The C.A.S.H. Courier Newsletter

Summer-Fall 2012 Issue
Prairie Dog Hunting: The Unnecessary Cruelty

CASH prairie dog

We've all heard the excuses hunters use for killing deer: they cause car accidents, spread Lyme disease, eat everything in sight, they are starving to death, they are made of meat, we're at the top of the food chain, etc. Each excuse is rooted firmly in lies, misinformation and false beliefs, but that does not stop hunters and their lackeys who work for state and federal hunting agencies from repeating ad nauseam. Hunters indeed talk about deer an awful lot, but they don't talk nearly as much about "small game" animals like squirrels, woodchucks or prairie dogs, though they are killed in the millions.

Most people have never seen a prairie dog, as they live throughout the American West on prairies (imagine that!) and open grassland where few people live. Yet, this does not stop hunters from killing them for target practice or for pure fun.

What kind of animal is a prairie dog? Prairie dogs are mammals and members of the squirrel family, and are herbivores with a natural lifespan of three to four years. They weigh between two and four lbs. and measure from fifteen to nineteen inches from the top of their heads to the tip of their tails. They live underground and create an extensive system of tunnels and chambers, the construction of which leaves mounds of soil above ground. They are very social animals and their underground habitat sports separate areas that are used as nurseries, sleeping areas, and even toilets. They help other wildlife such as snakes, burrowing owls, and the rare black-footed ferret - all of which use their warrens as homes. Groups of black-tailed prairie dogs live in communities that we call "towns." According to National Geographic, the largest town discovered covered 25,000 square miles and was home to perhaps four hundred million prairie dogs.

CASH prairie dog

Hunters kill prairie dogs - a lot of them. These little animals are the victims of blood lust and are killed in horrific ways. They are despised by hunters and cattle ranchers and are exterminated without a thought to their importance to the ecosystem. It is estimated that hunters have killed about 98 percent of all prairie dog species, and that before this they were the most populous mammal species in North America.

While shooting prairie dogs is a source of entertainment for hunters, they have to use other excuses to make it seem like killing the helpless animals is a public service. One hunting website uses these excuses:

1. Hunting decreases the threat of plague (despite the fact that plague is transmitted through flea bites, and that only about 7 cases of plague are discovered in the U.S. each year, and those infections are easily treated with commonly available antibiotics, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).

2. Hunting provides needed population control (despite being a prey species for coyotes, eagles, bobcats, badgers and other predators who will naturally keep their populations in check).

3. Hunting generates revenue for businesses and the state through the sale of ammo and hunting licenses (at least they are being honest for a change).

Here in New Mexico, prairie dogs are considered "unprotected," meaning that hunters can lawfully kill as many of them as they want anytime during the year without a hunting license (what was that about hunting seasons being scientifically managed?). If hunting on a state wildlife management area, hunters are restricted to using non-toxic ammo, but on private property they can blast as much lead into the environment as their budget will allow.

Hunting guides make big money sending hunters to areas where prairie dog towns are known to exist, and guides can charge $350 or more per day per hunter for a hunting trip.

In South Dakota prairie dog hunting is legendary. One website says that "prairie dogs offer sportsmen countless hours of entertainment" and their guides set hunters out 500 yards (more than ¼ mile) or more past prairie dog burrows "for a real long range challenge." Hunters do this because they believe it hones their skills for shooting an elk or buck at 400 yards - a distance that many hunters will tell you is unethical because of the high risk of injury to the hunted animal. But prairie dog hunters turned deer hunters don't care about injuring an animal if that's what happens when they take shots from more than ¼ mile away (what was that about fair chase?). If prairie dogs remain hidden due to inclement weather, the guides will not let you go home empty handed, and they will be kind enough to allow you to shoot coyotes at dawn and dusk. Like prairie dogs, coyotes are unprotected and anyone can kill them any time.

CASH prairie dog

One hunter, talking about his favorite ammunition to use against prairie dogs had this to say: "my all time favorite is the 243/backed up with a 70 grain Nosler BT. This caliber will do 3,600 feet per second with a 70 gr and with the energy it has at 500, it's "smoking" when it plows the prairie dogs. Below is a picture of a dog shot at 500 and needless to say, he flipped several times for the side show!" What was that about hunters having respect for wildlife?

