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

Category: Conservation

Gopher Tortoise Habitats Thrive along Alabama’s Gulf Coast

Gopher tortoise

Private landowners in Alabama and elsewhere in the Southeast are playing a crucial role in restoring habitat for gopher tortoises.

Longleaf pine forests once dominated the Southeast. But over the past two centuries, many of these forests have disappeared along with the wildlife that called them home. Recent efforts to enhance longleaf forests on private lands are helping the ecosystem rebound as well as wildlife like the gopher tortoise.

The gopher tortoise is a keystone species of the longleaf forest, known for their deep burrows that provide vital habitat and shelter for not only itself but many other species. The gopher tortoise is listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in the western part of the longleaf range, including parts of Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana. Read more »

South Florida Drought: Mobile Irrigation Labs to the Rescue

A person testing an irrigation system

Nurseries can take advantage of the free irrigation efficiency test. Photo: Gail Hendricks.

Widespread drought in California and other parts of the western United States has been widely covered, but earlier this year,  drought conditions in southeast Florida were  “extreme” and are still considered “abnormally dry” according to the National Drought Mitigation Center. This heavily populated area of Florida – which is home to more than eight million people and includes the cities of Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach – is also a major agricultural area.

Even though Florida is in its rainy season, lasting from May until October, the South Florida Water Management District reports that May and June rainfall totals were well below average across most of the region. District weather records show that this May and June period was the driest since 2004 and the ninth driest since recordkeeping began in 1932. Of course, a tropical disturbance or hurricane that contains significant rainfall, like the one experienced last month, can make up at least some of this deficit, but waiting for weather isn’t something to rely on to fix the problem. Read more »

Cattle and Honey Bees Graze in Harmony on Wisconsin Farm

Reed Fitton with cattle and a tree behind him

Reed Fitton has enhanced honey bee habitat on the pastures he manages near Gays Mills, Wisconsin.

Reed Fitton grazes cattle on the same hilltop farm where the late conservationist Ben Logan grew up and later featured in his memoir, “The Land Remembers.” Fitton carefully manages the farm near Gays Mills, Wisconsin with a broad conservation ethic, preventing soil erosion and protecting waterways. He has also transformed the Ben Logan’s “Seldom Seen Farm” into an oasis for honey bees and other pollinators.

When USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) launched a new coordinated effort to improve honey bee habitat in 2014, Fitton was one of the first to participate. He works closely with NRCS to make improvements to the land that provide better forage for his cattle, improve existing hayfields and convert former corn fields into healthy pasture. Read more »

New Toolset Helps Identify Key Water Conservation Options

ARS soil scientist Mark D. Tomer and technician Sarah Porter reviewing a map showing results from a new toolset

Along Beaver Creek in central Iowa, ARS soil scientist Mark D. Tomer and technician Sarah Porter review a map showing results from a new toolset that analyzes conservation data from this watershed. Photo by Jim Ascough.

A free computer-based toolset developed by USDA-Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists was launched this month.  The toolset can help conservation planners, landowners and researchers better manage watershed runoff, such as nitrogen and phosphorus, while also supporting agricultural production.

Excess nutrients from watershed runoff—from sources that include farming—affect the ecological quality of aquatic environments. A watershed is an area of land from which all of the water that runs off its surface flows to the same location, typically a stream or river, but lakes and ponds also have watersheds. There are thousands of watersheds of varying sizes that cover the continental United States. Read more »

USDA CREP Buffers Clean Water and Help Restore Chesapeake Bay

An animal standing in a field

With a buffer zone in place, water quality has improved.

At the English farm in York County, Pennsylvania, you’ll find a comfortable streamside setting that includes a babbling brook, clear water, singing birds, and a thriving young stand of trees — all nestled in a productive cropland setting.  However, this wasn’t always the case.  Don English, the son of the owner of the farm, recalls, “Until we planted these four acres into a buffer by enrolling in the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP), this creek ran brown with sediment after every rain.  Within a year the water cleared up and now we’re seeing the aquatic life return.” This creek runs into the Deer Creek, which in turn runs into the Chesapeake Bay.  The buffer is a part of a larger USDA effort to improve water quality and help restore the Bay. Read more »

Community Unites to Help At-Risk New England Cottontail

Local boy scout troop members and their families posing with bundles of shrubs and planting bars

Local boy scout troop members and their families pose with bundles of shrubs and planting bars at the edge of a wetland where they are planting shrubs for New England cottontail habitat. Photo by Phillip Brown, Audubon.

A New Hampshire community came together to help restore habitat for the New England cottontail, a native rabbit of the region. For this rabbit, habitat restoration is pretty simple, planting the shrubs that are the cornerstones of its ideal habitat.

Nearly 40 volunteers gathered in April to plant more than 5,000 shrubs at Smith Sisters Wildlife Sanctuary, a 115-acre sanctuary managed by Audubon. Volunteers planted 10 different shrub species, including elderberry, dogwoods, Virginia rose, American hazelnut, fragrant sumac, eastern red-cedar, nannyberry and arrowwood viburnum. Read more »