Prevent Naropa University from Killing Prairie Dogs

Deep Green Resistance fights for life and justice wherever we find they are threatened. Right now, Buddhist school Naropa University is planning to exterminate a colony.

From change.org:

Petitioning Naropa University, Todd Kilburn

Save the Naropa Prairie Dogs and Withdraw the Lethal Application Filed with the City of Boulder

WildLands Defense

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Naropa University has filed a lethal application with the City of Boulder that will allow them to exterminate families of approximately 200 prairie dogs on the Nalandia campus.

We insist that Naropa University staff explore other options and withdraw the kill permit filed with the City of Boulder. WildLands Defense is willing to work with Naropa University to secure a release site for the prairie dogs currently thriving on their campus.

We understand that Naropa has tried to find suitable land to relocate the prairie dogs for several years now. However, we will not accept that they filed for a permit to annihilate this beautiful colony. We believe that we can work in partnership with Naropa University to safely and viably relocate these prairie dogs onto Boulder County or City Open Space public land.

Please sign this petition and insist that Naropa withdraw their kill permit so these beautiful prairie dog families can play, jump yip, kiss, love, stretch and continue their amazing existence in Boulder Colorado. A Buddhist University should never contemplate the annihilation of a beautiful keystone species. We are asking Naropa University to work with prairie dog activists and find a solution other than annihilation.

Pleas sign this petition, and get involved as you can to help us save the prairie dogs, and all wildlife.

 

 

 

If you are not outraged, why not?

From WildLands Defense Colorado<:

Blaze, the mother bear just killed in Yellowstone, with a family of cubs.

Blaze, the mother bear just killed in Yellowstone, with a family of cubs.

If you are not outraged at the way this culture destroys life, why not?

If you are not outraged at the murder of Blaze just two days ago, why not?

If you are not outraged at John Waggoner for annihilating 2000 acres of prairie dogs for a tract home development, why not?

Bison that are continually under threat of being killed for roaming or because they are blamed, much like prairie dogs, for the spread of brucellosis. If you are not outraged at the continuous slaughter of the last remaining bison in Yellowstone that happens yearly, why not?

If you are not outraged at Wildlife Services for killing over 2 million animals—at taxpayers expense, on a yearly basis—why not?

This culture continually destroys the planet and time is running out. 200 species go extinct each and every day. 99% of grassland prairies are destroyed, 98% of old growth forests gone, every single stream is full of dioxins, along with every mother’s breast milk.

Echo, the beautiful wolf killed by a hunter who was never penalized. If you are not outraged about Echo, the beautiful wolf that traveled 750 miles to the Grand Canyon only to be shot by a hunter who got away with this atrocity without any repercussions, why not?

All of the integral keystone species of life are on the chopping block, heading fast towards extinction. Our strategies and tactics MUST change. We can not stand by any longer and watch our world continuously unravel as the sociopaths lead all of us closer and closer to extinction.

Two beautiful prairie dogs recently poisoned by John Waggoner at the Crowfoot in the Castle Rock Colorado area

Two beautiful prairie dogs recently poisoned by John Waggoner at the Crowfoot in the Castle Rock Colorado area

It is time to fight, fight for the living, to do what it takes to save what remains. Don’t continue to turn away. Insist on protecting life and defending your beloved by any means necessary. It is time we roll up our sleeves and get to work. Let us all join together, realize what is at stake, and begin the hard work of forcing change that will protect the future.

Visit WildLands Defense or Deep Green Resistance to find out how to help.

Civilization Claims Another Prairie Dog Colony

In yet another example of the insatiable thirst for death of industrial civilization, a prairie dog colony near Denver was exterminated last month. As this article in The Denver Post details, human settlements “are safer now that a prairie dog colony located near the Englewood Dam has been exterminated”.

Deep Green Resistance weeps for the prairie dogs, who for generations dared to live where humans would later construct a flood-control berm, to be operated by businesspeople. We weep for the planet as well, which is doomed unless industrial civilization is dismantled.

 

Dam work bad news for prairie dogs at Willow Creek site in Centennial
Urban Drainage officials say the maintenance work was necessary for flood control at “high hazard” site

By Joe Rubino
YourHub Reporter
POSTED: 07/07/2015 10:15:21 AM MDT

 

CENTENNIAL, CO - JUNE 30: A pedestrian walks by a sign notifying the public about operations to remove burrowing rodents and ants at the Englewood Dam on June 30, 2015, in Centennial, Colorado. The city recently rid the property of a prairie dog colony due to concerns the animals would cause damage to the earthen structure. (Photo by Anya Semenoff/The Denver Post)

CENTENNIAL, CO – JUNE 30: A pedestrian walks by a sign notifying the public about operations to remove burrowing rodents and ants at the Englewood Dam on June 30, 2015, in Centennial, Colorado. The city recently rid the property of a prairie dog colony due to concerns the animals would cause damage to the earthen structure. (Photo by Anya Semenoff/The Denver Post)

 

CENTENNIAL —Flood-control officials say Centennial and other downstream communities are safer now that a prairie dog colony located near the Englewood Dam has been exterminated.

The dam, located on the northern end of the Willow Spring Open Space, is a grassy berm first constructed as a flood-control device in the mid-1930s. It is owned and maintained by the Urban Drainage and Flood Control District.

The dam helps protect a 9.5-square-mile section of Willow Creek and Little Dry Creek watershed, explained Urban Drainage project manager Rich Borchardt.

The dam underwent a state inspection on May 29. Officials identified issues that could compromise its effectiveness during high-flow events, Borchardt said, including numerous prairie dog burrows on the north side. There were also ant hills; woody vegetation with old, decaying roots; and informal trails that have worn away grasses and formed potential channels for water.

Englewood Dam is designated a “high hazard” structure because it protects downstream areas including Centennial, Cherry Hills Village, Englewood and unincorporated Arapahoe County, Borchardt said. Its importance necessitated eliminating the prairie dogs as well as removal of some plants, like yucca, and — in the near future — revegetation work that will sow native grasses on some unapproved paths.

“This is an important facility, and if there is any failure of it, there is a risk of a loss of life downstream,” Borchardt said. “We’ve recognized since the September 2013 floods the importance of good infrastructure and that it be maintained well and functions when you need it.”

