Dog fight

County wants unlimited prairie dog hunts

A proposal to limit prairie dog hunting in Colorado is meeting stiff resistance from Moffat County officials.

Moffat County natural resources director Jeff Com--stock said shooting prairie dogs has little effect on their population.

"It's like you're taking a cup of water out of the ocean and thinking you're affecting the shoreline," Comstock said.

The real threat to prairie dog populations is plague, Comstock said.

The Colorado Division of Wildlife last month asked the Colorado Wildlife Commission to ban prairie dog hunting on public land from March 1 to May 31. The DOW proposal is aimed at protecting prairie dog mothers while they have dependent pups, DOW spokesman Randy Hampton said.

"If you hunt during that period and the females have dependent young, the dependent young often die, as well," Hampton said.

Under current law, hunters on the Western Slope can kill prairie dogs year-round with no limits.

Moffat County commissioners on Tuesday signed a letter to the Wildlife Commission saying they oppose limiting prairie dog hunting.

The Moffat County Land Use Board, a residents group that advises county commissioners on natural resource issues, also strongly opposes the DOW proposal, Comstock said.

In the letter to the Wildlife Commission, county commissioners said there is no reason to limit prairie dog hunting.

"There is no sound biological or political basis for considering these prolific carriers of plague as a game species. Allowing shooting helps keep prairie dog numbers in check and likely has benefits," the letter states.

Roy McAnally, a Craig resident and recent appointee to the Wildlife Commission, said he opposes putting restrictions on prairie dog hunting.

Moffat County Commissioner Darryl Steele said that as a rancher, it is particularly important to kill prairie dogs in the spring.

"(That) is when they do the most damage to your property," Steele said.

But environmentalists say killing prairie dogs during the spring has negative effects on the animals' population.

Erin Robertson, staff biologist with the Center for Native Ecosystems in Denver, said shooting prairie dogs can reduce colony populations by as much as 76 percent.

"Shooting prairie dogs doesn't just compensate for how many would be deceased in the wild," Robertson said. "But it has real impacts in their population dynamics."

Comstock said efforts to limit prairie dog hunting are a way for environmental groups to protect the black-footed ferret, which relies on prairie dogs for food and lives in prairie dog burrows.

The ferrets, which are endangered, were reintroduced in Moffat County in late 1990s with an agreement that the ferret population would not restrict other land uses.

That means hunting and oil and gas development can go on despite the presence of ferrets, Comstock said.

By limiting prairie dog hunting, environmentalists are trying to skirt the work of residents, including Comstock, who worked on the plan that allowed ferrets to be reintroduced, Comstock said.

"It's like slapping the local working group in the face, saying, 'Your research wasn't valid,'" Comstock said.

But Robertson said limiting prairie dog hunting has nothing to do with ferrets. The rules would apply statewide, not just to the small area in Northwest Colorado where ferrets have been reintroduced, she said.

The Center for Native Eco--systems has asked the DOW annually since 2002 to limit prairie dog hunting, Robertson said. But the request in front of the Wildlife Commission came from DOW, not her organization, she said.

Hampton said the Wildlife Commission will discuss prairie dog hunting at its meeting in July and could make a decision at its meeting in September.

Brandon Johansson can be reached at 824-7031, ext. 213, or bjohansson@craigdailypress.com.

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