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The Brightest Gem in Washington isn't the Hope Diamond, it's the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree

The American public doesn’t have to sneak a peek at the Christmas present the U.S. Forest Service has given them this year because it’s on full display just below the U.S. Capitol dome on the building’s West Lawn.

A gift from the Forest Service’s Payette National Forest, this year’s U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree, aptly titled “An Idaho Mountain Gem”, was twinkling like a million facets of a bejeweled royal scepter after Isabella Gerard, a fifth grader from Boise, Idaho, who was chosen to do this honor by winning an poem contest, flipped the switch to illume the great tree.

A Dazzling Gem from Idaho Arrives on Capitol Hill

You know Christmas is right around the corner when images of the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree being hoisted from a very long tractor trailer show up on your social media apps and on TV.

An ongoing American tradition since 1964, this year, the great tree called fondly by its fans “An Idaho Mountain Gem,” comes from the Payette National Forest near McCall, Idaho.

Report: Maintaining Sagebrush-Covered Landscapes Keeps Water on the Land for Ranchers and Wildlife

Removing invading conifer trees improves the health of sagebrush ecosystems, providing better habitat for wildlife and better forage for livestock. And now, new science shows these efforts may also help improve late-season water availability, which is crucial for ecosystems in the arid West.

According to the Sage Grouse Initiative (SGI)’s newest Science to Solutions report – which summarized research from USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) – a sagebrush-dominated watershed holds water in snow drifts an average of nine days longer than one dominated by juniper trees.

Cooking Up a Healthy, Delicious School Breakfast: Idaho's Chef Designed School Breakfast

For 50 years, the School Breakfast Program has provided children of all economic backgrounds a well-balanced meal consistent with the latest nutrition science to set them up for a healthy day of growing and learning.  And once again, USDA is celebrating School Breakfast Week (March 7-11) to raise awareness about the many ways the program benefits school kids nationwide.  The blog below highlights a (Fiscal Year 2013) Team Nutrition Training Grantee’s launch of their Chef Designed School Breakfast initiative, reminding us all that good nutrition is critical to a child’s overall success!

By Jennifer Butler, MEd and Brenda Thompson-Wattles, RDN Idaho Department of Education

As the old adage goes, breakfast is the most important meal of the day! This couldn’t be more true for our Idaho students. Our school staff noticed firsthand what researchers have been reporting about the benefits of eating breakfast. When kids eat breakfast, they are better able to pay attention, behave in class, and learn what is being taught.  It’s important on test days, as well as on all the days leading up to the tests!

It's Christmas All Year in Idaho

The annual tradition of providing a Christmas tree for the U.S. Capitol got an early start last month at the McCall, Idaho, Winter Carnival. The Payette National Forest is providing the 2016 U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree, historically and fondly known as “The People’s Tree,” which will adorn the West Lawn of Capitol Hill in December.

It seemed fitting to stage the kick-off event in McCall because the forest surrounds the city. The public event, which swells the town of 3,000 to as many as 60,000 people, has many activities including building larger-than-life snow sculptures. This year employees and friends of the Payette National Forest built an ice sculpture to celebrate their People’s Tree’s eventual arrival in Washington, D.C.

Innovation in the Tropics Helps Farmers Conserve Resources and Improve Soil Health

Farmers in the Tropics needed a better tool to estimate the nitrogen contribution from cover crops to reduce their commercial fertilizer rates.

Cover crops, which may appear as weeds to the untrained eye, are healthy plants that enhance soil health and minimize erosion. Covering the soil helps protect this precious resource that provides our food and fiber.

A calculator to address this issue was developed for Idaho and Oregon with a high success rate in legume cover crops― a type of plant, such as peas or beans, with seeds that grow in long cases (called pods). Through a Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Conservation Innovation Grant (CIG), the University of Hawaii expanded on this proven technology and modified it for tropical climates and soil types in the Pacific Islands Area.

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.

New Sage Grouse Conservation Strategy Good for Cattle Ranches, Good for Birds

Today, USDA released its new long-term investment strategy for sage grouse conservation—Sage Grouse Initiative 2.0 (SGI 2.0). USDA’s planned investments will complement the great conservation work already happening throughout the West and build on the work of the Sage Grouse Initiative, a partnership between USDA, ranchers and conservation groups that began in 2010. SGI 2.0 provides our partners a roadmap to fill unmet needs by rallying around a cohesive, partnership-focused conservation strategy that is good for cattle ranches, good for the bird, good for rural economies and good for sustaining the Western way of life.

The SGI 2.0 investment strategy is intended to be a living document, shaped by the best available science and the priorities of our partners. SGI 2.0 and other strategic partnership initiatives like the Regional Conservation Partnership Program underscore the growing demand for a new conservation philosophy of putting local partners in the driver’s seat and allowing them to set priorities and develop strategies that make sense for their operations and communities while still meeting conservation goals.

The Nuna Bean: 'Power Popper' Has Funny Name, Serious Nutritional Benefits

This post is part of the Science Tuesday feature series on the USDA blog. Check back each week as we showcase stories and news from USDA’s rich science and research portfolio.

Indigenous people of the Andes Mountains in South America have farmed the nuña bean (a.k.a. “Peruvian Popping bean”) as a staple crop for centuries. Its colorful, nutty-flavored seed is especially prized for its tendency to pop open when roasted—a cooking method that requires less firewood than boiling in fuel-scarce regions.

At the Agricultural Research Service’s Western Regional Plant Introduction Station in Pullman, Washington, plant geneticist Ted Kisha curates an edible dry bean collection that includes 91 accessions of high-altitude nuña beans grown by Andean farmers in Peru, the origin for this legume member of the Phaseolus vulgaris family.

Smokejumpers Celebrate 75 Years of Service

In 1940, Rufus Robinson and Earl Cooley made U.S. Forest Service history parachuting onto a fire over Martin Creek on the Nez Perce National Forest in Idaho.  This historic jump started an elite smokejumper program, a program born of necessity and innovation.

Since then, smokejumpers have played a vital role in fire suppression by providing a unique capability to deliver large numbers of highly skilled, qualified firefighters over large distances in a short amount of time.