Posts Tagged: wildfire
Three news articles over the last weekend shared comments from UC Agriculture and Natural Resource's experts about forest management practices that can help reduced the catastrophic wildfires being experiences in the West.
Prescribed burns and management change fire behavior
Shaver Lake forest historian Jared Dahl Aldern tweeted that, when the high-intensity Creek Fire arrived at the Shaver Lake forestlands, it turned into a low-intensity “surface fire,” which does not threaten the bigger and older trees. “The fire comes up to @SCE land,” tweeted Aldern, “drops to the ground, and stays out of the tree crowns.”
Whatever happens to Shaver Lake, says University of California Cooperative Extension specialist Rob York, “There are lots of cases in the scientific literature of prescribed burns having changed fire behavior.”
The image below shows a “shaded fuel break,” consisting of selectively-thinned forest surrounded on both sides by dense forest. “The strip of forest may change fire behavior in the treated area,” said York, “but not on either side.
Forbes, Sept. 13, 2010
Millions of dead trees fueling unprecedented firestorms in the Sierra Nevada
“I don't want to be alarmist. But I think the conditions are there,” said Scott Stephens, a UC Berkeley professor of fire science and lead author of a 2018 paper that raised the specter of future mass forest fires as intense as the Dresden, Germany, and Tokyo firebombings.
“As those [trees] continue to fall, the physics of it are unchanged. If you have dead and downed logs … the fires described in warfare are possible.”
A combination of prescribed fire, restoration thinning and making rural communities more fire resistant are needed, Stephens said.
“If we don't come out of this year focused on that and try to move forward, I just don't know if there's much hope,” he said. “I'm always hopeful. But I'm getting tired.”
Los Angeles Times, Sept. 13, 2020
Results of long-time fire suppression
Perhaps the most present term in news articles as one of the main causes for fires getting so big so fast is fire suppression, which has resulted in a lack of fire for more than a century.
In the 1920s, this idea of suppressing wildfires grew even more when the Forest Service decided intentional burning was a bad idea. In 1924 a Siskiyou National Forest Supervisor said the ‘“Brushy Hell' of shrublands must be protected for the benefit of future timberland succession, ‘so leave them alone.'”
“The Forest Service said it ruins forests, it was bad forest management,” said Kocher. “Then in 1924, California followed suit and said it was not legal to burn forests on purpose.”
Kocher says this idea of letting trees grow and not letting forests burn naturally every decade wasn't this malicious idea either.
“They would have thought, ‘Oh, we're doing this great work where we're leaving all these extra trees for people to use for timber moving forward,'” she said. “I don't think those early foresters ever could have foreseen how fire could get away from them.”
Capitol Public Radio, Sept. 12, 2020
Ezra David Romero
The massive die-off of conifers in the Sierra Nevada between 2012 and 2018 was predictable and unprecedented. Sadly, it is also likely to happen again, said UC Cooperative Extension forestry advisor Susie Kocher.
To help landowners manage forests in a way that minimizes the risk of such catastrophic tree die-off and the threat of uncontrolled wildfire, Kocher and two colleagues produced a 20-page publication that summarizes current research on tree mortality and outlines actions that can be taken to make the forest more resilient. The publication, Mass Tree Mortality, Fuels, and Fire: A Guide for Sierra Nevada Forest Landowners, is available for free download from the UC Agriculture and Natural Resources catalog.
Written by Stanford graduate student Devin McMahon (now graduated), UC Berkeley Cooperative Extension forest health specialist Jodi Axelson and Kocher, the publication presents the extent of the die-off in the Sierra Nevada, and describes different factors that contributed to the vast loss of tree life – including land management practices, weather patterns and geography. It includes detailed reporting on the mortality's impacts on fuels and fire risk so landowners and managers can understand and develop strategies to prevent similar destruction in the future.
