The Nebraska Wildlife Federation's recent call for the federal government to prevent the state's U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Service personnel from using poison to control prairie dogs puts it at odds with Nebraska farmers and ranchers, Craig Head, Nebraska Farm Bureau, said.

The majority of prairie dog control in Nebraska is conducted on private lands, by private individuals who pay for the control measures, Head said. "Farmers, ranchers and other private property owners often request professional assistance from Nebraska Wildlife Services to reduce or alleviate damaged to crops, natural resources or property, and to address human health and safety concerns caused by wildlife," he said. "Working with them (Wildlife Services) is the most effective and environmentally friendly way to deal with the problem."

An Aug. 9 news release from the Nebraska Wildlife Federation said that it had asked Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman to stop USDA employees from using taxpayer money to poison prairie dogs. It also called for preserving the private landowner's freedom to control prairie dogs on private land.

Taxpayer funds are not used to purchase toxicant or poison bait, Head emphasized. "The person or county or organization asking for prairie dog control pays 100% of the cost of the toxicant or poison bait used to control prairie dog populations," he said. "Wildlife Services' role is technical assistance in implementing control techniques and sharing information on prairie dog management. To say Wildlife Services uses the taxpayer's dollar to buy poison is completely inaccurate.

"By trying to eliminate the technical assistance and control efforts of Wildlife Services, the Wildlife Federation is trying to take away the private landowner's most effective choice for controlling this source of animal damage," Head said.

Private landowners prefer to work with Wildlife Service, because its personnel are certified as commercial pesticide applicators, he said. They apply bait according to Environmental Protection Agency and Nebraska pesticide label restrictions, in an environmentally sound manner, and according to internal policies and guidelines.

"The Wildlife Federation's call for a strong-armed policy change is not consistent wit it claims that ranchers should be free to deal with prairie dog colonies that cause damage to private property," he said. "It is disappointing to see a heavy-handed, mandatory approach being proposed, at a time when state and federal agencies and private organizations are trying to work together to develop a prairie dog conservation plan," Head said.

The Wildlife Federation is represented on the Nebraska Prairie Dog Conservation Task Force and is aware of its intensive efforts to develop a plan, he said. Head represents Nebraska Farm Bureau on the task force. He is assistant director of governmental relations for Farm Bureau.

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