Selected category: Ecosystems

Why Sonny Perdue should prioritize these 3 farm programs

The U.S. Senate will confirm the Secretary of Agriculture today, empowering former Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue to lead an agency with a $155 billion budget, some 100,000 employees and ultimate responsibility for our nation’s food security.

Over 80 percent of this budget goes toward farm programs, food stamps, school meals and other mandatory spending programs. The remainder goes to protect farmers’ livelihoods, rural economies and the environment – but according to the Administration’s budget proposals, this pot of funding could be cut by over 21 percent.

Retaining current funding levels for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) – and conservation programs in particular – ensures that farmers can remain productive during periods of extreme weather, protects habitat for wildlife without sacrificing profitability and improves on-farm efficiencies.

Secretary Perdue will need to advocate on behalf of farmers to protect these programs – and he’ll need help from the private sector, since the federal government alone cannot maintain farming as a core industry in America, make sustainable agriculture the norm or feed a growing population.

Here are three programs that provide widespread benefits – and that should be a top priority for the new Secretary. Read More »

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How my passion for food and history led me to the Farm Bill

Despite growing up without any real interest in conservation or farming, I now spend every working day knee deep in agricultural policy – and I love it.

I grew up in the suburbs of Louisville, Kentucky, the daughter of a teacher and a salesman. My parents instilled in me a love and deep respect for the place. I was taught to value the importance of rural America, farming, horse racing, and bourbon.

But it’s an obsession with food and history that brought me to where I am today. For as long as I can remember, I’ve started planning my dinner at breakfast time. After college, my passion for government led me to law school – but I just couldn’t ignore my love of food.

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To help the environment, we must first help people

Now living in Austin, Texas where diverse wildlands are numerous and easily accessible, Audrey takes any opportunity she can get to put on her hiking boots and explore her natural surroundings. She also volunteers with the City of Austin to give guided hikes on preserves. Credit: Rob Binder

I grew up in the high and dry panhandle plains of Texas, where trees are scarce, wind is always blowing, and the smell of feedlots lingers in the air. Needless to say, I was not overly inspired by my surroundings – at least not at the time I lived there.

Had I not traveled with my family growing up, I wouldn’t have known what I was missing. Throughout these travels, I became enraptured by the biodiversity and lushness of other ecosystems and felt compelled to learn as much as I could about them.

But the stark contrast between some of the natural ecosystems and working landscapes I was exposed to led me to develop a pretty pessimistic view of humans’ impact on the environment. Surely, there had to be a better way of balancing human needs for things like food, water and shelter with nature’s needs.

Determined to tackle this problem, I got my Master’s in Environmental Management from Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment and took a job at Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), where I had heard that scientists and economists were developing incentive programs for landowners to improve water quality, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and restore habitat for at-risk wildlife.

Little did I know my worldview was about to be turned upside down.

Putting people first Read More »

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What it’s going to take to fund California’s water infrastructure

Crews are working to repair damage to the Central Valley's levee system.

The situation at Oroville Dam garnered national attention and brought into clear focus the limitations of our aging flood protection infrastructure – California’s complex system of dams, levees, and bypasses – as well as the need for greater investment in maintaining and upgrading this system.

It is appropriate, then, that Governor Brown recently unveiled a plan to bolster dam safety and flood protection. By requiring emergency action plans, beefing up our dam inspection program and increasing our investment in emergency response, Governor Brown is taking an important first-step in tackling this difficult problem.

This comes at an especially important time as infrastructure maintenance is at the forefront of state and national discussions, and we still have a few months to go before we are out of the rainy season.

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Why wholesale repeal of environmental protections is a losing business strategy

© Dwight Nadig

Taking aim at government regulation is a favorite pastime in Washington, but the Trump Administration and the 115th Congress have upped the ante.

In the course of a few weeks, the House of Representatives voted down a measure to curb methane leaks from oil and gas rigs on public and tribal lands. It also voted to overturn a common-sense rule to prevent coal companies from polluting local streams. Meanwhile, the president signed an executive order requiring the arbitrary removal of two existing regulations for every new one created.

Next in their sights: gutting Environmental Protection Agency programs and possibly repealing the Endangered Species Act.

