Environment & Weather
Agriculture Secretary Vilsack Fulfills Commitment to Designate 1 Million Additional Conservation Acres to Support Wildlife Habitat Restoration PDF Print E-mail
News Releases - Environment & Weather
Written by USDA Office of Communications   
Monday, 08 October 2012 15:31

Failure to Pass Food, Farm and Jobs Bill Puts Enrollments in Jeopardy

USDA.gov logo

LEWIS, Iowa, Oct. 8, 2012—Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today underscored the Obama Administration's commitment to partnerships in conservation by announcing the allocation of 400,000 acres to support conservation and restoration of wildlife and their habitats as part of the Conservation Reserve Program, or CRP. Under Vilsack's leadership, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has enrolled more than 12 million acres in CRP, a voluntary program available to agricultural producers to help them use marginal and environmentally sensitive land to bring conservation and economic benefits for their land and communities. Today's announcement of 400,000 state acres for wildlife enhancement (SAFE acres), fulfills Vilsack's commitment made last spring to commit 1 million acres for special initiatives to restore grasslands, wetlands and wildlife habitat.

"Since 2009, USDA has worked with producers and private landowners to enroll a record number of acres in conservation programs," said Vilsack. "These efforts have not only conserved our natural resources, but bolstered rural economies for current and future generations. That's why it's important for Congress to pass comprehensive, multi-year food, farm and jobs legislation—so that America's rural communities have certainty that millions of acres of conservation lands will be there tomorrow to sustain and create jobs in the small businesses that reinforce our tourism and recreation industry."

With 400,000 SAFE acres available, USDA will work with producers and landowners to target habitat for high-priority species like the lesser prairie chicken and sage grouse, as well as game species like pheasants and quail that providing hunting opportunities and support rural jobs. Existing projects in 20 states will be able to add up to 280,000 combined acres for all projects, including prairie, wetlands, forest and savanna habitat restoration. In addition, more than 100,000 acres were added to target species as diverse as northern scarlet snakes, ferruginous hawks and the American woodcock.

SAFE is a voluntary continuous CRP practice that conserves and restores habitat for wildlife species that are threatened or endangered, have suffered significant population declines or are important environmentally, economically or socially. SAFE is currently capped at 1.25 million acres nationally. Acres are now allocated across 97 SAFE projects located in 36 states and Puerto Rico.

Under SAFE, state fish and wildlife agencies, non-profit organizations and other conservation partners work collaboratively to target CRP delivery to specific conservation practices and geographic areas where enrollment of eligible farm land in continuous CRP will provide significant wildlife value. USDA's Farm Service Agency (FSA) monitors SAFE and other continuous CRP activity and manages available acres to ensure that CRP goals and objectives are being met.

The Food Security Act of 1985, Section 1231(a), as amended, provides authority to enroll land in CRP through September 30, 2012. However, no legislation has been enacted to reauthorize or extend this authority; therefore, CRP currently is unable to enroll new acres.

In March, Secretary Vilsack announced USDA's intent to enroll up to 1 million acres in a new CRP grasslands and wetlands initiative meant to target environmentally sensitive land through continuous signups. FSA has set aside acres within CRP for specific enrollments that benefit duck nesting habitat, upland birds, wetlands, pollinators and wildlife. In addition, USDA announced a continuous sign-up of highly erodible cropland, which seeks to protect the nation's most environmentally sensitive lands. The Highly Erodible Cropland initiative permits landowners to enroll up to 750,000 acres of land with an Erodibility Index (EI) of 20 or greater.

CRP is one of America's most valuable and vital conservation efforts, ensuring cleaner air and water, preventing soil erosion, and enhancing economic opportunity in rural America by supporting recreation and tourism. The approach to target the most sensitive lands is essential to maintain the substantial benefits of CRP while ensuring that productive farmlands continue to produce America's food, feed, fiber and renewable fuel.

Highlights of CRP include:

  • CRP prevents the erosion of 325 million tons of soil each year, or enough soil to fill 19.5 million dump trucks;
  • CRP has restored more than two million acres of wetlands and two million acres of riparian buffers;
  • Each year, CRP keeps more than 600 million pounds of nitrogen and more than 100 million pounds of phosphorous from flowing into our nation's streams, rivers, and lakes;
  • CRP provides $1.8 billion annually to landowners—dollars that make their way into local economies, supporting small businesses and creating jobs; and
  • CRP is the largest private lands carbon sequestration program in the country. By placing vulnerable cropland into conservation, CRP sequesters carbon in plants and soil, and reduces both fuel and fertilizer usage. In 2010, CRP resulted in carbon sequestration equal to taking almost 10 million cars off the road.

