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Interview of Deanna Meyer ― Resistance Radio

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Hi, I’m Derrick Jensen. This is Resistance Radio, on the Progressive Radio Network. My guest today is Deanna Meyer. She’s a long-time environmental activist, and is a member of Deep Green Resistance, and is also the founder and executive director of Prairie Protection Colorado (http://prairieprotectioncolorado.org) Meyer’s work currently centers on the protection and the preservation of prairie dog communities up and down Colorado’s Front Range.

So first off, thank you for your work, and second; thank you for being on the program.

DM: Well, thank you.

DJ: So let’s start by talking about prairie dogs. Who are they, and why are they so great, and what was their range and population prior to conquest and what is going on now?

DM: Well, prairie dogs, like just about everything that we’re seeing that were essential and native to this continent, are being annihilated, with a continuous annihilation plan that began in the 1700’s and 1800’s, when they really started going after them for the ranchers and to get them off of any land that they wanted to put cattle on. So they did a huge campaign with cyanide, strychnine, everything that they could to really eradicate the species from all grazing land and from the continent, really.

And they’re extremely resilient, because they’re still here. And they’re in very bad condition, though. They have very few left. There are less than one percent of their historic numbers remaining. You’ll see them living on the medians on highways, you see them in vacant lots, you see them by the Denver airport, you see them living on the side of railroad tracks, so they basically, and then people get this crazy idea that no, there’s prairie dogs everywhere, and really, they’ve just been moved out of all their beautiful territory and home on the short grass prairie, and they’re just trying as hard as they can to continue their existence in these really horrible situations where they just don’t have much at all.

And I mean, just to give you the scope, I know I’ve heard you talk about it, and other people; but there were probably at least five billion prairie dogs in North America, and now they’re down to in the millions, the lower millions, I don’t know the exact number that they’re using now, but it’s less than one percent. And in Colorado, they continuously are killing them for development along the front range right now. (Map that shows Front Range: http://www.latitude40maps.com/colorado-front-range-trails/ )

They also poison them all along the vast grasslands in the east. But what I’m aware of, and what I’m working on, is up and down the front range where I live, and where one development after another is coming in, because of this massive growth wave that we’re having here in Colorado. And they just kill most of them using aluminum phosphide, which is phosphene gas. And they get gassed in their burrows, and you just see fewer and fewer and fewer of them around, and it’s really heartbreaking. They are an amazing species, and everything that we learned about them, and more and more people are starting to care a lot more about prairie dogs. Because nobody was really aware, they just have this horrible stigma, like all things that this culture hates. They all decided that they’re disease-carriers, they’re plague-carriers, they’re just dirty little rodents that serve no purpose other than destroying land. This is the myth out there that a lot of people hold on to.

But more and more people are starting to understand, through extensive studies, thanks to Con Slobodchikoff and John Hoogland and other people who’ve just done an enormous amount of work, that they have, like, the most complex language ever studied, they’re extremely social. Duh. (Laughs) They have a language, like all other species do, and we try to pretend like somehow we’re so great and different. But prairie dogs to me are just an amazing animal because I am around them, I see them, I can watch them and I also know the heartbreaking story of the loss they are experiencing. And they kind of just reflect everything that’s happened to everything living and vibrant on this planet, and they’re the last of them, and it’s actually pretty heartbreaking.

DJ: So, can you talk – what was their historic range? They obviously were along the Front Range of Colorado. They went as far east as? As far south as? As far north as Montana. Where were they?

DM: They were all over the Western shortgrass prairies. And just from what you said, they were in Mexico. Up here in the mountains, there are all different kinds of species. There’s five different species of prairie dogs. Up at my elevation, where I am, there’s a lot of Gunnison’s prairie dogs, and you have the white-tailed prairie dogs, the Utah prairie dogs, the black-tailed prairie dogs, and you just see – wherever they would be able to survive, they did pretty well. And they weren’t like lots of people – another myth that people think of prairie dogs is that they are just these, like bunnies, or whatever; that they breed like you wouldn’t believe. And that is not true at all. So they establish these places on our shortgrass prairies all throughout the entire West, both north and south, all over an extensive amount of area, if you can imagine five billion animals and prairie dog colonies. In Texas, that was 25,000 square miles. Anywhere they could live, they would do well. But I think they did well a lot more from language and social skills and communication than ever from breeding.

They actually go into – the females go into estrous for about a year. And they have one litter, and they have between two and eight – usually between two and four babies, and at least half of those are predated. So you can imagine how long it took them to get to those large, large numbers across the prairies. And a huge myth that people have about prairie dogs is that they breed like rabbits, they spread like the plague, and they carry the plague too, all over, and that they’re out of control. And all of that is just nonsense. I mean, they do establish territory, and they create towns and colonies, and so they’ll spread out over an area to where they’re supposed to, to feel comfortable in. But, y’know, the myths keep carrying on like that.

