California needs to increase the pace and scale of efforts to improve the health of its headwater forests — the source of two-thirds of the state's surface water supply. Management techniques including prescribed fire, managed wildfire and mechanical thinning can help rebuild resilience in these forests and prepare them for a challenging future.
These are among the key findings of a report released today by the PPIC Water Policy Center.
Decades of fire suppression have increased the density of trees and other fuels in headwater forests to uncharacteristically high levels and resulted in massive tree die-offs and large, severe wildfires. Improving forest health will require reducing the density of small trees and fuels on a massive scale.
This will require changes in the regulation, administration, and management of forests. Many of the recommended reforms in forest management can take place at low or no cost. But implementing them will require vision, determined leadership by state and federal officials, and the backing of an informed public.
“Actions to arrest the decline in forest health will take place far from urban centers,” said Van Butsic, a coauthor of the report and a UC Cooperative Extension specialist in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management at UC Berkeley. “But all Californians will benefit through continued supplies of high-quality water, natural environments, forest products and recreational landscapes.”
Changing the way forestry work is funded — and in some cases securing new funding — will also be needed to help expedite forest improvements. The authors suggest reforms that will enable the private sector and government agencies to use existing tools and funding opportunities more effectively and collaborate more easily on larger-scale management projects. One key recommendation is to find opportunities to combine revenue-generating timber harvesting with other management work to help offset the costs of efforts to improve forest health.
“Making forest health a top land management priority for public and private lands would be a critical first step in reversing the degraded condition of the state's headwater forests,” said report coauthor Henry McCann, a research associate with the PPIC Water Policy Center.
The report, Improving the Health of California's Headwater Forests, was supported with funding from the S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation and the US Environmental Protection Agency. In addition to Butsic and McCann, the coauthors are Jeffrey Mount and Brian Gray, both senior fellows at the PPIC Water Policy Center; Jodi Axelson, a UC Cooperative Extension specialist at UC Berkeley; Yufang Jin, an assistant professor in the Department of Land, Air, and Water Resources at UC Davis; Scott Stephens, professor of fire science and co-director of the Center for Forestry and Center for Fire Research and Outreach at UC Berkeley; and William Stewart, a UC Cooperative Extension specialist and co-director of the Center for Forestry and Center for Fire Research and Outreach at the UC Berkeley.
Even as the digital revolution has changed the world, there are thousands of California residents in rural areas that do not have an internet connection adequate for engaging in modern technology.
With offices in all California counties and several research centers located in remote locations, UC Agriculture and Natural Resources Vice President Glenda Humiston and UC ANR Chief Innovation Officer Gabe Youtsey believe UC ANR is in a position to forge partnerships with government, industry, and other academic organizations to connect rural Californians with high-speed internet.
Youtsey testified at a rural broadband informational hearing in Sacramento on Aug. 28 held by the Assembly Select Committee on Economic Development and Investment in Rural California, chaired by Rep. Anna Caballero (D-Salinas), and the Communications and Conveyance Committee, chaired by Rep. Miguel Santiago (D-Los Angeles.)
In his testimony, Youtsey characterized the presence of UC ANR in California for the lawmakers.
“We are a network, not a place,” he said. “We have more than 1,500 very applied academics; I call them academics with muddy boots because our job is really to turn science into on-the-ground solutions.”
While it is potentially expensive to bring broadband internet connectivity to every resident of California – from the far reaches of Modoc County in the north to remote desert communities near the Mexican border in the south – those communities' lack of high-speed internet is also exacting a high medical, social, and educational cost.
“High-speed connectivity is needed in rural communities not just for entertainment,” Youtsey said. “It's about online education, medical care, banking and businesses. Digital inclusion is an issue of economic justice.”
Youtsey likens the spread of broadband internet to a successful initiative in the 1930s to promote rural electrification in the U.S. The program was managed by the U.S. Rural Electrification Administration, one of the agencies created under the New Deal, President Franklin Roosevelt's sweeping legislation that helped lift the United States out of the Great Depression.
