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Living with wildlife while managing working landscapes

Good fencing is one tool that allows coyotes and sheep to share the open range.
The UC Hopland Research and Extension Center (UC HREC) will host workshops on Dec. 1 and 2 to foster understanding and encourage community dialog about ranching on a landscape with populations of coyote, black bear, mountain lions and other wildlife.

“Mendocino County supports many ranchers and our communities enjoy locally produced lamb, beef, milk, cheese and other agricultural products,” said Kimberley Rodrigues, director of UC HREC. “Along with these opportunities come challenges associated with living alongside some of our resident wildlife. The workshops will help local residents deal with these challenges.”

Rodrigues – who has a doctorate degree in environmental science and has been a leader in outreach, strategic facilitation and partnership development for 25 years – has been actively involved in wildlife management at the 5,300-acre HREC since she arrived in mid-2014.

“I quickly realized the biggest challenge to maintaining a sustainable flock of sheep here in our location is addressing predation issues, primarily by coyotes,” Rodrigues said. “With some improvements to our fences, changes in pasture rotations and increased use of guard dogs, losses of sheep to coyotes are now at an acceptable level. We hope to share our own experience, hear from diverse perspectives and experiences at these events and would like HREC to become a hub for future learning on this topic.”

Recent discussion and decisions made by the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors regarding their contract with USDA Wildlife Services (WS) and their use of an integrated wildlife damage management program prompted UC HREC to provide a space for two workshops to allow learning on wildlife management and community conversation.

The Dec. 1 workshop will focus on scientific design and is implemented by USDA WS. It provides an opportunity to hear experts from USDA, the Californi Department of Fish and Wildlife, UC Cooperative Extension and Defenders of Wildlife to discuss the most up-to-date research in wildlife behavior and non-lethal control methods.

The Dec. 2 community conversation workshop is hosted by UC HREC and includes current research from UC Agriculture and Natural Resources, wildlife biologists and discussion of the challenges associated with ranching in Mendocino County from the Magruder family and other local ranchers. The day will culminate in discussion groups on topics ranging from integrated wildlife management tools to understanding local, state and federal connections.

The public may attend either day or both days. Registration for the two workshops is separate.

“Topography, surrounding environments, community viewpoints, available funds and the kind of animals being farmed are all part of the picture – there is no easy solution,” said Hannah Bird, UC HREC community educator. “Ranchers and land managers need to know what tools are available to them and the implications and benefits of each of these tools. Attending both workshops will provide a deeper understanding of the issues.”

Community members, ranchers, land managers and members of non-profit organizations are invited to attend. The workshops will be at the Rod Shippey Hall, Hopland Research and Extension Center, 4070 University Road, Hopland, CA 95449. Registration is $30 for each day (including lunch) and must be made in advance. The registration deadline is Nov. 23. Space is limited.

Sign up for the Dec. 1 USDA WS workshop at and the Dec. 2 community conversation workshop at

More on the University of California Hopland Research and Extension Center:

The Hopland Research and Extension Center is a multi-disciplinary research and education facility run by the University of California, Agriculture and Natural Resources Division. As stewards of more than 5,300 acres of oak woodland, grassland, chaparral, and riparian environments their mission is to find better ways to manage our natural resources and conduct sustainable agricultural practices, through science, for the benefit of California's citizens.

Author: Hannah Bird

Posted on Monday, November 23, 2015 at 10:38 AM
Tags: coyotes (2), Hopland REC (2), Kim Rodrigues (1), sheep (3), wildlife (20)

El Niño expected to drench California

Shasta Lake in 2009. El Niño precipitation may help refill the lake after four years of drought. (Photo: CC BY 3.0 by Apaliwal via Commons)
Brace yourself for El Niño. All major climate models indicate that the current El Niño will be the strongest on record in terms of sea surface temperature departures from normal.

Climate scientists refer to the anomaly as ENSO, for El Niño Southern Oscillation. The term describes the fluctuations in temperature between the ocean and atmosphere in the east-central Equatorial Pacific, just west of the Peruvian coast. The area is roughly between the International Date Line and 120 degrees west.

The ENSO cycle has three distinct phases: El Niño, La Niña and neutral. El Niño is defined when sea surface temperature is unusually warm for an extended period of time. La Niña is declared when equatorial Pacific is unusually cool for an extended period of time. Neutral phase is defined when the sea surface temperature is considered normal.

These large-scale changes in the surface water temperatures are linked to changes in the strength of the trade winds blowing from east to west across the region, which impacts weather patterns across the globe.

According to the NOAA Climate Prediction Center and International Research Institute for Climate and Society, a strong El Niño will continue through the Northern Hemisphere during the winter of 2015-16, followed by weakening and a transition to ENSO-neutral during the late spring or early summer.

What does that mean for California? In general, during a strong El Niño, California experiences a wetter than normal winter. During six strong El Niño events (1957-58, 1965-66, 1972-73, 1982-83, 1991-93 and 1997-98), California received 120 to 160 percent of normal precipitation from October through March. In addition to the wetter than average conditions forecast for the 2015-16 rainy season, the winter is also has a warmer than normal temperature outlook.

