Our state has experienced three serious wildfire years recently, and managing the amount of fine fuels can certainly help reduce these risks in the future. This leads some ranchers and scientists to ask the question: just how much of these fine fuels are cattle eliminating when grazed properly? The study still needs to pass peer review, but here’s Devii Rao, a UCCE Livestock and Natural Resources Advisor with what they found.
“Across the state of California cattle – at least in 2017, which is the year that we used for our analysis – they grazed across 19.4 million acres of rangeland, and consumed 11.6 billion pounds of fine fuels,” said Rao.
Rao says they collected data across multiple regions to also look at the variance of cattle consumption of these fine fuels.
“On average across the entire state, we found that livestock consumed about 596 pounds per acre. And then when you break it up by region, it really varied from, you know, 174 pounds per acre in some parts. Which, you know, that would be the more drier desert regions where there’s just not that much forage or fine fuels being produced. And then on the higher end, cattle were consuming a little bit over a thousand pounds per acre,” noted Rao.
With cattle found in almost every county of the state, it’s just a matter of finding creative ways to graze more of these fire fuel reducers.
Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Available for Those In Need Due Fires
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced today that low-income California residents dealing with the ongoing wildfires could be eligible for a helping hand from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (D-SNAP).
Secretary Perdue said that households who may not normally be eligible under regular Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) rules may qualify for D-SNAP – if they meet the disaster income limits and have qualifying disaster-related expenses.
“USDA is committed to ensuring Californians affected by these wildfires have enough to eat and will be here to help throughout their entire recovery. D-SNAP will be a vital part of our ongoing, on-the-ground food assistance,” Secretary Perdue said.
To be eligible for D-SNAP, a household must either live or work in an identified disaster area, have been affected by the disaster, and meet certain D-SNAP eligibility criteria. Eligible households will receive one month of benefits – equal to the maximum amount for a SNAP household of their size – to meet their temporary food needs as they settle back home following the disaster. California will share information about D-SNAP application dates and locations through local media.
The timing of D-SNAP varies with the unique circumstances of each disaster, Secretary Perdue said, but always begins after commercial channels of food distribution have been restored and families are able to purchase and prepare food at home. Before operating a D-SNAP, a state must ensure that the proper public information, staffing and resources are in place.
Although current SNAP (known as CalFresh in the state of California) households are not eligible for D-SNAP, under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act of 2020, USDA previously approved emergency allotments for California in response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Therefore, ongoing SNAP households have already received the maximum allotment for their household size for the month of September. California will continue to issue replacement benefits to current SNAP households who lost food as a result of the wildfires.
The D-SNAP announcement today is the latest in a battery of USDA actions taken to help California residents cope with the wildfires. These include:
Allowing participants to buy hot foods with their SNAP benefits at authorized SNAP retailers in certain counties.
Automatic mass replacement of a portion of SNAP benefits for residents of specific counties who may have lost food due to the wildfires and associated power outages.
Extending the deadline for school meal program operators in certain counties to submit reimbursement claims for meals served;
Providing households in certain counties with more time to request replacement SNAP benefits for food lost; and
Retroactively distributing Commodity Supplemental Food Program food packages that The Redwood Empire Food Bank was unable to deliver in August due to wildfire-related road closures and evacuations.
Individuals seeking more information about this and other available aid should dial 2-1-1. For more information about California’s SNAP program, CalFresh, visit www.cdss.ca.gov/food-nutrition/calfresh.
Further, USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) continues to provide significant support to California residents as part of its ongoing response to COVID-19. For more information on flexibilities provided to California, visit the FNS California COVID-19 Response webpage.
USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service administers 15 nutrition assistance programs that leverage American’s agricultural abundance to ensure children and low-income individuals and families have nutritious food to eat. FNS also co-develops the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which provide science-based nutrition recommendations and serve as the cornerstone of federal nutrition policy. Follow us on Twitter at @USDANutrition.
With the state’s wildfire season beginning to intensify, farm groups say they’re looking for solutions to a lack of N95 respirators. State regulations require the respirators to be available to outdoor employees when wildfires worsen air quality, but the masks have been in short supply during the pandemic. Groups representing the fresh-produce business have asked Congress to include resources for farm employee safety in the next COVID-19 relief package.