They were just – anywhere that they could live, and have good food, and be out on the prairian sea for long ranges, that’s really important to prairie dogs, so they can see the predators – they did quite well.

DJ: Can you talk about – they’re a keystone species, right?

DM: Right.

DJ: Can you talk about that concept, and talk about how that applies specifically to prairie dogs?

DM: Right. Well, I call them “the coral reefs of the prairie.” There’s up to 180 vertebrates that depend on them, and that’s not counting all of the insects and all the plants and every other living being that depends on them for a healthy prairie community. In order to have a healthy prairie community, full of life, of all this variety, hundreds of different species; the prairie dog is absolutely essential. So even black widow spiders, rattlesnakes, all kinds of different insects, the plants and everything, benefit from and are dependent upon healthy numbers of prairie dogs out on prairies.

A couple of, like, glaring instances of what really depend on prairie dogs that we see are the black-footed ferret. It should have been extinct. They found one family and have bred that family out extensively now and are trying to repopulate from this very small gene pool back into colonies and having very little success. But they are 100% dependent on prairie dogs. More than 90% of their diet depends on them, and they depend on their colonies. The reason they are critically endangered is solely because prairie dog numbers are almost gone. And these little black-footed ferrets need about 20,000 acres of healthy prairie dog colonies to survive in the long run. And that’s why we see this huge failure, because they’re not putting these prairie dogs – there just isn’t that – those types of colonies are not left. I think they have very few – I think there’s one in Mexico, and you’ve talked about that before, and there might be one more up here, of a significant size where ferrets might actually be able to live in the long run, if those prairie dogs continue to survive. But – the burrowing owl is another species that’s threatened right now, and closer and closer – should be endangered, so should the prairie dogs – but they depend exclusively on prairie dog burrows for their survival, and to raise their young.

And as you see the prairie dogs decline, you see them decline, and fewer and fewer burrowing owls are spotted each year.

DJ: So … do you know, and if you don’t know about this we won’t talk about it, but I’ve read somewhere that the American Indians said that the prairie dogs would bring rain, and it ends up that recently science has confirmed that they were correct about this in the first place. Have you heard about that?

DM: Yeah. So I guess the Hopi saying was that if you kill all the prairie dogs, there’ll be no more rain. And basically that was just kind of a known statement that people had heard over and over, and I know that Harrod Buhner nosed into that a lot. He found that – you can imagine these huge colonies of prairie dogs where they have this massive, extensive burrow system which plays huge roles for the ecology – well, I don’t like the word “ecology” anymore, but for the community of life out on the prairies. And they have these huge networks of these aeration, and the holes, in the prairie; just imagine that 25,000 square miles one! And the water levels would rise and fall with the moon, like tides. And it would come closer up to the surface and everything else, and it would be very much like the rainforest, in terms of creating condensation.

The holes also help the water rise to the surface much more easily than it would if you don’t have any aeration holes throughout the soil. So they did find, have said that, and it’s true; that the prairie dogs did create a lot more condensation out on the prairies, similar to rainforests.

DJ: So let’s just – before we go on to your work, let’s talk about – just, name a couple of other species who – name one common species and one surprising species, if you can, who are dependent upon, or who are significantly helped by prairie dogs.

Coyotes, for example. Coyotes eat prairie dogs. So talk about one that’s common and one people might not know about, if you can just think of any off the top of your head.

DM: Well, one that would be common would be all of the raptors, and the ferruginous hawks, and eagles. In fact, eagles shift from summer to winter. In the winter they come to prairie dog colonies when the rivers freeze up. And then they go back to the rivers. And now – it’s so sad to think about, the rivers hardly have any fish anymore now.

But let’s say we had a healthy landbase now. You would see a lot more of that. In the winters you see much more of the eagles coming to the colonies for the prairie dogs.

One thing that was shocking to me was that black widow spiders and the rattlesnakes and everything totally depend on them for their burrows and for safety and shelter. Like you said. I mean foxes of course, the coyotes, all different kinds of raptors. Lots of people complain about coyotes here, it’s so funny. They’re killing off all these prairie dog colonies surrounding these neighborhoods, and then they start complaining and killing all the coyotes too, because the coyotes are coming into their yards looking for food because all their food is gone.

I think anything you can imagine, that would eat – they call them the candy bars of the prairie, I’ve heard them being called that too, by wildlife people, biologists who’ve said “Yeah, they’re pretty much the candy bars of the prairie.” So anything living out there and eating off them – plant species absolutely need them because they dig up different minerals that are locked down in the soil, and they allow them to come to the surface. So certain plants do much better with prairie dogs.

