Posted on Categories ForestsTags , , ,

Wet winter in Sonoma County may have helped spread virulent oak disease

Derek Moore, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Now that the North Coast is finally drying out from an unusually wet winter, concern is growing over the potential rapid spread of sudden oak disease, renewing calls for the public’s help tracking the deadly forest pathogen.

“Now is when we might expect the pathogen to take off a bit,” said Kerry Wininger, a UC Cooperative Extension staffer in Santa Rosa.

Wininger is a local organizer of annual sudden oak death surveys known as the SOD Blitz. This year’s survey occurs from April 25 to 28 across Sonoma and Mendocino counties. Organizers are hoping for a good turnout of volunteers, who will become educated spotters and collectors to help scientists slow the disease’s spread.

A relatively dry winter in 2017-18, coupled with the attention paid to devastating wildfires, appear to have dampened public concern over sudden oak death. But experts say conditions are ripe now for a resurgence of the disease. In addition, there’s heightened worry about a new, more virulent strain of the pathogen gaining a hold on the North Coast and causing more devastation.

Wininger said one of the highlights of this year’s surveys is the unveiling of a new test for the European strain in time to possibly thwart its spread. The new strain has been detected in Oregon.

“We want to nip it in the bud, if it’s here,” Wininger said.

Phytophtora ramorum, the pathogen that causes SOD, most often is spread by water droplets blowing from the leaves of infected bay laurel trees. There is no cure, only preventative measures or destroying oak and tanoak trees that succumb to the pathogen.

Read more athttps://www.pressdemocrat.com/lifestyle/9481637-181/wet-winter-in-sonoma-county

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, ForestsTags , , ,

Sonoma County groups embrace return of the mighty acorn

Stephen Nett, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Oak trees are among the most visible icons of the ancient Northern California landscape. With dark limbs curling above a carpet of grass, they lend an almost parklike visage to the foothills. The ten native species here also have seasonally dropped vast quantities of edible harvests of acorns, which support a bounty of wildlife and once fed indigenous people, who used fire and other tested practices to protect and nurture productive “orchards” in the woodlands.

The acorn was the original California cuisine, a reliable, nutritious staple on every menu that literally grew on trees. But after thousands of years, the venerable acorn was ignominiously edged out, to be replaced by imports of wheat flour, French fries, instant rice and corn flakes.

Despite its culinary disappearance, appreciation for the humble oak tree nut was never completely extinguished, and now it’s making a modest comeback, thanks to renewed interest in local, sustainable, functional and even foraged foods.

A mid-February workshop at the Laguna de Santa Rosa Foundation entitled “Seed to Table: How to Process and Eat Acorns of the Laguna Watershed,” was nearly sold out several weeks in advance.

The wild acorn is also the focus of local tribal groups seeking ways to strengthen cultural ties, reclaim their rich California heritage, and restore links to healthy diets from ancestral lands. A local, indigenously produced new product, Acorn Bites, is set to hit the local market in February.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/lifestyle/9247142-181/sonoma-county-groups-embrace-return

Posted on Categories Forests, HabitatsTags , , , ,

Nonprofit restores Sonoma County’s natural habitat with oak tree seedlings

Hannah Beausang, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

When Natalie Portis first stepped onto her property in Sonoma nearly 20 years ago, she was immediately enchanted by the verdant natural landscape and the stately oak trees.

Portis’ wooded oasis was among the thousands of acres of forests and oak-studded landscapes that burned in the October 2017 Nuns fire, which claimed her home and an estimated 700 trees on her 10-acre Castle Road property.

“It still feels surreal,” Portis, 59, said. “It was devastating to go back there and see the singed trees. I just remember being there and feeling the grief and toll of such loss.”

She’s rebuilding her home and plans to move in this summer. It’s been a “painful” process, but a bright spot came last month as she planted 21 oak tree seedlings sprouted from acorns collected by local volunteers in the weeks after the devastating wildfires two years ago in Sonoma County.

