Target: The US Forest Service
Goal: Implement nonlethal humane alternatives for managing prairie dog populations on the Great Plains.
World renowned anthropologist, primatologist, ethologist, and conservation activist Dr. Jane Goodall asserts that prairie dogs are ‘a critical component to a healthy North American grasslands.’ They play an important role in the ecosystem by providing food for predators, shelter for other burrowing animals, and their digging aerates the soil making it more fertile for seeds to germinate. Prairie dogs’ burrows help to channel water into underground aquifers, which reduces the effects of drought. Their selective foraging of grasses allows for greater plant diversity and the regeneration of young plants. Because of their contribution to the diversity of life on the Great Plains and the dependence that many other species have on them, prairie dogs are known in biology as a keystone species.
Unfortunately, the ecological benefits of prairie dogs have been ignored by the US Forest Service, a federal agency that works to manage the grasslands. The US Forest Service continues to poison prairie dogs because they are falsely perceived as in competition with livestock for grass and land owners who adhere to the myth that prairie dogs are destructive and overly populous do not want them on their property. Prairie dogs have been reduced to inhabiting one percent of their original habitat range. Their present-day colonies are isolated unlike the multi-colony systems that made the Great Plains such a diverse and productive grasslands before development and decimation. Poison is expensive and has many harmful environmental effects, such as unintentional secondary poisoning of wildlife and domestic pets.
The US Forest Service has adequate government resources and support of conservation groups such as the Prairie Dog Coalition to explore nonlethal alternatives to make private properties less inhabitable. One such solution is the creation of buffers between private properties. Buffers constructed by the Prairie Dog Coalition were made from tall grasses that prairie dogs typically avoid. Electric fencing kept livestock from consuming the tall grass. Barriers can be made of various other materials as well. Tolerance for predators such as raptorial birds can also set up a natural balance to reduce prairie dog colony size. Humane extraction and relocation rather than poisoning prairie dogs to death should be promoted by US federal agencies that wish to manage a healthy grasslands ecosystem.
By signing this petition, you can urge the US Forest Service to implement nonlethal humane management of prairie dog colonies on the Great Plains.
Dear the US Forest Service,
To be true to your mission statement to ‘provide the greatest amount of good for the greatest amount of people in the long run’ requires that you emphasize conservation in your management of the Great Plains’ grasslands ecosystem. The lethal extermination of prairie dogs will ultimately harm the grasslands because these creatures are keystone species that other plants and animals depend on for their existence. I urge you to implement nonlethal humane alternatives for managing the remaining prairie dog colonies in public and private lands.
Alternative ways to handle conflicts with prairie dogs include the creation of buffers from a variety of materials including plants that are too tall for prairie dogs to clip and see around, vinyl barrier fencing, trees, and the use of mesh cloth to cover plots of plants or trees. Modifying the habitat will make certain areas inhospitable for prairie dogs who prefer clear vegetation. In addition, tolerance of raptors also helps to naturally control colony sizes. Hawks, owls, and kestrels can be attracted by nesting boxes and artificial perches. Humane extraction and relocation should also be employed instead of resorting to poisoning colonies.
Concerns of prairie dog overpopulation are unwarranted since the species has been reduced to one percent of its original range and exists in isolated colonies. The birth rate of prairie dogs is relative low as they only produce one litter of three or four pups a year. The US Forest Service should educate the public in order to dispel misconceptions about prairie dog populations. By acknowledging the important role that prairie dogs fulfill in the grasslands ecosystem, the US Forest Service has the potential to encourage landowners to peacefully coexist with these animals.
[Your Name Here]
Photo credit: Paul Hudson via Flickr