Letter to the Editor

No easy answer on prairie dogs

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Dear Editor,

I am trying to respond in a more practical manor, as someone who has lived with prairie dogs for over 20 years now. I have gone from going from the perspective of Ray Haag, to that of Dr. Clements to back in the middle some place. Some of the suggestions in both the article and reply simple won't work. I try to offer some more practical solution to the problem.

"It is quite obvious that Dr. Clements has not competed with the "cute" little dogs for her livelihood nor had a horse or cow break a leg by stepping in a prairie dog hole. Yes, prairie dogs do support other life forms, including Rattlesnakes, which he forget to mention. They also make possible a popular sport -- target shooting."


I apologize but I had to take down our picture gallery. In this gallery there were hundreds of images of what prairie dogs support. Being in Central Nebraska we are just east of the rattle snake territory plus we have many bull snakes which keep the rattle snakes out. So far there has been no documented cases where a cow or horse actually stepped in a hole. this was the results of a study done in the '70s.

If there has been one now, a licensed veterinarians needs to contact the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission with this information. Generally prairie dogs holes have a mound around them and are very obvious on the other hand a rabbit hole will not and most of the time be hidden in grass. As far as target shooting I am really getting tiered of road hunters shooting towards my house.

"Not a competitor to livestock? They eat the same grass a cow would eat, but they eat it closer to the ground. Yes, they prefer overgrazed or even normally grazed areas over pristine prairie. But, if the vegetation isn't short enough to their standards, they will soon get it the way they like it -- almost barren so they can better observe their surrounds for that wily coyote or the soaring hawk."


Actual studies done at the University of Oklahoma and other universities have proven, that there is some over lap of what they eat. But there are many plant species prairie dogs do preferred that cattle don't or cattle can't eat many native plant species because they are poisonous to cattle.

The study done at the University of Oklahoma show that for a yearling, they may actually be 1 to 2 pound less in weight when grazing in a prairie dog town vs a normally pasture. This is with absolutely no pen feeding or supplemental only what is in the pasture.

When the closely cropped grass is studied it was found that there is much higher nutritional value in the closely cropped grass then grass that is over one foot tall. So the cattle made up for the weight gain and did not need to eat as much.

"If unchecked, the prairie dogs will continuously expand the perimeter of their colony until they have consumed the whole area."


Yes, this is true, it has been documented how a Prairie Dog town expands the events that caused it to expand. Any prairie dog town must be managed and that is not always cheap. So, for those that say it must be done you really need to find the money for this extra management for those that don't have it.

"As to relocation, I think that would be an excellent idea, if the mechanics could be worked out (don't think salt on the tail method would work real well). They could be transported to the good doctor's lawn, or maybe even to a few city parks in her area so she and her neighbors could observe the "cute" little fellows."


Unfortunately it is illegal to capture prairie dogs in the State of Nebraska unless you have a permit from the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission. You must have a license for scientific research or to rehabilitate wild life. So in the State of Nebraska it would be illegal to do this.

We actual do have them all around the house. But we still have to occasionally mow the grass close to the house in May and June.

"From personal experience, I can state that poisoning is an effective control method if used diligently in conjunction with filling the holes. Destroying the holes does deter them from setting up housekeeping again."

Unfortunately if any of these poisoned prairie dogs are eaten by any predators, the predators will die also. This can create a very big problem, bald eagle, golden eagles, faringus hawks, turkey vultures to name a few, will eat these poisoned prairie dogs. These are protected by the Migratory Bird Act which has large fines and jail time as penalties.

"As for the barrier method ... well, the barrier needed to keep out the illegal aliens would pale in comparison to what it would take to keep those critters from going under, over or around."

Barriers don't work well. A prairie dog can burrow down to the vadous barrier, (just above the water table) and go under the barrier. They have been documented to climb 12 foot chain link fences.

Tall grass barriers sort of work but rabbits and other critters make paths through it that the prairie dogs follow. One item that does kind of work is vibrations in the ground, although I have never seen this explored for prairie dogs. They have been also been known to travel 5 to 6 miles a day or more to find new grass. Fields of hay and wheat just don't get along with prairie dogs.

"The doctor was correct in stating that the Prairie Dogs have become 'despised varmints.' Those who have to compete with them for a livelihood on this earth, put the dogs in about the same plane as "Norway Rats."


Mostly because we have always been told by the Extension Agents, State Government, and the Federal Government for a long time, they are bad and useless. Now that they are put on the candidate for the endangered species list, and (then) off again at a moment's notice. The extension agent are caught between a rock and a hard place. Very few people have actually study how to get along with the prairie dogs or developed practical methods of doing so. Not every one who competes with them in the Great Plains wants to get ride of them, but it's a definite minority.

If we get rid of all the prairie dogs, the government will require land owner to keep them around, because of the Endangered Species Act is written to require it. None of use really like the government to tells what we have to do.

Tom O'Neill,

via e-mail

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