John Williams, who lives about a mile from the site, said he saw water on the south side of the dam rise high enough to cover all of the plants there following heavy rains last month, and he understands the efforts to maintain the dam.

“I had seen the prairie dogs over there, and I didn’t realize the danger,” Williams said.

Borchardt said water levels rose 14 feet at the dam between June 12 and 15, further demonstrating the need for this “tune up” maintenance.

He said Urban Drainage annually removes debris and sediment from the south side of the dam, a marshy area designed to collect and safely release nearly 652 million gallons of water. He said the district tried to poison the local prairie dog population last year, but after the state engineer’s visit, the decision was made to fully eliminate the rodents.

He said that if the issues were ignored the state could order that the dam be redesigned to hold less water or be completely replaced, work that would cost vastly more money than the $75,000 the taxpayer-funded district is investing there this year.

“It’s something that we don’t like to do, but we realize the risk of not doing it is a whole lot worse,” Borchardt said, adding the district was unable to find a place to relocate the colony last summer.

Ronnie Purcella, owner of An Animal and Pest Control Specialist, said his crews dropped pellets for an Environmental Protection Agency-approved fumigant into 250 prairie dog holes and covered them over on June 29.

A sign alerting visitors about the work was posted along the Willow Creek Trail, which runs along the north side of the dam.

Still, the extermination shocked some neighbors.

“With all the development in Colorado, this is really upsetting. This was their home first,” said Marlie Nelson, whose parents have lived in the neighborhood for more than 25 years. “They hadn’t even built into the side of the dam. How do they just do this?”

The open space area is maintained by the South Suburban Parks and Recreation District. While South Suburban hosted a community outreach meeting about the work, it plays no role in the maintenance at the dam, said David Brueggeman, the district’s acting director of parks and open space.

Borchardt said Urban Drainage will work to get rid of a few of the unofficial “habit trails” that run vertically and diagonally across the dam on both sides throughout 2015 and into 2016. The goal is to have less grass-free spaces for water to run down. He said Urban Drainage will invest another $75,000 in preventive maintenance in 2016.

Joe Rubino: 303-954-2953, jrubino@denverpost.com or twitter.com/RubinoJC

CENTENNIAL, CO - JUNE 30: A cyclist rides along a path at Englewood Dam on June 30, 2015, in Centennial, Colorado. The city recently rid the property of a prairie dog colony due to concerns the animals would cause damage to the earthen structure. (Photo by Anya Semenoff/The Denver Post)

CENTENNIAL, CO – JUNE 30: A cyclist rides along a path at Englewood Dam on June 30, 2015, in Centennial, Colorado. The city recently rid the property of a prairie dog colony due to concerns the animals would cause damage to the earthen structure. (Photo by Anya Semenoff/The Denver Post)

 

The Maul at Castle Rock

Readers who have frequented this site no doubt have heard of the massacre of prairie dogs resulting from developers who want to build the Promenade Mall in Castle Rock. Deep Green Resistance is happy to publish a deeper background story on the massacre by freelance journalist Suzanne Grover.

 

The Maul at Castle Rock

by Suzanne Grover

Empathy is not reserved for the odd few, it is a characteristic of the mighty, the wise, and the meek who shall inherit the Earth.

Empathy is not reserved for the odd few, it is a characteristic of the mighty, the wise, and the meek who shall inherit the Earth.

When a human has earned the trust of a wild animal, it’s an unspeakable honor. When that animal, or his fellows are threatened, a mothering instinct explodes with fury, and what feels like the wrath of God and all hell comes with it.

That fury, multiplied by tens of thousands, is what Alberta Development Partners, LLC. is facing right now.

Animals are adept at escaping danger. Sensing tsunamis they run to higher ground, sensing earthquakes they flee to open fields, and lightning-struck wildfires rarely catch up with them. What they can’t avoid is the trickery of humans armed with a WWI poison, which is mostly banned because of human fatalities, and taken by surprise with their escape routes sealed.

Some local folk in Castle Rock, Colorado, along with more than 3,500 people watching online, wept in horror when Alberta Development gave Ron Purcella’s pest control company the go-ahead to kill an estimated 1,000 to 1,500 prairie dogs on the company’s “Promenade” development site on March 9, 2015.

Raging protests, heart-wrenching pleas for mercy at town council meetings, enraged emails from citizens across the country, and even one nine-year-old Castle Rock boy’s handmade petition box did nothing to sway the council-supported developers’ decision to destroy what some are calling the oldest and most significant prairie dog colonies in Colorado’s front range. Purcella poisoned for three days, which is about how long it took for the suffering animals to finally die.

The developers had the legal right to do it — but the cheap shots were heard ’round the world.

“The exterminator was a real sicko,” said Joe Adair, the associate director of Bold Visions Conservation group which became involved after the poisoning started. “He enjoyed killing the prairie dogs, and doing anything he could to anguish the bystanders, the activists who were defending the (prairie dogs).”

Beth Ann Senderak, a Castle Rock local protesting on the site during the poisoning, dropped to her knees and wept in front of exterminators. Deanna Meyer, Castle Rock native was emotionally devastated and banned from the site with a restraining order by developers, others screamed their hearts out in protest. Folks across the nation from Washington State, to the eastern seaboard, with their hands clenched in fists of rage, emailed, posted, messaged, called and frantically signed petitions as the poisoning continued without hesitation. Stories were reported to have hit the press in Portugal and Thailand, and folks from the UK and Japan are also beginning to curse the developers.

It is generally agreed — it didn’t HAVE to happen.

And while Alberta is doing what other developers are doing all over the nation – to advocates, this is the last straw.

The developers defended their decision to eradicate the prairie dog population on their site, after the many options advocates say they were given, by releasing what they called a fact sheet. They said they “want to be good neighbors” and only when traps were destroyed by activists they “reluctantly determined the only solution was to mitigate prairie dogs on the site using Fumitoxin.” (Why developers chose the word mitigate is unclear. Mitigate means to make less severe, serious or painful, and Fumotoxin is anything BUT that. It causes animals to slowly bleed to death after convulsions and organ failure.) And a spur-of-the-moment decision to use such an egregious poison sounds questionable.

“How is killing all the natives being a good neighbor,” asked lead activist Deanna Meyer in disgust. “Converting the living into carrion and serving it on a concrete platter?”

