Livestock Owners Asked to Weigh in on Fire Impact

Livestock Owners Should Participate in Fire Survey

By Pam Kan-Rice, UC Agriculture & Natural Resources

Preparing a farm for wildfire is more complicated when it involves protecting live animals. To assess the impact of wildfire on livestock production, University of California researchers are asking livestock producers to participate in a survey. 

People raising cattle, sheep, goats, poultry, swine, horses, llamas, alpacas, aquaculture species or other production-oriented animals in California who have experienced at least one wildfire on their property within the last 10 years are asked to participate in the FIRE survey.

“We will aim to quantify the impact of wildfires in different livestock production systems,” said Beatriz Martinez Lopez, director of the Center for Animal Disease Modeling and Surveillance in the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. “The idea is also to create a risk map showing areas more likely to experience wildfires with high economic impact in California.

“This economic and risk assessment, to the best of our knowledge, has not been done, and we hope to identify potential actions that ranchers can take to reduce or mitigate their losses if their property is hit by wildfire.”

Martínez López, who is also an associate professor in the Department of Medicine & Epidemiology at UC Davis, is teaming up with UC Cooperative Extension livestock and natural resources advisors and wildfire specialists around the state to conduct the study.

“Right now, we have no good estimate of the real cost of wildfire to livestock producers in California,” said Rebecca Ozeran, UC Cooperative Extension livestock and natural resources advisor for Fresno and Madera counties. “Existing UCCE forage loss worksheets cannot account for the many other ways that wildfire affects livestock farms and ranches. As such, we need producers’ input to help us calculate the range of immediate and long-term costs of wildfire.”

Stephanie Larson, UC Cooperative Extension livestock and range management advisor for Sonoma and Marin counties, agreed, saying, “The more producers who participate, the more accurate and useful our results will be.”

“We hope the survey results will be used by producers across the state to prepare for wildfire,” said Matthew Shapero, UC Cooperative Extension livestock and natural resources advisor for Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, “And by federal and private agencies to better allocate funds for postfire programs available to livestock producers.”

The survey is online at http://bit.ly/FIREsurvey. It takes 15 to 30 minutes, depending on the number of properties the participant has that have been affected by wildfire.

“Survey answers are completely confidential and the results will be released only as summaries in which no individual’s answers can be identified,” said Martínez López. “This survey will provide critical information to create the foundation for future fire economic assessments and management decisions.”

Drought Takes Big Toll on Sierra Nevada Mountains

New Aerial Survey Identifies More Than 100 Million Dead Trees in California

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently announced the U.S. Forest Service has identified an additional 36 million dead trees across California since its last aerial survey in May 2016. This brings the total number of dead trees since 2010 to over 102 million on 7.7 million acres of California’s drought-stricken forests. In 2016 alone, 62 million trees have died, representing more than a 100 percent increase in dead trees across the state from 2015. Millions of additional trees are weakened and expected to die in the coming months and years.

With public safety as its most pressing concern, the U.S. Forest Service has committed significant resources to help impacted forests, including reprioritizing $43 million in California in fiscal year 2016 to conduct safety-focused restoration along roads, trails and recreation sites. However, limited resources and a changing climate hamper the Forest Service’s ability to address tree mortality in California. USDA Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and Forest Service officials are seriously hampered not only by short-term budgets passed by Congress, but also a broken budget for the Forest Service that sees an increasing amount of resources going to firefighting while less is invested in restoration and forest health, Vilsack said.

“These dead and dying trees continue to elevate the risk of wildfire, complicate our efforts to respond safely and effectively to fires when they do occur, and pose a host of threats to life and property across California,” Vilsack said. “USDA has made restoration work and the removal of excess fuels a top priority, but until Congress passes a permanent fix to the fire budget, we can’t break this cycle of diverting funds away from restoration work to fight the immediate threat of the large unpredictable fires caused by the fuel buildups themselves.”

 

dead trees sierra nevada california drought
Bark Beetles have contributed to tree die-off in the Sierra Nevada forest due to the drought in California

The majority of the 102 million dead trees are located in ten counties in the southern and central Sierra Nevada region. The Forest Service also identified increasing mortality in the northern part of the state, including Siskiyou, Modoc, Plumas and Lassen counties.

