Besides their beauty, aspen groves are valued for providing myriad ecological services. The groves add species and landscape diversity to the Sierra Nevada. They offer higher water retention than the adjoining conifer forest, plus wildlife habitat and forage for livestock and wildlife.
Aspens are native to the Sierra Nevada and other areas with cool summer temperatures. Groves are typically clonal colonies that grew from a single seedling and spread when roots come to the surface and start a new tree. Each tree lives 40 to 150 years above the ground, but the root system can be much older; one colony in Utah is said to be 80,000 years old.
In the Sierra Nevada, aspen stands have been declining in vigor and sometimes died because of pressures from encroaching conifers, according to Malcolm North, research scientist with the U.S. Forest Service's Pacific Southwest Research Station in Davis.
Aspens thrive in bright sunlight. Without regular fires, conifers eventually shade them out. More than 90 percent of aspen stands in forested areas of California have some conifer shading. Removing conifers with mechanical equipment to increase sunlight in aspen groves is an effective technique to restore stands, but land managers have been reluctant to thin out conifers because of concern about impacts on nearby mountain streams.
A recent collaborative research project involving UC Cooperative Extension, UC Davis and the U.S. Forest Service confirmed that conifer removal to restore aspen stands can be conducted without degrading aquatic ecosystems.
“This project is an excellent example of the value of collaboration between the university, U.S. Forest Service, and stakeholders to integrate best management practices and best available science for the restoration of critical habitats in our national forests,” Tate said.
The scientists evaluated two aspen restoration projects next to mountain streams in the Lassen National Forest. Prior to conifer tree removal, they evaluated stream temperature, water quality, stream shade, overstory tree canopy cover, aquatic insects, soil compaction and soil moisture. Followup data collection took place two to seven years after the conifers were removed from the stands.
Water quality did not change following the timber harvest. Removing conifers reduced canopy cover, which resulted in an increase of sunlight on the stream, but there was no corresponding increase in water temperature. Soil moisture increased in stands where conifers were removed, compared to aspen stands that were untreated.
“It is a real win-win when we can use contemporary timber management strategies to restore aspen in the absence of a natural fire regime, and also safe-guard the health of our aquatic ecosystems,” Tate said.
An aspen stand released from conifer encroachment. The fallen conifers are in the foreground.
University of California Cooperative Extension nutrition educator Marc Sanchez brings the fearsome beast with him on school visits to classrooms in Merced and Stanislaus counties.
“Let me introduce to you the Green Monster,” Sanchez says to a classroom of second-graders at Yamato Colony Elementary School in Livingston. “Is anybody scared?”
“Noooo,” the kids roar in defiance of the beast.
The school visits are just one of the ways UC researchers, educators and cooperative extension representatives across the state are encouraging children and their families to eat healthier. They also are introducing them to fresh produce, doing cooking demonstrations and helping school districts prepare healthier meals.
About 17 percent of American children and adolescents are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. During the last 30 years, obesity rates have more than doubled for children ages 6 to 11 and tripled for adolescents ages 12 to 19. It's an ominous statistic that could be improved if children ate more fruits and veggies.
Connecting schoolkids to farmers
UC's nutrition education programs try to promote better eating habits by connecting schools to local farms and farmers. Known as farm-to-school programs, students learn about where their food comes from and how it's grown — and in the process, learn to eat a balanced diet. Often, the children then become the conduit that brings healthier eating to the whole family.
“UC is on the forefront of these programs,” said Theresa Spezzano, UC Cooperative Extension director for Stanislaus and Merced counties and a nutrition, family and consumer science adviser. “The majority of the work is in some sort of school-based program.”
Nutrition education from UC reaches children, families and classrooms in nearly every part of the state.
Cooperative Extension, part of UC's Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources, runs two federal programs for low-income families in California — the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program and the CalFresh Nutrition Education Program. Together they reach more than 180,000 people.
Changing the corner store
At UCLA, public health professor Alex Ortega leads an effort to make more healthy food available in low-income urban areas by working with neighborhood convenience stores to replace junk food with fresh fruits and vegetables.
