Monthly news roundup: December 2017
2017 top story: Wet start to 2017 brought end to 5-year drought
Bill Hicks, Daily Republic, Dec. 30, 2017
Even though wildfires have dominated the headlines at the end of 2017, the Daily Republic selected the end of the drought as its top story of 2017. The deluge of rainfall was nearly a case of too much of a good thing. “The dose is the poison,” said Gene Miyao, a UC Cooperative Extension advisor for Yolo and Solano counties. “Dose in farming often relates to timing. Rain days after planting tomatoes, for instance, is good, but days before planting can delay the season.”
What will the Thomas Fire burn zone look like in the future?
Emily Guerin, 89.3 KPCC (SoCal Public Radio), Dec. 25, 2017
Ventura and Santa Barbara counties' countryside is scorched, but with normal rainfall, wildflowers will cover the hillsides in the spring. If it is a dry winter, many of these new seedlings won't survive. And without healthy adult chaparral on the landscape, fast-growing invasive grasses will soon move into to take their place, said Max Moritz, UC Cooperative Extension wildfire specialist in Santa Barbara.
Labor unions see organizing California marijuana workers as a way to grow
Associated Press, Los Angeles Times, Dec. 25, 2017
The United Farm Workers, Teamsters and United Food and Commercial Workers are looking to unionize the tens of thousands of potential workers involved in legal marijuana production. Cannabis in California is already a $22-billion industry, including medical marijuana and a black market that accounts for most of that total, according to UC ANR agriculture economics researcher Philip Martin.
California ranchers will need vet's prescription to use livestock antibiotics
Julia Mitric, Capital Public Radio, Dec. 22, 2017
UC Cooperative Extension advisor Dan Macon said the new California requiring a veterinarian prescription for livestock antibiotics doesn't require a vet to be on site for each animal that needs treatment. But there will need to be a "veterinary-client-patient relationship." "Where the vet knows the operation, knows the rancher and has some idea of the types of animals and types of issues the rancher may be dealing with," Macon said. "And so it does require some semi-annual check in with the vet at the ranch."
How local farmers are coping with the devastating Thomas fire
Gillian Ferguson, Los Angeles Times, Dec. 19, 2017
Two weeks of unrelenting wind stoked wildfires that severely damaged avocados and other crops in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties. The wind also spreads smoke damage, according to Ben Faber, UC Cooperative Extension advisor. "There are a lot of gases in the smoke like ethylene that is a ripening agent," Bender said. "I was out looking at a cherimoya orchard in Carpinteria on Friday, and it didn't get hit by fire or heat, but there were a lot of cherimoyas on the ground."
Farmers who lost crops in the Lilac Fire seek advice from experts
Jaime Chambers, Fox 5 News, Dec. 19, 2017
Dozens of farmers whose citrus and avocados were burned in the Lilac Fire gathered to hear advice from UC Cooperative Extension experts. “The first thing I tell farmers is not to panic,” said Gary Bender, UC Cooperative Extension advisor in San Diego County. “When the fire burns hot and fast, that means the leaves will be burned but the tree might be fine.”
‘Defensible space' couldn't keep Thomas Fire from burning Ventura County
Emily Guerin, KPCC Public Radio, Dec. 19, 2017
The Thomas Fire in Ventura County surprised firefighters by destroying so many homes the first day after it broke out. UC Cooperative Extension specialist Max Moritz, who lives in Santa Barbara, said that defensible space isn't enough to protect structures during a wind-driven firestorm. “Defensible space has a very specific use. It's to provide a place for firefighters to do their work. It doesn't actually necessarily in and of itself protect the home from ignition,” he said. “We also have to think of the structure itself. What if nobody is there to defend it?” Homeowners must take precautions to keep flying embers from landing on flammable objects in and around the home and igniting a fire.
