The C.A.S.H. Courier Newsletter
Summer-Fall 2012 Issue
Prairie Dog Hunting: The Unnecessary Cruelty
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
in most situations, prairie dogs needn't be a problem if care is taken
to treat them responsibly and humanely.
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
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Letter From the President
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