The U.S. Department of Agriculture has announced the selection of Gary W. Mast as Deputy Under-Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment (NRE). Mast succeeds Merlyn Carlson, who retired from the position on Jan. 5, 2007.

"Gary Mast is a seasoned veteran of agriculture and conservation issues," said Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns. "Gary is well regarded within USDA and by our stakeholders. His background and passion for conservation will be especially valuable as we move forward with the 2007 farm bill."

The NRE mission area at USDA includes two agencies — U.S. Forest Service and the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). NRE ensures the health of the land through sustainable management. The Forest Service and NRCS, under the direction of the under-secretary for NRE, work to prevent damage to natural resources and the environment, restore the resource base, and promote good land management.

Mast currently serves as senior advisor to the Chief of NRCS. Prior to this, Mast served as NRCS special assistant and chief of staff. Prior to joining USDA Mast served as president of the National Association of Conservation Districts. He has been a Soil and Water Conservation District supervisor from 1981 to 2005 in his home state of Ohio and was president of the Ohio Federation of Soil and Water Districts from 1995 through 1997.

As deputy under-secretary, Mast will oversee NRCS and work closely with NRCS Chief Arlen Lancaster and under-secretary Mark Rey on conservation policy and operations issues.

Mast is a self-employed farmer, the sixth generation on an Ohio family farm which began in 1829. With his brother Jon, he farms 1,000 acres of farmland; custom forage harvests approximately 7,000 acres; and manages a Conservation Nutrient Management Plan for a 650-cow dairy herd.