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050 Forestry and Natural Resources Advisor

Submitter: Sabrina Drill (Workgroup Chair )
Submit Date: 12-Nov-10
Proposal: Forestry and Natural Resources Advisor (Advisor )
Geography: High altitude mountainous areas of Southern California - portions of Ventura, Kern, Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, and San Diego Counties


Associated Documents


This proposal has been formally submitted for the 2012 cycle.



I strongly support this position. Forest issues in southern California receive little attention from UCCE as forest advisors and specialists are all located in the north. An advisor to focus on southern California forest issues would find major support from local stakeholders as well as UCCE advisors and specialists.
Posted May 23, 2012 9:03 AM by Edith Allen
The Office of Foresters Licensing with the Board of Forestry and Fire Protection strongly supports this position. Issues surrounding southern California forest landscapes are intricate and inter-related. A Registered Professional Forester, working collaboratively with other professional disciplines, will certainly be a positive step forward in continuing and improving stewardship of private forestlands. Matt Dias
Posted May 30, 2012 9:05 AM by Matt Dias, Executive Officer, Foresters Licensing
I also strongly support this proposal. I have offered services as a consulting forester in southern California part-time since 1985. There has not been an adequate economic base to support a full-time private industry forester, yet there is certainly a need for a non-biased, informative advisor throughout the region. Cal Fire foresters are spread very thin and are unable to serve the region as they would like. DN
Posted Jun 7, 2012 4:27 PM by Doug Nickles
I strongly recommend hiring a Southern California Forestry Advisor. Southern California has a large and easily accessed forest ecosystem that is visited by over 5 million people each year, wildfires in Southern California become national news several times a decade, our forests house many endemic and unique ecosystems and organisms, and cuts to state forestry programs are leading to negative consequences for those who live in, visit or enjoy viewing our forests. A forest advisor would be able to tie together issues of wildfire, invasive plants and pests, exurban development, endangered species, and wildland urban interface issues as forest development in Southern California continues to grow. In addition there is very little UC presence in Southern California forests, this position could create a highly visible UC presence in Southern California.
Posted Jun 18, 2012 3:09 PM by Chris McDonald
Dear Sabrina Drill,

I wonder why you think a forester would be the best qualified person to provide the greatest good to the greatest number of southern Californians who need technical advice on natural resource issues
related to fire, watersheds, and public safety in the wildland urban interface (WUI)?

How many people in southern CA really have any kind of forest in their backyard? How much forest and woodland is there in our watersheds? I did a quick GIS analysis to find out. It's quite a bit less than you might think. You really ought to be hiring someone with expertise in shrublands instead of a forester. Take a look at the data and see what you think.

Methods and Data Sources:

I used the southwest ecoregion of the CA GAP Project as the extent of my analysis. It goes as far north as Point Conception and includes all shrublands, woodlands, and forests in southern CA, but excludes desert.

For vegetation data, I used the CA Gap vegetation classification, which is based heavily on USFS field surveys of the entire study areas (compiled for the Vegetation Type Maps of southern CA). I lumped Holland types into slightly more generalized veg/ land cover types. For data on human population (and housing units- not presented here), I used CALFIRE-FRAP's latest version of migrated block-level 2010 US Census data.

I intersected the two large polygon shapefiles, creating a new great big polygon shapefile (284,375 records!). I joined it to a table of cities and census geographic ID numbers so I could tell which
cities the blocks were in. I recalculated areas, populations, and number of housing units for the newly created polygons, and summarized the data in various ways using pivot tables in Microsoft Excel. I also made maps and pie charts that I can't paste into a text window but will gladly share with you by other means.

Results and Discussion:

Total area of generalized land cover types, summed across the southwest ecoregion:

Generalized vegetation/ landcover types Area (acres) % of total
shrubland types 4,053,409 48.5%
urban, ag, unvegetated 2,870,879 34.4%
upland forest types 604,387 7.2%
upland woodland types 494,332 5.9%
grassland types 285,780 3.4%
riparian woodland and forest types 25,713 0.3%
non-forest wetland types 22,555 0.3%
Grand Total 8,357,055 100.0%

Lumping types a little more:
Vegetation/ land cover types Area (acres) % of total
all shrubland and grassland types 4,339,188 52%
all woodland and forest types 1,124,432 13%

Simply on a regional basis, there's almost 4x as much shrubland and grassland as forest and woodland combined. Shrublands cover more area than anything else- even urban and agriculture. By the very most generous definition, forests and woodlands of all types are only 13% of the southwest ecoregion.