Five consecutive years of severe drought in California, a dramatic rise in bark beetle infestation and warmer temperatures are leading to these historic levels of tree die-off. As a result, in October 2015, Governor Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency on the unprecedented tree die-off and formed a Tree Mortality Task Force to help mobilize additional resources for the safe removal of dead and dying trees.

This year, California had a record-setting wildfire season, with the Blue Cut fire alone scorching over 30,000 acres and triggering the evacuation of 80,000 people. In the southeastern United States, wildfires have burned more than 120,000 acres this fall. The southeast region of the Forest Service is operating at the highest preparedness level, PL 5, reflecting the high level of physical resources and funding devoted to the region. Extreme drought conditions persist, and many areas have not seen rain for as many as 95 days.

Longer, hotter fire seasons where extreme fire behavior has become the new norm,] – as well as increased development in forested areas – is dramatically driving up the cost of fighting fires and squeezing funding for the very efforts that would protect watersheds and restore forests to make them more resilient to fire. Last year, fire management alone consumed 56 percent of the Forest Service’s budget and is expected to rise to 67 percent in by 2025.

As the situation in the southeast demonstrates, the problem of shrinking budget capacity is felt across the U.S., not only in the western states. The health of our forests and landscapes are at risk across the nation, and the tree mortality crisis could be better addressed if not for the increasing percentage of the Forest Service budget going to fight wildfire. “We must fund wildfire suppression like other natural disasters in the country,” Vilsack said.

Forest Service scientists expect elevated levels of tree mortality to continue during 2017 in dense forest stands; stands impacted by root diseases or other stress agents; and in areas with higher levels of bark beetle activity. Photos and video of the surveys are available on the Forest Service multimedia webpage.

Learn more about tree mortality and the work to restore our forests in California at the Forest Service’s web page by clicking here.


U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)

U.S. Forest Service

The Peril of Smoke Taint on Winegrapes

Wildfires Threaten Smoke Taint on Winegrapes

By Charmayne Hefley, Associate Editor

There are at least two dozen major fires burning in the wilderness of California. Many are now contained, while others are only minimally contained. One recent serious fire, known as the “Rocky Fire” in Lake, Yolo, and Colusa counties burned nearly 70,000 acres before firefighters extinguished it last month.

But smoke from that fire may yet cause problems for the wine grape industry in Napa, Sonoma, and Lake counties. James Kennedy, chair of the Department of Viticulture and Enology and director of the Viticulture and Enology Research Center at California State University Fresno, explained the threat of smoke taint on winegrapes. “Anytime you have wildfires near vineyards,” Kennedy said, “there is a concern about how that smoke might become associated with grapes, and as a result, become associated with wine.”

Kennedy said they learned a lot about this problem from the Australian wildfires in 2003 that tainted their wine. Kennedy explained,“grape growers are oftentimes not aware of the extent to which smoke can damage fruit. In a sense, it is a two-edged sword. When wine is made from smoke-tainted grapes, it will have characteristics reminiscent of ‘the morning-after ashtray’ that is quite obnoxious and certainly not desirable. The other side of the sword occurs when smoke compounds interact with the grapevine and grape berries, it is modified by the grapes. Like an iceberg in the ocean, the ice above the water suffers the apparent smoke taint; whereas, the massive chunk underneath the ocean, though not initially as obviously smoke-tainted, reveals obvious taint over time.”

Kennedy said, “Winemakers in Australia realized that while you can treat that initial smoke taint, you don’t resolve the long-term taint problem. We, as an industry, are trying to identify vineyards with smoke taint problems before their fruit is made into wine. By testing grapes in laboratories, we are trying to prevent those wineries from wasting significant investment in converting tainted fruit into tainted wine.”

The Napa Valley Vintners nonprofit trade association reported on its website yesterday, “So far no vineyards or wineries in Napa County have been threatened by any of this season’s wildfires. Most of the time the fires were burning, the smoke blew away from Napa County due to the typically prevailing winds from the southwest. The weekend of August 15/16, we did experience very hot temperatures and a wind shift that caused our air to be hazy and smoky as a result of the many fires burning throughout CA. However, there were no reports of smoke taint affecting Napa Valley wine grapes as a result.”

“Most reports on smoke taint indicate that it exists only after an extended period of close contact with smoke; conditions that have not, to our knowledge, existed within Napa Valley this summer. Furthermore, Napa Valley is known for the highest standards of fine wine production and our winemakers will be paying very close attention to this situation as they harvest grapes for the 2015 vintage.”

