Tuesday, July 15, 2008


This article in today's New York Times discusses the plague that is affecting a population of black-footed ferrets in South Dakota. It delves into the history of ferret recovery and the efforts underway to prevent any more plague-related deaths in the colony.
But the fight is not only against the plague. While the federal Forest Service is part of the effort to protect ferrets, it has also, at the request of area ranchers, poisoned several thousands of acres of prairie dogs on the edge of the Conata Basin, a buffer strip of federal land adjacent to private grazing land. The buffer strip does not have ferrets, but it is good ferret habitat, experts say, and if they were to spread there it could help support the recovery.

But prairie dogs eat grass, and a large village can denude grazing land. The rodent, in fact, has long been detested in the West as a pest. [Emphasis ours]
Do you see how even in an article written to expose some of the imbalances of land use management they say "grazing lands?" It may strike you as semantics, but it is not. It belies the perspective that federal lands are to be purposed for a human use.
Open space = Rangeland
Wildflowers & native plants = Forage
Native wildlife = pest
The livestock industry has so pervasively shaped the culture of the west that they have even altered the vocabulary with which we describe it.

A decision by the Forest Service on whether to poison prairie dogs on land that has no ferrets, but is suitable habitat for them, is due out soon. A decision on whether to poison prairie dogs in ferret habitat is being delayed, said the under secretary of agriculture, Mark Rey, to see how the spread of the plague plays out.

But Mr. Rey said that to not deal with prairie dogs could hurt the program. “Prairie dogs are spreading off federal land to private land,” he said. “And our goal is to keep the black-footed ferret program with broad public support, and one way to do that is to make sure prairie dogs don’t spread onto private land.”
Right. Another way to do that would be to get a spine, Mark Rey. Don't back down on doing whatever it takes to recover black-footed ferrets, even if it means a few cowboys do some more kvetching about native animals recolonizing their native habitat.

When you look at it that way, it seems pretty simple, doesn't it?


be said...

native wildlife = "varmint" or "v'rmut"

begreen said...

is it true that prairie dogs proliferate w/ compacted soils ? in other words - might grazing livestock on public land exacerbate so-called prairie dog "problems" to adjacent private "pasture" ? hmmm...

i got no problem with prairie dogs but heard somewhere prairie dogs dig the compact soils...