Prairie dogs tunnel their way to a military stalemate

 

HELENA, Mont. - The Montana Army National Guard has stood ready when called upon to fight any foe. Then it met the prairie dog. The rodents, known for their intricate tunneling, have expanded their stronghold here at Fort Harrison, threatening underground power lines and communications systems.

The guard would like to take action, but it's been stymied by controversy: Some groups want to save the animals and some want to kill them. Base exterminators used to employ phosgene gas, which was used in trench warfare during World War I. But during the last gas attack on prairie dogs in 1993, workers complained of an obnoxious smell leaking into nearby buildings, says base environmental officer John Wheeler. That ruled out future use of the gas.

A more recent plan proposed poisoning the two-pound rodents with oats laced with zinc phosphide. But before that got off the ground, conservationists came to the defense of the colony. To members of the Audubon Society's Last Chance Gulch chapter, the fort's prairie dog town is one of the best places in the area to watch wildlife.

The short grasses and weeds of prairie dog towns attract many birds, mammals, insects and reptiles, says Marvel Weggenman, a local conservationist. Burrowing owls, mountain plovers, ferruginous hawks, black-footed ferrets and foxes are just a few of the animals that depend on the ecosystem.

Biologists estimate that 99 percent of the prairie dog's range has been plowed under or poisoned. As the animals have disappeared from the Western landscape, so has other wildlife (HCN, 11/11/96).

Trying to avoid a fight with environmentalists, base commander Maj. Gen. John E. Prendergast opted to pay $10,000 to hire a prairie dog vacuum truck to suck the animals live out of the burrows. That annoyed some base employees, who said the live trapping was a waste of tax dollars.

The major general's most recent solution: trapping the animals with volunteer help and moving them to another site on the base. Said Prendergast, "The proposed management of the prairie dogs will be a win-win situation."

Mark Matthews writes in Missoula, Montana.

You can ...

* Write John Wheeler, Department of Military Affairs, P.O. Box 4789, Helena, MT 59604-4789, or call 406/444-0708.

High Country News Classifieds
  • DIRECTOR OF DEVELOPMENT, ARIZONA CHAPTER
    What We Can Achieve Together: Arizona's Director of Development (DoD) is responsible for directing all aspects of one or more development functions, which will secure...
  • CAPACITY BUILDING PROGRAM MANAGER
    What We Can Achieve Together: The Capacity Building Program Manager works directly with the business unit's Arizona Healthy Cities Program Director to advance the Healthy...
  • MEMBERSHIP AND OFFICE MANAGER - FRIENDS OF THE INYO
    Friends of the Inyo - Donor database management & reporting, IT/HR, and office administrative support. PT or FT. Partly remote OK but some in-office time...
  • NORTHERN NEW MEXICO PROJECT MANAGER
    New Mexico Land Conservancy is seeking a qualified Northern New Mexico Project Manager to provide expertise, leadership and support to the organization by planning, cultivating,...
  • GRAPHIC AND DIGITAL DESIGNER
    Application deadline: December 17, 2022 Expected start date: January 16, 2023 Location: Amazon Watch headquarters in Oakland, CA Amazon Watch is a dynamic nonprofit organization...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Eugene, Ore. nonprofit Long Tom Watershed Council is seeking a highly collaborative individual to lead a talented, dedicated team of professionals. Full-time: $77,000 - $90,000...
  • GIS SPECIALIST
    What We Can Achieve Together: The GIS Specialist provides technical and scientific support for Geographic Information System (GIS) technology, data management, and visualization internally and...
  • LOWER SAN PEDRO PROGRAM MANAGER
    What We Can Achieve Together: The Lower San Pedro Program Manager directs some or all aspects of protection, science, stewardship and community relations for the...
  • FOREST RESTORATION SPATIAL DATA MANAGER
    What We Can Achieve Together: The Forest Restoration Spatial Data Manager fills an integral role in leading the design and development of, as well as...
  • WATER PROJECTS MANAGER, SOUTHERN AZ
    What We Can Achieve Together: Working hybrid in Tucson, AZ or remote from Sierra Vista, AZ or other southern Arizona locations, the Water Projects Manager,...
  • SENIOR STAFF THERAPIST/PSYCHOLOGIST: NATIVE AMERICAN STUDENT SPECIALIST
    Counseling Services is a department strategically integrated with Health Services within the Division of Student Services and Enrollment Management. Our Mission at the Counseling Center...
  • THE NATURE CONSERVANCY IS HIRING A LOCAL INITIATIVES COORDINATOR
    The Nature Conservancy in Wyoming seeks a Local Initiatives Coordinator to join our team. We're looking for a great communicator to develop, manage and advance...
  • LAND AND WATER PROTECTION MANAGER - NORTHERN ARIZONA
    We're Looking for You: Are you looking for a career to help people and nature? Guided by science, TNC creates innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our...
  • SENIOR CLIMATE CONSERVATION ASSOCIATE
    The Greater Yellowstone Coalition (GYC) seeks a Senior Climate Conservation Associate (SCCA) to play a key role in major campaigns to protect the lands, waters,...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Southern Nevada Conservancy Board of Directors announces an outstanding opportunity for a creative leader to continue building this organization. SNC proudly supports Nevada's public...
  • CORTEZ COLORADO LOT FOR SALE
    Historic tree-lined Montezuma Ave. Zoned Neighborhood Business. Build your dream house or business right in the heart of town. $74,000. Southwest Realty
  • ENVIRONMENTAL AND CONSTRUCTION GEOPHYSICS
    - We find groundwater, buried debris and assist with new construction projects for a fraction of drilling costs.
  • STRAWBALE HOME BESIDE MONTEZUMA WELL NAT'L MONUMENT
    Straw Bale Home beside Montezuma Well National Monument. Our property looks out at Arizona fabled Mogollon Rim and is a short walk to perennial Beaver...
  • ATTORNEY AD
    Criminal Defense, Code Enforcement, Water Rights, Mental Health Defense, Resentencing.
  • LUNATEC HYDRATION SPRAY BOTTLE
    A must for campers and outdoor enthusiasts. Cools, cleans and hydrates with mist, stream and shower patterns. Hundreds of uses.