You’ll see horses, and ungulates – buffalo, totally – they’re the bookends, I call them, of the prairie, the buffalo and the prairie dogs. Because the grasses that the prairie dogs do – because of their churning and everything, the grasses are much more nutritious and sweet, so the buffalo always preferred, and prefer when they have the chance, to eat in prairie dog colonies. So there’s just a huge – antelope, there’s all kinds of animals who depend on those prairie dogs for the amazing service they do to the land and to the native grasses and everything.

I mean, a big problem – now in Colorado too, and you see it in all these – land officials harp on it all the time and use it as a reason to kill, is that prairie dogs are – they’re going back on to – they’re on the land and you’ll see these denuded landscapes of bindweed, mostly. Or invasive weeds. And that’s what the prairie dogs have been forced to live with, because ranchers have come in, and crops have come in, and completely destroyed the native plants. So then they blame it on the prairie dogs, because the prairie dogs have come in, and eat what they can, they’re super resourceful. Then you’ll see more of a bare land or weeds taking over there, but really it’s not the prairie dogs, it’s the damage that’s already been done to the soil, which has totally made it impossible for the healthy, native plants to survive in those areas.

And that’s almost everywhere in Colorado now, just about, that has been killed. Which is, you know, almost all the land that I have seen.

DJ: So, before we talk about your work, I want to go back to this “candy bars” notion for a second. Of course, the prairie dogs are wonderful beings for themselves, and not merely as food for others, and you and I both know that. But having said that; some of the pictures that you’ve sent me of prairie dogs that you’ve taken; you’ve taken pictures, are, the prairie dogs, some of them can be pretty fat little creatures, and that suggests a nice little meal, or a nice big meal for – I’m meaning this in a value-positive sense, actually; a nice chubby meal, for someone who wants to get it. There’s a lot of nice fat for them to eat.

DM: Right. Yeah. And it was funny, because I don’t know very much about this, but I was talking with Stephany Seay from the Buffalo Field Campaign, and she had just met somebody from a local indigenous tribe in that area, and she was talking with her about prairie dogs, and she had said – and that was the first time I’d heard that too, because you just don’t hear it very often, but she said “Our people love the prairie dogs. We ate more prairie dogs than we did bison. That was more part of our diet than it was with the buffalo.” And (Stephany) said she thought that was really interesting and I did too. It makes sense, and the whole thing is when you have a huge healthy population of these prairie dogs out on the prairie, they are part of the land and part of the health of everybody else connected to that land. Just like salmon, or whatever. So of course they feed everyone, when everything’s healthy and balanced.

DJ: So, before we get to your methods of protecting colonies, and some specific actions that you’re working on, can you briefly also just tell the story of how you started working on prairie dogs. Because, as I have said to many people, many times; you are one of my heroes, for getting off your butt and actually seeing a problem and doing something about it. And so can you tell that story, because I find it so inspiring, and I want every damn person listening to this to (a) listen to it, and then (b) do the equivalent wherever they live.

DM: Right. Yeah. Well, I mean – it first started with reading your work, and with understanding the problem, which I always knew there was a huge problem, and your writing connected all those dots for me, and gave me this huge urge to do something, because I knew that I wasn’t crazy anymore, and that there is a huge issue out there in that we need to get off our butts and do something. And then I’d just started paying attention to the prairie dogs of Utah .. prairie dogs you always have in your books, which made me really start thinking a lot more about them, who they are, what they’re doing. I live right here in Colorado and I’ve always loved prairie dogs, I always thought they were so cute, that kind of thing. But then when I started reading, connecting the dots, understanding who they really were, reading your work and recognizing your love for them as well, then really starting to pay attention, I started noticing how few of them were left as compared to how many of them were around when I was young.

And then I saw this colony that I’ve always paid attention to, started watching this colony, would pull over all the time with my son and just watch them, and one day we drove by this colony off of Daniels Park Road where I live, and it was gone. They had killed everybody there, or had killed most of the population. And I was just devastated.

And then I started thinking about the next to other last big colony that I had been familiar with since I was young, and I started really worrying, like “I’d better do something now,” because every colony, and this is true; every colony in Colorado we see right now is in danger. On the Front Range for sure. Any plot of land that isn’t open space and protected, and even then they’re getting killed all the time.

So I went and just started researching what was going on in this colony, and then I found out that they were going to build the nation’s biggest mall on top of this huge,166 acres of prairie dogs, which isn’t huge if we think about what is supposed to be out on the land, but for what is left now, it was one of the biggest, on the Front Range as well. The biggest mall on top of one of the biggest remaining prairie dog colonies. There were probably eight to ten thousand prairie dogs there.

