Science Spotlight

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  • January 5, 2021

The link opens in new windowCalifornia Fish and Wildlife Journal concludes the 2020 Special Issue installments with the winter quarter’s Special Wildland Fire Issue. With this year’s unprecedented fire season, and California’s fire-adapted natural communities taking center stage in land management discussions throughout the State and beyond, this issue is especially poignant as we reflect on this past year and contemplate the incoming new year.

Unlike previous Special Issues, this issue is divided into three sections: Vegetation Treatment and Policy, Fire Impacts on Plants, and Fire Impacts on Wildlife and Water. Each section highlights a piece of the wildfire and landscape management ‘puzzle’ through an examination of fire and its impacts on California’s fire-adapted ecological landscape.

One of these unique communities, the Pine Hill Ecological Reserve in El Dorado County, is home to almost 750 plant species, some of which can only be found at Pine Hill due to its unique soil composition. Researchers from CDFW, the California Native Plant Society and Sacramento City College investigate the impacts of different fuel-reduction methods on Pine Hill Ceanothus in link opens in new window“Effects of a firebreak on plants and wildlife at Pine Hill, a biodiversity hotspot, El Dorado County, California” (PDF). The article examines the effects of hand clearing and pile burning on chaparral species within the Wildland Urban Interface and the secondary impacts on wildlife. The study also includes the exciting discovery of new seedlings of Pine Hill Flannelbush, the rarest and most endangered plant in El Dorado county, and a fire-obligate germinator!

Plants that depend on fire to propagate aren’t the only plant communities impacted by the long-term fire suppression practiced in the western United States. New and updated technology is helping landscape managers and scientists study and assess the pre- and post-fire impacts to landscapes using remote sensing and modeling techniques. This type of data collection and analysis helps inform scientists and policy makers on landscape and watershed-level scales and helps focus efforts to manage habitats and sensitive plant communities before and after wildfires. One such effort is presented by Sonoma County scientists in link opens in new window“Sonoma County Complex Fires of 2017: Remote sensing data and modeling to support ecosystem and community resiliency” (PDF). With the help of NASA and other experts the team evaluates the impacts of the 2017 fires to woody vegetation within areas that burned during wind-driven and non-wind driven events to evaluate canopy condition. Using lidar data, the team identifies important predictors for post-fire woody canopy condition, which highlights the importance of high-resolution airborne mapping technology for informing management decisions.

Management decisions include when and how to monitor pre- and post-fire events, and the CSU Monterey Bay’s study link opens in new window“Analysis of the impacts of the Soberanes Wildlife on stream ecosystems” (PDF) highlights the need for monitoring wildfire’s impacts on coastal streams and benthic macroinvertebrate responses to fire events. This monitoring is especially important because macroinvertebrates are the foundation for in-stream salmon and steelhead foodwebs, and the ability of these microscopic organisms to recover from wildfire also impacts the recovery of these keystone species in California’s rivers and streams.

This quarter’s Special Wildlife Fire Issue also includes examinations of impacts and responses of Roosevelt Elk forage in Humboldt County, an essay on the California Vegetation Treatment Program, amphibian responses to wildfire and other topics that span California’s rich ecological diversity.

The California Fish and Wildlife scientific journal has published high-quality, peer-reviewed science that contributes to the understanding and conservation of California’s wildlife for more than 100 years. We look forward to the continued contributions in the next decade to come.

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Media Contact:
Kirsten Macintyre, CDFW Communications, (916) 804-1714

Categories: California Fish and Game Journal, Science Spotlight
  • June 18, 2019

Three people in waders with long black rubber gloves. Man in middle wearing large gray backpack with tubing coming off back. All three are bent over holding long black rods in small streambed with fallen trees surrounding. Background is filled with trees and vegetation.
CDFW scientists rescuing juvenile Coho Salmon from isolated and drying pool habitats in Olds Creek, a tributary to the Noyo River in Mendocino County.

