News from the Secretary

News from the Secretary by Larry Gabriel S.D. Secretary of Agriculture Want to know why "that dog won't hunt?"

Congress passed a new law requiring that everyone in New York and California allow at least 10 mice and 200 cockroaches to live in their homes.

I am just kidding. Congress didn't really do that, but wouldn't it be fun, just for once, to let them know what it feels like to have other people dictate how to live?�It will never happen, because "that dog won't hunt" (an unworkable idea), any more than the prairie dog hunts.

Prairie dogs are proposed for listing under the endangered species act. They will receive additional attention this year, because Lewis and Clark "discovered" the prairie dog 200 years ago. Lewis and Clark noted in their journal that the French called them "petite chien," which means "small dog."

Actually, the prairie dog is a rodent belonging to the same family as tree squirrels, chipmunks and ground squirrels (or as I call them "gophers").

Until recently, man tried to eradicate most rodents. In the old days, rodents were feared as primary carriers of disease, and also disliked for damage to crops and vegetation.

South Dakota once paid cash bounties on both prairie dogs and gophers. Even after the bounty system was eliminated, government poisoning programs continued.

Despite all these efforts, prairie dogs continued to thrive in many areas. The real threat to their population came when some traveler brought the bubonic plague to California.� As the plague spread, it killed up to 90 percent of prairie dogs in infested areas.

Boom and bust cycles in rodent populations are common and natural. Scientists don't know why. It happens with moles, rabbits, and many other small herbivorous rodents.

For 50 years wildlife biologists told us that prey populations control predator populations.� Now, biologists claim some prey populations (such as lemmings that run into the sea) are really controlled by predators.

I know a few people who wish we could teach lemming habits to the prairie dog. I respect the laws of nature, but I do not believe they reverse every 50 years.

We can debate the wisdom of preserving animals and bugs that were once pests, but I dislike being forced to feed prairie dogs, merely because someone brought a disease to our shores.� It also strikes me as more than a little arrogant to believe we can manipulate natural cycles in rodent populations.

People don't live for 200 years, but wouldn't it be nice to have an old trapper who sat out here on the prairie and watched all these efforts to manipulate the "small dog?"

I've heard of a wildlife biologist (a federal one no less), who predicted that the last two mammals living here will be a coyote howling at the moon, and a prairie dog barking at the coyote.

I don't know if he was right, but I think he and that old trapper would not be far apart on this issue.

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