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Black-tailed prairie dog: friend or foe?

F. E. Warren AFB, Wyo. -- In the Aug. 3 issue of the Warren Sentinel, I was quoted that I like to hunt as a favorite summertime activity. To clear any misconceptions that I might hunt out of season, I feel compelled to explain.

Within the Great Plains and Rocky Mountains live small critters that have brought about much debate between government, ranchers, sportsmen, conservationists and animal rights groups. Commonly known as the black-tailed prairie dog, is the Cynomys ludovicianus our friend or foe?

Whether you depend on the land for your livelihood, hold a personal conviction of animal life or conservation beliefs, you stand on one side or the other on the issue. Besides those who enjoyed them as pets before the Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention put a pet ban on the prairie dog in 2003, wildlife biologists and conservationists study them out of concern about the decline of the species. There are some, however, who don't have such a favorable view toward the prairie dog.

As my uncle in Nebraska can testify, the prairie dogs now invading his land can be quite destructive to pastures, meadows and fields. When it comes to a farmer or rancher's livelihood, prairie dogs, unfortunately, have to be dealt with. If legal in their respective state, the options usually are poison bait, shooting them or relocation. The latter being the most humane but extremely costly.

Relocation is accomplished with live traps or a modified vacuum truck that sucks prairie dogs out of their burrows and into a padded chamber. Poison bait can hurt other wildlife, and in some areas you must be a licensed exterminator to use it. Even varmint hunting, which is legal in Wyoming and considered inhumane by some, is sometimes the only option to control the expansion of prairie dogs. Except for relocation, these methods can be hard to fathom for some.

Even though the prairie dog issue is a divisive one in the West, there are opportunities to pursue for those who sit on either side of the fence. Consider taking a weekend adventure armed with your camera to Devil's Tower in northeast Wyoming or Wind Cave in South Dakota. There, you will observe protected prairie dogs in their natural habitat. If you are a varmint hunter or want to try your hand at it, contact your local game and fish department, get permission to hunt if on private land, bring a wingman and always practice firearm safety.

And just to ease any concerns among my peers, I will not serve prairie poodle pâté hors d'oeuvres to unsuspecting guests at the next Top 3 meeting.