The presence of prairie dogs

 

As a rangeland ecologist, I was somewhat disturbed by this article and the point being made (“Slaughter of the Innocents,” HCN, 9/5/16). Prairie dogs are on the author’s property because conditions are conducive for them, especially the depth and type of soils. The odds are that the “juniper forest” referred to was not the original vegetation prior to Anglo settlement on this site, but rather grasslands occurred there. Grassland soils support woodlands quite well when the grassland ground cover and underground grass root mass has been reduced or removed through such practices as livestock grazing. This also, in turn, results in the loss of natural and reoccurring fires once common in healthy grasslands, which benefitted the ecosystem through nutrient recycling and helped to remove juniper seedlings that might get started in grasslands. Grassland conversion to woodland has occurred across millions and millions of acres in the West. 

Secondly, yes, prairie dog colonies result in denuded vegetation around their burrows, but their ecological and biological benefits to soils, vegetation and wildlife, including insects and birds, are well documented through research and the literature.  

Mitchel R. White
Silver City, New Mexico