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Category: Conservation

Longleaf Pine Savanna Helps Educate Farmers, Others on Value of Forest

Longleaf pine is resistant to pests and disease, withstands drought and provides habitat for a host of wildlife. NRCS photo by Renee Bodine.

Longleaf pine is resistant to pests and disease, withstands drought and provides habitat for a host of wildlife. NRCS photo by Renee Bodine.

The Nature Conservancy’s Apalachicola Bluffs and Ravines Preserve, an hour west of Tallahassee, Florida, protects nearly 6,300 acres of restored sandhill habitat. Young longleaf pines stand in thick waves of golden wiregrass. Wild turkey, bobwhite quail, gopher tortoise and Florida pine snake once again populate what 25 years ago were rows of industrial timber and bare sand.

About 50 people recently toured the preserve to see for themselves the beauty and benefits of the longleaf pine, many of them landowners interested in restoring stands on their properties.  They learned how The Nature Conservancy hand planted millions of longleaf pine seedlings and wiregrass plugs.

Foresters from Florida Forest Service explained how regular prescribed burns promoted the growth of native groundcover and kept hardwood and invasive species in check. Biologists from Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission discussed how wildlife is managed in longleaf pine forests. Read more »

USDA-NASA’s Global View of Earth’s Soil Holds Many Benefits

The launch gantry is rolled back to reveal the United Launch Alliance Delta II rocket with the Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) satellite aboard at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California. SMAP will provide global measurements of soil moisture and its freeze/thaw state. Photo by NASA’s Kim Shiflett.

The launch gantry is rolled back to reveal the United Launch Alliance Delta II rocket with the Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) satellite aboard at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California. SMAP will provide global measurements of soil moisture and its freeze/thaw state. Photo by NASA’s Kim Shiflett.

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.

When we think about space missions, we tend to look toward the stars to planets like Mars where robotic rovers roam, gathering data and sending it back to Earth. Rarely do we think about missions closer to home. But a view of Earth from 426 miles above is helping us monitor droughts, predict floods, improve weather forecasts and assist with crop productivity.

This year, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) launched a new satellite called SMAP (Soil Moisture Active-Passive) with the help of a team that included U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) hydrologist Susan Moran at the Agricultural Research Service’s (ARS) Southwest Watershed Research Laboratory in Tucson, Arizona, and physical scientist Wade Crow and hydrologist Thomas Jackson at ARS’s Hydrology and Remote Sensing Laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland. Read more »

A Bunny’s Tale: Protecting New England Cottontail Habitat on Cape Cod

A New England cottontail is a candidate for listing under the Endangered Species Act. Photo by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

A New England cottontail is a candidate for listing under the Endangered Species Act. Photo by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Cape Cod’s beautiful seashore, inlets, salt marshes and woodlands are a natural draw for year-round and vacation home owners, and tourists. A boon for the local economy, the associated development is not so good for an elusive little creature: the New England cottontail rabbit. Habitat loss has New England’s only native rabbit as a candidate for listing under the Endangered Species Act.

Private landowners, conservation groups, a tribe and government agencies have joined forces to restore New England Cottontail habitat throughout New England. In Mashpee, Mass., on Cape Cod, habitat restoration work at three sites is yielding results. Read more »

Arkansas Conservation Partners Have a Big Impact in the St. Francis River Watershed

Fred Stuckey, of Stuckey Farms Partnership, reviews his conservation plan with Chris Culver, the local NRCS district conservationist in Poinsett County. NRCS photo.

Fred Stuckey, of Stuckey Farms Partnership, reviews his conservation plan with Chris Culver, the local NRCS district conservationist in Poinsett County. NRCS photo.

The St. Francis River in Missouri and Arkansas has suffered for years from turbidity, or cloudy water caused by runoff of sediment, but thanks to the dedication of government and non-government groups as well as farmers, the river’s water quality is improving.

Two segments in Arkansas were listed in 2006 as an impaired waterway under the Clean Water Act because of poor water quality. But in 2014, following years of focused conservation work, the two segments were removed from the impaired waterway list because water quality had greatly improved. Read more »

Cover Crops: Agriculture’s Hero

Testing can provide the vital information needed when deciding what cover crop seed to purchase. Pictured here is AMS Botanist Elizabeth Tatum identifying a weed seed. (AMS photo)

Testing can provide the vital information needed when deciding what cover crop seed to purchase. Pictured here is AMS Botanist Elizabeth Tatum identifying a weed seed. (AMS photo)

Cover crops are the real heroes in the world of agriculture. Their job starts after a field is harvested and ends just before the next season’s crop is planted. Expectations for cover crops are high because if they don’t produce, the next crop may suffer.

After crops are harvested each year, planting fields are left bare. Runoff from rainwater, wind, and other forms of erosion devastate planting fields by stripping essential nutrients from the soil – nutrients needed for the next growing season. In addition to the loss of vital nutrients, the exposed fields are prime real estate for noxious-weed seeds intent on stealing what is left of the field’s nutrients. Replacing the lost nutrients and removing the weedy invaders costs millions of dollars each year for farmers. Read more »

USDA Grant Improves Monitoring of Southwestern Willow Flycatcher, Other At-Risk Wildlife

The Southwestern willow flycatcher is an endangered bird that lives in the riparian areas of the Southwest. Photo courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The Southwestern willow flycatcher is an endangered bird that lives in the riparian areas of the Southwest. Photo courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The distinctive “fitz-bew” of the Southwestern willow flycatchers is music to the ears of the partners of Wetland Dynamics, LLC, and USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) recently improved the ability to hear them. Wetland Dynamics received a $60,000 Conservation Innovation Grant from NRCS in 2014 to develop innovative technology for monitoring the endangered flycatcher and two other imperiled species in Colorado’s San Luis Valley.

“What we’re doing is innovative,” said Jenny Nehring, a biologist and partner at Wetland Dynamics. “The technology we’re using has been around for quite some time. But with the partnership now forged with NRCS, we are able to expand and improve our innovative techniques that build upon existing tools, which will in turn help to better understand certain wildlife species and improve protection of them.” Read more »