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U.S. Geological Survey

Hill Farm Buzzing with Pollinator Success

Since it’s National Pollinator Week, it seemed fitting to express my thanks to farmers Scott and Susan Hill - who run the Hill Farm outside Charlottesville, VA.  Earlier, I had the chance to visit their 10-acre property former tobacco farm to see firsthand how hard they are working to grow a variety of produce for the local customers. But there are more little workers helping on the Hill Farm too. Pollinators!

In the United States, about one third of all agricultural output depends on pollinators. Insects and other animal pollinators are vital to the production of healthy crops for food, fibers, edible oils, medicines, and other products. It’s clear that pollinators are important to the Hill Farm for their production of their artisan and specialty varieties of several vegetables, including lettuce, asparagus, tomatoes and even golden beets.  And the first year, the addition of bees increased their tomato production by 25 percent.

Rabies and Vampire Bats

All this month we will be taking a look at what a changing climate means to Agriculture. For APHIS, changes in environmental conditions will increase the likelihood of shifts in the distribution and nature of current domestic diseases, invasive species and agricultural pests.  These changes will likely influence the dynamics of invasion and establishment of these diseases and pests, and therefore much of APHIS’ work. Understanding and adapting to these changes is therefore critical to meeting our mission.

Vampire bats rank high on the list of animals that scare us the most. Spooky Halloween tales of their blood-sucking, nocturnal, and secretive habits have likely led to their bad reputation. The fact that some also carry and spread the deadly rabies virus doesn’t help.

The common vampire bat feeds on the blood of Central and South American wildlife and livestock. They also sometimes bite and feed on the blood of people. Recently, vampire bats have been documented within 35 miles of the Texas border. This has caused concern and speculation about the potential movement of vampire bats to areas within the United States as a result of rising global temperatures. To gain a better understanding of the likelihood of such movement, USDA-APHIS geneticist Dr. Toni Piaggio with the Wildlife Services National Wildlife Research Center partnered with U.S. Geological Survey scientist Dr. Mark Hayes to analyze and map the potential distribution of vampire bats under various climate scenarios.

New Study Highlights Redcedar's Impact on Prairie Chickens, Helps Improve Conservation Efforts

A new study offers the first empirical data proving that female lesser prairie-chickens avoid grasslands when trees are present. The study, highlighted in a Science to Solutions report by the Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative (LPCI), underscores the importance of removing woody invasive plants like redcedar to restore grassland habitat. The new data will help guide USDA’s conservation efforts.

Though sometimes called the “green glacier” for its steady progress across the prairie, redcedar encroachment is far from glacial in speed. Open grasslands can become closed-canopy forest in as little as 40 years, making the land unsuitable to lesser prairie-chickens and other wildlife.

Giant Sequoia Trees Face "Drying" Times

“A mature Giant Sequoia can use 500-800 gallons of water every day during the summer,” said Anthony Ambrose, a tree biologist at U.C. Berkeley. “That’s a lot of water necessary for just one tree.”

For the first time in at least 125 years, Giant Sequoias in the southern Sierra Nevada Mountains of California are showing significant amounts of “dieback” in their foliage due to several years of drought.

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.

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.

Sustainable Land Management can Provide Building Materials for Post-Disaster Recovery

The U.S. Geological Survey estimates that several million earthquakes occur in the world each year. Some, such as the devastating earthquake in Nepal and the series of earthquakes that destroyed infrastructure, homes and communities in Christchurch, New Zealand in 2011, capture global attention.

After natural disasters such as these, rebuilding a city needs to be efficient and cost-effective, with an eye towards resilience in the face of future disasters. Engineered wood building systems like glulam and cross laminated timber, also known as CLT, are well suited to meet these needs as they are often prefabricated offsite and can be quickly installed. That helps communities bounce back from disaster in a shorter time frame while minimizing waste. Furthermore, just as trees flex in high winds, timber structures flex in earthquakes, placing wood construction systems at the forefront of seismic design for resilience.

The USDA Climate Hubs: Almost One Year Old and Making Progress

The USDA Climate Hubs are almost one year old!  Since February of 2014, we have made considerable progress by developing networks that connect researchers to landowners; by evaluating available tools that can help land managers with management decisions regarding risk management; by synthesizing regional risks and vulnerabilities; and we have learned a lot along the way.

The Hubs are about developing and delivering science-based, region-specific information and technologies, with the help of USDA agencies and partners, to agricultural and natural resource managers and communities.  Land managers and communities desire healthy, resilient, productive, and profitable agricultural or natural ecosystems that are sustainable over time. The Hubs’ role is to work with (and as) advisers to land managers by providing information and tools to help them achieve their goals in an environment filled with climate-related stresses and risks.  The Hubs’ initial focus is on communicating with our stakeholders and developing networks with our partners. This includes communicating research to Certified Crop Advisors, relaying stakeholder needs to science organizations, or just making sure the lines of communication are open among the respective science and information providers and managers of working lands.

Recovering a Native: USDA Agencies Help with Endangered Ferret Reintroductions

You can hear the chattering and scurrying from far away as six endangered black-footed ferrets restlessly wait in their travel carriers.  These animals are the first of more than thirty scheduled for release this fall onto 34 square miles of prairie habitat at the Soapstone Prairie Natural Area and Meadow Springs Ranch in northern Colorado. The site is one of several new areas recently offered by local, State and Federal land management agencies and private landowners as reintroduction sites to aid in the recovery of the endangered black-footed ferret— America’s only native ferret.

Once thought to be extinct, black-footed ferrets are making a comeback thanks to a successful captive breeding program, multiple reintroduction sites across the West, and the hard work of many government agencies, non-governmental organizations, Tribes, private landowners, and concerned citizens.

Summer Camp Provides Lifelong Environmental Learning for Utah High Schoolers

Nature High Summer Camp, an annual high-energy environmental learning experience for high school students in Utah, was held in July at the historic Great Basin Environmental Education Center in central Utah’s Ephraim Canyon.

For more than 20 years, several federal natural resource agencies and state partners have sponsored the event to help students of all walks of life learn the importance of science-based natural resource conservation and consider related careers at organizations like the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).