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Ahead of Rose Bowl, a look at Wisconsin/Oregon and Wisconsin/California research collaborations

On Jan. 1, 2020, the Wisconsin Badgers and the Oregon Ducks will storm Pasadena, California, and go head-to-head at Rose Bowl Stadium. A recent UW–Madison news release features a number of research collaborations involving UW–Madison and the University of Oregon. It also highlighted UW research efforts that impact California, including a number from CALS.

The CALS-based projects included in the roundup are listed below. To see all UW projects included in the list, see the full UW news release.

Vaccines

In 2012, California passed AB-2109, a bill aimed at helping to curb disease outbreaks in the state, such as the measles outbreak at Disneyland in 2014 that led to 131 cases in the U.S. and another 160 in Mexico and Canada. The law requires parents to get the signature of a healthcare professional to opt their children out of vaccines normally required to enroll in school, such as the measles, mumps and rubella shot.

Malia Jones, a UW–Madison scientist in the Applied Population Laboratory, looked at how well the new law worked. Using 15 years of comprehensive vaccination data, her team saw the exemption rate drop from its peak of 3.3 percent of kindergarteners in 2013 to 2.7 percent in each of the following two years after the law took effect.

However, “that statewide rate is misleading, because it’s actually much worse than that,” says Jones, who explains that the clustering rate – the probability that an exempted student will encounter another exempted student in their school – dropped only slightly, from 16 percent to 15 percent.

Dissatisfied with these outcomes, in the wake of the Disneyland outbreak, California passed SB-277, which eliminated all non-medical exemptions. Exemption rates have since gone down substantially.

Link: https://news.wisc.edu/vaccine-opt-outs-dropped-barely-when-california-added-more-hurdles/

Owls

In 2017, forest and wildlife ecology professor Zach Peery and his graduate student Gavin Jones looked back at the results of a 1992 change to logging activity in national forests intended to help protect habitat for California’s spotted owls and bring the bird’s numbers back up.

They found the owls were paying down an “extinction debt” after years of population declines but that stabilizing and even increasing spotted owl numbers might require more than just halting habitat loss. It likely requires restoring to the landscape the large, ancient trees they rely on. And patience.

Link: https://news.wisc.edu/decades-past-logging-still-threatens-spotted-owls-in-national-forests/

Wildfires

California’s rapidly changing wildfire patterns have drawn UW–Madison ecologists studying the encroachment of developed land.

The wildland-urban interface has increased rapidly since 1990, according to research led by forest and wildlife ecology professor Volker Radeloff, adding an area roughly the size of the state of Washington in just two decades. Nearly all that growth from 1990 to 2010 was attributable to homebuilding, putting people’s bedrooms in formerly sparsely settled areas and increasing the spread of invasive species, pollution, animal disease -and human-ignited wildfires.

“We’ve seen that many wildfires are caused by people living in close proximity to forests and wildlands. And that when these fires are spreading, they are much harder to fight when people are living there, because lives are at risk, because properties have to be protected,” says Radeloff, who chronicled an increase from 31 million homes in the wildland-urban interface to more than 43 million.

Vegetation management, appropriate building materials and zoning regulations informed by wildfire risk can help mitigate the sort of dangers to people and ecosystems repeatedly threatening Californians.

“There’s a lot that can be done,” says Radeloff. “And I think what our data shows on the development side, and others have shown on the climate change side, we better start doing it or otherwise we will have news like [life and property loss in California] again and again.”

Link: https://news.wisc.edu/more-homes-built-near-wild-lands-leading-to-greater-wildfire-risk/

Urban wildlife

David Drake, a UW–Madison professor of forest and wildlife ecology and wildlife extension specialist, has weighed in on California’s troublesome urban coyote situation. According to the LA Times, there are somewhere between 250,000 and 750,000 coyotes across California, and the canids are well-adapted to urban settings. At least 49 people have been bitten by coyotes in Los Angeles County since 2011, more than half of them in the same area near downtown.

“More people are bitten by coyotes in Southern California than anywhere else – it’s a phenomenon unique to that region,” Drake recently told the LA Times. “No one knows why this is happening, exactly. But you just don’t see that in other parts of the country.”

When it comes to badgers, Wisconsin, California and Oregon all have them, Drake says. One particular subspecies is found in both Oregon and California, but not in Wisconsin. However, “badgers are known to eat ducks and their eggs,” he says. “Badgers would definitely dominate a duck! Go Badgers!”

Link: https://www.latimes.com/environment/story/2019-12-01/urban-coyotes-bites-hazing-animal-rights-advocates