And so then I just didn’t know what to do, started wringing my hands, then you helped and got me connected with some other activists, and we just started – and I didn’t know how to start a campaign, but I was kind of directed on how to do it, and I just started writing petitions to get signatures so that we could get an email list; I started writing emails every single day to everybody on that list; I gathered a big core group of people who would get on phone calls every night to talk about what we were going to do to save them. We started come and going to every single city council meeting and really working on that angle, and then when they approved the final stage of what they needed to in the mall, we pulled a referendum on there; got out on the streets, got all the signatures.

They ended up killing most of the colony, but there were hundreds of survivors, and we did end up, at the end, saving all the remaining survivors, of which there were several hundred.

So we ended up doing not what I would have wanted to have done, which would have been to save everybody, or to stop the mall, is what I would have wanted to do. But in that, we did a lot more than just save the several hundred that are still sitting out here where I live, but we also just really ignited a huge wave of people caring, understanding and learning a lot about the prairie dogs, and we made a lot of press out of it too, so all of that was good. It seemed to bring a lot more awareness to a lot of people in Colorado who didn’t necessarily hate prairie dogs. People who hate ‘em, you’re not going to really change their minds.

But (a lot of people) also didn’t care one way or another, and they ended up caring a lot and understanding way more about what the prairie dog, or who the prairie dog is.

DJ: And I want to emphasize, or would like you to emphasize, if it’s true, that you didn’t really know what you were doing at first, and you didn’t let your ignorance or naïveté, or just lack of experience, or whatever we want to call it; stop you.

And also if you could mention one more thing before we do this, which is one of the, one of the actions you did, or one of the things you did, was to … or, your group did, was to get students involved? Get children involved? Go to speak at the, wasn’t it the State Legislature? Or the Denver City Council? What was that?

DM: Yeah. Well, they are trying, in Denver, or in Colorado, they already have a Senate bill that they passed in 1999. It’s called Senate Bill 99-11. And what it does, is it restricts – and I’m dealing with that right now, in one of our campaigns – it restricts any prairie dog relocation over county lines, unless you get the approval of all the Commissioners of the county that you move the prairie dogs into. And what that has done, for people who would like to save prairie dog colonies, is basically made it impossible, because it is very rare, I think it’s happened maybe once since 1999, that Commissioners will approve a prairie dog move into their county, because they all hate them. They all don’t want prairie dogs in their county.

So that bill was passed as really a slap in the face to somebody who is quite – who had made quite a lot of accomplishments in saving prairie dogs, that had actually put together a land trust, and her goal was to put as many prairie dogs as she could onto that piece of land, and they stopped it through that law.

So this law – at the beginning of 2016, they were trying to pass a bill that would do the same thing for within-county relocations. Which would mean that if I wanted to move those prairie dogs at the Castle Rock Mall, and it’s already impossible to do relocation – I mean, not impossible, but it’s already extremely difficult to do a relocation, with all the already horrible obstacles that we have to overcome. So they were going to add just another obstacle, which would mean the commissioners would have to approve of any move of any prairie dog to any place within the county as well.

So we got involved with this school, the Denver Expeditionary School and they all got really excited and wanted to help save the prairie dogs, so we got a huge class to go to that hearing, and it was kind of sad because they knew we were all coming, and on purpose they made sure that this oil bill was going to go first. Which means that – the kids did sit there for about an hour and a half, but that went on for four hours. So then the kids came back, the ones who were talking, they were on hold, they weren’t going to go away, and there was a panel of three girls who gave a really awesome speech to all of the Senate at the hearing, to the committee that was listening to it, and they did end up throwing away that bill. So they killed the bill.

DJ: So, just to be clear, the state legislature knew that children were going to be involved, and so they intentionally put other things in its place, in an attempt to discourage these children from sticking around and participating in this civic process, is this what you’re implying?

DM: Yes. The whole thing was a nightmare, because they postponed it two times, and they tried – I do believe, in retrospect, looking back, that those kids had a huge, huge impact on that bill being killed. It was in the – they call it the “kill bill committee,” but we had – you know, when you start lobbying and stuff, you get the inside (scoop), and there was one person who was going to vote, as a favor to these ranchers, for the bill, and the pressure that we put on that person, on her, that was Sue Rider, the pressure we put on her with those kids turned her vote around. And she just couldn’t do it anymore, because of – the kids got in – the press love kids, so we got a great article in the Westward (http://www.westword.com/news/prairie-dogs-find-powerful-political-allies-third-graders-7572173), we got a lot of press, they got a lot of press, and they kept trying to postpone the hearing, which is extremely frustrating because one time they postponed it one hour before the hearing, and why did they postpone it? Because the person who wrote the bill, Kevin Priola, and I’m not saying this is intentional or not; but he went to go see the Superbowl, and his plane got delayed so they canceled the hearing an hour before.