Fire recovery brings progress, frustration

By Kate Campbell; Ag Alert

Wildfire recovery has become a disturbingly common part of managing California’s 33 million acres of forestland, while firefighting costs run far ahead of the ability to prevent fires. During a tour of areas damaged a year ago in the nearly 260,000-acre Rim Fire, experts outlined the cleanup work accomplished so far and the continuing recovery efforts on both private and public lands.

Registered professional forester Mike Albrecht told California members of the Society of American Foresters during last week’s tour that his crews immediately went to work helping clean and salvage what they could from the fire.

But forest managers estimate about 2.5 million tons of biomass remains dead or dying in the Stanislaus National Forest. At this point, they report local lumber mills are full with salvage logs, biomass plants can’t handle any more fire debris for power generation and environmental restrictions prevent burning charred timber and slash.

Forest roads remain unstable, they said, and drainage infrastructure has been destroyed or is too small to handle increased runoff, especially if there’s a heavy winter. Watersheds are vulnerable to erosion; the raw landscape is susceptible to infestation by invasive plants; wildlife habitat is in shreds.

Forest cleanup on the magnitude of the Rim Fire is slow, costly and dangerous, said Albrecht, who is president of Sierra Resource Management, which specializes in forest thinning.

He said his message is simple: “If we unite, we can do better by the forest.”

Nearly 60 percent of California’s forests are government-owned, with about 40 percent in private ownership.

“The difference between public and private wildfire recovery is very frustrating,” said Tuolumne County cattle rancher and county supervisor Sherri Brennan. “There are laws that tie the hands of government forest managers, compared to what can be done on private lands.”

From a county perspective, she said experts are saying that probably only about 25 percent of the burned timber in the Stanislaus National Forest will be salvaged because of regulatory constraints. It’s expected that litigation by environmental groups will further slow cleanup and restoration efforts, while driving up recovery costs.

“We’re sitting on 2.5 million tons of charred biomass,” Brennan said, referring to burned timber and brush. “Right now, I don’t know how the problem will be handled.”

For its part, the U.S. Forest Service said it has worked during the past year to put together an environmental impact statement that covers timber salvage efforts in the Rim Fire burn. Officials said they expect the final environmental document to be signed this week, so salvage work can begin this fall.

Meanwhile, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack released a new report that shows the cost of fighting forest fires has rapidly increased during the last 20 years. Because of inadequate and uneven funding, agencies have been “borrowing” money from programs intended to better manage forest fuel loads.

Vilsack joined a rising chorus—including the California Farm Bureau Federation, the Nature Conservancy and the Western Governors Association—in calling on Congress to allow an existing disaster fund to help cover the costs of fighting catastrophic fires.

Pending legislation—The Wildfire Disaster Funding Act—would address these problems by funding a portion of federal wildfire suppression costs through an approach similar to other predictable disasters, allowing more reliable funding for wildfire-prevention programs.

In addition to finding more rational ways to fund skyrocketing costs for fighting wildfires, forestry managers advocate changes in the way both public and private lands are being managed, using current research to adjust methods.

During the tour of the Rim Fire area, Dan Tomascheski, vice president of Sierra Pacific Industries—which lost about 16,000 acres of timber during the Rim Fire—said a number of new forest management practices, some relatively inexpensive, could help protect forestland in the future.

“We’ve found the practice we call ‘contour tilling’ on flat-to-moderate slopes reduces erosion rates from winter storms,” Tomascheski said.

“There’s nothing more important than high-quality water for those who rely on Sierra watersheds,” he stressed. “But while there’s a lot of focus on water quality and reducing sediment, there hasn’t been much discussion of post-fire effects on water yield.”

Forest researchers report that long-dry creeks in the Rim Fire burn area are carrying water again, even in one of the most severe droughts in state history. Studies show shrubs and brush use three times as much water as an area reforested with trees.

In Shasta County, which has had a series of lightning-sparked wildfires during the past several weeks, rancher and county supervisor Pam Giacomini said a community forum on recovery made it clear that salvaging trees and getting them marketed has to be a top priority for cleanup.

“Experts say they (the burned trees) need to be marketed this year,” Giacomini said, so the land can be cleared in order to begin reforestation efforts.

