Craig A petition to ban the shooting of live animals as targets, specifically prairie dogs, goes beyond its intent, Moffat County Commissioner Tom Gray said.
The 19-page petition - which is a legal argument, not a list of signatures - holds that common practices of killing prairie dogs does not meet the legal or moral definition of hunting.
It was contracted by Wild Earth Guardians, a national conservation group, and submitted to the Colorado Wildlife Commission, which oversees the Division of Wildlife.
The Wildlife Commission will hear public testimony on the issue at its meeting at 10 a.m. today, at its Denver offices at 6060 Broadway.
Moffat County Commissioner Tom Mathers plans to attend the meeting and speak against the petition.
A Wild Earth Guardians representative did not return calls by press time.
"To define prairie dog shooting as hunting degrades all other types of hunting and hunters," the petition reads.
Throughout its pages, the petition argues prairie dog shooting is done primarily for target practice and amusement, and it includes pictures from Web sites devoted to prairie dog shooting that depict images of successfully hunted prairie dogs and recommends what ammunition types achieve the most disintegration.
The petition, however, does not address private property rights or how landowners should handle pest control on their land, Gray said. Although the petition states it wants to abolish animal cruelty, a comprehensive ban would prevent landowners from protecting themselves from damages.
"It's an emotional, populist plea by people who want to try and get the majority to overrule the rights of the individual," Gray said. "The ability of a landowner to decide what is a problem on their land and be able to deal with that problem is something I'd like to maintain."
As a rancher, Gray has his own experience with prairie dogs.
"They dig holes, keep spreading, eat all the vegetation down to nothing," he said. "There's problems in hay fields and problems in crop fields."
The holes can be dangerous to livestock and horses, which can break legs by falling into them, and damage equipment, such as tractors, which can bottom out, said Mathers, who also has a ranching operation within the county.
The petition maintains prairie dog towns benefit many animals, including livestock, by citing studies that show livestock do not suffer higher death rates when around prairie dogs and in some cases prefer to graze around their habitats.
As well, the petition states, prairie dogs comprise a cornerstone in local ecosystems, providing food for predators.
Because it is common practice to leave dead prairie dogs where they've landed, the petition states, the lead left in the bodies poisons animals coming to eat, from coyotes to hawks.
Dean Gent, a longtime area resident, former sheep rancher and now a licenses outfitter, said he sees the petition as one of many steps to restrict hunting nationwide. He cited the petition's language, "to ban shooting of live animals as targets."
"Everybody that hunts with a weapon shoots at a live animal," Gent said. "That to me tells the story of what they're trying to do."
Prairie dogs multiply so much they can take over any land they breed on and make it useless for farming or ranching, Gent said. Because of that, any law prohibiting a landowner from eliminating prairie dogs amounts to the government seizing that property, he added.
In essence, Gray and Gent said, the Wild Earth Guardians' petition addresses prairie dogs from an outsider's perspective and does not treat landowners fairly.
"They're destructive as all get out on anything you try to farm," Gent said. "Most operators consider them vermin and the modern wildlife lover considers them pets."
Collin Smith can be reached at 875-1794 or firstname.lastname@example.org