Nebraska declines to reclassify prairie dogs

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Prairie Dogs Fair Game in Nebraska

By AMY LORENTZEN, Associated Press Writer

8/2/02

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP)--Some people might think of prairie dogs as cuddly little critters who look like they might make nice pets. But to Beverly Atkins, there's nothing cute about what the animals do to her family's ranch.

Many ranchers see prairie dogs as expensive intruders that destroy their land, mowing down acres of grass needed for cattle and creating bumps and holes in once-flat pastures.

"If Lewis and Clark would have looked rather than listened, they would not have been called prairie dogs. They would have been called prairie rats,'' Atkins said, referring to the 19th-century explorers who came across the creatures. ``Any pasture they get into, they completely destroy.''

Nebraska ranchers were relieved in July when state officials declined to classify the black-tailed prairie dog as a species in need of conservation. Such a designation would have meant restrictions on when the animals could be hunted on public land.

While killing prairie dogs on private land and most state land would still have been allowed, landowners worried that prairie dogs would multiply on small pockets of public land and spread into private property.

Conservationists have vowed to continue fighting for the designation.

"It's not done. This was just round one,'' said Tyler Sutton, president of the Conservation Alliance of the Great Plains.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wants Nebraska and 10 other states to enact their own conservation plans to keep the animals off the federal list of threatened species.

But it appears unlikely Nebraska will do so soon.

In addition to refusing additional protections for prairie dogs, the state Game and Parks Commission adopted a resolution not to conduct future studies or develop a prairie dog conservation plan.

Commissioner Connie Lapaseotes, who introduced the resolution, said there's no conclusive evidence that the animals need conservation. Lapaseotes said the cost of pursuing the issue is too high, considering the state's ongoing budget crisis.

Meanwhile, several conservation groups are requesting a meeting with Fish and Wildlife Service officials to discuss Nebraska's decision and whether it may be a violation of federal species protection laws. The groups also are not ruling out a lawsuit.

"It's certainly an option, but it's only a last resort,'' said Sutton, a Lincoln attorney.


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On The Net:

Nebraska Game and Parks Commission: http://www.ngpc.state.ne.us/homepage.html

Conservation Alliance of the Great Plains: http://www.conservationalliance.org/

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: http://www.fws.gov/
 

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