November News Clips (11/15-11/30)
How they survived: Owners of the few homes left standing around Paradise, Calif., took critical steps to ward off wildfires
(Washington Post) Sarah Kaplan, Frances Stead Sellers, Nov. 30
…Though the United States spends upwards of $2 billion each year on fire suppression and billions more helping communities recover, the current budget for the Federal Emergency Management Agency's Pre-Disaster Mitigation Grant Program is just over $200 million — and it must address hurricanes, earthquakes and a host of other natural hazards as well as fires. Cal Fire provides grants for forest management and tree removal, but not structure modification.
The budget for the University of California Cooperative Extension program, which conducts fire research and outreach to homeowners, has been cut by almost half since 2000. There are now fewer than 20 extension advisers in forestry and fire serving a state with 40 million people and 15 million acres of public lands.
Opinion | To Help Prevent the Next Big Wildfire, Let the Forest Burn
(NY Times) Ash Ngu and Sahil Chinoy, Nov. 29
Before Euro-American settlement in the 1800s, fires burned about 1.5 million acres of forest each year, on average, according to an analysis of fire return intervals by Scott Stephens, a professor of fire science at the University of California, Berkeley. Skies were most likely smoky through much of the summer and fall, and most forests in California burned every five to 25 years from wildfires caused by lightning or Native American burning practices, he said.
Farmers make a “Romaine Recovery” after E. coli Outbreak
(NBC PalmSprings) Daytona Everett, Nov. 28
The FDA has now connected the Central Coast of California to 43 cases of E. coli across the country. However, romaine lettuce farmers in the Coachella Valley are just now bringing in their first winter harvest.
...The FDA now requires every package to “clearly and prominently label all individually packaged romaine products to identify growing region and harvest date for romaine; and to clearly and prominently label at the point of sale the growing region when it is now possible for romaine lettuce suppliers to label the package (e.g. individual unwrapped whole heads of romaine lettuce available in retail stores).”
“That also gets difficult because they harvest the lettuce and they stick a bunch of these in a box and then they go to a processing facility and you may be combining several different fields at once when you're processing that,” Milt Mcgiffen, an extension vegetable specialist from UC Riverside, said.
Wildfire, Landscapes and Debris Fields: Mapping Risks After Major Wildfire
(Capital Public Radio) Beth Duncan, Nov. 27
Geologist spend a lot of time creating landslide risk maps after a major wildfire happens. The slope of the landscape, amount of rainfall and underlying geology of an area all play a role in how likely an area might be affected.
Forestry Specialist William Stewart explains what geologists are concerned about as winter storms move through the areas hit by wildfire this year.
“After the wildfire, there's a lot of burnt logs and other things there, but what happens when it starts raining is it'll saturate the soil and you'll start to get soil movement. And once you get a fair bit of it moving down, it can pick up boulders and other things in the soil, and pull down whole trees. So a debris flow has both mud and water and big chunks of rocks and logs in there and that's what if it hits a bridge or a home, or commercial center, can just wipe it out. It's just a huge amount of force that just levels everything in its path.”
California Economic Summit Looks to Elevate Rural California
(AgNetWest) Brian German, Nov. 27
…“One of the things we really started digging into these last few years there, as part of our Working Landscapes Action Team and the summit as a whole, is this concept of there's two California's here,” said Vice President of UC Agriculture and Natural Resources, Glenda Humiston. “You've got predominately coastal, large, urban areas here that are doing pretty well. But then you've got the rest of California that's still really hurting. High poverty, high unemployment, not the economic opportunities that they ought to have.”
Humiston explained that at last year's summit they were able to launch the Elevate Rural California initiative, with a goal of addressing three specific areas over the next few years. “Water infrastructure, biomass, high-value biomass opportunities I want to qualify that strongly, and then the broadband, particularly rural broadband,” Humiston noted.
Why There Are Challenges To Doing More Prescribed Burns As Part Of Forest Management
(NPR All Things Considered) Ezra David Romero, Nov. 27
…But can the use of prescribed burns be expanded?
Roger Bales with the Sierra Nevada Research Institute at UC Merced says yes. “They can be scaled up as long as we can provide the financing to do them,” Bales said. “As long as we do them in a way that doesn't degrade the air quality.”
…The cost of a prescribed burn varies depending on time of year and resources. Robert York with UC Berkeley's Blodgett Forest Research Station says the warmer and drier the climate, the more expensive a burn.
Still, York supports burning year-round. “If the conditions are good, let's have lots of burns going on in the Sierra Nevada,” he said.
Field Scouting Guide: Palmer Amaranth
(Growing Produce) Karli Petrovic, Nov. 27
This month's field scouting guide concentrates on Amaranthus palmeri S. Watson (Palmer amaranth). We've reached out to weed scientists to learn how to spot and treat this weed.
