Hundreds of prairie dogs relocated to new homes In this Aug. 6, 2015 photo, a prairie dog is released at a new colony after being trucked some 25 miles away from Cedar City, Utah. State biologists were out this summer rounding up prairie dogs that have overrun a small southern Utah town and moving them where they can’t wreak havoc. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
Hundreds of prairie dogs relocated to new homes

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Most mornings, wildlife biologist Jessica Van Woeart and her team go to work armed with peanut butter.
In upscale subdivisions and across rural pastures in southern Utah, they use it to help trap prairie dogs. Then they move them away from residents who have been under siege from the small burrowing rodents for years.
Van Woeart's team is doing something that was relatively rare and complicated until last year. That's when a federal court judge removed endangered species protections for the Utah prairie dog.
Activists say the ruling could also weaken protections for similar animals all over the country. 
The Utah prairie dog is the smallest of five species. It lives in underground colonies in the southern part of the state. Considered key to the ecosystem, their numbers dropped precipitously as land was cleared to make way for farming, ranching and housing. They were listed as endangered in 1973.
With federal protection, the population rebounded to about 28,000 as of this spring, according to state tallies. They were upgraded to threatened.
But the animals felt anything but rare to locals. They chafed under federal rules that kept any moving or trapping of prairie dogs to a minimum.
"They're really cute little things, but they really cause so much damage," said Sharon Peterson, a Cedar City resident whose backyard used to look like a sea of the little squirrel-like creatures.
In 2013, a group of residents sued. After U.S. District Judge Dee Benson's ruling, the ranks of prairie dogs near Peterson's house receded under the state's new trapping program.
Heading it up is Van Woeart. She is a petite New Jersey native with boundless energy. A sign on her office wall reads "Keep Calm and Love Prairie Dogs."
Most mornings, her technicians bait wire rectangular traps with peanut butter in and around the rapidly growing city about 250 miles south of Salt Lake City.
They check them every hour or so, and they're usually not disappointed. Some days, they catch more than 100. After they're caught, the creatures are weighed, tagged and then taken for an hour-long drive over hills covered with sage and yellow grasses.
Their new homes are prepared ahead of time. They are a system of artificial burrows made from irrigation piping and plastic boxes and buried underground. The workers hold the traps over the new burrows, open the door and let the dogs scurry inside.
On a recent day, the brown-eyed animals nibble on bits of zucchini or sound their distinctive, clicking bark to their new neighbors on public land about 25 miles outside of Cedar City. It's different than the suburban burrows they've left behind, higher and drier, with different food and predators.
About 2,500 animals were caught this summer. They were turned loose in a series of similar sites.
The workers leave food and water and try to keep the highly social animals together to ease the transition. But many won't survive in the new environment. After a year, just 10 to 15 percent of the creatures typically remain at the relocation sites, said Keith Day. He is a state wildlife biologist who oversees the prairie dog program. Though some leave, many die.
"When you pick an animal up out of its natural setting and you move it to a new location ... you can expect a fairly high mortality rate," Day said. Still, he said that trapping an animal and moving it is better than the lethal methods that fed-up locals used to employ off the books, while federal rules held sway.
"People have been taking care of their own problems," Day said. "If we can put a prairie dog out on federal land and get a colony out of it, that's better than letting somebody shoot it."

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Why did residents need to sue to have prairie dogs removed?
Write your answers in the comments section below

  • barrettw-nar
    10/05/2015 - 02:42 p.m.

    That's crazy that through that long the population grew that big.The animals are so small ,but they do so much damage.

  • laurenm-nar
    10/05/2015 - 04:39 p.m.

    wow that is amazing! I cant believe that there were so many prarrie dogs!

  • davidc-nar
    10/05/2015 - 05:25 p.m.

    Residents needed to sue because it was the law that the animals couldn't be messed with because they were endangered. I understand why they would need to sue because I wouldn't like having little rodents destroying my yard either. They should make the relocation homes look like the prairie dogs' natural homes because then more would survive.

  • dominiquem-nar
    10/05/2015 - 07:04 p.m.

    The residents have to sue to have prairie dogs removed because they were being protected by the government.

  • jamesh-nar
    10/05/2015 - 07:41 p.m.

    With anything like this there is going to be a high mortality rate but hopefully it will get better.

  • mariaha-nar
    10/05/2015 - 08:27 p.m.

    I think that the Prairie dogs shouldn't have to be on an ordinary sophisticated plan and have a little freedom but not out in the wild.

  • kendallb-nar
    10/05/2015 - 09:27 p.m.

    It is kind of sad that they are so small and delicate, I would think that they would barely be able to hold up a piece of food with the size of themselves.

  • Steve0620-yyca
    10/05/2015 - 09:37 p.m.

    I think that the people are doing a great thing. Many residents near the area are being blocked and disturbed because of the prairie dogs and their burrows. I also think that they are doing a good job by moving the prairie dogs to a safer place. Many prairie dogs are dying out and they need to be saved.

  • jamart-nar
    10/06/2015 - 07:04 a.m.

    They couldn't remove them because they were on the endangered species list. They had to go to court so a judge could take them off the list. Now they can capture and relocate them.

  • julior-pel
    10/06/2015 - 01:49 p.m.

    the reason is that they were trying to force the Peterson's to move out so they can use it as a trapping program.

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