California’s premier farmland protection tool – the Williamson Act – is on the state’s budget-cutting chopping block and with it critical habitat needed for conservation.
A UC Davis study completed by a team of graduate students working with rangeland watershed specialist Ken Tate and other faculty found that 43 percent of the 10 million acres of “non-prime” land in the program, used primarily for cattle grazing, is also critical for statewide conservation goals. Conservation status was determined by the California Rangeland Conservation Coalition, a voluntary partnership between ranchers, environmentalists, government agencies, and others working to preserve and enhance the state’s rangeland areas.
For nearly 50 years the Williamson Act has provided private landowners with tax breaks in exchange for an agreement to keep land in agricultural or open space use for a specified period of time. The state compensated counties for the reduced property tax revenue but cut these subsidies in 2008 and again in 2009. Legislation passed in October (Assembly Bill 2530) allows counties to voluntarily implement modified contracts for reduced terms but does not ensure continuation of the Williamson Act beyond 2015.To understand how loss of the Williamson Act would affect ranchers and the environment, the researchers surveyed 700 members of the California Cattlemen’s Association in 2010. Their findings confirmed what many in the industry already know: ranching is a low-profit industry. Seventy percent of surveyed ranchers made less than $10,000 in 2009 and less than half reported making a profit. Seventy-two percent of the ranchers surveyed consider the Williamson Act to be “extremely important” to their operations.
Survey results also show that loss of Williamson Act funding at the state level would put critical habitat at risk for development. Forty-two percent of the surveyed ranchers said they would sell some or all of their rangeland without the tax relief. Fifty-six percent of the ranchers predict their sold land would be developed for non-agricultural uses.
“California’s rangelands provide clean drinking water, wildlife habitat, open space, and sequester carbon among many other critical ecosystem services,” Tate says. “We need tools such as the Williamson Act to conserve this important landscape.”
Study authors include doctoral students Sarah Myhre, Iara Lacher, Will Wetzel, Dale Manning, and Dan Swezey. They were participating in a collaborative project for an “IGERT” traineeship focused on rapid environmental change. The program is funded by the National Science Foundation. A concise policy brief on the survey was published in October 2010 and includes an illustrated map of the areas that could be affected by the demise of the Williamson Act. The policy brief and additional information about the program is available online at http://reach.ucdavis.edu/programs/williamsonact.html.
“It’s not only supporting the local beekeepers in our flagging economy, but imported honey can be problematic,” said bee breeder-geneticist Susan Cobey. “When you buy imported honey, you don’t always know what you’re getting. The ‘honey’ could be a mixture of corn syrup and water, or blends of honeylike products. It could contain pesticides or antibiotics. It could be mislabeled or from a different country or floral source than indicated on the label.”
“Also,” Cobey said, “you don’t know how it’s been treated after bottling. Heated honey, for example, breaks down the enzymes and causes the honey to lose flavor.”
Some unethical honey importers illegally mark their products or route them through other countries to avoid paying tariffs or to avoid public health safeguards.
A recent investigative report published in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer found that “big shipments of contaminated honey from China are frequently laundered in other countries — an illegal practice called ‘transshipping’ — in order to avoid U.S. import fees, protective tariffs or taxes imposed on foreign products that intentionally undercut domestic prices.”
“In a series of shipments in the past year, tons of honey produced in China passed through the ports of Tacoma and Long Beach, Calif., after being fraudulently marked as a tariff-free product of Russia,” according to the investigative report.
Investigative reporter Andrew Schneider found that laundered Chinese honey is often shipped into the United States from Australia, Cambodia, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mongolia, Russia, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam, then relabeled as coming from there instead of China.
The news is not new, and neither are the "stings." The Associated Press recently related that "a Chinese business agent for several honey import companies was arrested in Los Angeles Tuesday (Feb. 15) on federal charges filed in Chicago for allegedly conspiring to illegally import Chinese-origin honey that was falsely identified to avoid U.S. anti-dumping duties. The charges resulted from an investigation conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI)."
The business agent was accused of "conspiring between 2004 and 2006 to illegally import Chinese-origin honey that was falsely identified as originating in South Korea, Taiwan and Thailand to avoid U.S. antidumping duties."
The fact is, the United States doesn't produce enough honey to supply the demand. And due to the lower price, U.S. consumers may reach for the imported honey instead of the locally produced honey.
"Currently U.S. honey producers can supply about half the honey consumed in the U.S. annually,” said Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology, who writes and publishes the bimonthly newsletter, from the UC Apiaries. “We have to import substantial amounts of honey. If the foreign sources lower their prices far enough, our honey producers can't sell their honey at competitive, above cost-of-production prices. To maintain our market, we cannot allow low-cost honey to slip past the tariffs now in place to keep domestic sales moving."
The UC Davis bee experts expressed concern that antibiotics banned in the United States are used to treat diseases in bee hives in other countries, and then the honey is shipped here. For example, beekeepers in China sometimes use an animal antibiotic, chloramphenicol, in their hives. When humans ingest the honey, it can cause serious illness and sometimes death.
Show me the money? Or show me the honey?
Adult and juvenile California spotted owl
During a Sierra Nevada Adaptive Management Project (SNAMP) public meeting, a participant brought up the idea that California spotted owls preferred to nest near forest edges to be closer to foraging habitat and their prey. Principal investigator for the SNAMP Owl Team, Dr. Rocky Gutierrez, charged research fellow Casey Phillips and SNAMP Owl Team project leader Doug Tempel to research this question at SNAMP study sites in the Tahoe and Eldorado National Forests to see if this was true.
