GRAND JUNCTION, Colorado " Despite Thursday's unanimous decision by the Colorado Wildlife Commission to continue allowing prairie dog shooting, the topic won't soon die.
"We're definitely not done with this issue," said Nicole Rosemarino, wildlife program director for WildEarth Guardians. The group presented a petition to the commission in January to ban target shooting of prairie dogs.
Thursday, the commission rejected the petition, siding with the dozen or so private landowners, hunters and ranchers who testified against it. Three testified on behalf of prairie dogs.
After the hearing, Rosemarino said she opposed all shooting of prairie dogs, not just recreational target shooting.
Farmers and ranchers support shooting prairie dogs because they eat hay, destroy feed and create holes that horses and livestock can stumble into, breaking legs and leading to the horses' and cows' deaths.
WildEarth attorney Jay Tutchton said the group may either take the issue to a ballot and let the electorate decide or appeal the commission's decision to court.
Rosemarino and Tutchton both said they haven't yet decided what to do.
They argued prairie dogs are essential to Colorado's ecosystem. Also, they said, it's cruel to kill the animals.
Rosemarino said in true hunting, hunters eat their prey, but in prairie dog hunting, they don't.
A member of the National Rifle Association, Alan Jones said the issue is a gun rights and hunting issue.
Jones said the prairie dog issue reminded him of the successful effort to eliminate Colorado's spring bear hunt. The hunt was outlawed in 1992 by successful statewide vote after proponents gathered enough signatures to put it on the petition.
"That was absolutely wrong," Jones said.
Last year, according to Division of Wildlife records, lawful hunters killed 615 bears, and 315 were killed after being dubbed "problem bears," Jones said.
"If we start this with prairie dogs, no telling where this will go," Jones said.
Veterinarian David Kuntz owns a ranch in Delta County. He's tried poisoning, trapping and smoke bombing the animals, to no avail.
"Shooting is the only effective control," Kuntz said. The first year he moved there and shot prairie dogs, his hay production increased by 300 tons, he said. Kuntz said his ranch would be out of business in five years if shooting prairie dogs was outlawed.
His neighbor, Dave Whittlesey ranches elk and buffalo, and he shoots 20 to 30 prairie dogs a day year-round. Prairie dog holes cost him two buffalo cows after they broke their legs.
"I can't tell you how many eagles we feed," Whittlesey said. "It's not a waste."
Prairie dogs are "the most destructive animal on the planet," said Gary Volk, an Eckert rancher.
If shooting prairie dogs was outlawed, landowners would be eligible for game damage, Volk said.
"We've got better things to do, better things to talk about than god-d***** prairie dogs," said outfitter Tom Mikesell. He brought one of two petitions that day before the commission to retain prairie dog hunting.
Jim West didn't buy the cruelty to animals argument because prairie dogs are "varmints."
"Cruelty to animals doesn't apply to extermination of pests," West said. Furthermore, wildlife and hunting rules "doesn't say I have to eat the mice I catch in my garage."
Recreational shooting of prairie dogs is "pure violence," said Holly Tarry, Colorado director for the Humane Society of the U.S. Furthermore, lethal lead from bullets is passed on to raptors, killing them, she said.
No figures were presented that would support the lead claim.
Reach Marija B. Vader at email@example.com.