Surviving prairie dog from exterminated colony gains sympathizers

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Employees at businesses neighboring an exterminated prairie dog village have become protective of a lone survivor.

Parker residents continue to talk about the apparent gassing of the now-barren colony, which encompassed at least half a dozen properties on the northeast corner of Mainstreet and Twenty Mile Road. There are no development plans for the land, a point that has some questioning why the extermination took place.

A handful of residents have reported seeing workers spraying and filling in holes at the site in mid-September, but did not notice the name of the company hired for the job. One RE/MAX employee says she even confronted one of the men, who confirmed that they were there to exterminate. Less than a week later, dozens of small white crosses were put on the burrows.

The only prairie dog left sits silently each day on his burrow near an access road to a retail building at Twenty Mile Road and Stage Run, just west of the AMC Twenty Mile 10 movie theater. He doesn’t chirp because there are no other prairie dogs with whom to converse, said Rick Wilson, a real estate agent for RE/MAX.

“He’s out there all day long. It’s something that just goes to your core,” Wilson said. “He stands there looking around, like he’s the last person on Earth after Armageddon.”

Cheryl Baker, an Elizabeth resident who works in Parker, says when she saw the exterminators, she tried contacting those who might be able to stop it.

“I called the Prairie Dog Coalition, I called the Parker Police Department, I called the Humane Society, but by then it was too late,” she said.

Jerry Sturgess, who is part of a holding company that owns one of the parcels, says he still has not found out who authorized the extermination. He visited the site and discovered “signs consistent with gassing” and marks from dual rear wheels, but says “nobody is owning up to it.”

“It’s not a cheap thing to do,” Sturgess said. “Someone dropped a chunk of change, and you would think they would be trying to get something from the other owners.”

Sturgess says he is more bothered by the fact that someone conducted activities on his land without permission than by the deaths of the prairie dogs. He points out that the colony would have eventually been wiped out to make way for development, but says at this point, there is “nobody beating on the door” to purchase the land.

There are several upset residents who want the person who hired the exterminators to “fess up,” Baker said.

Deb Schmidt, a RE/MAX agent based in an office next to the field, said she spoke to one of the men during the extermination process and asked why the prairie dogs had to be killed. He responded that the land owner said it would be too expensive to relocate the colony.

“I was so sick to my stomach when I left there thinking that they were allowed to put poison in the ground,” Schmidt said, before expressing concerns about environmental factors.

Thousands of prairie dogs die each year as the result of construction with little, if any, public attention. The colony near Mainstreet and Twenty Mile Road is in a high-traffic area where the prairie dogs are visible to passing motorists. It's unclear who placed the tiny crosses on the land.

The Tri-County Health Department website says the only health hazard concern with prairie dogs and other small mammals is potential flea transmission between the animal and pets or humans.

There is a threat of bubonic plague, which has wiped out a handful of colonies in the Denver metro area in recent years. Health officials dust prairie dog holes in impacted areas with pesticides to reduce the spread of plague, which is transmitted by the fleas. There are no laws regulating the elimination of prairie dogs on private land.

The lone survivor has the support of nearby employees and motorists who regularly pass the site, including one woman who feeds it cheese. Sympathizers have suggested relocating the prairie dog.