Prairie Dogs: 1, Shooters: 1

WARNING: Video is graphic.

Hunters, Division of Wildlife officials and environmentalists are all condemning Web sites that glorify the shooting of prairie dogs for amusement, but that’s where any agreement stops.The Colorado Division of Wildlife agreed to environmentalists’ request that the state draft regulations that could outlaw the shooting of prairie dogs when done purely for amusement.

The Colorado Wildlife Commission made the decision to move forward with the process at its meeting Thursday, with commissioners emphasizing the move to proceed shouldn’t be interpreted as support for any changes to state law.

The decision came after two hours of presentations, questions and sometime emotional testimony.

WildEarth Guardians [incorrectly identified as its predecessor group, Forest Guardians, in the original story — ed.], a southwest environmentalist group, petitioned the Colorado Division of Wildlife to outlaw the practice. Included in the group’s request was documentation of Web sites extolling the virtues of shooting prairie dogs and graphic videos of prairie dogs meeting their demise.

Two University of Denver law students, and Wendy Keefover-Ring, the director of carnivore protection for the group Sinapu, argued that outlawing prairie dog shoots simply for fun would help preserve their population, which is an important part of Colorado’s ecosystem.

“We are very interested in maintaining sustainable populations of prairie dogs and for us we see this species at the brink of extinction and this is one way to remedy that,” Keefover-Ring said.

The commissioners could outlaw the practice by refusing to classify shooting a prairie dog as “hunting,” thus letting the use of prairie dogs as targets fall into the category of animal cruelty under state law, they said. 

“Clearly this (Web) site you found is absolutely vile,” said Commissioner Brad Coors.

But Coors said he saw the question of “ethical hunting,” or hunting for food and fur rather than fun, as a social rather than an environmental issue. 

Bill Canterbury, a farmer from Howard, Colo., spoke about prairie dogs’ potential to harm agriculture and the pain of seeing farm animals hurt by stumbling into the prairie dogs’ burrows. 

“They are a pest …We’ve got to regulate them at times,” said Canterbury, a member of the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association.

Some farmers said the petition request is being driven by extreme activists.

Commission Secretary Robert Bray said he saw the request to change the laws governing the hunting of prairie dogs as coming from an “anti-gun, anti-hunter agenda.”

Many commissioners and members of the public criticized the petition as too broad, pointing to the request that shooting prairie dogs for amusement be outlawed on both public and private land.

Some commissioners said they’d rather move forward with the DOW process than find themselves in a lengthy legal battle, which the environmental activists indicated they were considering, or facing a ballot issue. In either case, management of wildlife would be out of their hands.

Keefover-Ring said she’d be willing to sit down and talk with some of the ranchers and farmers that oppose her petition.

The Colorado Wildlife Commission will revisit the issue again at its May meeting as the second step in a three-part process to address the petition, said Brett Ackerman, a DOW spokesman.

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J.C. O'Connell

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