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Restored Wetland Doubles as Outdoor Classroom for High School Students

Swales, like this one, were created throughout the wetland to hold water after a rain event, which in turn helps aid in flood storage, enhances plant diversity and provides habitat for wildlife. NRCS photo.

Swales, like this one, were created throughout the wetland to hold water after a rain event, which in turn helps aid in flood storage, enhances plant diversity and provides habitat for wildlife. NRCS photo.

A 53-acre conservation easement is an ideal environmental learning lab for students at Francis Hugh Wardlaw Academy in Johnston, South Carolina.  The land was once pastures for cattle, but now it’s a vibrant wetland just across the street from the high school.

The contractor hired to install the restoration work, Charles Kemp, was instrumental in involving the school’s students in creating and managing the wetland. “These students are exploring what a career in agriculture or environmental science would be like, and they love being outside and escaping the confines of the classroom,” Kemp said.

USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service provided technical and financial assistance to develop the restoration plan, and install the structures and earthwork to convert the wet pasture into a functioning wetland. Read more »

West Coast Forests Celebrate International Migratory Bird Day

(L-R) Joey Russell, a wildlife artist and the president of the Audubon Society’s Mt. Shasta Chapter and Klamath National Forest staff Greg Berner and Lauren McChesney look at waterfowl on Bass Lake of the Shasta Valley Wildlife Area.  (U.S. Forest Service/Sam Cuenca)

(L-R) Joey Russell, a wildlife artist and the president of the Audubon Society’s Mt. Shasta Chapter and Klamath National Forest staff Greg Berner and Lauren McChesney look at waterfowl on Bass Lake of the Shasta Valley Wildlife Area. (U.S. Forest Service/Sam Cuenca)

‘Tis the season for migratory birds to make their journey north. Forests along the Pacific Flyway, which stretches from Alaska to Central and South America, recently celebrated International Migratory Bird Day with educational activities, conservation efforts and birdwatching trips.

Staff from the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest and the Forest Service’s International Programs hosted an educational event at Camp Casey in Coupeville, Wash., that attracted 120 people of all ages who participated in interactive activities where they learned about migratory birds. In one activity, attendees took on the role of migratory birds to learn about the difficulties the birds face during migration. Their goal? To safely reach their next stop along the migration route. The first round was easy, no obstacles. The second round, a hunter was introduced and with each ensuing round, migration became more difficult. Habitats started disappearing and predators started increasing, catching larger numbers of birds. Elders, teens and youngsters alike all participated in this lively, competitive game to learn just how hard it is for birds to migrate long distances. Read more »

Remembering the Fallen and Serving our Veterans

Leon Kauzlarich (left) and his son, David, are both U.S. Army veterans. With critical home repairs in place, including a handicap-accessible ramp, Leon plans to get out this Memorial Day to recognize the contributions of other military veterans.

Leon Kauzlarich (left) and his son, David, are both U.S. Army veterans. With critical home repairs in place, including a handicap-accessible ramp, Leon plans to get out this Memorial Day to recognize the contributions of other military veterans.

As we celebrate Memorial Day this weekend, those of us at USDA Rural Development would like to take a moment to remember the fallen.  We also thank the veterans who served alongside them and who are helping keep their memories alive today.

Leon Kauzlarich from rural Appanoose County, Iowa, is one such veteran who will be getting out this Memorial Day to do just that. For decades, he has spent Memorial Day visiting rural cemeteries to place American flags on the graves of fallen soldiers. As a senior with mobility issues, however, he missed three recent Memorial Day observances, because he was unable to navigate the front steps and was completely homebound. Read more »

Under Secretary Bonnie Visits South Carolina to See Longleaf Partnerships

USDA Under Secretary Robert Bonnie listens to Mary Hill, a retired school superintendent and Center for Heirs’ Property Preservation Sustainable Forestry Program participant. Hill owns more than 80 acres of land and timber in Berkeley County adjacent to the Francis Marion National Forest. Forest Service photo.

USDA Under Secretary Robert Bonnie listens to Mary Hill, a retired school superintendent and Center for Heirs’ Property Preservation Sustainable Forestry Program participant. Hill owns more than 80 acres of land and timber in Berkeley County adjacent to the Francis Marion National Forest. Forest Service photo.

The longleaf pine ecosystem is one of the most diverse in the world. It provides habitat to nearly 900 plant species and 29 federally-listed threatened or endangered species. It’s prized for its valuable timber and its strength against disease, pests and damaging storms.

But longleaf pine forests are now rare since their original range of 90 million acres has waned to just a few million. USDA and other partners are working to change this.

USDA Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment Robert Bonnie recently traveled to South Carolina to meet with USDA employees and conservation partners. Bonnie toured private and public lands where the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service and the U.S. Forest Service have recently protected and restored thousands of acres of longleaf forests. Read more »

Secretary’s Column: Caring for Our Forests, Protecting Our Families and Our Communities

Over the past several years, we have seen the spread and occurrence of wildfires increase significantly. Deadly wildfires threaten our homes and communities and turn lives upside down.

USDA continues to do all that we can to protect people, homes and our forests in the face of fire. Just this week, we announced four new airtanker additions to the U.S. Forest Service’s next-generation firefighting fleet, which brings the total amount of aircraft to 21 large air tankers (with opportunities to add additional aircraft, if needed) and more than 100 helicopters. These new aircraft will enter service in the coming weeks and support over 10,000 firefighters during this year’s wildfire season. Read more »

Enjoy Your Holiday Weekend – Use a Food Thermometer!

Those of you who follow the news have probably seen the recall this week of ground beef that may be contaminated with E. coli O157:H7.

Understandably, this causes concern among consumers. However, this does not mean you can’t enjoy a hamburger off the grill or that you need to cancel your backyard BBQ. You can still enjoy your Memorial Day weekend cookout, just remember to practice safe food handling! And if the cooking is to be done by your “weekends only” cook, make sure you take the time to educate him or her about these important steps.

The USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) reminds all cooks to follow four simple tips—clean, separate, cook and chill—for a safe cookout. Additional safe food handling and cooking tips are available at the Grill it Safe website. Read more »