So the kids were devastated. They were all dressed up, they were all ready, they all had their speeches. Then they postponed it again, about three days before. And then finally they did it and pulled that trick where they – the whole room was full of the class, because they brought seventy-five kids in there – so seventy-five kids. And those third graders, they sat in there for an hour and a half, very quiet, listening to this oil bill being presented, which was important too, but they – they, I’m sure, were very bored, but they were quiet the whole time and sat there waiting. When, y’know, like I told the teachers “This is going to take hours” and it did. But they came back. But I believe very much that it was intentional.

DJ: Well, civic participation is good unless it’s going against industrial capitalism.

DM: Right.

DJ: So let’s talk about the focus of your work, and some of the projects you’re working on right now.

DM: So, what we’ve been doing in the past couple years is just mounting one campaign after another. So we advertise – we do a lot of advertising of our work through our Facebook page, Prairie Protection Colorado, and we talk about colony – people come to me and say “Oh my gosh, I’m so concerned about this colony, can you help?” And we kind of look at the colony, at what’s happening, and we figure out if we have any kind of leverage. If there’s something we can do about the colony, and then we just go in and kinda do what we did with the Castle Rock prairie dogs, or the mall prairie dogs, and we just do several different techniques at once.

The biggest thing we do is apply as much public pressure as possible on the local government. So that – we create, really, a nightmare for them, if they were to decide to kill the prairie dogs. A public relations nightmare.

DJ: For example, wasn’t Naropa Institute, which presents itself as all eco-groovy and everything else, weren’t they going to kill some prairie dogs?

DM: Yeah. Naropa filed for a kill permit in Boulder, in Boulder City. Before you kill prairie dogs, you have to file for a permit to kill them. Which was, that law came into place with activists in the 90’s.

And then they advertised the kill permit, and tried to find a place to put the prairie dogs before they give them the permit. So they allow for a sixty day public notice period where people can try to find the land, and after that happens they kill them. So that’s what Naropa was trying to do, was open up that time period so that if nobody came up with land, they were going to kill. And of course nobody ever comes up with land.

So we just started – we, of course, noticed that right away. And here this is a Buddhist-inspired university and they are planning on killing prairie dogs.

They received so much opposition from just making it really public, what was going on, from protest, calling the Dalai Lama, from getting as many people involved in the situation and writing about it as we could, and they ended up pulling the permit.

And the prairie dogs are still there at the Nalanda campus today.

DJ: Before we go on more, I just want to emphasize that prairie dogs – I mean, like you said, they live in medians? They – prairie dogs – don’t – hurt things.

I remember growing up – I don’t know if people, if this is going to mean anything to most people, but when you drive into Boulder, the Boulder-Denver turnpike sort of veers to the right, and then you have the university off to your left, and there’s a big parking lot there. And when I was growing up, that parking lot was not there, and instead of that, there was a huge prairie dog colony. And I don’t know when that got wiped out. Probably in the 70’s. I think it got wiped out and turned into a gravel parking lot in the 70’s. But, they don’t – unless you’re going to build a building, I mean, they co-exist. They – you couldn’t ask for a more forgiving creature.

So – I’m sorry, I’ve interrupted you several times. Can you talk more about some current projects you’re working on?

DM: Well, currently we’re working on Longmont, a prairie dog colony called the Great Western Flex prairie dogs, and they’re basically – the interesting thing about Longmont is they have a code in place, for, a city code, a municipal code that states that a developer shall relocate the prairie dogs. And then at the end it goes on and says “shall relocate” a few times. And then at the end, it says the only way that they can kill the prairie dogs is after a good faith effort to relocate.

So we started looking at this colony, and it was interesting because the city was prioritizing and fast-tracking this development, because there’s another, there’s another group in Longmont right now that they’re evicting from their land for this St. Vrain flood project. And it’s a big warehouse, it’s called Creative Learning Systems. And Creative Learning Systems said well, if we don’t have any place to go, and move into, by February, then we’re going to have to leave Longmont.

So the city picked this place and said this is, with that land, developers there were more than willing to construct a warehouse right on top of this prairie dog colony. They were also a month late giving public notice about this, because they say they were behind, on their website.

