After Ruling, Utah Removing Hundreds of Prairie Dogs

27 Sep 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

The U.S. town overrun with prairie dogs.

In upscale subdivisions and across rural pastures in southern Utah, they use peanut butter to help trap prairie dogs and move them away from residents who have been under siege for years. Van Woeart’s team is doing something that was relatively rare and complicated until last year, when a federal court judge removed endangered species protections for the Utah prairie dog. Activists say the ruling could also weaken protections for similar animals all over the country, and on Monday it will come before a federal appeals court in Denver. Considered key to the ecosystem, their numbers dropped precipitously as land was cleared to make way for farming, ranching and housing and they were listed as endangered in 1973. “They’re really cute little things, but they really cause so much damage,” said Sharon Peterson, a Cedar City resident whose backyard used to look like a sea of the little squirrel-like creatures.

Heading it up is Van Woeart, a petite New Jersey native with boundless energy and sign on her office wall that reads “Keep Calm and Love Prairie Dogs.” Most mornings, her technicians dressed in matching brown T-shirts bait wire rectangular traps with peanut butter in and around the rapidly growing city about 250 miles south of Salt Lake City. After they’re caught, the creatures are weighed, tagged and then loaded into the back of a pickup truck for an hour-long drive over hills covered with sage and yellow grasses. On a recent day, the brown-eyed animals nibble on bits of zucchini or sound their distinctive, clicking bark to their new neighbours on public land about 25 miles outside of Cedar City. The workers leave food and water and try to keep the highly social animals together to ease the transition, but many of them won’t survive in the new environment.

After a year, just 10 to 15 per cent of the creatures typically remain at the relocation sites, said Keith Day, a state wildlife biologist who oversees the prairie dog program. Though some leave, many die. “When you pick an animal up out of its natural setting and you move it to a new location … you can expect a fairly high mortality rate,” Day said. Still, he said that trapping an animal and moving it is better than the lethal methods that fed-up locals used to employ off-the-books while federal rules held sway. “People have been taking care of their own problems,” Day said. “If we can put a prairie dog out on federal land and get a colony out of it, that’s better than letting somebody shoot it.”

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