Our contributors are Lynn Brandenberger, Oklahoma State University; W. Carroll Johnson, III, Ph.D., USDA-ARS; Mohsen B. Mesgaran, Ph.D., University of California, Davis; and Lynn M. Sosnoskie, Ph.D., University of California Cooperative Extension.
Who is Responsible for Burned Trees After a Wildfire?
(NPR Morning Edition) Eric Whitney, Nov. 26
…SCOTT STEPHENS: I would be very nervous about big oaks and potential for them to come down because the oaks, a lot of times, have heart rot. They have rotten material inside the center. And a lot of times a smoldering fire can burn in there for days and days and days. I've been around oaks like that. And all of a sudden, a week later - boom - it comes down.
WHITNEY: The danger can persist a lot longer than a week, Stephens says, as burned trees that are strong now continue to deteriorate.
STEPHENS: Probably by year four, five, they start to really get less structurally sound. Then, of course, you get a wind event, big storms, and they start coming down in earnest. And by year 10, they're coming down a great deal.
California dairy program celebrates 20 years
DairyBusiness, Nov. 26
…Recognizing a need to respond and be proactive, a committee of dairy producers, government agency representatives, industry leaders, and university specialists gathered to create the California Dairy Quality Assurance Program (CDQAP), ensuring high-quality milk production and continuous improvement in environmental stewardship. It was also a prime opportunity to demonstrate the commitment of the California dairy industry to producing high quality, safe products, in an environmentally friendly, animal-care conscience manner. Initial funding was provided by the California Farm Bureau Federation, California Department of Food and Agriculture and the California Dairy Research Foundation (CDRF). Dr. Michael Payne, a University of California veterinary researcher was brought on board to direct the program and Dr. Deanne Meyer, University of California Cooperative Extension specialist, was enlisted to develop educational programs. Continued CDRF funding provided an important direct tie to dairy producers through check off dollars, and industry expertise.
Are Your Vineyards Smart Enough to Beat the Heat?
(Growing Produce) Matthew Fidelibus, Nov. 24
…A number of strategies can be considered to adapt to increasing temperatures. Small increases in temperature might be mitigated by employing various cultural practices including pruning, irrigation and fertilization, canopy management, and crop protectants, which may help reduce fruit exposure and reduce crop load.
Irrigation and fertilization can be used to help establish sufficient canopy shade before heat waves occur. The possibility of having overexposed fruit during heat waves should be considered when evaluating canopy management practices such as leafing and shoot positioning. Crop protectants such as particle films may provide protection for overexposed fruit.
Fighting fire with fire via ‘pyrosilviculture'
(Davis Enterprise) Jeannette Warnert, Nov. 21
…The event also raised awareness of “pyrosilviculture,” a new forest management term coined by UC fire scientist Rob York to emphasize the importance of fire in silviculture, the management of forests for wood.
Fixing state's fire problem: Costly, complex, next to impossible
(SF Chronicle) Kurtis Alexander, Nov. 21
…Bill Stewart, a forestry specialist at UC Berkeley, said that technology has helped fire scientists pinpoint areas where wind, heat, vegetation and other factors conspire to pose the greatest threats. It's just that the risk maps aren't being used to guide development.
“We need more than an academic paper here and there on wind,” Stewart said. “The number of windy days per year should help determine new zoning policy for planners.
Actually, Even California Says Trump Is Right About the Wildfires
(RealClear Politics) Betsy McCaughey, Nov. 21
President Donald Trump's critics are belittling him for not buying the politically correct narrative that global warming is to blame for the California wildfires. Instead, Trump correctly points to decades of mistakes by state and federal forest agencies that caused the woodlands to be become overly dense and blanketed with highly flammable dead wood and underbrush.
… This multifaceted approach is too much to put in a mere tweet. But University of California forest expert Yana Valachovic concedes that Trump's "general sentiment is correct."
Living on the Edge
(Slate Magazine) James B. Meigs, Nov. 20
…But the photos tell a different story. Within Paradise itself, the main fuel feeding the fire wasn't trees, nor the underbrush Trump suggested should have been raked up. It was buildings. The forest fire became an infrastructure fire. Fire researchers Faith Kearns and Max Moritz describe what can happen when a wildfire approaches a suburban neighborhood during the high-wind conditions common during the California fall: First, a “storm of burning embers” will shower the neighborhood, setting some structures on fire. “Under the worst circumstances, wind driven home-to-home fire spread then occurs, causing risky, fast-moving ‘urban conflagrations' that can be almost impossible to stop and extremely dangerous to evacuate.” The town of Paradise didn't just experience a fast-moving wildfire, its own layout, building designs, and city management turned that fire into something even scarier.