So as soon as we found out, which was as soon as they posted it, we got in contact with them and found out about the fast-tracking and everything, and then we contacted the developers. They refused to get back to us, and we started going to city council meetings. They forced the developers to hold a meeting with us. The owner of the land was hostile, he even tried to jump over the table at me as he was yelling and spitting at me, and threatening me that if I had postponed his development he’ll do something, y’know. A very uncomfortable meeting.

And then after that they, because they were required to, they came back to us and said “look, we’ll let you – ” because we were telling them “if you’re going to fast-track this, let’s passively move them out of the way, and then we can remove all of the colony, because we’re confident we can find a place for them, and we’re working currently with Rocky Flats to open that land, because we have a lead.” (Ed. note: “The passive relocation technique is a multi-step approach that is designed to begin with low-level earth disturbing activities within an established zone to encourage prairie dogs to relocate on their own volition.” cite https://www.cityoflafayette.com/DocumentCenter/View/3867 )

And they said, y’know; “Oh yeah, right; they’ll never open up their land,” and whatever, and we talked to them, and maybe in three years they might open land, but not today. And we kept pressing them, and they said “Okay, look. If you want the passive relocation then, and the final relocation, what we want is for you to pay for it all.”

So they said “if you go ahead and put $25,000 into a savings account within this week, and then you get Colorado Parks and Wildlife to put their stamp of approval on it within a week, and then you agree to pay the additional forty or fifty thousand dollars that it costs to move them, and you deposit that money within a few weeks, then we’ll give you the thumbs up.”

DJ: So wait a second. They’re saying that they want to destroy this prairie dog village, put something on its place, and it is not – even though it – even though the law says that they “shall relocate,” they’re trying to force you to pay for it.

DM: Right. So that we all of course laughed at, and then we brought it up with the city council. The whole city was, and still is, extremely non-responsive. They don’t return – our supporters have sent hundreds of emails, and we have a petition that has over 50,000 signatures on it now, we’ve got tons of press on it, we’ve had probably about ten articles now.

DJ: 50,000 signatures? Over something in Longmont?

DM: Yeah.

DJ: Longmont – I mean, let people know, let people who live in New York State know; Longmont’s a town of, what, 15,000? 25,000?

DM: Well yeah, but those 50,000 signatures are from everywhere.

DJ: No, I understand that, but this is still for a fairly small community.

DM: Right. It is. Longmont is part of Boulder County and it’s probably one of the most conservative areas in Boulder. The city still kinda just – they won’t respond to us, so we went up and we thought “You know what? We’re going to have to get this relocation receiving site.” Because the only way somebody can say “Look, we cannot move these prairie dogs, there’s nowhere for them to go.” And that is the excuse. This code has been in place for over ten years. Not once have they moved a prairie dog colony. Not once. They’ve killed hundreds. But not once have they followed this code. And their excuse is always “Oh, yeah; we looked; nothing. No, there’s no place for them.”

So this time we’re like “Okay, let’s get that place underway,” y’know? So we talked with the land manager of Rocky Flats, and he had been working with us from the start, because we had thrown this idea at him and I almost fell off of my chair, because I said “How about let’s move some prairie dogs out there to Rocky Flats?” Because they don’t have very many prairie dogs. And he said “Yeah, I think I could do that.”

And I couldn’t – I still was in disbelief until even now, that he was so supportive. And then he worked, and then he changed the NEPA laws, or he did a NEPA so he could show that he did a bunch of legwork, got it all ready, said “It’s open.” He sent the letter to the city and to me, that said “Yes, receiving site Rocky Flats is open for these prairie dogs.”

And then the city says “Ohhhh…nooo…” Because nobody wants to save these prairie dogs.

And so then they told the land people about it and now we’re in the process of just kind of waiting, because then the land people said, the landowners, the developers, said “Oh gosh.” And the city, are like “Oh gosh. We can’t – the only way we can get out of this is if Colorado Parks and Wildlife doesn’t give the permit, or if the Commissioners don’t okay it.” Which also, I don’t know if they’d be able to get away with that either, because Rocky Flats is federal land. So it’s a whole other, like, legal issue in question.

But David Lucas, the (US Fish and Wildlife Refuge) manager of Rocky Flats, is looking into that and seeing what’s going to happen with these Commissioners. But we have to get their approval because it’s across county lines. And I don’t see why they’re, why they would say no, because the land is so far from any of theirs, it’s on a federal refuge, and it seems like even Rocky Flats, the managers there are pretty confident they’ll approve it, but I don’t know yet, and so we’re kind of waiting on that. And then we’ll see what happens from there. They’re not going to want to hire us, they’d rather die than hire somebody who could relocate prairie dogs well and assure a survival rate. They’re going to try to hire their people who have never even done any relocations before, and they’re extremely complicated. And of course the land manager at Rocky Flats isn’t going to allow that.

