Poisoning of prairie dogs is delayed

The prairie dogs and black-footed ferrets in Logan County have won a reprieve, for now.

Logan County commissioners notified landowners in this northwestern Kansas county last month that they would begin poisoning prairie dogs today.

Wildlife authorities were concerned the poisoning could also kill a colony of rare black-footed ferrets, which the federal government reintroduced to western Kansas last year.

A meeting this past week between Logan County officials, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Audubon of Kansas officials may have given the animals more time.

"They are continuing to seek ways to do some poisoning but basically they understand now they can't charge out and start poisoning," said Ron Klataske, executive director of Audubon of Kansas.

Logan County officials did not return repeated phone calls.

Previously, commissioners have sought methods to control prairie dogs in and around the sites where ferrets have been released: the Smoky Valley Ranch owned by the Nature Conservancy, and private ranchland owned by Larry and Bette Haverfield, Gordon and Martha Barnhardt and Maxine Blank.

Last July, the commission authorized the poisoning of buffer land on the Haverfields' ranch.

Logan County Commission Chairman Carl Uhrich said then that prairie dogs "are noxious pests -- just like noxious weeds (that) have to be controlled."

Logan County officials, he said, have received several hundred complaints from adjacent landowners complaining about prairie dogs encroaching on their land.

The commissioners are operating under a 1904 state statute allowing county governments to poison land where prairie dogs live and then bill the landowner for the eradication.

Landowner Larry Haverfield sued the county once before to stop the poisoning of prairie dogs on his land.

"It's back to a legal battle, it looks like," he said.

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