Posts Tagged: Land
Field research in agricultural and natural resource science has been ongoing at UCANR Research and Extension Centers for over 70 years, making an impact on the food we eat and the management practices we recommend. What afforded us the opportunity to have these living laboratories? The University of California is a land grant institution and is directly linked with the federal Morrill Act of 1862, also known as the Land-Grant College Act. The Act granted land mostly taken from indigenous tribes to states that used the proceeds from the sale of these lands to fund colleges specializing in agriculture and the mechanical arts.
A recent article in High Country News, "Land-Grab Universities," provides interactive spatial data revealing the direct connection between the ~10.7 million acres of stolen Indigenous land and land-grant institutions. Many of these Morrill Act parcels were in California and, thanks to Andy Lyons at UCANR IGIS, we can view the overlap between UC land and these parcels in a geographic information system.
We created an ESRI Story Map to provide a synoptic history of the land that Hopland Research and Extension Center (HREC) currently occupies before it became part of the University of California. The map is the result of a collaborative effort that included the UC ANR Native American Community Partnerships Work Group, the Tribal Historic Preservation Officer for the Hopland Band of Pomo Indians, HREC staff, local long-time residents, and UC ANR IGIS. Our hope is that educators, researchers, landowners and other Hopland community members will learn about the historical context of the area, including injustices Indigenous people endured, and develop a sense of appreciation and admiration for the land we study.
This story map builds on an acknowledgment of the Shóqowa and Hopland People on whose traditional, ancestral and unceded lands we work, educate and learn, and whose historical and spiritual relationship with these lands continues to this day. It contains some details on the Indigenous history, a brief history of the Spanish/Mexican land grant and other facts from the early colonial period, a timeline of notable events, and ways HREC and neighboring Indigenous communities are collaborating to foster a sincere and mutually beneficial relationship for the land and the community. Please explore HREC's land history story map and if you are interested in building your own see our methods in the reference section.
In April 2021, scientists released weevils from the Mediterranean region of Europe at the Bureau of Land Management Magnolia Ranch day-use area in El Dorado County to join the battle against yellow starthistle. Yellow starthistle rosette weevil is a newly approved natural enemy of yellow starthistle, which was introduced in California more than 150 years ago and, with no natural enemies in its new location, became one of the state's most harmful weeds, infesting nearly 15 million acres.
In California, yellow starthistle can grow to shoulder height, forming massive, thorny patches that block hiking trails, crowd out native plants and present a wildfire danger. The plant is toxic to horses and its flowers are encircled by inch-long sharp spines that can pierce the eyes of grazing animals.
UC Cooperative Extension has worked for decades with landowners to manage yellow starthistle-invested land.
“Over the years, we have developed effective control strategies for yellow starthistle – including well-timed mowing, grazing, hand pulling, burning, cultivation and herbicide application,” said Scott Oneto, UC Cooperative Extension natural resources advisor in El Dorado County. “But these treatments are rarely implemented on a scale large enough to combat our enormous starthistle infestations.”
Efforts to introduce natural enemies from yellow starthistle's home range began in the 1960s. Several species were released to attack starthistle flower heads. These insects lay eggs, hatch and feed on developing seeds, reducing seed production.
“Although the flower head insects sometimes attack high proportions of flowers, yellow starthistle is a very prolific seed producer with an individual plant producing as much as 100,000 seeds,” Oneto said. “Even if the insects reduce seed production by 50%, that still leaves a lot of seeds.”
The newly introduced yellow starthistle rosette weevil, first collected in Turkey as a prospective biocontrol agent in 1984, attacks the plant at the base. Since 2001, United States Department of Agriculture research entomologist Lincoln Smith has studied the insect at the USDA Agricultural Research Service laboratory in Albany.
“Larvae of the weevil develop and feed inside the root crown during spring, adults emerge in June, and then they spend the rest of the year hiding,” Smith said. “There is only one generation per year, so populations will grow slowly, which will gradually reduce yellow starthistle populations.”
The weevil presents no risk to other plants in California except bachelor's buttons, which is an introduced plant from Europe, but not considered a noxious weed. Successful biological control with the weevil is expected to reduce yellow starthistle, but not completely eliminate the weed.
This was the second release of the beneficial insect in North America. The first release occurred in Solano County in April 2020.
Bureau of Land Management and University of California Cooperative Extension researchers will be monitoring the Magnolia Ranch site intensively over the next several years to determine the rate of rosette weevil reproduction and efficacy at feeding on yellow starthistle.