Alberta goes on to say, “As you may know, Promenade at Castle Rock has attracted attention recently because a group of wildlife advocates, including members who do not live in Castle Rock, is campaigning against our project.”

Enraged by the “fact sheet” printed by the company (which isn’t from Castle Rock either), Julie Gallagher said, “Everyone is local when it comes to destroying an ecosystem.”

An animal activist from Austin, TX, and member of SCRPD, she said, “When they’re poisoning the Earth, there are no borders.”

Since the mass poisoning, all hell has broken loose and while Alberta circulated and mailed its fact sheet to locals, activists created two websites PromenadeCastleRockFacts.org and SaveTheCastleRockPrairieDogs.org., and two Facebook pages, Save the Castle Rock Mall Prairie Dogs and Promenade at Castle Rock Facts (which is separate from the prairie dog issues and focuses on information for locals about a referendum vote).

For weeks, venomous animosity ensued between those involved in the Castle Rock ordeal while the surviving prairie dogs lay doomed. National supporters, who couldn’t become physically involved, were frustrated, impatient and demanding of answers.

“This has been precious time wasted!” yelled Anita Rosinola from Westmont, NJ, who’s been prodigiously following the story via Save the Castle Rock Prairie Dog Facebook page, and most recently, she said, on her local TV news station in her state 1,700 miles away.

“With all this time that’s been wasted bickering about it, days and weeks have gone by, rescuers could’ve gotten the dogs out of there by now!”

The back story would take chapters to explain, but the digested version follows.

The key people in the debate are: a local group of animal advocates backed by many thousands of supporters online who include master wildlife rehabilitators, animal rescuers and folks belonging to other advocacy groups. That group is the Save the Castle Rock Mall Prairie Dogs group (to whom we will subsequently refer as SCRPD or activists), WildLands Defense (WLD) a wildlife advocacy legal team headed by Brian Ertz, Bold Visions Conservation (BVC) a new conservation group in New Mexico which began forming two years ago, Trent Botkins family owned animal re-location company Eco Solutions, Alberta Development Partners, LLC., Ron Purcella’s Animal & Pest Control Specialist Inc. who boasts “humane” extermination on his website, and most importantly, the prairie dog families both dead and alive — the very first Castle Rock residents.

Negotiations between Alberta Development, WildLands Defense and the activists had been going on since November 2014 when the activists got wind a mall was being planned over top the enormous stronghold of prairie dog families.

Alberta said their plan was to trap the dogs, “euthanize” them and feed them to a black-tailed ferret community or to raptors at a rehabilitation sanctuary. To be clear, they were not going to release them, but rather feed the dead dogs to the ferrets and raptors. (And euthanasia means to painlessly end the life of an incurably sick animal, including humans. To kill a healthy animal is correctly defined as, simply, killing.)

But on March 10, 2015, with the blessing of the Castle Rock town council, Alberta turned a vibrant chirping-with-life prairie dog stronghold, into a dead-silent wasteland.

While the poison was still wreaking havoc on surrounding wildlife including rabbits, snakes, ferrets and birds, WildLands Defense (WLD) filed litigation against Alberta to try to protect the wildlife.

Bold Visions Conservation group (BVC) was suggested to Ertz as an ally. BVC arbitrated between WLD and Alberta, and WLD agreed to drop their law suit in exchange for BVC’s promise of a 500-count prairie dog rescue including dogs from the Promenade site as well as the neighboring Castle Rock Church.

Ertz, and the activists, said that rescue did not happen as promised.

Botkin of Eco Solutions said he was paid $5,000 the day the agreement was signed, but nothing since of the $22,000 total he contracted with developers for both re-location projects. BVC associate director Joe Adair, said his group was paid $7,500 by Alberta for the arbitration, but any direct rescue efforts beyond that have not been confirmed.

Botkin said Alberta gave him two days to capture the dogs, which rang alarm bells with wildlife rehabilitators following the story due to the ludicrous time limit. One relocation expert said, “You can barely capture one family of grey squirrels in two days.” Botkin said the original estimated count of dogs on the Promenade site was only 100, so he said two days would’ve been enough time.

Botkin said in a phone interview that 130 dogs were collected and kept in a permitted residence in southern Colorado. (Those who cared for the dogs counted 73 in the troughs Trent had delivered.) After Botkin’s two-man team captured dogs for two days, using a foaming technique, they left, but requested an extension of three more days for other rescuers. Alberta granted the request, and Colorado re-locator Sandy Nervig, who is not connected with either BVC nor Ecosolutions, stepped in using Have-a-Heart traps to capture another fourteen with the voluntary help of Castle Rock volunteers including Beth Ann Senderak.

According to Botkin, Nervig was included in his relocation permit, but she cut ties with him shortly after the trapping, and acquired a new permit without his knowledge. Nervig responded and said, “Eco-solutions did not have a subcontract with me or provide me with any compensation for the work I did. Therefore I was a volunteer as were the other local volunteers who helped trap. Our only goal and motivation was to save the lives of the prairie dogs.”

Nervig has since sent an invoice, via WLD, to Botkin. Botkin said he has some funds available from Alberta, but not much. The promenade site was allocated only $9,000 of the total $22,000 contracted.The rescue attempt at Castle Rock church could not be confirmed.

During negotiations, BVC said they had a “donor” willing to take the dogs in New Mexico, which was suggested to be one of the ranch estates owned by Ted Turner, the movie mogul and ranch owner. Emails to Mr. Turner’s associates were not returned and his involvement could not be confirmed. BVC said the relocation site “fell through.” And according to a wildlife rehabilitator in New Mexico, a state-to-state relocation had never been done.

In the meantime, Alberta offered a settlement of mitigation. Which, in an extremely basic explanation, means a developer can kill wildlife where they want to build, but protect it in another place which is usually somewhere wildlife doesn’t need protection. WLD said the settlement was unsatisfactory and rejected it calling it “blood money” and saying the money offered wouldn’t have bought nearly enough land for the dogs.

Joe Adair, associate director of BVC, disagreed with WLD’s decision, but said, “This group of Castle Rock activists is very special. Their actions were nothing short of amazing. They didn’t have a lot of experience, and made a few mistakes, but they were activism superstars.”

WLD credits BVC with a successful arbitration, but little else. Ertz said, “BVC took the money and ran, and we’re stuck with the tab.”