There’s no question we can improve how we go about implementing environmental laws to ensure they deliver the biggest bang for the buck for people and nature. But as an advocate for the environment and a former policy director at the U.S. Department of Commerce, I find the rhetoric-driven rush to rescind these protections short-sighted – even dangerous. Read More »

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What the Oroville Dam crisis tells us about natural infrastructure

Oroville Dam is located in the Sierra Nevada foothills about 80 miles north of Sacramento. At 770 feet, it's the tallest dam in the U.S.

The crisis at Oroville Dam in Northern California has abated, but problems could return with more rain in the forecast for later this week.

If you haven’t heard, the reservoir behind the dam reached capacity last weekend, sending water over an emergency spillway for the first time since its construction in 1968. Authorities ordered more than 180,000 people downstream to evacuate their homes over concerns that the spillway could fail, sending an enormous uncontrolled rush of water down the Feather and Sacramento Rivers.

While the evacuation order has since been lifted, our thoughts still go out to those affected. We continue to monitor and try to make sense of the situation, and while many lessons will eventually be pulled from this experience, there is much to reflect on today.

Read More »

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How healthy riparian forests benefit California ranchers

John Anderson overlooking his riparian forest and restoration area on Yanci Ranch.

John Anderson overlooking his riparian forest and restoration area on Yanci Ranch.

California landowners have a number of important reasons to value riparian forests. They offer shade to cattle, provide critical erosion and flood control, sequester carbon and support abundant wildlife.

Yet many landowners, especially those already stretched to manage their farms and ranches, often overlook these benefits in their day-to-day work.

Unfortunately, California’s riparian forests are dwindling, covering only 5 percent of their historic range.  That’s why Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) is working with leading researchers in the state to measure the wildlife and carbon benefits of riparian restoration, with the objective of bringing new funding sources to stewards of private lands.

Meet John Anderson

One landowner who is working actively to create riparian forests on his ranch is John Anderson, owner of Yanci Ranch in Yolo County. An experienced steward of his land, John has gone the extra mile restore the remnant riparian forest on his property. Read More »

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The year the private sector stepped up for land, water and wildlife

By this time next year, I believe we’ll reflect back on 2017 as the year that the private sector stepped up to protect our land, water and wildlife for future generations.

I believe this because major retailers, food companies, agricultural businesses and farmers laid the groundwork in 2016, making sizeable commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs), improve water quality and conserve habitat for imperiled wildlife.

President-elect Trump has made political theater by threatening to kill the regulations that protect our nation’s air and water. But in the real world, the private sector is going the other direction.

Forward-thinking businesses are rolling up their sleeves and finding ways to make those regulations work better by accelerating the uptake of practices that are good for the planet and the bottom line.

These are three areas to watch in 2017.

Read More »

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Three threats to the monarch butterfly’s winter habitat and what we can do about it

Monarchs cluster on oyamel fir branches to stay warm. Tens of thousands of monarchs can cluster on a single tree.

Monarchs cluster on oyamel fir branches to stay warm. Tens of thousands of monarchs can cluster on a single tree. Photo credit: Pablo Leautaud (license)

Just as some people travel great distances to spend the holiday season with family and friends, monarch butterflies, too, make a long journey to spend the winter gathered together in the oyamel fir forests of Mexico.

The eastern population passes through Oklahoma and Texas on its annual migration south, stopping periodically to fuel up on nectar, ultimately reaching their destination in the mountains of central Mexico.

Unfortunately, the monarch’s winter home is under stress, which has contributed to a 90-percent decline in the species’ population over the last two decades. Read More »

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Water heroes emerge in California’s Central Valley

Water board leaders from 13 communities throughout California's Central Valley attended the Leadership Academy to build engagement capacity and share lessons about small water system management. (Credit: Kike Arnal)

California’s Central Valley, which stretches 450 miles from Redding in the north to Bakersfield in the south, is the nation’s richest agricultural region, producing 40 percent of our fruit, vegetables and nuts on nearly 9 million acres of irrigated farmland. The Valley is also ground zero for California’s water problems.

As California endures its fifth year of drought, cities, farms, and communities across the state are experiencing severe water stress. Rivers, lakes and reservoirs are drying up, so residents are turning to groundwater pumping to quench their thirst. As a result, many of the state’s groundwater aquifers are being depleted, causing wells to run dry or become contaminated.

The most critically overdrawn aquifers are in and around small, rural communities in the Central Valley. Here, thousands of people—many of them low-income farm workers—live without safe drinking water.

Read More »

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