Drought, black-footed ferrets bring Logan County prairie dog issue to a head 

After seven years of drought, the Logan County prairie dog issue reached a volatile level. Mix in a hope of releasing the especially threatened black-footed ferret and the issue reached a boiling point.

This will be a collection of stories and photos from The Hays Daily News concerning the issue.

 State struggles with prairie dog issue.

 Return of black-footed ferrets possible

Russell Springs could lose its highway 

 Attitudes about prairie dogs are mixed 

Prairie dog fans few in number 

The final frontier? 

Followup stories 

County starts to poison prairie dogs 

Meeting will discuss ferret reintroduction 

Prairie dogs steal ferret's thunder 

Landowner works to halt poisoning 

Prairie dog battle turns legal 

Forest Guardians file suit over prairie dogs 

County takes landowners to court 

State fines prairie dog poisoner

Hearing set for groundhog day

Judge delays court hearing

Commission chairman under investigation for poison use 

County drops temporary request 

State to issue reprimand, but no fine for commission chairman

Feds answer Forest Guardians lawsuit 

Ferret proposal stuck in FWS bureaucracy 

Landowner decries poisoning fee 

Endangered species request made for prairie dogs 

Court hearing up in the air 

Secret settlement in the works 

County starts Phostoxin poisoning 

Judge halts Phostoxin use 

Prairie dog case likely heading to federal court 

Nature Conservancy admits use of poison without a permit 

County sends out bill for Phostoxin 

Audubon calls for moratorium on Phostoxin use 

Ferret proposal released 

Logan County fighting restraining order 

Controversy spawns research


 

