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The Role of a Vegetation Ecologist

Robert L. DeVelice, a vegetation ecologist on the Chugach National Forest monitoring invasive plants

Robert L. DeVelice, a vegetation ecologist on the Chugach National Forest, monitors invasive plants. (Forest Service photo)

Vegetation ecologists play an essential role in the U.S. Forest Service. They research the abundance and location of flora in their region as well as the factors that influence how the plants flourish. All nine Forest Service regions and most forests have ecologists on staff, representing a variety of interests. Some ecologists are fascinated by fungi, while others focus on lichens, wildflowers and other elements of biodiversity. In addition, plant ecologists and botanists provide quite a bit of support to the other disciplines and program areas within the Forest Service.

Robert L. DeVelice, a vegetation ecologist on the Chugach National Forest, fits the role well. His wealth of education, experience and personal interests have benefited both the forest and the local community. He grew up in New Mexico, received a Bachelor of Science in forestry from the University of Montana, a Masters in agronomy with a focus on forest soils from New Mexico State University, and a Ph.D. in plant ecology. When he arrived in Alaska in 1992, he was quite interested in native plants, their distribution and ecological occurrences across the landscape. Read more »

Protecting Clean Water While Respecting Agriculture

Today the Environmental Protection Agency released its new Clean Water Rule to help provide greater clarity on certain aspects of the Clean Water Act.

The Clean Water Act has successfully reversed the effects of harmful pollution in America’s waters for over 40 years. However, recent Supreme Court cases caused tremendous confusion over which waters the Act would continue to cover. There was broad agreement among Members of Congress, farmers and ranchers and other business owners that more clarity was needed to define precisely where the Clean Water Act applies.

USDA urged the EPA to listen to input from farmers and agri-business owners who need clear expectations and long-term certainty so they can effectively run their operations. EPA is seeking to provide that certainty with the development of this Clean Water Rule, and we appreciate that Administrator McCarthy and her staff have made a very concerted effort to incorporate the agricultural community’s views.

The following is a blog from EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy and Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works Jo-Ellen Darcy on the Clean Water Rule and agriculture. Read more »

Buzzing into Action to Support Pollinator Health through Research

As an ecosystem ecologist working for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, pollinators are near and dear to me.  Not only are they vital to agricultural production, providing billions of dollars in pollination services for the fruits, nuts and vegetables that contribute to a healthy diet, they are also important members of natural ecosystems, pollinating the plants that many other organisms rely on for food and habitat. Yet pollinators have been having a rocky time, lately. Beekeepers have struggled to maintain their honey bee colonies, the primary pollinators for our crops in the United States. They are managing a suite of simultaneous and interacting stressors to bee health, including severe weather episodes, inadequate nutrition, exposure to pesticides, and numerous damaging pests and diseases. Native pollinators also seem to be struggling with some of these same stressors, as well as land use change and habitat loss. Because of the incredible diversity of native pollinators, we know much less about their individual populations and the factors affecting their health. Read more »

Organic and Local Food Opportunities in New York

USDA Certified Organic farmer Cathy Stroll of Fresh Meadow

USDA Certified Organic farmer Cathy Stroll of Fresh Meadow Farm will participate in a learning workshop for organic producers in New York’s Hudson Valley on June 2.

On June 2, 2015, USDA will join producers and local stakeholders to discuss opportunities in the Hudson Valley’s organic market.  Nationwide, organic sales reached more than $39 billion last year, and the number of certified operations grew by 5 percent to a total of 19,474 certified operations in the United States.

Many organic wholesalers and retailers report difficulties keeping up with the market demand. This creates an opportunity for local and regional producers, and USDA has numerous programs and services to help them access the organic market. Read more »

The New Wave of Wheat: Increasing Resistant Starch to Improve Health Benefits

Brittany Hazard, a University of California-Davis doctoral student collecting samples from a wheat field

Brittany Hazard, a University of California-Davis doctoral student working on wheat and resistant starch research, collects samples from a wheat field for analysis at the UC Davis’ Dubcovsky Lab.

This post is part of the Science Tuesday feature series on the USDA blog. Check back each week as we showcase stories and news from USDA’s rich science and research portfolio.

Bread and pasta are mealtime favorites and household staples for many, but carbohydrates may also present a problem for many who struggle with health issues brought on by obesity.  With this in mind, researchers are developing wheat that has positive health implications.

A University of California-Davis-led Triticeae Coordinated Agricultural Project (T-CAP) is introducing changes into durum wheat genes that can increase resistant starch content by more than 750%. Read more »

Transferring Dead Trees from Source of Wildfire Fuel to Biofuel

Mountain lake with pine beetle damaged forest

Researchers are harvesting beetle-killed trees in the Rocky Mountain region for use as feedstock for biofuel. (iStock image)

This post is part of the Science Tuesday feature series on the USDA blog. Check back each week as we showcase stories and news from USDA’s rich science and research portfolio.

Trees killed by bark beetles have, for years, been a source of fuel for forest fires.  Now, those very trees are being turned into biofuel and biobased products.

This vast bioenergy resource—approximately 46 million acres—requires no cultivation, circumvents food-versus-fuel concerns, and may have a highly favorable carbon balance compared other forestry feedstocks. The problem, however, is that beetle-killed biomass is typically located far from urban industrial centers in relatively inaccessible areas, which means transportation costs are a key barrier to widespread utilization of this vast resource. Read more »