The furry residents at 10th and Coolidge in Great Bend, the area dubbed Farmers Bank Plaza, are causing a stir. While entertaining, some on the City Council see the prairie dog town there as destructive and asked about what can be done.
“A couple of meetings ago, the issue with prairie dogs was brought to brought to our attention,” City Administrator Kendal Francis told the council when it met Monday night. “We’ve been looking at some options.”
There isn’t anything within the city ordinances that addresses the situation, he said. “So, I reached out to (the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks).”
The agency does issue temporary permits to allow the city to poison them, he said. City officials are waiting for a call back from the KDWP to get more information.
However, “we also talked with the K-State Extension Office here in town,” Francis said. “They are going to try to give me some more information about what other options, maybe more humane options, would be available.”
Ideally, Francis said he’d like to see them relocated. He has calls out to about three different companies that say they specialize in those types of things.
“I guess, in the meantime, go enjoy the prairie dogs. They are kind of fun to sit and watch,” he said. But, “I know they’re disruptive.”
What about prairie dogs?
According to Pam Martin, educational specialist with the Kansas Wetlands Education Center, they are rodents and relatives of the squirrel. Barton County is on the eastern fringe of their mid-grass prairie habitat.
“They are amazing creatures,” she said. They have an incredible vocabulary, with different warning calls for different predators.
Prairie dogs can alert one another, for example, that there’s not just a human approaching, but also the size of the human and distinguish them by the color they are wearing.
The biggest problem with them is that their towns get in the way of land development.
As for removing them from this site, that can be complicated, she said. While poison may be cruel, relocating them isn’t easy.
She recalled an instance in the early 1990s when an attempt was made to relocate a prairie dog town in Hutchinson that was interfering with the building of a baseball field.
First, a giant vacuum truck was used to suck them out of their burrows, but “that was kind of hard on them,” she said. Then, soapy water was poured into the holes, which irritated the prairie dogs’ eyes and chased them out.
This worked and the critters were caught. But, their fate was doomed.
“These were city prairie dogs,” Martin said. They were taken to the wilds of Quivira National Wildlife Refuge and released where they were quickly gobbled up by the sundry predators there.
She said it is a falsehood that they tear up pastures for cattle. They coexisted with massive herds of bison and other large animals on the plains for millennia.
In fact, “they are a keystone species,” Martin said, adding they are an important element in a prairie ecosystem. In addition to providing shelter to the prairie dogs, the burrows are home to at least 100 other species.
The matter was brought up at the Oct. 4 council meeting by Ward 1 Councilman Alan Moeder.
“We have a prairie dog problem in town,” he said. “Is there anything we can do about it? It’s just a matter of time before they expand out of there and somebody’s not going to be very happy.”
At that meeting, Francis said they knew about the issue and have discussed it. They had also reached out to the property owner and made them aware of situation.
According to information from the Barton County Mapping and Appraiser’s offices, the property is owned by Farmers Enterprises Inc. The site includes six parcels in the 4800 block of 10th Street, with some of the parcels’ addresses on Farmer’s Plaza Lane.