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Artisan Cheese Makers Embrace Voluntary Conservation at Award-Winning Vermont Dairy

The story behind Vermont’s Consider Bardwell could be the plot for a great movie. The lead characters are Russell and Angela, two New York City executives who decide in their fifties that they want to buy a farm, raise goats, and be artisan cheesemakers. The setting is a 300-acre dairy farm and cheese operation in West Pawlet, Vermont. And the twist…they had no previous farming experience.

What could have been a comedy is an inspiring story of dedication and perseverance. This is the true tale of an architect and a literary agent who pursue a dream to farm sustainably through a voluntary conservation approach, and create a unique farm-to-plate product. Their partnership with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is helping to ensure the health of the natural resources on their farm.

Restored Wetlands Provide Critical Habitat for Migratory Birds, Many Other Species

Wetlands and wildlife – they’re made for each other. Wetlands provide critical habitat, shelter food and places to raise young.

Landowners across the country are voluntarily restoring and protecting wetlands on private lands. This not only provides high-value wildlife habitat but provides many other benefits, such as cleaner water (wetlands act as filters!) and reduced flooding risk (they store water!).

Saving the Nation's Wetlands

Wetlands are one of nature’s most productive ecosystems. They clean and recharge groundwater; reduce the damaging impacts of floods; enhance wildlife habitat; sequester carbon; and create diverse recreation opportunities such as hunting, fishing, birdwatching and canoeing.

Thousands of landowners voluntarily take big and small actions every day to protect, restore and enhance wetlands and wildlife habitat. Seventy-five percent of the nation’s wetlands are located on private and tribal lands.

Updated USDA Program Enables Farmers and Ranchers to Help Monarch Butterflies

An update to one of USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) key conservation programs will enable farmers and ranchers to aid the imperiled monarch butterfly. This year, NRCS updated its Conservation Stewardship Program to include incentives for farmers and ranchers who plant milkweed and other nectar-rich plants favored by monarch butterflies.

Monarch butterflies depend on milkweed to lay their eggs during their annual journey from Mexico to the United States to as far north as Canada. Data show that monarch populations have decreased significantly over the past two decades, in part because of the decrease in native plants, including milkweed, on which their caterpillars feed.

Key Sage Grouse Habitat Protected in Colorado through a Conservation Easement Partnership

The recent conservation easement on the Yust Ranch in northwestern Colorado represents not only the preservation of a five-generation ranching entity, it also illustrates the vitality of partnerships that expand federal programs and initiatives aimed at protecting wildlife habitat, particularly for species of concern.

Vanished Rabbit Reappears on Central California's Dos Rios Ranch

Some exciting news recently came from a large wetlands restoration project now underway in Central California. River Partners, a nonprofit conservation organization, documented the first occurrence of a state and federally endangered rabbit on its habitat preserve at Dos Rios Ranch, a key piece of riverfront habitat located at the confluence of the Tuolumne and San Joaquin rivers in Stanislaus County.

Thanks to a generous loan of wildlife cameras from a professor at the University of California, Davis, River Partners’ summer interns captured images of riparian brush rabbits at Dos Rios Ranch in July in remnant riparian habitat along the Tuolumne River. Riparian brush rabbits are a critically endangered subspecies of rabbit that was thought to be extinct following catastrophic flooding in 1997.

At a Washington Ranch, It's for the Birds - and Elk

Most landowners would give up when faced with the challenges on Nine Pine Ranch near Chewelah, Washington, but not Glen Hafer. After trying for 40 years to farm his piece of land in the Colville River Valley, Hafer decided to convert it back to its original glory – wetlands.

Historically, the land in this valley flooded annually from the river, but settlers drained the area to farm. With no wetlands to hold water, flooding in the area worsened over time, making the land tough to farm.

When Hafer took the reins of his family’s land, he wanted to do something different. He was already – as he puts it – “semi-retired” and wanted to use his land to support his family.

Making Artisan Cheese, a Couple Preserves a Way of Life

John and Nancy Mims never imagined they would be running a dairy when they met at the University of Florida and married 40-some years ago.  He was going to be an architect and a pilot, and she was going to be a nurse.

They were going to move to the Caribbean. But then John was drafted.  After a six-year stint in the Navy, Nancy’s father died, and they went home to help her mother on the dairy where Nancy grew up. They ended up buying the dairy in 1980.

It is a lifestyle the two have grown to love and they have worked with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service to protect their way of life.

Conservation Easement Enables Landowners to Restore Wetland, Help Protect Fish

Through conservation easements, people like Dave Budeau are able to protect and restore important landscapes, like wetlands, grasslands and farmlands.

Budeau wanted to restore and protect a wetland. When the wildlife biologist searched for a new home in 2003, his passion for wildlife and nature led him to purchase what may have seemed to some as an unfriendly plot of land for wildlife. But a conservation program helped him change that.

The recently passed 2014 Farm Bill continues to provide financial and technical assistance for farmers, ranchers and forest landowners wanting to put their land into easements. But rather than separate programs, the major easement programs offered by USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service have been bundled into one – the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program, or ACEP. One additional easement program, the Healthy Forests Reserve Program, remains separate.