Doggone: Prairie Dogs Face a New and Deadly Threat
Prairie dogs have been eliminated from more than 95 percent of their grassland habitat. And now they, and the vast and complicated ecosystems they sustain, face a new and deadly threat.
The county commission's nature came into sharper focus for me after I'd visited Gene Bertrand, less able than Haverfield and Barnhardt to stand up to bullying in that he suffers from macular degeneration and is on supplemental oxygen for pulmonary disease. In assessing potential ferret release sites the Fish and Wildlife Service had placed his ranch second in the state, after the Haverfield-Barnhardt complex and ahead of the TNC property. Loving wildlife as he does, Bertrand was eager to host ferrets. But Uhrich got in his face with warnings about the lawsuits he could be hit with if he continued to coddle prairie dogs. Bertrand had sworn off Rozol after his coyotes had turned up dead, but on my arrival a hired hand had informed me that for the last two years the ranch had been blitzed with Rozol. That's why his varminter business dried up. After our interview I checked out the rangeland where the ferruginous hawks used to chow down on prairie dog carcasses left by the varminters. I couldn't find a single burrow.
Were it not for the advent of Rozol and the EPA's stubborn refusal to recall it or even consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service about its danger to listed species, the news about prairie dogs might be less grim. Attitudes are changing slowly. Arizona, the one state that successfully extirpated black-tailed prairie dogs, began reintroducing them in October 2008. WAFWA's Bill Van Pelt, a biologist with the Arizona Game and Fish Department, reports "a full spectrum of reaction" from ranchers. "But some are fully supportive," he says. "Attesting to this is that our reintroduction is happening on BLM land, and it was actually requested by the rancher who had the grazing permit. There's progress. Oklahoma, for example, has an incentive program that rewards ranchers for hosting prairie dogs; six percent of their prairie dog acreage is in conservation agreements with landowners." WAFWA's 10-year objective was to maintain current acreage occupied by black-tailed prairie dogs and to increase it to 1,693,695 acres by 2011. But already, occupied range is put at 2,286,492 acres.
What needs to happen for this progress to continue and accelerate and for the black-footed ferret to remain on the planet is for Obama's EPA to ban Rozol and similar biocides for prairie-dog control. That doesn't seem like much of a hardship for ranchers who have a cheap, safe, effective alternative in zinc phosphide. And that doesn't seem like a big order for an enlightened administration that, with its superb appointments, has repeatedly demonstrated concern for and understanding of wildlife.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
Educate your friends and public officials about the ecological importance of prairie dogs. Email them and your legislators the link to this article. For the latest on Rozol use and black-footed ferret recovery in Kansas, click here.