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The California Naturalist program hits its stride

California Naturalist Scott Van Tyle takes a close look at a sea kelp rootball on the beach at Asilomar.
Under sunny skies, a cool breeze blowing off the ocean at Asilomar State Beach, California Naturalist Scott Van Tyle pulls out a knife and begins dissecting a seaweed root ball that had washed up on the sand. A group of fellow naturalists quickly gather around to see what tiny sea creatures call the massive tangle home.

Similar scenes were repeated frequently during the three-day California Naturalist conference in October. The legless lizards and gopher snake brought in by a Fort Ord Dunes State Park ranger, a family of raccoons under the dining hall deck, deer browsing among the cottages and a beautiful sunset drew quick attention from participants. It is this enthusiasm that defines California Naturalists, a community with more than a love of nature, but a strong inclination toward gaining new knowledge, conserving the natural world and sharing their passion with others.

“We are in a room full of early adopters,” said Adina Merenlender to certified California Naturalists, instructors and aspiring naturalists at the conference. “It's amazing to see the seeds we planted growing into a real community. Everyone here has helped start this new community of practice.”

Naturalists Justine Faust, left, and Chris Lay with legless lizards at the California Naturalist statewide conference.
“Community of practice” is a relatively new concept that has been embraced by the California Naturalist program. Coined by Etienne Wenger, communities of practice are groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly.

“This is exactly what we are doing,” said Merenlender, co-director of the California Naturalist statewide program and UC Cooperative Extension specialist in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management at UC Berkeley.

At the conference, California Naturalists learned from world-class experts about engaging with nature and interpretation, coupling science and art, taking part in citizen science, preparing for global change, and protecting the state from invasive species. But perhaps the most important outcome was the opportunity for kindred spirits to share the weekend, forge lasting relationships and set future collaborations in motion.

“We're building a movement here,” said one of the conference speakers, nature writer and artist John Muir Laws. “We want to be strengthening ourselves. Our strength comes from the strands of the web between us.”

California Naturalists from around the state will reconvene in 2016. In the meantime, plans are being formulated to further develop the program, both in numbers and form, by reaching out to new audiences that will enhance the community of practice.

Naturalist Margaret Otto draped a gopher snake around her shoulders.
Since the program's inception, the majority of new California Naturalists have been volunteers who serve as stewards, data collectors, or as labor for restoration projects at land management, informal education, and conservation organizations in conservation organizations. The program aims to widen the scope in order to bring in naturalists with a range of skills, backgrounds and experiences.

Sabrina Drill, co-director of the California Naturalist program and UC Cooperative Extension advisor in LA County, is reaching out to the Los Angeles Conservation Corps to see if the California Naturalist curriculum can be used to enrich the training now offered to young people enrolled in the program.

“The LACC participants learn important practical skills, like how to fell a tree and how to use a chain saw,” Drill said. “They have told me they would like to provide environmental background to participants so they learn why they are thinning forests and why they are removing invasive plants. We would provide them with the environmental science context.”

Another area where the California Naturalist program is poised to grow is with organizations that connect with regional, state and national parks.

“We can work with these groups to increase capacity in resource management at parks,” Merenlender said. “Government agencies can accomplish the nuts and bolts of local operations, but they can rarely provide the scientific and environmental literacy training for staff and volunteers.”

A third initiative aims to reach out to teachers. Drill and Merenlender are exploring a host of potential partnerships that can connect the California Naturalist community of practice to children, including UC's Project Learning Tree, the long-running Forestry Institute for Teachers, the San Jose Children's Discovery Museum, and the UCCE 4-H Youth Development program.

“If teachers take part in the California Naturalist program, they will bring what they learned back to the classroom,” Merenlender said. “As a community of practice, we are committed to helping our teachers ensure youth the environmental literacy intended by the increasingly popular slogan, ‘No child left inside.'”

For more information, see the California Naturalist website.

Posted on Thursday, October 30, 2014 at 9:56 AM

Make it a healthy Halloween!

Orange fruit cups with jack-o-lantern faces drawn on the plastic.
Around this time of year, candy is flying off the shelves and headed to a classroom or workplace party near you. 

It's not too late to mix things up this year, by bringing one of many creative fruit and vegetable goodies to your spooky bash.

What about healthy ideas for children's parties? Think outside the wrapper! Consider handing out non-food items this Halloween. You can purchase many of these items for the same price as sweets. Pro tip: check out your local dollar store or hit up the party favor aisle at most department stores for bulk buys at low prices.

Here are a few non-food ideas:

  • Pencils
  • Erasers
  • Crayons
  • Spider rings
  • Bouncy balls
  • Yo-Yo
  • Sidewalk chalk
  • Kazoos
  • Stickers

For more ideas about healthy holiday celebrations, visit ChooseMyPlate.gov, or contact your local University of California Cooperative Extension Nutrition Education Program.

Two creative and healthful Halloween party ideas.
Two creative and healthful Halloween party ideas.

Photo credit: http://feedingfourlittlemonkeys.blogspot.com/2008/10/veggie-skeleton.html and http://www.tasteofhome.com/recipes/holiday---celebration-recipes/halloween-recipes/fun-halloween-food

Posted on Wednesday, October 29, 2014 at 8:47 AM
Tags: Halloween (1)

Is that a light brown apple moth?