While about two-thirds of California's 33 million acres of forests are public lands held by state and federal government agencies, the rest is in private hands. Large companies manage millions of acres for commercial timber production, but about 9 million acres are owned by individuals. Nearly 90% of individuals own 50 acres or less; 87,000 landowners have 10 acres or more of forest.
“That's a really large number of people,” Kocher said. “That's one of the reasons why it is so difficult for landowners to manage land to improve forest health and reduce fire risk. It's not economical to do forest management on small areas.”
It's also very complicated. As natural processes play out over time in a forest with mass mortality, the fire risk changes dramatically.
“In the new publication, we help people understand the nuances of forest management so they understand what actions are most appropriate throughout the whole cycle,” she said.
Assessing and addressing the fire risk
The publication provides an overview of fire risk reduction. A table lays out the seven components of fire risk – fuel load, fuel moisture, fuel continuity, probability of ignition, weather conditions, topography and vulnerability to fire – along with mitigation actions for each that landowners can take.
Intentional, controlled burning, or prescribed fire, is often the most effective way to decrease fuel loads and future risk from fires, the researchers wrote. Other management actions include masticating – chewing up brush and branches with specialized equipment – felling and removing dying and dead standing trees, and thinning live trees.
The authors conclude with a glimmer of hope for the future of California forest lands. “Carefully planned forest management can reduce the amount and continuity of fuel on the landscape and limit the risk of destructive fire after tree mortality.”
Cattle can help reduce wildfire danger by grazing on fine fuels in rangeland and forest landscapes, reported Sierra Dawn McClain in Capital Press. The article also appeared in the Blue Mountain Eagle, the Westerner and the East Oregonian.
The article cited the preliminary results of research by UC Cooperative Extension that show that cattle consumed approximately 12.4 billion pounds of forage across California in 2017. The researchers believe the cattle could do more.
Many grazable acres aren't grazed, said Sheila Barry, UCCE livestock and natural resources advisor in Santa Clara, San Mateo, Alameda and Contra Costa counties. According to the Capital Press article, Barry said the public doesn't always recognize the benefits of grazing; they see short grass and cow patties. Cattle's role in preventing wildfires is often overlooked.
Devii Rao, UCCE livestock and natural resources advisor for San Benito, Monterey and Santa Cruz counties and the study's lead, said ranchers should target grazing around homes, infrastructure, roadsides and at the wildland-urban interface.
“There are so many things we can do better. Cattle grazing is really important to fire safety, and it's time we have more conversations about it,” Rao said.
This is one of a series of stories featuring a sampling of UC ANR academics whose work exemplifies the public value UC ANR brings to California.
The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted life for everyone, with information about COVID-19 changing daily. For Californians who aren't fluent in English, obtaining reliable information is particularly difficult. Aparna Gazula, a University of California Cooperative Extension advisor who serves Santa Clara, San Benito and Santa Cruz counties, has been providing COVID-19-related information in Chinese and Spanish for immigrant Bay Area farmers.
In March, when restaurants shut down to curb the spread of the virus, many restaurants and wholesale produce markets cancelled produce orders placed with farmers. Language, cultural differences, low computer literacy and limited access to computers created barriers for small-scale, immigrant farmers in the Bay Area to quickly find new buyers for their perishable produce. Gazula introduced them to food banks, hoping they would accept the produce donations, but the food banks were not set up to pick up donations from small farmers.
Most small-scale farmers lack the financial capital to absorb the revenue shock. To help offset losses from unsold specialty crops, the UCCE advisor and Qi Zhou, the small farm program assistant specialist, have been helping Asian and Latino farmers complete English-language disaster aid applications.
“Since March, we have helped farmers apply for Covid-19-related farmer relief funds,” Gazula said. So far, she said, four of the 17 immigrant farmers who applied to the American Farmland Trust Farmer Relief Fund have received a total of $4,000, and 10 farmers of the 30 who applied to the California Family Farmer Emergency Fund received a total of $42,500.