BVC, the 2-year old group, has one other relocation effort under it’s belt in Clovis, New Mexico which Adair called a “horror story,” and he fears Castle Rock may end just as badly.

At this point in the negotiations, the few rescued dogs did not have a home and Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the agency that wields supreme power over the state’s wildlife, stepped in.

According to SCRPD, On April 6, 2015, CPW sent a text to the permitted-residents who were caring for the dogs, and said they wanted to come out and do a welfare check on them. Once there, escorted by police officers, CPW removed the dogs to await a fate no one knew at the time. The resident was falsely accused of not having a permit, which was broadcast on a television news story, however she later received apologies from the news channel.

Many thought the 87 pups who had been through so much already were doomed.

The thousands watching the event unfold online went ballistic, and picked up their phones. CPW was immediately inundated with desperate pleas to spare the dogs’ lives.

Then the story hit the evening news.

Fox news aired photos of CPW seizing the dogs, interviewed lead activist Deanna Meyer, and shortly after, CPW granted a permit to release the rescued dogs onto her land — land that Meyer said she had offered as a relocation site from the very start of negotiations. Contrary to some reports, she said her land was “never rejected but rather never considered.” The land, already under a conservation easement, is a wildlife haven including a 60-acre meadow almost perfect for the rescued prairie dogs. According to CPW statements, the land is slightly higher in the dogs’ regularly inhabited elevation which is why CPW said the land wasn’t considered in the first place.

At what CPW called an “11th-hour relocation site,” the handful of rescued dogs got a new home. On April 15, prairie dog expert Nervig and local volunteers dug starter-dens and released the pups. The video of that release can be seen on You Tube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cHKm3I_CYno&feature=share. In the video, the pups are calmly exploring their new digs, and one prairie dog can be seen almost literally jumping for joy.The hearts of supporters jumped for joy as well, and a huge sigh of relief was felt.

However, the happiness was momentary since the clock is still critically ticking for the 300 or so left on the site, and those at the Castle Rock Church whose fate is still unknown.

At present, construction on the site has halted because of signatures gathered for a referendum by a small hardy group of Castle Rock locals, belonging to the Save the Castle Rock Prairie Dog group, with the legal backing of WLD. Activists say that referendum is intended to empower locals when it comes to their town’s development decisions.

Petitioner Stacey Rogers said, “The purpose of the petition is to allow Castle Rock citizens to vote on zoning change. Alberta claims that the amendment makes the development in that area less dense, but the research indicates otherwise.”

While the rescue credit is being debated, it’s immaterial for many, since the bottom line is, 300 or more dogs are in harm’s way and can possibly be saved. The Save the Castle Rock Prairie Dog group are the ones directly working on the relocation now, and their supporters’ motives are altruistic.

According to activists, negotiations are quietly taking place again between Alberta and local rescuers, and activists are suggesting folks kindly ask CPW and Alberta to grant life and liberty to rest of the pups by allowing them to be re-located.

Meyer said CPW allows 10 to 15 relocated prairie dogs per acre. That’s 900 dogs, and under that stipulation, Meyer’s land is more than enough room to accommodate the 300 or so pups left stranded on Alberta’s property now. The bill for that project however is still mounting.

Folks observing from a distance said Alberta is building on a graveyard, and they were naive not to expect an emotional thunderstorm. Supporters said Alberta threw the first punch with the poisoning, and now activists are punching back while the world is watching.

The developer does have the legal right to poison again at any time, but all those interviewed said, “This doesn’t have to happen!”

 

The Plight of Colorado’s Underdogs

Why is Castle Rock attracting, and deserving, of national attention? Animals all over the globe are vanishing at a devastating rate, and developers are killing prairie dogs all over the west.

The answer is simple: advocates see Castle Rock as a microcosm of what development is doing to the whole world.

“This is Everywhere, USA,” said Brian Ertz of WildLands Defense.

“What developers are doing is a cancer of box stores metastasizing all over small town America,” he said.

Heather Glenn, a Washington State member of SCRPD and proud adopted mother of a pet prairie dog, said it’s nothing new and that’s precisely why it’s so heartbreaking.

“The cries of the people fighting against this atrocity, much like the cries of the animals dying in terror and agony, were summarily dismissed by all parties in positions of power as well as by their new ‘neighbors’ who are dead-set on ramming a glorified strip mall down their throats! The lifeless dirt of the killing grounds in Castle Rock is a reflection of the emptiness in the hearts of those who did this,” she said.

In the west, prairie dogs have almost no right to live at all. They have been stripped of all dignity by every facet of government due to the influence cattle ranching industries, farmers, and oil and gas companies have over law making. And Colorado especially shows no pity on the humble creatures. That’s one fact that’s universally agreed upon by all advocacy groups.

If humans eradicate these keystone species, they will also thereby exterminate the animals who rely on them for food: the endangered black-footed ferret, some species of fox, eagles, badgers and hawks. And potentially the herbivores prairie dogs help feed: bison, pronghorn and mule deer.

The problem for the defenseless animal is essentially their name. Firstly, phobias of rodents are nothing new though the myths are refuted time and time again. Secondly, the species of prairie dogs in Colorado are legally deemed “pests” and land owners are permitted to kill them as they please. As many devoted prairie dogs proponents there are, there are also as many who hate them. Those folks are mostly cattle slaughtering ranchers and others who reap financial gain off the land that the animals inhabited first, or those who’ve never met a prairie dog.

Persecuted as well are the prairie dogs’ cousins: ground squirrels, ground hogs, gophers, beaver and even meerkats (Africa’s prairie dogs who are the lovable stars on Animal Planet’s ‘Meerkat Manor.’)

“Colorado Parks and Wildlife regulations make successful prairie dog re-locations difficult and rare,” said Alberta in their mailer to Castle Rock residents. “Difficult, but not impossible, said Botkin, who’s been relocating for many years in New Mexico where the laws make it much easier to do so. “To get CPW to issue a relocation permit, a relocation site must be secured first,” he said. “Then the decision is put to the county commissioners in the county of the intended relocation site.”

To understand how the state of Colorado feels about prairie dogs, one must only read the title of the Senate Bill 99-111. “Concerning a prohibition against the release of destructive rodent pests into a county without the prior approval of the board of county commissioners of the county.”

Destructive rodent pests? Quite a different perspective than the affectionate chubby pups folks are describing here.

