Natural Resources and Science

Natural Resources and Science

News articles ranging from water and energy issues, and restoration projects to science and technology are found here.

According to a press release from the Public Information Office of the U.C. Center for Forestry:

A wave of new Sudden Oak Death (SOD)-related oak and tanoak mortality has been confirmed this year throughout California’s infested forests, according to the 2012 USDA Forest Service annual aerial survey. This year, the survey mapped 376,000 dead oak and tanoak over 54,000 acres in California’s SOD-impacted areas, compared to 38,000 trees across 8,000 acres mapped in the same area last year.

Photo from the California Oak Mortality Task Force Website at: http://www.suddenoakdeath.org/

“This increase in infection really was predicted two, and especially one, year ago when we had heavier rains and mild springs,” said Matteo Garbelotto, Adjunct Professor with UC Berkeley.  At that time, SOD Blitz surveys conducted by citizen scientists in participating communities were finding increases in symptomatic California bay laurel leaves (the primary host for disease spread and often the precursor to oak and tanoak infection), confirming that Phytophthora ramorum (the pathogen known to cause SOD) was spiking in activity in conjunction with optimal weather conditions.  SOD Blitzes, combined with the aerial surveys, validate our theory that SOD outbreaks are driven by wetter than average conditions and are initiated by bay laurel infection.  Bay laurel infections cannot be detected by aerial surveys, but require an on-ground survey like the SOD Blitzes, which now are proven to provide an early  warning (1 year, maybe more) for oak mortality outbreaks.  Early detection is crucial to pathogen containment and possibly local eradication attempts.”

Most of the key results of the 2012 SOD Blitzes concern the establishment of the pathogen in urban or residential areas.  Burlingame Hills, a residential area in the North Peninsula, had a staggering 48 percent of positive samples.  The west side of the East Bay revealed high levels of bay infection comparable to those normally observed at the onset of oak mortality outbreaks, indicating the disease in these urban areas has rapidly transitioned from arrival (reported in 2011) to an epidemic phase.  This year, P. ramorum levels are high enough that oak and tanoak infection in the SOD Blitz-sampled residential areas of Pinole, East Richmond, Kensington, North Berkeley, Claremont, and Piedmont is extremely likely, making preventive disease management options urgently needed to protect oaks and tanoaks both in private and public spaces.  SOD Blitz results from the east side of the East Bay confirmed that the pathogen is well established in Moraga and approaching Lafayette.  “All of the above are very significant infestations,” commented Garbelotto.  “Whenever you are dealing with populated areas, concerns over failing trees potentially harming people or property, as well as the loss of property value and aesthetics, can be very challenging.”

Additional urban outbreaks were detected in Santa Cruz, Carmel Valley Village, and most notably, in Golden Gate Park, where three trees were found to have SOD in a southwestern sector of the park.  Golden Gate Park was the site of another SOD finding several years ago, but in a completely different section several miles away.  Park managers and researchers are intensifying the survey in the area and deciding what steps can be taken to stop its spread in the park.

An unexpected, but encouraging SOD Blitz result, was the absence of positives in the Atherton area, where an outbreak had been detected during the 2010 and 2011 SOD Blitzes, and where local residents have attempted to eradicate what appears to be a discrete urban infestation located a significant distance from any other wildland infestations.  “Early detection and community involvement makes all the difference in success.  The pathogen was detected early thanks to a local SOD Blitz, allowing the community to respond with swift decisiveness.  The apparent absence of the pathogen in 2012 may suggest that the eradication effort has been successful, but such success can be confirmed only by continuing the monitoring efforts which, in turn, may provide early detection of future new infestations as well,” said Garbelotto.

A total of over 10.000 trees were surveyed in 19 SOD Blitzes organized throughout Northern California in the spring of 2012 and engaged over 500 volunteers.  The community-based outreach program is coordinated by local organizers in cooperation with UC Berkeley, and endorsed by the US Forest Service, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, and the National Science Foundation.  Participants are trained to identify SOD symptoms on California bay laurel and tanoak leaves and to properly collect samples and record their locations during the 2-day surveys.  Within 48 hours of collection, samples are processed by the Garbelotto lab to determine the presence or absence of P. ramorum, and results are published on a map early in October.