Speaking of fire season, Farmers in Northeastern California say they expect smoke damage to crops from the Caldwell Fire, which has burned nearly 81,000 acres of land in Modoc and Siskiyou counties. Officials continue to assess damage to grazing land scorched by the fire, and farmers say smoke will likely hurt the quality of hay, potatoes, onions and other crops. One farmer says irrigated farmland acted as a buffer that stopped the fire from spreading to some areas.
It turns out forest management is not just helpful for fire prevention, but also for water. New research quantifies how forest-management activities such as mechanical thinning and prescribed burns contribute to increased downstream water availability. By studying 20 years of data and satellite imagery for the Yuba and American rivers, scientists at the University of California, Merced, determined the forest-management actions could enhance runoff in the basins by up to 10%–enough water for as many as 4 million people.
Reducing Catastrophic Devastation with Preventive Forest Management
By Patrick Cavanaugh, Editor
In light of the deadly Paradise fire in northern California, along with the other devastating fires in the state over the last 10 years, California Ag Today spoke with Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue and Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke about the state’s forests.
Perdue believes that significant losses could have been averted.
“The issue really right now is what are we going to do about it? These are called disasters. Because of the loss of life, wildland fires have been greater than hurricanes this year,” Perdue said. “We’ve had two significant hurricanes, but the death toll is surpassing that. And the interesting thing in this disaster: these are disasters that we can do some things about, and we need to be about doing things … that we can do, but we need the authority to do that.”
Zinke said that officials need to act on good forest management.
“We talked about active forest management for a long time, but you know, talking’s over,” Zinke said. “It’s now time to act.”
Zinke noted common sense forest principles that need to be addressed at once.
“One is to remove the dead and dying trees; to thin and do prescribed burns late in the season rather than midseason,” Zinke explained. “This is fixable. The president’s right, and this is not just one administration—this goes back years of failure to manage our public lands, and it is absolutely a situation that can be mitigated, but we need to act.”
“It is unsustainable and unacceptable that we have the devastation, the loss of life, but we need to prioritize getting back to an active management system. There are other countries that prevent the devastation,” Zinke said. “I spent a lot of time in Germany, which does not have the scale of fire that we experience. There are models of active forest management that are effective, and this is the time to act.”
But Zinke explained that good forest management in California has a big problem: radical environmentalists.
“Take a look at who’s suing. Every time there is a thinning project, who’s suing. Everyone should recognize that the density of dead and dying trees is higher. The density of trees are higher and there are active forest management principles that we should use to mitigate these devastating forest fires,” Zinke said. “However, when there is lawsuit after lawsuit by, yes, the radical environmental groups that would rather burn down the entire forest than cut a single tree or thin the forest. And it’s easy to find who is suing and who has promulgated these destructive policies.”
Zinke said that he does not want to point fingers just at the environmentalists, though.
“There’s a lot of variables: the season’s getting longer, the temperatures are getting hotter. We’ve had historic drought conditions in California, which has lead to dead and dying trees from beetle kill. There is a high density of trees, with enormous underbrush and those things can be mitigated, but we have to get to work,” he explained.
Perdue challenges the radical environmentalists’ desire for an untouched, pristine forest.
“I think that’s been the theory from well-meaning environmentalist over the years: is that a forest that you did nothing to was pristine,” Perdue said. “We know that’s not to be the case. It gets undergrowth. It gets where you don’t have good recreational activity, poor hiking, poor access or wildlife growth and access, water quality, all those kind of things. It’s not pristine, and that’s the issue that we’re trying to bring up. A well managed, well-groomed forest is always better for all of those kinds of issues.”
A well-managed forest provides economy and jobs for rural communities as needed, but wildlife, the recreational aspect, the hiking, the water quality, all those also improve with well-managed forests.
“I think some environmentalists are coming around to that to that way of thinking, I think even some environmentalists realize they’ve overreached and [are] keeping management out of these forests, but we need more to come along, and we need the lawsuits to stop,” Perdue said.
Zinke said public land is for the benefit and the enjoyment of all people and not special interest groups.
“And what we’re seeing in the last decade [is] that special interest groups are really exercising their very tight agenda. The result has been a buildup of fuels coupled with droughts, and with increased density of dead and dying trees, as well as beetle kill. And so the condition of our forest as we look at them today, are not healthy—and they are a threat to populations like, like Paradise, and we can do better,” Zinke explained.
