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Think Like a Deer: Award-Winning Video Aims to Reduce Wildlife-Vehicle Collisions

Collisions between vehicles and wildlife are a big problem on U.S. roads. Each year, on average, 1-2 million collisions with large animals, especially mule deer and white-tailed deer, end in 200 fatalities, 26,000 injuries, and costs exceeding $1 billion. About a third of the collisions reported on rural roads are wildlife-related, and two-lane highways with speed limits exceeding 55 miles per hour are particularly problematic.

U.S. Forest Service Pacific Southwest Research Station wildlife biologist Sandra Jacobson, a transportation ecology expert, wants to make roads safer for wildlife and people. She and partners at the agency’s Missoula Technology and Development Center have produced a video, “Avoiding Wildlife-Vehicle Collisions,” to do just that.

USDA Rebuilds Levee, Resident's Peace of Mind

When flood waters tore through the levee along Mill Creek in western Arkansas in May 2013, the small unincorporated community of Y City in Scott County sustained massive damage. Mill Creek rose more than 19 feet destroying lives, homes, businesses and a levee.

Flood damage covered a five-mile area and killed five people. A month later, northwestern Arkansas was hit with record rainfall and subsequent flooding again threatened Y City since a 900-foot section of the previously damaged levee was still in need of repair.

The Grass is Cleaner on the Other Side

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.

Liquid fuel, charcoal, and electric power are all possible byproducts of biomass feedstocks. But what if there was a feedstock that not only produced bioenergy, but acted as a greenhouse gas “sink” as well? According to Texas A&M’s AgriLife Research, there is: bioenergy sorghum.

Each region contains locally generated biomass feedstocks, ranging from grains to animal byproducts. Sorghum is a group of grasses with about 30 species, which can be used in a variety of bioenergy production processes, like starch-to-ethanol, sugar-to-ethanol, and plants-to-bioenergy.

USDA and Habitat for Humanity to Build Homes and Ladders of Opportunity

On a blustery cold November morning, it was heartwarming to help Judy Aguero put the first nails into the doorway of her new home. Ms. Aguero, a single mom, was born in New York City and moved to Pennsylvania when she was 15 years old. When her mother was deported back to Santo Domingo, Judy lived with members of her church. By 19, she was expecting a child and living at a homeless shelter. Overcoming all odds, Judy was determined to make a better life for herself and her child. She is currently employed as a Certified Nursing Assistant and is working on an associate’s degree in social work. Through York Habitat for Humanity, she will be moving into a new three bedroom, one bath two-story duplex in the spring of 2015 with her daughter, Yudelka.

USDA Rural Development’s Pennsylvania housing staff recently met with York Habitat for Humanity (York Habitat) to partner our resources to help bring homeownership to reality for rural Pennsylvanians. York Habitat will be working as a packager to help hardworking potential homeowners like Judy complete applications for the USDA 502 Direct Home Loan Program.  Through the program, direct homeownership loans are available to lower income individuals and families. Payments are based on income, with no down payment required. It’s just another way Rural Development is creating ladders of opportunity to help people have the tools they need to climb into the middle class.

Surveys Help with Land Rental Negotiation

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.

Farmland is one of the biggest assets in U.S. agriculture.  According to the most recent Census of Agriculture, American farmers own more than half of all U.S. farmland—however, more than 350 million acres are rented or leased.  This means that hundreds of thousands of farmers are affected by rising farmland values and have to negotiate their land rental agreements regularly.

That’s where data comes in. Every year, we reach out to thousands of farmers across the nation to determine accurate estimates for farmland values. After all, to negotiate a fair deal, it helps to know the actual value of the land you already rent or hope to rent in the future. That’s also how we at USDA and other key policymakers know that U.S. farmland values have been increasing pretty steadily over the past decade.

USDA Joins World Leaders at the United Nations to Kickoff International Year of Soils

Last week at the United Nations in New York, I joined top USDA officials to celebrate World Soil Day and the U.S. launch of the International Year of Soils, or IYS. Last year, the United Nations General Assembly designated Dec. 5 as World Soil Day and declared 2015 as the IYS to “serve as a major platform for raising awareness of the importance of soils for food security and essential ecosystem service.”  Representing the United States were Robert Bonnie, USDA under secretary for Natural Resources and Environment, and David Smith, deputy chief for soil science and resource assessment, with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).

