Editor’s Note: The Quackers are three awesome ducks — Rusty, Richard and Sydney — from the canals of Venice who are on a mission to educate the community about the dangers of global warming and the importance of practicing sustainability, all while surfing the most gnarly waves possible.

When we arrived at the beach the sky was changing from a soft rose to a deep magenta and the sun had just touched the water. Our shadows grew longer in the fading light as we hurried across the sand. Soon everything was bathed in a warm golden light. It was the magic hour, that time of day when even the most ordinary objects take on an air of mystery and uncommon beauty.

Throwing our surf boards in the water we quickly paddled out and faced the horizon. With our legs dangling in the water we watched until the fiery sun seemed to pulse, shoot out one last flare of bright light and then slip from sight.

The waves were small, 2-3 footers with a slow, lazy break that made for a good, long ride. On one ride, Rusty executed a series of sharp turns, shooting trails of water straight into the sky, as he pumped the wave for an even longer ride. Those conditions kept us surfing until a thin strip of magenta was the only light left in the sky.

When we arrived home, the answering machine was flashing and our cell phones buzzed with messages. I hit the button on the answering machine as we hunted for our cells. We heard Cousin Juanita Quacker’s voice loud and clear, “Hey! Where are you guys? Call me ASAP!” Each of our cells had the same message.

A worried Richard rushed to call Juanita. She quickly reassured him that all was well and then said, “I’m working on a big project to save the Gunnison’s prairie dogs in Santa Fe, please say you guys will fly in this weekend to help!”

Rusty heard “dog” and quickly used it to reopen his campaign to get one. “Can I have one if I help?” he asked. “What type of dog is a Gunnison’s prairie dog anyway? Is it like a Chihuahua?”

To Rusty’s great disappointment, Juanita explained that prairie dogs were not dogs at all but a burrowing member of the squirrel family native to the Great Plains and southwestern desert grasslands. She said their name came from the barking sounds they make.

Juanita continued with a passionate plea for our help. “It is so sad,” she said. “All five species of North America’s prairie dogs are in trouble. They have lost 90 percent of their historical range due to habitat loss, shooting and poisoning and in less than a century their population has declined by 98-99 percent. The WildEarth Guardians are kicking off a giant campaign to raise awareness about the prairie dogs plight. We want to share how important they are to the ecosystem and environment. They should be put on endangered species list before it is too late.”

We took off the next morning to join her.

As we traveled from Albuquerque to Santa Fe, Juanita did her best to educate us on prairie dogs in general and especially about Gunnison’s.

“Gunnison’s are the type of prairie dog found in Albuquerque, Santa Fe and Taos, New Mexico,” she said. “They have been in those areas since practically the beginning of time. Currently, they are facing habitat loss not just from urbanization but also in rural areas from oil and gas activity. In just the last century their population declined by 98 percent. There is only a small colony left in Santa Fe.”

“The prairie dogs are a keystone species in the grassland ecosystem,” Juanita said. “Over 140 wildlife species benefit from the prairie dogs and their colonies. Their burrows provide habitat to many amphibians, reptiles, small mammals and insects. At least 9 species depend on prairie dogs for survival. One of which is the endangered burrowing owl.” Barely stopping for a breath she went on, “Raptors and mammals need them for food and the large herbivores love the rich grassland around their colonies. Scientists believe that their underground tunneling plays a significant role in recharging the water table!”

We were spellbound as she told us of the advanced communication system prairie dogs use. They have different “words” to describe, for example, a tall human in a yellow shirt, or a short human in a green shirt. They also have “words” for deer, coyote, red-tailed hawk and many other creatures.

Juanita said that prairie dogs are highly social creatures. She has seen photos of them greeting each other with what looked like hugs and kisses. The “kiss” is actually used to distinguish a member of their family or “coterie” from a stranger.

In Santa Fe we hit the ground running. When we talked and shared all we knew about prairie dogs people were more than willing to sign our petitions. Some even joined in and helped for the rest of the weekend!

That last night as we soaked our sore feet and rested our hoarse voices we hoped with all our hearts that our work will help save the prairie dogs and in doing that, all of other creatures that depend on them to live.

Phyllis and the Quackers can be reached at phyllis@phyllischavez.com. The Quackers have a new, amazing Web site! Stories, pictures and a blog at www.thequackers.com.

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