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Category: Conservation

RCPP to Help Improve Water Quality in Lake Erie, Other American Waterbodies

The Maumee River (shown here) flows into the Maumee Bay of Lake Erie at the city of Toledo, OH. USDA photo.

The Maumee River (shown here) flows into the Maumee Bay of Lake Erie at the city of Toledo, OH. USDA photo.

In the first wave of funding through the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP), 70 percent of the 100-plus projects focused on providing for clean and abundant water. Of these many projects, one in the Great Lakes region is poised to do an excellent job in engaging and empowering an army of partners.  The Tri-State Western Lake Erie Basin Phosphorous Reduction Initiative is a multi-state project that brings together more than 40 partnering organizations from Michigan, Ohio and Indiana to reduce the runoff of phosphorous into the waterways in the western basin of Lake Erie.

The lake has suffered from nutrient pollution for years, including last year’s water crisis that left 400,000 residents in the Toledo, Ohio area without water to drink, bathe or cook. Today, Michigan Senator and Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Debbie Stabenow and Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown visited with the many diverse organizations making this project possible. From providing clean drinking water to employing thousands of people in the tourism industry, the health of Lake Erie affects nearly every aspect of life in the region. Read more »

Early-Season Forecast Shows Rain – Not Snow – Keeping Pacific Northwest Wet

Wind rearranges the early season snowpack on Mount Hood, Oregon. NRCS photo by Spencer Miller.

Wind rearranges the early season snowpack on Mount Hood, Oregon. NRCS photo by Spencer Miller.

Something about January’s water supply forecast confused me. Current condition maps of the Pacific Northwest are a discouraging spread of red dots, meaning the snowpack contains less than half the normal amount of water. But water supply forecasts for the same region predict normal streamflow in the spring and summer. How can that be? Less snow means less snowmelt, right? Well…maybe.

To rise above my simple, linear thinking, I met with Rashawn Tama with USDA’s National Water and Climate Center. Tama, a hydrologist and forecaster for USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, produces forecasts for the Columbia River basin. His forecasts are built around prediction models that help transform tables of raw data into meaningful maps and colorful dots. Read more »

Secretary’s Column: New Approach to Conservation Creates New Partnerships, New Jobs

Patrick Graham, State Director, The Nature Conservancy in Arizona (left) and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on Wednesday near Phoenix.

Patrick Graham, State Director, The Nature Conservancy in Arizona (left) and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on Wednesday near Phoenix. The Secretary announced that 115 projects across all 50 states, will receive more than $370 million in Federal funding as part of the new USDA Regional Conservation Partnership Program. NRCS photo.

When USDA unveiled the new Regional Conservation Partnership Program last year, I said that this effort would pioneer a new era of conservation. As of today, the program is doing just that—leveraging an unprecedented three-quarters-of-a-billion dollar investment in projects to preserve clean land and water and create new jobs across the country.

One of the innovative programs in the 2014 Farm Bill, the Regional Conservation Partnership Program brings a wide variety of new partners together—from private businesses, to universities, to local and Tribal governments, to non-profit organizations and more—to develop their own action plans and to pledge their own resources to the project. Local organizations are in the driver’s seat, setting priorities and developing conservation projects that make sense for their communities. Read more »

Managing Waste for an Expanding Dairy Herd

Jonathan and Jessica Gaskin and children operate a dairy farm in Adair County, Kentucky. Photo courtesy Kentucky Farm Bureau.

Jonathan and Jessica Gaskin and children operate a dairy farm in Adair County, Kentucky. Photo courtesy Kentucky Farm Bureau.

Jonathan Gaskin grew up on a beef cattle and grain farm in Adair County, Kentucky. And at 12, Gaskin was milking cows for the farm next door. The neighbor sold their farm when he was 18, and at that time, he always knew he wanted to have a dairy farm – he just didn’t realize he would buy that same farm a few years later.

He bought the farm in 2006 and started working with his soon-to-be wife, Jessica, to build a dairy operation together. They married in 2008 and started growing the 110-acre place.

“We started with 30 heifers and calved them one cow at a time,” Gaskin said. Read more »

Partnership to Help Sage-Grouse Continues to Grow

Michael Brown shows the key places he and others at the NRCS work with ranchers and other partners to conserve and connect sage-grouse habitat. SGI photo by Deborah Richie.

Michael Brown shows the key places he and others at the NRCS work with ranchers and other partners to conserve and connect sage-grouse habitat. SGI photo by Deborah Richie.

When many different groups come together for a common goal, the impacts can be tremendous. That’s the case for the sage-grouse, an at-risk bird in the American West. Since 2010, over 1,100 ranches have teamed with the Sage-Grouse Initiative (SGI) and conserved 4.4 million acres across 11 western states, an area equivalent of 2 Yellowstone National Parks. The diverse partnership led by USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service includes ranchers, state and federal agencies, universities, non-profit groups and businesses that rally around a common vision of conserving wildlife through sustainable ranching.

SGI continues to grow and just over the weekend ConocoPhillips announced the company will invest $1 million to further strengthen the partnership. The contribution was made to the Intermountain West Joint Venture, one of the key partners of SGI. New funding will be used to extend the partnership through 2019 by providing $200,000 per year to support SGI’s Strategic Watershed Action Team, or SWAT. This team provides field delivery, science, communications and partner development support to SGI. Read more »

A South Carolina Small Farmer Makes Big Impact on the Land and in Local Community

Ann Pringle Washington enjoys growing a variety of fresh vegetables on her farm. NRCS photo by Sabrenna Bryant.

Ann Pringle Washington enjoys growing a variety of fresh vegetables on her farm. NRCS photo by Sabrenna Bryant.

South Carolina small farmer and community leader Ann Pringle Washington wears many hats. Along with her husband Richard, they share a deep tie to the land on their 17-acre farm in Eastover and a true passion for improving the community where they live.

Ann’s desire to learn more about how to grow organic produce led her to attend outreach workshops hosted by the Richland Soil and Water Conservation District. The district partners with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), to promote local and sustainable organic agriculture at workshops, including the assistance that NRCS can provide to growers. Read more »