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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Volume 64, Issue 2, 2010

Issue cover


A quarter century of oak woodland research in the Sierra foothills supports oak restoration

During the last 25 years, a wide variety of oak woodland research has been conducted at the UC Sierra Foothill Research and Extension Center. A substantial portion of this research has focused on developing procedures for artificially regenerating native California oaks. Results indicate that oaks can be successfully established with sufficient care and protection, including thorough weed control and protection from damaging animals. Tree shelters, or grow tubes, have proven particularly useful in getting seedlings to about 6.5 feet (2.0 meters), where they are relatively resistant to cattle browsing. These findings have been disseminated through training sessions and written materials and have been widely adopted by restoration practitioners, improving the overall success rate of oak plantings in California.

Yuba River analysis aims to aid spring-run chinook salmon habitat rehabilitation

Spring-run chinook salmon historically migrated far upstream into Sierra Nevada rivers but are now confined to gravel-limited reaches below large dams ringing the Central Valley. In this study, topographic analysis and photo interpretation reveal the 100-year history of channel conditions in the bedrock canyon on the Yuba River below Englebright Dam, which also abuts the UC Sierra Foothill Research and Extension Center. Historical evidence shows that alluvial bars provided spring-run chinook salmon habitat in the reach prior to gold mining and that the influx of hydraulic mining debris dramatically expanded it. However, when Englebright Dam was completed in 1941, shot rock was left in the canyon and allowed to migrate downstream, where it buried gravel bars. We recommend that shot rock be removed to exhume a pre-existing large gravel bar and that new river gravels be placed in the canyon to create salmon habitat.

Research connects soil hydrology and stream water chemistry in California oak woodlands

The UC Sierra Foothill Research and Extension Center (SFREC) is located in the heart of typical California blue oak and live oak woodlands within metavolcanic terrain of the Sierra Nevada foothills. These types of woodlands often exist at the interface between urban, wild and agricultural lands and are used extensively for livestock grazing, wildlife habitat and surface water supply. Soil surveys for this region and within SFREC depict relatively few soil types compared to areas that support more-intensive agricultural land uses. Despite this inferred homogeneity, our study showed that the biogeochemical and physical properties of soils vary sharply over short distances of less than 10 feet and also experience changes by season and as a result of storm events. An understanding of soil variability in this setting is important to assess rangeland productivity, perennial grass and oak restoration potential, carbon sequestration, stream flow generation and stream water chemistry.

California black rails depend on irrigation-fed wetlands in the Sierra Nevada foothills

After California black rails were discovered at the UC Sierra Foothill Research and Extension Center in 1994, an extensive population of this rare, secretive marsh bird was found inhabiting palustrine emergent persistent (PEM1) wetlands throughout the northern Sierra Nevada foothills. We inventoried a variety of PEM1 wetlands to determine which habitats would likely support black rails. Black rails were positively associated with larger PEM1 wetlands that had flowing water, dense vegetation and irrigation water as a primary source; they were negatively associated with fringe wetlands and seasonal water regimes. Recommendations for managing black rail habitat in the northern Sierra foothills include prioritizing the conservation of PEM1 wetlands with permanently or semipermanently flooded water regimes and shallow water zones (less than 1.2 inches), especially those that are greater than 0.25 acres in size; avoiding wetland vegetation removal or overgrazing, especially during the black rail breeding season (approximately March through July); maintaining and improving wetland connectivity; ensuring that impacts to black rails are considered in the environmental review process for development projects; and integrating management guidelines for black rails into existing wetland conservation programs.

Integrated data-collection system tracks beef cattle from conception to carcass

Data on the performance of individual beef cattle from birth to processing can be used to improve herd management and genetic characteristics such as fertility, weaning weight and tenderness. Likewise, tracing the origins and whereabouts of cattle that may have been exposed to infectious disease agents is necessary to protect the health of the national beef herd. Such information is rarely available, in part because cattle often change ownership during the beef production process. A system developed to support the lifetime tracking of individual cattle in the UC Davis beef herd seamlessly transfers information between the UC Sierra Foothill Research and Extension Center, UC Davis campus feedlot and a commercial beef-cattle processing plant, and provides a repository for performance data collected at all production stages. The system provides real-time data sharing, as well as integrated analysis and management evaluation options, and will be a valuable resource for beef-cattle research. UC livestock farm advisors are now implementing a similar system with cooperating commercial ranches.

Fecal pats help to predict nutrient intake by cattle during summer on California's annual rangelands

Near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS) of fecal samples has been used to predict the crude protein and digestible organic matter of forages consumed by grazing animals. However, for NIRS predictions to be accurate, the equation used must be based on samples from the target population. The Texas A&M Grazinglands Animal Nutrition Laboratory has developed a NIRS program based on forages in Texas, the Midwest and Canada's lower prairie provinces. California producers have been using these equations even though they had never been evaluated for California conditions. We conducted beef-cattle digestibility trials on two California rangeland summer forages to produce forage-fecal pairs for testing the existing NIRS ones and developing new equations as necessary. The predictions from the original equations were significantly different from the true values determined in the digestibility trials. The addition of data from this research has improved the predictive capability for both crude protein and digestible organic matter in California.

Progesterone inserts may help to improve breeding readiness in beef heifers

The accurate determination of pubertal status in yearling beef heifers, possibly combined with the use of exogenous progesterone, allows females to produce the maximum number of calves over their lifetimes. This study aimed to determine the reliability of a reproductive tract scoring (RTS) system that combines manual palpation with ultrasound as a measure of pubertal status, and whether the treatment of heifers with progesterone-containing vaginal inserts — followed by breeding on the second estrus after removal of the insert — could result in increased conception rates compared to untreated heifers. Over 2 years, we found that RTS predicted pubertal status reasonably accurately. Progesterone-treated heifers were more likely to exhibit estrus than control heifers, but their overall breeding efficiency was not affected by progesterone treatment. Inadequate nutrition associated with increased pasture stocking density during both breeding seasons likely had a negative effect on the results of our study.