Notice: land for lease, prairie dogs welcome
If you already have prairie dogs, why not get paid for them? That's the question asked by Larry Wiemers, of Oklahoma's Department of Wildlife.
Wiemers explains that the department now has in excess of one million dollars to pay land owners to allow the fat little rodents to stick around. Wiemers said 85 percent of that money will be paid to landowners; especially those in the High Plains in both short and mixed grasses.
“We will pay leases of $10 per acre for up to ten years for designated acreage in a conservation agreement,” he said. “There are no grazing restrictions and the landowner will be able to shoot the animals to prevent egression,” Wiemers continued.
However, there are restrictions; there is no money for cropland, you must agree not to try to either poison or plow out the colony.
“We figure it will be better to try and conserve what we already have instead of having to try and reintroduce them,” Wiemers explained.
“We have had interest from landowners in Beaver, Texas and Cimarron Counties.”
Though most landowners consider the burrowing rodents a pest, like most things in nature, the prairie dog has it's valuable cog in the environmental wheel.
“The prairie dog has it's redeeming qualities,” Wiemers said. They provide a home for the burrowing owl and rattle snakes. The Burrowing Owl helps to control insects such as grasshoppers; and they both [snake and owl] eat rodents, including the kind that transmit Hanta Virus,” Wiemers explained.
The program is an outgrowth of a federal plan implemented six years ago that placed the Black-Tailed Prairie Dog on the endangered species list.
Wiemers agreed that some landowners had concerns with the program since they would lose tax-write offs, while having the potential of several thousand in profits over ten years.
“I just tell them, why don't you consider this program? You'll see more profit over the long haul than you will from cattle on the same land; and besides if you're poisoning the prairie dogs and kill migratory birds, or game birds you'll be fined; and if you should kill a Bald Eagle...that's an automatic 50 thousand dollar fine and potential jail-time,” Wiemers shrugged.