As part of President Obama's America's Great Outdoors Initiative, the Administration is opening up recreational access to lands and waters, supporting the creation of urban parks and trails, increasing youth employment in conservation jobs and making historic investments in large landscapes such as the Everglades. The initiative is empowering locally-led conservation and outdoor recreation efforts, from supporting the working landscapes of the Dakota Grasslands and longleaf pine in the southern U.S., to designating the Chimney Rock National Monument in Colorado, to countless other success stories across the country.

In 2011, USDA enrolled a record number of acres of private working lands in conservation programs, working with more than 500,000 farmers and ranchers to implement conservation practices that clean the air we breathe, filter the water we drink, and prevent soil erosion. Moreover, the Obama Administration, with Agriculture Secretary Vilsack's leadership, has worked tirelessly to strengthen rural America, implement the Farm Bill, maintain a strong farm safety net, and create opportunities for America's farmers and ranchers. U.S. agriculture is currently experiencing one of its most productive periods in American history thanks to the productivity, resiliency, and resourcefulness of our producers.

The following tables show the breakdown of SAFE allocations by state and projects:


State Project Original Acreage Allocation Change in Allocation Final Allocation

AR Trees 5,000 1,200 6,200

AR Grass 7,700 1,000 8,700

AR Wetlands 3,500 -1,000 2,500

GA Restoring Native Pine Savannah 8,800 3,000 11,800

ID Columbian Sharp-tailed Grouse 94,300 11,800 106,100

ID Western ID Upland Game Bird 25,000 25,000

IL Mercer County 800 1,000 1,800

IN American Woodcock 1,000 1,000

IN Indiana Bat 3,100 1,000 4,100

IN Henslow's Sparrow 5,075 1,000 6,075

IN Northern Bobwhite 7,875 1,000 8,875

IN Ring-Necked Pheasant 4,000 4,000

IN Sedge Wren/ Grasshopper Sparrow 3,050 1,000 4,050

IA Gaining Ground 36,250 5,900 42,150

IA Pheasant Recovery 50,000 50,000

KS Upland Game Birds 30,100 14,800 44,900

KS Lesser Prairie Chicken 30,000 22,100 52,100

KY Early Successional / Bottomland 8,600 3,000 11,600

MN Back Forty Pheasant 33,900 14,800 48,700

MS Bobwhite Quail 9,450 1,000 10,450

MO Bobwhite Quail 17,650 7,400 25,050

MO Delta Stewardship 6,000 6,000

MO Sand Grassland 3,250 1,800 5,050

MT Pheasant Winter Cover 15,200 4,400 19,600

MT Prairie Pothole 8,500 5,900 14,400

MT Sagebrush 1,000 1,500 2,500

NE Tallgrass Prairie 21,450 7,400 28,850

NE Upland Bird 30,950 22,100 53,050

NJ Agricultural Heritage 300 150 450

NJ Grassland 400 350 750

NJ Raritan-Piedmont 300 250 550

NV Sage Grouse Habitat Improvement 400 400

ND Coteau-drift Prairie Water 20,000 16,200 36,200

ND Habitat for Pheasants 18,000 11,800 29,800

ND Sagebrush Restoration 1,000 1,000 2,000

ND Tallgrass Prairie 6,090 1,000 7,090

OH Big Island/ Killdeer 925 1,000 1,925

OH Grasslands for Pheasants 6,600 22,100 28,700

OH Kitty Todd 200 500 700

OH LaSuAn Grasslands 1,950 4,400 6,350

OH Paint Creek 675 1,000 1,675

OH Western Lake Erie 400 1,000 1,400

OH Southern Grassland 850 1,000 1,850

SD Pheasants 50,200 14,800 65,000

SD Western SD Grassland Wildlife 18,000 14,800 32,800

TN Grass 10,000 1,500 11,500

TX Mixed Grass 78,400 44,300 122,700

WA Ferruginous Hawk 20,000 20,000

WA Shrub-steppe 7,322 8,900 16,222

Subtotal 607,112 385,550 992,662

Other project with no change in original allocation 232,878 -- 232,878

Reserve 10,010 14,450 24,460

Total 850,000 385,550 1,250,000

For more information on SAFE, contact a local FSA county office or visit the FSA website at www.fsa.usda.gov/crp.