The project is based in East Los Angeles — a predominately Mexican-American community where diabetes and obesity rates are high. Four stores have agreed to restock their shelves and refrigerators. In return, storeowners are being trained in how to market fresh fruits and vegetables. There is also an outreach program that uses local high school students to educate nearby residents about healthy eating and what's available at the transformed markets.
“It's just one part of a very complex puzzle. We understand other things have to be going on, including promoting more physical activity,” said Ortega, director of the UCLA Center for Population Health and Health Disparities that is funded by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. “Providing access to healthy food is significant part of the puzzle. If people don't have access and health education, you can't expect the community to be eating healthy.”
Ortega said data are being gathered on the effectiveness of the five-year project in East Los Angeles. But even if they don't find extensive shifts in behavior, “just getting people in the community thinking about eating healthier is a major step,” he said.
Education + access = healthy choices
Although there have been few long-term studies on the effectiveness of nutrition education programs, one small study of four schools in Sacramento and Stanislaus counties suggests that farm-to-school education and access to healthier food can help lower obesity rates among children.
The schools are taking part in a UC Davis and Cooperative Extension program called Shaping Healthy Choices, which includes an exercise component, along with nutrition education and access to more fresh produce.
That kind of multi-component program is “a promising model for how schools can play a role in promoting healthy food choices and reducing childhood obesity,” said Sheri Zidenberg-Cherr, co-director of the Center for Nutrition in Schools at UC Davis, who helped lead the study.
In Sanchez's experience, the best way to reach kids is to make eating healthy food a positive experience and one they are likely to remember.
“I can tell them, ‘eat this because it's better for you,' but they hear that all the time,” he said. “I want to do something that catches their eye. What's more appealing, calling it a Green Monster or a spinach drink?”
View a slide show below to experience Marc Sanchez' interaction with children as he teaches healthful eating:/h3>/h3>/h3>
Water sloshes from a fill hole atop the plastic tank and strikes the dirt road in puffs of dust. With weathered hands, short nails and a once green felt cowboy hat, Adam Cline motors the water truck through the anxious herd. Piled on the floor beside him are several 40 pound bags of soybean meal, a more affordable protein supplement that protects the herd from malnourishment. Cline is fortunate: his cautious management strategies over the last two years will likely carry this operation through yet another drought year, without having to sell off any cows.
“Every rancher is equipped for an average drought,” he tells me. “But a drought like this is really hard to manage for… Emotionally it's like a battle every day to try to figure out how you can afford to feed your cows, how you're going to get water to them.”
Letters from the Dust Bowl
With as little as a quarter of the average rain in 2013, the drought in this region has now entered its third year, breaking records on a regular basis. And it may be the worst here in 500 years. Many of the University of California researchers and farm advisors helping the state's agriculture industry prepare for the coming dry summer months are comparing the water shortage to the historic Dust Bowl of the 1930s, when many Oklahoma farmers and ranchers left their homes in hopes of a better life in California. In her "Letters from the Dust Bowl," Caroline Henderson captured the voices of agriculture's most difficult era in America.
In honor of Henderson's work, a team of UC researchers is developing a project that will use digital tools to capture the voices of the farming and ranching families who are today battling the worst drought they have witnessed. On one front, the project, called Farmer and Rancher Voices from the Drought, is cultivating a following through a new Facebook group. Later print and multimedia stories will be added to a UC Davis drought page.
Today, however, we are launching a new audio component, where farmers and ranchers are interviewed and recorded by a friend, colleague or loved one. They document their stories of the drought, explaining what practices have worked for them so that others dealing with these struggles can better cope. Through the broad 100-year Cooperative Extension effort at the University of California, faculty, staff and researchers are reaching out to the extensive network of farming and ranching families across the state, encouraging each of them to share their stories.
