DENVER (CN) – An environmentalist group filed a federal lawsuit against the federal government Friday for violating an agreement to kill urban prairie dogs on behalf of Commerce City, where plague has been found in the ground-dwelling mammals.
No animals have been killed yet, but in a 12-page lawsuit filed in the District of Colorado, environmental group Prairie Protection Colorado accused the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service as well as the Wildlife Services of wrongly “using lethal and inhumane methods of wildlife damage management.”
The black tailed prairie dogs suffered a flea-transmitted plague in August, prompting the temporary closure of the Rocky Mountain Arsenal and leading to a camping ban during a 3-day Phish concert. Though no cases were confirmed among humans, the rodents can transmit the bacterial disease to people and their pets.
Although the lawsuit does not specify whether the Second Creek prairie dog colony was affected by the plague, the Tri-County health department closed several parks remain over Labor Day weekend as authorities treated “the prairie dogs’ holes with insecticide to kill any remaining fleas that could transmit the disease to prairie dogs, people, and pets.”
Commerce City paid Wildlife Services $23,300 to carry out the urban rodent control agreement. Located north of Denver in Adams County, Commerce City is home to 58,449 people.
Instead of euthanization, the group requested prairie dog management encompass “effective and proactive non-lethal alternatives that foster communities’ coexistence with wildlife.”
Throughout 2018, the Wildlife Service killed 17,739 prairie dogs and destroyed more than 47,547 burrows through nonselective and inhumane “snares, leg-hold and body-gripping traps, and gas cartridges,” according to the lawsuit.
The nonprofit organization reported that even at 2% of their peak population, prairie dogs fulfill a keystone niche in the greatly endangered grasslands and are imperative to ensure the “reintroduction and survival of charismatic species such as black footed ferrets and burrowing owls.”
The ground squirrels are also an important food source for foxes, bobcats, coyotes, reptiles and birds of prey.
Under the Administrative Procedure Act, the group asks the court to declare the agreement in violation of federal law and prohibit its enforcement. The case has been assigned to Chief Judge Marcia Krieger, a George Bush Appointee.
Protect Prairies Colorado is represented by attorney Michael Frandina of Denver’s Askman Law Firm.