by Stephen Capra
Over the past month, Bold Visions Conservation has been engaged in a battle to save some of Castle Rock, Colorado’s remaining prairie dogs. Last week those prairie dogs found a home on a ranch in central Colorado on the Front Range. It is the complex nature of these rescues and the politics behind them that make wildlife protection so challenging.
During our involvement in the process we encountered both the difficulty of working with other conservation groups (turf battles, insane ego, and fight for dollars) which in this case was unprecedented. Our interactions with this group were a pall on one’s mental health.
Another conflict was one with a familiar enemy in Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW), Colorado’s version of Game and Fish. They withdrew the permit to relocate Castle Rock’s prairie dogs to New Mexico after a donor was forced to withdraw their land as the relocation site. Stunned, we drove eight hours to Denver to try and find a solution with CPW.
Our meeting was with Eliza Hunholz and one of her agents, Justin Olsen, who had worked on EcoSolution’s permit. Hunholz was rude, fists pounding on tables rude. She demanded to know where they were keeping the prairie dogs and threatened to revoke EcoSolutions license, not just in Colorado, but in 46 other states. She looked us in the eye not once but several times and said clearly “You will return the prairie dogs to us and we will kill them, you better wrap your heads around that fact.”
This exemplifies the mentality we see in Game and Fish Departments nationally, people with a commitment to kill anything that is not a deer or elk. In Colorado, the situation was made worse by the coordination with Colorado legislators who remain firmly in bed with the livestock industry passing laws to make it illegal to transport prairie dogs across county lines without county commission approval, which naturally is close to impossible. In addition, Colorado politicians passed rules that direct wildlife legislation through the Agriculture Committee, which means livestock interests control wildlife issues, a procedure New Mexico duplicated this past legislative session. These two laws must be corrected and Bold Visions plans to make sure there is a presence in the Colorado legislature in the coming year.
What remains disturbing is the culture that has been created in state Game and Fish Departments. It is one that leads us not only to the petty nature of agents to “kill prairie dogs” but also to directly see the link to the slaughter of wolves that is ongoing in Idaho, Montana, Minnesota and other states that practically mandates their agents act as the livestock law enforcement bureau.
Our interaction with Eliza Hunholz was not unusual; groups we spoke with in Colorado had a history of dealing with her and her zeal to kill is well known. She is not alone; we can see this as an epidemic in state agencies agency nationally. This group of “good old boys” allows for hound hunting, trapping, bear baiting and other sick and demented actions across the country. It’s always about hunters and livestock, despite the fact that people who choose other outdoor activities far outnumber this remnant population. Yet Governors, who often hand pick their commissioners, rarely try to make change and instead use their choices to placate hunting and ranching interests.
If we are going to make real change in conservation, it must begin with ending or radically changing these Game and Fish departments. First, we think it makes sense to change the name of such departments. Let’s try a name such as the Wildlife Protection Agency. Let’s remove the politics and appoint a committee that reflects the population of a state. If 15% of the state hunts, then they get 15% sportsmen and 85% conservationists and no livestock interests. Why should they have representation? At best they lease public land and perhaps they could have a single representative; growing up renting apartments in NYC, we did not have much of a voice in its operation, because we did not own it.
We must ban the cruel actions such as hound hunting, bear baiting, and remove the traps that senselessly kill innocent wildlife and family pets. More than anything we must pressure our elected officials to force change on these agencies that rule each state like a fiefdom.
Our experience in Colorado was not easy, but our goal was to rescue what prairie dogs were left from a massive killing. We came away with 125 in the short time allotted for rescue, they will now live and thrive, but only after a major fight with an agency that did all it could to try and kill them. The way the law is set in Colorado and many other states, trying to rescue and move prairie dogs is perhaps more complex than moving a lion; it makes no sense for such a beautiful and loving keystone species. We are no longer stuck in the 19th century, it is time we force Game and Fish Departments to move into the 21st century and to stop their war on species that have every right to co-exist and help define a healthy and thriving environment.
Please help us today by making a donation to our Game and Fish reform fund!
Bold Visions Conservation