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Everybody Talks About the Weather…

A member of the Geronimo Interagency Hotshot Crew, Department of the Interior (DOI) Indian Affairs (IA) Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) San Carlos Agency in Arizona; on assignment. The combined effects of droughts and insects may lead to a pulse of tree mortality that increases the potential for intense fires. USDA Photo by Lance Cheung.

A member of the Geronimo Interagency Hotshot Crew, Department of the Interior (DOI) Indian Affairs (IA) Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) San Carlos Agency in Arizona; on assignment. The combined effects of droughts and insects may lead to a pulse of tree mortality that increases the potential for intense fires. USDA Photo by Lance Cheung.

The climate statistics for the first month of 2014 have been impressive. Extreme weather has lashed the United States from Alaska to Florida with record warmth, cold, dry and wet conditions all at the same time. The National Climatic Data Center reports that January of 2014 was the driest January on record for New Mexico, 2nd driest for Arizona and 3rd driest for California. January 2014 was also in the top ten of coldest Januaries on record for much of the upper Midwest.

Extreme drought conditions in the western U.S. are dramatically impacting water supplies critical to agriculture and elevating fire risk across our National Forests. Across the continent frequent cold waves have repeatedly threatened winter crops across the Southeast while frost depths reaching several feet will impact springtime planting across the Midwest. This kind of winter gets everyone talking about the weather.  It brings to mind the quote “Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it,” often attributed to Mark Twain (but apparently said by a friend). Read more »

Planting the Seeds of a Successful Future for our Children on Earth Day

Deputy Under Secretary Patrice Kunesh (left) and California RD State Director Glenda Humiston join children and families to plant a community vegetable garden at Mountain View Estates.

Deputy Under Secretary Patrice Kunesh (left) and California RD State Director Glenda Humiston join children and families to plant a community vegetable garden at Mountain View Estates.

Earth Day is an every-day celebration! It’s also about the future — creating a safe and healthy environment for our children and grandchildren. That’s just what I celebrated with the families at Mountain View Estates in Oasis, California, alongside Congressman Raul Ruiz and California State Director Glenda Humiston. Thanks to a terrific partnership between Rural Development and the local community, as well as with public and private support, these families now have homes hooked up to a new water system that provides them clean drinking water and wastewater disposal.

I am very proud of Rural Development’s work in the Mountain View Estates mobile home park.  Upon learning that 181 families were being displaced from their dilapidated trailer park because of hazardous conditions, mainly sewage backups and water contamination, Rural Development looked for opportunities to help re-build that community.  Today at Mountain View Estates, every family has access to basic amenities like clean drinking water, and reliable waste removal. Even electricity is no longer is a luxury.  This project not only improved the environment, it has also improved the overall quality of life for these families. Read more »

Why Research is Vital for Eradicating the Asian Longhorned Beetle

At the APHIS Otis Lab in Massachusetts, employees conduct research for several APHIS forest pest emergency response and eradication programs, including Asian longhorned beetle (ALB), Asian gypsy moth (AGM), emerald ash borer (EAB), and Sirex noctilio woodwasp.

At the APHIS Otis Lab in Massachusetts, employees conduct research for several APHIS forest pest emergency response and eradication programs, including Asian longhorned beetle (ALB), Asian gypsy moth (AGM), emerald ash borer (EAB), and Sirex noctilio woodwasp.

In addition to the existing science-based eradication protocols for fighting an Asian longhorned beetle (ALB) infestation, such as surveying trees and removing infested ones, the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) relies on on-going research to not only improve current protocols, but also to develop new ones.

APHIS’s Center for Plant Health Science and Technology continues research to develop attractant-baited traps designed to lure and capture adult insects. The attractants include plant odors and pheromones, which are naturally occurring chemicals created and used by insects to communicate with each other.  These attractants are used to lure beetles to traps that are hung on trees that the beetle will attack.  Traps can aid in early detection of insects in areas where survey staff may not be working. When the traps are checked by staff members and a beetle is found, nearby trees may be surveyed to determine if they are infested. This year, the traps will be placed in the spring and early summer in strategic locations in all three ALB-affected states: New York, Massachusetts, and Ohio.  APHIS is also working with the U.S. Forest Service and Penn State University on their research with similar ALB traps. Read more »

Two Tennessee Towns Celebrate Earth Day, Reliable Water and Sewer Service

“How many of you like to swim in the creek or fish in the river?”, USDA Rural Utilities Service Administrator John Padalino asked White County Middle School students during the school’s Earth Day awards ceremony.

“How many of you like to swim in the creek or fish in the river?”, USDA Rural Utilities Service Administrator John Padalino asked White County Middle School students during the school’s Earth Day awards ceremony.

Do you like to go swimming or fishing? Rivers and lakes are cleaner thanks to USDA water/sewer investments in rural communities.

On Monday, I joined Earth Day celebrations in the rural communities of Sparta and Monterey, Tenn.  Part of being good stewards of the Earth and our natural resources is making sure that we take proper care of waste and wastewater disposal.  The stories from Sparta and Monterey show how important this is.

At the White County Middle School in Sparta, children recognized Earth Day by planting trees to help the environment.  The celebration also marked the end of a major sewage problem in town. Read more »

Interactive Online Tool Teaches Users About Climate Change

Screenshot of the climate change science and modeling education module explaining the greenhouse gas effect. Without the natural greenhouse gas effect, the average temperature of the planet would be about zero degrees Fahrenheit.

Screenshot of the climate change science and modeling education module explaining the greenhouse gas effect. Without the natural greenhouse gas effect, the average temperature of the planet would be about zero degrees Fahrenheit.

As we celebrate Earth Day and think about ways to protect our environment, we cannot ignore the dramatic effects that climate change is having on our planet.

To help the U.S. Forest Service respond to a changing climate, the Climate Change Resource Center, an online portal to credible, relevant and timely information focused on forest management responses to climate change, recently released a new education resource on basic climate change science and climate modeling. Read more »

Earth Day 2014: The Hope in Healthy Soil

Conservation tillage practices like no-till allow farmers to plant cash crop seeds with little disturbance to the soil, which protects the habitat for billions of the soil’s microorganisms. NRCS photo.

Conservation tillage practices like no-till allow farmers to plant cash crop seeds with little disturbance to the soil, which protects the habitat for billions of the soil’s microorganisms. NRCS photo.

For years, it was believed that a certain amount of cropland soil erosion was inevitable. But by using conservation techniques like cover crops, no-till and diverse crop rotations, an increasing number of farmers are proving that we can actually build our soils and, in some instances, increase soil organic matter by as much as 3-4 percent.

In the process, these farmers are using less energy, maintaining or increasing production and improving their bottom lines. And that’s a reason to celebrate today—Earth Day 2014. Read more »