By Rosemary Lowe

Imagine, you and your family are half asleep, cozy in your beds, waiting for the sun to rise. Suddenly, the earth around you moves violently and your ears are filled with pain from the monstrous roaring directly above your chambers. Your loved ones cry out in terror as you scramble in vain to help your family escape this unknown horror, but you are being smothered and crushed by walls of dirt. Each breath comes harder and you are no longer able to move—darkness has set in. Your home and loved ones are no more.

This story is not some tragic fairy tale—it is happening every day in Santa Fe and other fast-growing western cities where prairie dogs live. Prairie dogs once numbered in the billions on the western prairies, but were systematically destroyed by government programs, mainly to satisfy the livestock industry. Today, prairie dog populations exist primarily in small groups in what is left of the prairie and on the fringes of cities, such as Santa Fe. They continue to face further destruction due to development, poisoning, and so-called ‘recreational’ shooting. Scientists report that at least 98 percent of the original prairie dog population is gone, as well as many other native plants and animals that co-existed with them. Prairie dogs are a ‘keystone species’, with 140 or more other species of plants and animals dependent upon them for survival—when one species is wiped out, the whole ecosystem is weakened and will eventually collapse.

People for Native Ecosystems is a non-profit activist organization dedicated to stopping the destruction of habitat of prairie dogs and other native wildlife and is working with civic officials to establish guidelines for habitat protection. But, we urgently need your help with on-going projects, such as: (1) humane rescue and relocation of prairie dogs from development sites (training will be provided); (2) media, public relations and fundraising development; (3) native ecosystems education programs for children and adults; and, much more! As Gandhi said, “The greatness of a nation will be judged by the way its animals are treated.” Please volunteer to help People for Native Ecosystems and make a difference.

• Comments should be made to the Forest Service immediately, urging them to stop the poisoning and shooting of prairie dogs on our national grasslands in North & South Dakota, Nebraska, and Wyoming. Prairie dogs are allowed to exist on less than 1% of these grasslands (this is 2% of their historic range) because powerful livestock interests do not want to change. Prairie dogs should be allowed to expand on public lands and live as they did historically with an intact ecosystem approach to management. Tell the Forest Service you do not want Prairie dogs killed to appease a few public land ranchers who do not want anything to compete with their cattle, including native wildlife. Native wildlife belong on our national grasslands and other public lands. Please send comments to: Northern Great Plains Planning Team, Forest Service, 125 North Main Street, Chadron, Nebraska, 69337. Phone: 308-432-0300.

Rosemary Lowe is the president of People for Native Ecosystems, Inc.
1833 Arroyo Chamiso, Santa Fe 87505

Note: This article first appeared in the Spring 1998 issue.


We are People for Native Ecosystems, formed as a nonprofit volunteer organization, devoted to protecting the remaining habitat wherever prairie dogs and other sensitive wildlife exist. Our numbers are few but our accomplishments are many as we continue to strive to encourage existing habitat and keep it as part of our community and heritage.

Gunnison Prairie Dogs have been greatly reduced to less than 1% of their natural habitat and are slated for a survey to consider them a threatened species. We are plotting a prairie dog habitat within the city and need people to help us to locate sites that are active. If you spot them, please call with your information.

Last year was turbulent and filled with emotion, beginning with the Santa Fe New Mexican running an article March 27, 1998, stating that the “City was Quietly Gassing Prairie Dogs.” It uncovered a vicious plan in which the city was exterminating these cute little creatures from our public parks and ball fields. On April 2, 1998, the Santa Fe New Mexican followed with an editorial by Bill Waters, maliciously targeting prairie dogs. The article impelled the community into action. People responded with letters and physical protests to stop the harassment and allow the prairie dogs to coexist with us.

This year, under the new direction of Claire Clay and David Van Holstyn, we began planning with the city which is giving its full cooperation and has resolved to stop killing prairie dogs. We are committed to eliminating poisoning programs with our focus on implementing nonlethal, humane methods of removal of prairie dogs where they seem to pose a problem or are in danger of being crushed or suffocated in the blading process.

Our first hurdle is to find appropriate lands where we can relocate coteries, (like family groups) and keep them together. This is vital for a successful survival rate. Once this is established, we feel we can proceed with this plan. We are also trying to contact builders, contractors and developers to make them aware of the existence of prairie dog colonies on lands that are planned for development. David Van Holstyn is also working with the city on developing a resolution which would keep existing prairie dogs and wildlife intact and allow them to coexist on urban lands.

Secondly, we are working at establishing educational programs with teachers and groups involved with children to teach the importance of native ecosystems, and the role of the prairie dog in the ecosystem, and the need for every citizen to respect all of the forms of life that share our planet with us.

Note: This article first appeared in the Summer/Fall 1999 issue.

In November 2001, the City Council of Santa Fe approved an ordinance requiring developers to make provision to relocate prairie dog colonies found on their property. For more news on this ordinance, click here: Santa Fe New Mexican.
For more information on prairie dogs, click here:

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