Going to the Prairie Dogs


Here's another weird switch in Kansas: a struggle over nature conservation and property rights in which the environmentalists and the landowners are on the same side. Sort of. Two Logan County ranchers, contrary to the usual practice in Kansas during the last century or so, are welcoming prairie dogs to their property. They say allowing the burrowing rodents to breed and flourish (which is the main thing prairie dogs do, in addition to digging holes and competing with cattle for grass) will support a variety of other species that eat them, including eagles, hawks, foxes, and maybe even black-footed ferrets. Their neighbors complain that prairie dogs do not respect property lines, so one man's wildlife preserve is another's nuisance. They also worry that the arrival of endangered species will trigger onerous land use restrictions. The county commissioners, siding with the irate neighbors, are invokiing a 1901 law that allows the government to poison prairie dogs on recalcitrant ranchers' land and bill the owners for the expense. I have no neat solution to the tangle of conflicting property rights claims, but it gives me an excuse to post this adorable picture of ferret food. It reminds me of my one road trip across Kansas, which featured flatness interrupted only by scattered bits of prairie dog.