Wapsi River Center News Release PDF Print E-mail
News Releases - Environment & Weather
Written by Lisa Gerwulf   
Wednesday, 03 October 2012 13:14

21st Annual Wapsi River Ecology Day

Footsteps into Iowa’s Past

Saturday, October 13, 2012

10:00 to 11:45 A.M. ~ Native Skills ~ Come learn a variety of native skills including: rope making, cattail toys or baskets and hunt our version of the wild Mastodon using early hunting techniques.

12:00 to 1:00 P.M. ~ Lunch at the Ring-of-Pines ~ Please bring your lunch.  A grill and roasting sticks will be provided for grilling.  

1:00 to 2:45 P.M. ~ Iowa’s Fossil Past ~ Join members of the University of Iowa’s “Geo-Science” Department to learn about fossilized creatures found in the ancient oceans that once covered the state.  Participants are invited and encouraged to bring their fossil finds for identification.

3:00 to 4:45 P.M. ~ Prehistoric Indian Cultures in Iowa ~ Bernie Peeters, Vice-president of the Quad City Archeological Society, will present a slide show and discussion of the lifestyles, artifacts and culture of Iowa's Native Peoples.  Participants are invited and encourage to bring any artifacts they might possess for identification.

7:00 to 9:00 P.M. ~ Eastern Iowa Star Party ~ The Quad City Astronomical Society hosts this annual event at the Monsignor Menke Astronomical Observatory.  They invite the public to join them for this celestial celebration.

Please call to register for this action-packed day!!! 

Endangered Whooping Cranes Depart on Ultralight-guided Flight to Florida PDF Print E-mail
News Releases - Environment & Weather
Written by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service   
Wednesday, 03 October 2012 13:01
Six young whooping cranes began their ultralight-led migration Friday from the White River Marsh State Wildlife Area in Green Lake County, Wis. This is the 12th group of birds to take part in a project led by the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership (WCEP), an international coalition of public and private groups that is reintroducing this highly imperiled species in eastern North America, part of its historic range.

WCEP partner Operation Migration will use two ultralight aircraft to lead the juvenile cranes through Wisconsin, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, and Georgia to reach the birds’ wintering habitat at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) along Florida's Gulf Coast. The cranes are currently in Columbia County, Wis.

“Despite the fact that we have done this before, each year we learn something new about these wonderful birds,” said Joe Duff, CEO of Operation Migration and leader of the ultralight team. “This year's flock seems more attentive, and we hope to make better progress. Our target is to arrive in Florida before Christmas.”

In addition to the six birds being led south by ultralights, biologists from WCEP partner, International Crane Foundation, are currently rearing six whooping crane chicks at Horicon NWR in Dodge County, Wis. The birds will be released later this fall in the company of older cranes from whom the young birds will learn the migration route south. This is the eighth year WCEP has used this Direct Autumn Release (DAR) method.

Whooping cranes that take part in the ultralight and DAR reintroductions are hatched at the U.S. Geological Survey’s Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Laurel, Md., and at the International Crane Foundation in Baraboo, Wis. Chicks are raised under a strict isolation protocol, and to ensure the birds remain wild, handlers adhere to a no-talking rule and wear costumes designed to mask the human form.

The 12 ultralight-led and DAR chicks are joining two wild-hatched chicks in the 2012 cohort. These two wild-raised chicks will follow their respective parents on migration. In addition to the 14 juvenile cranes, 102 whooping cranes are currently in the eastern migratory population.

Whooping cranes were on the verge of extinction in the 1940s. Today, there are only about 600 birds in existence, approximately 445 of them in the wild. Aside from the WCEP birds, the only other migratory population of whooping cranes nests at Wood Buffalo National Park in northern Alberta, Canada and winters at Aransas NWR on the Texas Gulf Coast. A non-migratory flock of approximately 20 birds lives year-round in the central Florida Kissimmee region, and an additional 17 non-migratory cranes live in southern Louisiana.

