Become a fan on Facebook Follow us on Twitter USDA Blog Feed Watch USDA videos on YouTube Subscribe to receive e-mail updates View USDA Photos on Flickr Subscribe to RSS Feeds

Secretary’s Column: Skyrocketing Fire Costs

Spiraling firefighting costs have shrunk the budget for critical forest and rangeland priorities, including investing in Forest Service programs designed to mitigate the impacts of wildfire.

Spiraling firefighting costs have shrunk the budget for critical forest and rangeland priorities, including investing in Forest Service programs designed to mitigate the impacts of wildfire.

Over the past twenty years, a changing climate, population growth near forests and rangelands, and the buildup of brush and other fuels have dramatically increased the severity of wildfires and the damage that they cause to our natural lands and communities. Year after year, fire seasons grow longer and longer, destroying homes, threatening critical infrastructure and the watersheds that provide clean drinking water to millions of people. Between 1980 and 2011, the average annual number of fires on Federal land more than doubled, and the total area burned annually tripled. Even as fire seasons have grown, the way we pay to fight these fires remains unchanged – and fundamentally broken.

The Forest Service’s firefighting appropriation has rapidly increased as a proportion of the Forest Service’s overall budget, increasing from 16 percent in 1995 to 42 percent today. As the costs of wildfires have spiraled out of control, it has shrunk the budget of other Forest Service programs, taking millions of dollars from other critical forest health and land management priorities in order to pay for them. What’s more, often the programs we are forced to divert funds from are the very programs which help to mitigate the impact of wildfires. Read more »

Forest Service to Live-Stream Cradle of Wilderness Commemoration Event

The Overlook features prime views of Trappers Lake and the rock formation known as the Amphitheatre because it forms a stage-like backdrop to the wilderness scenery of Trappers Lake on the White River National Forest. The idea of keeping natural areas of beauty free from development started with a Forest Service employee who inspired the agency to be the first natural resource agency to push for designated wilderness areas.  (U.S. Forest Service/Lynn Lockwood)

The Overlook features prime views of Trappers Lake and the rock formation known as the Amphitheatre because it forms a stage-like backdrop to the wilderness scenery of Trappers Lake on the White River National Forest. The idea of keeping natural areas of beauty free from development started with a Forest Service employee who inspired the agency to be the first natural resource agency to push for designated wilderness areas. (U.S. Forest Service/Lynn Lockwood)

In the Flat Tops Wilderness of Colorado, there is a grand rock formation named the Amphitheatre that serves as the backdrop for the overlook to Trappers Lake known as the Cradle of Wilderness.

The area forms a sort of natural amphitheater of majestic volcanic cliffs, 320 surface acres of pristine lake and majestic volcanic rock cliffs and an expansive sky. The area holds a sacred place in history for those who cherish the values and spirit of wilderness.

It will also be the site of a panel discussion on the “Wilderness Idea” on Aug. 22 from 10 a.m. to noon MST as the White River National Forest commemorates the Cradle of Wilderness area as part of the 50th Anniversary of the Wilderness Act of 1964.  The public is invited to tune in to this live stream event. Read more »

Evening Primrose by any Other Name is a Moth Plant

Evening primrose flower (Onagraceae). (US Forest Service)

Evening primrose flower (Onagraceae). (US Forest Service)

Plants provide us with many things that we use on a daily basis – from the buildings in which we live and work, to our clothing and food. For flowering plants to thrive and reproduce, they often rely on pollinators to transport pollen between flowers.

Pollination ultimately results in fruits and seeds, ranging from the strawberries and almonds in your breakfast to the tomatoes in your pasta sauce. While scientists know a lot about honeybees, very little is known about many other pollinators – bats, birds, bees, butterflies, moths, flies, etc. – that are essential to pollinating wildflowers and native plants. Read more »

Volunteers Help Americans Eat More Greens

The Feds Feed Families program began in 2009 to help support families across America during summer months when other help may not be available.

The Feds Feed Families program began in 2009 to help support families across America during summer months when other help may not be available.

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.

Most of us were reminded every night to eat the veggies on our childhood dinner plates.  And for good reason, too.  Veggies are packed with the nutrients that are essential to good health and, as you may already know, greens are nutritional powerhouses.  Dark, leafy greens are full of antioxidants like vitamin A, C and E, as well as B vitamins, calcium, iron, protein, fiber and even essential fatty acids. But not everyone is able to adorn their plates with these “edible emeralds.” That’s where a group of federal employees stepped in. Read more »

Sammy Soil Educates America on Soil Conservation for 40-plus Years

Sammy Soil is NRCS' mascot and was created by a district conservationist back in the 1970s. NRCS photo.

Sammy Soil is NRCS' mascot and was created by a district conservationist back in the 1970s. NRCS photo.

Teaching people about soil conservation is one of our top goals at the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), and fortunately, we have a special helper.

Sammy Soil, everyone’s favorite little clump of earth, has managed to capture the public’s attention for more than 40 years. The little dirt clod, as he is sometimes called, was birthed through rock particles, water, air, leaves and the artistic mind of long-time employee Ernest “Howard” Whitaker.

Sammy Soil started as a water color drawing by Whitaker, who worked as a NRCS district conservationist in Tennessee. Read more »

Improving Agricultural Productivity in Uganda

Grace Opono uses her oxen to implement new conservation techniques she learned thanks to USDA's Food for Progress Program.

Grace Opono uses her oxen to implement new conservation techniques she learned thanks to USDA's Food for Progress Program.

Standing next to her healthy oxen, Grace Opono explains how new conservation techniques have doubled her maize yield over just two seasons. She is also earning a second income by providing tilling services to neighbors with her oxen. She tells me she can now afford to pay the school fees for her children and reinvest money in her land.  This story of achievement shows that USDA’s Food for Progress Program is making a difference.

On a recent trip to Uganda, I saw first-hand the difference USDA-funded projects are making in people’s lives. The Food for Progress Program, administered by USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service, helps developing countries and emerging democracies introduce and expand free enterprise in the agricultural sector. U.S. agricultural commodities donated to recipient countries are sold on the local market and the proceeds are used to support agricultural, economic or infrastructure development programs administered by government agencies and private volunteer organizations (PVOs). Read more »