How did we get here and where shall we venture together?
This spring, the 100th California Naturalist class is being offered in Sonoma County – the very same county where we first piloted the curriculum. The UC Agriculture and Natural Resources California Naturalist Program is designed to introduce Californians to the wonders of our unique ecology and engage the public in study and stewardship of California's natural communities. The program mission is to foster a diverse community of naturalists and promote stewardship of California's natural resources through education and service. California Naturalist certification courses combine classroom and field experience in science, problem-solving, communication training and community service. Students are taught by an instructor and team of experts who are affiliated with the University of California, local nature-based centers, community colleges, land trusts, or natural resource focused agencies such as California State Parks and cooperating “friends groups.”
What inspired the first California Naturalist class? Georgia, Florida, Texas and 22 other states have Master Naturalist-like programs, so why not California? After all, California is a global biodiversity hotspot filled with nature enthusiasts. It took a volunteer, Julia Fetherston, to get excited about the potential for a California program before our director Adina Merenlender was convinced to attend the 2005 National Master Naturalist Annual Conference in Estes Park, Colo. She was impressed with the impact these programs were having and decided to see what we could do in the Golden State. A good deal of effort followed to advance the cause within UC, secure grant funding, write the California Naturalist Handbook, develop ways to work with organizations across the state, and build a team to run California Naturalist. In 2012, we officially launched the program with five intrepid institutional partners (Santa Rosa Junior College/Pepperwood Foundation, Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History, UC Santa Cruz Arboretum, UC Berkeley Sagehen Creek Field Station, and Santa Barbara Botanical Garden). Four years later California Naturalist received Program of the Year from the national network, the Alliance of Natural Resource Outreach and Service Programs.
The 100th California Naturalist class is being offered at Stewards of the Coast and Redwood this spring. Stewards of the Coast and Redwoods is a non-profit, environmental and interpretive organization that works in partnership with California State Parks in the Russian River Sector of the Sonoma Mendocino Coast District to support volunteer, education and stewardship programs. Participants in this year's spring class have worked hard on a wide range of capstone projects, including multiple wildlife monitoring citizen science projects, improving fish habitat in the watershed, and creating educational materials on ticks, wetland birds, water quality and more. Co-instructors Meghan Walla-Murphy and David Berman have been teaching California Naturalist courses since 2013, first with Occidental Arts and Ecology Center and now with Stewards. Meghan is the author of Fishing on the Russian River and a well-respected wildlife tracker whose workshops are not to be missed. David is an extraordinary environmental educator, watershed expert, and Project Wild facilitator with the Sonoma County Water Agency.
Now that we have 100 classes under our belt, oh, the places we can go! California Naturalist is a community of practice started deliberately with the goal of gaining natural history knowledge. We are working on releasing a citizen science challenge to provide an opportunity for California Naturalists to discover more about California's ecosystems - Discovery!
Surveys show that California Naturalists feel more empowered to address environmental challenges after their training and knowing they can lean on their fellow naturalists. We would like to know more about how California Naturalists are participating in civic engagement. With a new volunteer management system on the horizon, we plan to learn more about the many ways Naturalists are becoming involved in issues that affect their communities. - Action!
In particular, what activities are Naturalists doing that will help communities and natural ecosystems be more resilient to climate change – improving habitat connectivity, restoring riparian areas, or pre/post fire management? We are looking for support to start an advanced training aimed at helping today's climate stewards learn more about climate science and adaptation to support their efforts on climate-wise - Stewardship!
Congratulations to the graduates of the 100th California Naturalist class and all those who went before you.
Have you seen the blaze of super blooms popping up alongside orchards and field crops in our rich agricultural Central Valley? The corridors of poppies, tidy tips, yarrow, baby blue eyes, and redbud planted by farmers, dazzle us with color, but they serve a purpose, too.
The flowers provide nectar and pollen for the pollinators, including honey bees, bumble bees and carpenter bees. Look beyond the buzz, and you'll see other beneficial insects, such as lady beetles (ladybugs) and their larvae devouring aphids, and tiny parasitoid wasps preying on stinkbugs and armyworms. They're (unpaid) pest control agents at work.
Farmers are taking notice. Knowing that most beneficial insects rely on floral resources to survive and reproduce, they're bordering their field crops with strips of flowering plants. In addition to gaining pollination and pest control services, they're gaining financial benefits. University of California researchers documented that pest control and pollination benefits will help pay the cost of a 1,000-foot-long-flowering hedge planting within 7 to 16 years. Their research, Pest Control and Pollination Cost-Benefit Analysis of Hedgerow Restoration in a Simplified Agricultural Landscape, was published last year in the Journal of Economic Entomology.
Other benefits of field edge habitat plantings can include weed exclusion, air quality improvement, erosion reduction, wind protection, shade, and wildlife habitat.
What plants are best to attract beneficial insects to farms and gardens? The UC Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program (UC IPM) has just published a list of insectary plants on its website. The list includes native California perennial flowering shrubs and wildflowers suited for field-edge plantings.