“I think the solution is looking at models that are effective, using best science, best practices, and certainly having more authority or we don’t have to go through an entire Environmental Impact Report (EIS) to cut a single tree,” Zinke said.
And that’s exactly what Zinke had to do when he was a congressman in Montana.
“[As] a former congressman, I sponsored the bill to allow a power company to remove vegetation in a prescribed easement. And it took an act of Congress to move the bill through. But is still gave 60 days for a notification before the power company could remove what was called an imminent danger tree. This is a tree that’s going to fall on the power lines, no doubt … it has a potential of starting a forest fire, but it still took 60 days of notification for a power company to have the authority to remove a single tree in a prescribed easement,” he said.
Zinke noted that there are a number of legislative fixes, and some of them can be in the Farm Bill.
“We need more authority to have category exclusions, to do the right thing and take a common sense approach so we don’t have to go through year after year of these 100,000-acre-plus fires that are enormously destructive,” Zinke said.
The massive fires put our firefighters and our communities at risk.
“I do think that America is waking up, and sees that we can manage these forest using best practices, and best science,” Zinke said.
“We should be able to manage our forests. And when nature alone takes this course without management .. it has consequences, and those consequences, unfortunately, have led to entire communities being destroyed and a tremendous amount of loss of life. We can do better and we should,” Zinke explained.
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.”
The Thomas Fire in Ventura County was the largest wildfire in California history. We recently spoke with Henry Gonzalez, the Agricultural Commissioner for Ventura County, whose own home was affected by the fire, about the ongoing fallout from the disaster.
“I could see from my kitchen window the flame just onto the hill there, and fortunately, we’re protected by some of the orchards. Also, the wind was blowing in a favorable direction, so we were part of a voluntary evacuation area, so we were very fortunate,” Gonzalez said.
“We were ready to flee,” he explained. “We packed up our most prized possessions and were ready to leave at a moment’s notice. I stayed up until 2:00 in the morning that night of the fire, monitoring to see what was going to happen and then in the morning we saw that there was indeed still fire very close to my home.”
Gonzalez said that disaster assistance for agricultural losses is in need of reform.
“It’s a bit frustrating because some of the disaster assistance that’s out there through FSA, the Farm Service Agency wouldn’t pay until 2019,” he said.
“Any farmers or ranchers that had losses from the fire needed to have the money up front to pay for things, and that’s really not acceptable,” he continued.
“We need to have a disaster assistance program that meets the magnitude of the disaster,” Gonzalez said. “With the drought, that disaster happened slowly so people could make adjustments accordingly. But with something like this fire, it was so quick and of such magnitude that the assistance needs to also be as quick and matched the magnitude of the disaster.”
“And that’s where we really need to rethink what the FSA is doing and how they are doing it. It’s just a bureaucracy that goes so slow that by the time we get the assistance here, there’s going to be a number of agriculturalist that have gone out of business,”Gonzalez said.
The Thomas Fire that burned through Ventura County last December led to some major agricultural losses. California Ag Today spoke with Henry Gonzales, the Agricultural Commissioner of Ventura County, about the situation.
“There were 6,603 acres of avocados and then another 1,800 acres of lemons, about another 540 acres of oranges, and another dozen crops were affected,” Gonzales said.
“One of the things that we’ve seen is that these orchards actually provided a buffer between the fire and urban areas. They really saved us quite a bit. Some of the avocado orchards experienced significant losses; the very efficient irrigation systems that we have are sadly made out of plastic, and so they melted and we’re actually looking at two different disasters,” Gonzales explained.
“We’re still suffering from the impacts and effects of the drought … so everything was very dry, and then we had the Santa Ana winds, and it really created the perfect firestorm,” Gonzales said.
The rain this last year did help, but then it created more problems.
“It did help. No doubt. We didn’t get as much rain as many other areas. In Southern California, we were very happy to get the amount of rain that we did get,” Gonzales said. “But then it created mudslides that we’re now dealing with.”
Emergency Livestock Assistance Program Can Help with Livestock Losses
By Jessica Theisman, Associate Editor
“It’s been a crash course for me,” said Aubrey Bettencourt, a third generation farmer in California. Last month, she was appointed by the Trump administration to serve as the executive director of the United States Department of Agriculture’s California Farm Service Agency. She recently spoke to California Ag Today about FSA programs for livestock losses, which would be applicable to all states across the country.