Recently the U.S. Department of Agriculture expanded the list of specialty crops eligible for its Coronavirus Food Assistance Program to include bok choy, daikon and other vegetables with a deadline of Sept. 11. Communicating by phone and the app We Chat, Gazula and Zhou, who speaks Mandarin, notified local farmers, and advised them how to apply for the disaster funds. Zhou, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service rangeland management specialist Ling He and another NRCS staff member assisted 64 farmers in completing applications over the past week.
Bob Kuang, president of the Bay Area Chinese Growers Association, shares UCCE information with the association's growers.
“Most of my members don't understand English so they [UC Cooperative Extension] help, like for policy and safety,” Kuang said, providing information the growers can't find elsewhere in Chinese.”
When she was a girl, Gazula saw how hard farmers work to make a living off the land while spending summers and winter breaks at her grandparents' farm in India, where they grew rice, mung beans and chili peppers.
“Farmers are very hardworking people, and small farmers even more so as they manage everything on the farm,” said the small farms and specialty crops advisor. “Their grit, determination to succeed and hardworking spirit truly inspire me.”
“I'd like to help them be successful as much as I can,” she said, “be it research-based information to farm successfully or bilingual support to help them better navigate regulations or apply for grant funds.”
In addition to helping farmers apply for financial relief, Gazula alerted the farmers to shelter in place rules and is delivering COVID-19 safety information about masks, sanitation and social distancing requirements in Chinese and Spanish to them.
“We also helped farmers implement COVID-19-related protocols on their farms,” she said. “We are currently putting together 200 COVID-19 kits that will help farmers comply with worker health and safety-related protocols on their farms. The COVID-19 kits contain reusable masks, hand sanitizer, bilingual Cal OSHA guidelines for employers regarding COVID-19, and a resources sheet listing where to buy the enclosed items.”
When she's not involved in COVID-19 crisis communications, Gazula continues to conduct research on nitrogen uptake in bok choy and bell peppers and irrigation management. She collaborates with Linda Chu, Guo Ping Yuan, Han Qiang Kuang and other Santa Clara County growers who allow the farm advisor to study crops on their farms.
“They do research, like test irrigation systems for right amount of water for the crop and nutrition – fertilizer – for the crop. They do lot of things,” said Bob Kuang, of the Bay Area Chinese Growers Association, who provides land at his farm in Gilroy for UCCE studies.
Gazula also advises farmers on how to implement the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) on their farms and fulfill irrigated land nitrogen reporting. Fines for not complying with regulations can threaten the economic sustainability of small family farms.
Although the majority of growers she works with regularly have limited English and need assistance filing reports to the government, others consult her for production information they can't get elsewhere for the specialty crops they grow. Farmers of Korean, Japanese, Indian and Vietnamese ancestry and others attend meetings to learn the latest research on Asian vegetables such as daikon radish, napa cabbage, bok choy, on choy and various Asian leafy mustard crops including gai choy and pea shoots.
Gazula, who joined UC Cooperative Extension in 2016, currently works with about 180 small-scale growers in San Benito and Santa Clara counties and hopes to expand her outreach to farmers in Santa Cruz County.
To help small farmers adapt to climate change, Gazula and Zhou partnered with UC Agriculture and Natural Resources' Healthy Soils Program staff and Santa Clara County Farm Bureau for technical assistance and held workshops during the winter. Zhou helped the farmers apply for grants from the California Department of Food and Agriculture's State Water Efficiency & Enhancement Program and Healthy Soils Program. The 22 farmers who received CDFA grants brought a total of $424,111 into Santa Clara County.
The outreach work UC Cooperative Extension does wouldn't be possible without the help of bilingual staff such as Zhou, the scientist Gazula hired with grant funds in September, and some translation support from partner organizations and growers as well.
“Relying on partners for translation support isn't practical,” Gazula explained. “Outreach is most effective when it is targeted. It's not just literally translating words, but translating the information the words convey. Because we provide outreach materials to comply with regulations, the language in these materials is very technical and it's important that the information is presented accurately. We also depend on relationships with the farmers to extend the information within their communities. Long-term, it's easier to do outreach with support from our own staff.”
