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Conservation

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.

Collaboration on Drought Resilience is Delivering Results for America's Communities and Economy

Over the past year, we have seen alarming mass tree mortality in California, the development of severe drought conditions in New England and the Southeast, and dropping water tables in regions throughout the United States. The five-year Western drought and recent droughts in other states threaten our communities, our farms, our freshwater fisheries, our forests, and our grasslands that depend on and provide clean, accessible water supplies.

For many years, Federal departments and agencies have been working to produce long term solutions to conserve and protect a safe, reliable water supply. Now, under the framework of the National Drought Resilience Partnership (NDRP), a greater emphasis has been placed on improving federal agency collaboration to ensure more efficient use of program dollars and agency expertise.  The NDRP worked with a broad cross-section of stakeholder groups to shape six federal policy goals and an associated Federal Drought Resilience Action Plan.  As a result, more than 13 federal agencies and offices are cooperating in new ways under a shared strategy to deliver concrete results.

A Farewell Message from Secretary Tom Vilsack to Employees

Today, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack sent the following message to all USDA employees:

I want to take this opportunity on my final day at USDA to express my profound gratitude to the people who work at USDA. Every day, nearly 90,000 people leave their families and the comfort of their home to do the people's work in the People's Department. What an amazing job you do each day for the country.

Regional Partnerships Help De-Clutter Arizona Grasslands

A popular new year’s resolution is to de-clutter our homes. But what if a clutter-free home was the only way you could survive and thrive?

Across Arizona, there is wildlife living in grasslands impacted by poorly-planned fencing and woody invasive brush. Invasive plant species, such as pinion juniper and mesquite that grow and spread quickly, create obstacles in grassland habitats that make it difficult for pronghorn and other migratory, grassland-dependent species to avoid predators.

Further, these invasives crowd out native grasses that provide food for wildlife and livestock, reduce soil erosion and help soil absorb precipitation, which is vital to replenishing supplies of groundwater and improving water quality.

Innovation is Driving Down Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Corn-based Ethanol

Ethanol, primarily derived from corn, supplies about 10 percent of US motor fuel needs.  A new study from ICF which was released today, titled “A Life-Cycle Analysis of the Greenhouse Gas Emissions of Corn-Based Ethanol,” finds that greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with corn-based ethanol in the United States are about 43 percent lower than gasoline when measured on an energy equivalent basis.  This is comparable to reducing GHG emissions in the U.S.

Here's a New Year's Resolution that You'll Want to Keep

The New Year is here and most of us are making resolutions about how to improve our lives in 2017. Well, we at the Natural Resources Conservation Service believe that learning about farming and conserving natural resources should be at the top of everyone’s list of resolutions. How can you make that happen? By signing up for a farm field day. Field days will give you plenty of opportunities to learn about how good agriculture is done and boost your knowledge of how to conserve and protect natural resources.

If you’re fortunate enough to be in or near Wisconsin, be sure to visit the Lower Fox River Watershed. It’s just south of Green Bay and home to the Great Lakes Demonstration Farm Network where you can see leading-edge conservation practices that are specifically designed to help farmers reduce how much phosphorus enters Green Bay and improve water quality in the Great Lakes.

Resolve to Build Healthy Soils on Rented Land

Do you rent out your land for agriculture? If you do, don’t forget about your farm when you’re making your New Year’s resolutions. Here are five questions from USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) that you need to ask the folks who rent your land: Do you build organic matter in the soil? Do you test the soil at least once every four years? Do you use no-till practices? Do you use cover crops? What can we do together to improve soil health on your land?

If you’re lucky, you have a renter like John Z. Beiler who rented acres of prime farmland in Port Royal, Pennsylvania. At the landowner’s encouragement John worked with NRCS to address gully erosion, test the farm’s soils, control noxious weeds and comply with highly erodible land and conservation plan requirements.

Bringing Back Diversity in Eastern Forests for Landowners, Wildlife

What do biologists look for in a healthy forest? A diversity in the ages and composition of trees and occasional breaks in canopy to allow sunlight to reach understory plants. Healthy forests, just like healthy human populations, are sustained by a diversity of ages. Each group has a role to play in maintaining the whole community over the long term.

But healthy, diverse forests are on the decline across the eastern United States. A lack of natural and human-induced disturbances because of fire suppression and certain timber harvest methods have led the forested landscape to become largely homogenous.

Climate Smart Conservation Partnership Serves Two Scoops of On-Farm Solutions

Eating a pint of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream may make you feel guilty about your waistline, but thanks to a new partnership between the ice cream company and USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), you may be able to feel less guilty about contributing to climate change. The partnership is designed to help Ben & Jerry’s milk suppliers—generally small dairies—understand their greenhouse gas footprint and consider voluntary conservation approaches to reduce that footprint.

NRCS and Ben & Jerry’s will help dairies implement conservation practices that meet Ben & Jerry’s objective of “Happy Cows, Happy Planet, & Happy Farmers.” Through its Caring Dairy sustainability program, Ben & Jerry’s will use USDA’s suite of greenhouse gas estimation tools, COMET-FarmTM and COMET-PlannerTM, to quantify on-farm GHG emissions and reductions. The COMET tools—COMET stands for CarbOn Management & Emissions Tool – are a product of a long-standing partnership between NRCS and Colorado State University.

Seeing is Believing: Soil Health Practices and No-Till Farming Transform Landscapes and Produce Nutritious Food

This month, we’re highlighting 12 important gifts given to us when we conserve natural resources: soil, food, plants, wildlife, people, health, protection, recreation, air, water, technology and the future. NRCS’ mission is to conserve the full range of natural resources, but soil health is our foundation. And it’s the first conservation gift that we’re going to highlight. And without soil, we couldn’t celebrate with food. We encourage you to give the gift of conservation this season!

Curbing Soil Erosion

Soil is the foundation for a healthy environment. If you need proof that no-till farming works, look no further than the rolling hills of north-central Oregon.

For decades, this region was dominated by winter wheat farms that used extensive tillage to control weeds during fallow years. It was the conventional way of farming in the area, from the early 1900’s through the 1980’s.