“It was very playful and very sweet, and it put a huge smile on my face,” she said of planting the young coast live oaks on her property with help from members of the California Native Plant Society. “I feel like I’m going to get back home.”

Oak trees have long defined the bucolic landscapes of Sonoma County and played a critical role in shaping its natural habitat. Recognizing the need to preserve and proliferate the native species after the fires, the California Native Plant Society and its local Milo Baker chapter — named after the noted Santa Rosa botanist — quickly launched efforts in 2017 to harvest acorns from areas near burn zones in the county and surrounding communities.

“Oaks are really the powerhouses of our ecosystem here in California when it comes to native plants,” said Liv O’Keeffe, senior director of communication and engagement for the environmental nonprofit society. “A single oak can literally support hundreds of insects, pollinators, birds, critters and other plant species. Having those oaks in place keeps an ecosystem intact.”

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9116919-181/nonprofit-restores-sonoma-countys-natural

Posted on Categories ForestsTags , , , ,

Arborists: Charred trees may still regrow

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Danny and Sky Matula have tied bright green ribbons near the base of about 50 charred Douglas fir trees standing behind the ruins of their home in the rolling hills west of Kenwood.
“They’re just toast,” Sky Matula said, as light rain fell on the ashen remains of the home his father built on the wooded 10-acre parcel adjoining Trione-Annadel State Park.
The black, denuded firs — including two that stand about 150 feet tall — are almost certainly dead, and stand far too close for comfort to the once and future family home.
The green ribbons mark them for removal by one means or another.
But like countless other homeowners, the Matulas are stuck in an uncomfortable dilemma regarding the fate of fire-scarred trees, including stout oaks and tall, slender firs, that impart majesty to their property.
Like California’s iconic redwoods, oaks are cloaked in thick, protective bark that enables several of their species to survive all but the worst wildfires, experts say.
And as homeowners begin to plot their post-fire recovery, tree advocates are urging restraint in removing burned trees and shrubs in favor of waiting at least until spring to see if fresh green growth emerges from vegetation that has adapted to survive fire.
Read more at: Burned trees in North Coast fire areas pose dilemma for homeowners

Posted on Categories Land UseTags ,

Legislation creating Lytton tribal homeland near Windsor clears big hurdle

Clark Mason, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Legislation to create a tribal homeland next to Windsor for the Lytton Band of Pomo Indians has cleared a significant hurdle, gaining approval in the U.S. House of Representatives last week and moving on to the Senate.
Known as the Lytton Rancheria Homelands Act, the bill would create reservation lands totaling more than 500 acres adjoining and southwest of Windsor, enabling the Lyttons to go ahead with a tribal housing project and pursue plans for a resort hotel and large winery.
“It’s a big step for the tribe,” said Lytton attorney and spokesman Larry Stidham, who noted it cleared the Committee on Natural Resources and passed without opposition on a routine floor vote.
But Windsor residents opposed to the Bill — H.R. 597 — said they were not permitted to testify against it and vowed to fight on.
“It’s far from over,” said Eric Wee, a founder of Citizens for Windsor, which adamantly opposes the Lytton project. “We are hoping our senators look at this and take in the strong opposition against this.”
Wee said his group has collected nearly 3,500 signatures in opposition to the Lyttons’ plans.The bill moves to the Senate’s Indian Affairs Committee to consider for a hearing.
Read more at: Legislation creating Lytton tribal homeland near Windsor clears big hurdle | The Press Democrat

