Happenings at Hopland REC
Fire has a vitally important role in the California landscape and many fire-related studies have been conducted at the UC Hopland Research and Extension Center (HREC) since 1951. The majority of these fires have been prescribed burns, well controlled to manage invasive species and reduce fuel load, but on July 27 the staff had to deal with a very different kind of fire, as the River Fire swept across the site.
Below I share my experiences of both prescribed fire and wildfire at HREC:
Just a few short months ago, I enjoyed an afternoon with staff on site watching as CalFire conducted a prescribed burn to reduce invasive grass species and fuel load. The sight of the flames racing through the grasses was exciting and the skill of the CalFire team in controlling the fire inspired both respect and a feeling of safety – we were in good hands! The crews worked hard to protect some of the great oak trees we have on the site and to respect areas of cultural significance, including a rock inscribed with ancient petroglyphs. Tankers flew over sprinkling us with red fire retardant as they passed, allowing a new pilot some practice while keeping this burn well controlled. This burn inspired hope and in the space of just a month we were already seeing green shoots replacing the black of the burned areas, a new chance for the native grass species adapted to fire.
How different an experience last week as a wildfire, the River Fire, began to burn close to our site on the afternoon of July 27. This fire was not under control, its power and size increasing so rapidly that by the afternoon it had spread to HREC and was quickly moving through oak woodland, grassland and chaparral. I'm very lucky to be able to live and work on this beautiful site, but suddenly the oak woodlands that once held much joy for me all just looked like fuel. It was clear that the homes that we lived in were at significant risk and difficult decisions were made about what items should be loaded into the car and what we must drive away from – not knowing if we would return to find them intact.
While residents on site prepared to evacuate, other HREC staff were making decisions about the many lives that depended on them for their wellbeing, the flock of 500 sheep and their accompanying 6 guardian dogs and 1 sheepdog. Shepherd Jim Lewers was quick to consider the safest space for the flock and they were herded swiftly downhill to the flat irrigated pasture at our lowest elevations. Our wonderful neighbors on the Poor Ranch were working hard to protect their homes and to consider how they might also link with efforts to save HREC homes. As the sun set, the fire looked more daunting to all, HREC residents had left the site, but a few staff stayed on to do what they could as they waited for CalFire – who were stretched thin with numerous fires to attend to.
My last phone conversation that evening with our interim director John Bailey was worrying.“I'm not feeling confident, the fire is headed downhill towards headquarters, is there anything else you need from your house?” he asked.
Although I know of the huge benefits of fire to our lands, this fire was now encroaching on our homes and it was hard to consider any positive role it might have. At around 9 p.m., CalFire moved their incident command to HREC alongside a team of at least 3 bulldozers, a water tanker and 6 engines. It's hard to express the gratitude you feel to these men and women who will put themselves at such risk to save the homes of strangers. This was certainly a turning point for HREC, all buildings and animals were kept safe although around two-thirds of the site did burn above headquarters and spread east towards Lake County. Although the fear for headquarters could dissipate – it was with grim understanding that now others were at risk and this fire was still burning strong.
As I write this, a few days on, we are now assessing the damage to the site. Our water supply is severely affected, pipes that carried water from springs on site simply burst as the water inside them boiled due to the heat. Our team is out checking for dangerous trees, which still smoke ominously along the road. The many research projects that used our site as their “living laboratory” are impacted to various extents. And yet – we know how lucky we are. On our minds are all the people facing evacuation and the potential loss of their homes or worse. The role of HREC in sharing advice on fire safe measures alongside the Mendocino Fire Safe Council becomes stronger and clearer.
Now that the immediate fear has subsided, I can think again about the healing power that this fire will have on parts of our landscape. Many of our oaks did survive and prescribed burns over the years have aided in ensuring some parts of the site suffered only quick moving grass fires. Although the important wildlife research conducted by the UC Berkeley Brashares lab will be significantly impacted, we will now be able to see the movements of the many GPS collared deer that live on our site in relation to fire. This fire will offer many more opportunities for researchers from different fields to study post fire impacts with access to long-term pre-fire data to support their work.
Our site is here to provide answers to scientific questions associated with a Northern California working landscape – and this fire has allowed us to gain knowledge, the opportunity to learn more and the impetus to share that knowledge to help where we can.
This picture was taken on Friday night, July 27 as the fire started to move downhill towards the headquarters area.
Research projects have been affected, for example this weather station was completely destroyed by the fire. On the positive side - there are now many opportunities to see the regenerative aspects of fire and the research associated with those.
Looking across to Cow Mountain from the higher points on the site through the chaparral.
Many of our oaks have survived, past prescribed fires and grazing decreased the fuel load beneath the trees reducing the temperature and allowing fire to move through quickly. However in this are a mid story of madrone led to higher temperatures and prolonged burning which may have killed some of the black oaks to be found in the area.