That bill, Botkin said, “Means that the Colorado legislature transferred the role of managing the conservation of a single species to county commissioners, who in general have no training in wildlife conservation. What county commissioners do have, however, is a very strong link to the agricultural constituency of their county, often being personally affiliated with the farm and ranch industry, an industry that is traditionally hostile to prairie dogs.”

Presently, the laws are a different story in neighboring Utah. The Utah prairie dog, an almost indistinguishably different species from the black-tailed dog in Colorado, has been reported to halt construction just by peeking his head out of his den. Of the five species of prairie dogs, two are protected under the Endangered Species Act, the Mexican prairie dog and the Utah prairie dog. Unfortunately though, authorities are trying to change those laws as we speak.

But just because an animal isn’t on the endangered list, does he deserve to die?

Development may be the cancer, but wildlife agencies can be the death sentence said advocates.

Animal rehabilitator with the Prairie Dog Pals group in New Mexico, Yvonne Boudreaux, said she has no love for wildlife agencies in the west. “Your tax dollars are funding these mindless thugs to kill everything in their path unless it’s a cow. If you have four legs and fur, and are NOT a cow, it is their policy to kill you.”

As an observer, who said she’s grateful for not being involved in the Castle Rock mess, said, “This is the biggest cock-up I’ve ever seen.

“The developers should have considered the (intense) emotions involved with destroying the largest prairie dog colony left, and CPW could have helped, but rather sat on their hands and let a division between the groups involved take place.”

CPW maintained in a TV interview that the prairie dog habitat in Colorado is alive and well, however do the math folks. If the black-footed ferret, who’s only food source is prairie dog prey, IS endangered, take a wild guess as to who’s next to go on that endangered list.

The unfounded, yet common, defense for killing these animals is from those who make a living off the cattle slaughtered for a meat-eating nation. Cattle ranchers claim cows and horses have broken their legs from stepping on a den. Again, animals are adept at escaping danger, and according to the National Wildlife Federation, and thousands of wildlife experts, “there has never been a documented case of cattle or horses breaking legs from prairie dog holes.” Even a Department of Natural Resources representative in Maryland who grew up on “horse country in Maryland” claimed horses do break legs, but when asked if she could prove that, she said, “Well, that’s what I’ve heard.”

Advocates say it’s quite simply a myth perpetrated by a John Wayne movie. As for the dogs hogging the grass, prairie dogs prefer short grass that’s been nibbled down by other herbivores, and biologists believe the grass grows richer in nutrients where the dogs have aerated the land with their tunnels.

Another misconception about prairie dogs concerns the plague of the 14th century. Prairie dogs don’t carry it, fleas do, and according to the World Health Organization, a whopping average of SEVEN people get plague in the United States. The treatment is simple — antibiotics. Incidentally, humans carry and transmit the plague of the 21st century, HIV the virus that causes AIDS. Enough said.

Boudreaux said prairie dogs have a dry bite, and zoonotic diseases like rabies are transferred through blood and saliva. She said when folks ask if she’s afraid of getting bitten, she responds, “After handling over 24,000 prairie dogs in my life, the only thing I’ve been infected with from them is a low tolerance for people who harm them.”

And she’s not alone. Navajo Native American Indians, who’ve had their share of sand kicked in their face, reportedly revere prairie dogs. “If you destroy the prairie dog, there will be no more rain,” a legend states. According to scientists, the Navajo knew what they were talking about. When 98% of the dogs were eradicated the rains did disappear. No joke. The aeration pups create with their den and tunnel making actually clear the lungs of the soil, and help conduct water back into the air.

To label prairie dogs as pests is beyond ludicrous to those US citizens lucky enough to live in the dozen states that allow prairie dogs as a part of the family.

Folks like Glenn, who have intimate connections to the unquestionably cute animals, say the love she receives from the extremely affectionate pup is no different from that of a canine dog.

“If you don’t like prairie dogs, then it’s only because you have never met one,” she said, along with thousands of folks who know them personally.

“My prairie dog Jack was one of those rare creatures you’re lucky to encounter once or twice in a lifetime,” she said. “His joy and enthusiasm for life was unparalleled. His loyalty and devotion put the best canine to shame.”

“With his bright, shiny eyes and gleefully wiggling tail, even on my darkest days, Jack was always able to make me smile through my tears,” she beamed. “He showed me that there is still magic and wonder in the world.”

Through inconsolable tears of Jack’s passing two months ago, she said, “I still listen for the clickity-click of those little paws and the joyful jump-yips that greeted me every day for so many years. Now where Jack used to be is only an emptiness so vast that it’s all I can do to just remind myself to breathe.

The horror inflicted on the Castle Rock animals and at countless similar sites around our ‘great’ nation,” she said, “is unconscionable.”

She and others ask, does it really all come down to a small patch of government deciding on who deserves to die, and who doesn’t?

Yes, it does.

“How would you like it if it were you?” yelled Anita Rosilina, the animal rescuer and member of SCRPD from New Jersey. Her voice shaking with rage, she shouted to developers, Castle Rock council members, CPW and the entire state of Colorado, “What makes an animal less important than you?”

Whether or not one would cuddle a prairie dog, folks are asking, what is the value of life compared to the value of a strip mall?

Julie Gallagher, the activist from Texas, asks, how many animals’ lives, and limited ecosystems, are we willing to trade for another set of the same old stores? Were the heartbreaking cries of these animals ignored by a corporation and a town council whose ears aren’t sensitive enough to hear them?

“Until a human being makes a heart connection with a wild animal – they will always fear what they don’t understand,” she said. “And what one fears, one destroys.”

And as Steve Irwin, the famed animal ambassador of another demonized species, the crocodile, said, “People will save what they love.”

In hundreds of posts, emails, comments, and dozens of interviews, supporters are ripping their hair out and emphatically asking the same question of Alberta Development, “If there are people willing to rescue and relocate these animals, why won’t you let them?”

Build the damn mall, they said, just let rescuers get the dogs out first.

If Alberta says yes, then it’s up to CPW. Trent Boktin, the veteran re-locator, said, “The money’s there, the relocation sites are there, the public will is there, the muscle on the ground is there. It all comes down to getting approval from CPW and the board of county commissioners.”