The maps are used to determine local risk of infection for oaks and tanoaks in affected California counties and also provide the backbone of SODMAP, a comprehensive distribution map of the disease in California.  Current P. ramorum distribution maps for San Mateo, Santa Cruz, Santa Clara, Monterey, Alameda, Contra Costa, San Francisco, Marin, Sonoma, and Napa Counties are now available at www.sodmap.org, and can be used by community members to see how close SOD may be to any given property.  It is highly recommended that oaks and tanoaks within a half mile from confirmed outbreaks be treated to prevent infection.

Community members living in areas known to be infested are encouraged to attend one of the many free sessions organized by UC Berkeley in various SOD-impacted locations throughout October and November.  Sessions will show attendees how to correctly use the distribution maps, determine risk of infection for their oaks and tanoaks, and learn science-based recommendations to help prevent and manage SOD.

SOD is a serious exotic disease that is killing tanoak and oak species in California.  Currently it is found in the wildlands of 14 coastal California counties, from Monterey to Humboldt.

For more information on downloading maps as well as upcoming management training sessions and dates, go to: www.sodblitz.org.  For more information on Sudden Oak Death and P. ramorum, go to the California Oak Mortality Task Force website at www.suddenoakdeath.org or contact Katie Palmieri at (510) 847-5482 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..">This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

According to KMUD News Coordinator, Cyntia Elkins:       
"Sudden oak death was discovered for the first time in the Mattole River last year, and it has now been detected in an additional tributary of the watershed.  Scientists conducted water samples in the watershed earlier this year.  It was found in the mainstem at Whitethorn and Mattole Canyon Creek last year.  Results this year show it is also present in Grindstone Creek, and is affecting both the east and west forks of Mattole Canyon Creek.  Stream sampling uses leaves in the water that will become infected if the pathogen is present.  It’s a way to detect sudden oak death before it can be visibly seen affecting trees.  Dr. Dave Rizzo is a professor of plant pathology at U.C. Davis.  He was on the team of people that collected the first isolates that pinned sudden oak death on phytophtora ramorum.  That was back in 2000."  

Use the player below to hear or download an interview with Professor Rizzo talking about stream monitoring efforts in the Mattole and the Van Duzen watersheds.This story was aired on KMUD Local News, Sept. 19, 2012, by Cynthia Elkins.

Additional Links:
A paper co-authored by Dr, Rizzo
SOD Management Guidelines

According to a Press Release from the City of Arcata:
In honor of National Pollution Prevention Week, wildlife disease ecologist Mourad Gabriel will give a presentation entitled “Silent Forests: Impacts from Poisons Associated with Illegal Marijuana Cultivation on our Public and Tribal Lands” at the Arcata Marsh Interpretive Center on Thursday, September 27 at 7 p.m. The Interpretive Center is located at 569 South G Street in Arcata.

Gabriel and his colleagues are finding an alarming rate of rat poisoning deaths in fishers, a near-endangered member of the weasel family that live in some of the most remote forests in California. He and his colleagues are concerned about how pesticides and rodenticides used by illegal marijuana growers on remote public, private and tribal lands are affecting both the forest watersheds and the entire forest food chain, from rodents to carnivores like martens, spotted owls and the Sierra Nevada red fox.

Mourad Gabriel completed both his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees focusing on wildlife diseases at Humboldt State University. While completing his M.S., he co-founded MGW Biological, an environmental consulting firm, as well as Integral Ecology Research Center, a non-profit scientific research organization where he is the president and senior ecologist. Gabriel is completing his Ph.D. this fall at the University of California Davis in comparative pathology and has authored several scientific manuscripts focusing on infectious and non-infectious diseases affecting wildlife of conservation concern. He lives in Northwestern California where he and his wife, also an ecologist, try to spend as much time as possible enjoying our public lands.

Seating is for this talk is limited so please call (707) 826-2359 or email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for reservations and information.