Some of the expected outcomes are:

  • Increased risk of flooding for California, since most of the precipitation is expected in the form of rainfall, rather than snow. Increasing streamflow in undammed rivers and quick filling of reservoirs that come with the potential for reservoir releases for flood control.

  • Early bud breaking in many agricultural crops due to warmer than usual conditions. This can have significant yield impact on crops that rely on sufficient chill for proper development, such as citrus, apples, tree nuts and grapes.

  • Increased aquifer recharge through so-called groundwater banking.

UC Agriculture and Natural Resources researchers will continue to monitor the El Niño Southern Oscillation and how it influences weather patterns in California. Future articles will provide detailed discussions on El Niño, with a focus on water resources impacts, effects on crops and potential for groundwater recharge.

An initiative to improve California water quality, quantity and security is part of the UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources Strategic Vision 2025.

Authors: Tapan Pathak, UC ANR Cooperative Extension specialist in climate adaptation in agriculture and Samuel Sandoval Solis, UC ANR Cooperative Extension specialist in water resources

Posted on Thursday, November 19, 2015 at 8:34 AM

Counties can offset greenhouse gas emissions with stream restoration

Elise Gornish, UC ANR Cooperative Extension specialist in restoration ecology, and John Parodi, restoration program manager for Students and Teachers Restoring our Watersheds, looking at a 10-year-old stream restoration project.
The revegetation of streams and creeks that crisscross California rangeland can play a significant role in helping counties meet carbon emission standards.

“We have long known that stream revegetation improves wildlife habitat and enhances water quality, but that fact that the vegetation and trapped sediment capture carbon underscores the importance of this conservation practice,” said David Lewis, a UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) watershed management advisor for Marin, Sonoma and Napa counties.

Going back to the time when Gen. Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo was running long-horn cattle on a vast tract of land in Alta California, ranchers didn't always understand the value of the trees, shrubs and grasses that grew around rangeland waterways.

Vallejo removed vegetation because it provided a hideout for grizzly bears that attacked his cattle and pilfered hides being tanned. In later years, authorities coached landowners to alter streams and remove plants to increase stream flow and improve flood control.

Beginning in the 1960s, the environmental impacts of removing trees and plants became apparent and public funds were made available to share in the cost of restoring streamside vegetation on private land, said Lewis, who is also director of UC ANR Cooperative Extension in Marin and Napa counties. Over a period of three years, he and a team of UC and local scientists studied the stream revegetation projects that took place from about 1970 to just recently. They documented the carbon sequestration benefits of stream revegetation and calculated the value based on the current market for carbon credits. The results were shared in a report released this month, Mitigating Greenhouse Gas Emissions through Riparian Revegetation.

“In Marin County, for example, the cost per metric ton for carbon dioxide equivalence sequestered with revegetation was $19.75. The carbon market is currently paying about $12.50,” Lewis said. “There is about $7 that we haven't made up. But when you think about the other benefits of riparian restoration – reduced sediment, restored habitat for migratory songbirds and other wildlife – I would bet that value to be much greater than $7.”

Lewis' research will be of interest to county governments as they strive to reduce total greenhouse gas emissions to comply with the requirements of the 2006 California Global Warming Solutions Act (AB 32). The legislation requires California to reduce its greenhouse emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. As part of the law, local governments must write a “Climate Action Plan” to report how they will monitor and track progress in reducing and offsetting greenhouse gas emissions.

“It may make sense for governments and project proponents to invest in creek restoration and other farm conservation practices to reach and surpass their carbon emission reduction goals,” Lewis said.

Through 1990, Marin ranchers restored more than 25 miles of stream with willows, oaks and other trees and shrubs. Those plants trapped sediment contain an estimated 80,265 metric tons of sequestered carbon – an amount equal to emissions from 61,959 passenger cars in one year.

Lewis estimates there are several hundred miles of unrestored streams in Northern California coastal counties. And the implications of this study have application for rangeland streams throughout California.

“This represents tremendous potential for carbon sequestration,” Lewis said. “And rancher interest in stream restoration has never been higher. Working with the ranchers to plant trees and shrubs along our waterways presents a significant opportunity to offset carbon emissions.”

An initiative to maintain and enhance sustainable natural ecosystems is part of UC Agriculture and Natural Resources Strategic Vision 2025.

Posted on Monday, November 9, 2015 at 9:06 AM

Reduce the risk of bird flu in backyard chickens

Backyard chickens are susceptible to avian flu spread by birds migrating on the Pacific flyway. (Photo: Wikipedia)
With a potential increase in avian influenza this fall when wild waterfowl migrate south from their northern breeding grounds, chicken owners should be extra vigilant to help avoid their birds contracting or passing the virus. 

Protecting their birds against disease should be a priority for chicken owners, no matter what size the flock, according to Maurice Pitesky, a UC Agriculture and Natural Resources Cooperative Extension specialist in the School of Veterinary Medicine at UC Davis.

“Wild birds are the biggest risk because they can carry the virus but look completely healthy, so it's important to keep them away from your chickens,” said Pitesky. He adds that signs your chicken could have contracted avian influenza are depression, no appetite, diarrhea, soft/misshaped eggs, and sudden and increased or unexplained death in flocks.

