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Prairie Partnership Provides Habitat for Rare Orchid

The western prairie fringed orchid is one of Minnesota’s 43 wild orchids. Photo by Ben Sullivan. Used with permission.

The western prairie fringed orchid is one of Minnesota’s 43 wild orchids. Photo by Ben Sullivan. Used with permission.

My family and I enjoy natural scavenger hunts. When we explore the landscape surrounding our Norman County farm, we teach each other about the birds, animals and plants we see. It’s fun to search for native wildflowers. It’s even more fun to spot something rare.

Recently, through a school project for my son, we learned about Minnesota’s many wild orchids. Our state is home to 43 different orchids. Who knew?

We learned Minnesota is the only state with an orchid as its state flower. We also learned we live in close proximity to suitable habitat for a very special wildflower – the western prairie fringed orchid. We’re planning to search for this unique flower this summer. Read more »

Secretary’s Column: Helping America’s Farmers Rise to the Challenge of Climate Change

Farmers, ranchers and foresters have long understood the need to care for our land and water—not only because preserving those resources for our children and their children is the right thing to do, but because they know that our farms and forests are more productive and efficient when they’re properly cared for.

Science and technology has expanded our capability and improved our understanding over the years, but this core mission remains the same. Today’s farmers and ranchers have risen to the twin responsibilities of producing safe, affordable food while employing cutting edge conservation practices on their operations to conserve water, minimize runoff, prevent soil erosion, and preserve wildlife habitat. They know that this will only become more critical as we take on the challenges of feeding a growing global population and dealing with the impacts of a changing climate. Read more »

Strategic Planning, Thoughtful Leadership Bring Leveraged Investments, Community Vitality to Small-Town West Virginia

After our terrific meeting with city officials in Ranson and Charles Town, I had the opportunity to visit with local FFA students at Hampshire High School in Romney, WV. Rural America truly is a place where cutting edge innovation meets old-fashioned fun on the farm!

After our terrific meeting with city officials in Ranson and Charles Town, I had the opportunity to visit with local FFA students at Hampshire High School in Romney, WV. Rural America truly is a place where cutting edge innovation meets old-fashioned fun on the farm!

I’d been told the neighboring towns of Ranson and Charles Town, West Virginia, are vibrant communities where people want to live, work and raise a family. During a recent visit with local leaders and USDA’s community economic development partners in the area, I saw first-hand how regional approaches and partnerships are attracting public and private investment to the region that make this quality of life possible.

Along with WV Rural Development State Director Bobby Lewis, I recently convened a discussion with the mayors and city planners of the two towns to learn more about their successes and strategies. I learned that Charles Town and Ranson are thinking big, re-imagining their future, and developing a blueprint for their long-term economic viability. You see, by working together to develop comprehensive objectives and plans, the communities have been able to leverage grants from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Department of Transportation, and the Environmental Protection Agency to develop new businesses, transportation links, and affordable housing. And in 2011, USDA contributed an important piece, providing funding through a Community Facilities Direct Loan for a much needed ambulance shelter. Read more »

Celebrating our Native Wildflowers for National Wildflower Week 2014

In northern Florida wildflowers are planted in an unused part of this farm field to provide habitat for pollinators. USDA photo.

In northern Florida wildflowers are planted in an unused part of this farm field to provide habitat for pollinators. USDA photo.

No matter what part of the country you grew up in, most of us have fond childhood memories of the wildflowers that sprung up each year around our homes, parks and roadsides.

For many, this fondness has carried into our adult years. This week, we celebrate National Wildflower Week as a way to share our interest and to increase public awareness for wildflowers in the landscape.

The beauty of wildflowers can indeed stir up memories of a certain place or time. But the wildflowers that are native to a particular place also serve an important function in the ecology of that place. Read more »

K-9s – A Law Enforcement Officer’s Equal Partner, Best Friend

U.S. Forest Service law enforcement officer Carson Harris and his K-9 partner, Jasper, patrol the Shasta-Trinity National Forest in California. (U.S. Forest Service)

U.S. Forest Service law enforcement officer Carson Harris and his K-9 partner, Jasper, patrol the Shasta-Trinity National Forest in California. (U.S. Forest Service)

The recent tragedy involving U.S. Forest Service Law Enforcement Officer Jason Crisp and his K-9 Maros brought to light the close bond between an officer and his dog and the dangers they face.

Crisp and K-9 Maros were killed in the line of duty on March 12, 2014 in Burke County, North Carolina. The efforts of officers and K-9s are crucial to the mission of Forest Service law enforcement and a well-trained K-9 team is vital to the protection of people, property and resources on U.S. Forest Service-managed lands. Not only are the highly trained dogs involved in the apprehension of suspects and the detection of narcotics, but they also locate evidence, track individuals and provide community demonstrations. Read more »

Rice Producers, Ducks Unlimited Partner at Agriculture Department to Promote Waterfowl Habitat Efforts

NRCS Chief Jason Weller spoke at an event yesterday hosted by Ducks Unlimited and the USA Rice Federation. Chief Weller celebrated the good work of rice farmers who provide critical habitat for ducks and other migratory waterfowl. From L to R in the chairs: Betsy Ward, President and CEO of USA Rice; John Owen, Chairman of USA Rice Producers’ Group; George Dunklin, President of Ducks Unlimited; Dale Hall, CEO of Ducks Unlimited; and Dr. Mark Petrie, report author and Director of Conservation Planning at Ducks Unlimited. USDA photo by Tom Witham.

NRCS Chief Jason Weller spoke at an event yesterday hosted by Ducks Unlimited and the USA Rice Federation. Chief Weller celebrated the good work of rice farmers who provide critical habitat for ducks and other migratory waterfowl. From L to R in the chairs: Betsy Ward, President and CEO of USA Rice; John Owen, Chairman of USA Rice Producers’ Group; George Dunklin, President of Ducks Unlimited; Dale Hall, CEO of Ducks Unlimited; and Dr. Mark Petrie, report author and Director of Conservation Planning at Ducks Unlimited. USDA photo by Tom Witham.

Rice is not just for people but for the birds, too. And a new report underlines the value of rice fields as habitat for migratory birds and other waterfowl.

The working rice lands report, released this week by Ducks Unlimited and the USA Rice Federation, shows that replacing rice fields with restored wetlands would cost an estimated $3.5 billion. Plus, a large amount of food available to migratory birds during winter comes from rice fields: 44 percent in California’s Central Valley and 42 percent along the Gulf of Mexico coast.

Jason Weller, chief of USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, (NRCS) joined the two partners for the report’s unveiling today, noting the important relationship the agency has with both groups as well as American farmers. Read more »