Lilac Fire resources for crop growers
Laura Acevedo, ABC 10 News, Dec. 19, 2017
The University of California Cooperative Extension and the USDA Farm Service Agency hosted an information meeting to provide agricultural assistance after the Lilac Fire. Some growers lost millions of dollars and thousands of pounds of fruit. UCCE advisor and county director Eta Takele spoke on estimated tree loss and advisors Sonia Rios and Gary Bender were also on the program.
Google Earth helps researchers map environmental impact of cannabis
Hana Baba, KALW Public Radio, Dec. 19, 2017
In Humboldt County, a team of researchers have been using satellite images to study cannabis grow sites for three years. “We were surprised by the location of the grows, the fact that most of the grows are in areas that are really bad for agriculture,” said Van Butsic, UC Cooperative Extension specialist. “There's good places to hide.” Butsic said the landscape will be really different in a year, and really different in five years.
California wildfire 45% contained, but devil winds persist
Mark Chediak, Bloomberg, Dec. 18, 2017
In CalFire terminology, 45 percent containment means that about that much of a hot zone is penned in by physical barriers, either roads, waterways or bulldozed or hand-shoveled clearings. “The problem is, when winds shift, the line of containment can be breached and embers can create spot fires,” said Max Moritz, a fire specialist for the University of California Cooperative Extension. “That's what we see with these wind-driven events.”
Are real or artificial Christmas trees better for the environment?
Jessica Roy, Los Angeles Times, Dec. 14, 2017
There's a common misconception about where real trees come from. Lynn Wunderlich, who works with Christmas tree farmers in her role as farm advisor for the University of California Cooperative Extension, said many people assume the trees are cut down in forests and stolen from nature. In reality, Christmas trees are grown on farms in California, Oregon, Washington, Michigan, North Carolina, Tennessee and other states, and they are meant to be cut down.
Climate change may shift vineyard planting
Dan Berger, Santa Rosa Press Democrat, Dec. 12, 2017
The warming climate is already having an impact on North Coast wines. UC Cooperative Extension viticulture advisor Glenn McGourty said “heat storms” before the 2017 harvest may result in satisfactory wines, but occasionally such conditions will produce characteristics that are atypical: “It's contrary to our handcrafted image of wines made from exquisitely grown fruit. If you're a pinot noir grower and all of a sudden the temperatures rise to 100 degrees for several days in a row, well, that's not the kind of wine you want to make. It's not what you signed up for.”
The invasive, flammable plants making California's fires worse
Jacob Margolis, Los Angeles Public Radio, 89.3 KPCC, Dec. 12, 2017
Dense amounts of grasses have squeezed in between the native coastal sage brush and chaparral. "The invasive grasses have had a major role in most of the fires this year," said Richard Minnich, AES researcher and UC Riverside earth sciences professor. "The fires have largely been at low elevations where exotic annual grassland is most abundant. And the amount of grass and biomass was unusually high this year because of the heavy rains last winter."
How to protect your house from a wildfire with plants
Kurt Snibbe, Orange County Register, Dec. 12, 2017
On average, about 1,445 structures are destroyed by wildfires each year in California. There have been more than 8,000 damaged and destroyed in California this year. UC Agriculture and Natural Resources is a source for science-based methods to reduce the likelihood a home will go up in flames during a wildfire event.
Why (and how) to cut down your own Christmas tree
Natalie Brunell, KCRA News, Dec. 12, 2017
Many national forests in California offer a limited number of tree permits for people to cut down their own Christmas trees. "You definitely would not necessarily expect perfection," said Susie Kocher, the forestry adviser for the UC Cooperative Extension in the central Sierra Nevada. "Farmed trees (in lots) are tended by farmers who prune them to get the perfect shape. Natural trees are going to look a little different than farmed trees."
California avocados hit with triple whammy of fire, wind and ash
Dan Whitcomb, Reuters, Dec. 8, 2017
The Ventura County wildfire destroyed much of the region's avocado crop not just with flames, but also with fierce Santa Ana winds and a thick blanket of ash. Avocados are planted in hillside groves because of their shallow roots, said Ben Faber, a UCCE farm advisor in Ventura. The fruit, typically harvested in February or March, is full-sized and a heavy fruit by December, held by a long stem. Those factors make avocados more vulnerable to the whipping winds than the lemon orchards dotting the flatlands of Ventura, Faber said.
