Poisoning Among Options for Prairie Dogs

The Associated Press
Wednesday, June 6, 2007; 7:35 PM

PIERRE, S.D. -- The U.S. Forest Service has issued a draft report with proposed plans to curtail prairie dogs on national grasslands through poisoning and other means.

Conservation groups condemned the list of five options in the proposed Environmental Impact Statement, arguing they could lead to the destruction of prairie dog colonies and threaten the recovery of black-footed ferrets that eat them.

Ranchers in the area want additional poisoning, contending the continued expansion of the prairie dog population has stripped adjoining public land of grass for their cattle.

The report does not offer a preferred course of action, but all five options include some level of prairie dog poisoning.

One option would continue current management practices, which allow poisoning on the boundary of national grasslands to prevent prairie dogs from leaving public land to invade adjacent private land.

The other options would allow increased poisoning in the interior portions of the grasslands, and two could lead to substantial reductions in the size of prairie dog colonies.

The draft plans cover national grasslands in northwest Nebraska and southwest South Dakota, but the Conata Basin just south of Badlands National Park has received the most attention.

The prairie dog population has grown substantially in that area during seven years of drought. It is the site of a successful effort to reintroduce the black-footed ferret, which depends on prairie dogs for food.

For the past two years, the Forest Service has allowed poisoning of prairie dogs on half-mile buffer zones next to private ranches, and the state has poisoned any prairie dogs that venture onto adjacent private land.

The Forest Service is now considering options that include some poisoning of prairie dogs in the interior of the Buffalo Gap National Grasslands. The agency will take public comments on the five management options until July 23.

"This is not wholesale poisoning," said Don Bright, Forest Service supervisor in Chadron, Neb. "This is a range of alternatives."

© 2007 The Associated Press