So it’s an interesting – we still have a long way to go on this colony, and I have no idea what’s going to happen. Just like last week, I shared that with you, but we had another group of environmental activists sit there, called the Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center, and they have been fighting Rocky Flats for a long time; and recently, and I knew this was going to crop up, but recently they have filed a lawsuit against Rocky Flats because Rocky Flats wants to open up the refuge in 2018, for visitors. And they have filed a lawsuit because Rocky Flats is where they created and produced a lot of plutonium in, back in the Cold War, and they were negligent about what they did, and so it’s a Superfund site.

So they have the whole area where they created this plutonium, it consists of about 1300 acres, sealed off, poured with concrete, all of that, and they’ve contained or say they’ve contained the nuclear waste,

This group says no, they haven’t, it’s going to kill everybody probably on the planet, and they think that, and then they got involved, and where we’re putting these prairie dogs is one mile – it’s beautiful, actually, up there on Rocky Flats. And just like Chernobyl, or anything that we learn about where there has not been human impact for a long time? They really rebound. And they come back. And this place in Rocky Flats is so amazing because it’s one of the only places up and down the front range that has never been tilled. Nobody’s ever taken a plow to this land. So when you walk out there you see all these native plants that you see nowhere else. It has some of the most diverse native plants. And when I was talking to the land manager, too, he said that’s why this place is so wonderful for introducing back these native species, because they will not harm these plants, they will only benefit them, they won’t be in this barren wasteland of bindweed, and this’ll be like the true prairie that they can live in.

And right next to where we’re relocating them is another colony that’s been doing well for decades. Living right there. Been there forever. But this environmental group went out and did a huge press release that said “Prairie dogs being moved on to Rocky Flats will unleash plutonium and endanger everybody in Boulder!” And all of the news channels went after it. They just love that sensationalist stuff. So last week there was about five different news shows on this issue. So they just opened up another – it’s so hard to move – I always say to myself, and we all know that as environmentalists, that it should never be this hard to do the right thing. And it is sooo hard to move these prairie dogs. So hard to save them. And the miracles that happen with this land manager and everything to actually open up this refuge, and look at the land and get all excited about it.

And then, of all people to come in and just throw another fire – start another huge fire that now we’re gonna have to focus on putting out is quite devastating. And frustrating.

DJ: Yeah. Well, oftentimes peace and social justice activists are not always friends of the earth.

DM: Right.

DJ: They are quite often not – certainly not ecocentric, quite often.

DM: No.

DJ: So, we have like seven or eight minutes left, and a question I want to ask you is – two questions. One of them is, obviously the short-term goal is to save as many prairie dogs as you can, but the longer-term goal is for these colonies not to be forcibly relocated in the first place.

DM: Right.

DJ: The other is; in the meantime, while you are relocating, is there – if we didn’t have to worry about politics, is there still good habitat, apart from Rocky Flats, where they could be relocated? If all we were doing was a technical – once again, I’m not accepting the relocation as the primary option, as you aren’t either. The primary option is to shut down this whole culture so that there are no more malls built, or warehouses. But in the meantime, while we’re living in the real world, you’re trying to save prairie dogs. If you didn’t have to worry about politics, would it be – like – oh, shoot, I can’t remember her name right now. The wonderful woman who relocates the beavers. (Ed note: Sherri Tippie possibly) She’s wonderful. And she told me that there is a lot of habitat, there is more habitat than there are beavers right now. And if you didn’t have to worry about politics, is there plenty of habitat where prairie dogs could be relocated if necessary?

DM: Definitely. So I mean the – just like we’ve talked about – I mean, Rocky Flats is just kind of prime because they actually have the native grasses in place. But I’ve totally – these prairie dogs, as you’ve said – well, another huge thing that impacts prairie dogs is the plague. And that runs through, it kills them all in a matter of 72 hours, they’ll all die. And we see that happening, we see outbreaks of that happening all the time, and the plague was brought by – da da dah! Europeans, y’know. Who brought ‘em over, the rats. And they have no susceptibility to this. They don’t carry the plague, never have. Fleas carry plague, prairie dogs die from the plague. So that’s another huge impact on them. And you’ll see all these – our goal with Prairie Protection Colorado, by doing these campaigns, is not to move prairie dogs. At all. Like you said, I wish that we never had to relocate any prairie dogs, but I also would much prefer relocating them to seeing them gassed to death.

But the main goal is to be able to, in every single county, and we have a grassland species plan for Colorado that lines this out perfectly and says this should be happening, but nobody follows it – is that there should be a significant amount of open space land set aside for maintaining and securing, preserving prairie dog colonies and shortgrass prairies.