…Of course, when fires do occur, the residents of these areas suffer the most. The question is how to provide the right incentives for people so that we limit the chances of this happening again. Looking ahead, “We need to ensure that prospective homeowners can make informed decisions about the risks they face in the WUI,” Moritz, Tague, and Anderson say.
Why California Can't Chainsaw Its Way Out Of A Raging Inferno
(BuzzFeed) Peter Aldhous, Nov. 20
…Still, supporters of thinning argue that it is a viable option in some forests, especially dry pine and mixed-conifer forests at lower elevations. Historically, forests like these burned with low intensity every decade or so, keeping them patchy and fairly sparse. There, decades of fire suppression should be countered with careful thinning to mimic the natural state, according to Scott Stephens, a forestry scientist at the University of California, Berkeley.
Stephens has compared low-elevation forests in Southern California with those over the border in Baja California, Mexico, where fire suppression didn't begin until the 1970s. The naturally patchy Mexican forests, he has found, are much more resilient: Even in the face of a four-year drought and a 2003 wildfire, only 20% of the trees died. (In the Cedar fire in San Diego County that same year, between 40% and 95% of trees in the affected areas perished.)
California's Fire Season Extends Beyond Summer Months (AUDIO)
(NPR Morning Edition) Nov. 20
Steve Inskeep talks to Lenya Quinn-Davidson, fire adviser for the University of California Cooperative Extension, about what an extended fire season means for state residents.
Santa Maria-Bonita School Districts teams up with 4H for kids career day
(KEYT) Naja Hill, Nov. 18
Santa Maria-Bonita School Districts came together for a career and leadership day at Liberty Elementary. The event, called 4H SNAC, was a collaboration between UC CalFresh Nutrition and the youth organization 4 H. SNAC stands for Student Nutrition Advisory Council.
The goal of the youth program is to advocate child development to 5th and 6th graders in underserved, low-income communities. Various guest speakers came to teach kids how to live a healthy lifestyle.
The event was 4H's 4th annual career day. One topic of focus was presentation skills. The students also got an opportunity to speak to professionals from different fields such as firefighters, a nurse, and a dentist.
Trump suggests Californians can rake their forests to prevent wildfires. (He is wrong.)
(Washington Post) Avi Selk, Nov. 18
“His general sentiment is correct — that we need to manage fuels,” said Yana Valachovic a forest adviser with the University of California's Cooperative Extension program. “And yeah, managing that pine litter adjacent to our homes and buildings is super important. … But the reality is, to manage every little bit of fuel with a rake is not practical.”
Raking is an effective way to clear light debris like leaves and pine needles away from residences, she said. It's of much less use on the forest floor, where infernos burn through swaths of brush and large debris that only heavy machinery can clear.
California's problems are complicated, she said — a combination of hot, dry climates, poor community design and “100 years of fire suppression” that helped turn forests into tinder boxes.
How Trump administration pressure to dump 4-H's LGBT policy led to Iowa leader's firing
Katherine Soule, the chair of an LGBT working group in 2016 and a leader of California's 4-H, said group leaders were asked to adapt the Obama administration's Dear Colleague letter protecting gender-identity rights for 4-H.
Soules and a group of Western 4-H leaders created a best-practices document that became the foundation of a national guidance document.
...The about-face on the LGTB policy by national 4-H headquarters left some 4-H volunteers angry and program officials confused, according to the Register's investigation.
“I feel bad for the folks at USDA,” Glenda Humiston, the vice president of the University of California's Agriculture and Natural Resources, told other 4-H leaders during a May training video. “I think they are in between a rock and a hard place.”
Lessons from Camp Fire: Staying alive in California fire country
(Mercury News) Lisa Krieger, Nov. 17
Even as smoke chokes the sky and shrouds the sun, millions of Bay Area and other California residents remain unprepared for the next inferno.
…“You can only pour so many cars into different arteries at the same time,” said J. Keith Gilless, professor and dean emeritus at UC Berkeley's College of Natural Resources.
…“Fewer than half of families in our area have taken the time to sit down, write out an emergency plan, discuss it with family members and maybe even do a practice run,” said UC Berkeley's Gilless.
Facts Matter: President's posts on wildfires misleading
(Chicago Daily Herald) Bob Oswald, Nov. 17
The current wildfires aren't forest fires and are not the responsibility of forest management, the Times said.
"These fires aren't even in forests," Max Moritz, a wildfire specialist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, told the Times.
The Camp and Woolsey fires began where communities are close to undeveloped areas, the Times said. Fires in these locations are more deadly and costly because of the proximity to homes and towns.