California's climate emergency
Eric Holthaus, Rolling Stone, Dec. 8, 2017
As holiday music plays on the radio, temperatures in Southern California have soared into the 80s, and bone-dry winds have fanned a summer-like wildfire outbreak. Southern California is under siege. As California-based scientist Faith Kearns writes in Bay Nature magazine, "The admission that our best efforts may not always be enough opens a small window to shift how we think about disasters."
Pioneering practice could help California reverse groundwater depletion
Michelaina Johnson, Water Deeply, Dec. 6, 2017
A 2015 University of California study identified 3.6 million acres of farmland where farmland can be used to recharge the aquifer. “I think it is safe to say that if infrastructure were in place we could begin to replenish what is typically pumped from groundwater in most years if floodwaters are available,” said Toby O'Geen, UCCE soil resource specialist. Some of the regions with the worst groundwater overdraft and best suitability for on-farm recharge, like the Tulare Basin, have no access to surface water, according to UC Davis hydrologist Helen Dahlke.
In California fires, a starring role for the wicked wind of the West
Anne C. Mulkern, Science Magazine, Dec. 6, 2017
UC Cooperative Extension specialist Max Moritz said the state needs to incorporate wind corridors into its fire hazard severity zone maps. Stricter building codes apply in places designated as high-risk.
Bugs in the Christmas Tree? Shake, Relax, Decorate
Kathleen Doheny, WebMD, Dec. 6, 2017
Live Christmas trees could shelter some bugs, but commercial trees are probably pretty clean, said UCCE advisor Lynn Wunderlich. But consumers need not worry. “You aren't going to find black widows or brown recluse spiders in Christmas trees," Wunderlich says. Those spiders prefer to hang out in more protected surroundings, she says, such as the corner of your dark garage or shed.
2017 is California's worst year for wildfires on record
Jill Replogle, KPCC 89.3, Dec. 6, 2017
The 2017 fire season has been the most severe on record, due to a combustible combination of drought, rains, and especially, wind. “What really makes big years in terms of acres burned is essentially how many really windy days we have,” UCCE forestry specialist Bill Stewart. Last year's wet winter, which led to increased vegetation, and this year's record-breaking heat waves aren't as indicative of fire danger as Santa Ana winds, known in Northern California as Diablo winds, Stewart said. “It's always dry. There's always fuel,” he said.
California's massive fires reveal our illusion of control over disasters
Faith Kearns, Bay Nature, Dec. 6, 2017
"Unstoppable" is a word the firefighters have used to describe both the Tubbs Fire in northern California and the Thomas Fire in the southern part of the state. This is a marked change from top-down, command-and-control institutions like CAL FIRE. While it's scary, recognizing the reality that we aren't always in control when it comes to disasters also invites us to re-imagine how we can live with them.
Ali and the drones
Nick Papadopolous, CropMobsterTV, Dec. 5, 2017
Alireza (Ali) Pourreza travelled from Iran to Florida then to the UC ANR Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Parlier, Calif. He's a music-loving precision ag specialist working to help address some of the most vexing challenges facing agriculture.
Hillside berry farms trigger erosion, speed flooding on central coast
Sarah Derouin and Emma Hiolski, Santa Cruz Sentinel, Dec. 4, 2017
Strawberries are one of California's most profitable crops, but the plastic row covers that protect berries from cold and pests also increase water runoff and erosion on hillside fields. UCCE advisor Mark Bolda estimates that one inch of rainfall onto a 30-acre plastic-covered farm could send enough water downhill to fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool. And the hills' sandy soil only exacerbates the problem. Nevertheless, he said, “It's not an option to not use plastic” in commercial strawberry farms.