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New Data Show Efforts to Restore Habitat for Sage Grouse Benefits Songbirds, Too

Brewer’s sparrow, green-tailed towhee and gray flycatcher graphic

Brewer’s sparrow and green-tailed towhee numbers climbed significantly where sagebrush habitat was restored. Gray flycatcher, a songbird that prefers a mix of conifers and sagebrush, saw declines when sagebrush habitat was restored. (Click to enlarge)

The Natural Resources Conservation Service works with ranchers and partners to improve habitat for sage grouse with funding through the Sage Grouse Initiative. Focusing on privately-owned lands, the initiative covers the 11 Western state range of the bird. About 40 percent of the sage grouse dwell on private lands. David Naugle is a wildlife professor at the University of Montana and the science advisor for SGI, an NRCS-led partnership. —Tim Griffiths, NRCS

By David Naugle, Science Advisor, Sage Grouse Initiative

Restoring sagebrush ecosystems not only benefits ranching and sage grouse but other wildlife, too. New data show that populations of Brewer’s sparrow and green-tailed towhee, two sagebrush-dependent songbirds, climbed significantly in places where invading conifer trees were removed.

Three years after removing trees, Brewer’s sparrow numbers increased by 55 percent and green-tailed towhee numbers by 81 percent relative to areas not restored, according to a new report released by the Sage Grouse Initiative (SGI). These two songbirds, both identified as species of conservation concern by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), serve as early indicators of the effectiveness of restoration work. Read more »

Responding to Oak Wilt and Climate Change on the Menominee Nation Forest

Standing in a disturbed patch of forest, Menominee forester Jeff Grignon looks around and explains, “My role is to regenerate the forest, maintain the forest, create diversity, and look toward the future.” This task is becoming increasingly challenging as growing forest health issues intersect with additional stressors brought about by climate change in the forests of the Menominee Nation and elsewhere.

As a leader in forestry and natural resource conservation, USDA has a long history of working with tribes to address their management issues and concerns. Climate change is an active part of that discussion, and has been increasing through development of the new USDA Regional Climate Hubs. The network of Hubs deliver science-based knowledge, practical information, and program support to help natural resource managers, producers, and landowners make climate-informed decisions and then implement those decisions. Read more »

Food Insecurity in U.S. Households Essentially Unchanged from 2013, but Down from 2011 High

Prevalence of food security in 2014 was essentially unchanged from 2013 and 2012, down from 2011 chart

The Economic Research Service has released Household Food Security in the United States in 2014. ERS has also conducted recent research on the impact of economic conditions and policies on the incidence of food insecurity. (Click to enlarge)

USDA’s recently released annual report on the incidence and severity of food insecurity in American households marks 20 years of Federal statistics measuring U.S. food insecurity. This year’s report, presenting 2014 data, shows that 86.0 percent of American households were food secure throughout the entire year, meaning that all household members had access at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life. In 2014, 14.0 percent of U.S. households (17.4 million households) had difficulty at some time during the year providing enough food for all their members because of a lack of financial or other resources. Food insecurity, essentially unchanged from 2013, is down from a high of 14.9 percent measured in 2011.  

Looking back over the last several years, the food insecurity rate, as expected, rose in 2008 with the recession. But the food insecurity rate has not returned to pre-recession levels. Research shows that while modest improvements in food security have accompanied declining unemployment, other changes in the economy, including higher food prices, appear to offset the effect of unemployment declines. These higher food prices, along with an increase in overall inflation, are key factors preventing food insecurity rates from any substantial decline. Another Economic Research Service (ERS) study found that, particularly for households receiving benefits from USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), higher local food prices were related to higher food insecurity. Read more »

New Guide Helps Citizens Customize Their Gardens for Native Bees

A native Andrena bee species gathering nectar and pollen from a pear flower

A native Andrena bee species gathers nectar and pollen from a pear flower (Jim Cane, ARS).

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.

Dogged by pests, pathogens, poor nutrition, and other problems, the European honey bee is having a rough time these days. The bee pollinates over 90 different kinds of fruit, vegetable and nut crops. These same crops are also pollinated by native bees, particularly on smaller or diversified farms and especially in home gardens. Together, their pollination services are an $18 billion annual asset to U.S. agriculture, and concern over their welfare prompted the White House in May to issue a directive aimed at bolstering their numbers and health through a series of initiatives including improving and expanding pollinator habitat.

Citizen involvement is another component. Among the actions citizens can take is growing nectar- and pollen-rich flowering plants; another is “customizing” garden or landscaping areas to make them more hospitable to these pollinators—especially native bees, says entomologist Jim Cane, with USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS)  Pollinating Insect–Biology, Management, Systematics Research Unit in Logan, Utah. Read more »

USDA: Leading the Way Towards Preserving and Restoring Our Water, Soil and Lands

A man canoeing on Little Bear Brook Pond

Across our 175 national forests and grasslands, we provide American people and visitors from across the world opportunities for both adventure and solitude.

Conservation of our nation’s natural resources is at the heart of USDA’s mission.  Our work on public and private lands supports clean air, clean water, and thriving wildlife habitat.  These conservation efforts strengthen rural economies by providing farmers and ranchers the resources they need to thrive and feed our nation. And this conservation allows us to support gateway communities and a robust recreation economy.  

USDA’s management of our national forests and our support for farmers’ and ranchers’ stewardship of private working lands helps us meet our moral obligation to the next generation to leave our land, water, and wildlife better than we found it. Read more »

From Commerce to Conservation, Coastal Areas Reap Rewards

NRCS Assistant Chief, Kirk Hanlin, inspecting created marshes in the Houston Ship Channel

NRCS Assistant Chief, Kirk Hanlin, inspects created marshes in the Houston Ship Channel.

Looks can be deceiving. Take the Houston Ship Channel located just east of the city of Houston. To the casual observer with a windshield view, they might briefly note the shipping vessels, grain elevators and day-to-day commerce as they speed by.

However, it’s on the Houston Ship Channel’s waters where, for some, the real action is taking place. This is where commerce meets conservation.

According to the Port of Houston Authority, an estimated 200 million tons of commodities and products annually pass through the 52-mile ship channel aboard more than 8,000 shipping vessels. To keep the channel deep enough for these large ships to navigate through, the channel has to be dredged on a continuous cycle. Read more »