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

A dog at the APHIS Animal Care joint emergency exercise in Baton Rouge, LA.

A dog at the APHIS Animal Care joint emergency exercise in Baton Rouge, LA.

Let’s face it—there’s nothing quite as frightening as when a natural disaster strikes.  Even fictional movies about natural disasters leave you on the edge of your chair.  Whether in the movies or real life, the important lesson is—planning ahead can save…you or your family’s…life.

It’s National Preparedness Month.  USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) wants to remind you to take steps that not only protect your family members but your pets in the event of an emergency situation.  The same planning that goes into making your human family safe also should be extended to your furry, scaly, finned or feathered family too.  Contact your local emergency management agency for specific information about your area before disaster strikes.  They know the history of the types of emergencies typically affecting your area, and also will have critical information about local resources, such as where you can evacuate with your pet.  These few simple steps provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will help you prepare for your pet’s safety during a disaster.  And your local emergency management organization can help you with the points marked below with a * star. Read more »

Idaho Ranch Applies ‘All Lands Management’ to Benefit Sage Grouse, Other Wildlife

A sage grouse chick on the Big Creek Ranch - photo taken in the wet meadow area that's important for brood-rearing. (Alexis Collins, NRCS, photo)

A sage grouse chick on the Big Creek Ranch - photo taken in the wet meadow area that's important for brood-rearing. (Alexis Collins, NRCS, photo)

The Natural Resources Conservation Service works with ranchers and partners to improve habitat for sage grouse with funding through the Sage Grouse Initiative. Focusing on privately-owned lands, the initiative covers the 11 western state range of the bird. About 40 percent of the sage grouse dwell on private lands.  Steve Stuebner is a freelance writer for the Sage Grouse Initiative, a partnership that includes NRCS.—Alexis Collins, NRCS Idaho

By Steve Stuebner, for the Sage Grouse Initiative

From a hilltop in the upper Pahsimeroi Valley, Rosana Rieth points to a large pancake-like flat. That’s where about 80-100 sage grouse come to mate each spring in the shadow of the highest mountain peaks in Idaho’s Lost River Mountains.

It’s a perfect spot for a sage grouse lek – the land is flat, surrounded by sagebrush, remote and next to the Pahsimeroi River. Read more »

Happy Birthday AmeriCorps!

FoodCorps, an AmeriCorps program, has built more than 400 school gardens in 16 states and the District of Columbia. Photo by Robyn Wardell.

FoodCorps, an AmeriCorps program, has built more than 400 school gardens in 16 states and the District of Columbia. Photo by Robyn Wardell.

As AmeriCorps celebrates its 20th anniversary, USDA salutes the deep relationship we’ve had with these remarkable volunteers and service members. From engaging in critical natural conservation efforts to helping kids learn more about nutrition and gardening to working directly with local organizations in communities enduring chronic poverty, USDA is proud to be an AmeriCorps partner.

AmeriCorps service crews are working side by side with the Forest Service to protect public lands and fight fires.  For instance, a recently announced $3.8 million partnership between AmeriCorps and the USDA’s Forest Service and over 100 other organizations participating in the 21st Century Conservation Corps, creates service opportunities for 300 new AmeriCorps members.  Through this opportunity, military veterans and youth restore our treasured public lands by rebuilding trails, managing forests and rehabilitating campsites for generations to enjoy. These service members are also doing critical wildfire management activities like tree thinning, prescribed burns and hazardous fuel control. Meanwhile, in northwest California, the AmeriCorps Watershed Stewards Project is restoring coastal watersheds from San Francisco to the Oregon border.  This effort, a partnership between the California Department of Fish and Game, Humboldt State University, and other members of the fisheries, watershed and science community, has been going strong for twenty years. Read more »

SBIR Grants Help Increase Company Growth, Decrease Forest Waste

The “Forest Scramble” playscape at Myrick Hixon EcoPark, in La Crosse, Wisconsin, features small-diameter round timber construction design by WholeTrees Architecture and Structures.  WholeTrees has used four Small Business Innovation Research grants to create new markets, grow its business, and create jobs in the rural economy. Photo courtesy of WholeTrees.

