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Prairie dogs poisoned by city in Foxglenn Park

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August 17, 2012 9:05 am  •  CYNDY COLE Sun Staff Reporter

After about a decade of trying other measure, the city of Flagstaff is turning to poison once more to remove prairie dogs from a city park.

The prairie dogs, along with gophers and other rodents, are a concern for their ability to undermine sidewalks, landscaping and utilities, and also for making tunnels in which softball players and children can twist ankles.

The poison used to kill the prairie dogs is also a concern for one city resident living across the street from Foxglenn Park, as she's afraid her service dog could eat it and be sickened or killed.

Upon her request, the city is now sending automated messages warning of "rodent control" activities to anyone who wants them.

Steve Zimmerman is Flagstaff's parks manager, and he watches out for rodents mostly in Foxglenn Park.

"We're just trying, for public safety, to keep the holes off the fields," he said.


He and other parks employees last tried to head them off at Continental Park in 2001, when a couple of employees were spending 3 to 4 hours per day backfilling burrows.

They planted 600 or 700 rose bushes along the park perimeter as a deterrent. They trapped sometimes 200 prairie dogs per day and gave them to Arizona Game and Fish, which fed them to black-footed ferrets.

Later, he tried planting fencing in the ground as a barrier, and more.

"A lot of that just didn't work," he said.

The prairie dogs came back and the city ultimately called an exterminator.

Trapping and relocating means checking traps and finding a landowner wanting to accept the prairie dogs.


The city decided on poison in Foxglenn Park this summer, and it hired a contractor licensed by the state to exterminate rodents.

The contractor uses zinc phosphide, a compound approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to kill rodents. It's buried about 4 feet deep, Zimmerman said, and the area is checked daily to make sure the poison is not pushed out of prairie dog burrows.

The contractor putting out the poison has to pass state exams intended to ensure the poison is used correctly -- namely following directions on labels.

The zinc phosphide is eaten and reacts with stomach acid to form a toxic gas inside a rodent. The gas crosses into the body's cells, targeting those in the heart, lungs and liver, leading to death.


Habitat Harmony is a nonprofit that pushes for conservation of Gunnison's prairie dogs, which it says are greatly reduced in numbers on the southern Colorado Plateau.

"As we have stated previously in meetings with city staff, we do not support poisoning as a solution for dealing with problem prairie dogs," the group said in a written statement. "First, because it is not a long-term solution to the problem, and second, because of lethal effects that poisons have on non-target wildlife (birds and mammals), and possibly on family pets as well. Mowed ball fields and parks mimic the short-grass prairie habitats that prairie dogs like to live in ... so prairie dogs will continue to try to colonize these habitats."

The prairie dogs should be allowed to stay, they concluded.

"Gunnison's prairie dogs are an important keystone species in our area because they provide food for a variety of predators, their burrows provide shelter for many other animals, and their burrowing and grazing activities have important effects on prairie landscapes," Habitat Harmony wrote.

The city of Flagstaff would do other things to get the rodents out of its parks if it knew of anything that worked, Zimmerman said.

"If anybody has any better solutions, I'm open to ideas," he said.

Prairie Dog Life

Click on the burrow images to find out more.

Nursing Chamber

A mother keeps her young pups safe while the other Prairie Dogs investigate the snake.

Entering the Burrow

A prairie dog hears an emergency cry of "snake" and goes to investigate.

Listening chamber

A prairie dog sits listening just beneath the surface of the ground.

The Rattlesnake

The rattlesnake found a prairie dog burrow to sleep in but has been discovered by the prairie dogs.

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