So what’s the plan? WildLands Defense along with other prairie dog advocacy groups are devoted to changing laws to let the dogs simply live. And according to SCRPD, negotiations are still quietly going on between developers and local animal rescuers to halt another disaster. In essence, a relocation site must be secured for CPW to grant a permit, and the law already in place makes this a tricky situation.

And meanwhile back at the Meyer ranch, the 87 prairie dogs who survived the capture, relocation, and living in troughs for weeks, are doing just fine. They’re eating, playing, snuggling down in their new human-made dens, and they seem deliriously happy.

To those who love animals, this has been called a “9/11 of wildlife.” And the distress whistles of the terrified prairie dogs dying underground, are no less painful to them then the bone-chilling whistles heard from firefighters trapped under mounds of rubble at ground zero.

Some may think that extreme, but in the hearts of folks who’ve been honored by these animals’ trust, it is truly just as heartbreaking. Animals will often fight to the death to protect their own, and to these empathic folks, ALL animals are their own kind.

“Animals keep the planet in balance,” Gallagher said, “The only pests on the planet are humans!”

This has been another terrorist attack on wildlife, said advocates, and they have had ENOUGH!

The motives of developers, the town council and the exterminators for killing the prairie dogs is essentially money. For the countless people mourning the lives lost, and those desperately trying to save the rest, it’s not about a mall, or politics, or money — it’s about Love.

Suzanne Grover is a freelance journalist and can be reached at groverartwork@gmail.com. All copyrights belong to Ms. Grover. This article may be shared through email and Facebook, but news organizations must email Ms. Grover directly for a reprint permission agreement.

Bushwhacked: Tamarisk, a water-guzzling alien, is wreaking havoc in the West

How many ways can people screw up when trying to bend the landbase to their will? The following story by Pam Zubeck of the Colorado Springs Independent starts to add them up. Bring your calculator.

By Pam Zubeck @PZubeck

Pam Zubeck Tamarisk is thriving along the Arkansas River north of Granada, 14 miles west of the Kansas state line.

Pam Zubeck
Tamarisk is thriving along the Arkansas River north of Granada, 14 miles west of the Kansas state line.

Tamarisk’s frothy branches of pink and green embellish creeks and river banks — a haze of color that looks fairly benign, and speaks to the plant’s original purpose as an ornamental shrub. But since its arrival in America from Eurasia around the turn of the 19th century, tamarisk has managed to play the role of both hero and villain in the American West.

Because of the plant’s resistance to heat and drought, the Army Corps of Engineers used it in the mid-19th century to stabilize riverbanks against erosion. Then, during the severe drought of the 1930s on the Great Plains, farmers deployed it and its companion, invasive Russian olive, to provide windbreaks.

In the decades since, the story has shifted. Tamarisk, which can grow to 20 feet tall, has proliferated with a vengeance, colonizing thousands of miles of riparian corridors in the West, including those along the Front Range. It guzzles water, squeezes out any competitors, and sterilizes wetlands by leaving soils parched with salinity — hence its other name, saltcedar.

Besides being hard to destroy, a single plant’s blossoms produce thousands of seeds, which easily take root. Tamarisk, by one account, has multiplied 150-fold in just 100 years and now occupies up to 1.5 million acres in the western United States.

Even as water resources are taxed amid drought conditions, this ever-spreading exotic drinks freely via taproots that can reach 50 feet into the ground. One analysis put its consumption of water along the Arkansas River between Pueblo and the Kansas state line as enough to serve 376,000 people annually.

The body of research on the plant is massive and growing. Many have taken up the cause of eradication: government agencies, nonprofits and thousands of volunteers, as well as scientists and researchers, including a Colorado College botany professor and his students. Congress even adopted a law in 2006 ordering the Interior and Agriculture departments to get involved, though significant funding was never allocated.

Some new strategies for controlling tamarisk — including deployment of an insect, which has grown controversial due to its destruction of habitat for an endangered species — show promise. But the war on tamarisk is far from over, and warming temperatures due to climate change could help it spread farther by creating hospitable conditions in new areas.

Its role as villain may be relatively new, but tamarisk has fully embraced the part by being very hard to vanquish.

According to the Global Invasive Species Database, there are three varieties of tamarisk on Earth: tamarix aphylla (shrub), tamarix parviflora (tree) and tamarix ramosissima (tree, shrub). The last type prevails in the American West, in a spread the database refers to as “a massive invasion.”

It was the North Dakota Department of Agriculture that put tamarisk acreage throughout the West in 2003 at 1.5 million acres. It also noted that up to 200 gallons of water per day, per plant, is lost through transpiration, or evaporation of water from its leaves. That’s half of what the average American family of four uses each day.

In 2005-06, the Tamarisk Coalition, a nationally renowned, Grand Junction-based nonprofit that restores riparian lands and works with hundreds of other agencies, conducted an inventory of tamarisk infestations along the Arkansas River between Pueblo and the Kansas state line. Using aerial photography, satellite imagery and data from various local government agencies and conservation groups, it reported 29,000 acres of tamarisk and estimated those plants consumed about 47,000 acre feet of water a year. (One acre foot is 325,851 gallons.) That equates to 68 percent of the amount delivered annually to the Arkansas River Basin by the Frying Pan-Arkansas trans-mountain water project.

Stands of tamarisk along the river’s tributaries and reservoirs — which totaled 15,000 acres in the 2005-06 study period — tap another 12,000 acre feet per year, the coalition found.

More troubling is that the coalition estimates losses in the next several decades will double along the river corridor, and nearly quadruple in the river’s tributaries, based on the assumption that tamarisk will “infill” the gaps in current infestations. Such infill is likely, because each tamarisk blossom spews 10,000 seeds.

“They disperse through the wind and down watersheds,” the National Institute of Invasive Species Science website explains. “Seeds can germinate while floating and establish themselves on wet banks within 2 weeks.”

From there, tamarisk debilitates wetlands by crowding out native species, such as cottonwoods, willows and grasses, and by salinating soils with its salty leaves, which discourages other plants from sprouting and various species of wildlife from living among them. Without grasses, willows and other plants to provide natural filtration for water runoff, streams become filled with silt and salt, says Shane Heschel, who earned a doctoral degree in botany from Brown University and teaches at Colorado College.

