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Category: Forestry

Fun in the Sun – #USDARoadTrip Through Conservation and Recreation

United Launch Alliance Delta II rocket with NASA's Soil Moisture Active Passive satellite (SMAP). Photo by NASA’s Kim Shiflett.

United Launch Alliance Delta II rocket with NASA's Soil Moisture Active Passive satellite (SMAP), a remote sensing mission designed to measure and map the Earth's soil moisture distribution and freeze/thaw stat with unprecedented accuracy, resolution and coverage. Photo by NASA’s Kim Shiflett.

The second stop on our #USDARoadTrip is our recreation and conservation portfolio, including our vast and spectacular forest and grassland system managed by USDA’s Forest Service as well as some of the cooperative conservation efforts underway by the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and Farm Service Agency (FSA). 

With Independence Day fireworks behind us for 2015, USDA gives you another reason to look up into the night sky. With a new satellite, NASA and USDA have partnered to map Earth’s soil moisture from orbit, letting us monitor droughts, predict floods and forecast the water supply in major cities. Read more »

Drones can be Deadly for Wildland Firefighters

An Airtanker dropping fire retardant on a wildfire

An Airtanker drops fire retardant on a wildfire. (USFS Photo)

Imagine if a hostile country sent an Unmanned Aircraft System or UAS, otherwise known as a drone, to disturb the efforts of firefighters during a catastrophic wildfire. The confusion that might ensue could cause loss of life and property as flames jump fire lines simply because resources have been diverted or grounded to identify and remove the UAS.

But these threats aren’t coming from an enemy state. They are being flown by our own citizens and impeding the job of our firefighters.  This isn’t a script for a Hollywood film. It’s really happening.

Recently, unauthorized drones disrupted wildfire operations in southern California twice in one week. Because of these drones, Airtanker operations were suspended on both the Sterling Fire and Lake Fire on the San Bernardino National Forest. Read more »

Genetic Studies Reveal a Tree’s History to Ensure its Future

Ponderosa pines standing tall in front of Yosemite Falls in California

Ponderosa pines stand tall in front of Yosemite Falls in California. Photo by Kevin Potter, USFS.

It can reach heights of 200 feet and live 500 years, and occupies landscapes across the western United States. Some say its bark has an unforgettable smell resembling vanilla or even cinnamon, and this tree is one tough cookie. It grows in a variety of soils and climates and survives fires that consume other species. It is also an ecologically and economically valuable tree that provides food, habitat and ponderous (heavy) lumber.

It is the iconic ponderosa pine. But the world is changing, and ponderosa pine is vulnerable to climate shifts, high-intensity wildfires and bark beetles — as well as development that replaces trees. To keep the ponderosa pine standing tall, researchers are looking for answers in its genes. Read more »

In Oregon, Finding the Lost River Whychus

A secret waterfall on the lost river Whychus

A secret waterfall on the lost river Whychus. Photo credit: USFS (Maret Pajutee)

Sisters is a dreamy mountain town in Central Oregon with almost everything you might want in a scenic hideaway. With snowy peaks and expansive forests, it is an ideal location for biking, hiking, or simply contemplating wide expanses of blue sky. But for many years Sisters was missing one crucial thing – we had lost our river.

For thousands of years, Native Americans followed a winding course of icy snowmelt into the high country of the Three Sisters Mountains that gave the town its name. The river was full of waterfalls and wild steelhead salmon. It provided more than half of the steelhead spawning habitat in the Upper Deschutes River Basin. The river had several names, but in 1855, when Pacific Railroad Survey Engineers came through looking for a railroad route to the ocean, they recorded in their journals that the river was called “Whychus”. Read more »

Supporting Local Rural Economies while Improving Forest Health

A California Conservation Corps crew hard at work on the Stanislaus National Forest

A California Conservation Corps crew hard at work on the Stanislaus National Forest. Photo credit: US Forest Service.

This blog post was written with support from Amie Anderton (Intermountain Region), Lindsay Buchanan (Washington Office), and Teresa McClung (Pacific Southwest Region).

Calaveras County, nestled in the Gold Country and High Sierra regions of California, has a long and storied past.

It is the setting for Mark Twain’s famous short story, “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County,” published in 1865. However, this rural county and the neighboring Amador County have faced some more recent tough times. Read more »

In Recently Burned Forests, a Woodpecker’s Work is Never Done

A black-backed woodpecker

The black-backed woodpecker is a burned forest specialist. Photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Following a wildfire, some might see dead trees. Woodpeckers see possibilities.

The black-backed woodpecker is one such bird—a burned forest specialist—who readily chooses fire-killed trees (snags) in which to drill cavities for nesting and roosting.

When the woodpecker moves on, its cavity turns into valuable habitat for other forest-dwelling species. Read more »