And if they would spend as much money as they spend on poisoning prairie dogs, on all of these open spaces in Colorado that have prairie dogs existing, and put that into native seeds and into land restoration, it would totally work. And our goal in these campaigns is that. So we did the Naropa but then we did the Armory campaign, we did the Broomfield campaign. Now we’re doing the Longmont campaign, the Castle Rock campaign, all those. And in the Broomfield and the Armory campaign, we forced Boulder to open up land for these prairie dogs, which is the goal. And we forced Broomfield to open up land for those prairie dogs. And the open space preserve land where they’re not, where they’re supposed to, with quotations, be protected, and be preserved, and, you know, that we want to see these healthy colonies feeding the other wildlife and being there for themselves.

So, I mean in highlighting all these campaigns, we’re trying to draw enough grassroots support from people in Colorado to really get more and more people caring about the poisoning, which most people care about that, and about the species itself, the declining baseline of prairies themselves, and the prairie dogs. And encouraging everybody to get behind the harder work of changing legislation and of holding the counties accountable to preserving open-space land for wildlife.

And we’re kind of chipping away at it, and that’s the point of our campaign.

And people seem to really like the pictures of the prairie dogs, the stories of the prairie dogs, and then they kind of get hooked in that way and they start caring more and more.

So the more we can build up grass roots support from people throughout Colorado and throughout everywhere, throughout the United States, for this species, through the education and the work that we’re doing, and working on these relocations and preserving, and highlighting what these people are doing to these communities of life, the better chance we’re going to have at actually making big changes, where we can preserve these species. Because right now they’re in so much trouble genetically, they’re just being wiped out everywhere. Prairie dogs, because of their huge population, have always had a huge system of biological integrity where they really spread out from colony to colony and they’ve always had this great diversity in their genes. And now it’s just about gone. So you see the plague wipe out 90% of them over thousands of acres, which happens a lot in these larger colonies, and that whole genetic pool is gone, forever. And they have all these really diverse genetic pools that are just shoved into these little corners up and down the Front Range, on these lots, these urban lots that are going to turn into developments, and then they wipe out each one of those. And it’s just – if it continues, and we’re about at the end of the line with less than one percent, there is going to be no more prairie dogs. They’re resilient, but nothing’s resilient enough to withstand the horrors of this culture.

DJ: So we have like two minutes left. I’ve got two questions real fast. The first one is; since they are a keystone species … there are lots of results from when they reintroduced wolves, or when wolves came back to Yellowstone, that it helped all sorts of creatures. So couldn’t prairie dogs be used not only for themselves, but couldn’t they be used as land restorers? To put prairie dogs into a place that’s been harmed and then watch it over decades or over even years, that fast, as it rebuilds through the prairie dogs doing the work.

And then the second question’s going to be; how can people help you, in Colorado, and also how can they do this with whatever issues are important to them where they live. And I’m sorry it’s so fast, but we got like two minutes for both those questions.

DM: Okay. Well, definitely what you said about the healing of the land, that’s what – even at Rocky Flats, the point that I’m really pulling out is that all lands destroyed, and Rocky Flats certainly has its own set of issues, but the only thing that’s going to heal the land are the species of the prairies, the prairian community itself. And what our job is, really, is to get everybody back out there: get the bison out there, or the buffalo, the prairie dogs, all the native plants that we can help with that, get everybody out there. And step back. Because they know way better what to do with the prairies than we do. That’s their home. They’re the healers, like mycelium, bacteria and fungus, lichens, moss, all that stuff. If we lay off of it and quit trampling all over it, quit trying to control everything, it will eventually heal itself. And that’s so important.

And as far as people helping in Colorado, you can get involved – we’re working on our website, it’s coming along here and there, it’s prairieprotectioncolorado.org, and then you can get onto Facebook, on our Prairie Protection Colorado page, it’s there, how to get involved. We definitely have a lot of work and places and things people can do. And anybody outside of Colorado can get involved on that page.

And in terms of doing your own work, for whoever it is you love in your area, because of course it’s under attack, I’d say just don’t ever step back and wring your hands like I almost did with the prairie dogs, and “Oh, there’s nothing to do, everything’s so terrible.” Just step forward and do whatever it takes to draw any kind of attention to it, and if anybody needs help just learning about campaigns and how to build those up, I’m more than happy to share what we do to make it happen.

DJ: Well thank you so much. And I would like to thank listeners for listening. My guest today has been Deanna Meyer, this is Derrick Jensen, for Resistance Radio, for the Progressive Radio Network.

Filed in Interviews by Derrick Jensen
No Responses — Written on July 23rd — Filed in Interviews by Derrick Jensen

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