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12 Gifts of Conservation

Holidays are a time to enjoy the warm comforts of home and family. A time to reflect and give thanks for life’s blessings. This month, we’re going to highlight important gifts given to us when we conserve natural resources: soil, food, plants, wildlife, people, health, protection, recreation, air, water, technology and future.

Unlike a single wrapped present, conservation is a gift to the whole world, and to the future. Each breath of air, sip of water and bite of food you will ever take, exists because of it. Were the world not continuously renewed, it would soon be consumed and barren. Conservation is the gift that keeps on giving.

Environmental Markets Help Improve Water Quality

Environmental trading markets are springing up across the nation with goals of facilitating the buying and selling of ecosystem services and helping more private landowners get conservation on the ground.

USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack and EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy joined Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe in December 2014 to announce the state’s first trade under its nutrient trading program for stormwater.

Roundtable Isn't Your Typical CIG Project

This isn’t your typical Conservation Innovation Grant (CIG) project. There’s no university collecting and analyzing data, or ground-breaking technology being evaluated here.

Nope. This one is a good, old-fashioned meeting.

Why would a meeting be such an important CIG project? Because strategic stakeholders from all over the world come together to deliberate on obstacles, challenges, and generate solutions to increase the amount of private capital, institutional investments, and other sources of non-Federal funding dedicated to natural resource conservation on both public and private lands.

Getting a New Perspective on the Great Lakes' Water Quality

The Great Lakes cover over 95,000 square miles and contain trillions of gallons of water. These vestiges of the last define immense. But their greatness makes water quality monitoring difficult.

In 2010, Titus Seilheimer, a research ecologist at the time, led a project funded by the that parsed the vastness of the Great Lakes to estimate water quality in different basins. This information can identify which areas are likely to receive high nutrient inputs – which can cause harmful algae blooms and dead zones – and where resource managers should invest in restoration efforts.

Good Land Management Helps Clean Waterways, Wildlife Rebound

You've seen those markers on storm drains that say: “No dumping. Drains to river.” Or to a “lake” or “creek.” It’s a reminder that what we do on the land has a direct impact on a body of water somewhere.

Many of our nation's farmers, ranchers and forest landowners are taking steps to ensure they're sending cleaner water downstream. The positive outcomes of this stewardship abound. From Oklahoma to Mississippi, we’ve seen once impaired streams heal. And in waterways from Montana to Minnesota, we've seen struggling species rebound.

Creeks, streams, rivers and lakes all provide critical wildlife habitat for many species.

EPA and USDA Pledge Actions to Support America's Growing Water Quality Trading Markets

Cross-posted from the :

In September of 2015, EPA and USDA sponsored a three-day national workshop at the Robert B. Daugherty Water for Food Institute in Lincoln, Nebraska that brought together more than 200 experts and leaders representing the agricultural community, utilities, environmental NGOs, private investors, states, cities, and tribes to discuss how to expand the country’s small but growing water quality trading markets. Recently we released a that summarizes the workshop’s key discussions and outlines new actions that we and others will take to further promote the use of market-based tools to advance water quality improvements.

Over the last decade, states and others have discovered that they can meet their water quality improvement goals through lower costs and greater flexibility by using a voluntary water quality trading program. Trading is based on the fact that sources in a watershed can face very different costs to control the same pollutant. Trading programs allow facilities facing higher pollution control costs (like a wastewater treatment plant or a municipality with a stormwater permit) to meet their regulatory obligations by purchasing lower cost environmentally equivalent (or superior) pollution reductions (or credits) from another source, including farms that use conservation practices to efficiently reduce the movement of nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment from their fields into local waterways. For example, Virginia’s nutrient trading program to offset stormwater phosphorous loads from new development has saved the Commonwealth more than $1 million in meeting state water quality goals while providing economic incentives to local agricultural producers to reduce soil erosion and runoff.

NRCS Helps Young Iowa Farmer Plan New Grazing System

When Iowa livestock producer Ryan Collins bought his 170-acre farm near Harpers Ferry, he knew from experience with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) that the agency could help him plan a rotational grazing system.

A rotational grazing system—also known as prescribed grazing—divides pastures into four or more small paddocks with fencing. The animals move from paddock to paddock on a schedule based on the availability of forage and the livestock’s nutritional needs.

Collins says he has a lot more grass available than before. “I attribute it to the rotational grazing,” he said. “I like to have plenty of grass. The cows and calves both do, as well.”

Happier than a Pig in Mud - Feral Swine Damage to Water Quality

How does the old saying go? That’s right, “Happier than a pig in mud!” Feral swine are no exception to this old farmer’s anecdote. Because they lack sweat glands, wallowing in mud and water is an instinctual behavior necessary for them to maintain a healthy body temperature. Unfortunately this behavior has cascading impacts, not only to water quality in individual streams, ponds, and wetlands, but to entire watersheds and ecosystems.

Excessive feral swine traffic around wallows and water sources causes erosion along stream banks and shorelines. Sounders, or family groups, of feral swine spend large amounts of their day around the wallow, especially in hot weather, which means they leave significant amounts of urine and feces in and around the water. The impacts to water quality go far beyond the immediate wallow site when silt, excrement, and potentially harmful pathogens, are washed down stream.

Our Land. Our Water. Our Future. - Earth Day 2016

This Friday marks the forty-sixth observance of Earth Day, and our USDA Rural Development family is celebrating with a week of project dedications and groundbreakings across the nation – projects that have a direct and positive impact on the ecology and environment of our rural communities.

This week, Secretary Vilsack announced sixty projects that will improve water quality and safety in 33 states across the country, and what he said in his announcement deserves special emphasis; building and maintaining water infrastructure creates jobs, boosts the economy, and provides rural families with safe, reliable water and wastewater facilities that improve the environment.

USDA Conservation Program Keeping Puerto Rico Water Sources Clean

Moises Velez-Santiago understands the important role farming can play in protecting water quality for Puerto Rico’s 3.5 million residents.  He’s been farming on the island nearly three decades.

Through the USDA Farm Service Agency’s (FSA) Conservation Reserve Program , Velez-Santiago has strived to obtain a balance of environmental conservation and crop production.

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