Having studied tamarisk since coming here a decade ago, Heschel finds that cottonwoods and willows might consume equal amounts of water as tamarisk but are still preferable, because they provide a healthier environment for animals, fish and birds.

“When the Arkansas gets to Pueblo, it’s a mucky mess,” he says. “Where you have tamarisk, you have occasional shrubs and a lot of empty dirt. … What contrasts with that is cottonwood, reeds, wetland plants and grass that fills in space so you get less runoff.”

The runoff that does make it into the river in a diverse eco-system, he says, is naturally purified. (That’s one of the chief arguments conservationists make on behalf of protecting, and even creating, wetlands.)

“In the longer term, [biodiversity] makes that whole Arkansas River riparian system more stable,” he says. “We’ll have to worry less about erosion problems and soil loss. Those kinds of plants also act like filters and buffers for all the stuff that runs off from cities, from agricultural fields. That kind of diversity helps to filter that runoff and makes the Arkansas River water a lot healthier, less full of silt, less full of fertilizer.”

He notes that while 10 percent of public lands used to be riparian areas dotted with cottonwoods and willows, that’s dwindled to about 1 percent, a drop partially due to the spread of tamarisk.

Also, tamarisk, whether dead or alive, poses another substantial downside: It’s a fire hazard. In early April, the Fowler Fire Department and other agencies were confronted with the wind-driven Fowler River Fire east of Pueblo that burned for days along the Arkansas riverbed. While that fire charred a lot of cottonwood trees, Fowler Fire Chief Pat Christensen Jr. says tamarisk is the real threat.

“In some areas down in here, you got miles and miles of it,” Christensen says. “It doesn’t matter if it’s green, it’s gonna go. There isn’t much you can do to stop it. It’s a detriment to our area.”

Eradication efforts began on the local level sporadically in the 1940s, but didn’t get traction on a wider scale until the 1990s, when a project on the Rio Grande River south of Albuquerque was undertaken.

About 15 years ago, the Tamarisk Coalition was formed. Today it works with more than 100 partners to restore riparian lands overrun with tamarisk through education and removal projects.

Some of those were undertaken along the Dolores and Colorado rivers with the help of Troy Schnurr, a ranger with the Bureau of Land Management in Grand Junction. The stretch Schnurr and others worked on isn’t accessible by heavy equipment, so crews had to raft down the river, work by hand with chainsaws and apply herbicides to stumps.

The project covered 25 miles and took 15 years.

“It can be overwhelming when you start,” Schnurr says. “There’s a lot of repair work, reseeding, replacement because the tamarisk has been there so long. That plant’s gonna be around for quite a while.”

Shelly Simmons, assistant district forester with the Colorado State Forest Service, explains it like this.

“What happens is resprouting,” she says. “Tamarisk has an aggressive root system. Once it does get established, you’re going to have to watch it for five years and treat it for regrowth. It’s rare if you get 100 percent control the first time you try to control it.”

Simmons works with volunteers, land owners and various agencies, including conservation districts, attacking tamarisk in the Purgatoire basin, Chico Creek, Fountain Creek, Huerfano Creek and the main stem of the Arkansas River.

“There’s been a lot of workshops in the Lower Arkansas Valley over the years,” she says. “We focus on riparian restoration, so we’ve had a lot of land managers and land owners attend those workshops. If a landowner feels they have the equipment and the means, they can undertake projects on their own land.” That was the case in an area along the Arkansas east of Pueblo and south of Highway 50, where tamarisk was cut and piled into heaps several years ago.

Simmons estimates that about 2,000 acres along the Purgatoire River, a tributary to the Arkansas, has been treated, along with hundreds of acres along the Timpas tributary, which runs between La Junta and Trinidad and joins the Arkansas at Swink. The heaviest infestations of tamarisk are located around John Martin Reservoir west of Lamar.

Farther east along the Arkansas, in Hamilton County, Kansas, officials have tried a more hands-off approach. A 2004 review showed that tamarisk occupied 75 percent of a surveyed area, while cottonwood had dwindled to 6.5 percent. So, using a helicopter, the herbicide Habitat was sprayed along the channel, according to the Kansas Department of Agriculture.

The project has been deemed a success. But Tamarisk Coalition executive director Stacy Beaugh says herbicide sprays are generally used on monocultures of tamarisk. “The challenge is you can’t be super-duper accurate of where that herbicide goes,” she says. “If there are willows hidden in the tamarisk, it’s going to blanket the affected area.”

All told, the Tamarisk Coalition’s assessment of the Arkansas corridor a decade ago estimated eradication would cost $44.1 million for the river itself, and $12.2 million for tributaries and reservoirs, figures that Beaugh says are still accurate today.

Even though the plant doesn’t do well above 6,000 feet, Heschel has observed tamarisk in Colorado Springs. And it’s all along the Fountain Creek corridor, where erosion damage due to localized flooding through the years has rendered the plant useful in some respects. “Tamarisk along Fountain Creek is beneficial to bank stabilization but detrimental to establishing other species that are less water-consumptive and more friendly to wildlife along the creek,” Larry Small, director of the Fountain Creek Watershed, Flood Control and Green-way District Board, says in an email.

Small notes the district will remove tamarisk and replace it with willows and other riparian plants as part of its bank stabilization, wetlands and wildlife habitat restoration and flood-control efforts. The district, which covers ground from Palmer Lake and Woodland Park to Pueblo, will receive $50 million from Colorado Springs Utilities after the city’s water pipeline project, the Southern Delivery System, goes on-line next year. That money is targeted to improve Fountain Creek, but in what ways hasn’t been finalized.

Funding historically has been underwhelming for tamarisk-related projects. For instance, though Congress adopted the Salt Cedar and Russian Olive Control Demonstration Act in 2006, the measure’s original $80 million allocation for demonstration projects for long-term management and reestablishment of native vegetation was never funded.

The act did result in a peer-reviewed assessment of tamarisk, though, completed in 2010 by the U.S. Geological Survey. That assessment puts a lot of stock in saltcedar leaf beetles (Diorhabda elongata), citing a study area in Nevada that showed a 65 percent mortality rate in saltcedar five years after the beetle was unleashed there. The beetles “consume saltcedar leaves, depleting root energy reserves until they are exhausted and the plant dies,” the assessment says.

