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department of interior

Gulf of Mexico Communities Depend on a Healthy Gulf

The Gulf Coast ecosystem is vital to our nation and our economy, providing valuable energy resources, abundant seafood, extraordinary recreational activities and a rich cultural heritage.  This ecosystem was significantly injured by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill—the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history—and has also suffered from harm caused by hurricanes, subsidence and other human actions and naturally-occurring events.

With the historic settlement of the litigation with BP, there will be up to $16 billion available for ecosystem restoration in watersheds across Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas through the RESTORE Act, the Natural Resource Damages Assessment process and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

Growing and Building the Billion Ton Bioeconomy

5/4/2016 UPDATE:

Bioeconomy Webinar Information:
Thursday, May 5, 2 p.m.–4 p.m. Eastern Time
Session Link: https://thinktank.inl.gov/login.html?sessionID=59
Session Passkey: 123
Call in: +1 (562) 247-8422
Access Code: 287-084-886

The USDA and other federal agencies recently released the Federal Activities Report on the Bioeconomy (FARB) documenting federal agency activities aimed at helping to develop and support the "bioeconomy" - an emerging part of the overall U.S. economy.  Emphasis is specifically placed on the production and use of biofuels, bioproducts, and biopower.  USDA Chief Scientist and Under Secretary for Research, Education, and Economics (REE), Dr. Catherine Woteki, stresses these fuels, power, and products are produced using biomass--agricultural residues, grasses, energy crops, forestry trimmings, algae, and other sources--instead of fossil fuels.

The report also delves into the Billion Ton Bioeconomy Vision, an effort coordinated through the Biomass Research and Development (R&D) Board.  Comprised of industry experts from the Departments of Energy (DOE), Agriculture (USDA), Interior (DOI), Transportation (DOT), Defense (DoD), and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the National Science Foundation (NSF), and the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), the Board is committed to collaboration among federal agencies on bioeconomy conceptions working to triple the size of today’s bioeconomy by 2030—to more than a billion tons of biomass.

The Building Blocks of Forest Restoration Partnerships

Is it possible to simultaneously promote natural resources conservation and the growth of businesses that impact the environment?  Yes.  One way to do so is through “compensatory mitigation.” Compensatory mitigation is the preservation, restoration and/or establishment of a resource to offset unavoidable adverse impacts to the resource elsewhere.

For example, a compensatory mitigation agreement created in 2013 helped advance conservation in Francis Marion and Sumter National Forests in South Carolina and business growth in the surrounding area.  Here’s how:  Under the agreement, three local businesses supported restoration projects that improved aquatic resources located inside the Forests in order to mitigate projects that had unavoidable impacts on wetlands located outside the Forests, typically within the same ecosystem.  The three participating businesses were: Duke Energy, Boeing, and The City of Charleston.  Unavoidable impacts to streams, wetlands and salt marsh were mitigated under the novel agreement.

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.

Investing in Our Public Lands: The President's Proposal to Fully Fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund

Over 50 years ago, a visionary Congress established an innovative program to bring communities together to invest in open spaces and recreational opportunities that are an essential part of our nation’s heritage and economy. Since then, the highly successful Land and Water Conservation Fund has helped to protect working forests and ranches, preserve our public lands -- parks, refuges,  forests, rivers, lakes and wildlife habitats -- and provide access to outdoor recreation across the nation for use and enjoyment by all Americans.

President Obama is committed to passing on America’s public lands and waters to future generations in better shape than we found them. That’s why he is proposing full funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund in the Fiscal Year 2017 budget, and pursuing permanent authorization in annual mandatory funding for the Fund’s programs beginning in 2018.

Tackling Rural Child Poverty In Southwest Georgia

In late July, I was thrilled to visit with leaders from across southwest Georgia, including my hometown of Camilla, to discuss how USDA can support their work on the ground tackling issues relating to rural child poverty.

In Georgia, the poverty rate is 19 percent, and for children, it’s a staggering 27 percent. In Dougherty County, nearly one in three residents live in poverty.

This is why people like Secretary of Agriculture Vilsack, Secretary of Interior Jewell, and I are hitting the road—to hear first-hand what’s working in rural America and how we, the federal government, can help.

Cultivating Native Leaders in Conservation

Recently, ninety Alaska Native, American Indian, and Native Hawaiian high school students came together at the National Conservation Training Center in Shepherdstown, West Virginia for a week of intensive education and peer-to-peer training about the impact of climate change on tribal communities. Organized by the Inter-Tribal Youth Climate Leaders Congress and supported by a partnership between the U.S. Forest Service, the Department of Interior’s Bureau of Indian Affairs, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the National Park Service, the U.S. Geological Survey, and the Environmental Protection Agency, the gathering included Jadelynn Akamu, Ylliana Hanato, Alisha Keli’i, and Aaron Knell from Honolulu’s Hawai’i Youth Conservation Corps and Forest Service partner KUPU, as well as a team from Juneau, Alaska, including Alaska Native student Sierra Ezrre and her mentor and culture keeper Carrie Sykes.

Drones can be Deadly for Wildland Firefighters

Imagine if a hostile country sent an Unmanned Aircraft System or UAS, otherwise known as a drone, to disturb the efforts of firefighters during a catastrophic wildfire. The confusion that might ensue could cause loss of life and property as flames jump fire lines simply because resources have been diverted or grounded to identify and remove the UAS.

But these threats aren’t coming from an enemy state. They are being flown by our own citizens and impeding the job of our firefighters.  This isn’t a script for a Hollywood film. It’s really happening.

Recently, unauthorized drones disrupted wildfire operations in southern California twice in one week. Because of these drones, Airtanker operations were suspended on both the Sterling Fire and Lake Fire on the San Bernardino National Forest.

It's Time to Talk about the Birds and the Bees -- and the Butterflies, Bats and Beetles

Cross-posted from the Department of Interior blog:

From birds and bees to butterflies, bats and beetles, pollinators are a diverse group and are critically important to terrestrial life on our planet. Without our help, however, their populations will continue to decline as a result of numerous stressors including loss of habitat, pests and pathogens, and exposure to pesticides.

Bees and other pollinators are essential to America’s agricultural economy and maintain the beauty of our iconic landscapes. Without them, we wouldn’t have most of our vegetables, flowers, fruits or nuts. Honey-bee pollinations alone contribute more than $15 billion in value to U.S. agricultural production each year, but beekeepers reported losing just over 23 percent of honey bee colonies last winter. Other pollinators that help sustain food production and the environment—such as native bees and bats—also are declining.

Using Open Data in Creative Ways to Solve Problems

Want to make better use of forest, park and trail datasets? Try a hackathon. A hackthon is an event in which computer programmers and others involved in software development and hardware development, including graphic designers, interface designers and project managers, collaborate intensively on software projects. Hackathons typically last between a day and a week. Some hackathons are intended simply for educational or social purposes, although in many cases the goal is to create usable software. This popular forum for collaborative innovation has become an important method for developing modern solutions for government interactions.  This particular hackathon occurred on April 11-12 in Washington, D.C., and involved the USDA and the Department of Interior (DOI) for the myAmerica Developers Summit. The summit is an initiative supporting the National Travel and Tourism Strategy by improving access to information about federal lands and waters so it’s easier for people to discover and experience America’s natural and national treasures.