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Secretary’s Column: Accomplishing More by Democratizing Data

Here in the United States, we enjoy incredible benefits from scientific research – including an amazing amount of useful data.

Data is a very powerful tool, and an important asset for innovation. President Obama made clear on his first day in office that the U.S. is committed to openness in government, and that includes expanded access to scientific data.

We have a history of achieving great things by providing open access to data. For example, the release of weather data has fueled production of new tools that return more than $4 billion every year to the U.S. economy. The release of Global Positioning System technology has led to an industry that returns an estimated $90 billion annually to the U.S. economy. Read more »

Students Demonstrate Innovation at White House Science Fair

President Barack Obama talks with Evan Jackson, 10, Alec Jackson, 8, and Caleb Robinson, 8, from McDonough, Ga., while looking at exhibits at the White House Science Fair in the State Dining Room, April 22, 2013. The sports-loving grade-schoolers created a new product concept to keep athletes cool and helps players maintain safe body temperatures on the field. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

President Barack Obama talks with Evan Jackson, 10, Alec Jackson, 8, and Caleb Robinson, 8, from McDonough, Ga., while looking at exhibits at the White House Science Fair in the State Dining Room, April 22, 2013. The sports-loving grade-schoolers created a new product concept to keep athletes cool and helps players maintain safe body temperatures on the field. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

As a kid, I didn’t quite grasp the science behind a game of hopscotch or ball and jacks.  It was later in life that I learned the scientific principles behind my childhood fun. Today, in an era of high-definition video games and 3-dimensional TV’s, it’s more challenging than ever to keep kids motivated to have fun through exploration and discovery.  But Monday’s 3rd Annual White House Science Fair made me very hopeful once again. Read more »

Arbor Day a Celebration of Trees

A forest visitor admires an old growth forest on the Mt. Hood National Forest. (U.S. Forest Service photo)

A forest visitor admires an old growth forest on the Mt. Hood National Forest. (U.S. Forest Service photo)

The U.S. Forest Service wants you to remember the last time you lay on the grass and looked up and were inspired by tree branches swaying in the breeze—or when you sat under an old oak tree feeling the rough bark of its trunk against your back. If you can’t remember, or you’ve never done these things you should because according to the Arbor Day Foundation, America has the “grandest trees on earth – the largest, the oldest and some of the most magnificent.”

Today, April 26, is National Arbor Day. Take a moment to celebrate trees and all they provide for us. Read more »

Volunteer Ken Lair Puts Conservation First

Ken Lair teaches a group of student volunteers about conservation. (Photo courtesy Jackie Lindgren)

Ken Lair teaches a group of student volunteers about conservation. (Photo courtesy Jackie Lindgren)

At 6’6”, Ken Lair is a gentle giant of conservation. Shaking off injuries and setbacks that would have stopped a lesser man, Lair volunteers his expertise to lead several projects for the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Lair, who holds a doctorate in restoration ecology, spent the majority of his federal career with the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation and NRCS. After retiring, Lair continued to work with NRCS in California as a consultant. Read more »

Water Quality Index for Agricultural Runoff, Streamlined and Accessible

Water flows off a farm in Tennessee following a storm. NRCS Photo/Tim McCabe.

Water flows off a farm in Tennessee following a storm. NRCS Photo/Tim McCabe.

USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service has developed a new web-based tool to help producers easily calculate the quality of water flowing off their fields.

It’s called the Water Quality Index for Agricultural Runoff, or WQIag for short, and this is how it works: Producers input variables about their field, such as slope, soil characteristics, nutrient and pest management, tillage practices, and, finally, conservation practices. Read more »

USDA Rural Development Helps Rural Wisconsin Community Provide Senior Housing, Child Care and Clean Water

Earth Day was earlier this week and one village in Wisconsin has helped secure the future for themselves and their children through environmental upgrades.  Nestled in a valley in western Wisconsin, the Village of Spring Valley has faced its share of challenges throughout its history. Prior to completion of an earthen dam in 1968, flooding was a chronic problem.

Two projects largely funded by USDA Rural Development have improved the quality of life and the environment in Spring Valley.  The first, completed in June 2011, is the new wastewater treatment plant.  Because the Rotating Biological Contactor system’s capacity had been significantly reduced in years prior, the need to upgrade the plant was inevitable.  The Village received $3.5 million in funding through USDA Rural Development’s Water and Environmental program.

“The wastewater treatment plant is more compliant with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.  We release back into the Eau Galle River after treatment, so it’s imperative that we meet the standards,” said Marsha Brunkhorst, Spring Valley Village President. Read more »