U.S. Forest Service says N.D. plan to manage prairie dogs is workingThe U.S. Forest Service says its goal of increasing black-tailed prairie dog populations on federal grasslands in western North Dakota and its poisoning efforts to rid the rodents in areas that border private and state land are working.
By: By James MacPherson, The Associated Press, The Jamestown Sun
BISMARCK — The U.S. Forest Service says its goal of increasing black-tailed prairie dog populations on federal grasslands in western North Dakota and its poisoning efforts to rid the rodents in areas that border private and state land are working.
Dan Svingen, a Forest Service biologist in Bismarck, said oats laced with rodenticide have been scattered over nearly 2,400 acres of federal grasslands in North Dakota since 2006 and have killed an estimated 41,000 of the foot-long burrowing rodents.
“We’re only eliminating those that have been causing conflicts with neighboring landowners,” Svingen said.
Less than 1 percent of North Dakota’s more than 1 million acres of grasslands are currently infested with prairie dogs, Svingen said. The agency would like to see the animals occupy up to 2 percent of the federal grasslands, which could happen within the decade, he said.
The Forest Service considers prairie dogs an important species for predators, and their abandoned burrows provide nests for other animals, Svingen said.
North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring said prairie dogs are widely considered pests by farmers and ranchers because they compete with cattle for valuable forage and cause erosion which leads to introduction of invasive weeds. Livestock and horses also are susceptible to broken legs caused by walking through prairie dog towns honeycombed with holes, he said.
“Producers have a lot of concerns, and are against the federal government’s philosophy of trying to grow them,” Goehring said. “The Forest Service may be working hard to contain them within federal boundaries but they are still wreaking havoc.
“These little buggers proliferate like crazy, worse than mice,” Goehring said.
Black-tailed prairie dogs, which can live from southern Canada to northern Mexico, were denied protection under the Endangered Species Act in 2009 after federal officials concluded the once prevalent species was showing signs of rebounding.
Ranchers’ complaints and pressure from North Dakota’s congressional delegation prompted the Forest Service to begin its poisoning program five years ago for animals that could escape federal boundaries. Svingen said the program will likely continue indefinitely.
The Forest Service also allows hunters to kill as many of the animals as they want for sport, but those numbers are not recorded. Hunters don’t generally eat prairie dogs they kill.
The Forest Service poisons the rodents in October and November, after migrating birds pass through, Svingen said. It costs about $20 an acre to plant the poison, he said.
Similar programs also have been established in other states, he said.
In North Dakota, federal acreage occupied by prairie dogs has more than doubled since 1997, to about 9,500 acres at present, Svingen said. The animals’ population on federal land has grown from about 120,000 in 2005 to an estimated 162,000 today, despite the culling efforts, he said.
“A lot of people see this as a contradiction and a great example of stupidity of government — encouraging them over here and killing them over there,” Svingen said. “To me, it isn’t. If you have some wheat growing in a corn field, you want to kill the wheat. But if you have wheat growing in a wheat field, you want to encourage it.”