Senator says rodents harmful to prairie

BY BRIAN G. CARLSON / Lincoln Journal Star


Lincoln, Nebraska - Prairie dogs, the cute little rodents that have caused such a bitter conflict between landowners and environmentalists recently, may have their case heard in the Legislature.

Sen. Adrian Smith of Gering offered a bill Tuesday called the "prairie protection act."

Smith's bill, LB363, would give county boards the authority to manage the population of "destructive rodent pests," including prairie dogs, ground squirrels, pocket gophers, jackrabbits, rats or other animals that pose a threat to livestock, agricultural land or human health.

Smith said prairie dogs destroy grazing land for cattle, dig holes that pose a hazard for hoofed creatures and carry diseases that could threaten the human population.

"Prairie dogs are a rather destructive creature," he said. "This gives the people who know the most about the situation, at the county level, the tools necessary to manage the population."

Smith said the bill allows, but does not mandate, rodent control. It would not result in a total extermination of prairie dogs, he said.

Tyler Sutton, president of the Conservation Alliance of the Great Plains, said he had not reviewed Smith's bill and could not comment on it.

But he said prairie dogs deserved protection because of their dwindling numbers and their essential role in the prairie ecosystem.

"If we don't protect prairie dogs and prairie dog habitats, then we're going to have more trouble with other species," he said.

The solution is to strike a balance between the concerns of conservationists and landowners, he said.

The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission last July voted not to ban the shooting of black-tailed prairie dogs on public property during their prime reproductive season, from March to mid-June.

Wildlife groups had sought the ban to protect prairie dogs from depletion. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has put prairie dogs on a list of candidates for threatened status.

Nebraska is one of 11 states in what wildlife officials describe as the prairie dog's historic range. Many of those states have sought to forestall federal designation of prairie dogs as a threatened species by adopting their own conservation measures.

Reach Brian G. Carlson at 473-7251 or


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