 Turning neighbor against neighbor

  By MIKE CORN
  Hays Daily News
 
  RUSSELL SPRINGS — They are among the most sociable animals on earth, often “kissing” each other in greeting.
  Yet they are now “pitting neighbor against neighbor” — a phrase that has become common these days in Logan County where it is perhaps the most divisive issue that has taken place in almost 50 years — at least since the courthouse was taken under cover of darkness from Russell Springs to Oakley.
  That 1963 Logan County courthouse war was a bitter fight, much like most of the courthouse wars that other counties faced.
  “It was stolen and spirited away to Oakley,” said Mike Baughn, Thomas County sheriff and president of the Butterfield Trail Historical Society that now occupies the old courthouse.
  “The animosity at that point in time, people quit trading in Oakley,” said Gene Bertrand a resident of southwest Logan County. “The courthouse battle was heated and really divided people.”
  It’s no different today, except the battleground has changed.
  “Now, the people who are saying there’s a better method are so few,” Bertrand said.
  That new idea involves something other than the courthouse. Today Logan County residents are fighting in the pastures — or rather because of what is in at least some of those pastures.
  And what some don’t want in their pastures.
  On the surface, this fight is over prairie dogs — extremely social animals 11 to 14 inches tall and weighing anywhere from 1 to 3 pounds.
  It’s become so much more now, and includes the nation’s most endangered mammal, individual property rights and a law that many say is antiquated.
  It’s the prairie dogs that are the rallying cry on both sides of the issue.
  On one side are people who detest the animals, and want the county to enforce a 105-year-old law that mandates their eradication.
  On the other side are ranchers — far fewer in number — who want prairie dogs to remain, either because of the economic development opportunities that controlled shooting provides or because they see the animals as part of the natural environment. Some even see the animals as a benefit, in many respects rejuvenating the pastures where cattle graze.
  Bertrand was among those who saw shooting as a means of control.
  He’s been beat down by the Logan County Commission and by neighbors and now plans to poison prairie dogs across his ranch.
  “I don’t want to put Logan County in a battle that’s going to raise the tax levy,” he said. “I told them I’d go ahead and bait pretty hard.”
  That amounts to poisoning, what the commission has been pushing for several months now because of a perceived increase in prairie dogs.
  Most likely, the drought has exacerbated the situation with prairie dogs — both in terms of the dogs expanding their territory because of the poor pasture conditions that are a boon to the animals. Prairie dogs shun areas with taller grass to ensure survival.
  What’s bringing the issue to the forefront, however, is a proposal to reintroduce the black-footed ferret to an area where it is believed to have lived and prospered.
  If that plan moves forward, it would be the first time Kansas has ever seen a reintroduction effort of an animal that has been extirpated — no longer existing in Kansas.
  There have been supplemental releases, said Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks biologist Ed Miller, based in Elk City, but never reintroductions of animals that are locally extinct.
  And it would involve what is the nation’s most threatened mammal, an animal that has not been seen in Kansas since 1957.
  Ferrets were in fact thought to have been extinct since 1974, when the last known colony in South Dakota was lost. But in 1984, a small colony of ferrets were found in Meeteetse, Wyo. An outbreak of canine distemper and sylvatic plague — what the bubonic plague in wildlife is called — killed all but 18 in the colony, which was then captured by wildlife agencies.
  Since then, a captive breeding program has been under way.
  Because of a successful program, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is looking at the possibility of releasing ferrets in Logan County — if conditions are just right and all the details can be worked out.
  Ferrets have long been gone from the Logan County pastures, but the area is considered part of the animal’s historic range.
  The reintroduction that is being considered would take anywhere from 40 or 50 ferrets from the captive breeding program and locate them in Logan County — most likely southwest Logan County, which has the greatest concentration of prairie dogs.
  “You’ve got to have prairie dogs to have ferrets,” said Mike LeValley, supervisor for the Kansas office of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
  Southwest Logan County also has land that mirrors the more traditional ecosystem where ferrets ranged, an area teeming with swift fox, burrowing owls, ferruginous hawks and yes, even rattlesnakes.
  For Larry Haverfield, that is exactly how he wants his almost 6,000-acre ranch to look like.
  The ranch owned and operated by Larry and Betty Haverfield is a virtual haven for wildlife.
  He is but one of the few ranchers in Logan County who like prairie dogs. Rather than viewing them as destructive and competitive for the grasses that cattle eat, he sees them as part of the entire spectrum of life on the prairie.
  In short, he considers prairie dogs to be beneficial.
  Haverfield’s land is perhaps the top spot for any possible reintroduction program.
  It’s just that the animosity toward prairie dogs is now fever pitch, and other ranchers fear that a ferret reintroduction program could ultimately offer federal protection to the prairie dogs and make it impossible to control them.
  Bertrand’s ranch is another area the federal wildlife agency was looking at for ferrets.
  ”I really wouldn’t mind having some black-footed ferrets,” he said, but the only way to do that is to poison all but a small area of his ranch.
  Amid complaints and personal feelings against the prairie dogs, Logan County commissioners have taken a hard line stance in favor of enforcing a 1901 law that lets the county enter onto private property and poison the animals and then send the landowner a bill.
  “It’s pretty bad,” Bertrand said of the county relying on an antiquated law.
  Already, commissioners have agreed to send notices to about a dozen landowners concerning control — or more precisely their lack of control — of the prairie dogs.
  Logan County Commissioner Carl Uhrich even went so far as to call a 79-year-old absentee landowner in Utah to let her know that her tenant — Haverfield — has refused to control the animals.
  “He just wanted to know if I was aware of the problems going on,” Maxine Blank said of the phone call she received from Uhrich. “He said there was going to have to be something done.”
  As a result, Maxine Blank was told, the county was making plans to go on the land and put down poison to kill the animals.
  She, of course, would then be sent a bill for the effort — a bill amounting to about $20 an acre.
  Given that she owns about 1,740 acres, those costs could be staggering. That amount shocked her.
  The call didn’t set well with Haverfield because it apparently upset Blank, who said she is not real good health.
  “She was somewhat upset,” Haverfield said. “I tried to soothe her all I could.”
  “We trust him,” Blank said of Haverfield. “I told him it’s up to him.”
  That’s comforting to Haverfield, who said that he takes responsibility for the presence of prairie dogs on the land.
  Fellow Commissioner Doug Mackley wasn’t aware that Uhrich had called Blank.
  Neither was Commissioner Nick Scott.
  “If you’re going to send somebody a bill, you better tell them,” Scott said. “If I got a bill coming, I want to know about it.”
  Both Mackley and Scott agree that the prairie dog issue is a problem.
  “This is the worst thing I’ve ever been in,” Mackley said of the prairie dog fight. “You’ve got guys on both sides. And they’re all friends of mine.
  “It wouldn’t take a hell of a lot that would get me to resign over this thing.”
  Mackley remembers the courthouse battle, even though he was young at the time.
  “There’s still a lot of hatred,” he said of that fight. “I tell you what, it’s neighbor against neighbor. I can’t go to a funeral without talking about it. “I’ve been to three funerals and someone will talk to me about prairie dogs.”
  Mackley isn’t as hard line about prairie dogs as Uhrich, but he said there have been complaints.
  “I think they need to control their prairie dogs,” he said.
  “Right now it’s not a good thing to us,” he said. “Right now we need to eliminate some of the prairie dogs.”
  And people need to work together, Scott said.
  “They’re going to have to get along,” he said. “Everyone is going to have to give a little. If it doesn’t, it’s probably going to have to be done by the courts.”
  Already the county has asked Logan County Attorney Andrea Wyrick to send out notices to a dozen or so landowners concerning control.
  Ultimately, Mackley said he thinks the control issue will go before a judge.
  Haverfield would rather avoid that.
  He’s put in 30-yard-wide barriers — ungrazed strips of grass that are designed to keep prairie dogs out because the grass is allowed to grow.
  Haverfield on June 12 received notice from the county that his barriers weren’t working.
  He disagrees.
  “Our barriers are doing fairly well,” he said.
  Now, he said Ron Klataske, executive director of the Audubon of Kansas in Manhattan, is preparing a proposal to help stave off efforts by the county to poison the prairie dogs.
  “We’re coming to the conclusion that we need to do more where we have grass neighbors,” Haverfield said.
  In those areas, they plan to propose poisoning 220 yards in from the property line.
  “I don't really believe in doing this because the prairie dogs will come back into the area,” he said of the extended poisoning area. “I believe in the barriers.”
  There also is talk about the possibility of compensating landowners.
  “I suppose if we cause damage on the field, we should pay damages,” Haverfield said.
  Only about a third of Haverfield’s land adjoins other pastures, and only a small part of that has prairie dogs.
  “Hopefully our barriers will give us good results,” he said.
  He’s hopeful that the county will back off from its proposal to poison prairie dogs on his land.
  “I hope we work out an agreement,” Haverfield said.
  If not, he said there’s a “good chance” they will contact an attorney.
  “We’d rather not,” he said. “We’d like to work out an agreement.”
  And he’s hopeful that Mackley won’t resign.
  “He’s a pretty good commissioner,” Haverfield said. “I hope he doesn’t resign. I wish we could work reach an agreement, so that we could have our prairie dogs and our neighbors could not.”
  Bertrand is also hopeful that Mackley stays on.
  “I said, ‘You’re not going to have to worry to much about me,’ “ Bertrand said of the message he left the county commission with.
  As far as his fee-hunting operation:
  “It will ruin it,” he said. “There’s no way I’m going to have the hunting enterprise like I do have. It’s going to pretty well shut it down.”