America’s farmers, ranchers and forest owners have a great tradition of stewardship of our natural resources and environment. The U.S. Forest Service, the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and other USDA agencies work in partnership with farmers, ranchers, forest owners, conservation groups, sportsmen, local communities, businesses and many others to encourage the conservation of both our public and private lands. This month – National Conservation Month – the Forest Service and NRCS are making several announcements that highlight the commitment of USDA and its partners to natural resource stewardship on public and private lands.
Later today, Secretary Tom Vilsack will announce the latest round of recipients for the NRCS Conservation Innovation Grants program (CIG). These grants stimulate the development and adoption of innovative conservation approaches that improve the productivity of farms, ranches and forests while enhancing the environment. For example, last year the University of Delaware used a CIG grant from NRCS to assist poultry producers in improving their operations and their environmental performance, and helping them comply with federal and state environmental quality requirements.
Later this week, the Forest Service will announce that it is formalizing its ecological restoration policy. The intent is to provide broad direction for restoring our National Forests and Grasslands so that they continue to provide clean water, wildlife habitat, recreation, and economic opportunities for local communities. The policy is designed to provide clear, comprehensive and science-based guidance so that our lands are managed sustainably for future generations, particularly given the challenges caused by a changing climate. This directive would assist the Forest Service in restoring watersheds, controlling invasive species, conserving habitat for endangered species, and reducing catastrophic wildfire by restoring more natural fire regimes.
On Friday, the Secretary will join Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell, the President of Coca-Cola Americas, and the President of the National Forest Foundation to sign an agreement to improve the health of watersheds across the nation. The agreement will be signed at Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie in Illinois.
Finally, on Sept. 28 the Forest Service is offering a fee-free day in conjunction with the 20th annual National Public Lands Day, the nation's largest, single-day volunteer effort for public lands. Last year, about 175,000 volunteers worked at over 2,200 sites in every state, assisting land managers in hands-on work that improved public lands for outdoor recreation. This is just a small part of the White House’s America’s Great Outdoors initiative which works to conserve our natural resources and reconnect Americans to the outdoors.
I hope these upcoming announcements demonstrate to you the breadth of USDA’s work to steward our natural resources and promote the enjoyment of our public lands. In the coming weeks, I hope you’ll find your own way to celebrate Conservation Month by getting back out into the great outdoors.