USDA Undersecretary for Natural Resources and Environment Visits Colorado’s USDA Employees and Tours Flood Impacted Areas
Recently, Undersecretary for Natural Resources and Environment Robert Bonnie visited Colorado to connect with USDA employees in the wake of the government shutdown. On the morning of Wednesday, October 23rd Undersecretary Bonnie traveled to Fort Collins to host a USDA “family meeting” and listen to nearly 100 employees as they shared comments, asked questions, and voiced concerns. The Undersecretary fielded numerous questions during the structured event, while after several employees shared their appreciation for the chance to hear from and interact with leadership within the Department.
Later in the afternoon the Undersecretary participated in a tour that helped provide a hands-on account of the impact and devastation resulting from the recent flood which was only compounded because of the 2012 wildfires. The first leg of the tour was led by Donald Graffis, Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) soil conservationist in Longmont, Colo., while Sylvia Clark, Forest Service (FS) district ranger in Boulder coordinated the second half. Phyllis Ann Philipps, NRCS State Conservationist in Colorado and Dan Jiron, FS Regional Forester were also on hand during the tour.
“There is so much damage. It was difficult to look in any one direction and not see where some assistance was needed,” said Philipps. NRCS began the tour in Lyons focusing on the debris and destruction within the town caused by the St. Vrain River. The group then traveled to Apple Valley which hosts numerous small acreage landowners and then on to an area leading to Estes Park where in both locations the Undersecretary was able to visit and hear firsthand from those impacted including a small acreage landowner as well as a church caretaker who graphically described the damage to the church. “There are no shortage of touching stories and people in need as a result of this flood. It’s one thing to read about them, but to see it in conjunction with those impacted telling you their story moves you even more.” Upon the FS leading the group, they traveled down Left Hand Creek and up Left Hand Canyon, stopping along the way to further detail challenges. Finally the group stopped in what remains of Jamestown; a small community that sits in a narrow canyon along James Creek. Jamestown is widely considered to have been the hardest hit.
With the programs USDA agencies manage and administer through technical and financial assistance, they are no stranger to responding to those in need during crisis and in the aftermath of disasters. They must work together, and on this trip in addition to witnessing the tragic impacts of the 2012 wildfires and the 2013 flood, Undersecretary Bonnie was also able to see firsthand the partnership between NRCS and the FS as they progress in their recovery efforts.