Ahhhh springtime in the Rockies. Its the season for robins to pluck bugs out of Montezuma County residents yards, for humming birds to return to their nests on porch eaves, and for prairie dogs to give Cortez Municipal Airport Manager Russ Machen fits.
Prairie dogs dont just get under the skin, or dirt, of airport managers trying to prevent burrows from undermining runways. Many farmers and ranchers dont appreciate the sight of the rabbit-sized rodents excavating colonies on rangeland and gobbling up every succulent morsel of grass they can stuff into their fat paunches. Many equestrians dont enjoy dodging through minefields of prairie dog holes that could hurt a horses ankle.
The rodent worlds version of buffalo, millions of prairie dogs once populated the West. Although human development and extermination have cut populations to a mere fragment of historic levels, prairie dogs remain a common sight in Montezuma County and many other Western regions.
For critters that only weigh a few pounds, prairie dogs have fired up as much debate as many other Western controversies, including wolves, grazing on public lands, water rights, wilderness areas and Denver Broncos coaches.
Prairie dogs have hard-core foes and fans. Foes say prairie dogs damage agricultural land, threaten horses and livestock that could break a leg stepping into a hole, and carry plague. Fans say that prairie dogs are an integral part of Western ecosystems, that stories of agricultural damage are greatly exaggerated, and that very few Westerners actually catch plague, which, technically, is carried by fleas.
Foes have used gasoline, poison, toxic gas, and exploding shockwaves delivered through devices called Rodenators to kill prairie dogs. Fans have fought to protect prairie dogs under the federal Endangered Species Act.
Foes or at least people who enjoy hunting prairie dogs say the barking ground squirrels create challenging target practice. Fans say the highly sociable mammals can make lovable pets.
Whichever side of that prickly, barbed-wire, prairie-dog fence youre on, heres a list of not-so-serious activities that could involve those well-known colonizers of Western landscapes.
Prairie dog foes:
Great Four Corners Prairie Dog Chunkin Festival Ever hear of the World Championship Punkin Chunkin competition? Competitors put pumpkins in catapults and other contraptions, and see how far they can hurl them. Some devices launch pumpkins more than half a mile. Just use prairie dogs instead of pumpkins. Between festivals, area farmers and ranchers could find plenty of prairie dogs to help fine-tune their catapults.
Prairie Dog Open golf tournament Theres no shortage of courses around these parts, although the distance between holes might be kind of short. Use pickups instead of golf carts. Pick your favorite wood, iron or putter with the specially designed prairie-dog head to whack those rodents back into their holes.
Shrunken prairie dogs Shrink the whole body, not just the head. Anybody can hang fuzzy dice from their rearview mirror, but a shrunken prairie dog dangling above the dash could be a true emblem of the West.
Montezumas Revenge Prairie Dog Cookoff People simmer rattlesnake chili; why not prairie dogs? Stir up 2 pounds of prairie dog; two onions; one-half cup of chili powder; and a healthy dose of garlic, salt and pepper. Tastes just like chicken.
Prairie dog skydiving Round up some unsuspecting prairie dogs and take them skydiving; just dont tell them they need to wear a parachute. Fly the plane over Durango or Boulder before opening the fuselage door. Any survivors will be nursed back to health and given a new home.
Prairie dog fans:
Ranchenator This nonlethal device is guaranteed to send those pesky ranchers scurrying from their burrows. Just attach the Ranchenator to the nearest cow and siphon off gas until the Ranchenators canister is full. Point the device through a window or other opening and pump a ranch house full of high-methane flatulence. Other popular models include the Farmernator, Hunternator and Exterminator-nator.
Dummies for dummies Colorado Division of Wildlife law enforcement officers sometimes set out full-body mounts of elk or other wildlife then observe from a safe distance to see if hunters will take an illegal shot. The wildlife dummies work; some hunters are dumb enough to shoot at them. Just set some prairie dog dummies out where hunters, or anyone else, is known to target the barking rodents, move back to a safe distance and enjoy the fun. Take a video cam and post the results on a pro-prairie dog website to amuse online readers.
Bobblehead prairie dogs Every dashboard needs one. Show youre a true resident of the West with this unique, bobbling icon. Tourists will love them, too.
Prairie Dog Parade and Festival Any town can have a Fourth of July Festival. Celebrate this special event with a prairie dog barking contest, in which humans make their best prairie dog call. Dunk the prairie dog hunter with your surest softball toss. Bet on prairie dog races (best thing since armadillo races). Dont miss the Prairie Dog Show (this aint your average dog show).
Prairie Dogs of Montezuma, the cartoon show Eat your hearts out, Penguins of Madagascar. Watch the prairie dogs in their rollicking adventures as they outwit Misfire the hunter, rancher Angus and farmer Bean to save their fat little hides. Hey, if people will watch South Park on TV, theyll watch this.
Russell Smyth is managing editor of the Cortez Journal. He can be reached at 565-8527 or [email protected]