WCEP asks anyone who encounters a whooping crane in the wild to please give them the respect and distance they need. Do not approach birds on foot within 200 yards; remain in your vehicle; do not approach in a vehicle any closer than 100 yards. Also, please remain concealed and do not speak loudly enough that the birds can hear you. Finally, do not trespass on private property in an attempt to view or photograph whooping cranes.

Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership founding members are the International Crane Foundation, Operation Migration, Inc., Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Geological Survey’s Patuxent Wildlife Research Center and National Wildlife Health Center, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin, and the International Whooping Crane Recovery Team.

Many other flyway states, provinces, private individuals and conservation groups have joined forces with and support WCEP by donating resources, funding and personnel. More than 60 percent of the project’s budget comes from private sources in the form of grants, public donations and corporate sponsors.

To report whooping crane sightings, visit the WCEP whooping crane observation webpage at: http://www.fws.gov/midwest/whoopingcrane/sightings/sightingform.cfm.

50 Years After Silent Spring: Conservation of the Midwest Driftless Area PDF Print E-mail
News Releases - Environment & Weather
Written by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service   
Monday, 01 October 2012 07:41
September 2012 marks the 50th anniversary of the publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, which warned of the dangers of DDT and helped launch the environmental movement.
Fifty years after Rachel Carson raised a red flag about the extensive use of pesticides and their impacts, contaminants are so pervasive in our natural environment that any evaluation of threats to a species or ecosystem almost always includes some analysis of contaminants.   A look at the work being done on the Midwest’s Driftless Area paints a picture of the role that contaminants can play in efforts to assess and protect vulnerable ecosystems and species and the measures that researchers take to tease out contaminants as a factor affecting plants and animals.

The Driftless Area, located at the corners of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois and Iowa, is a regional limestone plateau of bluffs and steep stream valleys.  Continental glaciers during the most recent Ice Ages mostly flowed around and not over this plateau.  Vegetation in the Driftless Area was tundra-like during Ice Ages, but as the glaciers retreated, boreal forests invaded the former tundra.  Then, as the climate warmed, boreal forests gave way to the temperate forests and grasslands that we now see.

Within the Driftless Area is a network of rocky bluff habitats.  Due to some unique geologic features of these bluffs, the soil surface temperature is in the 40° F to 50° F range, even during the heat of the summer.  These cold producing areas are called “algific” slopes.  The slopes replicate a boreal forest-like condition, and some plants and animals that lived around the Driftless Area during the Ice Age or in boreal forests continue to survive here on these cold air slopes.  Disjunct populations of white pine, Canada yew and golden saxifrage are some of the plants found on algific slopes.  There are also federally listed endangered and state-listed endangered landsnail species (i.e., Iowa Pleistocene snail, Iowa Pleistocene vertigo, Minnesota Pleistocene succineid, and Briarton Pleistocene snail) that were thought to have gone extinct after the Ice Age glaciers retreated, but were discovered living in the Driftless Area.

A work group of technical staff from government agencies, universities, and non-government organizations was formed to study algific slope ecosystems in the Driftless Area of Iowa.  Researchers expect that lessons learned will not only help conserve these unique biological assemblages of climate relict species, but will provide information to help us conserve other systems with similar threats.  One of the research activities will be evaluation of the level of environmental contaminants in these habitats and how that affects ecosystem functions and the rare species.

A concern of the work group is that algific slope assemblages are vulnerable to global climate change.  The cause of modern global climate change is related to emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels.  In addition to carbon dioxide, these emissions can also contain the contaminants mercury and selenium, along with nutrients such as nitrogen compounds.  The deposition of contaminants and nutrients from fossil fuel emissions can harm sensitive plants and animals that call the algific slopes their home.  While many of these species survived during past interglacial warming periods, our modern landscape is so fragmented by farms, cities and roads that species may not be able to disperse and survive like they did during the past.

Algific slopes have very thin layers of soil formed by decomposition of plants and leaf litter over hundreds of years.  Decomposition is aided by landsnails, and therefore they provide an important ecological service for this ecosystem.  Input of contaminants and nutrients from atmospheric deposition can detrimentally change the natural chemical cycling that helped shape these ecosystems and expose landsnails to toxic contaminants.  For example, nutrient enrichment caused by deposition of nitrogen compounds can allow invasive plants to outcompete native species, species that adapted to the thin soils and low availability of nutrients.  Acidification of the slopes from carbon dioxide deposition can increase the toxicity of some contaminants.  In addition, pesticides sprayed from aircraft on neighboring crop fields have the potential to drift onto the algific slopes, exposing plants and animals to more toxic chemicals.