It's easy to confuse light brown apple moth caterpillars (above) with look-alikes, including orange tortrix, omnivorous leafroller, avocado leafroller and apple pandemic moth.
Nursery workers are the first line of defense in detecting light brown apple moth when growing ornamental plants in commercial nurseries. A new brochure and video can help those in the field distinguish light brown apple moth from several look-alike caterpillars.

Light brown apple moth is currently under a California Department of Food and Agriculture quarantine that regulates the interstate shipment of plants to keep the moth from spreading to new areas. It has been quarantined in various counties throughout coastal California ranging from Mendocino to San Diego.

An exotic and invasive pest from Australia, light brown apple moth has a host range of more than 2,000 plants. It is a pest to a wide range of ornamental and agricultural crops, including caneberries, strawberries, citrus, stone fruit, apples, and grapes. The caterpillars eat leaves and buds, leading to weak or disfigured plants. They also can feed directly on fruit, causing the fruit to be unmarketable.

Correct field identification of the light brown apple moth is the first step in containing the spread of this moth. Unfortunately several other leafroller caterpillars, including the orange tortrix, omnivorous leafroller, avocado leafroller, and apple pandemic moth, look similar to light brown apple moth caterpillars. This makes photo identification tools that can go into the field with workers, like the Field Identification Guide for Light Brown Apple Moth in California Nurseries, a useful resource for nursery workers.

The field guide was created by Steven Tjosvold, Neal Murray, University of California Cooperative Extension; Marc Epstein, Obediah Sage, California Department of Food and Agriculture; and Todd Gilligan, Colorado State University with the UC Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program (UC IPM).

For more information on light brown apple moth and other leafrollers found in nurseries, see the UC Pest Management Guidelines for Floriculture and Nurseries.

Posted on Tuesday, October 28, 2014 at 10:03 AM

UCCE helps span the boundary between fire science and fire management in California

UC Cooperative Extension is conveying fire science to wildland managers.
After academics complete fire science research, the results often end up gathering dust on a shelf. UC Cooperative Extension is now playing a significant role in bridging the gap between wildland fire science and wildland managers across the United States.

“It is a classic disconnect,” said Susie Kocher, UC Cooperative Extension advisor in the Central Sierra office. “That's why Cooperative Extension was formed almost 100 years ago. Policymakers could see that research advances weren't being implemented on farms. The same thing has happened in natural resource management.”

For example, Kocher said, scientists have known since the 1960s that systematic fire suppression has many negative consequences, but it took a very long time to get that message into practice by agencies charged with managing wildfire.

“After the Great Burn of 1910, which killed 87 people, there was a public clamor to attack fire and treat it as an enemy,” Kocher said. “We've come a long way since then. Now land managers have a good understanding of how important it is to have low-intensity fire in Sierra forests.”

Fire agencies are now beginning to understand that they must pay attention to technology transfer. Kocher believes UC Cooperative Extension is a logical player in the process.

“Cooperative Extension is the exemplar,” Kocher said. “We try to get new and evolving understanding into the hands of people who use the information to made decisions – not just land managers, but the public and policy makers as well.”

Beginning in 2009, the federal Joint Fire Science Program created 15 regional fire science exchanges to accelerate awareness, understanding and use of wildland fire science. Scott Stephens, professor in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management at UC Berkeley, leads the California consortium. Stacey S. Frederick serves as the consortium's full-time coordinator. Other UC academics involved are Kocher and Yana Valachovic, UCCE advisor in Humbolt and Del Norte counties.

Since its inception four years ago, the consortium has hosted webinars, conferences and symposia, and offered field consultations, field trips, tours, demonstrations and expertise. Another significant role of the group has been distilling academic fire science research reports into easy-to-read one-to two-page research briefs. To date, well over 100 briefs have been written by the consortium on a wide range of topics.

The California Fire Science Consortium maintains a comprehensive website that contains links to the research briefs, webinar recordings and information about upcoming events. The consortium also offers a twitter feed @cafirescience and Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/CaliforniaFireScienceConsortium and you can sign up for their monthly newsletter here.

Posted on Tuesday, October 28, 2014 at 9:58 AM

Pests make it challenging to grow chile peppers

A selection of hot chile peppers, a California-grown vegetable that adds spice to life.
Ethiopian, Mexican and Thai cuisine all taste distinctly different, but they have something in common: chile peppers. Demand for chile peppers is growing steadily and California is a leading producer of the vegetable that adds spice to life. Cash receipts for California chile peppers increased from $59 million in 2010 to nearly $100 million in 2012, according to USDA statistics. In Santa Clara County, 70 varieties of peppers are grown. Peppers are challenging to grow because they are susceptible to diseases, many of them spread by insects.

“Tomato spotted wilt virus spread by western flower thrips is a big problem for peppers,” said Shimat Joseph, UC Cooperative Extension advisor in Monterey, Santa Cruz and San Benito counties. Tomato spotted wilt can cause a plant to produce discolored fruit that is unmarketable and it can kill the plant. Joseph advises pepper growers on integrated pest management methods to control insects.

“We believe it is critical to manage thrips early in the season because when the plants are small, they are more vulnerable,” Joseph said, “and the disease may not show until later in the season.”

He is currently studying the effects of applying insecticides a month after transplanting to discourage thrips from feeding. He also recommends removing weeds, which can host the virus.

Posted on Friday, October 24, 2014 at 10:17 AM
  • Author: Pamela Kan-Rice
Tags: chile peppers (1), vegetables (32)

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