Competition is stiff for money to serve non-English-speaking Californians because the state is home to so many immigrants with different needs. The majority of the grants she uses for outreach are for food safety. The local Open Space Authority, which promotes preserving land for open spaces, has also provided funds for small and beginning farmer outreach and education.
Gazula draws on the expertise of fellow UC Cooperative Extension farm advisors across the state. For example, she said, Richard Smith, who specializes in vegetable production, and Michael Cahn, who specializes in irrigation and water resources, are always willing to help, even though they are not assigned to serve Santa Clara County.
“Farmers already have tremendous challenges when it comes to being successful,” Gazula said. “I feel language barriers and lack of access to the same resources as fluent English-speaking growers shouldn't be the reason they can't farm successfully.”
Healthy California wildlands were managed with periodic wild and cultural fires for millennia. As the state's population and development grew, officials suppressed most fires out of concern for people, homes and businesses.
Though well-meaning, the strategy left land overgrown with vegetation capable of fueling even more dangerous high-intensity wildfires. The past few years have seen an exponential increase in catastrophic wildfires in California.
As a result, there is growing interest in using prescribed fire to bring nature back into balance. Despite the current interest, communities have limited capacity, shared knowledge and experience to bring it back. To close those information gaps, UC Cooperative Extension in Mariposa County hosted a five-session webinar series because the in-person workshop was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic. The switch to a virtual series enticed more than 500 people from across the U.S. and more than 12 countries register for the series, and 200 people regularly attended each session. In comparison, 34 people were registered for the in-person workshop.
The webinar series provided guidance on fire ecology, prescribed burn permitting and planning, plus cost-share and the concept of launching a prescribed burn association with neighbors, local agencies and the community in five 90-minute sessions. Recordings are now available free on the UCCE Mariposa County YouTube channel.
The training is designed for California landowners and land managers, but contains information that can be applied broadly in areas where landowners and managers are faced with unmanaged vegetation growth that poses a fire risk.
“Whether you live in a mixed conifer forest, oak woodland, chaparral or grassland habitat, returning prescribed fire to California is part of well-managed landscapes,” said Fadzayi Mashiri, UC Cooperative Extension livestock and natural resources advisor and the webinar series coordinator.
The webinar series struck another first for the small foothill county. The recorded series was approved for continuing education units by the national Society for Range Management. Following are links to individual sessions:
Session 1 – Fire ecology
Fire ecology and behavior and benefits of prescribed fire, Susie Kocher, UCCE forestry advisor in Lake Tahoe
Prescribed fire for invasive plants and weed control, Fadzayi Mashiri, UCCE natural resources advisor in Mariposa and Merced counties
Session 2 – Permitting
CAL FIRE permitting and prescribed burning, Brian Mattos, CAL FIRE unit forester for resource management
Air quality permitting and the health impacts of fire – David Conway, environmental health director, Mariposa County Health Department
Session 3 – Prescribed fire planning
Wildland-urban interface dynamics and community planning – Steve Engfer, senior planner, Mariposa County Planning Department
Developing a burn plan – Rob York, UCCE forestry specialist
Session 4 – Resources for burning
Prescribed burn associations – Lenya Quinn-Davidson, UCCE fire ecology advisor
EQUIP funds for prescribed fire through the National Resources Conservation Service – Robyn Smith, Natural Resources Conservation Service district conservationist
Session 5 – Cultural burning
Benefits of cultural burn, Honorable Ron Goode, North Fork Mono Tribe
Social History of Fire in Southern Sierra – Jared Dahl Aldern, Sierra-Sequoia Burn Association.
The workshops were funded in part by California Climate Investments, a statewide initiative that puts cap-and-trade dollars to work reducing greenhouse gas emissions, strengthening the economy and improving public health and the environment. Sponsors include the North Fork Mono Tribe, CAL FIRE and the Southern Sierra Prescribed Fire Council.