Three men in and alongside streambed.One man is in the water wearing a gray machine backpack while holding a long yellow rod with a round metal hoop at the end. Another man in the water is bent over holding a small net about the water. A third man crouches alongside the water on top of rocks peering into white bucket. Another white bucket is nearby.
CDFW crew relocating steelhead and Coho Salmon to a lower pool on East Weaver Creek in Trinity County in June of 2015.

Woman wearing purple plaid shirt and black pants holding large yellow and white rod against large boulder. Background is filled with large boulders and vegetation.
In July 2016, this usually perennial pool on Matilija Creek in the Ventura River watershed went dry, killing several juvenile steelhead.

One silver lining to emerge from the severe drought that impacted California earlier this decade was that it whetted an appetite to study the event and compile data designed to help fish and aquatic species better weather future droughts.

The state experienced one of the warmest, driest periods in recorded history during this five-year drought (2012 to 2016).

In Jan. 2014, then-Governor Jerry Brown declared the drought a state of emergency. His proclamation directed all state agencies to act to prepare for and mitigate drought-related effects on water supply and aquatic species. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) responded by enacting “drought stressor monitoring” on a statewide level, and recently released a summary report on that effort entitled link opens in new windowStatewide Drought Response: Stressor Monitoring (PDF).

In late 2016 to early 2017, drought conditions improved considerably in most of the state when winter storms delivered higher than average levels of rainfall. The report describes the results from a collaborative statewide monitoring effort carried out during the period of 2014 to 2017 by scientists from CDFW and other agencies.

The primary purpose was to collect information on the status of populations of fish and other aquatic species, their habitats, and the water quality in the streams in which they reside. The intent was to provide both the scientific community and the public with a better understanding of potential drought-related threats to vulnerable species, and measures taken by CDFW and other agencies to alleviate these threats. This information was also necessary to help CDFW make better-informed management decisions.

The knowledge and data gained in this effort will be used to guide both CDFW and other resource managers during future droughts.

“This was a monumental statewide monitoring effort in response to drought impacts,” said CDFW Environmental Program Manager Jonathan Nelson. “The Drought Stressor Monitoring” developed important baseline documentation of the environmental changes associated with the severe drought conditions, and how the changes affected aquatic habitats and fish populations throughout the state. It was vital to collect this baseline, so we would better understand how to respond both in the present and in the future by creating a boiler plate. This document summarizes the monitoring framework implemented from 2014 to early 2017, how these data informed management actions, and how these efforts will hopefully minimize the impacts on fish and aquatic species during future droughts.”

Overall, CDFW monitored habitat conditions for 17 aquatic species in 141 watersheds, spanning 28 counties. Key findings from the monitor efforts identified several patterns of drought-related ecosystem change throughout the state including 1) increased loss of stream connectivity; 2) degraded water quality, including reduced levels of oxygen and elevated water temperatures; 3) high elevation streams impacted by the formation of winter anchor ice; and 4) elevated instances of fish being stranded by low streamflow and adversely affected by poor water quality.

Drought stressor monitoring was integral to management actions and was particularly critical to the process of aquatic species rescue. Fish rescues were only undertaken after Drought Stressor Monitoring information showed that populations were at high risk of becoming locally extinct in the immediate future. CDFW scientists developed special criteria and guidelines to assess the threat of drought and when to initiate rescue operations. When suitable habitat was available, fish were relocated to nearby habitat within the same stream or watershed to ensure the genetic health of the population and to maintain local adaptations. In cases where habitat was not available, fish were relocated to nearby hatcheries for temporary holding.

Approximately $3 million was dedicated to this effort from then-Governor Brown and more than approximately 100 CDFW staff members contributed to the monitoring and report-summary efforts. CDFW’s Fisheries Branch spearheaded the compiling of the data and finalized the report in collaboration with staff in the department’s various regions.

link opens in new windowView the final report (PDF).

CDFW Photos.

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Media Contact:
Kirsten Macintyre, OCEO Communications, (916) 322-8988
 

Categories: Wildlife Research
  • October 11, 2017

Four men place a 2,300-gallon plastic tank into a rectangular hole in the southern California desert. Volunteers from the Society for the Conservation of Bighorn Sheep install the second of three 2,300-gallon water tanks to provide water for wildlife in the Southern California desert.

