A Message from the Dean - October 2017

Oct 23, 2017 Helene Dillard
Living with and learning from California wildfires

Harvesting Cabernet Sauvignon grapes at Oakville Experimental Station under smoky conditions. From left to right are Ph.D. student Raul Girardello, M.S. student Arran Rumbaugh and Dr. Anita Oberholster, Cooperative Extension specialist in Enology in the Department of Viticulture and Enology. Wine made from excess experimental fruit at the station may be used for potential smoke taint research.
We are heartbroken over the fires that have taken lives and consumed homes and businesses in our treasured state, and we are acutely aware that the devastation has affected many within our own communities. Our college has deep connections to the impacted areas, and we sincerely hope you and your loved ones are safe. Our thoughts go out to all who were affected by this major natural disaster.

The UC Davis community was both affected by and is helping out in the wake of these fires. The wildfires nearest to our campus struck a region we are quite familiar with: the North Coast wine country. Several wineries were damaged or destroyed. Many more were evacuated, including our own Oakville Station. Close to 90 percent of the grapes in the region were picked when the fires started. However, the cloud of smoke lingering over the area presents challenges for winemakers with vineyards that hadn’t been harvested. For some perspective on this issue, please read the UC Davis Department of Viticulture and Enology’s response on the issue of smoke taint. The UC Agricultural Issues Center on campus also has analyzed the potential economic effect on Cabernet Sauvignon wine grapes

Wildfires are a fact of life in much of California, particularly this time of the year. Fanned by extraordinary high winds, the recent Northern California fires spread very quickly and proved especially difficult to control. The wildfire threat is a major concern for all of us, and UC Davis is working on several fronts to help reduce human and natural system risk as a consequence of fire.

Our campus researchers are currently evaluating how the changing climate may increase our risk from wildfires, and how we may improve our management of wildlands to reduce both the threat and impacts of such fires. Thus, through federal partnerships such as the California Climate Hub (housed on campus at the John Muir Institute of the Environment) and the Southwest Climate Science Center (of which UC Davis is one of six core institutions), we are disseminating critical information to resource management agencies engaged in habitat restoration and management.

Most of the UC Davis UC Natural Reserve acreage is located in fire-sensitive Coast Range ecosystems (Stebbins and Quail Ridge). These are living laboratories for understanding fire response and managing for fire safety. Much of Stebbins was burned two years ago in the Wragg fire. As a result of our experience with managing these resources and as a research endeavor, we are now collaborating with the Bureau of Land Management on the Berryessa Blue Ridge National Monument to better understand current vegetation conditions and fire risk.

With partners from the U.S. Forest Service, the Nature Conservancy and others, UC Davis is also at the center of collaborative processes to redefine forest management in the Sierra Nevada. We are experiencing increasing area, elevation and intensity of fires in our forests, and reducing fuels is critical to reducing fire risk. Experimental work on variable stand density aims to bring this management technique to the landscape scale.

To those who experienced loss from any wildfire, we extend our heartfelt sympathies. Our university community is committed to learning what we can from the fires, developing the knowledge and tools so that California can more effectively cope with the inevitable shifts in our climate and environment, and actively supporting the rebuilding of our vibrant communities. 

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