Defenders in Action: Working with Private Landowners

Prairie dogs are often not tolerated by private landowners, many of whom have eradicated them from their properties. Fortunately, there are others who understand the critical role this keystone species plays in maintaining a healthy grassland environment. Defenders of Wildlife is making sure that conservation-minded landowners are able to help protect prairie dogs on their own land.

The Problem

Three states—Kansas, Nebraska and South Dakota—have laws that allow officials to trespass onto private land to poison prairie dogs and then charge the landowners for the costs. Landowners in these states who would rather protect native wildlife on their own properties are helpless to do so if state officials target their prairie dogs for poisoning.

How We’re Helping

In Kansas, a group of private landowners has been fighting to save the prairie dogs on their 10,000-acre ranch since 2007. To reduce tensions with some neighbors, they established a 90-foot wide tall-grass buffer around their property, which reduces prairie dogs from occupying it or moving through it to neighboring properties.

Defenders is helping these wildlife-friendly ranchers by paying for the grazing rights to the 90-foot buffer to leave it ungrazed. But this is not enough for the Logan County commissioners who want all prairie dogs dead. They have sent exterminators to poison prairie dogs several times, and have sued the landowners to force compliance. In March 2008, the landowners won a partial victory, when a Kansas judge ruled that county officials may not trespass more than 90 feet onto the ranch property to poison prairie dogs—the width of the buffer areas. In other words, the prairie dogs are finally safe.

Where We Are Today

For long-term protection of prairie dogs, the three state laws allowing officials to trespass and poison prairie dogs must be revised. In December 2008, Defenders of Wildlife sent an alert to our members in Kansas and elsewhere to ask then-Governor Sebelius to do what she could to help these landowners. Almost 33,000 members responded. Still, the state has taken no action to help these landowners any step of the way.

 In February 2012, Defenders also sent an alert to our members in Nebraska to ask their state legislators to vote against a bill that would re-establish a similar anti-prairie dog law in that state. Over 350 Nebraskans responded, but the law passed anyway.