Poisoning Efforts Stopped After Public Outrage

Saturday, March 10th 2007, 2:00 pm

By: News On 6

LAWTON, Okla. (AP) Efforts by city officials to poison black-tailed prairie dogs who make their home at a local park have been put on hold after enraged residents voiced their complaints. The rodents have been burrowing through Elmer Thomas Park for decades, drawing the ire of city workers even while attracting tourists.

Parks and Recreation Director Kim Shahan estimates the prairie dog population at the park has doubled to 8,000 since 2002, and the chubby rodents have started to encroach on neighboring Lawton High School athletic fields.

"This isn't about the prairie dog," Shahan said. "I like the prairie dog as much as anyone else. But the issue now is safety."

City officials received harsh criticism last week when city workers spent two nights dropping poisonous pellets into prairie dog holes to trim the population.

Critics claim the public wasn't informed. Aluminium phosphide is contained in the pellets, which are dropped into a hole that is then sealed. Moisture in the soil produces a phosphine gas that kills the prairie dogs.

When word leaked about what was happening angry protesters converged on the park Saturday to voice their complaints. The group began an online petition drive to "stop the poisoning of our Lawton Prairie Dog Population!"

"We found out about it the next day, and the people that loved the prairie dogs really started hollering," said Lawton resident Sherry Bly. "I think it was horribly cruel, and it was done in an inhumane way. Those little prairie dogs suffered horribly."

Shahan said the city has halted its poisoning efforts for now.

Keith Mitchell, Lawton Public Schools spokesman, has seen countless prairie dog holes appear on the grounds surrounding Lawton High School, including the baseball field and football practice field.

"We're fighting them back," Mitchell said. "Right now, our groundskeepers fill holes with dirt as soon as they see them. Naturally, our concern is the safety of our students.

"When we have teams come to Lawton High to play a baseball game, they should be able to focus on nothing else but playing the game. We don't want some kid going back on a fly ball, worrying that he might step in a hole and break his ankle."

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