By Robert Medley
Senior Staff Writer
They chirp when approached by an intruder into their town.
The fast ground-running critters sprint from open field into a foot-wide hole. The prairie dog is safe.
But just east of Yukon city limits, prairie dogs from a colony that is decades-old have been wandering onto State Highway 66 more frequently in recent days, a Yukon resident said.
The woman, who drives by the colony twice a day on her way to work near Sara Road, said she saw one standing in the roadway.
She honked, slowed down, and the prairie dog safely made it back to its hole in the field to the south.
The field may not be too safe for too long with development nearing. Last May, she made a social media post about the prairie dogs, hoping to stir interest in their plight.
“It’s sad,” she said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
LAST OF THE PRAIRIE DOGS
Between a car wash and a dollar store on N Sara Road in Oklahoma City limits – and covering ground on several acres east of Caravel Drive and the new Ridge 66 Apartments – is a prairie dog town that has been there for decades.
There was once an effort to preserve the prairie dogs, but time and development marched closer.
Now their several-block area is for sale. More apartments have risen to the east.
The Mother Road, America’s Route 66 (also Main Street in Yukon just to the west) passes by the prairie dog town, one of the last, and maybe the last one in Oklahoma City limits. Their colony is surrounded by Stonebridge West homes and apartments. A roadside sign staked near the colony advertises a local exterminator who can rid a home of moles and rats.
There are no laws or ordinances protecting prairie dogs from development. They are not on the endangered species list.
Prairie dogs were natural natives. But ranchers never liked them. Horseback riders don’t like them. Nor do the horses that might step in a hole on the open range.
The barbed wire of the past is being taken down for utility lines, poles and structures that surround them.
A sign on the land gives a telephone number to call for interested buyers for the commercial property.
The prairie dogs have been around a long time and have caught the attention of people who want to save them.
In 2004, a civil lawsuit was filed by Route 66 Oklahomans for Prairie Dog Preservation led by the late Yukon resident Judy Chancellor. The group was against the development of new homes in the area.
A petition was signed by about 1,000 people who wanted to save 5 acres of prairie dogs between Sara and Morgan roads.
The colony “is a national treasure,” the lawsuit petition against Semco Homes reads. The case was eventually dismissed without prejudice, according to court records.
Carl Schluter, a local developer, was a defendant in the lawsuit.
Schluter said he recalls he had authority to poison the prairie dogs when he was building the Raywood Addition.
But instead, he decided to spend “several thousand dollars” capturing 253 prairie dogs.
A licensed trapper used soapy water to flush them out of their homes and then into cages. The prairie dogs were then given food and water and relocated to a ranch.
THAT PRAIRIE DOG PROBLEM
Prairie dogs had been considered a nuisance for many, many years, according to a May 8, 1985 article in The Oklahoman.
“Prairie dogs are at the center of an unusual problem in an area on the Oklahoma City-Yukon boundary. The prairie dogs have been there for years.
“Now, developers want to displace them to make room for housing and industrial growth,” the article reads.
It is well-documented that poison was the way to treat the prairie dogs in the 1930s through the 1960s. It preserved the grassland – not the critters, according to the article.
In recent days, the prairie dogs have been seen wandering into the roadway along Route 66.
The concerned Yukon woman called the Wildcare Foundation in Noble, a nonprofit that rescues injured or hurt wild animals.
Calls about prairie dogs are rare though, said Inger Giuffrida, Wildcare’s executive director.
Prairie dogs have not made any endangered or threatened species lists.
Poison is often used to kill prairie dogs where they die and may then be eaten by other wildlife such as the bald eagle.
Giuffrida said relocating any wild animal is not ideal, since animals are used to living in their habitats and are stressed out when moved to unfamiliar surroundings.
Wildcare’s director said she wishes the prairie dog town could be preserved, maybe as a Route 66 attraction.
“Why not protect that prairie dog colony and invest in it and educate people about a keystone creature of the prairie?” Giuffrida asked.
“It seems the City of Oklahoma City could make an investment in keeping wildlife in the wild in the case of this disappearing prairie dog colony. Being right on Route 66, this could be an incredible addition to the stops along this historic route – both for Oklahoma citizens and visitors to our state.”
Prairie dogs are an icon of the prairie too, according to Giuffrida.
“Prairie dogs, despite being regularly poisoned by humans, are a keystone species to prairie ecosystems,” she said. “Being a keystone species means many other species and the ecosystem itself rely on the animal for existence. When the population of a keystone species like prairie dogs collapses so does the ecosystem.
“Prairies are one of the most endangered ecosystems in the world and something Oklahoma once had in abundance. We’ve squandered this treasure in the name of unrestrained human development, and millions of animals and native flora have been lost as a result.”