For those who don't know me, my name is Rachel Wingler and I am the summer intern at Hopland REC. Through my internship I have had the opportunity to work on and help plan the Sustainable You Summer Camp. This summer camp is a week-long science and sustainability camp for children ages 9-12. This year we even offered an overnight option on one of the nights which involved a night drive around HREC to find animals and smores. This years' camp had 18 campers. That is a lot for two camp coordinators and our lovely volunteers. Nevertheless, we had an incredible week. From interesting speakers, bioblitz dancing, drone presentations, farmer visits, and wildlife biologists to garden box making, solar car racing, smoothie bike making and trail camera placing we had such an exciting week. We really want to thank all of our scholarship donors who contributed to our camp and allowed some campers to come who otherwise might not have been able to. These donors include, Dan Baxter, Deanna Goff, Richard and Lisa Black, Sonoma Clean Power, South Ukiah Rotary, Trish Wingler, and Ukiah Rotary. Without you all this camp would have been short a few kids and we are so thankful to have had them all as a part of our camp.
When I first applied for this job I really didn't know fully what I was getting myself into. After this spectacular experience I couldn't be more thankful to Hopland REC for giving me the opportunity to work with this organization. I specifically want to thank Hannah Bird for being so hard working and so interested in the well being of the youth in the community. Working on the planning and then getting to see the execution of all the hard work during the week of camp was more than I could have ever imagined. For anyone who has considered putting time in whether paid or volunteer at HREC, DO IT! You will not be disappointed by your experience. I mean just look at these faces...
Needless to say, this whole experience has been one of my greatest memories and I hope it will be for the campers as well. Sustainable You Summer Camp is such a positive thing for the youngsters in this community and in surrounding communities. If you ever send your child to Sustainable You Summer Camp, you can rest assured that a lot of hard work and heart was put into it. The photo above was taken on Friday, during the camper's last trip to the creek bed. The trail cameras were placed in the creek bed all week by the campers. For now I will keep it semi-short and sweet. Goodbye for now!
-Rachel Wingler (Summer Intern)
From the Barn to the Yarn in Hopland
On Monday morning a group of 25 strangers gathered in front of the lambing barn at the UC Hopland Research and Extension Center. “If you survive the week, you'll be in a rare group” commented John Harper, Livestock and Natural Resources Advisor to the class. This heralds the beginning of the sheep shearing school, an intensive week long class, which is so eagerly anticipated that space on the class was filled in just 4 minutes from the opening of online registration.
The participants are varied and have traveled from all over the USA. As they introduce themselves they explain their motivations for joining this class and a common theme begins to emerge “there's just no one else to shear my sheep”. Many of the participants work with smaller sheep flocks and it is not economical to employ travelling shearers, used to shearing flocks of hundreds or thousands, for just a few sheep. These small flocks are increasing across Mendocino County and the need for qualified shearers who are sympathetic to the needs of small producers is high. The group mix might surprise some, with over 20 female participants and a number of the group using vacation from their “day job” to attend this class including a hair dresser looking to expand her scope. During the introduction it is made clear to all that shearing is not as easy task “a full day of shearing is equivalent to running a marathon” concluded Harper as he led the class into the barn to get started.
“One of my favorite things about this school is the range of people who are brought together for such an intensive experience” commented Hannah Bird, HREC community educator. “At the end of the week you always see such pride in their achievement, and the possibility of a new economic string to their bow, we're proud to see that being expressed in our community through Matt Gilbert and his family, a past shearing school participant who has now opened Mendocino Wool and Fiber, our local wool mill”.
Alongside a renewed interest in keeping small flocks of sheep, there has also been increased practice of fiber arts such as knitting and felting in the last 20 years, particularly amongst millennials. Celebrity knitters such as Julia Roberts and Cameron Diaz might be partly responsible, but the many qualities of wool as a fiber are greatly appreciated by local spinners, knitters and artists.
To get a taste of the entire process from sheep to scarf, HREC invites the community to their 4th annual Barn to Yarn celebration on Saturday, May 12th. There will be displays and demonstrations including herding sheep with a sheepdog (performed by Tom Trent from the Redwood Empire Sheepdog Association), shearing, knitting, felting, spinning and weaving.
“Our amazing team of experts and volunteers will help attendees at Barn to Yarn to try their hand working with wool – this is such a great day for all the family from kids to the committed fiber artist. We'll even be creating a beautiful shawl during the event which will be offered at silent auction through the day. What could be a better Mother's Day present?” added Bird. Guest of honor, Jean Near (103) will be adding to the event with stories of over 100 years living in Mendocino, ranching merino sheep which are prized for their wool over many of those years. Matthew Topsfield brings rare knitting skills all the way from the Outer Hebrides of Scotland which he will share with attendees who might enjoy making a “fisherman's gansey”.
Admission is $10 for adults, children under 12 $5. HREC asks visitors to leave their pets at home to protect the site and the sheep resident there. Bring your own picnic and all utensils; tea, coffee and water will be available. Visit http://bit.ly/BarntoYarn2018 to find out more and purchase your ticket. Barn to Yarn will be held at the Rod Shippey Hall, 4070 University Road, Hopland, CA 95449 from 9am-3pm on May 12th. For more information contact Hannah Bird, (707) 744-1424, Ext. 105, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Spring is here, flowers are blooming and wildlife abounds. The UC Hopland Research and Extension Center (HREC) is inviting the community to join NatureFest on April 27 and 28 to revel in the joys of the outdoors!
