Prairie dog kill option has critics: Wildlife panel allows mink, marten trapping

Hunters will be allowed to trap and shoot mink and marten Nov. 1 through Feb. 28, but the jury still is out on whether explosive gases can be used to exterminate prairie dogs.

Residents testified before the state Wildlife Commission during a hearing Thursday in Fort Collins about the safety, humanity and effectiveness of a proposal to kill prairie dogs and other burrowing rodents using explosive gases such as a mixture of oxygen and propane.

The proposal would allow the gases to be injected into burrows and ignited.

The blast is supposed to kill the rodents and collapse their burrows, reducing the possibility of reinfestation.

Commission staff member Brett Ackerman told the board this method of prairie dog eradication is especially applicable to organic farmers who can’t have poisons or pesticides around their crops if they want to keep their organic certificates.

No organic farmers testified Thursday afternoon in support of the new technique.

The method would be used for smaller plots of land, such as farmers’ irrigated fields, Ackerman said. There is no intent to implement the system for a wider range of land.

“This would be an additional tool to manage prairie dogs, where statutorily, people have been unable to do so,” he said.

New Mexico, Arizona, Wyoming and Utah allow the practice. But in Colorado, it is illegal to use explosives to kill wildlife, and Judy Enderle, of the Prairie Preservation Alliance, said it should stay that way.

“Colorado is different. We have a different value for our wildlife,” Enderle said. “It’s a very dangerous and ineffective way. This has the force of TNT.”

Enderle advocates for prairie dog relocation.

“There has to be other solutions,” she said. “Let’s not immediately go to killing our wildlife.”

John Smeltzer of the Colorado Wildlife Federation is worried about the explosion killing animals other than those intended.

“On its base, the whole methodology looks so indiscriminate that I don’t know why it’s being discussed today,” he said.

Safety of the explosion is another concern.

The proposal is vague, with no indication as to who would perform the process and how the gases would be detonated safely.

Commissioner Brad Coors said explosive gas is the safest method for humans and animals.

Cattlemen use poison, such as arsenic, to kill destructive rodents, Coors said, which puts the lives of other animals and humans at risk.

Idaho-based Meyer Industries sells the “Rodenator Pest Elimination System” for $1,890. The set includes the wand to mix the gases and inject them into the ground, a “gopher shovel,” hoses, regulators, safety helmet and glasses.

The self-proclaimed “Boss of the Burrow” wants to branch out to Colorado but has been stonewalled because of Colorado’s non-explosive law.

The commission only heard public comments Thursday and will make its decision at its September meeting in Gunnison.

The commission also voted Thursday to include the mink and marten on the list of furbearer animals that hunters can trap and shoot.

The Colorado Trappers Association petitioned the commission to add nine animals to the list.

Hunters are now permitted to shoot the animals or to catch them in live traps only, said Tyler Baskfield, spokesman for the Division of Wildlife. Leg traps still are prohibited.

“These animals were not considered game species in Colorado,” Baskfield said.

The commission’s staff decided the mink and marten species would not be in jeopardy by permitting trapping, Baskfield said.

Wendy Keefover-Ring, a spokeswoman for the Boulder-based environmental group Sinapu, told The Associated Press the Colorado Trappers Association “has succeeded in kicking in the door on the trapping issue.”

She said voters approved an amendment to the state Constitution in 1996 banning recreational and commercial trapping, but it did not specifically ban the use of box traps because they are used to humanely capture and move wildlife.

“What the commission has done (is said that) if you’re using box traps, you’re not violating the constitutional amendment,” she said.

“The commission and the trappers saw a loophole and just drove a Mack truck through it.”

By CARI MERRILL
CariMerrill@coloradoan.com

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