Thursday, March 1, 2012

Prairie Dog Executions--LB473

“What is life? It is the flash of a firefly in the night. It is the breath of a buffalo in the wintertime. It is the little shadow which runs across the grass and loses itself in the sunset.” Crowfoot, Blackfoot warrior, 1890

Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge, Oklahoma

Today the Nebraska state senate is, most likely, passing a bill--LB473--that will allow the government to go on to private land and poison prairie dogs, which are being classified as noxious weeds (don't ask, you know how government works). If pdogs on your land spread to adjacent land, then the government has the right to go poison your animals and then bill you later. Not only is private property being disregarded, but more importantly, so is the health of a keystone Great Plains species.

Prairie dogs once numbered 3-5 billion across the mixed and short grass prairies. One town in Texas was estimated to be 100 x 250 miles, or 16 million acres and 400 million pdogs. Meriwether Lewis called them barking squirrels.

Historic Range of all Prairie Dog Species

Since pdogs constantly clip plants and flowers in their towns in order to keep an eye out for predators, their towns were prime grazing land for bison, as fresh forage was always guaranteed. Prairie dogs also improve the soil, constantly turning it over, bringing up minerals for plants. In fact, prairie dog towns increase biodiversity and stabilization across a range of species--grasshoppers love the towns and feed birds, vacant holes provide nesting sites and shelter for all sorts of amphibians and owls and rodents and insects, and all that prey feeds endangered hawks and foxes and ferrets. My favorite childhood toad in Oklahoma, the Texas horned lizard, has seen its population fall over 50% in the last few decades as ant colonies, their primary food source, vanish. Ants love prairie dog towns.

Prairie dogs are what biologists call a keystone species, much like the bison were--that is, such a large number of other species depend on their existence that without them whole vast ranges of the ecosystem simply vanish. Gone. Gone. Gone.


If we poison prairie dogs, we poison the health of the land we depend upon, and we erode our very own culture. This is a tired argument no one listens to, though. Certainly not ranchers, whose major claims against pdogs is that they destroy the grazing land by eating forage and creating holes for cattle to fall into. I have yet to drive by a prairie dog town strewn with fallen cattle, crying out into the void, starving with their legs broken. If anything, cattle should be poisoned--they foul fresh water streams, erode those stream banks, and trample away grass and wildflowers. The amount of water, drugs, and fattening corn they demand in a beef culture severely taxes our environment in ways we can't even begin to address here. We've been duped.

All of this reminds me of the anecdote where a rancher caught a coyote he thought was preying on his sheep, tied a stick of dynamite to it, lit the stick, and let the coyote run off to explode. The coyote ran for cover under the rancher's new truck.

I'm so disgusted by our society and our culture, to the blindness of our governments established to protect us, to watch out for us, to correct the blindness of our greed and set a higher example, to hold us to our most basic moral and ethical beliefs even when we turn a blind eye to them. Pipe dreams that maybe never existed. Right now lobbyists for ranchers are cashing their checks, and life on this planet continues to be manipulated in ways that simply dwarf the genocide we commit on our own species (our oceans are near death being over harvested, soon we will grow chicken breasts in petri dishes). Yet there will be no books, no speeches, no monuments to the fallen prairie dogs, to the blowout penstemon of the sand hills, to the salt creek tiger beetle. What difference is there, in the end, to a pile of emaciated humans in a concentration camp and bodies of poisoned prairie dogs spelling out the word "US Biological Survey?"

1933
What we do to life "beneath" us we will do to ourselves, and often worse. It's an indicator. A warning. A keystone signal that we should go in for psychiatric evaluation.  

Here's a piece by Paul Johnsgard noting in what ways the prairie dog is morally superior to humans, and so should be placed on the state flag. It's tongue in cheek. Or is it. 

(Stats and figures taken from Prairie Dog Empire by Paul Johnsgard and Great Plains: America's Lingering Wild by Michael Forsberg)

19 comments:

Rohrerbot said...

This post makes me extremely sad. How irresponsible of Nebraska! How can that be legal? And what are the Environmental Groups doing to stop this? Nebraska, Oklahoma, an other sections around these sections are the last great home of some of the most pristine prairie lands in the world!! This is a tragedy if the idiots in charge pass this bill. I'm sorry you have to live in a careless environmental state.

