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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 »

South Dakota Statewide Native Homeownership Coalition on the Horizon

Federal, State, and Tribal partners work on a solution to bring safe, affordable housing to South Dakota’s tribal areas. USDA photo.

Federal, State, and Tribal partners work on a solution to bring safe, affordable housing to South Dakota’s tribal areas. USDA photo.

South Dakota USDA Rural Development, Governor’s Office of Economic Development, South Dakota Housing Development Authority (SDHDA), and the Great Plains Native Asset Building Coalition convened a vital meeting of stakeholders recently to gain input on the creation of a statewide coalition to support and promote homeownership in South Dakota Native communities.

Six of the nine Indian reservations in South Dakota, including representatives of six Indian housing authorities participated in the session, as well as Nathan Sanderson of the Governor’s Office of Economic Development.  In addition to USDA Rural Development, federal stakeholders included the Departments of Housing and Urban Development, Veterans Affairs, and Indian Health Service. About 50 people gathered for a daylong working session to provide critical impute on the goals and priorities of a proposed coalition. Read more »

Kids’ State Dinner Celebrates Good Nutrition with MyPlate

Judges, including Sam Kass, Executive Director of Let's Move! (second from right), and Robert Post, Associate Executive Director, USDA Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion (fourth from right), score lunch recipes submitted by kids from around the country. Winning recipes were served at the White House for the Kids' State Dinner on July 9, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

Judges, including Sam Kass, Executive Director of Let's Move! (second from right), and Robert Post, Associate Executive Director, USDA Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion (fourth from right), score lunch recipes submitted by kids from around the country. Winning recipes were served at the White House for the Kids' State Dinner on July 9, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

On July 9th, budding young chefs gathered at the White House for the Let’s Move! Kids’ State Dinner, hosted by First Lady Michelle Obama, to celebrate their culinary accomplishments in the Epicurious “Healthy Lunchtime Challenge”Let’s Move!, Epicurious, the U.S. Department of Education, and USDA collaborated on the challenge and honored the 54 finalists who created the winning recipes at last week’s celebration. Contestants were challenged to come up with healthy recipes using USDA’s MyPlate food icon for inspiration.  The winning recipes reflected the appealing symbol, with healthy amounts of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and low-fat dairy.

I was honored to be USDA’s advisor and a judge for this year’s competition, and attend the Kids’ State Dinner with the winners. Here, at the USDA, we are proud to see this national example of how MyPlate is helping children make healthy choices when preparing and consuming food.  Events such as this encourage other children to adopt good eating patterns and pursue healthy lifestyles. Read more »

Life’s a Hoot for Owlets Saved from Wildfire

Nick Gauthier, a firefighter with Stanislaus National Forest Engine 12, holds two baby owls that fell out of a tree during the Carstens Fire on the Sierra National Forest. (U.S. Forest Service photo)

Nick Gauthier, a firefighter with Stanislaus National Forest Engine 12, holds two baby owls that fell out of a tree during the Carstens Fire on the Sierra National Forest. (U.S. Forest Service photo)

As the flames from the recent Carstens Fire in the Sierra National Forest approached, two baby Western screech owls huddled abandoned in a nest.

Then, without warning, the tree that was their home came crashing down to the ground. Firefighters working to contain the quickly-spreading fire had cut down the tree to build a fire control line. Too young to fly, the baby owls tumbled to the ground and onto a roadway. Read more »