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Sagebrush Songbirds under the Sage Grouse Umbrella

The charismatic sage grouse is often in the spotlight as the flagship species in the sagebrush ecosystem. The smaller songbirds that live alongside the grouse don't always attract as much attention, but they are also good indicators of how the sagebrush range is faring.

Recently, in a project funded by the Sage Grouse Initiative (SGI), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and Intermountain West Joint Venture (IMJV), scientists set out to evaluate whether investments in sage grouse conservation serve as an “umbrella” that extends benefits to other sagebrush-dependent wildlife, too. These findings are summarized in a new Science to Solutions report by SGI, a partnership led by USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).

Public-Private Partnerships a Crucial Element in Crop Insurance Safety Net

Farming is in my blood, and I’m proud of that. I grew up on my family’s sheep ranch in northern Utah and managed our raspberry farm before coming to USDA. For the past three years, as Administrator for the Department’s Risk Management Agency (RMA), I’ve sat across the table and listened to producers who, like myself back in Utah, couldn’t find an insurance product for their operation.

Natural disasters and unexpected events make agriculture a risky business, so having a strong safety net is essential for today’s farmers and ranchers. Nobody knows that better than RMA.

Where Passion Meets Purpose: The Snow Survey

“To say I enjoy my job is an understatement,” said Hydrologist Randy Julander. “Monday is my favorite day of the week, because I get to go back to work.”

As the Snow Survey Data Collection Officer in Utah, Julander’s job is a mix of science, adventure and artistry. He weaves information from data. “Data are just numbers on a page; but information - now that’s something meaningful, something that informs decision makers,” he explained.

Investing the Tools to Learn

As a society we do not expect children to learn to write without paper, we do not expect them to learn to cook without access to food, and we certainly would never expect them to learn to read without books. It’s simple: in order to learn, one must have the proper tools and experiences to do so.

At the Four Corners School of Outdoor Education, students and teachers, young and old, learn about conservation and land management by taking part in one of four programs designed to encourage stewardship of the entire Colorado Plateau region. While enrolled in the Canyon Country Youth Corps Program, students are immersed in land management education in order to eventually manage public lands in their own careers.

Innovation in Conservation - A New Slate of NRCS Environmental Markets Projects

Environmental markets—the buying and selling of ecosystem services like clean air and water, and wildlife habitat—help more private landowners get conservation on the ground. Markets attract non-Federal funding to conservation, complement USDA’s work with agricultural producers, and can yield natural resource improvement at a lower cost to other approaches.

USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is a Federal leader in supporting the development of environmental markets, largely through its Conservation Innovation Grants (CIG) program. Among CIG recipients are one of the earliest and most successful water quality trading programs in Ohio’s Great Miami River watershed and the Ohio River Basin water quality trading program, a recipient of the U.S. Water Prize this year. Also through CIG, USDA hosted an event in November 2014 celebrating a first-of-its-kind transaction—the purchase by Chevrolet of carbon credits generated on ranch lands in North Dakota.

New Guide Helps Citizens Customize Their Gardens for Native Bees

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.

Dogged by pests, pathogens, poor nutrition, and other problems, the European honey bee is having a rough time these days. The bee pollinates over 90 different kinds of fruit, vegetable and nut crops. These same crops are also pollinated by native bees, particularly on smaller or diversified farms and especially in home gardens. Together, their pollination services are an $18 billion annual asset to U.S. agriculture, and concern over their welfare prompted the White House in May to issue a directive aimed at bolstering their numbers and health through a series of initiatives including improving and expanding pollinator habitat.

Citizen involvement is another component. Among the actions citizens can take is growing nectar- and pollen-rich flowering plants; another is “customizing” garden or landscaping areas to make them more hospitable to these pollinators—especially native bees, says entomologist Jim Cane, with USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS)  Pollinating Insect–Biology, Management, Systematics Research Unit in Logan, Utah.

School Lunch Equipment Grants Help Provide Healthier Meals to Students Nationwide

USDA supports our tireless school nutrition professionals as they work to provide kids the nutrition they need to learn and develop into healthy adults. To further assist schools, USDA announced the availability of $25 million in National School Lunch Program (NSLP) equipment grants for Fiscal Year 2015. These grants help schools obtain much needed infrastructure to better serve nutritious meals, support food safety efforts, improve energy efficiency, and expand participation in school nutrition programs.

Here are some examples of how these grants have benefitted schools in the past:

Fence Marking Project Protects Sage Grouse

In the “Old West”, barbed wire fences were often cut to allow trailing droves of cattle through. In the “New West,” livestock fencing is being marked to help reduce collisions for sage grouse and other wildlife.

Sage grouse are especially at risk of hitting fences that are close to established leks, spring courtship dancing grounds, where males usually fly in the dark to gather. The flatter the landscape, the harder it is for the grouse to see the fences. In the most at-risk landscapes, biologists estimate an average of one collision for every mile of fence.

Natural Building - of Homes and Partnerships in Utah

Though National Homeownership Month has ended, the stories of people in rural America achieving that American dream never do. Last month I had the good fortune to visit the homes of two such people in Moab, Utah: Heather Gallagher and Lynn Chenard.

Both women live and work in the town of Moab, Utah, adjacent to Arches National Park. They were drawn there by many of the same things that call to me: rock climbing, mountain biking, river rafting, and wilderness exploration. The one thing that might have forced them out, however, is the community’s lack of affordable housing and limited seasonal work.

New Report Highlights Ranchers Restoring Habitat for Sage Grouse

Aldo Leopold once said, “Conservation will ultimately boil down to rewarding the private landowner who conserves the public interest.” Those words are powerful, especially in the West, where ranchers are partnering up to benefit sage grouse and the 350 other species that share its vast habitat.

Today, the Sand County Foundation, a non-profit organization named for Leopold’s signature book, “A Sand County Almanac,” released a report showcasing the dedication of private landowners in conserving this at-risk species that is currently being considered for listing under the Endangered Species Act.