Benjamin Vogt said...

Well, I live in beef country. And what to them beefers eat? Corn. I'm also in corn country. It's like being caught between the devil and the devil's devil.

scottweberpdx said...

How incredibly short-sighted.

Sarah Wooller said...

Thanks for posting this. It's so sad and so sadistic.

Benjamin Vogt said...

Scott and Sarah--maybe a miracle will happen. I'm already too much of a misanthrope to have hope, though.

Randy Emmitt said...

Benjamin,

I recall 10 years ago or longer reading about a Prairie dog town being destroyed just so the Pope could visit for a single day. Parking they needed parking, shameful I think. Hope this tend is found wrong and changed quickly.

Les said...

I could have gone all week without reading this and the link, but I am glad you posted it. God help any inconvenient entity, or idea, that gets in the way of the cattle industry.

Oh, and don't forget corn-fed cattle flatulence and methane.

mrbrownthumb said...

This is ridiculous. Thanks for blogging about it.

Donna@Gardens Eye View said...

I am disgusted once again by humans who would think they are so superior to kill other living things to extinction and call them weeds...we hunt majestic wolves because they might hurt us and kill livestock and now pdogs...why not squirrels, chipmunks and the like...kill them all...such short-sightedness....

Benjamin Vogt said...

Randy--Good god, seriously? The pope ought to read the bible, which is petty green if you read it correctly.
Les--Me too. Cow farts are a big deal. We should capture them and replace coal plants at least.
Ramon--Word up.
Donna--Nuke em all. Absolutely. Take ourselves with them, then in a million years it'll be ok again. Eh.

Mary Pellerito said...

Has there been enough backlash yet on this decision for the politicians to change their minds. I get so disgusted with people sometimes. It makes want to move to Nebraska, oh wait, ...

Benjamin Vogt said...

Mary--not that I can tell. Vote may come Monday. It's not just killing a native animal species and labeling them as noxious weeds, but the reestablishment of an anti pdog bill from the 1990s, and the fact that killing them is killing countless other animals and plants. But whatever. I'm in my handbasket.

Desert Dweller said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Desert Dweller said...

Terrible! But the core issue seems to be unbalanced land management policy, driven by small groups who only look at 1 issue over the whole, as in your cattle & corn.

But so is a farmer in NW Kansas who lost much farmland, under orders from a gov't entity to protect prairie dogs.

Where I live, some tiny prairie dog colonies were moved to areas along a major road's parkway / paved trail - no native or replanted vegetation is left, just bare ground. As those populations multiply on limited land, they are being relocated on many unused parcels of land beyond that original right-of-way. A few city-required, pre-development impact studies mention those manmade colonies but imply they are natural, which they are not. Yet, our city open space dept policy is to allow non-native invasive plants to overrun and take water from native plants.

So, it is even more confused. Small groups...

No balance, anymore. "What Was Here Before You 101" and "Land Ethics 101" must be taught at various ages, esp. to our politicians, by balanced instructors.

Benjamin Vogt said...

David--right on the money there boy oh boy. I think it's Lawton, OK that has a colony downtown or within the city limits. I wonder how they manage it. The only thing natural is proclivity to making everything else unnatural.

ProfessorRoush said...

Actually, Benjamin, wiping out the Prairie Dogs also wipes out the Black-footed Ferret, who hunt the rattlesnakes that live in prairie dog burrows. It's a ecosystem killer.

Benjamin Vogt said...

Dr. R--Yes, I thought I mentioned that. They are a keystone species, the nexus of so much. The bill will pass--we got a terse letter from a state senator saying when in final review bills always pass, and it's too late. Great.

Anonymous said...

This is too funny! All the hippie tree hugging morons are up in arms as usual, about something as stupid as this. I have to say though, I am not a fan of poisining them either...much more fun to nail them 300 yds out with my varmint guns!

Benjamin Vogt said...

Anon--if you don't respect the life of a prairie dog, in the end I wonder if you respect my life, your life, or anyone's life. And we're prairie dog huggers, not tree huggers. If anything, I'm probably a bluestem hugger. Next time, leave your name so we can get acquainted.