Cal Thunder Hawk
Prairie dogs not “endgangered species” on reservations
Story and photos by Cal Thunder Hawk Lakota Journal Staff Writer
RAPID CITY – Government and tribal officials agreed that the plans by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife to place the prairie dog on a threatened species list posed an economic threat to the region.
Interior Secretary Gale Norton, accompanied by several officials from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, and Rep. John Thune conducted a townhouse meeting last Saturday at the Civic Center in Rapid City to gather comments about U.S. Fish & Wildlife plans to place the black-tailed prairie dog on a list of threatened species.
At a press conference before the meeting, Thune said that the meetings were being conducted so that, “The interests of those who are most affected by these policies are taken into consideration.”
Thune has introduced legislation to review the current process which periodically evaluates candidate species for placement on the list according to the federal Endangered Species Act.
Nortion, speaking to the press said, “I think it is critically important for states to be actively involved in prairie dog conservation programs.” She added, “It is the best way to ensure that the prairie dog will not be listed as an endangered or threatened species. The states are the ones that have the ability to work with us on listing species—those that are not yet on the list. And working together we can come up with a variety of different ways to use the state’s tools and our tools to enhance the species. That avoids the heavy-handed approaches that are found in the ESA.”
Local ranchers, land owners, environmentalists and tribal officials were among those who attended the meeting and voiced their opinions, concerns and complaints about the plans to place the prairie dog on the list.
The Rosebud Sioux Tribe and area ranchers voiced mutual support of Thune’s legislation. William Kindle, Rosebud Sioux Tribal President, said “When I came onto the council 10 years ago, there were 60,000 acres of prairie dog town—now there are a little over 80,000 acres.”
With a total area of more than 900,000 acres, Kindle said that the Rosebud Sioux Tribe was not committed to the total eradication of the prairie dog, but was interested in plans to set aside an area where the prairie dog population could be managed. “The majority of our income at Rosebud comes off of leased land, so the drought and the number of acres under prairie dogs will jeopardize this income,” Kindle said.
“We’re not going to get any income off of those acres,” he said. According to Kindle, the land infested by prairie dog towns represent little or no value to a tribal council budget already hard-pressed for revenue.
The prairie dog also represents another threat because the black-footed ferret—a species protected under the ESA—preys on them.
Kindle said that another tribal concern is the possibility that the ferret could be introduced by the federal government into the prairie dog population on tribal land. He said that, because the ferret follows the prairie dog, the federal protections that accompany the ferret could be applied to tribal lands and would make it difficult to manage tribal resources.
Christine Dunham, Rosebud Sioux Tribe council representative of the Black Pipe and He Dog communities, also addressed the officials at the meeting.
“If they think that the prairie dog is so cute, I think they should take them back to Washington,” Dunham said.
Like Kindle, she raised the issue of the ferret, “When I was growing up I learned that the black-footed ferret was a dangerous animal,” she said. “In my younger days we had to travel with horses and when we’d go through a prairie dog town—well, my grandfather used to tell us to hide our faces if there was a black-footed ferret around. We’d call them Ito Sapela (“Black Face” in Lakota) and if you’d see one of those, and if it would look at you, then you’d get headaches.” According to Dunham, the prairie dogs and the ferret, “Are still giving me headaches.”
But the headaches are economic ones and she endorsed an earlier statement made to the officials by Tom Conroy, Oglala Sioux Tribe representative from the Wakpamni District about the problems that the prairie dog and the ferret present to the tribes, “They need to be gotten rid of,” she said.
Kindle said that the continuing economic problems created by the prairie dog on tribal land would be compounded if the ferret were introduced into the prairie dog population by the federal government. He said that such a move, by the federal government, would represent a challenge to tribal sovereignty.