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 inJohn Hernandez, director of the Museum of the Great Plains in the park, agrees there is a population problem, but said public opinion is divided. "If we were to break down our staff, 60 percent would probably say the prairie dogs need to stay,” Hernandez said. Next door, officials from the Comanche National Museum and Cultural Center insisted city workers remove poison from burrows around its building, said Candy Morgan, the center’s education and public programs manager. Morgan said the prairie dogs aren’t a nuisance. "We take students out to see the prairie dogs and tell them old, old Comanche stories about them, so we’d like to keep them around,” she said. The Humane Society proposed an alternative to Mayor John Purcell in August 2007. The plan included a prairie dog town for people to observe. "They ignored the plan we presented and stopped communicating with us,” Armstrong said. She said Purcell has given up on a humane solution. "In his heart, he sees a golf course there and not a park,” Armstrong said. Purcell did not return several calls for comment. Long said there are no plans to develop the park. The state Department of Wildlife Conservation gave the city a three-month permit to use the poison. City workers started distributing it last week. Long said the city will continue to monitor the population and will probably poison more prairie dogs in the future. He said the city will work with any party that wants to come and pick up the prairie dogs to relocate them.
The controversyThis 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 poisonRozol 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