Lawton battles prairie dog population problem

Do not, repeat, do not feed the prairie dogs.


The little dickens have long been a part of the landscape of Lawton's Elmer Thomas Park near downtown, doing what prairie dogs do " standing watch, scurrying around, eating handouts and making more prairie dogs. According to a recent Oklahoman article, the Lawton City Council has to come to grips with its love-hate relationship (OK, mostly hate) with the little varmints.


According to the story, the council recently passed an ordinance banning fans of the little critters from feeding them. Council member Randy Warren explained it this way:


"They don't need to be eating Orville Redenbacher popcorn or Cheetos," Warren said. "No. 1, it's not for them. No. 2, we don't need to be supplementing their diet. They won't be limiting their population. At some point, we've got to figure out a way to do that."


Here's a hint: The Lawton City Council ain't going to be handing out prairie dog condoms for population control.


According to the story, the city in February and March attempted trench warfare to control these members of the rodent family by dropping little pellets of ammonium phosphate down their burrows. Upon contact with moisture, the pellets turn into phosgene gas and presto! Dead prairie dogs rotting in holes in the middle of town.

When the city undertook this, more than a few locals got upset. One such citizen posted this on the Web about the gassings:


"I live in Lawton "¦ where on Wednesday (Feb. 28) the city started killing the local population of prairie dogs at a local park. From what I understand, this will continue for about two weeks. My wife and I, along with several citizens, are outraged over this even more now knowing the city turned down the option of having a group from Colorado relocate the prairie dogs, stating it was too expensive and probably would not work."


This person passed around the phone numbers of city officials and lit up the lines with complaints about gassing the critters until the city stopped doing it.


Warren said he hopes the new ordinance will help people get the point: Quit feeding the prairie dogs or the city will send them on their last roundup.


"Everybody thinks they're cute," Warren said. "We're really hoping if we put some signs up that prohibit feeding the prairie dogs people will honor that. I don't think we're going to need a big push to cite people, but if people aren't doing what we ask (them) to do, there will be an effort to cite people. If we can't find natural ways to limit the population we will be forced to exterminate."


Warren said officials hope to bring the doggie population down from about 1,200 to 5,000 to about 200.


Maybe this is just a PR issue. If we called them what they are, which is more like "prairie rats," perhaps it would be more politically correct to eradicate them. After all, in other states prairie dogs have been known to carry bubonic plague. On the other hand, everybody cheers for the gopher in "Caddyshack."

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