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Wildfire Smoke Monitors Working to Reduce Health and Safety Impacts

A Environmental Beta Attenuation Monitor in a forest

Environmental Beta Attenuation Monitors (E-BAMs) are portable particulate monitoring stations. They are one technological tool used to monitor smoke. They can transmit their data via satellite to a central location for analysis. USFS photo.

Smoke from wildfires can have an enormous impact on the public and on fire personnel, affecting health, interfering with transportation safety and upsetting tourism and local economies.

Trent Procter, like all U.S. Forest Service Air Resource Advisors, is a technical specialist with expertise in air quality science, including: air quality monitoring, smoke modeling, pollutant health thresholds and communicating about smoke risks and mitigation. Read more »

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

A wheat field

50,000 acres of rangeland in North and South Dakota have permanent protection when enrolled into a carbon offset program through a USDA Conservation Innovation Grant. These offsets will be sold on the voluntary market. Photo credit: Scott Bauer.

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. Read more »

Virginia Is for Lovers – and Silvopasture

Fields-Johnson rotating his goats and sheep through the thinned stands

Fields-Johnson rotates his goats and sheep through the thinned stands to browse on honeysuckle and other understory vegetation. (Photo courtesy of Tom Ward and Colleen Rossier)

Throughout his life, Chris Fields-Johnson has been keenly aware of the need to preserve the natural landscapes, which provide us with clean air to breathe, water to drink and food to eat. As a graduate student of soil science at Virginia State and Polytechnic University, a forestry undergraduate, a student of Tom Brown, Jr.’s Tracker School and a former employee of the Virginia Department of Forestry, he also knows much of the science behind soil restoration and forestry. These experiences have given him a strong desire to turn his knowledge into action by managing land in the most beneficial way possible.

To make this dream a reality, he began converting a 250-acre loblolly pine plantation in Scottsville, Virginia., into a goat and sheep silvopasture system that resembles a pine savanna landscape. Silvopasture combines trees with forage and livestock production. The trees are managed for high-value sawlogs and, at the same time, provide shade and shelter for livestock and forage, reducing livestock stress and sometimes improving forage quality. Fields-Johnson and friends have spent many weekends thinning and pruning trees by hand, conducting controlled burns, fighting invasive plants and experimenting with forage establishment while they also learn how to raise goats and sheep. Read more »

Secretary Announces New York and Oregon Tall Wood Building Prize Winners

SHoP Architects proposed 475 West 18th in New York

SHoP Architects proposed 475 West 18th in New York, uses extensive wood structural elements and other wood products and allows the team to set ambitious sustainability targets in the building's design, construction, and operation. Copyright image, permission for use.

All around the world, including here in the United States, builders are adopting new, cutting edge technologies to save energy and reduce a structure’s carbon footprint.  Now, technological advances are enabling architects and contractors to use one of the most traditional materials, wood, to construct lighter-weight, more energy efficient tall buildings.

Today in New York, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced two winners of the U.S. Tall Wood Building Prize Competition.  The design projects, one to be built in the Chelsea section of New York City and the other in Portland, Oregon, were selected by a panel of architectural and engineering professionals and meet the competition’s criteria for safety, practicality and sustainability. Read more »

Do YOU Have a Plan for Your Pets Should a Hurricane Strike?

August marked the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.   The powerful storm had a devastating impact on the people, the culture and the pets of the Gulf Coast states. According to The Humane Society of the United States, more than 6,000 pets were rescued during Katrina, and responders and volunteers spent months tracking lost pets and reuniting them with their owners. Some never were.  The destruction of Katrina was like no other hurricane the United States had seen before; however, hurricanes will always be a threat. Preparing for future hurricanes will determine how much impact another storm will have on our lives and the lives of our pets.

And because September is National Preparedness Month, USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) wants to remind you of the importance of having a plan in place for both you and your pets in the event of a hurricane. If you have to evacuate your home, do not leave your pets behind. They will mostly likely not survive if left on their own and you might not be able to find them again if you do. Read more »

A Special Invitation from Deputy Secretary to Join a Google+ Hangout on Veteran Farmers

A man holding plant seedlings with the USA flag behind him

Helping our Returning Heroes find Opportunities in Agriculture: Join us for a Google+ Hangout with Agriculture Deputy Secretary Krysta Harden. Tune in live on Thursday, September 17, 11AM ET at

On Monday, I had the opportunity to meet with several inspiring Service members and launch an expanded collaboration between USDA and the Department of Defense at a Transition Assistance Program class hosted at the Pentagon. This collaboration will integrate agriculture into the career training and counseling programs Service members receive as they transition out of the military. Information about USDA resources and programs will now reach 200,000 transitioning Service members every year.

It’s exciting to see veterans — many of whom come from rural communities — drawn back to the land, and USDA is here to provide support for military veterans and their families, from nutrition assistance to rural rental housing and homeownership opportunities. In conjunction with Monday’s announcement, USDA also launched a new website, This site is specifically designed to educate veterans about USDA programs and the support available for all active duty military and veterans. Read more »