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Elusive, Threatened Gopher Tortoise Spotted Laying Eggs in Alabama

Gopher tortoise laying eggs on freshly cultivated field.

Gopher tortoise laying eggs on freshly cultivated field.

Gopher tortoises are fairly elusive creatures. Usually the only sign you see of them is their burrows or ravaged foliage.

But recently a Mobile, Ala., tortoise allowed Marshall Colburn, a Soil Conservation Technician with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), a rare, up-close-and-personal moment as she laid her eggs in a freshly cultivated field. Read more »

History and Research Converge in American Chestnut Reintroduction

You may start out wanting to talk to Leila Pinchot about a U.S. Forest Service icon, but the great granddaughter of Gifford Pinchot has much more to say about the future of another legend, the American chestnut.

One of the seminal figures in world conservation, Gifford Pinchot founded and served as the first chief of the U.S. Forest Service. The eastern forests we know today are distinctly different than the forests Gifford Pinchot would have known 100 years ago – they are missing the American chestnut, which dominated forests in the eastern United States.

Once called the sequoia of the east, the massive tree grew fast and could reach heights of 140 feet. American chestnut not only provided a seemingly endless supply of rot resistant wood, its fruit also fed inhabitants of the eastern United States for millennia. A non-native fungus caused the chestnut blight that killed an estimated 4 billion trees by the middle of the 20th century. Read more »

Agricultural Weather and Drought Update – 7/26/12

Approximately 73% of the domestic cattle inventory is within an area experiencing drought, based on NASS 2007 Census of Agriculture data.

Approximately 73% of the domestic cattle inventory is within an area experiencing drought, based on NASS 2007 Census of Agriculture data. Click to enlarge map.

During the week ending July 24, 2012, the portion of the contiguous United States in drought inched upward to 64%, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.  The Drought of 2012 continues to hit some of the nation’s most important agricultural regions especially hard, with more than seven-eighths of the nation’s corn (89%) and soybeans (88%) considered to be within an area experiencing drought.  In addition, more than one-third of both crops, 37% of the corn and 35% of the soybeans, are currently experiencing the two worst categories of drought – extreme to exceptional – designated by D3 and D4, respectively, on the Drought Monitor. Read more »

U.S. Public Lands Continue to Create Jobs and Boost Local Economies Through Tourism, Restoration Efforts, and Energy Initiatives

Cross posted from the White House blog:

America’s national parks, forests, wildlife refuges, and other outdoor spaces are treasured for their beauty, their enjoyment, and for their value to our culture and history — sometimes, it can be easy to overlook that they also serve as economic drivers for American communities.  In sectors ranging from tourism to outdoor recreation and energy development, our nation’s public lands and waters are creating jobs and supporting local economies across the country.

Today, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) released an annual visitor survey, which highlights how our nation’s forests are contributing billions of dollars to the economy and creating jobs in tourism, restoration, and renewable energy.  The report showed that USDA Forest Service lands attracted 166 million visitors in 2011, and, as a result, visitor spending in nearby communities sustained more than 200,000 full- and part-time jobs.  The survey also reveals that these jobs produced labor income of more than $7.6 billion, while forest and grassland visitor spending contributed more than $13 billion to the gross domestic product. Read more »

Forest Service Announces $4 Million for Alternative-Energy Projects

The U.S. Forest Service recently announced nearly $4 million in grants to help develop affordable woody biomass energy in rural communities. The facilities will use wood pellets such as those pictured here. Thinkstock

The U.S. Forest Service recently announced the award of nearly $4 million in grants for wood energy projects around the country to help expand regional economies and create new jobs. The grants, totaling $3.9 million, will be distributed to 20 small businesses, tribes and community groups to develop renewable energy projects. Read more »

Prescribed Burning and Mechanical Thinning Pose Little Risk to Forest Ecology

Prescribed burn at the Tahoe National Forest. (Photo: Steve McKelvey, U.S. Forest Service

There’s hot debate over whether or not to conduct prescribed burning and mechanical thinning (the manual removal of trees) in our nation’s forests. Supporters of these fuels reduction methods, which remove highly flammable undergrowth, argue that they help lower the severity of wildfires. Meanwhile, opponents say that the treatments can hurt the environment.  Read more »