Things such as towers don't have to be above ground for folks to get
upset. Be sure and read the fifth paragraph. This is repostred and
quoted from the NY Times' Sunday edition purely for any possibly derived
scholarly research purposes, whatever that may be.--Tom, WW5L
December 11, 2006
"In Kansas, a Line Is Drawn Around a Prairie Dog Town
By FELICITY BARRINGER
RUSSELL SPRINGS, Kan., Dec. 6 — On Wednesday, the prairie dog poisoners
Their absence, in a landscape whose contours are etched by absence — not
many trees, not many hills, not many people — would have been
unremarkable had it not been for the general expectation that the day
would bring a climactic confrontation over the fate of the largest
prairie dog colony in Kansas.
The Logan County commissioners want the prairie dogs dead. But two
ranchers, Larry Haverfield and Gordon Barnhardt, and their allies in two
environmental groups want the 5,500-acre colony on their property to
flourish, for the good of the land and for the eventual delectation of
black-footed ferrets. The ferrets, an endangered mammal, thrive on a
diet of prairie dogs.
The ranchers’ defense of prairie dogs prompted bewilderment then anger
in this county of about 3,100 people. Here in this red corner of a red
state, where the sanctity of property rights is seldom questioned and
the sanity of the government is questioned all the time, the prairie dog
debate has turned everything upside down.
Some people are demanding enforcement of a century-old state law
allowing the county to send exterminators onto the Haverfield and
Barnhardt ranches — against the owners’ wishes but at their expense — to
protect local property values.
This confrontation is one of several in recent years across the West
that pit property owners trying to restore wildlife against local
governments who see the actions as a threat to local economic interests.
It also reflects the persistent belief in the Great Plains that the
prairie dog is not a valued remnant of the short-grass prairie of the
past, but a despised pest that eats grass needed to fatten cattle.
Alan Pollom, the director of the Kansas chapter of the Nature
Conservancy, called the question of conserving prairie dogs “one of the
more vexing problems you can possibly come up with in the arena of
wildlife management” because property lines tend to be incompatible with
the prairie dogs’ age-old practice of digging new holes and expanding
their tunneled colonies across the landscape.
The anger at the large prairie dog town was sharpened when the federal
Fish and Wildlife Service began to consider a proposal by the two
ranchers to reintroduce the black-footed ferret on their lands. It is
widely believed here that having an endangered species anywhere near
one’s land means nothing but trouble.
Mr. Haverfield, who is 70, and his wife, Betty, 71, are perfectly
content to have neighbors and friends shoot some of the thousands of
prairie dogs for sport. They just do not want them poisoned en masse.
Neither does Mr. Barnhardt, who lives a few counties away and whose land
Mr. Haverfield keeps an eye on.
The Haverfield way of ranching — rotation grazing, a rarity in this
region — is designed to mimic the patterns of bison grazing. By moving
the cows from pasture to pasture quickly, he said, he can accommodate
both cattle and rodent, improve the soil and the grass and promote the
return of those species drawn either to prairie dogs’ abandoned holes
(such as burrowing owls and badgers) or to their flesh (foxes,
rattlesnakes, hawks and eagles).
In recent years, as the prairie dog town expanded, “We’re seeing some
species that we’ve never seen before,” Mr. Haverfield said, as his 1979
Ford pickup lumbered over some thoroughly munched grass and beneath a
high-soaring golden eagle. “Other animals are affected,” he added. “The
swift fox eats prairie dogs. So do the ferruginous hawks. And coyotes.”
A few miles north, Byron Sowers, a neighbor of Mr. Haverfield’s, was
busy with the wintertime weaning of this year’s calves. Mr. Sowers’s
voice has been among the loudest of those demanding that the county do
something about the prairie dogs, which he says are exporting their
young to his land.
“It’s devaluing my property,” Mr. Sowers said, raising his voice to be
heard over the complaining calves.
