Livestock & Natural Resources
Livestock & Natural Resources
Livestock & Natural Resources
University of California
Livestock & Natural Resources

Camp Fire research Projects

Overview

As California’s fires filled the air with smoke and ash, livestock producers wondered if there would be ramifications for their forage crops. Additionally, when the Camp Fire burned at the top of the Butte Creek Watershed ranchers wondered if it was safe for their cattle to drink the water flowing downstream. UC Cooperative Extension advisors searched literature for answers, but recognizing a void, set out to find answers for livestock producers. Betsy Karle and Tracy Schohr, local extension advisors took forage samples and livestock drinking water quality samples in Butte County to find answers. Learn more below... 

Wildfire Impacts on Livestock Drinking Water Quality

Tracy Schohr, UC Cooperative Extension Livestock & Natural Resources Advisor- Butte, Plumas & Sierra Counties
Robert Poppenga, DVM, PhD., Dipl ABVT- UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, California Animal Health & Food Safety Laboratory
Gaby Maier, DVM, PhD, DACVPM - UC Cooperative Extension Beef Cattle Herd Health & Production specialist

The Camp Fire ignited in the foothills above Chico, CA – devastating the town of Paradise, CA, and severely damaging the nearby communities of Pulga, Concow, and Magalia. Nearly 14,000 homes and another 5,000 buildings were damaged or destroyed in the fire. These structures and over 150,000 burned acres encompass the top of the Butte Creek Watershed. To assess the potential negative downstream impacts on livestock, UC Cooperative Extension (UCCE) and UC Davis researchers initiated monitoring the fire’s impact on livestock drinking water quality following winter rainfall and runoff events.

Analysis of water quality following southern California wildfires have found higher concentrations of copper (Cu), lead (Pb), and zinc (Zn) in burned watersheds, along with nitrate?and nitrite concentrations that were two-to-fourfold higher in burned areas (Stein, et al. 2012). Following historic wildfires, there have been increases in nearby streams in heavy metals, iron (Fe), manganese (Mn), arsenic (As), and mercury (Hg) (Smith, et al. 2010). Researchers have collected ash samples from burned residences and found higher concentrations of trace elements from wood treatment, paint, wiring, pipes and other building materials than in ash from burned vegetation (Burton, et al. 2009). The metal deposition post fire in soil and water bodies can influence surface water quality with potential impacts on the larger ecosystem (Abraham, et al. 2017). This background information along with livestock producers’ concerns put the team into action to investigate the impact of the Camp Fire on livestock drinking water quality.

We have received lab results from multiple weeks of stream water quality monitoring taken before and after the winter storms following the Camp Fire. Toxicology analysis showed that the metal concentrations were unremarkable for 4 locations below the Camp Fire that provide livestock drinking water. Water samples have shown very low (non-toxic) levels of manganese, iron, zinc, copper, nitrate and nitrite. Furthermore, there were no findings in tests for volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the open waterways tested, a concern that has been shared with the water systems in urban fires.

"The samples in this study have been evaluated in terms of their safety as drinking water for cattle. Safe levels of contaminants or naturally occurring substances in drinking water for other species, including humans, may be different and, therefore, it shouldn’t be concluded that the water tested in this study is safe for all species."

This research project funded a basic analysis with the specific concern for cattle drinking water quality. The Central Valley Regional Water Board has conducted more extensive samples during winter storms and California State University, Chico is conducting a more comprehensive analysis of the impacts of the Camp Fire on natural resources in the region. UCCE is collaborating with these colleagues and will continue to provide updates on more extensive research findings in the future.

The project was funding by Butte County Cattlemen’s Association Camp Fire Relief Fund, UC Cooperative Extension and California Department of Food and Agriculture.
The results from the cattle drinking water samples were similar to preliminary findings of wildfire ash impacts on irrigated pasture quality in Butte County that found very low (non-toxic) levels of heavy metals on forage samples. For questions or additional information on UCCE Camp Fire research projects please contact Butte, Plumas and Sierra Livestock and Natural Resources Advisor Tracy Schohr at tkschohr@ucanr.edu or 916-716-2643.

Wildfire Ash Impacts on Irrigated Pasture Quality

Betsy Karle- UC Cooperative Extension Dairy Advisor- Northern Sacramento Valley; 
Tracy Schohr- UC Cooperative Extension Livestock & Natural Resources Advisor- Butte, Plumas & Sierra Counties
Robert Poppenga, DVM, PhD., Dipl ABVT- UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, California Animal Health & Food Safety Laboratory

 
For much of the month of November, Butte County and surrounding areas were enveloped in a thick blanket of smoke and dusted with fire ash. Among the long list of questions that the Camp Fire prompted: What does wildfire ash on forage plants mean for livestock health, especially relative to the numbers of burned structures containing unknown levels of contaminants? UC Cooperative Extension (UCCE) and UC Davis researchers are looking for the answer. In a project funded by UC Division of Agriculture & Natural Resources and California Department of Food and Agriculture, a team of researchers are evaluating the effects of wildfire ash on irrigated pastures, hay, and corn silage.

We recently received lab results from some of the irrigated pasture samples and the results look promising. Toxicology analysis showed that the metal concentrations were unremarkable for 21 pastures across the state, prior to applying irrigation water. Five of the pasture samples  were taken in Butte County on November 16 when the Camp Fire was still burning. Forage sample results found very low (non-toxic) levels of manganese, iron, zinc and copper.  There was no detection of lead, mercury, arsenic, molybdenum and cadmium on pasture forage samples. Furthermore, there were no findings from an extensive screening for chemical compounds, using mass spectrometry. The mass spectrometry screens are designed to potentially detect a large number of organic compounds belonging to diverse chemical classes (e.g. pesticides, environmental contaminants, drugs and natural products).

Further analysis of the results is needed and we have more samples yet to be analyzed, so results are considered preliminary at this time. At this point, it appears that local irrigated pastures did not suffer any toxicological impacts as a result of Camp Fire ash. A full report will be shared once all samples have been processed and results are fully analyzed.

UC Cooperative Extension advisors are also investigating potential water quality impairments from the Camp Fire that burned 14,000 homes and another 5,000 buildings at the top of the Butte Creek Watershed. The burned vehicles, homes, municipal infrastructures, and businesses pose new questions due to the nature of the fire and potential water contaminants released from an array of materials. For questions or additional information on UCCE Camp Fire research projects please contact Butte, Plumas and Sierra Livestock and Natural Resources Advisor Tracy Schohr at tkschohr@ucanr.edu or 916-716-2643.

cows in burn zone  march 2019

 

Camp Fire Water Samples - Tracy Schohr Photo correct

 

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IMG_0396 - Collecting Water Samples - foster photo

 

irrigated pasture samples

 

EDITED

 

Webmaster Email: tkschohr@ucanr.edu