NatureFest brings together scientists, researchers and the community in a variety of experiences to enjoy the biodiversity found in the oak woodlands of Northern California. The celebration will begin with a delicious locally sourced dinner and the talk “Bear Essential? The Past, Present, and Potential Future of Grizzlies in California” by Dr. Peter Alagona, author and associate professor at UC Santa Barbara on April 27. Activities will continue bright and early on April 28 with the opportunity to join bird watching hikes with Peregrine Audubon Society and to explore the leaf litter of the woodlands in the search for scorpions with Dr. Lauren Esposito of the California Academy of Sciences. From 11am-3pm on the 28th scientists, naturalists, volunteers and community members of all ages are encouraged to join the “Bioblitz for All” in search of new species.
“The concept of a bioblitz is to connect researchers, experts and all members of the community in a combined effort to survey a specific piece of land over a set period of time,” said Hannah Bird, HREC community educator. “In our case we will be hiking a beautiful trail on the University of California owned property taking us into oak woodland, through creeks and across grasslands. Experts and naturalists will help us search for and identify critters, we'll then record them using a cell phone app called iNaturalist. Using tools like iNaturalist, which link us with a community of experts, allows us all to become citizen scientists,” Bird said. “Researchers only have so many pairs of eyes. Observations of species can be magnified greatly when the public get involved and submit their findings through an online platform.”
At 2:30pm, as the Bioblitz draws to a close participants are encouraged to join John Griffith of the California Conservation Corps for the bioblitz dance, this dance has become a social media sensation and every participant is welcome to bring their own personal dance moves to add to the event.
Folk musicians The Real Sarahs and Gwyneth Moreland will help attendees to relax after a day in nature with organic harmonies that enchant and uplift the spirit from 3-5pm. These singer-songwriters create magic with voices in harmony, acoustic instruments, and the energetic connection between artists and audience. With a breadth of influences, you are likely to hear threads of folk, jazz, blues, and country running through their songs.
Visitors are encouraged to join any or all of the events during the weekend. The events are suitable for a wide range of ages and experiences. Photographers will have an opportunity to display their skills during a competition for the best pictures taken during the weekend. Prizes will be given not only for the best pictures of wildlife but also for pictures that express the wonder and awe of nature.
“We hope that NatureFest will include all those who enjoy getting outdoors and observing nature – from the roly poly researching toddler to the keen gardener, hiker or aspiring teen wildlife biologist,” Bird said.
Tickets prices vary from $5-$60 for the different events, all prices are listed at http://bit.ly/NatureFest2018. Registration in advance is encouraged, all tickets are $5 more on the door. April 23rd is the deadline to register for the Friday April 27 dinner. Registration can be made online or by calling Hannah Bird at (707) 744-1424, Ext. 105. All events will begin at the Rod Shippey Hall, 4070 University Road, Hopland. NatureFest is supported by Charlie and Joan Kelly, VisitMendocino, Peregrine Audubon Society, 4-H, California Conservation Corps, Terra Savia, Blue Quail Wine and The California Naturalist Program.
Due to the nature of the research with sheep and a commitment to using guard dogs as part of a predator control program, no dogs are allowed on UC ANR HREC for public events.
During 2017 over 3800 hours of volunteer time were offered at HREC! Our incredible volunteer team helps across all areas from citizen science on our phenology project to working with children and adults at our educational events. The California Conservation Corps also volunteer their time and enjoy learning new skills such as chainsaw safety and technique with us.
We are thrilled to welcome a number of new youth volunteers to this program at the beginning of 2018, including 16 year old Hercules Almond who comes to us with a sharp mind and wonderful way of expressing himself and the world around him, enjoy this, the first blog post from Hercules as he expresses his first experiences on our site:
"Driving up through the light mid-morning mist that envelopes the hilltops on the way to the Hopland Research and Extension Center (HREC) is ever a joyous and smile-inducing trip to undertake from my home in Hopland. While I've only begun to truly frequent it, it has always been a place that I have enjoyed venturing to immensely, with its landscape rolling at points, being steep in others, sheep spotting the various fields and pastures as the sun may begin to shine through the cloud cover and bathe it all in a warm glow.
I find myself slightly taken aback by the sheer scope of activities and goings-on that occur here… between the vast diversity of flora, the myriad of fauna that can call it home, the enormous plethora of sheep, and how the local ecosystem works in concert with the factors that contribute to its development and evolution, the entire acreage holds so much potential for all manners of research, study, and boundless expansion upon our understanding of the natural world out here and all around us.
To be completely honest, I've been ecstatic about almost everything to do with nature and the wilderness since I was a small child, fascinated by the most miniscule of insects and most gargantuan of trees at the very same time, loving nothing better than to live out away from all the noise and congestion of both cities and towns in general. I'm at peace with little but the sounds of the wind and birds surrounding me as I stand in a damp forest or on the top of a high cliff that overlooks beauty that can seldom be found elsewhere outside places such as HREC... I feel genuinely lucky to have the opportunity to volunteer here and be in the midst of working side-by-side with the remarkable individuals who devote time to helping here."