By the way, the woodland total is kind of a "gimme" to the foresters since some of that woodland has shrub types mixed in with it. I even gave them the riparian woodlands and forests, though they are clearly not the kind of forests most at the Board of Forestry are interested in. And I used a vegetation dataset that predates the big fires of 2003 and 2007 that appear to have type-converted large areas of forest to shrubland.

Then I tallied up human population by vegetation type across the region:

2010 population by vegetation/ land cover type

Vegetation/ land cover type total population % of total
urban, agriculture, unvegetated 18,990,939 95.74%
shrubland types 634,603 3.20%
grassland types 128,216 0.65%
upland forest types 53,351 0.27%
upland woodland types 17,093 0.09%
non-forest wetland types 8,154 0.04%
riparian woodland and forest types 3,425 0.02%
Grand Total 19,835,781 100.00%

The overwhelming majority (96%) of southern CA residents live in urban areas not dominated by any kind of natural vegetation. Of the people who don’t live right in town, most live in shrublands. The next most common type is grasslands. Forest and woodland types are a distant third and fourth, respectively.

Fewer than 4 southern CA residents out of every thousand live in areas dominated by any kind of upland forest or woodlands. Rounding off to the nearest percent, that would look like ZERO.

Here's one more data visualization. Let's exclude all the urban people and look only at the remaining 4.26 percent of folks who live out-of-town, by vegetation type they live in:

Vegetation type total sub-population % of sub-pop
shrubland types 634,603 75.1%
grassland types 128,216 15.2%
upland forest types 53,351 6.3%
upland woodland types 17,093 2.0%
non-forest wetland types 8,154 1.0%
riparian woodland and forest types 3,425 0.4%
Grand Total 844,842 100.0%

Of the 4.26% southern Californians living in non-urban, non-ag lands, most (3/4) of them live in shrublands. Very few of them live in woodlands or forests. In fact, people living in shrublands outnumber people living in any kind of forest or woodland by about 9:1.

Most modern grasslands in the area are some sort of type-converted shrubland, so it might make sense to combine those totals. People living in shrublands or grasslands outnumber people living in any sort of forest or woodland by more than 10:1.

Lumping vegetation types even further:

Vegetation type total sub-population % of sub-population
all shrub, grass types 762,819 90.3%
all forest, woodland types 73,869 8.7%
non-forest wetland types 8,154 1.0%
Grand Total 844,842 100.0%

Add it up by cities, and the picture is the same. I'll send you the large tables and a map if you ask. A few communities do have a lot of forest of course, but only a very few, small ones. The great majority of communities (including ALL the big ones) have little or none. In fact, one of the cities you mentioned by name as a stakeholder (Ojai, CA) has no forest or woodland types at all within its boundaries (but lots of shrubland). Overall, southern CA communities have 10x as much shrubland as forest within their boundaries. It would be a lot more work to buffer all those polygons and see what vegetation falls within a threat zone around every census block, but if someone did that they'd find results skewed every more strongly towards shrublands and away from forest/ woodlands.

In summary:

A simple analysis of high quality GIS data from CALFIRE and USFS sources shows that in southern CA, there is 4x as much shrubland as forest and woodland, by area. Southern CA cities and other census-
designated places have 10x as much shrubland as forest and woodland within their boundaries. Most people (96%)in southern CA live in urban areas, and fewer than 4 people in a thousand live in any kind of forest or woodland. Ten times that number live in shrublands or grasslands. Various kinds of shrublands are the most abundant land cover type in the ecoregion, and the vegetation type where three quarters of all exurban people live.

It's hard to escape the obvious conclusion that forests and woodlands only concern a very small and unrepresentative fraction of the southern CA people whose scarce University of California tax dollars are being allocated here. Shrublands concern an order of magnitude more people. Natural resource management agencies should plan their programs on this basis to optimize their value to the public, in the interests of fairness, pubic accountability, and basic effectiveness.

Management implications: A forester would be quite a bit less useful to the public we all serve than a shrubland ecologist as UCCE's next Natural Resources Advisor for southern CA. You should seriously consider rewriting the description for the currently proposed Natural Resources Advisor position and hire someone with experience as a shrubland fire ecologist who also has experience in fire safety issues of a wildland urban interface dominated by shrublands.

Parting editorial comment:
The biggest challenge facing the most exurban people in our ecoregion is developing affordable, demonstrably effective, and ecologically sustainable ways to build firesafe communities in naturally flammable shrublands with bad fire weather. Helping a tiny handful of mountain woodcutters, ski resort operators, and Christmas Tree farmers improve their business practices (this from the current proposed job description) really is not the most important way for UCCE to be serving the people who pay all our salaries. Please revise this plan and make it better.