After identifying potential sources of contaminants, avenues of exposure and impacts, contaminants biologists from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are establishing methods to understand the effects of excess carbon and nutrients in these rare habitats and to determine the sensitivity of the climate relict species to modern-day contaminants.  Technical teams are also developing protocols to monitor temperatures, biological diversity, and contaminant accumulation.

Rachel Carson was a Fish and Wildlife Service employee and the Service’s Environmental Contaminants program continues in her footsteps.  It’s unfortunate, but environmental contaminants are found in almost all natural environments, even those habitats in remote areas many miles from pollution sources.  The Service’s Environmental Contaminants specialists work to identify those of most serious concern to fish, wildlife and plants; the extent of their effects, and how those effects can be mitigated.  Contaminants investigations of the algific slopes of the Driftless Area will help conserve those ecosystems and provide lessons learned for conserving other systems with changes related to global climate change.

Rachel Carson worked for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from 1936 to 1952 and is recognized as one of the world’s foremost leaders in conservation. Her work as an educator, scientist and writer revolutionized America’s interest in environmental issues. In addition to sounding the warning about DDT in “Silent Spring,” she is remembered for her passion for the oceans and coasts, her inspiration as one of the first female scientists and government leaders, and her overall footprint on the history of conservation.  To learn more, visit http://www.fws.gov/Midwest/es/ec/SilentSpring/

The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. We are both a leader and trusted partner in fish and wildlife conservation, known for our scientific excellence, stewardship of lands and natural resources, dedicated professionals, and commitment to public service. For more information on our work and the people who make it happen, visit www.fws.gov. Connect with our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/usfws, follow our tweets at www.twitter.com/usfwshq, watch our YouTube Channel at http://www.youtube.com/usfws and download photos from our Flickr page at http://www.flickr.com/photos/usfwshq
By Michael Coffey
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Rock Island, Illinois

News Releases - Environment & Weather
Written by IL Dept of Agriculture   
Wednesday, 26 September 2012 14:14

Detections bring the number of infested Illinois counties to 26.

SPRINGFIELD, ILL. - A destructive pest that feasts on ash trees has been discovered for the first time in two northern Illinois counties.  The Illinois Department of Agriculture (IDoA) today confirmed infestations of the emerald ash borer in Lee and Henry counties.

"In Lee County the beetle was discovered at an industrial site on the est side of Dixon," program manager Scott Schirmer said.  "The detection in Henry County occurred at Baker Park Golf Course in Kewanee."

The emerald ash borer is a small, metallic-green beetle native to Asia.  Its larvae burrow into the bark of ash trees, causing the trees to starve and eventually die.  While the beetle does not post any direct risk to public health, it does threaten the ash tree canopy.

Currently, 39 Illinois counties are under quarantine to prevent the "man-made" spread of the beetle.  The quarantine prohibits the intrastate movement of potentially-contaminated wood products, including ash trees, limbs and branches of all types of firewood.  Although the beetle had not been confirmed in Lee County until now, it is located adjacent to infested counties and already is within the quarantine boundaries.  Henry County, however, is not.

"The quarantine boundaries will need to be adjusted," Schirmer said. "Meantime, I'd encourage residents of Henry County to put the quarantine guidelines into practice by making sure not to transport any firewood or untreated wood products outside of their county of origin.  I'd also encourage tree companies, villages and cities to familiarize themselves with the rules and regulations pertaining to the processing and transporting of ash materials."

The emerald ash borer is difficult to detect, especially in newly-infested trees.  Signs of infestation include the presence of metallic-green beetles about haft the diameter of a penny on or around ash trees, thinning and yellowing leaves, D-shaped holes in the bark of the trunk or branches and basal shoots.

Since the beetle was first confirmed int eh Midwest in the Summer of 2002, it has killed more than 25 million ash trees.  Anyone who suspects a tree may be infested is urged to contact either their county extension office, village forester, or the IDoA.  For more information, visit www.IllinoisEAB.com.


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