The Thompson Ridge Fire in the Sante Fe National Forest approximately 10 miles north of Jemez, NM consumed over 29,903 acres. Photo by Valess Calera Trust Kristin Honig.
Those of us living and working in the Southwestern U.S. have recently experienced a prolonged, extreme drought persisting over several years. We have witnessed large, destructive and catastrophic wildfires that have taken both lives and property, observed expansive areas of forest tree death as a result of massive insect outbreaks, and seen our water supplies in reservoirs and dams across the region decline to previously unseen levels. Yet, what can we realistically do in the face of these climatically driven changes that will likely continue and intensify into the future?
Changing climatic conditions in the southwest that impact temperatures, alter growing seasons, increase plant moisture stress, and trigger extreme events directly contribute to these recent regional catastrophes and water scarcities. Recently, a highly respected, third generation public land cattle rancher in our region put it this way: “I believe that the climate is changing. But I can’t accept it. If I do I would just go out of business. I have to cope and go on.” So we are left to look around us and ask what information, tools, and technology can we reach for when it gets tough? Read more »
Gen. George W. Casey Jr., former chief of staff of the Army, talks to Lt. Col. Roger Walden during a recognition ceremony at the Pentagon on March 25, 2010. (U.S. Army)
During World War II, a time when segregation was still a part of everyday life, a group of 17 brave men took the plunge to serve their country and become the first all African-American paratrooper unit known as the Triple Nickles.
The battalion’s original goal – to join the fight in Europe – was thwarted when military leaders in Europe feared racial tensions would disrupt operations. At about the same time, the U.S. Forest Service asked the military for help to minimize damage caused by balloon bombs launched by the Japanese across the Pacific Ocean with the intent to start forest fires in the western U.S. during World War II.
In the end, few of the incendiary devices reached U.S. soil, but the Triple Nickles were instrumental in helping the Forest Service fight naturally-caused fires. They became history’s first military smokejumpers who answered 36 fire calls and made more than 1,200 jumps that summer of 1945. Read more »
Bridalveil Falls, Yosemite National Park, California (USDA-NRCS photo by Ron Nichols).
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.
An award-winning watershed assessment tool, the Automated Geospatial Watershed Assessment (AGWA), was deployed to assess potential Rim Fire threats in Yosemite National Park in California. The park experienced a devastating fire that began on August 17, 2013, and took several months to contain. The fire burned more than 400 square miles in and around the park, cost $125.8 million to date, and is considered one of the largest wildfires in California’s history.
BAER (Burned Area Emergency Response) is a multi-agency group that includes USDA’s Forest Service and others, and is responsible for identifying potential threats such as downstream flooding and developing plans to rehabilitate and restore burned areas. BAER teams use AGWA to target immediate efforts to prevent threats to people, wildlife and the land. Using AGWA combined with the burn severity map produced by BAER teams, experts can rapidly pull together information on pre- and post-fire conditions. For example, knowing where to apply mulch after a fire can reduce runoff and erosion and can help minimize downstream risks from fire induced land cover and soil changes. Read more »
Undersecretary Robert Bonnie (second from left) is briefed by NRCS Soil Conservationist Don Graffis. Graffis discussed NRCS recovery efforts in the wake of a 2013 flood near Lyons Colorado. NRCS photo.
Recently, Undersecretary for Natural Resources and Environment Robert Bonnie visited Colorado to connect with USDA employees in the wake of the government shutdown. On the morning of Wednesday, October 23rd Undersecretary Bonnie traveled to Fort Collins to host a USDA “family meeting” and listen to nearly 100 employees as they shared comments, asked questions, and voiced concerns. The Undersecretary fielded numerous questions during the structured event, while after several employees shared their appreciation for the chance to hear from and interact with leadership within the Department.
Later in the afternoon the Undersecretary participated in a tour that helped provide a hands-on account of the impact and devastation resulting from the recent flood which was only compounded because of the 2012 wildfires. The first leg of the tour was led by Donald Graffis, Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) soil conservationist in Longmont, Colo., while Sylvia Clark, Forest Service (FS) district ranger in Boulder coordinated the second half. Phyllis Ann Philipps, NRCS State Conservationist in Colorado and Dan Jiron, FS Regional Forester were also on hand during the tour. Read more »
Deputy Secretary Krysta Harden meets with USDA employees in Minnesota.
Yesterday, I visited with USDA employees in Minnesota to tell them how much their work means to the Secretary, myself and the American people. USDA employees across the country and around the world do critical work that impacts millions of lives and I could not be prouder.
Folks often ask me why I work in the federal government and my answer always is: it’s how I serve. Public service is at the core of our nation’s principles. Our founding fathers performed a public service when they laid the foundation for the United States of America—as they sat down to write the Declaration of Independence and as they worked each day afterward to create and maintain a nation. Read more »
Natural resource conservation is paramount to the ongoing strength of our nation. Healthy soil contributes to agricultural productivity. Healthy forests clean our water and air. Vibrant waterways are critical for our health, for transportation and for trade. Investments into conservation spur job growth and community development, particularly in rural areas.
This is an uncertain time for USDA conservation activities. Congress has not yet passed a comprehensive Food, Farm and Jobs Bill that would continue to invest in conservation efforts, while providing rural America with certainty regarding many other important programs.
As we continue urging Congress to provide a new Food, Farm and Jobs Bill, USDA this week took several new steps to strengthen conservation across the country. Read more »