Posted on Categories Land Use, Sustainable LivingTags , , ,

Mitigation for 157 Windsor oak trees cut down for apartment complex

Clark Mason, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Crews this week began cutting down more than 150 oak trees on a Windsor site, a tangible sign that a large apartment complex is soon to take their place.
The oaks, including some old-growth specimens and many trees said to be in declining health, are being cleared to make way for a 387-unit apartment complex that Windsor officials say will provide badly needed rental housing.
After an uproar two years ago over the removal of the oaks — a species considered an integral part of Windsor’s identity and also the town’s logo — the developers redesigned the project and agreed to cut down almost 50 fewer trees than they originally planned.
“We have saved many more trees than originally approved (for removal),” said Peter Stanley, project manager for the apartment development, which is expected to break ground by the end of March. “We met the need of the community and environmental concerns by saving as many oaks as we could.”
Windsor Planning Director Ken MacNab said there are currently 274 oaks on the property and 157 are scheduled to be removed.
Over half of the trees being taken out are in poor health or have hazardous structural issues, he said.
The developers will plant 267 new oaks, resulting in almost 400 oaks on the site once the project is completed. In addition, they are required to pay a mitigation fee of $420,000 for future oak planting throughout the town.
Read more at: 157 Windsor oak trees cut down for apartment complex | The Press Democrat

Posted on Categories Forests, HabitatsTags , ,

The wild diversity of Sonoma County's oak trees

Melanie Parker, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

So why are oak forests important? Many would say they are a huge part of our county’s scenic landscape, but they also provide valuable habitat for more than 300 wildlife species and as many as 5,000 insect species. Oaks provide an abundant food source as well as cavities that house birds like the oak titmouse, and fallen logs and branches used by ants, beetles, salamanders and even frogs. Oak woodlands are simply teaming with life.

Where is your favorite spot to enjoy Sonoma County’s magnificent oak woodlands? Is it a stretch along your morning commute, a park you often visit, or perhaps the trees in your yard?
Oak trees are perhaps the single most iconic element of our landscape. So what do we know about them?
For starters, there are 10 different species in Sonoma County, and in many places the trees are blended together in an unusual way. While other counties boast high numbers of blue oak woodlands or Oregon oak woodlands, here scientists just scratch their heads and label many of our forest stands “mixed oak.” This diversity can be seen in the patchwork of greens in the forest canopy around places like Spring Lake.
Where they do carve out their own single-type stands, oaks can teach you something about the microclimate and soil type you are in.
The majestic valley oaks love the deep soils in our valley bottoms. Hike through the Laguna de Santa Rosa to get a good look at them. Their leaves are dull green, without sharp tips and deeply lobed. Blue oaks endure relatively hot and rocky locations. Look for them on inland ridges like those in Sonoma Valley above the town of Glen Ellen. Their leaves are blue-green, no sharp tips and shallowly lobed.
Black oaks are water lovers and enjoy shady canyons like those in Hood Mountain and Sugarloaf Ridge. Their leaves are large and sharply tipped, with deep lobes.
Oregon oaks take up where the valley oaks leave off on hillsides with fertile soils. They can be seen with the coast live oak rimming the meadows at places like Taylor Mountain. Leaves are bright green, lobed and not sharply tipped.
And finally there is our most ubiquitous oak, the coast live oak, which dominates the western portion of the county while holding its own in almost any setting. Its leaves are dark green, curved, with sharp little spines.
To make matters more interesting, many of Sonoma County’s oaks hybridize, creating another 12 versions of oak to inspire your appreciation for the wonders of nature. Annadel State Park is a good example of rampant hybridization between blue oak and Oregon oak.
Read more: | Sonoma Index-Tribune | Sonoma, CA

Posted on Categories ForestsTags , , ,

Sudden oak death might be unstoppable in California

ASSOCIATED PRESS
An epidemic of the tree disease “sudden oak death” has surged beyond control in California, a new study shows.
The computer model used in the study published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences took into account topography, weather and factors like funds available to fight the extremely contagious disease. It has killed millions of trees along the Northern California coast since it emerged in 1995.
The study suggests that the disease is spreading too fast to eradicate statewide, saying it will accelerate after 2020 when it is likely to flourish in California’s northwestern corner, where conditions are perfect for it.
Had the state begun fighting the disease in 2002, it may have been possible to eliminate it, the study says.
Critics have faulted the state and federal government for failing to take such stronger actions, the Los Angeles Times reported.
But the report is not entirely hopeless, offering recommendations for fighting the disease on a small scale to slow its growth by focusing on restoring small local forests.
Read more at: Study: Sudden oak death might be unstoppable in California | The Press Democrat

Posted on Categories ForestsTags , , ,

Drought slows spread of sudden oak death in Sonoma County

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Four years of drought have slowed the spread of sudden oak death to its lowest level in a decade, but western Sonoma County remains one of the hot spots in the 15 infested counties from Monterey to Humboldt, and when rain comes again the tree-killer will resume its rampage through Northern and Central California woodlands.

