear were replaced with feeling prepared and confident.
Before the lessons, students' comments about fire included, “Scary because I live in the mountains and my house is there, it could burn down.”
After the lessons, their comments included, “I felt positive about this, I feel that I know what to do, I think everyone should know how to prepare for fire.”
Pomolita Middle School students made an action plan for their school to help improve school fire preparedness. Students had hoped to present their plans to school administrators, but school closures due to the coronavirus crisis have delayed the presentation.
“Most of what we found at Pomolita school was really positive – the students do have a few suggestions that they hoped to share with the school administration,” Bird said. “Students also made an emergency contact plan and planned what they would like to have in a go bag for themselves and for their pets.”
Community educator Stefancich added, “This curriculum, aimed at middle school students, is ideal for any educator hoping to provide their students with more insight about the role fire plays in the ecosystem and how they can prepare for its eventuality. Each lesson is set up for the lay educator to be able to teach, so even without advanced fire knowledge it will be easy to use.”
The team continues to adapt the FireWorks curriculum for oak woodlands and expects it to be available at the FireWorks site https://www.frames.gov/fireworks/curriculum/overview by the fall.
- Author: Jeannette Warnert
Reposted from the UCANR News
California oak woodlands are highly prized ecoregions where stately trees, many of them hundreds of years old, are cornerstones of a habitat for wildlife and native plants. Sadly, some of these ecosystems are seriously threatened by exotic pests and diseases, encroachment by less desirable vegetation, and wildfire.
Each year, UC Cooperative Extension hosts workshops to share scientific developments aimed at conserving these important habitats – and the economic value of ranching – on oak woodlands, which are found on the lower elevation slopes of the Sierra Nevada, the Coast Range and other foothill areas of California.
Typically, the workshops are held in person and draw moderate-sized audiences for presentations, questions and answers, and field trips. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, this year's workshop was offered online in April with pre-recorded presentations available for viewing at the participants' convenience and a live question-and-answer session on Zoom.
The retooled event garnered 500 registrants, over 300 views of the YouTube videos and 140 participants in the live Q&A session. The presentations and Q&A session are still available online for future viewing as well at http://cemendocino.ucanr.edu/Forestry/Workshops/California_Oak_Health.
“People from all walks of life participated, including those with professional and personal interest in oak woodlands,” said Yana Valachovic, UCCE forest advisor in Humboldt and Del Norte counties and a conference organizer.
Presentations at the 2020 conference included the following topics:
Encroachment by Douglas-fir
In Northern California, the biodiversity of oak woodlands is being threatened by Douglas-fir encroachment. The oaks' shade helps the young conifers get established with protection from harsh sun. In time, the fast-growing Douglas-fir trees pierce the oak canopies and begin to crowd out the areas' native understories, which are important for the diversity of birds, mammals and reptiles attracted to oaks.
As the Douglas-fir continue to grow and multiply, they threaten the very lives of the oak trees and the unique ecosystem they dominate.
To better understand the Douglas-fir encroachment, Valachovic established 10 research sites in Humboldt and Mendocino counties to gather information about the fate and the age of oaks. She and her research partners determined the ages of the oaks and firs, and counted the seedlings, saplings, snags and understory vegetation.
“With this research, we were able to demonstrate that even though the oak trees can be smaller in diameter, they are much older than the Douglas-fir trees,” Valachovic said. “The encroachment process is happening quickly, and the oaks are falling out of the system.”
The shift appears to have been initiated in the mid-19th and early-20th centuries, coinciding with the Gold Rush and wildfire suppression.
With the data confirming Douglas-fir encroachment, Valachovic turned her attention to oak woodland restoration. At 14 sites in Humboldt and Trinity counties, her team studied the effects of Douglas-fir removal.
“Grasses and forbs under the oaks reestablished. Diameter growth on the oaks increased,” she said.
These research findings contributed directly to changes in policy that had previously limited landowners' ability to remove and sell conifers encroaching on oak woodland. The research also helped create new funding opportunities to support oak woodland restoration and conservation in Northern California.
Case study of oak woodland wildfire recovery
In July 2018, about two-thirds of the 5,289-acre UC Hopland Research and Extension Center was burned by the River Fire.