One prairie dog hunter in Texas brags that he has "several thousand personal kills… on prairie dogs as well as other small game including cottontail rabbit as well as Jackrabbits" and that during his "best" night of hunting he killed 385 jackrabbits in 12 hours. He also killed a prairie dog from 1,044 yards - more than ½ mile away (a half-mile is 880 yards). He'll teach you how to do this at the rock-bottom rate of $300.00 per person for a half-day hunt. And all this time hunters have been telling us that they need to hunt to put food on the table. It seems to me that most of them have plenty of money for food.

Hunters are not the only problem faced by prairie dogs. They are also exterminated en masse by the USDA's Wildlife Services - the animal extermination branch of the agency that works to support the ranching industries in their efforts against wildlife. Wildlife Services uses rodenticides to poison prairie dogs, and fires canisters of carbon monoxide gas into prairie dog dens to suffocate them to death.

Toxic bait such as zinc phosphide is used to poison prairie dogs. While not a danger to livestock when used carefully, it causes a horrific death in prairie dogs and other small rodents. Zinc phosphide poisoning causes shock, vomiting, diarrhea, cyanosis (a condition that prevents blood from carrying enough oxygen), and an increase of fluid in the lungs.

Another poison that is used is the chemical Acrolein. Acrolein causes lacrimation (tearing of the eyes) and respiratory failure and is used against squirrels as well as prairie dogs.

Prairie dog killing has also brought out the entrepreneur in some people. A device advertized on TV attaches to the tailpipe of your can and is inserted into prairie dog burrows to kill the animals with engine exhaust. The inventor of this device says that their product does not care about "what type of critter you need to get rid of" since the toxic exhaust will kill all animals who inhale it.

But perhaps the cruelest method of killing prairie dogs is how exterminators literally blow up the dens. An oxygen/propane mix is injected into prairie dog burrows and then ignited. This produces an expanding force that can travel up to 5,000 feet per second, with the concussion from the explosion flattening tunnels and killing up to 90% of all the animals inside the dens. The remaining animals are suffocated when the earth collapses around them, or they are shot as they attempt to dig exit holes.

Killing prairie dogs is unnecessary since properly managing range land will solve or prevent problems from occurring. If land is not over farmed or over grazed, prairie dogs are less likely to become a problem. Prairie dogs prefer low grass with minimal obstruction so they can more easily detect danger, so keeping native grasses high will keep prairie dog numbers low. Switchgrass can be planted to establish a safe and natural prairie dog barrier. Small areas can be protected from burrowing prairie dogs by burying mesh wire fencing two feet deep and allowing it to protrude 3 feet above ground.

Trapping and relocating prairie dogs is effective and humane, with an injury rate of about 5% and a survival rate for relocated animals up to 95% in the best situations. Live traps need to be checked regularly to insure that trapped animals are treated humanely and are not exposed to the elements for an unreasonable amount of time. A modified street sweeper vacuum has been used to suck prairie dogs out of their burrows, and this method has been used as a nonlethal approach when relocating prairie dogs.

As in most situations, prairie dogs needn't be a problem if care is taken to treat them responsibly and humanely.

CASH prairie dog

Do you want to help them? ... Here's what you can do

If you live in the west and have a large tract of land, offer your property as a possible prairie dog relocation spot. The animals are constantly in need of places for relocation when their towns are threatened by hunting, development or human intolerance. C.A.S.H. will connect you with those who are working directly on hands-on prairie dog rescue efforts.

Learn more about prairie dogs. Research their biology, their habitat, their habits and their lives. Put together a presentation and use your public library or other community space to garner support for ending this brutality. C.A.S.H. can help you get organized.

Work towards creating a wildlife watching economy to replace hunting. Go prairie dog watching!

Start a chapter of the League of Humane Voters to vote in the politicians who will work for wildlife protection, and win protective laws so that what is happening becomes a nightmare of the past.

Visit League of Humane Voters at http://www.LOHV.org

Go on to Letter From the President
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