It's 'Prairie Dog Day' in the West—State and Federal Conservation Report Cards Are Out
WildEarth Guardians released its fifth annual Report from the Burrow Feb. 2, finding that government agencies are generally doing a poor job of managing prairie dogs and their habitat. The report evaluates state and federal management of prairie dogs in 2011. While there were a few success stories to report, most federal agencies and states received middling to failing grades for their management of these species.
“Despite being essential to a healthy grassland ecosystem, prairie dogs are not getting the protection they deserve,” said Taylor Jones, endangered species advocate for WildEarth Guardians.
The Report from the Burrow is annually released on “Prairie Dog Day"—Groundhog Day in the West. While famous Punxsutawney Phil entertains us, foretelling the length of winter, the status of our prairie dog populations has more serious implications for the future of western grassland ecosystems.
The report grades federal agencies and twelve states based on a number of criteria, including habitat conservation and planning, the existence of shooting regulations, whether they allow poisoning to control prairie dogs, and how vigorously they address plague in prairie dog colonies. Where possible, each state and federal agency had opportunity to review and offer input on the report.
Arizona and the National Park Service each earned a grade of “B” for their policies that promote prairie dog restoration, conservation and education. Unfortunately, every other agency and state scored middling to poorly on the report card. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which regulates the use of toxicants, received an “F” for approving Rozol for use as a prairie dog poison without consulting the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on possible impacts to other species. Three states also received failing grades for their mismanagement of prairie dogs—Nebraska and North and South Dakota.
“We give credit where credit is due,” said Jones. “But many federal agencies and states are failing prairie dogs, and we’re not afraid to say so. They must do better to conserve these critically important species.”
Scientists consider prairie dogs keystone species. Like the keystone that supports an archway, prairie dogs support whole ecosystems. Prairie dogs fertilize and aerate the soil, reduce noxious weeds, and clip the top parts of forage, creating a shorter but more nutrient-rich blade of grass. Large herbivores including elk and bison often prefer to graze on prairie dog towns. Prairie dog burrows provide habitat for numerous reptiles, amphibians, and invertebrates. Prairie dogs are an important food source for a wide variety of species including hawks, eagles, coyotes, foxes, and badgers. Approximately 150 species benefit from prairie dogs and the habitat they create. Yet prairie dog numbers have declined dramatically within the last 150 years due to poisoning, shooting, farming and other types of habitat loss, and plague, an exotic disease that is extremely lethal to prairie dogs.
“A landscape without prairie dogs is a landscape in poverty,” according to Jones. “Prairie dogs support a broad diversity of species and deserve strong protections in recognition of their importance to the prairie ecosystem.”
Amidst a generally bleak assessment, this year’s report highlights some success stories in prairie dog conservation. A team of scientists is developing and testing a sylvatic plague vaccine that could mitigate one of the greatest threats to prairie dogs—plague, which was inadvertently introduced to North America in the early 1900’s and is transmitted through the bites of infected fleas. Prairie dogs have no natural immunity to plague, and an outbreak can rapidly cause 90 percent mortality or more in a colony. The vaccine, developed by scientists at the U.S. Geological Survey National Wildlife Health Center, in collaboration with colleagues at other federal agencies and the University of Wisconsin, has proven effective in laboratory tests. It is now undergoing field safety trials.
Arizona, which consistently leads western states on the report card, was graded a “B” for its continuing work to reintroduce black-tailed prairie dogs, which were extirpated from the state in the early 1900s. The Town of Telluride, Colorado, in partnership with WildEarth Guardians, crafted a “natural dispersal” management plan that prohibits lethal control of prairie dogs on the town’s valley floor open space and allows the prairie dogs to expand their habitat. The Southern Plain Land Trust is working to protect habitat for prairie dogs in southeastern Colorado, and the U.S. Forest Service is facilitating relocation of prairie dogs in Thunder Basin National Grassland in Wyoming. The report also offers tips for coexisting with prairie dogs on your own property.
The Report Card
State or Federal Agency Grade
Bureau of Land Management D-
Environmental Protection Agency F
National Park Service B
U.S. Forest Service C
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service D+
U.S.D.A. Wildlife Services F
New Mexico D-
North Dakota F
South Dakota F
For more information, click here.
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Since even moderate-intensity workouts offer a slew of benefits, walking is a good choice for people looking to stay healthy.