The transformation of the land, which had likely been without a large wildland fire for at least 100 years, was intense and stressful, said UC Cooperative Extension forest advisor Michael Jones. However, it also provided a unique opportunity for researchers to compare the impact of wildfire on the resiliency of vegetation on grazed and ungrazed oak woodland.
Jones established 35 one-fifth acre research plots at the research center and collected data two months following the fire and one year later. The research will continue in the future to better understand long-term impacts, but Jones was able to share revealing early results at the workshop.
Right after the fire, in severely burned areas areas, the future of the oaks looked ominous. Jones predicted 40% tree mortality.
“The oaks were exposed to persistent, intense heat. They were cooked,” he said. “But two months after the fire, we were already seeing basal sprouts. This was an amazing response by the trees. Oaks are pretty damn tough.”
A year after the fire, surveys showed that tree mortality in the burned areas was 25%, much less than Jones' early predictions. While some management for specific situations in severely burned areas may be necessary – such as removal of hazard trees, reducing fuels in defensible spaces or removal to control invasive species – the results of this work show the trees recover naturally.
“Esthetically, I know these systems aren't as pleasing as they were before, but ecologically, they are healthy and recovering,” he said. “In 100 years, it will look just as good as before the fire.”
Fire impacts in woodland areas previously grazed and not grazed
The fire on the research station also permitted Jones to compare the fire's differing impact on non-grazed and grazed oak woodland. At first, the grazed areas looked almost unscathed with minimal flame scorching on the bark, while an area where the pasture hadn't been grazed for 25 years had evidence of much higher severity fire.
“Grazing is a phenomenal way to help manage fuels,” Jones said. However, the grazed areas displayed ecological shortcomings a year later.
“In grazed pastures, the large mature trees were still alive, but there was no oak regeneration (basal sprouting or seedlings),” Jones said. “In the ungrazed area, a lot of biomass had been killed, but there's nearly 100% resprout of oak trees and we have an impressive amount of oak seedling recruitment.”
Jones said he isn't discouraging grazing.
“But it is important to protect sites from grazing, and especially wildlife browse, when a landowner or land managers' objectives are to regenerate or conserve oak woodlands,” Jones said.
New ambrosia beetle another threat to California oaks
Akif Eskalen, UC Cooperative Extension specialist in the Department of Plant Pathology at UC Davis, has identified a new insect-fungus team that causes oak borer wilt in Northern California Valley and Blue Oaks. It is an ambrosia beetle, commonly known as Mediterranean Oak Borer, which carries several fungi in its mouth. The beetle bores into the tree and introduces fungi to grow for food. The fungi spreads and disturbs the transportation of water and nutrients, causing wilt in the tree.
The oozing and staining lesions on the bark are similar to other oak fungal diseases, such as sudden oak death. The beetle – native of Mediterranean basin countries in Africa, Asia and Europe – cannot fly far, so most likely is transported for long distances on infested firewood.
During the workshop, Eskalen suggested not moving firewood, removing heavily infested trees and chipping infested wood into 1-inch particles to reduce the spread of the ambrosia beetle and its fungal partner. He asked viewers to report any suspected oak tree infestations to the local agricultural commissioner, CDFA Diagnostic Laboratories, UC Cooperative Extension advisors or CALFIRE. Chemical options for sparing oaks from the ambrosia beetles' devastation are under investigation.
Threats to oaks and other native plants from root rotting Phytophthora
Restoration plantings have inadvertently introduced plant pathogens to native oak woodland ecosystems in California, said Ted Swiecki of Phytosphere Research, an organization that provides consulting services related to natural resource management, horticulture, urban forestry and agriculture. The group of pathogens causing the damage are largely from the Phytophthora genus, first described in the 1860s. The name translates from Greek to “plant destroyer.”
Swiecki has observed when Phytophthora infested plants and soils are introduced to native habitats, the pathogens can attack various native plants, including toyon, madrone, manzanita and full-grown oaks. Once established, the pathogen can spread along drainages, by moving soil from one area to another and by hitchhiking on equipment, tires and hiking boots.
The pathogen can easily be overlooked at nurseries, which, by their nature, have conditions that favor Phytophthora development. Plants at nurseries are well watered, have high root density and are often placed on the ground where they can pick up pathogens.
He said the best approach to tackling Phytophthora is not using nursery stock for restoration or beautification of natural oak woodland. Direct seeding, using natural regeneration, or onsite propagation are safer ways to enhance vegetation in oak woodland.
