Lawton prairie dog defenders fight poisoning plans

BY DAVID CHRISTOPHER Published: December 18, 2008
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LAWTON — A black-tailed prairie dog emerges from its burrow and is confronted by a free breakfast, a tasty-looking pellet. This inconspicuous meal is laced with the poison Rozol, and it will be one of the animal’s last.

The Humane Society of the United States is criticizing Lawton for renewing its program of poisoning prairie dogs living in Elmer Thomas Park.

The program targets roughly 3 percent of the 60-acre park with the poison, which is being dropped into burrows.

Cynthia Armstrong, state director for the society, has called for the poisoning to stop.

"They are poisoning these animals, which are so important to the Great Plains, literally on the front lawn of the Museum of the Great Plains,” she said. "This toxic bait is a very cruel way to kill an animal that may receive special protection from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in the very near future.”

Bryan Long, Lawton’s assistant city manager, said the only complaints he’s heard are from groups like the Humane Society. So far, no residents have called Long or the city manager’s office to complain, he said.

The poisoning is not intended to exterminate the prairie dog colony, but to thin out the population, which Long said has reached "epidemic proportions.”

He said excessive prairie dog droppings and hidden burrows, which can be dangerous if someone steps in them, are making it difficult for residents to enjoy the park.

Neighbors weigh in
John Hernandez, director of the Museum of the Great Plains in the park, agrees there is a population problem, but said public opinion is divided.

The controversy
This isn’t the first controversial attempt by the city of Lawton to poison prairie dogs. The city was fined $800 by the state Agriculture, Food and Forestry Department after gassing prairie dogs in February 2007 without a fumigation plan. There was considerable public opposition to the gassing, including a protest in the park and an online petition that received 960 signatures.

The poison
Rozol is the brand name for a pesticide containing chlorophacinone. The poison causes death by internal bleeding. Death can take up to three weeks. When prairie dogs die above ground, they may poison animals that eat them.

SOURCES:

Oklahoman archives, Audubon Society of Kansas

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