Note: This page was constructed in early 2010, prior to the celebration of the Sierra Field Station's 50th Anniversary, and remains unchanged except for elimination of typographical errors and minor alteration of sentence and paragraph structure to clarify intended meaning.
Well, yes, that’s me all right. Most folks who know me would say, “Yeah, that’s Charlie alright”, and we won’t mention what else they might add, just for good measure! But Ms. Janet Byron wanted a “head shot”(for the 50th Anniversary of California Agricultural journal). This one, she said, is “too far away”. The reason I was so enamored of this particular view is because it is a rather nice example (Thanks, Bud Kay, for taking the picture) of what I call “The Upper Station” (or “The Koch & Lewis”) looks like.
If all other necessities of life were present (e.g., escape and access in both directions in case of a raging fire), and amenities masquerading as “necessities” were also present, (e.g., gas and/or electric service to power your (cooking) range and refrigerator; cable for your TV; and USPS and UPS deliveries to your doorstep, wouldn’t this make a lovely ten-acre country estate location? If neighbors weren’t too close, maybe even an acre would do. I forgot to add easy access to fishing to the category of amenities: There’s reputed to be excellent fishing on Collins Lake (which used to be a little valley called Virginia Ranch) nearby, but you’d have a dickens of a time getting there from here. Unless you can afford one of Moller International’s bright red “Flying Cars”! Not to say that through-flow of vehicular traffic couldn’t be accomplished, given sufficient incentive. On your way home today, simply drive up and down Wilson Way. It’s a good example. One that perhaps foretells the future, if that future holds a new economy.
Bud Kay took this picture, on a day when he and I went to the Station to review what his old research plots looked like some thirty years after he established them. I had a camcorder along, and from time to time, shot some footage and recorded Bud’s comments. It was an enjoyable experience for both of us. It would be of interest to others, too.
When the last of the “old-timers”, like Bud Kay and Howdy Howard (and yes, me), together with the results, interpretations, and recommendations that emerged from experiments such as those Bud Kay, Howdy Howard (and yes, me) conducted, not just on The Station, but because Bud Kay worked literally from the Modoc Plateau to the Temblor Range and beyond, have disappeared out of researchers’ realms of interest and out of reach of the literature, bright young students (and, faculty as well!) will come up with some of the same ideas and interests, and conclude that experiments simply must be done. “What goes around comes around” my cousin Bill Raguse was fond of saying.
At the second recruitment seminar given by Art Craigmill, at the Sierra Field Station, in support of his application for the position of Station Director, he offered suggestions as to how he might personally add new studies and findings in experiments that were consonant with the multiple opportunities presented by this research facility. Along with hearty approvals from his audience, Art was plied with many suggestions about what “should be done”. As I listened, I kept thinking, “But, but, that’s been done, it’s been done; and some things we don’t need to do, over and over again.”
In my (yes, still unpublished!) Diamond in the Rough – A History of the UC Sierra Field Station, the first chapter is titled “History, Doctrine, and Perspective”. In it I drew from the writings of twenty-five sets of authors, a large measure of whom reported on work done at the USFS San Joaquin Experimental Range (SJER) in Madera County. Included were respected names like Frank Adams (’47). Keith Arnold (’57), Alan Beetle (’51), Harold Biswell (’57,’58), L.T. Burcham (’57), Agnes Chase (’27), J.T. Emlen (’45), E.J. Dyksterhuis (’58), Ben Gladding (’45), A. Gordon (’39), C.B. Hutchison (’42), B. (Burle) Jones (’45), E.J. Kotok (’42), G.P. Lofgreen (’56), R.M. Love (’61), W.W. Robbins (’40), A. W. Sampson (’27, ’35, ’44), H.L. Shantz (’47), Paul F. Sharp (’57), M.W. Talbot (’42), K.A. Wagnon (’42, ’68), and J. E. Weaver (’34). A distribution of the publication dates (1927 to 1961, 34 years, or roughly equal to a human generation) along a time line shows the greatest concentration occurring between 1934 and 1951 (14 publications in eight years).
The final 5-year period of this distribution contained G.P. Lofgreen of the UC Davis Department of Animal Science who was the lead author of a land, labor and resources request to begin a large-scale grazing management study at the SJER. The request was regarded by the Forest Service as being excessive in its demands and also outside of the research menu as defined for that facility. Keith Arnold (of the US.Forest Service) and Paul F. Sharp (Director of the California's State Experiment Station) then wrote the letter that explained how the previously-harmonious cooperation of the US Forest Service, had come to an end.