“It's easier to prevent Phytophthora from being introduced in the first place and much cheaper and more effective than trying to eradicate it later,” Siewcki said.
- Author: Pam Kan-Rice
Reposted from UCANR News
The loss of oak woodlands in California's North Coast is a critical conservation concern because it is associated with losses of biodiversity and wildlife habitat, range values, cultural resources, and other oak-dependent ecosystem services. In the absence of natural disturbances like fire, conifers can outcompete deciduous oaks and eventually the oaks die. In recent years, the effects of conifer encroachment on oaks have become a focal point for UC Agriculture and Natural Resources, which has conducted important research on oak woodland conservation in Humboldt and Mendocino counties.
“UC ANR research has shown that conifer encroachment is threatening oak woodlands throughout the North Coast. This project is really exciting because it will give landowners the resources they need to restore their oak stands — resources that haven't been there in the past,” said Lenya Quinn-Davidson, UC ANR Cooperative Extension staff research associate, who led development of the project proposal.
Oak woodland restoration requires removing conifers from oak stands with prescribed fire or by cutting down the conifer trees.
“The North Coast Oak Woodland Conservation Project will provide technical guidance and resources for landowners who wish to restore or conserve their oak woodlands, and foster a strong alliance of organizations and agencies who can continue oak woodland conservation efforts into the future,” said Quinn-Davidson, who is based in Eureka.
For more information about the project or funds for oak conservation activities on private lands, contact Quinn-Davidson at firstname.lastname@example.org and (707) 445-7351.
The North Coast Oak Woodland Conservation Project was one of six projects in California selected for Regional Conservation Partnership Program funding. The funded projects focus on a range of issues, including bird habitat, climate change and forest health. The program, which is funding 84 projects totaling $220 million nationwide, is highly competitive, requiring strong partnerships that address critical conservation issues.
"We are excited and energized by these new projects that bring together a diverse mix of partners to improve California's ecosystems and landscape," said Carlos Suarez, Natural Resources Conservation Service state conservationist. "It is very powerful to be able to engage in partnerships that embrace both agricultural and environmental interests and perspectives—and find collaborative ways of making progress on critical issues."
Partners in the North Coast Oak Woodland Conservation Project include University of California Cooperative Extension, CAL FIRE, the Watershed Research and Training Center, the North Coast Regional Land Trust, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Mattole Restoration Council, Yager/Van Duzen Environmental Stewards, and the Mendocino County Resource Conservation District.
- Author: Jeannette Warnert
Omnipresent and homely, turkey vultures are a native California wildlife species that doesn't get a lot of research attention.
But UC Cooperative Extension advisor Greg Giusti has found a surprising level of interest from the public in his Northern California research project about turkey vultures' nesting preferences in oak woodland.
“Animals with cute fuzzy faces are far more attractive in our culture,” said Giusti, a wildland ecology expert. “Turkey vultures have been overlooked. Very little is known about their biology and environmental needs.”
In the study area, the researchers counted 417 trees in all; seven of them had suitable nesting elements for turkey vultures. They found that the vultures at the Hopland facility select large hollow trees – either dead or alive, either shaded or in the sun – to lay eggs and rear their young. The tree species in the study included blue oak, interior live oak, Oregon white oak and valley oak.
The nesting trees were widely dispersed and ranged in diameter from 36 inches to 65 inches around at breast height. The nesting cavities are vertical tubes in the tree trunks that drop down as much as 13 feet from the entrance to the ground.
“This is very different from other large birds, like eagles and osprey, who build open cup nests high up in tall trees, which they may use for generations,” Giusti said.
After turkey vulture chicks hatch, the parents drop into the cavity five or six times a day to feed their young, Giusti said. How birds with a five-foot wingspan traverse a deep vertical tunnel is a mystery.
“They just shimmy up and down, I would imagine,” Giusti said. “We don't know how the young birds do it when they fledge. We've never witnessed the adult birds calling them out.”
Giusti said the scientists will continue to build on the turkey vulture nesting database they have started with results from this project. In the coming years, they hope to learn whether turkey vultures will re-use successful nesting sites and whether they may be found nesting in fallen logs or rock piles.
An initiative to maintain and enhance sustainable natural ecosystems is part of the UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources Strategic Vision 2025.