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USDA Updates Multi-year Strategic Sustainability Performance Plan

Many of the USDA programs touch almost every American, every day.  And as concerns grow about climate change, greenhouse gases and depleting natural resources, USDA continues creating opportunities for farmers, ranchers, forest landowners, public land managers and families in rural communities. These opportunities help these stakeholders generate prosperity in innovative, sustainable ways while conserving the Nation’s natural resources and preventing pollution.

USDA is committed to leading by example through fostering a clean energy economy, improving the environment by conducting operations in a sustainable and environmentally responsible manner and complying with environmental laws and regulations. To accomplish this, USDA focuses on the future. The Department recognizes the significance of global climate change and utilizes this knowledge to create and maintain conditions under which people and nature can exist in productive harmony.

Reflecting on Hunger this Holiday Season

A new op-ed, regarding hunger and the importance of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program was pushed this afternoon on the Huffington Post.

Last week, I wrote about the continued need for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), particularly in the wake of the automatic benefit cuts that began on November 1. It is fortunately the time of year when people give generously to food banks and food pantries, but they are unable to fully meet the need in their communities, particularly if the program were to suffer deeper cuts.

Oh Silent Light of the Capitol Christmas Tree

A crown jewel of American Christmas trees lit the night sky Dec. 3 as thousands of lights burst around the 88-foot-tall 2013 Capitol Christmas Tree. A momentary hush of silent awe overcame the crowd gathered on the west lawn of the U.S. Capitol to witness the ceremony that has origins dating back to 1964.

An eight-point star shimmered at the top of the 79-year-old Englemann spruce harvested from the Colville National Forest in Washington State. Decorating the tree are hundreds of ornaments made by people of Washington, many of them drawn and glued together by school children.

Jointly Developed Watershed Assessment Model Being Used in Yosemite National Park

This post is part of the Science Tuesday feature series on the USDA blog. Check back each week as we showcase stories and news from USDA's rich science and research portfolio.

An award-winning watershed assessment tool, the Automated Geospatial Watershed Assessment (AGWA), was deployed to assess potential Rim Fire threats in Yosemite National Park in California.  The park experienced a devastating fire that began on August 17, 2013, and took several months to contain. The fire burned more than 400 square miles in and around the park, cost $125.8 million to date, and is considered one of the largest wildfires in California’s history.

BAER (Burned Area Emergency Response) is a multi-agency group that includes USDA’s Forest Service and others, and is responsible for identifying potential threats such as downstream flooding and developing plans to rehabilitate and restore burned areas. BAER teams use AGWA to target immediate efforts to prevent threats to people, wildlife and the land.  Using AGWA combined with the burn severity map produced by BAER teams, experts can rapidly pull together information on pre- and post-fire conditions. For example, knowing where to apply mulch after a fire can reduce runoff and erosion and can help minimize downstream risks from fire induced land cover and soil changes.

Mimic Nature to Harvest Benefits of Healthy Soil, Expert Says

In the minds of many, a freshly tilled field is picturesque – clean and ready for the next planting. But according to a soil health expert, what looks good to the eye, isn’t always good for the soil – or a farmer’s bottom line.

Thursday, on World Soil Day, USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service is celebrating the importance of healthy soils and sharing how farmers and ranchers can help care for it through conservation practices like no-till.

When soil is heavily tilled, the stalks from the previous crop are chopped, and the top several inches of soil structure are disturbed. Conventional thought suggests this fluffing action allows for better seed placement, but Ray Archuleta, NRCS conservation agronomist, said that no-till systems, especially when combined with cover crops, are better – and lead to healthier, more drought-resistant soil.

Moving up and Out -- These Trees Were Made for Walking

With large areas of our planet heating up because of climate change, some trees (and plants) are pulling up roots and heading north, to higher elevations and to cooling climes—well, sort of.

A U.S. Forest Service-led study suggests there are a few dozen tree species in the eastern U.S. that are moving north at an unexpected rate.

“For some plants and trees, moving north is real and their only chance for survival,” said Chris Woodall, a research forester for Northern Research Station and the study’s author. “Our study confirms a link between global warming and forest migration. It’s no longer conjecture.”

Haga Rendir su Presupuesto de Alimentos Durante Los Días Festivos

Los días festivos son una buena ocasión para reunirse  con familia y amigos. Pero cuando no se cuenta con tiempo y el presupuesto es limitado, preparar comidas saludables  se convierte en un reto. Teniendo esto en cuenta, el USDA ofrece consejos saludables con el interés de ofrecer alternativas fáciles y  de bajo costo que toda su familia indudablemente disfrutará.

Stretching a Holiday Food Budget during the Busy Holiday Season

Holiday celebrations are a great time to gather with family and friends.  But when you’re on a tight budget and pressed for time, it can be challenging to prepare a nutritious, timely meal for your loved ones.  With that in mind, USDA offers these healthy tips for creating low-cost meals your whole family will enjoy:

Risk Management Tools Help Farmers Create a More Environmentally Sustainable Future

American producers know that crop insurance is a proven tool for managing the risks of farming.  But many folks may not be aware that it also promotes sound practices that encourage environmental sustainability.

One of the primary reasons the Federal crop insurance program is good for conservation is that it requires producers to exercise good farming practices in order to be eligible for coverage.  Good farming practices vary from crop to crop and from region to region, but follow the principle that the farming practices carried out are considered prudent and responsible by local extension agents and certified crop consultants. And this means planning for the long-term future, not just the current crop year.

Forest Service Wildlife Biologist Works to Conserve Fishers, Civil War History

Betsy Howell has a professional and personal interest in conserving two diverse parts of U.S. history.

As a wildlife biologist on the Olympic National Forest in Washington State she focuses part of her work on the history and future of the fisher, a member of the weasel family considered threatened and endangered.

As a Civil War re-enactor and author, she works to preserve an integral part of our history as a nation.