The battle continues in Salt Lake City, Utah against squirrel-sized prairie dogs, which have caused damage in the Paragonah Cemetery and airport runway in Iron County. Although, the federal government lists the Utah prairie dog as a threatened species, local politicians say it’s the people or the prairie dogs.
So, the Congressional path of least resistance is to kill them outright.
Sens. Mike Lee and Orrin Hatch and Congressman Jim Matheson are drafting a bill that would allow lethal removal of the prairie dogs.
However, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has already been working with managers at both the cemetery and airport, to remove prairie dogs, and has proposed an amendment to a special rule that allows prairie dog control.
“Utah’s delegation is crafting unnecessary legislation to weaken protections for the endangered Utah prairie dog,” said Marty Bergoffen, endangered species coordinator at the Center for Biological diversity. “The Utah prairie dog is a highly endangered species that is restricted to a small area of south central Utah, where habitat destruction, plague and persecution are continued threats. Like all endangered species, the prairie dog needs careful management informed by science, not grandstanding by politicians trying to gain political points.”
The Utah prairie dog was originally listed as an endangered species in 1973 and, after some populations expanded, the species was down-listed to threatened status in 1984. As a result, a special rule was issued, which allowed 5,000 prairie dogs in the Cedar and Parowan valleys to be killed, due to agricultural conflicts. This rule was amended in 1991 to allow the lethal removal of 6,000 prairie dogs on private land throughout the species’ range.
On June 2, 2011, the Fish and Wildlife Service issued a proposed revision to the special rule to limit take to 10 percent of the total population, which could only occur on productive agricultural lands and other private lands near prairie dog conservation sites.
“There’s already been a process for the public, including the Utah delegation, to seek additional measures for these or any other sites,” said Bergoffen. “If this legislative moves forward, it will be a waste of taxpayer dollars and the worst kind of political theater.”
Republican Representative, Jason Chaffetz, claimed that prairie dogs should not be elevated above the health and welfare of residents.
“I promise to use whatever means necessary to stop bureaucrats or environmentalists who care more about prairie dogs than people,” said Chaffetz.
Environmentalists want to know why it has to be one or the other, when there are non-lethal solutions.
Division of Wildlife Resources has been trapping and relocating prairie dogs from the airport to the Bryce Canyon area.
But Lindsey Sterling Krank, director of the Prairie Dog Coalition based in Boulder, Colo., said the program has only a 5 percent to 10 percent success rate–meaning the vast majority are dying.
It is death-by-relocation, if the process isn’t done properly and the site isn’t prepared in advance–resulting in a high mortality rate and an expensive failure. People can’t just catch prairie dogs, than release them in the middle of nowhere and expect it will all work out.
“I would say the Utah prairie dog is in real trouble,” she said. “As the most imperiled of all prairie dog species in the United States, it seems this committee’s time would be better spent improving their relocation methods rather than killing even more.”
Krank volunteered to help to improve the survival rate and suggested working together to improve the situation in southern Utah.
But if politics prevail, more prairie dogs will be killed, without a thought to their threatened status or their keystone place in the prairie ecosystem.
More information about Utah prairie dogs