UC Berkeley Forest Pathology and Mycology Lab, (http://nature.berkeley.edu/garbelottowp/?p=1596)
UC Berkeley Forest Pathology and Mycology Lab, (http://nature.berkeley.edu/garbelottowp/?p=1596)

Analysis of more than 2,100 bay laurel tree leaves sampled during an annual citizen-powered survey last spring found a 3.7 percent estimated rate of sudden oak death infection, down from 4.4 percent in 2014 and possibly the lowest level since the disease erupted in 1995.
“I think we’re at the bottom of the infection rate,” said Matteo Garbelotto of the UC Berkeley Forest Pathology and Mycology Lab.
Drought conditions thwart the spread of sudden oak death, which largely depends on wet, windy weather to blow infectious spores from bay laurel trees, which host the pathogen, to oak and tanoak trees that die within a few years of infection.
Predictions of a strong El Niño weather pattern this winter could mean heavy rains for the North Coast. And when rain starts falling again, the as-yet unstoppable tree-killer will renew its assault, Garbelotto said.
“We know the sudden oak death pathogen can respond readily to wet conditions,” he said.A relatively wet climate, even during the drought, explains why west Sonoma County had an estimated 12.6 percent infection rate this year, up from 7.1 percent in 2014, he said.
Read more at: Drought slows spread of sudden oak death in | The Press Democrat

Posted on Categories Land Use, Sustainable LivingTags , , , Leave a comment on Developer to spare more oak trees in Windsor housing project

Developer to spare more oak trees in Windsor housing project

Clark Mason, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
A controversial apartment project proposed in downtown Windsor has a new name, and a new design that calls for the removal of almost 50 fewer oak trees than before.
The old “Bell Village” moniker has been dropped, replaced by “Vintage Oaks on the Town Green,” but the changes are more than just a renaming and appear to have gone a long way toward appeasing critics.
In the face of strong opposition from some residents and feedback from the Town Council, the developers went back to the drawing board and came up with a plan that expands open space, preserves more trees and adds a variety of housing.
“We think we have a better project because of this,” said Peter Stanley, a Santa Rosa architect and principal in ArchiLOGIX, the company hired to help design and develop the apartment project. “We have a significantly different site plan than we did before.”
Prodded by Town Council members who wanted to see more than just three-story townhomes, the project still calls for a total of 387 units, but would be split almost evenly between townhomes and “stacked flat” apartments, with most of the apartments served by elevators to better accommodate seniors and disabled persons.
The changes are getting generally favorable reviews from critics of Bell Village, with some caveats.“I was encouraged they redesigned it to save more trees. I felt our message has gotten through to them. I have to say I’m happy about that,” said Eric Wee, a Windsor resident who spearheaded a petition drive that was signed by more than 1,000 people urging the Town Council to reject Bell Village.
He noted that the revised plans call for cutting 47 fewer trees than before, but said he still wants to walk the site — the former Windsorland mobile home and trailer park — to see which trees are proposed for removal and which will be saved.
And Wee remains concerned that the apartment project has too many units, considering that combined with another proposed development — Windsor Mill — they would add almost 800 rental dwellings to downtown Windsor, increasing traffic and potentially altering the character of a town defined mostly by owner-occupied, single family homes.
The developers and their supporters counter that Vintage Oaks is exactly the type of higher density housing specified in Windsor’s general plan, on an infill site close to a train depot, within walking distance of parks, schools, shopping and restaurants.
Read more at: Developer to spare more oak trees in Windsor | The Press Democrat