How the 'Voices' project works
The audio component of the project is hosted on SoundCloud, where anyone can easily record and upload an audio track to share. Our team is moderating the SoundCloud group and approving each recording. The tracks will be shared across our social media and web pages, where they will hopefully gain the attention of media, as well as the general public.
Here are a few guidelines to smooth the process:
- Create an account. Recording is easy, but first you must go to the SoundCloud site and sign up. You can also download and record with their smart phone app.
- Research your strategy. StoryCorps, a nonprofit project, has an excellent instruction guide for helping you record your interview. While you're there, we encourage you to also upload your finished story to the StoryCorps DIY page, where it will be preserved at the Library of Congress.
- Keep it short. By limiting your recording to three minutes, your story will keep listeners interested while maintaining its most essential parts.
- Frame your conversation around questions. Have your interviewer select from this list and add follow-ups:
- Provide your name, what you do and some background information on your farming or ranching operation.
- How has your operation been affected by the drought?
- What have been your management practices in response?
- What will you do differently if it continues?
- Is this the worst drought year you've experienced?
- What are your stocking and supplemental feed rates? Or how much land is planted versus fallow? Explain.
- What will your operation look like next year if the drought continues?
- How has this affected you and your family?
- What advice would you give others in similar situations?
- What should those outside California know about this drought?
- Finally, name it. Once you have successfully loaded your conversation onto our SoundCloud group, let us know more about yourself. Send us your feedback and some details so we can follow up: an email address or phone number, the storyteller's name, the interviewer's name, the company name (if you're affiliated with an agricultural organization) and a photo.
Why is the name Hilgard held in such high regard? Eugene W. Hilgard played a pivotal role in the development of California agriculture, from analyzing the Central Valley's potential as fertile farmland to promoting quality in the state's burgeoning wine industry.
Born in 1833 in Germany, Hilgard is considered the father of modern soil science in the United States. After stints at the University of Mississippi and University of Michigan, in 1875 Hilgard came to UC Berkeley as dean of the College of Agriculture and served as founding director of UC's Agricultural Experiment Station.
Hilgard began his 30-year UC career as a one-man operation, visiting farms throughout the state, inviting growers to send him their questions and answering their letters personally. He helped to inventory the state's diverse soils and taught farmers to better understand them. Under his supervision, soil maps were produced for the first time for many California counties. His research helped show how to remove salts from the alkali soils in the Central Valley, turning what was once barren land into one of the world's most productive farming regions.
With California agriculture now a $45 billion industry and Cooperative Extension celebrating its centennial, it's a good time to toast someone who helped lay the foundation for that success: Eugene Hilgard.
Now growing profusely in California forests, on roadsides, and wildlands, brooms:
- Crowd out out desirable vegetation
- Form impenetrable thickets that limit access to some areas
- Shade out tree seedlings, and make reforestation difficult
- Burn readily, increasing the intensity of fire, and carry fire to the tree canopy
- Are toxic to cattle and horses and unpalatable to most wildlife
- Produce abundant, long-lived seed
- Are able to fix atmospheric nitrogen, giving broom a competitive advantage over native plants
Management of these and other weeds are presented in the recently published second edition of Forest and Right-of-Way Pest Control. Invasive species that create a dangerous wildfire hazard and crowd out desirable vegetation and wildlife are examples of why this book emphasizes vegetation management and pesticide handling, including correct equipment calibration and effective herbicide application. The second edition also provides broader coverage of insects, plant pathogens, vertebrate pests, and the various practices to manage them, recognizing that lands commonly have multiple uses and when and how pests are managed depends on many considerations with sometimes conflicting goals.
Experts with Cal-Fire, Caltrans, PG&E, USDA Forest Service, private industry, the University of California (UC) Berkeley and Davis campuses, UC County Cooperative Extension offices, and the California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) contributed to Forest and Right-of-Way Pest Control, prepared by UC ANR's Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program.
Forest and Right-of-Way Pest Control is available for $35 online in the UC ANR Catalog. The table of contents and more information about the book are available on the UC IPM website. You can also preview and electronically search the contents on Google Books.