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Wildlife after Wildfire in Southern Appalachia

A young black bear in a forest

Wildlife cameras capture a young black bear enjoying new growth from a prescribed burn on the Pisgah National Forest. Photo credit: Lisa Jennings

It was my first prescribed burn. After weeks of training and months of anticipation, I was finally on the ground – drip torch in hand – ready to apply fire to restore the mixed pine-hardwood forests at the edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains on the Pisgah National Forest.

Joining the U.S Forest Service only two months earlier, my knowledge of fire’s effect on plant and wildlife communities was limited. But as the coordinator for the Grandfather Restoration Project, part of the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration program, I had to quickly come up to speed with the on-the-ground reality of prescribed fire use. Read more »

Hawaii’s Women in Technology Program Cultivates the Next Generation of STEM Leaders

Girls building their Geodesic Dome

Middle and high school girls at MEDB'S 4-H TECH CONNECT engaged in an activity called Geodesic Domes. Students worked in competitive teams to build the strongest geodesic dome using toothpicks and gumdrops! Whose engineering design is the strongest?

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 USDA’s rich science and research portfolio.

If America is to maintain its role as a global leader, it needs to develop more world-class talent in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), especially among underrepresented groups, such as women and minorities.

This need is especially true in rural Hawaii, where developing renewable and sustainable energy is vital due to the isolation of island living and high energy costs. Hawaii has the highest cost of living in the nation and is more dependent on imported fossil fuels than any other state. Preparing students for entry into the renewable energy industry could help the state’s economy and overall economic sustainability. Read more »

Are You Ready? Do You Know How USDA’s Nutrition Assistance Programs can Play a Vital Role in Helping Those Most in Need Following a Disaster?

Two women talking

FNS’ initial response includes providing USDA Foods to disaster relief organizations. This include a variety of canned, fresh, frozen and dry products including fruits, vegetables, meats, and whole grains.

Twice a year, as part of America’s PrepareAthon!, USDA works closely with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) as well as with other Federal, state and local partners to promote emergency preparedness.  When disasters strike, it’s not only important for you and your family to be prepared, it’s also critical that your community be prepared.  USDA supports local communities by providing access to healthy meals in emergency situations.

USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) ensures people have access to nutritious food when they find themselves suddenly in need of assistance following a storm, earthquake, flood or other disaster emergency.  Oftentimes after a disaster, retail food stores are closed making it impossible for families to get the food they need.  Even after stores reopen, disaster survivors often still are recovering financially which makes buying food difficult.  FNS programs are there to help in those circumstances. Read more »

Income Inequality: A Growing Threat to Eliminating Rural Child Poverty

Two young boys enjoying lunch near their home in Knox County, Ky

Two young boys enjoy lunch near their home in Knox County, KY.

Rural child poverty fell by 3 percentage points from 2012 to 2014. Over the past seven years, USDA and the Obama Administration have taken action to address the root causes and reduce the devastating effects of rural child poverty.  As a record streak of private sector job creation has cut nationwide unemployment in half, to 5 percent, average incomes for rural and urban families alike climbed nearly 6 percent in the last two years of data, returning to 2003 levels.  While we have made important progress in increasing incomes and reducing the rural child poverty rate, it remains unacceptable that 1.5 million children in rural America – 23.7 percent of all rural youth – live in poverty. Read more »

Spring Climate Trends Changing in the Northeast

Freezing rain covering a flower

Freezing rain covers flowers, plants and trees in Falls Church, VA, like when unseasonably warm March is followed by last frost. USDA photo by Lance Cheung

All this month we will be taking a look at what a changing climate means to Agriculture. The ten regional USDA Climate Hubs were established to synthesize and translate climate science and research into easily understood products and tools that land managers can use to make climate-informed decisions. The Hubs work at the regional level with an extensive network of trusted USDA agency partners, technical service providers, University collaborators, and private sector advisers to ensure they have the information they need to respond to producers that are dealing with the effects of a variable climate. USDA’s Climate Hubs are part of our broad commitment to developing the next generation of climate solutions, so that our agricultural leaders have the modern technologies and tools they need to adapt and succeed in the face of a changing climate.

You might have noticed spring-like weather in the Northeast is arriving earlier than usual.  There is reliable evidence from many studies that conditions in the Northeast and upper Midwest have become warmer and wetter in recent decades, especially before the coming of winter and spring.  The spring-like warmth has snow melting faster and plant growth starting sooner.  On average, the last spring frost in the Northeast is about a week earlier now than it was 30 years ago.  The change is not as positive as one might expect since the start of growth for many plants has shifted even earlier than the last frost date leading to increased chances of frost damage.  This happens most often when unusually warm temperatures in March are followed within 2-5 weeks by a frost event.  In 2012, record high March temperatures were followed by record low temperatures (for the date) at the end of April with terrible consequences for fruit growers across Michigan, Ontario, New York, Vermont, and surrounding states.  In some places losses were almost total.  In something of a repeat, unusual warmth in the Northeast this past winter was interrupted by very cold outbreaks in mid-February and early April.  This combination was particularly bad for peaches in New Jersey, Connecticut, parts of New York, and other northeastern states where greater than 90% losses have been reported. Read more »

A Tree in a Time Capsule

Gene Conservation poster

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) hosts a free workshop on gene banks for conservation of tree species in Chicago, IL, May 16-19, 2016. Details are available at

The story of Super Girl being placed in a pod on Krypton and fired off to earth to help save her cousin and at least some of her species is science fiction. But for many species the danger of extinction from climate change, habitat destruction, or invasive exotic pests is the real deal.

At an upcoming Gene Conservation Workshop experts will discuss different ways to safeguard species from climate change and other threats. For forest tree species that are experiencing rapid declines due to invasive exotic pests or climate change, long term seed storage is our best hope so that they can be returned to the wild once a control is found. Read more »