These beetles came to Colorado about a decade ago, Beaugh says. Initially imported from Asia where the plant originated, the beetles are collected from areas on the Western Slope, where they’re well-established, and housed at the Palisade Insectary, run by the Colorado Department of Agriculture’s Biological Pest Control Program. From there, they’re shipped around the state, including to the Arkansas River corridor and Fountain Creek.

They arrive in cardboard jugs that resemble ice cream containers. Simmons says workers perch the cartons amid tamarisk bushes, and simply open the lids. The beetles, 1,500 per jug, crawl out and go to work. About 10,000 beetles are released per site, Simmons says, ideally “where tamarisk trees are younger and more succulent.”

A Colorado Agriculture Department newsletter says the beetle had settled into the Arkansas Basin by 2012, where some sites have been defoliated multiple times and up to 60 percent of the target tamarisk trees have been killed. The state has taken to calling the beetle “a valuable management tool.”

It also lies at the heart of the CC professor’s latest research. Heschel wants to know how the beetle affects tamarisk’s consumption of water; data to date suggest that in some cases, a tamarisk plant under siege only gets more aggressive.

“When the beetle attacks tamarisk,” Heschel says, “tamarisk tends to increase its water use to compensate for getting attacked.”

The study, which includes one site just south of the Fountain Creek Regional Park Nature Center, also looks at whether tamarisk that survive the beetle attack somehow become even heartier and more thirsty. “Is that what we’re accidentally doing?” Heschel says. “I don’t know the answer to that.”

The CC study’s findings, also based on research conducted at sites near Bent’s Old Fort and John Martin Dam, will be submitted to the International Journal of Plant Sciences this summer. In the meantime, the insectary in Palisade reports it’s still releasing beetles, and plans to continue doing so this year.

Use of the beetle, however, is being curtailed in some other states due to its potential to destroy habitat for the endangered southwestern willow flycatcher. In September 2013, the Center for Biological Diversity, and the Maricopa Audubon Society, in Arizona, filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture, alleging the beetles were destroying the songbird’s nesting areas. The lawsuit, according to the Los Angeles Times, accused the department’s Animal and Plant Inspection Service of failing to protect the flycatcher, which nests in tamarisk thickets. The case is pending before a federal judge.

Robin Silver with the Center for Biological Diversity says while the lawsuit points to problems in Utah, Arizona and Nevada, the beetles also have invaded nesting areas in southwest and south central Colorado. “[Federal agriculture officials] said, ‘Don’t worry, because the native plants will come back,'” Silver says. But he argues that “unless you change the hydrology, you’ll end up with nothing” in the way of vegetation after tamarisk has been removed. “The only chance you have,” he says, “is to get out ahead of the beetles and change some of the hydrology for plant recovery. [Officials] don’t want to do that because it costs money.”

Patrick Shafroth, a research ecologist with the USGS at the Fort Collins Science Center, agrees that restoration is crucial in determining what vegetation comes next in the context of tamarisk control. As stated in a 2011 paper by USGS and other researchers about consequences of using the beetle, “Conditions in many areas now occupied by tamarisk have been so altered anthropogenically that recolonization by native willows and cottonwoods is unlikely without intensive restoration efforts.”

Considering the sky-high cost and massive efforts to restore large areas affected by the beetle, the paper says, “widespread tamarisk mortality will likely result in a net loss in riparian habitat for at least a decade or more.”

Flooding is an enemy of tamarisk, which will drop in number during scouring by rising waters. But in today’s environment there’s little flooding on rivers where many dams have been built that didn’t exist just 50 years ago.

A 2007 research paper by several experts, including Shafroth, concluded that stream flows are “strong determinants” of vegetation in riparian systems. Deep groundwater, as opposed to more shallow sources, and intermittent river flows favor the deep-rooted tamarisk over the shallower-rooted cottonwood and willow, the study says.

Heschel notes that water management throughout the West has prevented the type of flooding that used to control invasive plants. “I think the best way to regulate tamarisk is to flood our systems more frequently,” he says, “but the problem is, you lose your reservoir water. Water is scarce, and we dam it up for agricultural purposes, for hydroelectric. If we could increase flood frequency, by itself it would make for a healthier system.”

Because it’s not likely that flood conditions will be intentionally created on major rivers, Simmons, in La Junta, says she’d rather focus on doing what is possible. “Dams play a critical role in our water supply,” she says. “We have to work within reality and what’s possible. I’m not involved with any groups who want to petition the Corps of Engineers about river flows.”

No matter how it’s done, any tamarisk-fighting measure that gets enacted should be studied closely, says Shafroth.

“If we assume the change is a reduction in tamarisk and an increase in other vegetation, there needs to be associated research and monitoring,” he says. “How does the water budget change? Is there more water in the Arkansas River or a rise in the water table? Or does the new vegetation use just as much water? The same thing for wildlife. How are the wildlife species of concern affected by the change in vegetation?”

Beaugh says getting people involved could lead to different approaches to tamarisk, including occasional floods. She notes that tamarisk removal has brought together thousands of people with the common goal of nurturing watersheds, a power that shouldn’t be underestimated or confined to just eradicating one plant.

“There’s more to protecting riparian areas than just cutting tamarisk,” she says. “You have to consider the broader situation you’re in. People might say, ‘We want to have a say in how a river is regulated.’ We’re one piece of the puzzle in helping people try to start somewhere and consider the broader ecosystem.”

Because there’s still a big education piece to be done here.

Asked about the availability of the “ornamental shrub,” Beaugh starts to explain that it’s been labeled a noxious weed in Colorado and most Western states, meaning it can’t be sold. But Ben Bloodworth, the coalition’s program coordinator, interrupts her, saying he’s just found that tamarisk can be purchased on Amazon and shipped to Colorado.

“That’s something we need to look at,” Beaugh says.

And then there’s the wild card of climate change. Despite all attempts to rid rivers and streams of tamarisk, the hearty plant could get a leg up from rising temperatures. While Shafroth considers the question of climate change’s influence “uncertain,” the 2010 USGS assessment and other scholarly works say it could foster tamarisk’s proliferation, given that it thrives in hot, dry weather, and parts of Colorado remain in moderate to severe drought conditions.

From the assessment: “Further expansion of saltcedar northward (and to higher elevations) is likely to occur due to climate warming.”

All of which makes Shafroth wonder if this scoundrel of the West is a cause, or merely a symptom, of the real problem.