UC Davis researchers and state Department of Fish and Game officials are capturing deer between Dec. 2 and Dec. 15 along a stretch of the freeway from Millbrae to Woodside, said Fraser Shilling (video clip), head of the research project and co-director of the Road Ecology Center at UC Davis.
Using tranquilizer darts fired from a rifle, or "clover traps" (large netting enclosures), about 15 deer are expected to be captured. Researchers plan to capture another 30 deer by the time the project is completed in May 2013.
The deer would be "minimally disturbed" by the darts or enclosures, with the worst harm being from falling down, according to Shilling.
"That's the level of harm," he said. "There's no long-term damage to it."
The captured deer will be fitted with GPS collars that will record their location and send the information to researchers who will use the data to track the deer as they move along the areas adjoining the freeway, or onto the roadway itself.
Timers will automatically release the collars after six months, Shilling said.
Besides tracking the deer, researchers will also use 40 wildlife cameras to capture images of wildlife and map the locations of road kill. The information will be used to make a recommendation to determine what kind of strategies could be used to reduce the number of collisions between deer and other animals on the freeway.
Deer grazing along the side of the freeway and dead deer on the shoulder are common sights along the roadway, which runs through mostly heavily-wooded areas, rolling hills, and grasslands between San Francisco and San Jose.
The deer study, funded by a $320,000 grant through the federal Transportation Enhancement program, will be used to try to reduce the number of collisions between cars and deer on the freeway.
Every year, about 300,000 collisions occur nationwide between vehicles and wildlife, resulting in 200 deaths and 26,000 injuries. The costs associated with deer strikes alone add up to $8.5 billion annually.
Road Ecology Center at UC Davis
“Road ecology” is emerging as an environmental science focusing on the impact of roads on nature, such as how plant and animal populations are fragmented by roads, and how vehicle noise and pollution negatively impact animals and plants.
An understanding of road ecology also allows transportation planners to optimize mobility while minimizing the adverse impact of roads and vehicles.
The UC Davis Road Ecology Center brings together policy makers from transportation and environmental settings to design sustainable transportation systems that complement the needs of natural landscapes and human communities.
Some of the organizations partnering with the Road Ecology Center on projects include Caltrans, the California Department of Fish and Game, the UC Davis Sustainable Transportation Center, the John Muir Institute of the Environment and the Institute of Transportation Studies at UC Davis, and Defenders of Wildlife.
A “citizen science” component of the Road Ecology Center is the California Roadkill Observation System, a statewide roadkill reporting website for people to record their observations of dead animals and their environmental context. The information will be used to reduce the number of roadkill incidents.
The top 5 species of animals killed on California roads and highways are raccoon, striped skunk, California ground squirrel, Virginia opossum, and mule deer (or black-tailed deer).
In contrast, genetically modified crops such as soy, corn and cotton have received widespread adoption by U.S. farmers.
Debate continues over whether genetically modified rice would be a plus or minus for the environment. While herbicide-tolerant varieties could reduce herbicide applications overall — they could also contribute to herbicide resistance in weedy rice.
For the time being, however, market considerations have trumped the debate over environmental costs and benefits.
A recent article in California Agriculture featured a literature review and extensive interviews with California rice growers explaining why.
“Although several studies suggest that transgenic rice would benefit California rice growers — particularly the herbicide-tolerant varieties — transgenic rice also presents economic risks,” writes Dustin Mulvaney, lead author, and now assistant professor at San Jose State University.
For one, California growers rely on exports for half of their sales. At present, Japan alone constitutes 41 percent of the state’s export market. Japan purchased more than $421 million in 2009 — over 40 percent of the industry's exports.
“While it is difficult to determine whether protectionism, culture or biosafety are the main forces driving such policies, all play a role in discouraging the deployment of transgenic rice,” Mulvaney said
California growers manage risks to marketability through the California Rice Certification Act. The act targets “characteristics of commercial impact,” including those of transgenic rice. The act states that growers rely upon identity preservation in the “production, handling and marketing practices that maintain the integrity and purity of agricultural commodities.”
Identity preservation is used to manage “genetic pollution” risks from transgenic crops (California Agriculture July-September 2006), particularly those not approved for human consumption or used to make pharmaceuticals (California Agriculture April-June 2007). In these latter cases, identity preservation must be 100% effective.
Mulvaney notes, “The commercial approval of transgenic rice in California is unlikely until there is widespread market acceptance and growers are assured of no sales interruptions. “
They’ve been in existence for thousands of years with many benefits including serving as wind breaks, helping to reduce soil erosion, and providing habitat for wildlife. All of this helps protect our water and air quality as well as enhances biodiversity.
More recently, studies have shown that hedgerows of California native flowering shrubs planted on field crop edges can enhance beneficial insect activity on farms, possibly leading to biological pest control in adjacent crops. This valuable ecosystem service could lead to reduced insecticide use on farms, possibly enhancing environmental and worker health and safety issues and provide cost savings to growers. for thousands of years with many benefits including serving as wind breaks, helping to reduce soil erosion and providing habitat for wildlife. All of this helps protect our water and air quality as well as enhance biodiversity.
The extent to which enhanced pest control occurs in adjacent crops is still under investigation. However, research to date shows that hedgerows aren’t concentrating beneficial insects; instead they’re actually exporting them into adjacent crops. That is, higher numbers of beneficial insects have been found in crops adjacent to hedgerows of flowering shrubs than weedy field edges. Data are still being collected on impacts to pest control.