Why didn't PG&E shut down power in advance of deadly Camp Fire? Here's the data.
(Mercury News) Matthias Gafni, Nov. 17
…Thomas Scott, who has written about fire management in California's wildland urban interface and works with the UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources, wonders if the decision to keep power on may have had to do with the complaints the utility received after its October shutdown.
“Any rationale they had for keeping the lines hot has tragically backfired for everyone involved,” he said. “Can't understand what they were contemplating; perhaps they maintained power until the last possible moment because that action breeds unhappy customers and dangerous situations if power is turned off.”
Examining Jerry Brown's veto of California wildfire legislation and the criticism of it
(Politifact) Chris Nichols, Nov. 16
Bill Stewart, a forestry specialist at UC Berkeley, reviewed the bill and Brown's veto message. He said in an email, "I do not think it would have made much of a difference, as the amount of funds was not that great ($582,000 that may have just led to some hiring of consultants and a lot interaction with the communities) and, more importantly, no new advances would have been made."
Stewart, however, went on to describe the legislation as "a good shot across the bow to the (Brown) administration to do more. This area of risk assessment and mitigation has been woefully underfunded for decades."
How fierce fall and winter winds help fuel California fires
(The Conversation) Faith Kearns and Max Moritz, Nov. 16
… Fire hazard is determined by a variety of factors that include vegetation, topography and weather. Add people and homes, and you get fire risk. While wind is one of the biggest factors in fire spread, it also generates flying embers far ahead of the fire itself.
… Managing the type and amount of vegetation, or “fuel,” in an area provides a set of tools for altering fire behavior in wildland fires. But during wind-driven urban conflagrations, homes are usually a major – if not the main – source of fuel.
…As residents and researchers who have worked extensively on fire in California, we believe the state and its newly elected leadership face a formidable challenge and an opportunity to reinvest in a robust, interdisciplinary approach to wildfire risk reduction that combines the best of both research and practice. It must integrate both new (and potentially controversial) urban planning reforms as well as novel thinking about evacuation alternatives.
California Citrus Network Now Available as Grower Resource
(AgNetWest) Nov. 16
The University of California Cooperative Extension (UCCE) has launched the California Citrus Network as a means to address industry concerns through a collaborative approach. The new website will be another resource available to those involved with citrus production who may have questions or concerns about their operation.
“If they see something out in the field that's unusual, they can snap some pictures with their smartphone or their tablet and they can go onto the forum site,” said UCCE Area Citrus Advisor for Tulare, Fresno, and Madera Counties Greg Douhan. “Let's say you think something is some sort of disease issue, you can go in there and look on that and see if anybody else has been seeing the same thing. Or you can post a question and say, ‘hey I'm finding this unusual situation out in my field, is anybody else seeing this?' so it's just a way to communicate.”
Editorial: Horrifying infernos in California
(Providence RI Journal) Nov. 16
California deals with wildfires on an annual basis. Parts of the state were ravaged earlier this summer. But what has happened this month alone will make 2018 the worst year on record.
Five separate wildfires (named Camp, Nurse, Hill, Woolsey and Peak) in November have burned more than 245,000 acres of land.
…Max Moritz, a wildfire specialist with the University of California, told the AP that there are “so many ways that can go wrong, in the warning, the modes of getting the message out, the confusion ... the traffic jams.” He suggested local officials consider building “local retreat zones” and “local safety zones” in urban communities to protect residents from the deadly wildfires.
See how a warmer world primed California for large fires
(National Geographic) Alejandra Borunda, Nov. 15
…Over the past century, California has warmed by about three degrees Fahrenheit. That extra-warmed air sucks water out of plants and soils, leaving the trees, shrubs, and rolling grasslands of the state dry and primed to burn.
That vegetation-drying effect compounds with every degree of warming, explains Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at the University of California, Los Angeles, meaning that plants lose their water more efficiently today than they did before climate change ratcheted up California's temperatures.
…Changes in precipitation are another factor. California's summer dry season has also been lengthening. Each extra day lets plants dry out more, increasing their susceptibility to burning.
“Usually—or, I don't want to even say usually anymore because things are changing so fast—we get some rains around Halloween that wet things down,” says Faith Kearns, a scientist at University of California Institute for Water Resources in Oakland. But in the past few years, those rains haven't come until much later in the autumn—November, or even December.
Why Wildfires Are Burning So Hot and Moving So Fast
(NPR) Kirk Siegler, Nov. 15
…One recent study predicted several million homes built in the West are at immediate risk. Susie Kocher is a forester with the University of California's Cooperative Extension service here in the Sierra.
“We haven't caught up, and to retrofit our existing housing stock to fend off embers is a long-term, expensive proposition.”