“The state seed bank is getting pretty low and we need to get our order in this fall, so we have what we need to begin replanting in the spring,” she said.

USDA Secretary Brings Water Assistance on Valley Visit

USDA Provides Water Assistance Aid to 73,000 Rural Californians Impacted by Drought

FARMERSVILLE, Calif., July 18, 2014 -USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced USDA is providing $9.7 million in emergency water assistance to 73,000 residents in 11 California counties experiencing the driest year on record.

“This drought is devastating those who live, work and raise their families in much of rural California,” Vilsack said. “It is threatening the survival of whole communities and livelihoods of folks throughout the state. From Siskiyou County in the north to Kern County in the south, this disaster is crippling communities up and down the 600-mile spine of California.

“The emergency water grants we are announcing today are triple the amount we committed to when President Obama and I visited the state earlier this year,” Vilsack added. “I am proud of the work USDA Rural Development staff in California and Washington, D.C., have done to get this funding to those in need and the work they have done with municipal leaders in these rural communities to help residents, businesses and agricultural producers.”

Agricultural Secretary Tom Vilsack
Agricultural Secretary Tom Vilsack

Extreme weather, such as the intense drought occurring in the western United States, is putting a strain on water supplies. The Obama Administration is committed to increasing investments in the nation’s water infrastructure to mitigate the impact of climate change and to ensure that all Americans have adequate, safe and reliable water supplies. The National Climate Assessment released earlier this year illustrates the impact of climate change across the country.

This announcement is part of broader Obama Administration efforts to help those impacted by the drought. Through the National Drought Resilience Partnership, launched as part of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan, federal agencies are working closely with states, local governments, agriculture and other partners on a coordinated response.

The 25 rural California communities are being helped by funding provided through USDA’s Emergency Community Water Assistance Grant (ECWAG) program. This program helps rural communities that have experienced a significant decline in the quantity or quality of drinking water due to an emergency. In January, USDA streamlined the program’s application process to expedite emergency water assistance to communities in need, particularly in drought-impacted areas.

In addition to support from the ECWAG program, USDA is helping rural communities meet their water needs through Water and Waste Disposal loans and grants and Special Evaluation Assistance for Rural Communities and Households (SEARCH) grants. USDA Rural Development has also approved grant funding to establish a revolving fund to provide low-interest loans to rural homeowners for household water wells.

For example, the small community of Cameron Creek Colony in Tulare County is struggling due to severe drought. About 10 percent of its residents have no access to water because their wells have run dry. Others have only intermittent access.

The city of Farmersville, Calif., is receiving a $500,000 ECWAG grant to construct pipelines connecting Cameron Creek Colony to the Farmersville water main and linking residents to the water system. This will provide much-needed relief throughout the community.

The grants announced today are contingent upon the recipients meeting the terms of the grant agreement.

Since the start of the Obama Administration, USDA Rural Development has invested more than $310 million to help 345,000 rural Californians receive improved water or wastewater services.

As California suffers through this drought, the Administration has taken action to help those struggling to cope with the hardships it has caused, including:

  • Designated 57 counties as disaster areas, making farmers and ranchers eligible for emergency loans.
  • Targeted $25 million from the Environmental Quality Incentives Program to help farmers and ranchers implement conservation practices to conserve water, protect fields from erosion and improve access to water for livestock.
  • Invested $5 million in emergency watershed protection.
  • Provided $7.6 million to livestock producers through the cost-sharing Emergency Conservation Program.
  • Invested $750,000 to reduce aquatic weeds clogging irrigation screens, pumps and canals in the Sacramento and San Joaquin River delta.
  • Set aside $3.3 million of a $30 million national investment to mitigate wildfire threats, protect water resources and provide habitat for at-risk species.
  • Made continuing research investments in water conservation and use efficiency, as well as capacity grants for the University of California’s Institute for Water Resources.
  • Established a network of climate hubs, including a sub-hub in Davis, for risk adaptation and mitigation to climate change.
  • President Obama’s plan for rural America has brought about historic investment and resulted in stronger rural communities. Under the President’s leadership, these investments in housing, community facilities, businesses and infrastructure have empowered rural America to continue leading the way – strengthening America’s economy, small towns and rural communities. USDA’s investments in rural communities support the rural way of life that stands as the backbone of our American values.

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