Prairie dogs aren’t exactly held in the highest regard by those who make a living off the land.
In fact, many local farmers, ranchers and developers view the small mammal mostly as a pest to be rid of.
Joann Haddock of Lorenzo, Texas and her partner Susan Hubby of Clovis are doing their part to get rid of prairie dogs, but not in the permanent fashion favored by some.
The two women are the core of a group called Citizens for Prairie Dogs and they’ve made preserving the lives of prairie dogs their own way of life over the past six years.
Haddock and Hubby spend much of their summer luring the animals out of their burrows in order to transport them to an unspecified plot of land about “45 minutes away from Clovis,” Haddock said.
Haddock estimates she relocates about 1,000 prairie dogs a year to the property of her land-owning benefactor.
“He lives out in the boonies, but he’s got so much land — about 25,000 acres — he doesn’t want people going out and shooting them,” said Haddock, explaining his anonymity.
“He’s actually a very educated professor from the east who’s retired,” she said. “He told us that he loves the prairie dogs and understands how many more animals come with it: the coyotes, hawks, skunks, snakes. He just sits on the front porch and watches it.”
The method Haddock and Hubby use to get the hiding prairie dogs within grabbing distance is by pumping soapy water into the burrows with hoses.
And, physically grab them they do — when the dogs come to the surface to escape the bubbles.
“It’s fun, to a certain extent, but we don’t like having to do this to them. But it is kind of exciting. You get your adrenaline flowing because it is a challenge; they don’t just come up willingly,” said Haddock, who estimates that she gets bit at least once a year. “They’re really gentle creatures. They’re fearful and they’re in shock because they’re wet.”
The landowner who lets Citizens for Prairie Dogs relocated prairie dogs to his property has a much more favorable view of the animals than farmers who are dismayed to see a colony pop up on their land seemingly overnight.
“Not everybody wants to get rid of them, but 99 percent do. If they have them, they don’t like them,” said Stan Jones, Curry County Extension Agent. “Primarily, they cause huge, major holes where you don’t want holes and they knock all the grass down — not necessarily to eat it, but to see predators - and they carry huge amounts of disease. They’re a varmint.
“If a rancher gets them on his land, you can’t ride horses across that land because you could break a horse’s leg,” said Jones, further explaining the prairie dogs’ unpopularity.
Rather than seeking ways to kill the animals, Haddock and Hubby are hoping to get calls from ranchers to help remove the prairie dogs. They’re also particularly concerned with land developers, saying that new building construction leads to the immediate demise of the dogs living at the property.
That’s how Haddock said she got interested in saving the creatures in the first place.
“My boss in Lubbock was building a house and I just went over to look at her house. It was being built on prairie dogs,” she said.
“When I started investigating, I realized that they were just going to be killed — because they don’t move,” added Haddock.
Haddock wants to negate what she says is a popular myth among developers. “Builders especially, and I don’t know if they just choose to believe that or what, but they just tell people, ‘Oh, they’ll move on when they start construction.’”
Hubby, who says contributions to the group can be made by e-mailing Citizens4pds@aol.com, said that she’s left Clovis for locales like Lawton, Okla.,Abilene, Midland and Big Spring, Texas, to relocate prairie dogs.
Occasionally, they find other species of animals that have been a casualty of a private war against the prairie dogs.
“That happened to us near Plainview. We called Texas wildlife,” Hubby said. “They went out and investigated and they found eight burrowing owl carcasses. Fines and penalties are pending against that developer.”