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USDA Joins the Effort to Help Americans Get Outdoors

By Phil Sammon, Forest Service, Public Affairs Specialist

Today, President Barack Obama, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Nancy Sutley, Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality and Ken Salazar, Secretary of the Interior, hosted the White House Conference on America’s Great Outdoors, a gathering of leaders from communities across the country who are working to protect their outdoor spaces.

 The USDA Forest Service is proud to join the Natural Resources Conservation Service and other USDA agencies in supporting the Get Outdoors Initiative to motivate healthy lifestyles and activities.

 The goals of this Presidential Initiative coincide with one of the Forest Service’s primary missions – to actively support, promote, and fund numerous related programs, projects, and initiatives with wide-ranging missions and goals.  In fact, just this week, the Forest Service has made a few announcements in this area.

 On Wednesday, Agriculture Secretary Vilsack announced the availability of Forest Legacy Program grants to protect sensitive lands in 33 states and territories. These local projects can provide the background for local conservation education and interpretive programs associated with local, state and federal programs aimed whose goals and missions are closely related to healthy lifestyles, conservation education, and the challenge of reconnecting Americans and American families to the outdoors.

 Also this week, the Forest Service announced major challenge cost-sharing opportunities for the More Kids in the Woods program, whose mission is to provide more natural resource and nature experiences to children across the country. These future leaders will be better able to make sound environmental and natural resource decisions if they have developed an understanding and an ownership of the public lands this agency manages.

 In speaking about the More Kids in the Woods initiative, Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell commented that this and related programs are vital in opening doors to urban and rural kids and their families through projects that promote healthier lifestyles while preparing them to cope with conservation issues of the 21st century: climate change, water quality and sustainable management of natural and cultural resources.

 We look forward to hearing from people around the country over the coming weeks and months as part of the America’s Great Outdoors initiative, and to continuing our work with our state, local, and private partners help us to raise environmental and conservation awareness, and to help prepare future leaders for this agency, and for our country.

 President Obama speaks at the America's Great Outdoors Event 

Listening to President Barack Obama’s remarks are  (L to R) Council on Environmental Quality Chair Nancy Sutley, Environmental Protection Agency Lisa Jackson (standing behind Ms. Sutley), Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Department of Defense representative, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administrator Dr. Jane Lubchenco, and Housing and Urban Development representative

Innovative Sage-Grouse Protection Agreement Takes Flight

By Brad Fisher, Natural Resources Conservation Service Public Affairs Division

Natural Resources Conservation Service Chief Dave White and Rowan Gould, acting director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, signed on April 13 a first-of-its-kind agreement that combines protection of sage grouse and sagebrush habitats with the business interests of ranchers in 11 Western states.

What makes this agreement unique?

“It lets NRCS and the Fish and Wildlife Service work together to provide certainty to ranchers,” said White. “By certainty, I mean that it lets them address threats to sage grouse and sage grouse habitat in ways that benefit the natural resources on their operations while allowing them to operate at the same time.  This is a win-win for ranchers and for sage grouse.”

The technical assistance that NRCS is going to provide is absolutely vital to the success of this effort, White said. “Ranchers who work with us will have access to our rangeland conservationists, soil scientists and biologists. Our Environmental Quality Incentives Program and Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program will be there to help them install practices.”

For its part, the Fish and Wildlife Service will use the authorities of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) to provide participants with reasonable assurances that what they do to protect sage grouse and sage grouse habitat will be consistent with the ESA should the sage grouse later be listed as a threatened or endangered species.

Nearly 44 percent of sage grouse habitat has in recent years been lost due to agriculture, urban development, energy production and transmission, invasive weeds and wildfire. The human footprint across the area where greater sage-grouse live is becoming larger as the country strives for energy independence, agriculture, development and other, often competing uses.

“I want to thank the Fish and Wildlife Service for taking this step in working with agriculture,” White said. “It’s going to give ranchers opportunities to protect the sage grouse and, at the same time, let them raise their cattle, pay their rent, send their kids to school, buy their groceries, while letting them be ranchers.”

This year represents the 75th year of NRCS helping people help the land.

Dave White (left), Chief, Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Servce and Rowan Gould (right), Acting Director, Department of Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service sign a partnership agreement to promote and preserve greater sage-grouse habitat and sagebrush ecosystems in Washington, D.C., Tuesday, April 13.
NRCS Chief Dave White (left) and Acting U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Rowan Gould. USDA image.