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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.

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.

USDA Celebrates a Record of Conservation Successes

Throughout the last seven years, the USDA Forest Service and Natural Resources Conservation Service have made great strides in conserving private working lands and our public lands for future generations. We have pioneered approaches to conservation that use incentives and partnerships to work with landowners across property boundaries and conserve watersheds, wildlife and large landscapes.  What’s more, USDA is demonstrating that conserving our natural resources creates economic opportunities for rural communities across the country.

Today, we are launching the second chapter of USDA Results, a progressive year-long storytelling effort of the Obama Administration’s work on behalf of those living, working and raising families in rural America.  This month’s chapter tells the story of how we are working to conserve our natural resources. Throughout February, we will be announcing new projects and highlighting the work we have done over the last seven years.

Navajo Nation Highlights the Value of the Environmental Justice

I recently traveled to New Mexico and Arizona to visit with local Navajo government leaders, Tribal College officials, and community members to hear about life on the Navajo Reservation. Michael Burns, from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), was also there to discuss an important new collaboration, the College/Underserved Community Partnership Program (CUPP).

CUPP develops partnerships between underserved communities and geographically close colleges and universities to provide technical support through faculty, students and staff at no cost to those communities. One of my top priorities is for USDA to help EPA expand the CUPP program to involve Tribal communities and colleges to advance the cause of environmental justice.

An Update on the EPA-USDA National Workshop on Water Quality Markets

This week, I have the privilege of participating in the first ever EPA-USDA National Workshop on Water Quality Markets at the Robert B. Daugherty Water for Food Institute in Lincoln, Nebraska.  More than 200 attendees from agriculture, utilities, industry, state agencies, and research institutions gathered at the University of Nebraska’s aptly named “Innovation Center” to think critically about how we can improve and expand water quality markets across the country.

As Secretary Vilsack noted in his introductory video remarks, water quality markets can be effective tools in helping communities improve the quality of their water at lower cost.  Markets create financial incentives for private landowners to manage their lands more sustainably to produce cleaner water while generating environmental benefits at lower cost.  They promote public awareness of the role sustainable private land management can play in protecting public health and natural ecosystems. They inject private dollars and innovation into efforts to improve water quality – leveraging finite federal funding.

On the Map: The Land, Water and Conservation Fund

There is a Federal program that you may not have heard of, but it is responsible for conserving millions of acres of recreational and conservation lands for Americans to enjoy, and it helps fund local parks, provide access to rivers and trails, and preserve wildlife habitat in every state in the Union.  This program is the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) and each year, the Department of the Interior and Department of Agriculture request funding from Congress to support grants to states and high priority federal recreational and conservation investments. Locating and learning about these special places is now easier than ever through a new interactive map. The map enables everyone to explore the 173 public projects proposed for investment in 43 states, including important waterfowl nesting habitat in the Prairie Potholes, battlefields and historic sites from Pennsylvania to Washington, scenic vistas in iconic locations like Maine’s Acadia National Park, and recreation sites in national monuments in California and Arizona.

Land and Water Conservation funds secure access for the American public to their Federal lands.  For 50 years, the law has been one of the most successful programs for recreation and conservation in our history. LWCF has provided funding to local communities that supported the construction of more than 40,000 city parks, hiking and biking trails, and boat ramps, and access to thousands of acres of fishing and hunting and  important wildlife habitat.

USDA Conservation Innovation Grant Helps Rice Growers Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Voluntarily Participate in California's Carbon Market

Imagine a rice farmer in Arkansas altering his water management techniques to deliver water more efficiently and use fewer days of flooding, allowing for more precise water and nutrient management while maintaining consistent yields. After a decision by the California Air Resources Board (CARB), in addition to improving water quality and reducing water use and nutrient input costs, that Arkansas farmer now has the option of selling carbon credits to large regulated emitters in California.   

In 2012, California put in place a cap-and-trade program for greenhouse gas emissions, one of the most aggressive climate change programs in the world. Last week’s groundbreaking vote by CARB adopted the first crop-based agricultural offset protocol, designed to reduce methane and nitrous oxide emissions from rice production. Methane and nitrous oxide are potent greenhouse gases emitted through the cultivation and fertilization of rice fields.

National Network on Water Quality Trading Document Aims to Help New Program Development

USDA is committed to protecting streams, rivers and lakes through agricultural conservation, and has a long history of working with partners to implement the practices and policies needed to meet water quality goals. One of these policies, water quality trading, can help communities develop innovative, practical solutions for improving water quality, while generating environmental benefits at lower cost and increasing investment in rural America. At least twelve states have established one or more water quality trading programs—but creating the trading rules, working with stakeholders, and running a trading program can be difficult.

In 2013, The National Network on Water Quality Trading began as a dialogue between 18 organizations to tackle the challenges involved with establishing water quality markets. The Network represents a variety of perspectives, including farmers, utilities, environmental groups, regulatory agencies, and others interested in water quality trading. USDA participated in the process as a technical advisor.

Preserving a Way of Life for the Yakama Nation

Recently, I visited the 1.1 million acre Yakama Nation reservation located in southwestern Washington State. Touring the reservation, I was able to see first hand how funds from the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) will help the over 10,000 members of the Yakama tribe.

Through RCPP, NRCS is working with the tribe to accelerate the recovery of fish stocks, including the Middle Columbia Steelhead, reconnect floodplains and improve irrigation water conservation.

25 Years Later, Forest Conservation Programs Still Help Keep Our Working Forests Thriving And Working

Patrick Leahy is Vermont’s senior U.S. senator and led in authoring forest conservation programs that he first included in the 1990 Farm Bill, when he chaired the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry.  Robert Bonnie is USDA’s undersecretary for natural resources and environment.  This week they headed a commemoration on Capitol Hill of this year’s 25th anniversary of the Forest Legacy Program and other initiatives that help states and communities conserve forest land.  Wayne Maloney, Office of Communications

Twenty-five years ago, the Senate’s 1990 Leahy-Lugar Farm Bill authorized the creation of three pivotal forestry programs that today are a resounding success.  The Forest Legacy, Forest Stewardship and Urban and Cooperative Forestry Programs help private and state forest landowners keep their forests healthy.  That in turn supports tens of thousands of jobs, benefiting rural and urban communities across the nation.  This week we joined in a celebration in the Capitol Hill Visitors Center marking this milestone.