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Category: Climate Change

Drought in the Northern Forests?

Drought-stressed saplings

Drought-stressed saplings begin to shed their leaves early in a Michigan forest. Photo credit: US Forest Service

When I hear the word drought I imagine dusty rangelands and drying lakes. But it’s hard to imagine tumbleweeds blowing through the Northern Forests of the Midwest and Northeast regions. In fact, these forests have seen overall wetter conditions in recent decades and their annual precipitation is expected to continue increasing with the changing climate.

So why worry about droughts in these northern forests? Read more »

EPA Recognizes U.S. Department of Agriculture Among Nation’s Leading Green Power USERS

A 1.6 Megawatt solar farm at the George Washington Carver Center

The 1.6 Megawatt solar farm, located at the George Washington Carver Center in Beltsville, Maryland, helps position USDA to meet President Obama’s Executive Order goal to increase the share of electricity the Federal Government consumes from renewable.

In 2015, USDA launched the answer to President Obama’s Climate Action Plan challenge for food and forestry, with the Building Blocks for Climate Smart Agriculture and Forestry. Ten building blocks span a range of technologies and practices to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, increase carbon storage and generate clean renewable energy.  Through the Department’s voluntary and incentive-based conservation and energy programs, USDA and its partners are moving forward to reduce net emissions and enhance carbon sequestration by over 120 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent per year, or about 2 percent of economy-wide net greenhouse emissions, by 2025. This reduction is the equivalent of taking 25 million cars off the road or offsetting the emissions produced by powering nearly 11 million homes per year.

In keeping with these efforts, USDA too is working to reduce its own carbon footprint.  USDA is proud to be part of the Green Power Partnership, a voluntary program that encourages organizations to use green power as a way to reduce the environmental impacts associated with electricity use.  And USDA is even more proud to be recognized as number five on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) Top 10 Federal Government list of the largest green power users from the Green Power Partnership. Additionally, USDA is number 43 on the National Top 100 list. Read more »

Sustainably Growing Vegetables in a Changing Climate: It’s about Working Together

Soils protected from the impact of intense rainstorms by a layer of mulch between rows of lettuce growing at Harvest Valley Farm in Valencia, PA

Soils protected from the impact of intense rainstorms by a layer of mulch between rows of lettuce growing at Harvest Valley Farm in Valencia, PA. Photo credit: Franklin Egan, Pennsylvania Association of Sustainable Agriculture (PASA) Director of Educational Programs, a USDA partner

The Pennsylvania Association of Sustainable Agriculture (PASA) sponsored a field day on June 2 to talk about growing vegetables in a changing climate.  The discussion focused on climate change, its impacts on the farming system, and strategies to effectively adapt through increasing biodiversity on the farm.

PASA’s Director of Educational Programs, Franklin Egan, provided an overview of climate change trends and projections.  Dave King and others who farm 160 acres of vegetables and small fruit all sold within 25 miles of the farm, talked about their challenges and sustainable farming practices.  Among them, high tunnel beds have more aphids and pill bugs in the winter, downy mildew appears earlier in the summer, weeds are not any easier to manage especially without degrading soil health,  irrigation costs are rising, and deer pressure rises during droughts.  Practices being continuously adapted to respond to changing conditions include a highly diversified crop production system, use of beneficial insects, crop rotations, cover cropping, and rye straw mulch. Read more »

Secretary Vilsack Visits Puerto Rico to Talk Climate Change and Caribbean Agriculture

Plantains growing in Gurabo, Puerto Rico

Plantains growing in Gurabo, Puerto Rico. Photo by Duamed Colón.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack visited the Caribbean Climate Hub in Puerto Rico earlier this month to lead a roundtable discussions with local agricultural officials, farmers and ranchers, USDA agency leaders, economic investors, and scientists, and to view first-hand the Hub’s pioneering work in climate change research, education and outreach.

“Adaptation to climate change is a matter of National Security.  We need to have a functional food economy to counter food insecurity,” said Secretary Vilsack during the Climate Hub Roundtable held at the El Yunque National Forest.  Local USDA agency leaders expressed concern about the increasing incidence of pests and diseases affecting agriculture and forestry in the Caribbean, mostly related to climate change, and the need for more education and support for water and soil conservation measures. Read more »

Navajo and Hopi Expand the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network

Susie Wauneka

Susie Wauneka is a member of the Navajo Nation and has been an avid CoCoRaHS observer since December 2015.

Susie Wauneka has discovered a unique way to serve her community; by watching the weather. Wauneka is a proud member of Navajo Nation and is a Navajo Community Health Representative, providing critical health care services for members of the Nation. In December 2015, she discovered yet another way to serve—by using a Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow (CoCoRaHS) precipitation gauge to track the amount of rain and snow that falls.

The CoCoRaHS network is a unique grassroots network of thousands of trained volunteers of all ages and backgrounds working together to improve meteorological science by measuring and reporting precipitation amounts (rain, hail, and snow). CoCoRaHS is the largest provider of daily precipitation observations in the United States. The data from these observations are used by USDA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) for tools such as the United States Drought Monitor. Read more »

The Wonders of Wood Buildings

Understanding Carbon Stored in Wood infographic

Forests and wood products are powerful tools to help mitigate the impacts of climate change. (Click to view a larger version)

Trees do plenty of work to sequester carbon on their own, but many forests are not as healthy as they should be due to fire suppression and climate change. This can leave trees vulnerable to large scale insect damage, fire or drought, and much of the carbon stored by forests is lost to the atmosphere as trees die.

The U.S. Forest Service is committed to the storage of carbon using wood products through the green building and wood products strategy. This strategy involves putting people to work in rural communities, enhancing resiliency of our ecosystems, and sequestering carbon by promoting the use of wood products in large building construction. Read more »