Posts Tagged: Mel George
Decades of research-based knowledge about the history, physical characteristics and vegetation in California annual grassland, oak-woodland and chaparral ecosystems has been consolidated in a new nine-part PDF document. The 200-page publication, The Ecology and Management of Annual Rangeland Series, is available for free download from the UC Agriculture and Natural Resources catalog.
The series includes past and current practices for managing vegetation, grazing and livestock compiled by researchers at the University of California, U.S. Department of Agriculture and other agencies and universities.
UC Cooperative Extension rangeland specialist emeritus Mel George, the lead author, said the series has been under development for 10 years. Until his retirement in 2012, George hosted an annual rangeland shortcourse, in which rangeland managers gathered for three days in Davis for presentations, field visits and printed handouts. He collected the materials and created a searchable archive of 700 rangeland publications on the UC Rangeland website, and, with a team of co-authors, summarized the most important information for the new series.
“Information on rangelands doesn't change very fast,” George said. “We have materials that are 20 years old that are still usable; even 100 years old, in a couple of cases.”
The material is broken down in the following categories:
Part 1: Mediterranean climate. The locations and characteristics that define a Mediterranean climate.
Part 2: Ecological history. California has some of the most productive croplands in the world. Recently, increasing conflicts among urban development, intensive agriculture, and protectionism have led to rigid distinctions among resource management objectives. Having a long-term perspective on the causes and interpretation of changes in the landscape can aid in resolving conflicting goals and objectives among stakeholders.
Part 3: Soils. Researchers and managers like to organize the world they live in so that they can explain their environment. This publication presents the soil taxonomy developed by soil scientists to classify soils and understand soil similarities and differences.
Part 4: History of range livestock production. Range livestock production developed as an enterprise with the colonization of California by the Spanish and their formation of ranches or ranchos, and it expanded rapidly during early statehood. The development of improved animal management and range management practices ensured that the industry would continue its dominance in California agriculture throughout the 20th century and into the 21st century.
Part 5: Range plant growth and development. The plants that dominate California's annual grasslands and the understory of the oak woodlands have different life cycles from most of the world's rangelands. This publication delves into morphological and physiological changes associated with annual and perennial life cycles, photosynthesis and carbohydrate storage, and the effect of grazing on individual plants of California's annual-dominated rangelands in the Coast Range and the foothills of the Sierra Nevada.
Part 6: Vegetation change and ecosystem services. Vegetation types in the annual rangelands include annual-dominated non-native grasslands, native-dominated grasslands, oak woodlands, chaparral and coastal scrub. The ecosystem services, or benefits, that humans obtain from each vegetation type change as the vegetation type changes. This section describes the dominant and common species in each vegetation type, the vegetation changes and change agents that are commonly recognized, and an approach to evaluating ecosystem services.
Part 7: Livestock production. Livestock production on California's annual rangelands has adapted to the seasonality of rangeland forage dominated by annual grasses and forbs growing in a Mediterranean-type climate. This part gives an overview of seasonal forage sources, nutrient requirements of grazing animals, seasonal forage quality, seasonal animal performance, supplemental feeding, water needs, livestock production systems and animal health issues.
Part 8: Grazing management. The response of vegetation, livestock and ecosystems to grazing is complex, and grazing managers are confronted with a variety of grazing strategies or systems that are sometimes hard to compare or evaluate. This part covers what are commonly known as the four components of grazing — intensity, season, frequency and duration — and their effects on annual rangelands and provides an overview of the adaptive management process of planning, implementation, and learning that grazing managers can use to help them cope with complexity and knowledge.
Part 9: Vegetation management. An overview of the research and practices for brush and weed control, seeding and fertilization. Also covered are practices that reduce seasonal gaps in forage availability and quality and the economics of vegetation management.
The Ecology and Management of Annual Rangeland Series is at https://anrcatalog.ucanr.edu/Details.aspx?itemNo=8540.
“Mel has been a mentor and leader within the range science community his entire career,” said Ken Tate, UC Cooperative Extension specialist, who holds the Russell L. Rustici Endowed Chair in Rangeland Watershed Sciences. “Mel’s ability to see emerging issues on rangelands, and to position UC ahead of these issues, has allowed us to keep our research and extension at the forefront of rangeland management.”
When George arrived at UC Davis in 1978, he was responsible mainly for forage trials, helping ranchers keep their land productive. But George could see issues with grazing and water quality on the horizon and worked to head them off at the pass.
In the early 1990s, he spearheaded the UC Cooperative Extension Rangeland Watershed Program, which uses education and applied research to help ranchers and regulators mitigate the risk of pathogens in water runoff from rangeland. Some 80 percent of California’s water passes through or is stored on rangeland and the UC Cooperative Extension Rangeland Watershed Program has helped develop management practices that keep that water clean.
“The Rangeland Management Program has been a tremendous help in protecting open space, habitat for plants and wildlife and healthy watersheds that California rangelands provide,” says Tracy Schohr, director of the California Rangeland Conservation Coalition, a band of 100 diverse environmental, ranching and policymaking groups committed to protecting the state’s diminishing rangeland. “They educate land managers and provide the objective, accurate information we need.”
George’s research and extension has improved millions of acres of rangeland in the United States, Africa, Europe, China and beyond. In 1991, for example, George worked with Chinese researchers to develop a research site in the Tibetan Plateau of Szechwan Province, helping develop a winter feeding program for their yak herds that doubled the survival of yak calves. In 1994, George helped Albania develop grazing practices to protect new forest plantations to replace those destroyed during the transition from Communist to democratic rule.
The list goes on and on.
“Mel has a knack for taking a complicated process and making it navigable for ranchers and other land managers,” says Tate who, like George, has been based in the UC Davis Department of Plant Sciences. “He has greatly advanced both the art and science of rangeland management.”
George got into range management in a round-about way, a journey that passed through farming and animal science and was nearly cut short by a plane crash.
Farming is in George’s blood going back 15 generations, a fact he learned not too long ago when he became a genealogy buff. He was raised in the Butte County town of Gridley and was the first in his family to attend college, receiving his bachelor’s degree in animal science from California State University, Chico. During his senior year at Chico, a professor interested him in range management, which led him to Texas Tech where he received his master’s in range management in August 1969.
The Vietnam War was in progress and in October 1969, George was drafted into the U.S. Army. In November 1970, he boarded a plane bound for active duty that crashed during takeoff, killing 40 people aboard. George was severely burned.
“But I lived, and was released with a medical profile that prevented me from going to a war zone,” George says.
He was stationed at Fort Ord until the summer of 1971 when he and his wife, Gail, moved to Logan, Utah, where George earned his Ph.D. in range ecology at Utah State University. He worked nearly three years on the faculty at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, before coming to UC Davis in 1978.
George has earned countless awards over the years, including the Outstanding Alumnus at Utah State University in 2000, the prestigious James H. Meyer Distinguished Achievement Award at UC Davis in 2007 and the College of Agriculture Distinguished Alumnus Award from Chico State University in 2008.
George will stay busy in retirement, still working on a slew of rangeland research projects under way in the UC Davis Department of Plant Sciences.
“It’s such a fascinating field because rangeland is the most complex agricultural system there is,” George says. “You have to be willing to think outside the box to manage so many moving parts, and I like that. There are so many issues on the horizon like carbon storage and protecting biodiversity.”
And even in retirement, George will do all he can to keep our rangelands healthy and sustainable for generations to come.