UC ANR NEWS
Farmers and ranchers are typically the first to feel droughts, a condition that seems to be impacting California on an increasing basis, reported Dustin Klemann on KSBY News on California's Central Coast.
Klemann joined a UC Cooperative Extension drought meeting in Solvang titled “Weather, Grass, and Drought: Planning for Uncertainty.” Ironically, the meeting came at a time when California has been blessed by a series of wet and snowy storms.
“Leave it to a drought workshop to bring the rain,” said UCCE livestock and natural resources advisor Matthew Shapero.
Despite the rain, the National Drought Monitor still considers the Central Coast area to be in "moderate drought."
Shapero told about a local rancher who recently called him to question the status.
“He said ‘I really don't think the drought monitor accurately reflects what I am seeing on the ground.'”
California's drought status is challenging to pin down because of vast precipitation variability. For example, Paso Robles received 2.78 inches of rain all of 2013. In 1941, the town recorded almost 30 inches of precipitation.
UCCE natural resources and watershed advisor Royce Larsen also spoke at he meeting.
“We Californians are constantly accused of not having seasons. We do,” Larsen said. “We have fire, flood, mud, and drought. That's what we live with. And it's getting more and more so every year.”
When ABC Action News could find no one at the USDA's San Joaquin Valley Agricultural Sciences Center in Parlier for comment on the federal government shutdown, reporter Brian Johnson turned to Jeff Dahlberg, director of the UC Kearney Research and Extension Center, which is located across the street.
USDA's ag research facility moved to the Parlier location from Fresno in 2000 to enable collaboration between the two organizations, which work together closely to improve California agricultural production and minimize its environmental impacts.
However, due to the shutdown, virtually all communication has stopped.
Dahlberg said he believes a few USDA employees are still allowed on site for some basic maintenance, such as keeping plants and insects alive. Other important tasks, like irrigation and pruning, have been delayed.
"I don't know what kind of impact this is going to have on them but I would have to venture to guess that it's going to set them back potentially for a year, because they could have lost some really important experiments right now," Dahlberg said.
Two UC Cooperative Extension programs - 4-H Youth Development and UC CalFresh nutrition education - collaborate to give Imperial County elementary school students an introduction to the culinary arts, reported Vincent Osuna in the Imperial Valley Press.
The 4-H Teens-As-Teachers Cooking Academy runs seven sessions in which the high school students use evidence-based curriculum from 4-H to teach the elementary school students how to cook.
"I think this is a really good experience for the kids because it shows them the pathways that are here at the high school that could lead them into their future," said a Calexico High School senior Nelly Rodriguez, who serves as an academy teacher. "It gets them a start way ahead of what we got, because we started in ninth grade, and they get to start young in elementary."
A 4-H mini-grant funded equipment, aprons, skillets and other materials; UC CalFresh provides the food ingredients.
"It's to basically teach kids how to cook, but also just to empower them to help them feel like they have a little more control over their food," said Chris Wong, UCCE Imperal County community education specialist. "At the same time, it serves purpose to the high school culinary class because it professionally develops them for their food demos and their competitions at the end of the year."
4-H teen teacher Julio Ramirez said the young students were nervous at first, but by the fourth session, "They're anxious to do it. It's just a good thing to see."
Bigcone Douglas-fir is an evergreen conifer native to the mountains of Southern California. Repeated wildfires and drought are threatening the species' existence in its native range, reported Bettina Boxall in the Los Angeles Times.
The reporter visited a Santa Barbara County site peppered with tall, dead trees where UC Cooperative Extension fire specialist Max Moritz is studying the species' fate.
"You don't see anything," he said. "It has a fairly depressing quality to it, given the mortality and no regeneration."
The area was burned by the Zaca Fire 11 years ago, something the fire-resistant conifer can generally withstand. Moritz and research assistant Ryan Salladay found evidence that the trees survived the fire, but then died sometime later. They are trying to determine what did them in by recording the aspect of the slope, collecting tree core samples, measuring the water stress in living trees, looking for wildfire impacts, and checking for seedlings.
“The drought-following-fire issue is a total reshuffling of what might come back or survive,” Moritz said.
U.S President Donald Trump criticized forest management in California and threatened to cut off federal emergency funding this week, eliciting confusion and condemnation, reported Ryan Bort in Rolling Stone.
The International Association of Fire Fighters released a statement calling Trump's move "disgraceful." "While our president is tweeting on the sidelines in DC, our fellow Americans 3,000 miles to the west are mourning loved ones, entire communities have been wiped off the map and thousands of people are still trying to figure out where they are going to call home."
The reporter wrote that the president is fixated on the state's role in causing forest fires, but the federal government owns the majority of forested land in California. Moreover, the devastating Camp and Woolsey fires of 2018 were not forest fires; they were wildland-urban interface fires, according to UC Cooperative Extension wildfire specialist Max Moritz.
"In these environments, as we've seen, it can be the homes themselves that are burning and spreading fire to other nearby homes. Managing vegetation can thus have relatively little effect on fire spread," Moritz said.
The federal government shutdown itself is having a major impact on wildfire prevention, reported Ezra David Romero on Capital Public Radio.
Typically, forest managers analyze their budgets and plan for the next fire season during the winter. But the government shutdown has suspended these efforts because the U.S. Forest Service - which has been furloughed since Dec. 22 - plays a big role.
Crews in Redwood National Park are “just sitting on their hands,” according to UC Cooperative Extension fire advisor Lenya Quinn-Davidson in Humboldt County, because they can't work on federal land during the shutdown. She said that workers were “excited to do more” on the heels of the state's worst fire season in history. “This is just taking the wind out of their sails."
The shutdown is also causing challenges for UCCE forestry specialist Bill Stewart. He's working on collaboration between the UC system and the Forest Service to streamline the cost of preventing wildfires. But the shutdown is making the five-year project, which has end-of-January deadlines, difficult to accomplish.
“Everything has come to a total stop,” Stewart said. “They are not even allowed to answer their emails. If this continues it may be hard to restart for this next season.”