Two men in orange T-shirts place water pipes into a trench in the desertSCBS volunteer Glenn Sudmeier and Steve Marschke install plumbing fixtures for the sheep drinker at the Cady Mountains guzzler project in San Bernardino County.

A metal pipe attached to a rock wall in the desert Pipes bolted into the rocks coming from a catch pond going to the original guzzler installed in the desert.

metal pipes lead to cylindrical tanks in the desert Plumbing pipes leading from the catch ponds to the storage tanks at the 40-year-old Cady # 1.

Two fake rocks and a small solar panel on a post, near real rocky terrain in the southern California desert The completed project: Drinkers are covered by fiberglass simulated rocks that shade the water to slow evaporation and to stop algae growth in the opening of the drinker.

150-foot-long catch field behind fake rocks in the desertEntire scope of the project, with the 150-foot-long catch field in the background that feeds water to the underground tanks.

One of the most elusive species in California is the desert bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis nelsoni) that live in the dry, desert mountains of southeastern California. Desert bighorn are far from fragile – males are about five feet long and can weigh up to 200 pounds, while the females weigh up to about 150. Despite their size, their keen eyesight and the agility to escape predators up steep rocky slopes, they still face many threats, including disease, human development, expansion and – more recently—a changing climate. Water is critical to their survival in this extreme environment.

The Society for the Conservation of Bighorn Sheep (SCBS), an all-volunteer organization in Southern California, has been working since 1964 for the conservation and management of the desert bighorn sheep. Over the last 40 years, SCBS and CDFW have been installing drinking systems (also called guzzlers) across the sheep’s habitat to help counteract these challenges. Now the populations rely on these water sources to survive and there is a responsibility to keep them functional and maintained.

In September 2017, SCBS rallied the volunteers to install a new drinking system to provide sheep and other animals life-supporting water in the hot summers. The project took place in the desert east of Barstow, and began with the removal and replacement of the very first guzzler ever installed in California.

The old system had two cement catch ponds, each similar to a small swimming pool lined with plastic. The catch ponds collected rain water and funneled it though pipes and valves to three tanks, where it was stored and fed to a small stainless steel drinker box. Due to its age and condition, after being exposed to the desert air and sun for more than 40 years, the system needed constant maintenance, and – more importantly – SCBS members had to haul hundreds of gallons of water across the desert each summer in order to keep the tanks full during the hottest parts of the year.

To improve efficiency and reduce the impact on the habitat, engineers and scientists devised a new approach to the design and installation of the new system. They created a 150-foot-long catch field, laying down three sections of overlapping matting, like tiles on a roof. The mats were then covered with rocks to help it blend into the surrounding area. The mats are made of non-absorbent material that funnels water down a slope where it’s collected and fed into two 2,300-gallon plastic tanks buried in the ground.

SCBS members did all the work to design and engineer the site, dig out the large holes to bury the tanks and install the plumbing and other equipment, including a solar powered satellite telemetry system that will allow scientists to monitor the water levels, ambient temperatures, water flow and other measurements at the remote site.

After four days of morning-to-night labor, the project was completed and the site returned to its near-natural state. Most of the old system was removed with one tank still operating to give the sheep time to find the new water source about 1,000 feet away. The new system is more efficient, requires very little maintenance, and has a higher storage capacity that should eliminate water hauling efforts. The tanks provide enough water for all wildlife in the area, not just the sheep, and they are less visually intrusive from both land and the air, blending well into the desert surroundings.

All this equipment comes at a cost and this construction was paid for with a grant from the CDFW Big Game Management Account (BGMA) that provides money to fund projects that benefit big-game populations and the habitats upon which they depend.

The careful planning and work done will provide a stable and reliable water source for the sheep and other wildlife in this area for decades to come.

To watch volunteers install the new drinking system, watch a video on the CDFW YouTube channel.

Photos of installation courtesy of SCBS. CDFW photos of finished project by Andrew Hughan.

Categories: General