The enhanced biodiversity and potential ecosystem service benefits of hedgerows have prompted the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service to support growers in planting native shrubs and perennial grasses on their farms. In 2009, 13 miles of hedgerows were established on California farms compared to 3 miles in 2005, so interest is growing. In particular, planting California native flowering shrubs and forbs for attracting native bee pollinators for enhanced pollination in adjacent crops is gaining significant attention. Recently the USDA approved 90 percent cost-share programs for pollinator hedgerows.
More information on plant selection, establishment practices and costs for planting hedgerows on farms can be found in UC ANR publication number 8390, available as a PDF or e-book: Establishing hedgerows on farms in California.
While the legality of California’s medical marijuana dispensaries is being debated in courtrooms, a UC Cooperative Extension forestry and wildlands ecology advisor says there are a number of issues related to the unregulated land-use practices of illicit cannabis growing that have not been addressed.
In Lake and Mendocino counties, Giusti performs research and shares information with public agencies and private landowners in relation to forest management and freshwater ecology on behalf of UC Cooperative Extension. Marijuana farming is not a topic that Giusti ever intended to address.
Effects on natural resources
Most of the data available about illicit cannabis grows is based on drug enforcement actions, specifically how many sites were busted and how many plants or pounds of plant material were seized. Giusti has gathered photographs and anecdotal evidence of the effects on natural resources of commercial-scale marijuana grows operated illicitly on public and private lands.
Some of the effects he has documented:
- illegal water controls (including dams, stream diversion and water storage)
- water pollution from petroleum, pesticide and fertilizer products
- pesticides applied without permits
- pesticides, fertilizers and other chemicals left behind
- indiscriminate fish and wildlife killing (including poisoning, trapping and poaching for food)
- human trash and waste left after camping
“It’s not this green industry that people talk about,” Giusti says. “They’re diverting water, they’re polluting streams, and there’s a portion who are poaching. We’re also seeing all of the negative effects of unregulated road building, unregulated construction and unregulated human inhabitation for months and months out in the woods.”
Giusti explained that some cannabis growers divert water from streams to store in large water bladders, prematurely lowering stream levels during critical times in the year.
“It's illegal to do, but at the same time you can drive up and down Highway 101 and easily buy these huge bladders,” he said.
He notes that local businesses are selling compost by the ton, rodenticide by the pallet, thousands of pairs of clippers and turkey bags in lots of 100.
“Mainstream businesses are supporting this underground industry,” Giusti said. “You don’t have to be growing cannabis to be making money off of it.”
In 2010, Giusti organized two community workshops in Lake County to address the impacts of illicit cannabis land-use on forest resources, for a combined attendance of nearly 400 community members. Giusti has shared his results with the board of supervisors for Lake and Mendocino counties, local news media, local foresters and the staff of the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board.
“My intention was to initiate a communitywide discussion to ask, ‘Is this what you want to happen to your forests?’” Giusti said. “Up until now it's been talked about in hushed tones, and I wanted to initiate a dialogue out loud. Everybody has been whispering about it.”
The presentation he developed for those meetings continues to generate discussion. Most recently, he has presented to the North Coast Water Quality Control Board staff and other agencies. He has shared photos collected for his presentation with Congressman Mike Thompson’s office as well.
“With the water quality control board, I had the opportunity to engage people whose job it is to protect the beneficial uses of water — and hopefully stimulate an internal dialogue so that they can continue the discussion after I leave their office,” he said. “There are other resource agencies that need to be involved, and county planning departments too. This is an unregulated land-use practice.”
This month, the Lake County Record-Bee ran an article by reporter Linda Williams with the headline “Thirsty marijuana grows suck Eel River dry,” which included some information presented at Giusti’s meetings.
“My efforts seem to be improving people's awareness,” he says. “The very thing I wanted to accomplish — creating broader dialogues — is happening.”
Weeds, weeds, weeds! Have you noticed? This has been a banner year for weeds. Puncturevine where I’ve never seen it before. Garden soil covered with common purslane (at least it’s good in salads). And solid stands of yellow starthistle everywhere!
What can be done? First of all, identify your weeds. Different weeds require different treatments. Is it an annual or perennial? Does it propagate by wind-blown seeds or by runners? The University of California Integrated Pest Management website, has weed-identification guides that are fun and easy to use. The website also offers treatment guidelines.
In the California foothills, yellow starthistle (YST) is perhaps the most common weed of concern. It impacts much of our open space - agricultural and rangeland - and intrudes into our neighborhood landscapes. Yellow starthistle currently infests more than 15 million acres of land in California. Not only does it prevent recreational use, like walking or hiking, but it chokes out native grasses and wildflowers. It is also poisonous to horses, causing a neurological disorder called "chewing disease” which can be fatal once symptoms develop.
That said, yellow starthistle can be hand-pulled at any time in its lifespan. In its present dry and spiny stage, pulling the weeds can inflict pain, so be sure to wear gloves. Double-bag the plants and burn them later in the fall.
There is a fairly new herbicide (2009) on the market from Monterey Chemical called Star Thistle Killer.
Local pest control companies are also available to provide a one-time herbicide application for yellow starthistle. For more information, go to the Central Sierra Cooperative Extension website or call the Yellow Starthistle Leading Edge Project in the UC Cooperative Extension office at (530) 621-5533 or (209) 533-6993.
Information adapted from the University of California Integrated Pest Management Program and from “Yellow Starthistle: Brief Homeowner Information Sheet” by John E. Otto, Amador County Master Gardener.
Also see the following video on yellow starthistle control.