Lethal control with poison is costly, toxic to the environment, and painful to the animals it kills. It must be repeated every year to “contain” the prairie dogs. Relocation of the prairie dogs en masse is even more costly and labor intensive, and flies in the face of preserving the natural character of the Valley Floor. On the other hand, when confronted with natural barriers to dispersal, some of which the Town is working hard to implement on the Valley Floor, prairie dogs naturally practice population control. Working with nature may take longer than some would like; when ecosystems change, as the Valley Floor is doing now, they need time to establish a new balance. But working with nature rather than against it is worth it in the long run, as it prevents suffering, saves resources, and preserves biodiversity.
Opinion may be divided about the aesthetics of the Valley Floor, but many people, myself included, see the mounds of the prairie dogs as signs of a healthy grassland and as the homes of creatures that are fascinating to watch, photograph, and study. Prairie dogs are North America’s answer to the meerkat, another burrowing colonial mammal so charismatic it had its own series on Animal Planet (Meerkat Manor)! Prairie dogs are also important to other creatures, like the family of badgers that just moved into the Valley Floor. With patience and creativity, the Valley Floor and the entrance to the town could become a showcase of wildlife diversity.
I commend the Town Council for listening to the concerns of everyone in Telluride, both those who love the prairie dogs and those who might wish them elsewhere, and I applaud them for standing up for life, tolerance, and coexistence in the face of recent criticism. I would like to add my voice to those urging patience. As the Endangered Species Advocate for WildEarth Guardians, I will be assisting with monitoring the natural expansion and contraction of the prairie dog colony. Telluride has a unique opportunity to see a natural system find its equilibrium. The prairie dogs may provide their own solution to people’s concerns – let’s give them a chance to work on it.