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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.

Acting Under Secretary Discusses USDA's Role in Building Support for Aviation Biofuels

Last week, in Chicago, I had the honor to hear from and meet some of the leaders in the nation’s aviation industry as they assembled to issue a new report showing a clear path toward cleaner, more economical and more secure energy alternatives through the increased use of advanced aviation biofuels developed in the Midwest.

Representatives in aviation, academia, policy organizations, city, state and federal government and National governmental organizations met to release recommendations and findings from MASBI - the Midwest Aviation Sustainable Biofuels Initiative.

Helicopters and Bird Strikes; Results from First Analysis Available Online

Bird strikes to civil and military helicopters resulted in 61 human injuries and 11 lost lives since 1990. As with fixed-winged aircraft, bird strikes to helicopters are costly.  Available data showed the average cost of a damaging strike to military helicopters ranged from $12,184 to $337,281 per incident, and APHIS-Wildlife Services (WS) wants to address this problem.

More than a dozen stakeholders representing both civil and military aviation groups, safety and regulatory agencies, and wildlife specialists turned out for the May 15th USDA-APHIS stakeholders meeting to hear results from the first scientific analysis of bird-strike hazards to helicopters.

A Tale of Alaskan Winter Weather Explains Current, Changing Landscapes

Yellow-cedar is an ecologically, culturally, and economically important tree species in the coastal temperate rainforests of Alaska and British Columbia. This slow-growing tree has few natural insect and disease agents and is capable of living more than 1000 years.

But less snow in Alaska’s winters is leading to the demise of yellow cedar trees at and just above sea level. During hard freezes when little or no snow is on the ground to insulate the yellow cedar’s shallow roots, the roots freeze. Ultimately this leads to the tree’s death. This yellow cedar decline has occurred over the past 100 years.

USDA Boosts Innovation as a Pathway to Jobs and a Rural Biobased Economy

If you want proof that rural America is a land of limitless opportunity, go to King of Prussia, Pennsylvania.

Last week I accompanied Secretary Vilsack as he toured a state-of-the-art bioindustrial facility in Pennsylvania that converts multiple feedstocks into cellulosic sugars.  The plant, operated by Renmatix, will test and convert a range of non-food plant materials through a proprietary process.  The goal is to move forward in development of next-generation renewable energy and high value bio-based alternatives to petroleum-based products.  It is a goal that bears enormous promise for rural America, potentially creating many thousands of jobs, untold economic activity and new markets.

You're Invited! "Match Making" in the Biofuels Value Chain at USDA

On March 30th, the Department of Agriculture, is hosting a “match making day” at USDA, to promote connections between agricultural producers of energy feedstocks (and their related businesses) with biorefiners seeking to produce biofuels for commercial sale and consumption. Officials from the U.S. Department of Navy, U.S. Department of Energy, and the Federal Aviation Administration will attend, make presentations and answer questions.

As we move forward as a nation, identifying and implementing an “all-of-the-above” energy strategy, there are key relationships that will determine our success in the effort to develop and deploy aviation biofuels.  The objectives of this match making session will be to improve awareness and increase understanding of the biofuels supply-chain links between those involved in feedstock production and the processors of that feedstock into biofuels.  This includes logistical challenges, potential roles of service providers, and potential pitfalls.

Agriculture Secretary Vilsack Highlights USDA’s Efforts to Expand Aviation Biofuels at the Paris Air Show


On Wednesday in Paris, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack earned the distinction as the first U.S. Agriculture Secretary to attend a Paris Air Show, the largest gathering of the world aerospace industry. The Secretary spoke at the Alternative Aviation Fuels Showcase to a crowd of about 75 aviation business leaders about how USDA is among the forefront of U.S. federal efforts to support the development of bio-based fuels. USDA has established memoranda of understanding with several government and aviation-related agencies, including the Department of Energy, the Air Transport Association, the Federal Aviation Administration, and the U.S. Navy, on efforts to research and develop renewable energy and the infrastructure to support it.

What Birds Tell us About Bird-Strikes

Just like a page out of a detective novel or the next episode of CSI, USDA-APHIS researchers at the National Wildlife Research Center (NWRC) are using forensic science to help unravel the mystery behind bird-strikes. Between 1990 and 2008, more than 87,000 bird-aircraft collisions involving 381 different bird species were reported to the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration. The most common species struck by aircraft were gulls, doves and pigeons.

Boosting Advanced Biofuel Production and Creating Jobs

Cross-posted from the White House blog.

Our country needs a strong, vibrant rural economy.  Advanced biofuel production will help create it. Not only will biofuel production from non-food sources create new jobs and new streams of farm income, it will improve environmental quality and reduce our dependence on fossil fuel imported from foreign countries.