He does not necessarily share the other widespread — and,
environmentalists say, unproven — belief that cattle break their legs in
prairie dog holes. But because the rodents compete for grass, renting
out grassland with prairie dogs brings in less money, the county
appraiser confirmed. In general, Mr. Sowers feels about ranching near a
prairie dog town the way urban parents feel about living near a halfway
Mr. Sowers argues that his 900-acre property bordering Mr. Haverfield’s
had only 10 acres of prairie dog town when he bought it. Now, he said,
despite annual poisonings costing $2,500 or more, the colony covers 500
He blames Mr. Haverfield’s rodents. He may well be right; the tendency
of prairie dogs to seek new territory is well-established — although so
is the tendency of the remnants of a poisoned colony to multiply
quickly, especially during droughts like the current one.
Jonathan Proctor, a prairie dog specialist with Defenders of Wildlife,
an environmental group, is fond of asking why this native of the Great
Plains, which once numbered in the billions, cannot be allowed a few
“Maybe it is possible,” Mr. Sowers said. “But we don’t want it around us.”
Mr. Sowers’s position reflects the common wisdom of 100 years of
settlement in the dry western plains. An essay by Steve C. Forrest and
James C. Luchsinger in the book “Conservation of the Black-Tailed
Prairie Dog” (Island Press, 2006) describes how federal biologists in
the early 20th century fattened their budgets by joining the farmers and
cattlemen in a huge prairie dog eradication campaign.
That campaign lasted more than half a century and killed billions of
prairie dogs. In 1901, Kansas passed a law giving county governments the
right to send poisoners onto private land, at the owner’s expense, if
neighbors complained. That law is at the root of the current stalemate.
More than a year ago, Mr. Sowers and other neighbors of Mr. Haverfield’s
began complaining that the prairie dogs were out of control.
At about the same time, Ron Klataske, the executive director of Audubon
of Kansas, suggested the Haverfields offer their land to federal
officials as a site for black-footed ferrets. Ten other
ferret-reintroduction projects are centered on federal or native lands.
That news inflamed an already tense situation. The Endangered Species
Act’s prohibitions against intentionally harming an endangered animal
conjured up fears that a dead ferret found on someone’s property could
be turned into a federal case, literally. “Things happen to animals,”
Mr. Sowers said. “Would I have to prove that I didn’t kill it?”
Mike LaValley, supervisor of the federal Fish and Wildlife Service’s
Kansas office, said that Mr. Sowers’s fear was unfounded.
In February, Mr. Sowers threatened to sue the Logan County Commission if
it did not enforce the 1901 law. Mr. Haverfield suggested a compromise,
a 90-foot buffer zone of poisoned land, with an electric fence. The
commissioners rejected it.
Shortly before Thanksgiving, Mr. Haverfield said he had seen a man
applying Rozol, a poison in pellet form, around prairie dog holes on Mr.
Barnhardt’s land. Mr. Haverfield said he had run him off.
In a defensive maneuver, the two ranchers decided to put their cattle
around the prairie dog town. It is a violation of federal rules to apply
Rozol near cattle.
The county commissioners shot back a letter to the ranchers saying that
if the cattle were not gone by Dec. 6, a new round of poisoning would
begin, with an expensive gas that is considered safe near cattle. “What
else can you do?” said Nick Scott, a commissioner. “This is something we
have to control.”
On Tuesday, the day before the deadline, Mr. Haverfield’s lawyer sent
the commission a letter threatening legal action. All Wednesday, the
Haverfields and Mr. Barnhardt’s daughter and son-in-law, three neighbors
and two environmentalists kept watch. No poisoners came.
They later learned why: the county commissioners were waiting to hear
from their insurers’ lawyers. “We won’t do anything unless our lawyers
tell us we can,” Mr. Scott said.
Mr. LaValley of the Fish and Wildlife Service called the uproar
As for the ferret-reintroduction proposal, he said, “All I can tell you
is things are not looking good.”
Mr. Scott said this had been the most divisive issue in Logan County
since the county seat was moved to Oakley from Russell Springs half a
But Mr. Haverfield said his relationships with his neighbors had been
affected very little. “I’m kind of a loner,” he said. “This hasn’t
changed anything that much.”
Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company
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