Prairie dogs beat the bullet

  In Colorado, prairie dogs and other small mammals are safe from large-scale massacre in the name of sport. The Colorado Wildlife Commission voted unanimously July 10 to restrict contest shoots of small game, including coyotes and prairie dogs.


Environmental and animal rights groups have expressed outrage over contests like the Top Dog World Championship Prairie Dog Shoot in Nucla, where hunters shot 3,200 of the burrowing mammals in 1994, when the shoot was last held.


"We fear the public might interpret events like this to be hunting when they are not," says Diane Gansauer, executive director of the Colorado Wildlife Federation, a conservation group that consists mainly of hunters. "Hunting has to do with appreciating the outdoors and wildlife."


But the seven commissioners were less concerned with ethics than with the contests' indirect threats to other wildlife, says Todd Malmsbury, spokesman for the commission.


"Prairie dogs are an important part of the ecosystem," Malmsbury says. "(The commissioners) were concerned that if enough animals were taken this could have an indirect impact on predators like eagles, hawks and rattlesnakes."


Now, shooting contests are limited to five killings, unless the state sets a higher number. So far, no contest supporters have decided to appeal the commission's decision.


Says Gansauer, "An ethical hunt does not involve racking up bodies."


*Peter Chilson