Group files lawsuit in effort to halt prairie dog extermination in Commerce City

COMMERCE CITY, Colo. -- A Colorado group has filed a lawsuit against the USDA Wildlife Services to try to halt plans to exterminate prairie dogs across almost 200 acres in Commerce City.

It’s part of a plan city officials agreed to in August.

Prairie Protection Colorado filed the lawsuit Friday. It says the prairie dogs could be exterminated in less than one week.

“To hire a federal agency and to come in here and annihilate 188-plus acres [of] these keystone species -- it’s just detrimental to our environment,” said Michaela Hinerman with Prairie Protection Colorado.

Commerce City City Council reached a wildlife agreement with the USDA, telling FOX31 in a statement Monday: “the restoration will allow wildlife and trail users to access a seamless continuity of green space from north of 104th to 56th Ave.”

The statement goes on to say that the USDA Wildlife Services' operations will be conducted "using the most effective method available, and will include the use of pesticide applications."

FOX31 obtained a copy of the contract, which says toxicants -- including aluminum and zinc phosphides -- will be used to treat nearly 200 acres of prairie dog colonies.

“When they put this phosphene gas in this area surrounded by homes and the prairie dogs die above surface — which about 10% of them will — dogs can open up the prairie dogs and die the same way, which is an excruciating death,” said Deanna Meyer with Prairie Protection Colorado.

PPC has filed a lawsuit and a temporary injunction, claiming the management plan is inhumane and illegal.

“Their contract excludes them from killing an urban rodents. Commerce City is urban and prairie dogs are rodents,” Meyer said.

The group also believes eliminating prairie dogs in the area will disrupt the ecosystem.

“If you destroy those burrows and you destroy the prairie dogs in that area, you are taking away a migration route for burrowing owls who come there repeatedly,” said Meyer.

They’re urging city officials to put their plans on hold and consider other options.

“We have offered to passively relocate them out of certain areas if they were too dense.  We have offered to do restoration on the land, which would involve re-seeding the colony — with the prairie dogs present — with native grasses and native seeds,” Meyer said.

The program could get started as early as Sept. 15.

FOX31 reached out to the USDA Wildlife Services for more information on the practice and a comment about the lawsuit against them, but our calls were not returned.

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