The existence of the UC Sierra Foothill Research & Extension Center then became the result of an almost frantic search for a replacement facility to continue UC's work at a replacement location. The research programs initiated at the SFREC not only mirrored the times (the 1940s and ‘50s into the early 1960s) but also sought to continue those already underway at the SJER, including some that had originated on the UC Berkeley Campus.
Most importantly in this transition (from SJER to SFREC), instead of the acquisition of an already functional facility, i.e., land, buildings, and other essential infrastructure including roads, fences, lanes, plot enclosures, cattle-handling and feed storage facilities. Development of water sources (e.g. springs and local Irrigation District ditches) required major expenditures for labor, field equipment, funds and time, for stock watering, as well as systems for conveyance and application on site. The story of the painstaking construction of irrigation systems, fueled by the carryover of knowledge and "bedrock experience" from California's gold-mining days, is compelling.
We now celebrate the 50th Anniversary of a place I still insist on calling the “Sierra Field Station”. Strong features of its Morrill, Hatch, and Smith-Lever Acts missions are still maintained. The key Davis campus departments that “jump-started” research at the Station were Animal Science and Agronomy. The passage of time, and need, has diminished the interest of the Department of Animal Science in the “old-time” beef cattle research, and thus markedly diminished need for land assignment, remotely-located corrals, and labor. Agronomy and its successor Agronomy & Range Science no longer exist, having been subsumed into a mega-department called, simply, “Plant Science”. Research with agronomic plants (think Arabidopsis?) mostly requires sophisticated indoor growth chambers and laboratories. Yet, 5,770 acres of boundless diversity remain at SFREC.
But these are hard times. What if in the collective wisdom of UC’s Board of Regents and President Mark Udof, it is decided to sell this land, for what it would bring, say for residential development, an appropriate parcel reserved as a modern, upscale private ranch? Indeed, the State of California is selling off parts of itself, in order to bring back some revenue into the central till. History does record a time when there was a serious (albeit unsuccessful) effort to sell either the Hopland Field Station or the Sierra Field Station. “Why do we need two of the same kind?” was the rationale.
But there are two very unique attributes of the Station that should be recognized at this 50th Anniversary.
The first is recognition of the immense amount of work given by Station employees, especially over the first two decades, as raw foothill rangeland and oak woodland was turned into today’s first-class research and teaching facility.
The second is the potential for it to become a world-class location for monitoring the impacts of climate change on what is arguably the Station’s richest resource, water. Water that passes by in the Yuba River; water that crosses the Station as the Browns Valley Upper Main irrigation canal or in Porter Creek that passes by Station Headquarters.
Of great potential, in this regard, is the abundance of both permanent and transient springs. A prime example is the School Spring, which has unfailingly produced an abundance of good water to the Headquarters Area for both domestic and stock-watering purposes. From whence does its treasure (as well as the other springs, widely distributed across the Station) flow? Should we not find out, and determine the factors that insure its future stability?
Also, in the Station’s diverse array of vegetation forms and species, influenced measurably by elevation, slope, aspect, and soils, would not the ancient (and, still useful in the 21st Century) realm of phenological observations and the progress of changes in plant species composition related to management of the landscape and the simple passage of time fit nicely into well planned future studies? Professor Biswell, a scholar at the University of California, recognized that, but interest in its potential has fallen by the wayside.
 The seminal work of Greg Pasternak with shifting salmon redds, and the potential for their enhancement and restoration.
Approaching the Station. And there is snow on Forbes Hill! The State Historical Marker at right commemorates a Gold Rush mining town near Smartsville called Timbuctoo. Shortly after I arrived in Davis in 1964 I was able to visit a then-crumbling Wells Fargo Bank way-station, all that remained of a once booming and boisterous aggregation of miners that formed the impetus to generate a "full-service city" of its time. Now only its site remains. And no, that's not "Big Bird" of Sesame Street. nor a Huey helicopter, at the left horizon, but a dust speck (plus a few more) that avoided cleaning of its 35mm slide. But it's still a nice picture, isn't it? (But I guess we'll never know who was driving that car, and whereto they were headed, huh?)