Under Secretary Bonnie was one of 10 distinguished guests making presentations on the floor of the United Nations. He emphasized the serious challenges that are facing agriculture and food security, particularly in light of the fact that in the next 40 years, farmers and ranchers will need to produce as much food as they have in the last 500 years to feed a rapidly growing population. He also said that NRCS’ work in soil conservation, soil health and soil science has been integral to the economic and environmental sustainability of agriculture.

Communities Connect with Nature on Alaska's Tongass National Forest

Scott Harris, the conservation science director for the Sitka Conservation Society, is on a mission. He’s dedicated to connecting the communities of Southeast Alaska to the stunning, natural world that surrounds them including the Tongass National Forest.

Sitka Conservation Society’s charge is to protect the forest’s natural environment while supporting sustainable development of surrounding Southeast Alaska communities. As director, Harris has worked for the last seven years to bring these communities together with those responsible for managing the landscape. The society and the forest partner together for work focused on ecological monitoring projects. For the past five years, they have worked with the Sitka Ranger District and local young students to monitor the effects of stream restoration projects. Harris has focused on increasing the number of interns in resource management during the past several years.

The Pham Family Farm, Immigrants Making a Good Life in Mississippi

Just outside Hazlehurst, Mississippi, a community of 4,000 about 30 miles south of Jackson, lies a poultry farm owned by a Vietnamese farm family whose lives are an amazing story of survival and determination.

Hung and Nancy Pham are refugees who fled the former South Vietnam as teenagers in a shrimp boat during the fall of Saigon in 1975. They were rescued by the U.S. Navy and brought to America. Years after arriving in the United States, the two were reunited through family friends and soon married. Today, the Phams attribute their journey through hardships, their work ethic and positive attitude to the happiness and success they’ve enjoyed as poultry farmers.

Secretary's Column: USDA Partners with Native Americans

Shortly after taking office, I joined other Cabinet officials on a visit to rural Southwest Alaska. We met with Alaska Native leaders and heard firsthand the difficulties facing Native Americans living in small communities in remote, rural areas. Since that time, this administration has worked each day to provide Native Americans with improved housing, better educational opportunities, clean water and sanitation, and the opportunity to create good jobs. Across government, and here at USDA, we’ve made progress (PDF, 194 KB).

This past week, I joined President Obama and members of the Cabinet at the sixth White House Tribal Nations Conference here in Washington, DC. In addition to serving as the Chair of the White House Rural Council, I am also a member of the White House Council on Native American Affairs, chaired by Interior Secretary Sally Jewell. Our priorities in Indian Country include promoting sustainable economic development; supporting greater access to and control over healthcare; improving the effectiveness and efficiency of tribal justice systems; expanding and improving educational opportunities for Native American youth; and protecting and supporting the sustainable management of Native lands, environments and natural resources.

The Sixth Tribal Nations Conference - Focusing on Youth

This week marked the sixth consecutive year tribal leaders have gathered here in Washington at the President’s invitation to meet with key members of the Obama Administration, but this time is different: more than three dozen youth ambassadors were in attendance to kick off “Generation Indigenous” (Gen-I) – a new initiative calling for programs focused on better preparing young American Indians and Alaska Natives for college and careers as well as developing leadership skills.  And it all started with the President’s visit last summer to the reservation of the Standing Rock Sioux in North Dakota.  The President and First Lady met with Native American youth and saw their promise, but also the challenges they face.

In addition to issuing a White House Native Youth Report, outlining past government shortcomings, current challenges and a path forward for Native youth, we will look at ways to improve educational opportunities for Native youth, including improving schools, and reforming the Indian education system. At USDA, that means we will be supporting the Generation Indigenous initiative by focusing on the support we provide to the Tribal Colleges and Universities, internships and other opportunities for Native youth, healthy food at their schools and at home, and funding for broadband, school construction and other community facilities.