UC IPM defines insectary plants as “those grown to attract, feed, and shelter insect parasites (parasitoids) and predators to enhance biological pest control. Insectary plants provide nectar and pollen for adult natural enemies to consume. Even if pests are abundant, certain natural enemies may be less abundant, shorter-lived, or produce fewer offspring unless nectar and pollen resources are available. Insectary plants can also host alternate prey that will feed the natural enemies and keep them abundant locally.”
Are you concerned about rodents and food safety issues from hedgerows plantings? Not to worry. A recent study by UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) researchers found minimal adverse influence on larger agricultural landscapes. A bonus: Migratory songbirds, like goldfinches, often seek out the seeds from the flowering plants in the hedgerows and offer their own display of color. What about weeds? Yes, they can be problematic. Be sure they're well-controlled before planting wildflowers; think soil solarization and herbicides.
Another UC ANR-associated study, Determinants of Field Edge Habitat Restoration on Farms in California's Sacramento Valley, published this year in the Journal of Environmental Management, found that landowners and farmers familiar with the benefits were more likely to adopt these small-scale habitat restoration plantings on their farms. Also important is technical support from agencies such as the USDA, UC Cooperative Extension Service, and the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, and the sharing of information from farmer-to-farmer and neighbor-to-neighbor.
Something else we can all do: Share your photos of field-edge habitat plantings and your observations on social media. They tell an important story and can inspire landowners to diversify farmlands. This will help drive home the point that providing flowers for beneficial insects, including bees and natural enemies, will build resilience in our farming systems. Natural pollination and pest control services help counter the disastrous effects of colony collapse disorder and other honey bee maladies, and pesticide resistance.
To help California forest property owners adapt to the changing climate, UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) has produced a 13-page peer-reviewed paper that outlines actions owners can take to sustain their forests' value even when temperatures rise.
“Managers of forest land have always had to adapt to changing conditions – such as markets, urban encroachment, droughts and floods,” said Susie Kocher, UC Cooperative Extension forestry and natural resources advisor. “We wrote this paper to help forest managers better understand the evolving science of climate change and how they can help their forests adapt to the climate of the future.”
Forests are shaped by the climates in which they grow. The current rapid pace of climate change has not happened for thousands of years, according to climate scientists. Nevertheless, the authors assure forest landowners that there are land management decisions they can make to ensure the resiliency of their resources, and perhaps even improve them.
“Some trees may grow faster under the warmer conditions we experience with climate change,” Kocher said, “especially those at highest elevation where there is adequate precipitation.”
The paper details the solid scientific evidence that indicates the rise in global average temperatures over the past 100 years. The temperatures, it says, “will likely continue to rise in the future, with impacts on natural and human systems.”
The document provides specific recommendations for care of three common types of forest in California: mixed conifer, oak woodland and coastal redwood forests.
Mixed conifer forests – typically composed of white fir, sugar pine, ponderosa pine, incense cedar and California black oak – are susceptible to moisture stress caused by warmer temperatures and reduced snow and rain. The drier conditions make the trees more vulnerable to fire and insect attack.
The drought of 2010-2016 has already had a substantial impact on mixed conifer forests in the Sierra Nevada. Aerial detection surveys show that more than 102 million trees have died since 2010; more than 62 million died in 2016 alone.
The UC ANR climate change adaptation paper suggests reducing competition for water by thinning trees and managing for species and structural diversity. The authors suggest property owners consider the source of seedlings when planting new trees.
“Select seedlings adapted to a slightly lower elevation or latitude than your property,” Kocher said. “These would be more likely to thrive under the 3- to 5-degree warmer temperatures we expect in 50 years or so.”
Oak woodlands are widely distributed and diverse in California, which gives them moderate to high capacity to adapt to climate change. Mature oaks are more resilient than young trees and seedlings.
One potential impact of climate change on oak woodlands is increasing precipitation variability and increasing spring rains. The moisture change could increase the spread and prevalence of Sudden Oak Death (SOD), a disease caused by a bacterium that was introduced into California from outside the U.S. SOD is primarily a concern in areas with tanoaks in Central to Northern California coastal areas.
“To reduce the spread of sudden oak death, land owners should prevent the movement of infected leaves, wood and soil,” according to the paper.
The primary concern for coastal redwood forests is the decline in fog. Fog frequency in coastal redwoods is 33 percent lower now compared to the early 20th Century. Less fog and rain plus warmer temperatures would leave coastal areas where redwoods typically thrive drier. But that doesn't mean redwoods will disappear. Areas with deep soil and areas close to streams and rivers may provide refuge for redwood forests.
The new publication, Adapting Forests to Climate Change, can be downloaded free from the UC ANR Catalog. It is the 25th in the Forest Stewardship series, developed to help forest landowners in California learn how to manage their land. It was written by Adrienne Marshall, a doctoral student at the University of Idaho; Susie Kocher, UC Cooperative Extension forestry and natural resources advisor; Amber Kerr, postdoctoral scholar with the UC John Muir Institute of the Environment; and Peter Stine, U.S. Forest Service.