How to Rock Your Walk<p>Walking isn't just fun and healthy. It's accessible.</p><p>"Walking is cheap," says Dr. John Paul H. Rue, a sports medicine doctor at <a href="https://mdmercy.com/" target="_blank">Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore</a>. "You can do it anywhere at any time; [it] requires little to no special equipment and has many of the same cardio benefits as running or other more intense workouts."</p><p>Want to up your walking game? Try the tips below.</p>
Use Hand Weights<p>Cardio and strength training can go hand-in-hand when you add weights to your walk.</p><p>A <a href="https://journals.lww.com/acsm-msse/Fulltext/2019/03000/Associations_of_Resistance_Exercise_with.14.aspx" target="_blank">2019 study</a> found that weight training is good for your heart, and <a href="https://www.mayoclinicproceedings.org/article/S0025-6196(17)30167-2/abstract" target="_blank">research</a> shows it reduces the risk of developing a <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/nutrition-metabolism-disorders" target="_blank">metabolic disorder</a> by 17 percent. People with metabolic disorders have a higher chance of being diagnosed with high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and diabetes.</p><p>Rue suggests not carrying weights for your entire walk.</p><p>"Hand weights can give you an added level of energy burning, but you have to be careful with these because carrying [them] over a long period of time or while walking could actually lead to some overuse injuries," he says.</p>
Make It a Circuit<p>As another option, consider doing a circuit. First, put a pair of dumbbells on your lawn or somewhere in your home. Walk around the block once, then stop and do some bicep curls and tricep lifts before walking around the block again.</p><p>Rue recommends <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/exercise-fitness/running-with-weights" target="_blank">avoiding ankle weights</a> during cardio workouts, as they force you to use your quadriceps rather than hamstrings. They can also cause muscle imbalance, according to the <a href="https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/wearable-weights-how-they-can-help-or-hurt" target="_blank">Harvard Health Letter</a>.</p>
Find a Fitness Trail<p>Strength training isn't limited to weights. You can get stronger by <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/bodyweight-workout" target="_blank">simply using your body</a>.</p><p>Often found at parks, fitness trails are obstacle courses with equipment for pullups, pushups, rowing, and stretches to build upper and lower body strength.</p><p>Try searching "fitness trails near me" online, checking out your local parks and recreation website, or calling the municipal office to <a href="https://calisthenics-parks.com/" target="_blank">find one</a>.</p>
Recruit a Friend<p>People who workout together stay healthy together.</p><p><a href="https://bmcgeriatr.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12877-017-0584-3" target="_blank">One study</a> showed that older adults who exercised with a group improved or maintained their functional health and enjoyed their lives more.</p><p>Enlist the help of a walking buddy with a regimen you aspire to have. If you don't know anyone in your area, apps like <a href="https://www.strava.com/" target="_blank">Strava</a> have social networking features so you can get support from fellow exercisers.</p>
Try Meditation<p>According to the <a href="https://www.nccih.nih.gov/research/statistics/nhis/2017" target="_blank">2017 National Health Interview Survey</a>, published by the National Institutes of Health, meditation is on the rise, and for good reason.</p><p>Researchers <a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29616846/" target="_blank">found</a> that mind-body relaxation practices can regulate inflammation, <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/biological-rhythms" target="_blank">circadian rhythms</a>, and <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/glucose" target="_blank">glucose</a> metabolism, as well as lower <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/high-blood-pressure-hypertension" target="_blank">blood pressure</a>.</p><p>"Any form of exercise can be turned into a meditation of some type, either by the surroundings you are walking in, like a park or trail, or by blocking out the outside world with music on your headphones," Rue says.</p><p>You can also play a podcast or download an app like <a href="https://www.headspace.com/headspace-meditation-app" target="_blank">Headspace</a> that has a library of guided meditations to practice while you walk.</p>
Do Fartlek Walks<p>Typically used in running, fartlek intervals alternate periods of increased and decreased speed. These are <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/benefits-of-hiit" target="_blank">high-intensity interval training (HIIT)</a> workouts, which allow exercisers to accomplish more in less time.</p><p><a href="https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0154075" target="_blank">One study</a> showed that 10-minute interval training improved <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/metabolic-syndrome" target="_blank">cardiometabolic</a> health, or lowered the risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes, just as well as working out at a continuous pace for 50 minutes.</p><p><a href="https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0111489" target="_blank">Research</a> also shows that HIIT workouts increase muscle <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/fast-twitch-muscles" target="_blank">oxidative</a> capacity, or the ability to use oxygen. To do a fartlek walk, try walking at an increased pace for 3 minutes, slow down for 2 minutes, and repeat.</p>
Gradually Increase Pace<p>A faster walking pace is associated with a lower risk of <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/copd" target="_blank">chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)</a> and respiratory diseases, according to a <a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30303933/" target="_blank">2019 study</a>.</p><p>Still, it's best not to go from a stroll to an Olympic-worthy power walk in a day. Instead, increase your pace gradually to prevent injury.</p><p>"Start by walking at a brisk pace for about 10 minutes per day, 3 to 5 days per week," Rue says. "Once you've done this for a few weeks, increase your time by 5 to 10 minutes per day until you get to 30 minutes."</p>
Add Stairs<p>You've likely heard that taking the stairs instead of an elevator is a way to add more movement into your daily routine. It's also a way to step up your walking. Stair climbing has been shown to <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2211335519301123?via%3Dihub" target="_blank">decrease the risk of mortality</a> and can easily add a bit more challenge to your walk.</p><p>If you don't have stairs in your home, you can often find them outside a local municipal building, train station, or at a high school stadium.</p>
Is Your Walk a True Cardio Workout?<p>Not all walks are equal. A walk that's too leisurely may not provide enough burn to qualify as cardio. To see if you're getting a good workout, try to <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/how-to-check-heart-rate" target="_blank">measure your heart rate</a> using a monitor.</p><p>"A target goal for a good walking workout heart rate is about 50 to 70 percent of your maximum heart rate," Rue says, adding that maximum heart rate is <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/fitness-exercise/fat-burning-heart-rate" target="_blank">typically calculated</a> by 220 beats per minute minus your age.</p><p>You can also monitor how easily you can carry on a conversation while you walk to gauge your heart rate.</p><p>"If you can walk and carry on a normal conversation, that's probably a lower intensity walk," says Rue. "If you are slightly breathless but can still have a conversation, that's probably a moderate workout. If you are out of breath and can't talk normally, that's a vigorous workout."</p>
Takeaway<p>By shaking up your routine, you can add excitement to your workout and reap even more rewards than a basic walk provides. Increasing the pace and intensity of a workout will make it more effective.</p><p>Simply pick your favorite variation to add some spice to your next walk.</p>
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