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Blog: Secretary's Column: Partnerships Help Farmers and the Environment


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America's farmers are among our nation's first and finest conservationists. And at USDA, we support their work to protect natural landscapes by improving water and air quality, and preserving wildlife habitat, forests and soil.

This work is also helps drive economic growth and creates jobs -- particularly in rural communities.

Farmers taking steps to help the environment can improve their bottom line. And maintaining the health of American landscapes supports an outdoor recreation industry worth $730 billion to our nation's economy each year -- and supports millions of jobs. Recreational activities on the USDA-managed national forests and grasslands alone contribute $14.5 billion annually to the U.S. economy.

That is why President Barack Obama launched the America's Great Outdoors initiative to help re-connect Americans with the outdoors, drive job creation, and form local partnerships to ensure the long-term health of our natural resources.

And this week, as part of that effort, USDA took important steps to work with landowners, farmers and ranchers to provide assistance for their efforts to conserve these lands.

In Florida's Everglades, we are partnering with farmers to permanently protect almost 24,000 acres of agricultural lands that play a critical role in that unique ecosystem. Thanks to our investment, we'll see significant wetland restoration and provide important habitat for many rare animals, birds and plants.

Some studies show that comprehensive efforts to restore this national treasure -- including partnerships like these -- could be worth almost $1 billion to the economy each year through improved water quality, increased real estate values, and recreation like fishing and hunting.

And across the country, in the mountain west, USDA has partnered with ranchers to better protect the habitat of a rare bird, the sage grouse.

We've found that what is good for ranching is good for sage-grouse. In this collaboration, ranchers are helping preserve water quality and bird habitat -- and UDSA is providing them with support and certainty for their business operations.

This week, we're providing additional resources to ranchers in Wyoming -- home to about half of all sage-grouse -- to protect habitat for this species while improving air and water quality for residents of the state.

As USDA moves forward, we want to continue to build partnerships with landowners and find local solutions to environmental challenges.

Our nation's working lands provide us with abundant food, fiber and fuel. They are an essential piece of vibrant and diverse rural economies. And conserving farms, ranches, and forests through partnerships and incentives will mean a stronger economy and a healthier environment for the next generation.

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