The “Forest Scramble” playscape at Myrick Hixon EcoPark, in La Crosse, Wisconsin, features small-diameter round timber construction design by WholeTrees Architecture and Structures. WholeTrees has used four Small Business Innovation Research grants to create new markets, grow its business, and create jobs in the rural economy. Photo courtesy of WholeTrees.

With Mother Nature providing the raw material, a company based in Madison, Wisconsin, saw a chance to grow its business, help the local economy, and promote a sustainable environment all at the same time.

WholeTrees Architecture and Structures is a small, woman-owned business that has successfully leveraged four Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grants into a business opportunity that has increased local revenue and grown the company from six employees and gross income of $150,000 in 2009 to 17 employees and gross income of about $1 million in 2013.  The company projects revenue increasing to $4 million by 2016.  USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) administered the SBIR grants. Read more »

Recovering a Native: USDA Agencies Help with Endangered Ferret Reintroductions

An endangered black-footed ferret peeks out of a tube in a prairie dog burrow soon after its release at Soapstone Prairie Natural Area near Fort Collins, Colorado, on September 3. Photo by USDA Wildlife Services.

An endangered black-footed ferret peeks out of a tube in a prairie dog burrow soon after its release at Soapstone Prairie Natural Area near Fort Collins, Colorado, on September 3. Photo by USDA Wildlife Services.

You can hear the chattering and scurrying from far away as six endangered black-footed ferrets restlessly wait in their travel carriers.  These animals are the first of more than thirty scheduled for release this fall onto 34 square miles of prairie habitat at the Soapstone Prairie Natural Area and Meadow Springs Ranch in northern Colorado. The site is one of several new areas recently offered by local, State and Federal land management agencies and private landowners as reintroduction sites to aid in the recovery of the endangered black-footed ferret— America’s only native ferret.

Once thought to be extinct, black-footed ferrets are making a comeback thanks to a successful captive breeding program, multiple reintroduction sites across the West, and the hard work of many government agencies, non-governmental organizations, Tribes, private landowners, and concerned citizens. Read more »

Durfee Students Learn Healthy Habits in the Garden, Classroom, and Cafeteria

Dr. Robert Lewis, Director of Nutrition Services, El Monte School District. Photo credit: Jim Newberry

Dr. Robert Lewis, Director of Nutrition Services, El Monte School District. Photo credit: Jim Newberry

Today’s Cafeteria Stories contribution comes from Dr. Robert Lewis of the El Monte School District in Southern California.  Dr. Lewis describes the success that his urban school district has had with school gardening, and how gardening helps to transform the food culture among students who were previously unaware of the origins of food.  His district is making great strides in improving the school nutrition environment, thanks in part to support from the Alliance for a Healthier Generation.

By: Dr. Robert Lewis, Director of Nutrition Services, El Monte School District

The majority of the more than 1,000 students that attend Durfee School—part of El Monte School District, east of Los Angeles, California—have lived their entire lives in urban neighborhoods without access to farms or fields. It’s ironic that our school is named after James R. Durfee, a rancher and farmer who grew vegetables, grain, walnuts, and fruit. But until several years ago, Durfee students didn’t know where food came from, aside from the supermarket or the corner store.

When we joined the Alliance’s Healthy Schools Program and decided to improve the healthfulness of the food we serve to our students, we started by getting our hands dirty. As the director of nutrition services for El Monte School District I knew that kids are more likely to try new foods if they are involved in the process and learn why it is important. I invited local farmers to school to plant seedlings with the students. Once kids saw how broccoli or red cabbage grows, you can bet they wanted to taste them both in the garden and in the cafeteria. Read more »