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Trashy Life: Crayfish Turn Rubbish into a Home

Crayfish, like this Procambarus hayi are freshwater crustaceans, and live in rivers and streams. (U.S. Forest Service/Chris Lukhaup)

Crayfish, like this Procambarus hayi are freshwater crustaceans, and live in rivers and streams. (U.S. Forest Service/Chris Lukhaup)

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 the USDA’s rich science and research portfolio.

To raccoons, snakes and opossums, crayfish look pretty tasty, and large crayfish will even cannibalize their smaller kin. Crayfish, which live in rivers and streams, need instream cover to hide from all their predators. They also use cover to find food, to shelter while incubating eggs, and to keep themselves from being washed away in floods.

Susan Adams, a fisheries research scientist for the Forest Service’s Southern Research Station, examined different types of cover in the Yazoo River basin of Mississippi to see whether crayfish used large pieces of household trash for shelter when natural cover was limited. Her findings recently appeared in the journal Environmental Management. Read more »

Celebrating 90-Plus Years of USDA’s International Activities

Asher Hobson in Rome, who six years later would become the first head of the Foreign Agricultural Service.

Asher Hobson in Rome, who six years later would become the first head of the Foreign Agricultural Service.

The modern Foreign Service is celebrating its 90th anniversary this year, as is the American Foreign Service Association. In 1924, President Calvin Coolidge signed the Foreign Service Act into law, combining the United States diplomatic and consular services to create the United States Foreign Service. By that time, the U.S. Department of Agriculture had already been posting employees overseas for 42 years.

Thanks to President Coolidge’s curiosity, we possess a rare snapshot of USDA international activities in 1924. On December 22 of that year, Coolidge, in his characteristically laconic style, sent a one-line letter to Secretary of Agriculture Howard Gore: “I shall appreciate it if you will send me as soon as possible a list of the representatives the Department may have abroad, their posts and just what they are doing.”  Surviving copies of urgent correspondence in the National Archives in College Park testify to the flurry of activity that ensued over the next two weeks as a data call went out to all USDA field offices. Read more »

Light Detection and Ranging Helps USDA Pinpoint and Protect Archaeological Mounds

Light Detection and Ranging LiDAR image shows the archaeological mounds in this restored wetland in Illinois. NRCS photo.

Light Detection and Ranging LiDAR image shows the archaeological mounds in this restored wetland in Illinois. NRCS photo.

Sometimes to stop soil erosion, prevent nutrient and sediment runoff and improve habitat, conservation work does disturb the ground. Because of this, USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service relies on its archaeologists on staff to review locations prior to implementing these conservation practices. As the cultural resources specialist for NRCS in Illinois, I’m never quite sure what will turn up in my daily work.

Field investigations by NRCS archaeologists are conducted to look for surface indications of cultural resources, such as historic farm remains, prehistoric artifacts and above-ground structures. I have had opportunities to visit about 2,000 archaeological sites and to record about 400 new sites on private working lands throughout the state. Read more »

With USDA Housing Programs, 3.4 Million Rural Homebuyers Own Their Future

The Riggio family was able to purchase their home in Newville, Pennsylvania, with a loan from USDA Rural Development’s Self-Help Housing Loan Program.

The Riggio family was able to purchase their home in Newville, Pennsylvania, with a loan from USDA Rural Development’s Self-Help Housing Loan Program.

As we celebrate National Homeownership Month this June, I am reminded how USDA delivers positive outcomes ‘Every Day, Every Way’ through the comprehensive programs and services that touch the lives of every American. While many people think of USDA in terms of food, farms and forestry, nearly 3.4 million families over the past 65 years have found the affordable financing they needed to become homeowners through USDA Rural Development.

In 2013 alone, more than 170,000 rural residents became homeowners with the help of Rural Development’s direct loans, guaranteed loans, grants and technical assistance. In both people and dollars, 2013 was the most successful year on record in the history of USDA’s single-family housing programs. Read more »

MyPlate Has a Game Plan for Healthy Eating on a Budget

Everyone wants to save money at the grocery store, especially those on a tight budget. The new Healthy Eating on a Budget section of ChooseMyPlate.gov empowers cost-conscious consumers to make healthy choices with insightful information about meal planning, smart shopping ideas, and creating healthy meals with simple ingredients.  Web-based trends indicate that consumers continue to look for information about how to make better eating decisions with limited resources. Healthy Eating on a Budget offers a step-by-step game plan to help families save money and make nutritious meals at home.

Recent scores from the USDA Healthy Eating Index indicate that Americans can struggle to meet recommendations from the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.  Most of us need to increase our intake of whole fruit, dark-green and orange vegetables, whole grains, and fat-free or low-fat dairy.  Cost is often considered a barrier to eating healthier and the new resource will help consumers overcome this perception. Read more »

Secretary’s Column: Supporting Cutting Edge Conservation

This week, USDA and its partners launched a new conservation initiative, the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP), a program that goes beyond traditional government support for conservation and allows businesses and other for-profit partners to invest in regional conservation projects. RCPP takes conservation off the farm and out of the forest and moves it into the board room.

The RCPP will competitively award funds to conservation projects designed by local partners and specifically tailored to local needs. Eligible partners include private companies, universities, non-profit organizations, local and tribal governments and others joining with agricultural and conservation organizations and producers to invest money, manpower and materials to their proposed initiatives. Read more »