A mountain lion entered an Orange County corral last week where nine pygmy goats belonging to members of the Trabuco Trailblazers 4-H Club were housed. Only one goat survived the encounter.
UC Cooperative Extension human-wildlife interactions advisor Niamh Quinn said she was heartbroken, but not surprised.
“We know that this is happening all over California,” Quinn said. “Sixty to 85 percent of depredation permits are issued to hobby farmers and ranchers who seek to kill wild animals that threaten their livestock.”
The loss of the goats is a sad reminder for Californians to be aware of wildlife predators in their areas and make sure that livestock enclosures are secure against them. The Mountain Lion Foundation has information for keeping livestock safe in mountain lion country, including plans for inexpensive lightweight enclosures that work well in Southern California. Quinn — along with UC Davis veterinarian Winston Vickers, UC Cooperative Extension specialist in youth science literacy Martin Smith, and the Mountain Lion Foundation — is developing a comprehensive 4-H curriculum focused on protecting both livestock and wildlife.
“This loss would have never happened if they had a properly constructed pen,” Quinn said. “The pen had holes and was held together in places with zip ties. 4-H members have to understand what predators are in their areas, how the animals can get into enclosures – whether they will dig, if they jump and how high.”
The killing of eight goats and injuries to the ninth goat by a single mountain lion may seem overly vicious, but the animal was acting according to instinct. Once inside a pen or paddock, a mountain lion will often kill until all movement stops, according to the Mountain Lion Foundation. Lions are most vulnerable to injury when taking down natural prey like deer that have lethal antlers and hooves. In a natural setting, a deer herd will run away, leaving a lion with just one catch to be concerned about. Not so for penned or fenced-in livestock.
The 4-H curriculum now being developed will empower 4-H youth to protect both predators and livestock by understanding wildlife behavior and proper animal husbandry practices. The curriculum will be available to all 4-H clubs in California – which include 27,444 youth enrolled in livestock projects – and to 4-H clubs nationwide.
In the video, a mountain lion returns to the goat pen the evening after
killing eight goats, but cannot re-enter. (Video: Winston Vickers)
The night after the Trabuco Canyon pygmy goat attack, the same mountain lion was caught on camera returning to the pen, but he was unable to enter the shored up enclosure. Vickers said the lion shouldn't cause any more problems.
“It is likely that the lion may come by the area as part of his normal territorial circulation periodically, but I would not expect further losses given the additional pen improvements that are planned, and I would not expect any greater risk to people at the location versus any other in the Santa Anas (canyons of Orange County),” Vickers said.
Vickers said he hopes that the 4-H members will not choose to kill the mountain lion responsible for the late March attack.
“The lions in their area are in serious trouble, and the loss of a single lion could affect their genetic viability for years to come,” Vickers said.
Both agricultural and household pesticides can poison people if they are not properly handled. In agriculture, poisoning most often results from pesticide mixing and loading, and the most harm occurs due to spills, splashes and equipment failure. In the home, many pesticide poisoning incidents involve children swallowing pesticides, including garden products, disinfectant cleaners, or other chemicals used to control pests.
One of the most important things you can do to prevent pesticide poisoning is to follow the instructions on the pesticide label. Labels address critical information about how to use a pesticide safely, including the kind of personal protective equipment (PPE) you should wear to prevent overexposure, how much of the product to apply, the minimum time you must wait to enter the area after applying the pesticide (the restricted entry interval), and the minimum time that must pass between application and harvest (preharvest interval).
Labels also include important signal words such as “Danger,” “Warning,” or “Caution” that indicate how acutely toxic the chemical is to humans, as well as directions to avoid pesticide contamination of sensitive areas such as schools and hospitals. These instructions are meant to protect anyone who is at risk of being exposed to hazardous pesticide residues. It is essential to thoroughly read and understand the pesticide label before working with the pesticide, and to carefully comply with label instructions throughout the process. The UC IPM guide to Understanding Pesticide Labels for Making Proper Applications can help you do this, and is available in both English and Spanish.
If you apply pesticides in or around your home, be sure to store them properly and keep them out of the reach of children. Keep in mind that even mothballs may look like candy to very young children. It is illegal and unsafe to store pesticides in food or drink containers, which can easily fool people into consuming them and being poisoned. According to the California Department of Pesticide Regulation, these mistakes caused 62 incidents of child poisoning from pesticide ingestion in California in 2014, and 47 of those cases involved children under six years of age.
To learn more about poisoning and how to prevent it, consider visiting the following resources:
- Center for Disease Control and Prevention Leading Causes of Death Reports
- California Poison Control
- National Poison Prevention Week website
- National Pesticide Information Center
- UC IPM online course: Proper Pesticide Use to Avoid Illegal Residues