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pacific northwest

When the Extraordinary Becomes the Ordinary, the Ordinary Become Extraordinary

On Sept. 7, 2020, Labor Day, the Pacific Northwest experienced a firestorm of historic proportions. For two days, gusty winds drove dry air from the east, down the west slopes of the Cascade mountains. Wind gusts up to sixty miles per hour collided with record-breaking dry conditions, fanning flames of existing wildfires and creating optimal conditions for new fires to start.

Early-Season Forecast Shows Rain - Not Snow - Keeping Pacific Northwest Wet

Something about January’s water supply forecast confused me. Current condition maps of the Pacific Northwest are a discouraging spread of red dots, meaning the snowpack contains less than half the normal amount of water. But water supply forecasts for the same region predict normal streamflow in the spring and summer. How can that be? Less snow means less snowmelt, right? Well...maybe.

To rise above my simple, linear thinking, I met with Rashawn Tama with USDA’s National Water and Climate Center. Tama, a hydrologist and forecaster for USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, produces forecasts for the Columbia River basin. His forecasts are built around prediction models that help transform tables of raw data into meaningful maps and colorful dots.

U.S. Softwood Exports Making Headway in Thailand

The pine forests of Georgia and the Pacific Northwest are a far cry from the crowded streets of Bangkok, where several shipments of U.S. softwood products are headed thanks to a collaborative effort by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS), the Southern Forest Products Association and the Softwood Export Council.

In June 2014, executives from five Thai lumber companies visited the United States under the auspices of FAS’s Cochran Fellowship Program. Thanks to the knowledge they gained and the relationships they forged with the U.S. softwood industry during their visit, several participants subsequently made first-time purchases of U.S. softwood. These initial purchases are a big step for U.S. softwood producers to make headway into the $58 million market in Thailand.

Grains, Trains and Global Success

Fall is harvest time and our rural communities are bustling with activity.  For American soybean farmers the days start in the early dawn, and they stay until the last light is gone, tending fields that seem to stretch to the end of the world.  But success for them relies on more than just growing a good crop.  Their soybeans must also move efficiently from the fields to the far corners of the world.

Helping farmers understand the importance and impact of transportation trends is one of the services provided by USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS).  AMS helps growers and exporters by gathering agricultural transportation data for a wide array of publications that are available to everyone on our agricultural transportation website.

Forester Says Variety in the Job Created His Trail

When a forester embraces the various challenges of his job – such as timber management, building roads, squelching wildfires or perhaps even national policy issues – you can count on the variety of experiences and the ever-changing nature of the job to provide interest.

For Dick Fitzgerald, currently the agency’s assistant director of forest management in the Washington Office, it became a 57-year career and running. He began by working summers in a fire lookout before becoming full time as a junior forester, as it was known in those days. He also worked as a district ranger, managed timber sales and served as a regional silviculturist in two of the agency’s nine regions.

“Each job has had its challenges,” Fitzgerald said. “During my first jobs, I was out in the country in places where a lot of folks had never been locating and developing roads to support the mission. Working as a district ranger, I worked with the public from local areas, trying to balance a forest’s timber or range or recreation agenda.”

Pacific Northwest Climate Hub Gets "Information to People in the Right Way"

The lands of the Pacific Northwest produce a bounty of grains, dairy, beef, fish, vegetables, and wild game that feed the people of the region and the rest of the country.  Many of those who work directly with the land have been doing so for generations.  Two of my own great uncles helped to bring irrigation to the Rogue River Valley near the turn of the 20th century, and my cousins have been farming there ever since.

Over time, farmers, ranchers, fishers, and private forest owners have accumulated knowledge and wisdom from family, local communities, and agricultural universities.  These individuals have supported a technically progressive agricultural industry that supplies most of the nation’s potato crop and a good share of its wheat and milk.  Agricultural producers are used to working with many sources of information about weather, water, climate, soils and fertility, pests, and disease and then making important decisions and investments about what they will do on the land.  Their decisions about investments of time, money, and materials have daily, seasonal, annual, and multi-year implications.  Selections of fruit, nut, grape, or forest tree varieties and capital investments in machinery, irrigation, and processing are made with today’s best information in anticipation of several decades or more.  Doing this right requires both technical savvy and the wisdom to integrate many different kinds of information.

Pioneer African-American Smokejumper Laid to Rest at Arlington National Cemetery

During World War II, a time when segregation was still a part of everyday life, a group of 17 brave men took the plunge to serve their country and become the first all African-American paratrooper unit known as the Triple Nickles.

The battalion’s original goal – to join the fight in Europe – was thwarted when military leaders in Europe feared racial tensions would disrupt operations. At about the same time, the U.S. Forest Service asked the military for help to minimize damage caused by balloon bombs launched by the Japanese across the Pacific Ocean with the intent to start forest fires in the western U.S. during World War II.

In the end, few of the incendiary devices reached U.S. soil, but the Triple Nickles were instrumental in helping the Forest Service fight naturally-caused fires. They became history’s first military smokejumpers who answered 36 fire calls and made more than 1,200 jumps that summer of 1945.

Clearer Air Awaits You in Wilderness Areas Across the Country

Visitors to wilderness areas treasure the stunning vistas and pristine scenery. Now there is good news for the millions of people who recreate in these special places: less haze exists in most wilderness areas allowing them to see farther and enjoy more color and texture in the scenery.

“We have even better news,” says Bret Anderson, the Forest Service’s regional haze coordinator. “Further reductions in air pollution are expected to bring even clearer air in coming years.”

All this good news is showcased in a recent series of USDA Forest Service reports showing visibility has improved at 60 of the 86 Class I wilderness areas, which are defined as those area of greater than 6,000 acres. The trends considered five-year averages of the haziest days for each year from 2000 through 2009.