After receiving some disturbing news today, I digress from my current blog series on Nature’s organizing principles to talk about an unusual subject — prairie dogs. Prairie dog ecology fits well within the overall theme of this blog site because prairie dogs are an important key species in the grassland environments of the central and western United States. Bowing to pressure from agricultural interests (the same old story), the US Forest Service (USFS) plans to poison some 16,000 Black Tailed Prairie Dogs within the public grasslands at Thunder Basin National Grasslands near Douglas, Wyoming.
In earlier writings, I had praised the USFS for prohibiting the killing of prairie dogs on public lands where they have jurisdiction. But, this seems to have changed. Killing will be allowed within public lands near the borders to private land. Somehow, the USFS seems to think that their “micro-management” will appease the agriculture people who fear that prairie dog burrows will result in broken legs of their livestock. Once again, the myth that man can control Nature is promoted by those to claim to be stewards of public lands.
Like the the wolf killings and the killing of cormorants , there is no scientific justification behind the killing of prairie dogs. The government’s killing spree results from the pressure of agricultural special interest groups without any study of or regard for the ecosystems in which these creatures live. The proposed action by the USFS demonstrates a total lack of understanding regarding Nature’s complex ecosystems. Modern systems science has now matured to a point where the USFS biologists and ecologists can use previously unfamiliar ideas to help make wise decisions. I can only presume that these very intelligent people have become overpowered by the loud and uninformed noises that come from the agriculture community.
Author Richard Conniff provides an excellent summary of the situation in his web article entitled Slaughter of the Innocents
There is an extensive and well written description of prairie dog ecology posted by The Canisius Ambassadors for Conservation program which is led by biologist Dr Michael Noonan. In part they describe how the prairie dog is connected to the prairie habitat:
“Prairie dogs are considered a “keystone species” for the prairies. This means that they are a species whose existence adds to a diversity of life. If this keystone species becomes extinct, it would mean the extinction of many other forms of life as well. Over 200 other species have been observed living on or near prairie dog colonies. These colonies contribute to the ecosystem by providing burrows for other animals such as burrowing owls, black-footed ferrets, and snakes; providing a food source for such species as badgers, black-footed ferrets, coyotes, and many birds of prey; and their burrowing churns the soil to enable the earth to better sustain plant life. Without prairie dogs present, many aspects of the prairie life would change or disappear.”
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My name is Bill Graham. As a Marine Biologist who has worked in the US and Mexico for 30 years, I am a student of Nature, a teacher, a researcher, and a nature photographer. Through my work, I have acquired an ever growing passion for how everything in Nature is connected. Today, I travel extensively contemplating about, writing about, and photographing Nature’s connections. I also work with conservation projects in the USA and Mexico and mentor talented youth.