For more information, see A New Warrior Released in the Battle to Control Yellow Starthistle by Scott Oneto on the UC Weed Science blog.
Two UCANR Cooperative Extension specialists have recently launched CalLands, a powerful online tool that can help users understand how land ownership impacts California's croplands.
To build the CalLands' interactive website, Luke Macaulay and Van Butsic — both assistant UC Cooperative Extension specialists based in UC Berkeley's Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management — combined satellite-generated maps of land cover created by the U.S. Department of Agriculture with publicly available land ownership records. Next, they anonymized ownership identity and pulled data from all 58 California counties to include parcels of land larger than five acres. The result is a database that features 543,495 privately-owned properties across the state, creating a data-rich map of crops and ownership boundary lines in every county. The interactive map can be filtered by county to display characteristics of land ownership, percentages of private and public ownership, breakdowns by crop-type, and summaries of land-use statistics.
CalLands allows users to explore how crops are distributed within a county or across the state or understand how ownership size impacts how land is used. In a 2017 study on cropland ownership published in California Agriculture, Butsic and Macaulay discovered that the largest five percent of properties account for 50 percent of California cropland. The two created CalLands with the aim of helping a wide variety of stakeholders understand land cover and land use at the county and individual land ownership scale.
“CalLands helps expand people's understanding of the landscape and how farmers across the state are using their land,” Macaulay says.
The website tells the story in visual terms of the location of key crops over time, including water-intensive plants like alfalfa and almonds, and illustrates the locations and acreages of both annual and perennial crops. This information may be useful for those seeking to understand agricultural water use and expansion and change of crops over time. The team hopes that the tool will also help scientists conduct research that is beneficial to many agricultural stakeholders, such as UC Cooperative Extension specialists creating outreach programming, county officials proposing regulations, and resource managers hoping to understand cropland production.
Currently, CalLands features cropland data from 2013-2017, allowing users to toggle between these annual datasets. Macaulay and Butsic plan for future versions of CalLands to include the capability of producing graphs to help users understand how crop planting changes over time as farming shifts and land changes hands. “We look forward to adding more features to CalLands,” Butsic said. “We want to implement changes on the site based on what Californians need.”
A $4.6 million grant to UC Merced and UC Irvine will help UC Agriculture and Natural Resources researchers develop new tools and methods for California land owners to better manage the state's forests, shrub lands and grasslands.
California's Strategic Growth Council agreed to fund the Innovation Center for Advancing Ecosystem Climate Solutions, a three-year program co-led by UC Merced Professor Roger Bales and UC Irvine Professor Michael Goulden. The money comes through California Climate Investments, a statewide initiative that puts billions of cap-and-trade dollars to work
The goals include reducing wildfire risk, improving long-term carbon sequestration and bolstering resilience in the face of climate change, with an emphasis on California's rural regions and low-income communities.
“Our part of the project is to work with stakeholders and identify areas where we can focus management practices to promote healthy forests, minimize wildfires, improve water security and increase carbon sequestration,” said Toby O'Geen, UC Cooperative Extension soil resource specialist at UC Davis.
“Right now, many of California's forests, shrub lands and grasslands are carbon sources, and we need to change them into carbon sinks,” said Bales, director of the Sierra Nevada Research Institute and distinguished professor of engineering. “Our research will address information bottlenecks to guide decision making, build local capacity for science-based land management and develop methods for translating benefits of land restoration into financing for land restoration.”
California's recent drought, tree die-offs, wildfires and rising temperatures all point to the necessity of improved forest stewardship, Goulden said.
“Officials in the state government and agencies recognize this need, but uncertainty over how to proceed has sometimes slowed progress,” he said.
Most of the work will be conducted by scientists at Merced and Irvine, but collaborators from UC Berkeley, UC Davis, Stanford University, San Diego State University and the University of California Division of Agricultural and Natural Resources, as well as state agencies, will play important roles.
“This research will enable UC Cooperative Extension advisors to provide better advice to land managers to reduce the severity of wildfires,” said Glenda Humiston, UC vice president for agriculture and natural resources. “Severe wildfires are not only releasing greenhouse gases, but polluting the air of many communities, aggravating the health of people in less-affluent, inland areas such as Tulare, Yuba and Mariposa counties.”
At UC Merced, an interdisciplinary group of researchers from two departments — Civil & Environmental Engineering and Management of Complex Systems — will collaborate with UC Cooperative Extension and engage with local stakeholders. The group will study and identify the most-effective land-management practices, in terms of water conservation, forest health, fire resistance and carbon capture.