The government's role in “internetification” could be an investment in infrastructure, Youtsey said.
“It is very expensive to bring wired internet connectivity to places where it has never been before,” Youtsey said at the hearing.
At one UC ANR location, the UC Sierra Foothills Research and Extension Center, laying a wired connection was cost prohibitive.
“The internet provider had to beam a signal from Marysville, up to the top of the Sutter Buttes, and then beam 26 miles across the valley to our location. That was about a $150,000 one-time set-up cost. That's just not realistic in many cases,” he said.
Youtsey said UC ANR would like to leverage its remote locations as launch points for public-private partnerships for rural broadband, a plan that dovetails an initiative now being considered by state legislators.
Assembly Member Eduardo Garcia (D-Coachella) has introduced AB 1665, known as the Internet for All Now bill, which aims to ensure social and economic equity for all Californians in the digital age. This bill would approve funding by Dec, 31, 2022, for infrastructure projects that would provide broadband access to no less than 98 percent of California households.
“We support passage of the bill, but we're not going to stand still,” Youtsey said.
Already, UC ANR is creating partnerships with rural communities to provide shared internet connectivity. One project underway is located at the UC Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Centernear Parlier, a 15,000-resident community in rural southeast Fresno County that has one of the state's highest percentages of Latinos. After connecting the center with fast one-gigabit speeds, UC ANR is planning to outfit all 330 acres with outdoor wireless coverage to support research and innovation. The next step will be to pilot a public-private partnership with the local community to work with the center and a vendor to share costs and make affordable broadband upgrades for both the residents in the community and UC researchers.
Another project is located at the UC Lindcove Research and Extension Center at the eastern edge of the San Joaquin Valley near Exeter, an agricultural city of 10,000 near the Sierra Nevada foothills.
“We don't have this site lit up yet. We're working hard on beaming a signal from Visalia, 25 miles away,” Youtsey said. “Once we have it here, we're in the heart of the state's citrus region. We're surrounded by commercial citrus farmers who all struggle immensely with getting broadband. We hope to be part of the solution.”
What's one way to combat food waste, save money, and expand food knowledge? Ask a UC Master Food Preserver.
Or rather, have a group of dedicated volunteers do a hands-on demo at a CSA pick-up location. Tanaka Farms, located in Orange County, did just that. The farm's Community Supported Agriculture program delivers more than 1,600 produce boxes a month to a subscriber base that is highly motivated to prepare and cook food. Educating their customers is a mission of Tanaka Farms CSA as well as a tenet of the UC Master Food Preserver Program.
Additionally, Master Food Preserver volunteers held demonstrations at the farm's Strawberry and Corn Festivals. There they demonstrated dehydrating strawberry fruit leather, making strawberry freezer jam, canning corn relish and making corn broth.
These off-site demos are a prime example of bringing safe, reputable information directly to the public. Preserve today, relish tomorrow!
Late in August, the Helena Fire closed six schools in Trinity County and forced 2,000 people out of their homes. Ultimately, 70 houses were destroyed and Gov. Brown issued a state of emergency in the mountain community.
In the midst of the tragedy, UC Cooperative Extension nutrition education specialist Margarita Alvord and program supervisor Janessa Hartmann quickly developed a plan to serve the children they couldn't reach during the school closures and organized activities to support local families. Alvord brought together several organizations, including Human Response Network, First 5 Trinity County, and Weaverville Parks and Recreation District to address the needs of the fire-stricken community.
The agencies developed a plan to provide youth activities, including physical activity, nutrition education, arts and crafts, and games. They served healthy lunches and provided three days of programming at the Local Assistance Center in Weaverville.
"We received significant positive feedback from parents, teachers and community members, showing Trinity County's strength, resilience and solidarity," Hartmann said. "The staff at UCCE Trinity County seized the opportunity to ensure the students, families, and community displaced during the fires were offered opportunities to learn and have fun in a safe place."