Commonly called “bird flu,” the avian influenza virus - routinely found in wild waterfowl - can spread to chickens and other domestic poultry and cause significant mortality and economic loss. This year the nation has experienced the worst bird flu outbreak in history, with three confirmed cases in California — two of which carried the more dangerous, highly pathogenic strain. In each case, the disease, which is not dangerous to humans, was introduced by wild waterfowl migrating along the Pacific Flyway. Some of these wild birds might now be carrying the Eurasian strain of the H5 highly pathogenic avian influenza.

Pitesky and the California Department of Food and Agriculture offer some important bioscurity tips to help reduce the risk of your chickens contracting bird flu:

  • Wash your hands with soap and water or use hand sanitizer before and after working with chickens.
  • Use footbaths before entering and exiting the fenced-off coop area. Each footbath — a covered container with an approved disinfectant to disinfect shoes — should be placed in a staging station, such as on a concrete surface or a pallet, to prevent dirt from being tracked into the footbath. Disinfectant should be changed daily to be effective.
  • Have designated “coop boots.” These will be the only shoes that go into your chicken area, and they won't go anywhere else. If you hunt waterfowl, make sure your equipment and clothing are separate from your domestic poultry.
  • Don't allow wild animals and waterfowl to come in contact with your chickens. For example, if you have a pond or body of water that can attract waterfowl to or near your facility, consider draining if feasible.
  • When obtaining birds, isolate them from other birds for 30 days before adding them into your flock. This will reduce the risk of introducing disease into the original flock.
  • Always obtain birds from reputable, disease-free sources that practice good biosecurity methods, and purchase feed from clean, dependable suppliers. Store the feed in containers that are bird, rodent, and insect proof. Provide clean, fresh water to your birds at all times.
  • Restrict access by visitors onto the premises where your birds are housed. Do not allow people who own other birds to come in contact with your birds.
  • Report signs of illness or increased mortality to your veterinarian or the Sick Bird Hotline 866-922-BIRD (2473). In addition, necropsies are provided free-of-charge for owners of less than 1,000 chickens at the school's California Animal Health and Food Safety Laboratory System.

By joining the California Poultry Census, you can receive the latest information and updates about avian influenza in California.

Early disease detection, prevention key to limiting spread of disease

State officials credit early disease detection and prevention, through proactive surveillance and good biosecurity practices, as key factors limiting the spread of avian influenza. For example, a wildlife surveillance program conducted by USDA Wildlife Services regularly submits samples to the veterinary school's California Animal Health and Food Safety Laboratory System at UC Davis for testing. This helps scientists and animal health officials understand where certain viruses are circulating in the U.S., including the more dangerous strains for domestic poultry. 

UC poultry experts are conducting a statewide survey of backyard chickens, and providing outreach and training on health and disease prevention to individuals who, in turn, will provide the information to backyard chicken producers and small, commercial chicken operations. In addition, veterinary researchers Rodrigo Gallardo and Beate Crossley have recently been awarded a grant to study new, highly pathogenic viruses affecting the U.S. poultry industry. The goal is to better understand why these viruses have been so difficult to eradicate and to help prevent their introduction to commercial farms.

Additional information:

Posted on Wednesday, November 4, 2015 at 9:17 AM

Burned forestland needs erosion protection

After a forest fire, burned trees both standing and on the ground, help protect the soil from erosion.
Many forest areas burned by wildfires this year are now facing a new threat – erosion. A UC Agriculture and Natural Resources expert says there are steps landowners can take to reduce the risk of losing soil and polluting waterways when rain falls.

“The loosened soil and ash can move quickly under proper storm conditions,” said Greg Giusti, a UC ANR Cooperative Extension forestry advisor. “Property owners should take immediate action.”

A longstanding practice in the West has been spreading grass seed after a fire, however, the seed is slow to germinate and grow during the cold months that follow fire season.

“Seeding is generally ineffective,” Giusti said. “The seed simply moves and erodes with the soil and ash following an initial rain event.”

After losing a home, homeowners may feel the need to clean up their property. However, leaving woody debris, downed trees and limbs will arrest soil movement. Stumps and standing dead trees also help protect the soil.

“The roots are still in the soil and will help hold it in place,” Giusti said. “As long as they don't pose a danger, trees should be left in place.”

Spreading rice straw or weed-free hay on the ground is another way to protect the soil from erosion. Whole bales of hay can be placed in natural drainages to slow water movement and reduce erosion. Straw wattles – long tubes of compressed straw encased in jute or another material – may be laid out across a slope and secured with stakes.

“I suggest landowners focus on areas of their property where they can have the greatest positive effect,” Giusti said. “You can't cover a whole hillside with straw. People can only do what they can do.”

An initiative to maintain and enhance sustainable natural ecosystems is part of UC Agriculture and Natural Resources Strategic Vision 2025.

Posted on Wednesday, November 4, 2015 at 8:31 AM
Tags: erosion (4), Greg Giusti (3), wildfire (22)

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