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Reducing Wildfire Risk and Protecting Our Drinking Water in a Changing Climate

Cross-posted from the White House Council of Environmental Quality blog:

Americans are all too familiar with the devastation catastrophic wildland fires can wreak on the landscape. Fire takes lives, destroys homes, impacts wildlife, and devastates millions of acres of valuable forests and grasslands every year. But what is lesser known is that these fires also severely damage watersheds—the very lands that provide clean and abundant drinking water for millions of Americans every day.

To address this problem, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Interior Secretary Sally Jewell this week announced an historic agreement between the Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service and the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation to focus on proactively restoring forest lands around important watersheds and preventing costly, destructive wildfires in these areas. Read more »

Native Peoples Honored with Trail in Oregon National Forest

Visitors hike on the Siuslaw National Forest section of the Ya’Xaik Trail. U.S. Forest Service photo.

Visitors hike on the Siuslaw National Forest section of the Ya’Xaik Trail. U.S. Forest Service photo.

The Alsea were a tribe of Native Americans who, for thousands of years, lived along the central Oregon Coast. In 1901 anthropologist Livingston Farrand predicted their loss in “Notes on the Alsea Indians of Oregon.”

On June 1, the City of Yachats, a small coastal city in Oregon, joined with the U.S. Forest Service and Oregon State Parks to celebrate National Trails Day with a variety of activities, including the dedication of the new Ya’Xaik (pronounced yäh’ khīk) Trail. The trail is named for the only known village of the Alsea people who originally inhabited the area.

This trail is the result of many years of collaborative planning between the City of Yachats, the Siuslaw National Forest, area land owners and many citizen volunteers. Read more »

USDA Explores How Federal Infrastructure Can Support Rural Cultural Strategies

Ajo, Arizona’s Sonoran Desert Retreat Center recently received an ArtPlace grant to promote small town vitality. The town’s annual International Day of Peace parade brings together people from the Tohono O’odahm Nation and Sonoyta, Mexico.  Pictured here Eric Alegria (board chair of the Center), Lorraine Marquez Eiler of the Hla C-ed O’odham district on the Tohono O’odham Nation legislative Council, and (behind) Brian Mackenzie, the principal of the Ajo school. Photo courtesy of Tracy Taft.

Ajo, Arizona’s Sonoran Desert Retreat Center recently received an ArtPlace grant to promote small town vitality. The town’s annual International Day of Peace parade brings together people from the Tohono O’odahm Nation and Sonoyta, Mexico. Pictured here Eric Alegria (board chair of the Center), Lorraine Marquez Eiler of the Hla C-ed O’odham district on the Tohono O’odham Nation legislative Council, and (behind) Brian Mackenzie, the principal of the Ajo school. Photo courtesy of Tracy Taft.

As rural communities search for new and viable economic approaches, it is becoming clear that one core component of many successful rural communities is the presence of vibrant arts and cultural opportunities. Last month I had the opportunity to speak about rural arts initiatives and how USDA Rural Development is engaged with local communities and private foundations to provide awareness of our infrastructure programs and how they can assist in supporting local cultural strategies.

At the Americans for the Arts annual meeting I had the honor of representing USDA on two panels where our Rural Development programs were part of the mix.  The sessions included discussion of ArtPlace, a consortium of national and regional foundations, and their efforts to support rural communities. Projects in Lanesboro, Minnesota and Ajo, Arizona are recent ArtPlace grantees, and we had the opportunity to explore ways in which USDA’s infrastructure programs might be able to leverage this new boost of philanthropic support as these communities work to demonstrate how cultural development is an essential ingredient for rural communities in the next generation. Read more »