“Emergency Livestock Assistance Program … provides financial assistance for eligible producers for certain diseases, adverse weather events, wildfires, and more. These are great programs that we need, especially with some of the disasters California is dealing with,” Bettencourt said.
She is very close to the situation in southern California with all of the fires, which have affected a lot of cattle. Any cattleman or woman who is having trouble should get a hold of the FSA office immediately to get into the system to be matched up to programs such as ELAP.
“We also have a livestock indemnity programs, so if there is unfortunately a loss of livestock, we can definitely help you with that,” Bettencourt said.
ELAP also has a forage program that helps if you have lost the ability to graze, and there are also other programs along the lines of secondary insurance for non insurable crops that can be purchased ahead of time.
“In case there is a disaster, we can help cover some of the costs if you are not able to graze or you are not able to care for cattle in some capacity because of the loss or a disaster of some sort,” Bettencourt explained.
“I would encourage you not only to reach out to our offices, but a lot of the really good trade associations have great information on this as well,” she said.
Avocado Growers Should Not Cut Down Trees With Only Fire-Damaged Canopies
By Patrick Cavanaugh, Farm News Director
Avocado growers should not make quick decisions on what to do with fire damage on avocado trees. There are right decisions and wrong decisions.
Wildfires in Ventura County have burned over two hundred and thirty thousand acres, and avocado growers are among those affected by the fires; many orchards have been burned. We spoke with Ben Faber, a UC cooperative extension farm advisor in Ventura County. He told us about this devastation, and how it’s affected avocado orchards.
“I’ve been out looking at burned orchards, and it’s really too early to look. It looks worse than you see, so you see the burn canopies and it looks devastating, but they’ll come back,” Faber said. “It’s when you look at the orchard and see the green canopy and and you say, Oh gosh, I’m saved. But if you get down on your knees and you see these pustule, or boils round the base of the tree, that means the tree is gone.”
“This is tree sap underneath that’s boiled out,” Faber explained. “The cambium is damaged, and you may think, ‘Oh, everything is looking fine,’ and then you get a nice dry wind and the tree collapses all of a sudden because the can’t carry enough water to meet transpirational demand. Oftentimes, that means it was a crown fire and burned around the base of the trunk.”
“Some of the trees that looked the most damaged actually might be much better off than those showing little signs of damage. That’s why it’s important for growers to wait to assess the damage in their orchards,” he said.
In trees showing canopy burn, you’ll have to prune the tree. It’ll come back fine, according to Faber.
“What we are afraid of is that growers will respond in the wrong way. They’ll probably start cutting down trees that have lost their canopies and leave the ones that have a green canopy, and it might be the other way around,” he said. “We’re telling people, don’t do anything. Water if they need to and let nature take its course.”
Following Disastrous Fires, Napa/Sonoma Valleys Need Visitors Back
By Patrick Cavanaugh, Farm News Director
The recent Napa & Sonoma fires have left wine country reeling.
“Our message is, please come back to the wine country,” said John Winkelhaus, vice president of operations and general manager of V. Sattui Winery, the number one visited winery in Napa Valley.
The region just had some devastating fires.
“It was absolutely dramatic. We certainly just have heartfelt feelings for the folks that have lost their homes and their businesses. And of course, you can’t measure the sorrow we feel for those who lost their lives,” Winkelhaus said.
Sonoma and Napa counties were hit pretty hard. Sonoma County was perhaps worse than Napa because of the devastation that was in that residential area.
It rained last Thursday, the fire was put out and the smoke was washed out of the sky, but now there’s another problem.
“It cleared the air. I mean, we have beautiful blue skies here. But visitor traffic is way down,” Winkelhaus said. “We always have a lot of complaints about the traffic here in the Valley, especially on weekends. But there’s no traffic here.”
“So, what’s happened is that the people, our guests, our visitors who we depend on, allow our staff to come to work every day. They’re not coming,” he said.
“Everybody has a mortgage or rent to pay, or food to buy, or bills to pay as well. … In Napa Valley, 70% of the wage earners are earning their money through the hospitality business, whether it’d be the restaurants, or the hotels, or the wineries,” Winkelhaus said.
“There are 500 wineries in the area, and only seven were damaged or destroyed by the fire. So 447 are open for business and need business,” he explained.