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Published May 25, 2011, 11:33 AM

SD prairie dog control program deals with cuts

RAPID CITY, S.D. — A program to poison prairie dogs on private land in western South Dakota will help only about half as many ranchers this year because of state budget cuts.

RAPID CITY, S.D. — A program to poison prairie dogs on private land in western South Dakota will help only about half as many ranchers this year because of state budget cuts.

The program aims to poison the rodents on about 3,000 acres of private land this year, less than half last year's total, Game, Fish and Parks spokesman Keith Fisk says. About 75 landowners will get help, compared with 150 last year, he said.

The program is run by Game, Fish and Parks and the state Agriculture Department. The department is reducing its contribution from $150,000 to $25,000, and it will be hard for Game, Fish and Parks to make up the difference, said Fisk, the agency's wildlife damage program administrator.

“I am obviously concerned because we're not going to be able to offer landowners the type of service we have in the past,” he said.

The program focuses on grasslands in Fall River, Custer and Pennington counties, which have had extensive areas of prairie dog colonization. Private landowners must suffer an encroachment of prairie dogs from public land to be eligible for aid.

Fisk said he hopes the U.S. Forest Service will consider providing more assistance. The Forest Service already uses poison to kill prairie dogs on some areas of national grasslands to provide a half-mile buffer zone with private land.

The impact of a reduced state control program might be lessened by disease and also wet conditions, which lead to more grass and inhibit the spread of prairie dogs, Fisk said.

“Prairie dogs look for danger visually. If there's tall grass, they want to stay out of it,” he said.

If there is a drop-off in disease and a return to drought, "we're going to be in a bad situation,’ he said.

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