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Burrowing by prairie dogs in this area in the Boyce Creek drainage encompasses hundreds of acres and, along with drought, has reduced forage available for livestock grazing in Little Missouri National Grasslands pastures.

The U.S. Forest Service has a plan to eradicate a large number of black-tailed prairie dogs on grasslands if adjacent private landowners agree to do the same. The Tribune believes the plan makes sense and private landowners will agree.

If you have ever seen prairie dogs in their dog towns they are kind of cute, though when they all start chirping it gets noisy. They also lay waste to the land, eating the grass to the ground and littering the acreage with holes that are dangerous to people and livestock. Once prairie dogs take control there’s not much left for cattle to graze.

Let’s be clear, the Forest Service isn’t planning to kill all prairie dogs, just the critters in selected tracts.

The Forest Service has spent a lot of time developing the plan, with initial planning starting in 2015. Lauren Donovan explains the proposal in a Page A1 story today. The agency may launch the effort this fall. They want to wait at least until Sept. 15 so migratory birds won’t be affected. The plan calls for the use of a rodenticide poison to kill colony populations on its boundaries one-quarter mile back as long as private landowners agree to do the same using their own money. The plan would involve about 100 private landowners in an area from Alexander in the northwest past Amidon to the south. Shannon Boehm, chief ranger of the Medora District of the Little Missouri National Grasslands, told Donovan this isn’t the first time the agency has tried to stop the encroaching dogs.

“We made four attempts in the past 15 years, and it didn’t make a dent,” Boehm said. “We decided to come up with a plan to cover the entire Little Missouri National Grasslands and address the problem holistically.” More than one-third of the 5,600 acres of prairie dog habitat and 66 distinct colonies would be affected under the plan.

The effort involves a multiyear plan that starts with poison and once the dogs are gone, there’s hope a higher vegetative barrier can get established in the quarter-mile zone that will discourage colony growth back toward the private lands. Ranchers are generally in agreement with getting rid of the prairie dogs.

“We see a destruction of the resource to the grass and to the waterways because of erosion and runoff,” Bruce Bowman, a Rhame-area rancher, told Donovan. “I’m not opposed to the prairie dogs, but to the destruction.” Unfortunately, the prairie dogs’ lifestyle tends to be destructive. The Forest Service and landowners aren’t eager to kill the animals, they just want their land back.

The Forest Service plan has its critics. Defenders of Wildlife and the Prairie Dog Coalition of the Humane Society have offered to relocate prairie dogs and try to create a 10,000- to 15,000-acre complex to support the reintroduction of the endangered black-footed ferret. Ferrets eat prairie dogs. The idea is that the ferrets and vegetative grass barriers will stop future private land encroachment. The Forest Service has interest in the reintroduction of the ferret.

The Tribune believes the Forest Service should launch its plan this fall. It makes sense to attempt to control the prairie dog population. The National Park Service has used different methods to cull its elk, buffalo and wild horse herds at the Theodore Roosevelt National Park. If they didn’t the herds would get too large for the park. The North Dakota Game and Fish Department manages a variety of hunting seasons to control wildlife populations. This wouldn’t be the end of prairie dogs, just the recovery of “lost” land.