“We will develop the spatial data and analysis tools to plan landscape restoration, develop local capacity for better managing the state's wildlands in a warming climate, and enumerate the greenhouse gas and other benefits from investments in land management,” Bales said.
Goulden, professor of Earth systems science, said UC Irvine researchers will use a big-data approach to analyze observations collected by satellites since the 1980s to measure the efficacy of thousands of past and ongoing forest treatments, while UC Merced takes a different approach.
“We will work with groups in rural communities to systematically evaluate how well, or poorly, our products can support decision making,” Bales said, “and then develop both implementation pathways and policy recommendations to better and more-quickly implement landscape-restoration and carbon-capture projects across the state.”
Because there are critical gaps in the understanding of carbon cycles, uptake by forests and negative feedback from climate change, this project initiative has been established to develop new knowledge through measurements and modeling. Researchers will synthesize the resulting data to produce actionable information for stakeholders.
Bales and Goulden agreed the Innovation Center will target low-risk, high-yield opportunities to reduce California's greenhouse-gas contributions.
Just a small improvement in management efficiency will have meaningful benefits — on the order of several million metric tons of CO2 per year, Goulden said.
The program will also benefit low-income communities in the state by reducing wildfire risk, which disproportionately impacts poorer areas in California; by maintaining water quantity through better vegetation management; by fostering tourism in disadvantaged locales; and by preparing students in these areas for careers in sustainability and climate resilience.
A recent study led by UC Cooperative Extension specialist Van Butsic used high resolution satellite imagery to conduct a systematic survey of cannabis production and to explore its potential ecological consequences.
Published this spring in Environmental Research Letters, the study focused on the “emerald-triangle” in northern California's Humboldt, Mendocino, and Trinity counties, which many believe is the top cannabis-producing region in the United States.
The UC Berkeley-based Butsic and his co-author Jacob Brenner used Google Earth imagery to locate and map grow sites (both greenhouses and outdoor plots) in 60 watersheds. Most cannabis grow sites are very small, and have gone undetected when researchers used automated remote sensing techniques, which are commonly used to detect larger changes such as deforestation.
“We chose to use fine-grained imagery available in Google Earth and to systematically digitize grows by hand, identifying individual plants. Most plants stand out as neat, clear, little circles,” said Brenner, who is on the faculty of the Department of Environmental Studies and Science at Ithaca College. “The method was laborious — it took over 700 hours — but it proved to be highly accurate.”
Butsic and Brenner paired their image analysis with data on the spatial characteristics of the sites (slope, distance to rivers, distance to roads) and information on steelhead trout and Chinook salmon, both of which are listed as threatened species under the federal Endangered Species Act. These and other species are vulnerable to the low water flows, soil erosion, and chemical contamination that can result from nearby agriculture.
Results of the study show 4,428 grow sites, most of which were located on steep slopes far from developed roads. Because these sites will potentially use significant amounts of water and are near the habitat for threatened species, Butsic and Brenner conclude that there is a high risk of negative ecological consequences.
“The overall footprint of the grows is actually quite small [~2 square kiliometers], and the water use is only equivalent to about 100 acres of almonds,” says Butsic, who is in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management at Berkeley. According to Butsic, California currently has more than one million irrigated acres of almonds.
He stresses that the issue lies in the placement of the sites: “Close to streams, far from roads, and on steep slopes — cannabis may be a case of the right plant being in the wrong place.”
Last year, California legislature passed laws designed to regulate medical marijuana production, and state voters will weigh in on whether to legalize recreational marijuana this coming fall. Given these changes as well as the profitability of cannabis production, Butsic expects that marijuana cultivation will expand into other sites with suitable growing conditions throughout the region. He and Brenner assert that ecological monitoring of these hotspots should be a top priority.
Bills recently signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown have made some advances in this direction — requiring municipalities to develop land use ordinances for cannabis production, forcing growers to obtain permits for water diversions, and requiring a system to track cannabis from when it is first planted until it reaches consumers.
But the researchers say that regulation will likely be a constant challenge because it will rely on monitoring procedures that are just now emerging, as well as voluntary registration from producers and budget allocation from the state for oversight and enforcement.
“Some of the same fundamental challenges that face researchers face regulators as well, primarily that cannabis agriculture remains a semi-clandestine activity,” says Brenner. “It has a legacy of lurking in the shadows. We just don't know — and can't know — where every grow exists or whether every grower is complying with new regulations.”