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Triple Threat to California Forests

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This winter, experts from the Integrated Hardwood Range Management Program released two groundbreaking white papers that explain the three biggest threats to California’s oak woodlands: fire, development, and agriculture.

White papers, which typically argue a specific position or solution to a problem, are an excellent tool for Extension specialists and advisors in their mission to deliver science-based solutions to issues facing the people of California.

According to Doug McCreary, a natural resources specialist and primary author of the white paper on fire, Californians are finally realizing that living with fire is as normal as living with earthquakes. “Science tells us that fire is a natural part of the oak woodland ecology,” McCreary says. “We have to develop strategies that allow for ecologically productive fires, while minimizing the catastrophic impacts of fire on people and property.”

The second white paper deals with an equally sensitive and controversial issue: land use among the oaks, whose range covers nearly two-thirds of the state. According to the paper’s chief architect, Greg Giusti, a forest and wildland ecology advisor, “land-use topics in oak woodlands are every bit as heated as the spotted owl debates of the 1990s.” The white paper argues that the two main processes influencing oak woodlands today are land clearing (for subdivisions and intensive agriculture) and the continued parcelization of large, continuous woodland ownerships for development. Coastal counties from Mendocino to Santa Barbara and the Sierra foothill communities from Placer to Mariposa have all been wrestling with oak issues revolving around housing development and an everexpanding wine-grape industry.

“We’re witnessing the first steps taken by the state to address the issues of oak woodland conversion by certain types of land use,” says Giusti. “We still have a long way to go.”

Both white papers are available online at

-Cyril Manning


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