Growing Returns

In a race against time, officials collaborate to speed up coastal restoration. Here’s how.

Louisiana is in the midst of a catastrophic land loss crisis. The state has already lost over 2,000 square miles of land, and it could lose as much as 4,000 square miles more if nothing is done to restore the coast.

As these wetlands disappear into the Gulf of Mexico, so do the natural protections that shield New Orleans and other coastal communities from rising sea levels and increasingly violent storms.

It’s a dilemma that’s playing out in coastal communities across the United States and around the world.

So it came as welcome news when state and federal regulators this month agreed to shave nearly two years off the five-year permitting process for a diversion project that will allow the mighty Mississippi River to do its natural business of building much-needed land.

It’s an acknowledgment that we’ve no time to lose in preparing for the unavoidable impacts of climate change. Read More »

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What to watch for during today’s farm bill markup in the House

The House Agriculture Committee meets today to begin markup on the 2018 draft farm bill. While markup is only the first step of a long process, it will tell us a lot about the road ahead.

The farm bill provides the largest source of federal funding for conservation on private lands – and with 70 percent of U.S. land privately managed, the farm bill is a major driver of efforts to improve water and air quality, increase wildlife habitat and build drought resilience.

While much of the focus will be on whether the Conservation Stewardship Program will be folded into the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), here are six additional conservation items to keep an eye on during markup. Read More »

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Farmers open their books to show financial impact of conservation

Farm accountants have a lot more to offer than advice on how to maximize tax returns. In fact, they play a pivotal role in scaling conservation.

Environmental Defense Fund and K·Coe Isom AgKnowledge, a managerial accounting service for farmers and ranchers, teamed up with three Midwestern grain farmers to study how the adoption of conservation practices affects farm budgets.

These farmers, based in Iowa, Kansas, and Ohio, have all adopted some combination of no-till, crop rotations, cover crops and nutrient management. They were generous enough to open up their books so that AgKnowledge could analyze the financial impact of these conservation activities.

The full report will be out later this year, but initial results show how conservation can benefit farmers’ bottom lines. Here are three lessons we learned from this analysis. Read More »

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How can communities get the most from investing in nature?

In places like Nevada, ranching has been a way of life for generations, and industries like mining provide key drivers of economic growth and community stability. But these landscapes also hold economic, historical and cultural values tied to the health and stewardship of natural resources.

The same is true for other communities across the country that are striving to address growing needs for infrastructure, economic growth, clean air and safe drinking water.

Balancing community resiliency, economic stability and stewardship of natural resources is no easy task. But a new funding mechanism is gaining traction on the ground in key places, providing proving grounds for how communities can make cost-effective investments in their futures. Read More »

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4 ways to strengthen coastal communities’ resilience before the next storm

This blog was authored by Shannon Cunniff, with contributions from Kate Zerrenner.

The 2017 hurricane season sounded the alarm for coastal communities across the country and across the world that are facing increased exposure to powerful storms.

Nearly 40 percent of the U.S. population lives in coastal counties, where hurricanes are often the most destructive weather phenomena bringing rain, wind, waves and storm surge that too often result in significant loss of life. With a changing climate, we can expect more extreme weather. But we don’t have to expect the same levels of devastation.

There are steps we can take to decrease coastal communities’ vulnerability to storms, lower the risk of damaging floodwaters, and reduce the impacts associated with these disasters. Read More »

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Will we be prepared for the next natural disaster? Let’s make sure the answer is “Yes.”

It’s hard to believe it’s been nearly a year and a half since Hurricane Matthew delivered devastating floods across eastern North Carolina. With so many families and communities still recovering from that storm, the thought of having to prepare for the next one is daunting, but it’s a necessary reality.

The wide-spread devastation that the 2017 hurricane season brought to the U.S., Puerto Rico, and the Caribbean demonstrates the critical importance of planning and making necessary investments to reduce the vulnerability of our communities in the future. (Photo credit: The National Guard)

This month, a group of North Carolina state legislators will convene in Raleigh to discuss how to spend the state’s remaining federal disaster relief funds provided in the wake of Matthew.

In addition to the needs of still ongoing recovery efforts, the North Carolina House Select Committee on Disaster Relief is expected to begin exploring investment opportunities related to flood control and risk mitigation. Read More »

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Federal rollbacks + huge new oil and gas project = trouble for Wyoming

This blog was co-authored by Jon Goldstein and Sara Brodnax.

Last week, the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management collected comments from citizens and groups concerned about the impacts of a proposed 5,000-well oil and gas project in eastern Wyoming.

The situation has a troubling irony, because as BLM reviews the project’s environmental risks, it is simultaneously working to roll back its own commonsense standards to stop oil and gas companies from venting, flaring, and leaking away pollution and valuable natural gas.

Oil and gas development in Wyoming

Rapid oil and gas development at times put Pinedale, Wyoming on par with smoggy Los Angeles in terms of ozone levels.

It’s the same story for the greater sage-grouse, which without strong mitigation measures will likely abandon critical breeding sites in the area set to be impacted by the planned oil and gas project. Here, too, BLM has signaled several attempts to unravel the collaborative, decades-forged plans to protect the imperiled bird.

The combination of weakening policies while expanding development could have disastrous consequences for Wyoming and other western states if methane pollution goes unchecked and the greater sage-grouse continues to decline.

Read More »

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USDA newcomer Bill Northey has 3 big opportunities to scale ag resilience and productivity nationwide

In his new role at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Undersecretary Bill Northey will oversee agencies and programs that are vital to agricultural resilience and productivity, including the Farm Service Agency, the Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Risk Management Agency. His portfolio will include crop insurance, conservation, disaster assistance and producer lending services.

I’ve had the opportunity to work with Northey and have appreciated his collaborative approach, which I think will be an asset to USDA in pursuing gains in productivity and conservation.

As he leads ag sustainability efforts at USDA, Northey has three big opportunities to scale conservation and productivity innovations nationwide. Read More »

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A rare desert wildflower is no longer endangered, but the law that saved it may be

When most people think about the Endangered Species Act, they picture the bald eagle, the sea turtle or the grizzly bear. They don’t think as often about the grasses, ferns, flowers and conifers that the ESA also protects.

That makes sense when you consider that there are approximately 26 known animal species for every known plant species. But animals, including humans of course, rely heavily on plants for food, oxygen, shelter and more.

Just like animals, plants increasingly face habitat loss, pollution, disease and climate change, which threaten their existence.

There are currently 949 species of plants listed as endangered or threatened under the ESA, including several species of cactus, mint and milkweed – a vital plant for monarch butterflies. But even the more obscure and isolated plants demonstrate how closely plant resilience is tied to the health of both local and broader ecosystems. Read More »

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The Farm Bill can make the ag data revolution a reality

For big data to truly revolutionize agricultural productivity and sustainability, data needs to be accessible. Industry and government have already collected troves of data points. The trick now is to combine disparate data sets and make them available to farmers, researchers and advisers – all while meticulously protecting producer privacy.

The private sector moved aggressively in 2017 to provide farmers with solutions for collecting and interpreting their data. $500 million in investments flowed to start-ups providing farm management software, sensing and other data solutions – a sector with 27 percent year-over-year growth.

It’s time for the public sector to do the same. Here’s how the next Farm Bill can ensure farmers see benefits from their data. Read More »

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