Gabriel’s talk will be videotaped and aired at a later date on Suddenlink/Access Humboldt Channel 10 and will be available for on-demand viewing online at: www.cityofarcata.org.

U.C. Davis wildlife disease ecologist Mourad Gabriel with pesticides found at an illegal marijuana cultivation site in a secluded forest area. Rat poisons are often used to protect young marijuana plants in remote illegal marijuana grow sites. The poisons are killing different animals in the forest food chain, many of which are already nearing endangered status.

U.C. Davis researcher Mourad Gabriel with one of his research subjects, a Pacific fisher. Fishers, a weasel-like forest carnivore, are being found with alarmingly high levels of rat poisons and pesticides in their bodies. These increasingly rare animals live deep in forests and are exposed to pesticides used by illegal marijuana growers.

A Pacific fisher in its natural element. Fishers and other animals in the forest and watershed food chain are unintended casualties of illegal pot farming. (Photo courtesy of Rebecca Green, Hoopa Tribe.)



According to a Press Release from the Eel River Recovery Project, dated August 10, 2012:

At the same time the Eel River Chinook salmon run is resurging to levels not seen in 50 years, stream margins in dry years are becoming toxic to humans and animals due to blue green algae blooms. Although toxic conditions have not formed since 2009, eleven dog deaths have been documented by the Humboldt County Department of Public Health (HCDPH) that are attributed to toxic algae dating back to 2001, mostly in the South Fork Eel and lower Van Duzen River. Citizens of Fortuna and Redway expressed extreme concern about the public health risk posed by toxic algae at community forums in early September 2011 sponsored by the Trees Foundation. In response to this community need and others, the Eel River Recovery Project (ERRP) was formed and citizens are currently monitoring different river reaches as an early warning system to protect public health.

Humboldt County Public Health staff Harriet Hill samples toxic algae on the SF Eel River at Phillipsville in August 2009:   

The toxic algae problem is relatively new to the Eel River, but it is not unique in the region. It seems that water bodies out of ecological balance are subject to colonization by toxic blue green algae throughout the West. The Eel River toxic species are Planktothrix and Anabaena that can create neurotoxins that are fatal within minutes to dogs that play in algae blooms in stream edges and then lick their fur. Toxic algae does not form in all years and it looks like we may avoid the problem in 2012 due to late rains and a cool summer, but ERRP volunteers are surveilling conditions on the Van Duzen River, South Fork and lower Eel River.  Volunteers are taking pictures of locations that have been known to form toxic conditions and automated temperature sensors are being placed nearby. The hope is that a relationship between ambient stream temperature and development of toxic conditions can be established as part of an early warning system. Water temperature sensing devices used in 2012 are on loan to the ERRP from the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board and the Mendocino County Water Agency.

The ERRP is working with the Humboldt County Public Health and contact is made if conditions become threatening or if there is any evidence of toxic exposure of pets or people. The toxic species often are intermixed with other algae species and can only be identified with magnification. They County and State do not currently have a budget for testing for toxic algae except in emergencies, such as when dogs die. ERRP may try to help get grants so we can help the County to get more and better toxic algae data. In the mean time, the best strategy to keep pets and children safe is to make sure they avoid contact with stagnant stream margins that have algae abundant blooms.

It is assumed that nutrient pollution reduction and water conservation are needed to lessen toxic algae risk and to restore the Eel River’s ecological balance. Speakers at the ERRP sponsored a Water Day forum this past May 6 discussed ways to cut down on pollution and agricultural water use and grant funds are being pursued to promote more widespread implementation of the recommended strategies.

The ERRP operates under the umbrella of the Trees Foundation and the 2012 monitoring program is sponsored by a Rose Foundation grant as well as a private donation. The project also includes citizen assisted temperature trend monitoring of streams and fall Chinook salmon counts. More volunteers are needed and those interested participating in any activity can contact ERRP volunteer monitoring coordinator Patrick Higgins, at (707) 223-7200. See www.eelriverrecovery.org for more information.


September 2011 photo is of the same location on the SF Eel as photo at left and shows no sign of toxic algae:  

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