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Starting from Scratch

(From left to right) Dan Whetham, FSA district director, Scuse, Rausch and Della Meder discuss the hardships faced by ranchers who were hit by the Atlas blizzard.

(From left to right) Dan Whetham, FSA district director, Scuse, Rausch and Della Meder discuss the hardships faced by ranchers who were hit by the Atlas blizzard.

This post is part of a disaster assistance program feature series on the USDA blog. Check back every Wednesday as we showcase stories and news from USDA’s Farm Service Agency.

Richard and Susan Rausch lost nearly 70 percent of their cow-calf operation when Winter Storm Atlas dumped three feet of snow on the western part of South Dakota, killing thousands of cattle across the region. The Rausch’s 300-head of cattle dwindled down to about 90.

“You just can’t put into words what the devastation was like following the blizzard,” said Richard. “The roads were closed from snow drifts, but once we were able to get out with the tractor, there was dead livestock wherever you went. Our neighbor’s livestock was found dead in our yard and our cattle took cover in rough country at the start of the blizzard and they ended up drifting five to six miles away.” Read more »

Western USDA Water Supply Forecast Tracks Melting Snowpack

Snowmelt on Mount Hood sends ample water down a stream in Oregon. NRCS photo.

Snowmelt on Mount Hood sends ample water down a stream in Oregon. NRCS photo.

April storms delivered a mix of rain and snow to the northern half of the West but didn’t provide much relief for the dry southern half, according to the latest USDA water supply forecast.

Washington, most of Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, and the northern parts of Colorado and Utah, are expected to have near normal or above normal water supplies, according to the forecasts from the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s National Water and Climate Center (NWCC).  Streamflows that are far below normal are forecast for the southern parts of Oregon and Utah, southwestern Idaho, California, Arizona, New Mexico and western Nevada. Read more »

Forest Service Smokejumpers Part of Disney Magic with New Animated Film

U.S. Forest Service smokejumper Greg Fashano talks with Taryn Brooks and Golan Yosef of Disney Channel’s “Movie Surfers” after landing in a small meadow at Slate Creek on the Shasta Trinity National Forest in California. (U.S. Forest Service/Leo Kay)

U.S. Forest Service smokejumper Greg Fashano talks with Taryn Brooks and Golan Yosef of Disney Channel’s “Movie Surfers” after landing in a small meadow at Slate Creek on the Shasta Trinity National Forest in California. (U.S. Forest Service/Leo Kay)

The U.S. Forest Service and movies-goers have seen agency-managed lands as the backdrop for dozens of motion pictures over the years, but this year it is participating in the magic of Hollywood in a slightly different way – as a creative consultant for the soon-to-be-released “Planes: Fire and Rescue.”

Two film crews from Disney Studios descended on the agency’s Redding Smokejumper Base in northern California the first week of May. They were there to interview and take video footage of the Forest Service’s firefighters in advance of the movie’s release in July.

The plot of the second animated Planes movie revolves around the transition of Dusty Crophopper – voiced by Dane Cook – into the dangerous yet exciting world of wildland firefighting after he learns he can no longer fly in races. Read more »

Cinco de Mayo Event Offers an Opportunity to Promote Healthy Lifestyles

LULAC President Margaret Moran (in white) visits the USDA booth and discusses summer meals with an FNS employee. (photo by Luis Nuno Briones)

LULAC President Margaret Moran (in white) visits the USDA booth and discusses summer meals with an FNS employee. (photo by Luis Nuno Briones)

In celebration of Cinco de Mayo last week, we here at the Food and Nutrition Service had the chance to participate in the 22nd National Cinco de Mayo Festival® Latinos Living Healthy Feria de Salud, sponsored by the League of Latino American Citizens (LULAC). The exciting event, held on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., brought together Latino community members, health professionals, major corporations and other stakeholders to highlight the significance of healthy eating and physical activity in the Hispanic community.

We partnered with LULAC to emphasize the importance of a nutritious diet and staying active in our often hectic everyday lives.  The festival provided an opportunity to highlight the many programs FNS has available to help children and low-income families.  Of the thousands of people who arrived at the fairgrounds, many dropped by the FNS-hosted booth to learn about our resources, especially as summer approaches and kids are out of school. Read more »

Trees Give Roads a Breath of Fresh Air

Roadside vegetation, such as that on Interstate 40 near Mebane, N.C., has shown to improve air quality in surrounding communities. (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency)

Roadside vegetation, such as that on Interstate 40 near Mebane, N.C., has shown to improve air quality in surrounding communities. (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency)

It’s Clean Air Month, and roadside trees are cleaning the air and helping us feel better.

If you live in an area where there’s a lot of people and traffic, air quality may have crossed your mind at one point or another—and rightly so. In recent years, the health of people living, working or going to school near roads with high traffic volume has been a quickly rising national concern. All over the world, studies are finding air pollution levels especially elevated in these areas.

A multidisciplinary group of researchers, planners and policymakers from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Forest Service and other organizations found that strategically planting trees near busy roadways may significantly enhance air quality. Their findings were published last year in the Transportation Research Board magazine. Read more »

Helping Honey Bees’ Health

The black dot on this honey bee is a varroa mite--a parasite that sucks vital fluids like a tick, although it also acts like a mosquito transmitting viruses and other pathogens to the bee.

The black dot on this honey bee is a varroa mite--a parasite that sucks vital fluids like a tick, although it also acts like a mosquito transmitting viruses and other pathogens to the bee.

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.

You’ve probably heard that the honey bees in this country are in trouble, with about one-third of our managed colonies dying off every winter. Later this week, we will learn how the honey bees survived this winter. With severe weather in a number of areas in the U.S. this winter, a number of us concerned about bees will be closely watching the results.

While scientists continue work to identify all the factors that have lead to honey bee losses, it is clear that there are biological and environmental stresses that have created a complex challenge that will take a complex, multi-faceted approach to solve.  Parasites, diseases, pesticides, narrow genetic diversity in honey bee colonies, and less access to diverse forage all play a role in colony declines.  To confront this diverse mix of challenges, we require a mix of solutions – the odds are that we won’t find one magic fix to help our honey bees. Read more »