Saturday, March 15, 2008
Steve H. has been writing about his growing collection of guns, and what to do with them. He decided that prairie dogs were too cute to hunt.
They are cute, I'll give him that. This, more than anything, is the reason so many environmentalists are trying to "defend" the black tailed rodents. If they were ugly, mean little bastards with no redeeming characteristics, they wouldn't have the defenders in their corner.
The traditional arguments against them are mostly based on their destruction of their habitat. Ranchers claim the holes cause broken legs in livestock. The environmentalists claim this is all anecdotal. Personally, I've never seen it happen, but I sure could see a galloping horse or a spooked herd of cattle end up with broken legs from stepping in a hole. Generally, the prairie dogs have their holes in the middle of a mound of excavated dirt. However, they also have holes that are more hidden, without the mound. I've stumbled into those - and I was watching where I walked. Another argument that I support is that they destroy the natural cover and ruin cropland. Colonies usually are stripped pretty bare, which opens the ground for water and wind erosion. They also destroy crops - many bare acres taken out of production (but still are subject to property taxes - heh) do not endear the little rats to farmers. They are also a vector for diseases, such as plague, tularemia, Lyme disease, erlichia and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. Rattlesnakes also live in the holes, preying on the 'dogs.
It should be no surprise that I just don't care for rattlesnakes. I used to have permission to hunt in a pasture that was infested, and my buddy The Young Doctor and I discovered a mating pair. We killed them, and removed our hearing protection - we hadn't heard any rattling. It seems good hearing protection masks the sounds of a buzzing rattler, because not only did we hear the dying rattles of the two we shot, but we hear another one close by. It was in a 'dog hole. We shot it, too. It was protecting a nest of baby snakes, which we also shot up. I don't care how this sounds - I'll go out of my way to kill a rattler. Don't waste time telling me I just need to understand them, or realize their position in the food chain, or whatever. Bullsnakes fulfill the same function, and they aren't poisonous. The old man who owned the ground decided he didn't want anyone else hunting his pasture. He's saving it for hunting with his grandchildren. Dog towns that have been hunted become more difficult to hunt, because for all their faults, they realize what sort of range a lot of rifles have, and hide when we appear. Most of the time I have to make shots over a hundred yards. He liked hunting with his .22, which doesn't have the range necessary for shooting at the 'dogs when they are used to hunters.
There has been controversy about whether or not prairie dogs should be considered a threatened species in Kansas. This issue doesn't exactly resonate well with landowners - who amazingly enough, don't care for outsiders telling them they cannot control a pest problem on their own ground. Most of the enviros arguments consist of dismissing landowner's arguments as specious - such as the broken legs on livestock, or that the little devils aren't that destructive. Wide eyed idealism just doesn't cut it for me. Several years ago, the city of Hutchinson, KS had a prairie dog problem where they wanted to use some ground for a couple ballparks. They decided to poison, but the public outcry made them reconsider. Some rescue types volunteered to relocate the 'dogs. The rescuers ran the critters out of their holes with soapy water, captured them, and relocated to Quivera National Wildlife refuge, where most of them were promptly eaten by predators. I still get the warm fuzzies when I think of this incident.
I really don't get many opportunities to hunt these creatures, because in this area, they are generally controlled by poisoning. The towns that do exist are generally on ground owned by people considered nuts by the rest of the population. The rest of us get rid of them as quickly as possible. I used to have a neighbor across the "valley" from me who had almost a half section of infested ground. He passed away, and the people who have the ground now seem to want it to produce, so the 'dogs are being poisoned. When I used to hunt the ground, he had it set up in adjoining strips of summer fallow and planted wheat ground. I could be almost a half mile in on one of his plots before I realized I was driving on planted ground. The rest of the wheat crop was utterly destroyed. Instead of wheat or grass growing, there would be plenty of fireweeds, if that. No grass or any sort of ground cover. Fireweeds are our term for several varieties of plants, mostly what y'all would call tumbleweeds when they are dead and uprooted in the fall winds.
They really might be cute, seemingly hugging and exhibiting highly developed social structures. However, recent studies have shown what goes on underground isn't exactly Walt Disney material. Given that prairie dogs spend more than half their lives underground, it is perhaps
not surprising that one researcher studied them for seven years before making a remarkable discovery: prairie dogs, cute as they may be, are stone-cold killers. Mother prairie dogs regularly practice infanticide and cannibalism in the privacy of their burrows. And contrary to many other species, they are not killing nonrelatives in hopes of ensuring the survival of those closest to them genetically, but are killing and consuming very close relatives: nieces, nephews and siblings. They are rodents, after all - what do we expect?
There are several methods of poisoning - which is the only effective way to eliminate them. Shooting them just thins them down a bit, and within a month or so, they're back. The best way (I've found, anyways) is to poison the hole in some fashion, and cover the hole. The usual method is a smoke bomb - the gas released is poison - and cover the hole. Any other holes that show smoke are then covered. Phostoxin pellets are also used - toss a few down a hole and cover it up. The pellets are highly toxic and best handled with rubber gloves, plus they are expensive. I prefer the smoke bombs. Some put out strychnine laced grain, but that wipes out any other animals that happen along and eat the grain. Dad and I dealt with an infestation in our pasture when I was still in high school. We'd wait until after a rain, so we could see any recent activity at the mounds. If the 'dogs had cleaned out a hole, we knew it was active and poisoning it would be effective. As I recall, I was in college when Dad finally eliminated the town. It was a several year process.
Even the game wardens I've talked to over the years are in favor of keeping control over the towns. Most of them are very ardent wildlife protectionists - they enforce the game laws with a passion. The wardens just can't generate much passion regarding protecting prairie dogs. They've seen the damage done, and they're sympathies lie with the landowners.
As far as I'm concerned, cuteness isn't a valid reason for allowing a pest to destroy my ground. Mice are cute, too, but I'm not going to let them ruin my house.
Posted by Jeffro at 10:23 PM