We are such creatures of habit. We can create such structure in our lives without even knowing how we got there. Think about it. When was the last time you deviated from your established route to work? Or better yet, when was the last time you were going somewhere other than work but on your work route and all of a sudden you found yourself unwittingly going to work versus your actual destination? We’ve all done it. Most often when that happens to me I’ll say something to myself like, “if I had a brain, I could be dangerous.”
So, the other day I was on my usual route to the grocery store. After I passed one of the landmarks it suddenly occurred to me that something had changed. The landmark was a vacant field where prairie dogs had established a colony. That colony has existed since I moved here ten years ago. It is right off of a busy intersection and has been thriving for quite some time.
In recent months a for sale sign had been put up on the property. I remember thinking at the time that I could not imagine who would actually buy a piece of property with an active prairie dog colony on it. The expense of mitigation added to the expense of the property itself would be enormous. But then again, maybe not. As I drove passed the property the other day it dawned on me that something was very different. Then I noticed that the field had been completely plowed over. The day before active burrows, today only tilled soil. And all of sudden I started to feel sick to my stomach.
People who know me know that I love animals, animals of all kinds. And people who know me also know of the challenges I faced related to prairie dog mitigation when I worked for local government. Prairie dogs are a source of heated public debate in this neck of the woods. They are considered a cornerstone species, a link to attracting the fabulous raptors you see here and also a key ingredient in land management. Before man inhabited this area, prairie dogs were nature’s own rototiller. They would build their burrows (and if you have ever tried to plant anything here without some type of soil amendment you would quickly find out that the high concentration of clay makes the soil like a brick without some sort treatment), aerate and denude the land and move on. Then the land is ready to be revitalized with the first step of the process being aptly performed by the prairie dog.
Now that man had developed the area, prairie dogs have become to many merely a nuisance. And since they are technically of the rodent family they are considered to be rats by those that would advocate for their demise. There is no easy answer to the prairie dog situation. At what point do we protect life and at what point do we not? I certainly don’t know the answer to that.
I do know that I am not a PETA advocate. There are times that organization is too radical for my tastes. But I would match my love for animals with anyone. To me it is a simple question of how we value life. Do we have the right as human beings to simply go in one day plow up a field and bury alive a colony of prairie dogs? Something about that just doesn’t seem right to me. Relocation is expensive and tends not to be successful, capturing them and donating them to a recovering raptor program is also expensive. Any way you look at it, it is costly to manage an unwanted prairie dog colony. But burying them alive?
I’m not sure what the answer is. I understand a person wanting to sell their property. I understand this person patiently allowed prairie dogs to inhabit the space for ten years, maybe hoping the colony would be hit by plague and naturally die off. But since that didn’t happen there has to be a better way, even if it is more expensive. From my standpoint it is a question of do we or don’t we value life. If we do, then we need to think very carefully about our rationale and methods for taking life. Anyone who has ever been faced with euthanizing a pet knows the agony of making that decisions. Should prairie dogs be treated any differently simply because they are not our pets?
At this point I see no better solution than trapping and humanely euthanizing them. If the land needs to be sold and the prairie dogs are preventing that, then I would opt for that solution. Yes it is more expensive but do we or do we not value life, any kind of life? To simply view life as something easily discarded or in this instance plowed over dehumanizes us. I would hope that as a species we were more intelligent and caring than that.
There is, although, an upside to this dilemma. Whoever plowed the land did a pretty poor job. If you know anything about prairie dogs, you need to eliminate each and every hole as their underground system is interconnected and leaving just one hole can result in the easy reestablishment of the colony. And that is exactly what happened. As a matter of fact several holes on the perimeter were left unscathed and the very next day the prairie dogs were out in force reestablishing the colony. So it appears most of them survived the trauma to this point. What will happen next is left to be seen. But it still makes me uneasy to think that we as man, the stronger and supposedly smarter species, can have such little concern for life and for taking life. I don’t care if technically they are rodents. The bigger question is are we humane in how we deal with life and do we treat life and death with respect. I was really saddened to see how this was handled and I have to say surprised about how bad I felt for the prairie dogs. They were the bane of my existence when I was working in local government but there is a reason why they exist in the whole scheme of things. And they are living, breathing creatures that have a right to life and a humane death.