Yours in cost-effective, science-driven, evidence-based, super-efficacious public policy,

Robert Taylor
Biogeographer/ Fire GIS Specialist
Coast Mediterranean Network, National Park Service
Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area
401 W. Hillcrest Dr.
Thousand Oaks, CA 91360
Posted Jul 31, 2012 5:48 PM by Robert S Taylor
Oh man... All my carefully formatted tables lost their formatting when I hit the 'Post' button. They are the core of my discussion and they will be hard to read. I hope you all will make the effort.

Robert Taylor
Posted Jul 31, 2012 5:52 PM by Robert S Taylor
I agree that the issues identified for this advisor position are critical but that the focus should not be on forests and woodlands, but on the much more common and understudied shrubland ecosystems of Southern California. Major issues associated with Southern California shrublands include wildland fire – prevention, management, and after-burn response; the impacts of climate change; wildland/urban interface issues and the impacts of changing land use, including habitat fragmentation and connectivity; pests and diseases; and especially science literacy related to shrubland ecosystems.

The major problem associated with wildland fire losses and resource degradation in Southern California is the gross misapplication of forest thinking to shrubland reality in fire management ( There is a plethora of research projects, personnel and existing data dedicated to forests and trees which can be applied to the forest problems identified here for southern California. Adding another forester is unlikely to solve the very real problems facing the majority of our urbanizing natural lands which are biologically diverse and imperiled shrublands. I would strongly support this position if it were revised for an ecologist with experience in southern California Mediterranean-type shrubland ecosystems.

Marti Witter, PhD.
Fire Ecologist, Mediterranean Coast Network
Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area/ Channel Islands National Park/ Cabrillo National Monument
401 W. Hillcrest Dr.
Thousand Oaks, CA 91360
Central and Southern California Team, California Fire Science Consortium
Posted Aug 6, 2012 10:27 AM by Marti Witter

To Whom it may concern,

Southern California is one of the most challenging wildland-urban intermix areas to understand and manage. It is also an area where issues related to management (fire, fuels, erosion, planning, etc,) affect a huge population and cause astronomical amounts of damage on a nearly yearly basis. In this situation it is easy to see the dire need of interlocutors to communicate rapidly progressing scientific findings to public and private entities as well as work with these groups to develop meaningful, cost effective plans to mitigate these hazards. However, the area that is in greatest need is not the minor proportion (in area as well as population) of higher elevation forest communities. Rather, lower elevations that have experienced huge private and public losses have few, if any, regional positions that fill this need. A position that could weave together contemporary scientific knowledge with urban needs in lower elevation California would be invaluable not only to the public but also the research community. While generally knowledgeable and proficient in their fields, Professional Foresters or Certified Range Managers are unlikely to have the specific experience or skill base to deal with the complex shrubland/urban issues that are in greatest need of guidance.

A UCNRA position designed and staffed appropriately to communicate recent scientific findings and work to develop plans with diverse individual and group stakeholders would not only be a great boon to the public good but would also be a cost-effective way to allocate scarce funding as well as highlight the important role that the University plays in all Californian's lives.

CJ Fotheringham
Posted Aug 6, 2012 3:22 PM by CJ Fotheringham
Dear Dr. Drill,

Over the past decade during our work to help the public and government agencies in Southern California understand and properly manage the region's most characteristic natural resource, native shrublands, one major problem has always presented itself: the lack of any resource officer in any agency who was responsible for addressing issues relating to shrubland ecosystems ON A SCIENTIFIC BASIS.

Unfortunately, the only resource advisors we really have are those familiar with forestry or ranching issues. While these were once important parts of our region's economy, they are becoming less so as the population continues to grow and suburban development replaces open space. And this population is becoming increasingly involved with trying to adapt to living within an environment surrounded by native shrublands, not forests.

While I realize there is tremendous pressure, both from economic interests and the extensive network of forestry officials, the University is in a unique position to understand the science and make decisions based on that science. At the present time, science relating to shrubland ecosystems is not being adequately communicated to either rural or urban communities. Having a position focusing on helping community members understand and properly manage the natural environment in which they actually live would go a long way in following the Strategic Vision of the Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources: to achieve innovation in fundamental and applied research and education that supports a sustainable, healthy, productive environment and scientific literacy.

When very few people understand the value of chaparral as a watershed, or that shrubland fires act differently than forest fires, or that chaparral provides a major contribution to carbon sequestration, it will be very difficult for the University to achieve its strategic vision in the Southern California region without a qualified advisor to facilitate the transfer of the appropriate scientific knowledge.


Richard W. Halsey
The California Chaparral Institute
Posted Aug 6, 2012 11:20 PM by Richard W. Halsey

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