Owl researchers used field data that consisted of current vegetation maps derived from aerial photos and owl nest site location data gathered during their annual surveys. One nest tree site within a forest stand was randomly selected from each owl territory and one comparison location within those stands was randomly selected by a computer program. The distances between these two locations, relative to the nearest edge of the forest stand, were then compared statistically. A forest edge could be either a hard edge, such as an adjacent clear-cut; or a soft edge, such as a young, mixed-conifer forest. Elevation at each nest site was also considered because owls living at higher elevations prey on flying squirrels that typically inhabit forests with greater canopy cover. So, one might expect owl nest sites to be further from forest edges at higher elevations.
Researchers found no evidence that owls chose nest sites closer to forest edges than one would expect by chance, even though an edge location might bring them closer to a prey source. Results also showed that owls nested further from hard edges than expected. These results were consistent regardless of the elevation at a nest site.
It is possible that some timber harvest may have occurred after owls used a particular nest site, and before the vegetation maps were made. This scenario would have only lessened the distance to the nearest edge at these sites. This would also apply to the randomly selected points. Therefore, habitat alteration should not have affected the findings. Researchers speculate that limited availability of suitable nest trees within the stand may be as important of a determinant in the location of a nest site as any physical characteristics associated with its location.
Banded female California spotted owl
Where owls choose to nest has implications for forest managers and their management plans. This research suggests that creating forest edges would not enhance owl nest site choices and that other factors would likely influence owl nest site selection, such as the availability of large trees appropriate for nesting (i.e., those with cavities, broken tops, and mistletoe broom).
Information for this article comes from the following: Phillips, C.E., D.J. Tempel, and R.J. Gutierrez. 2010. Do California spotted owls select nest trees close to forest edges? Journal of Raptor Research 44:311-314.
The giant sequoias of the Sierra Nevada are the biggest and among the oldest trees on the planet. Some are 2,000 to 3,000 years old. Forestry scientists from the University of California and Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, want to learn more about how disturbance factors affect the health of these aging behemoths.
Growth-response studies to date show that tree vigor can increase following moderate intensity disturbances such as prescribed fire or mechanical fire-hazard reduction treatments. Less certain, however, is how giant sequoias respond to lower and higher intensity disturbances. This information is of critical importance to identify the tradeoffs involved in fire prevention treatments or evaluating management options.
This summer scientists will visit native groves within Giant Sequoia National Monument, where high-intensity disturbances occurred 20 years ago. Harvests conducted at that time removed all trees except for large giant sequoia, creating a forest structure similar to what you’d expect after a high-intensity wildfire. Following the harvests, there was considerable public concern over the fate of the giant sequoias remaining. Mortality and growth in these areas has not been assessed until now.The primary investigator on the project is Robert York, station manager of the UC Center for Forestry and an adjunct professor in the UC Berkeley Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management. York is an expert in giant sequoia ecology. His co-investigator on the project is Scott Sink, a professor in the Department of Natural Resources at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo. He has investigated differences between old growth and secondary forests and developed expertise in measurements of tree ring growth. The researchers will partner with forest ecologist Steve Hanna of Giant Sequoia National Monument in Porterville.
The scientists will also study tree ring widths taken from 33 giant sequoias at the UC-Whitaker Forest, where light burns and small tree removal occurred in 1967. York previously conducted field work on growth response in a giant sequoia forest subjected to a moderate-intensity disturbance. In addition to publishing a journal article on this work, researchers will hold a field trip for managers of giant sequoia groves, involve UC and CSU students in field and laboratory work, and develop a lab module for coursework at UC Berkeley.
The project is funded by a $10,000 grant intended to foster collaboration in higher education in California on issues affecting agriculture, natural resources or human sciences. In their grant proposal, the researchers said: “We have a unique opportunity to measure growth response in giant sequoia to these different levels of disturbance intensity, and therefore improve our understanding of this species’ complex life-history strategy, while informing management within giant sequoia groves.”
Synthetic soil fumigants such as chloropicrin and 1,3-D are used by some commercial growers to control soilborne pathogens, weeds and nematodes prior to planting strawberries, onions, tomatoes, eggplant, peppers and spinach. These fumigants and all other biocidal products with the potential to harm the environment and human health are highly-regulated by the federal Environmental Protection Agency, the state Department of Pesticide Regulation, and county agricultural commissioner's offices.
UC Cooperative Extension farm advisor Oleg Daugovish and his collaborators work hard to find effective, environmentally-safe and economically-viable ways to improve efficacy of fumigants and to investigate alternatives to soil fumigation. The Ventura County Cooperative Extension website has archived audio and visual presentations, which includes the following topics:
- Assessment of permeability of commercial tarps under a variety of cultural practices and in various soil and environmental conditions is expected to lead to better understanding of maximizing fumigant effectiveness while reducing emissions.
- Growing in substrate (soil-less culture) allows growers to produce crops with minimal plant disease and weeds without using fumigants.
- Heating soil using steam is a successful way to disinfest it. However, the process to generate steam in a field can be slow and very expensive. Researchers are working to find ways to improve speed while reducing cost.
- Most organisms, including plant pathogens, cannot survive without oxygen. Researchers are investigating an organic method to create anaerobic (oxygen-free) conditions to treat soil before planting.
- Planting mustard as a cover crop can provide many positive benefits, one of which is allelochemical compounds. These compounds found in mustard are similar to those found in fumigants. Current research shows it is possible to use this green biomass to prepare fields for production.
More environmentally-responsible research from Dr. Daugovish can be found here.
Injecting steam may be one way to disinfest soil without chemical fumigants.