How Do Changing Landscapes Affect Human Risk to West Nile Virus?

Urbanization is transforming the South. And as forests and farms are converted to urban land uses, there are environmental consequences—reduced water quality, invasive species, and loss of habitat for native wildlife and plant species. The changes also have implications for disease vectors, such as birds and insects that can carry West Nile Virus (WNV), Lyme disease, and more recently, the Zika virus.

One group of researchers has been looking at the connection between a wide ranging but integrated group of factors in the transmission of WNV—the loss of forest cover, increases in impervious surface, reduced water quality, socioeconomics, and other factors—that may play a role in supporting the bird and mosquito populations that are key in the spread of WNV.

Graeme Lockaby, a research professor with the School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences at Auburn University, has been studying the impacts of forest conversion on water quality for decades. In recent years, he has been working with an interdisciplinary team of researchers, including Wayne Zipperer, SRS-4952 research forester; Wayde Morse, a social scientist, and Latif Kalin, a hydrologic modeler, both with the School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences at Auburn; and Navideh Noori, a hydrologic modeler at the University of Georgia. The team has been looking at how urbanization affects streams, creeks, and rivers in a range of settings from rural forested areas to the inner city.

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The Main Drive Behind Forest Fires

forest-fireTemperatures are rising and forest fires, already larger and more frequent than the historical norm, are projected to increase dramatically with anthropogenic warming.

That’s the general consensus among scientists studying the relationship between fire activity and climate change in the Sierra Nevada. But a study released last week found an influence on past fire activity even greater than climate: human beings.

Since 1600, the way humans have used land in the Sierra has had more effect on fire behavior than climate change, said Valerie Trouet, associate professor of dendrochronology at the University of Arizona and lead coauthor of the study, published November 14 by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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Celebrating Every Kid in a Park

every-kipAs part of President Obama’s historic commitment to protecting our natural treasures and ensuring all Americans have the opportunity to experience our great outdoors, the Every Kid in a Park initiative gives fourth graders and their families free access to all of America’s public lands and waters for a full year. Now in the program’s second year, Every Kid in a Park is connecting hundreds of thousands of youth across the country to the great outdoors. 

Building on this work, today, we are thrilled to announce an inter-agency commitment to continue the program for the next five years and a new virtual reality video featuring the First Lady and Modern Family’s Nolan Gould. 

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This Medical Center Prescribes Nature, and Fills Prescriptions On-Site

We inrx_nature the Nature Explore family don’t need a study to tell us that nature has many positive benefits for our physical, mental and spiritual health. We feel these benefits in ourselves, and see them in the children who play in our outdoor classrooms. Yet if nature is so good for our health, why aren’t doctors prescribing time outdoors?

They are, across the country, thanks to the “Rx For Outdoor Activity” training given by The National Environmental Education Foundation (NEEF). Doctors who have taken this training are qualified to write prescriptions for nature and to address children’s health issues as they relate to nature and the environment.

One of these Nature Champions is Daniel Porter, MD, Medical Director of the Lone Star Family Health Center (LSFHC), in Conroe, Texas. Lone Star also has a new Nature Explore Classroom on grounds. Doctors there are writing prescriptions for patients to spend time in the outdoor classroom. These are not simply verbal recommendations, but true prescriptions that are entered into the patient’s electronic health record. This is the first Nature Explore Classroom directly on the grounds of a federally qualified health center, and a model for future replication elsewhere.

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