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New Study Offers Sage Advice

For many, one of the New Year’s first big chores is to remove a tree from inside their home. Trees, beautiful and useful as they are, do not belong everywhere. Such is the case with trees and other woody species that are expanding into the Western grasslands.

Over the years, woody species like juniper, pinyon pine, redcedar and mesquite have encroached on grassland and sagebrush ecosystems, altering these landscapes and making them unsuitable for native wildlife like the lesser prairie-chicken and greater sage-grouse. Encroaching conifers also degrade rangelands for agricultural producers whose livestock rely on nutritious forage.

New Research Provides Insights into Sage Grouse DNA

The greater sage grouse is an iconic bird that lives in the American West's sagebrush landscape. It’s also a species at the center of a nationwide debate focused on how best to manage its habitat to balance multiple uses and ensure the bird’s long-term survival.

And the dialogue has just been informed by new information from a genetics study that has validated the primary target locations of current conservation efforts.

Honoring my Teachers, Sharing Traditions on the San Carlos Apache Reservation

With more than 40 years of professional experience working in the field of natural resources, I am sometimes asked to share the personal outdoor experiences I had as a tribal member growing up on my reservation. When the request involves children, and those children are Native American, I am especially honored because in my culture the elders share traditional teachings of how we are connected to nature, both through stories and traditional songs.

As we celebrate Earth Day 2016, I am reminded of a recent invitation from the U.S. Forest Service Tonto National Forest and Smokey Bear to speak at a career day on the San Carlos Apache Reservation in Arizona. I had an audience of 180 tribal fourth graders from Rice Elementary School to share my experiences growing up on a reservation and the lessons I learned about the outdoors.

From Devastation to Restoration

Wildfires in sagebrush and other range ecosystems are increasing in frequency and severity, often in relation to drought conditions and intrusive species like cheatgrass, a non-native, highly flammable invasive species that establishes itself as a monoculture and crowds out native grasses and forbs.

“What’s preferable to a monoculture is a diverse plant community that includes native grasses, forbs and shrubs,” said Francis Kilkenny, leader for the Great Basin Native Plant Project, a joint effort of the U.S. Forest Service and the Department of Interior’s Bureau of Land Management, or BLM.

Protecting Sage Grouse for Future Generations... One Seed at a Time

The need for food and shelter for wildlife to survive is basic, particularly for sage grouse living in a post-wildfire landscape in western states. The U.S. Forest Service is helping this upland game bird survive by growing about 3 million sagebrush shrubs a year to restore the area’s dry, grassy plains, essential for the bird’s nesting grounds.

“Our goal is to help accelerate the restoration process on our public lands,” says Clark Fleege, manager of the Lucky Peak Nursery, part of the Boise National Forest.

Genetic Studies Reveal a Tree's History to Ensure its Future

It can reach heights of 200 feet and live 500 years, and occupies landscapes across the western United States. Some say its bark has an unforgettable smell resembling vanilla or even cinnamon, and this tree is one tough cookie. It grows in a variety of soils and climates and survives fires that consume other species. It is also an ecologically and economically valuable tree that provides food, habitat and ponderous (heavy) lumber.

It is the iconic ponderosa pine. But the world is changing, and ponderosa pine is vulnerable to climate shifts, high-intensity wildfires and bark beetles — as well as development that replaces trees. To keep the ponderosa pine standing tall, researchers are looking for answers in its genes.

Braving Frigid Alaska Elements, Federal Workers Volunteer for the 'Toughest 300 Miles in Dog Racing'

Think Alaska in the winter: a large land canvas of powdery, granular or icy snow and days of often very, very cold weather.

With those conditions, it’s off to the races for some of the heartiest Alaskan sled dogs and volunteers like U.S. Forest Service employee Carol Teitzel, who works in the U.S. Forest Service Alaska Region and who lent her support to the excitement and challenge of this year’s Copper Basin 300 Sled Dog Race.

The 310-mile competition counts as a qualifying race for the nearly 1,000-mile Iditarod, the most popular dog sled race, and the 1,000-mile Yukon Quest, sometimes called the world’s toughest dog sled race.

USDA Public-Private Partners Tackling Wildfire Issues in Oregon's East Face of the Elkhorn Mountains

Like many woodland owners in eastern Oregon, Tim Fisher enjoys and appreciates the value wildlife brings to his 1,500-plus acres in Baker County.

“I love watching the elk up here,” he said as he drove his pickup truck up a steep dirt road on his property, a mountainous view surrounding him. “I come up here to watch them at sunrise, and it’s beautiful.”

Thanks to technical and financial assistance from USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), and help from other agencies, Fisher is doing work on his land to make wildlife habitat even better — while also reducing the risk of catastrophic wildfire.

Happy Birthday AmeriCorps!

As AmeriCorps celebrates its 20th anniversary, USDA salutes the deep relationship we’ve had with these remarkable volunteers and service members. From engaging in critical natural conservation efforts to helping kids learn more about nutrition and gardening to working directly with local organizations in communities enduring chronic poverty, USDA is proud to be an AmeriCorps partner.

AmeriCorps service crews are working side by side with the Forest Service to protect public lands and fight fires.  For instance, a recently announced $3.8 million partnership between AmeriCorps and the USDA’s Forest Service and over 100 other organizations participating in the 21st Century Conservation Corps, creates service opportunities for 300 new AmeriCorps members.  Through this opportunity, military veterans and youth restore our treasured public lands by rebuilding trails, managing forests and rehabilitating campsites for generations to enjoy. These service members are also doing critical wildfire management activities like tree thinning, prescribed burns and hazardous fuel control. Meanwhile, in northwest California, the AmeriCorps Watershed Stewards Project is restoring coastal watersheds from San Francisco to the Oregon border.  This effort, a partnership between the California Department of Fish and Game, Humboldt State University, and other members of the fisheries, watershed and science community, has been going strong for twenty years.

Charles E. Bessey Nursery Showcases its 'Babies' - Seedlings That Will Become 'Forests of the Future'

Two million seedlings will grow up one day to become the forests of our future.

The vision for all of those trees is part of the mission of the Charles E. Bessey Nursery, part of the Nebraska National Forests and Grasslands, and the oldest federal seedling nursery in the nation.

Working with the Bessey Ranger District and the volunteer group Friends of the Nebraska National Forests, the nursery recently invited the public in for a rare opportunity to see the nursery in full production; growing, packing and shipping hundreds of thousands of seedlings to U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, conservation districts and other government agency locations. The seedlings are used for reforestation following fire and insect infestations, wildlife/habitat plantings, wind breaks, conservation plantings, and general planting.