The presence of prairie dogs inside the city limits of Clovis has been determined by the City to be a disease carrying threat to the population. An ordinance was passed allowing the city to mandate that property owners rid their property of all prairie dogs at their own expense. This decision was made largely under pressure from county residents who have been affected by these rodents when they damage crops or range land. There have been few property owners from within Clovis who voiced any opposition to the ordinance when it was proposed. Perhaps they didn’t notice.
The intent of the ordinance does not allow a property owner to manage prairie dogs and contain them so that they do not present a nuisance to their neighbors. The intent is eradication within city limits. There was no solicitation of input from the scientific, naturalist community, property owners, or Federal or State agencies, and no study group or task force was ever appointed to look at potential impacts of the ordinance.
When a destructive springtime windstorm tears thru town, property owners are protected against the costs incurred because the storm was anticipated and the owner was insured, but they won’t be protected from the costs imposed under this new ordinance. It is an unfunded mandate with no grandfather clause.
Here is the ordinance enacted: Section 2.B.8 “Allowing or maintaining a condition that permits poisonous or disease carrying insects, reptiles, rodents, vermin or vectors to live and breed” is prohibited. The wording is vague and could be subjectively applied to the majority of properties within the city.
The introduction to this ordinance made the claim that prairie dogs carry the plague so that it would be a health and safety issue. According to the US Geological Survey on Sylvatic Plague, wild animals, especially rodents, are a source of plague for people and pets. That includes deer mice, chipmunks, and ground squirrels all of which occur in the city. However, prairie dogs are highly susceptible to the disease and more than 90% of a colony will be killed off in a short time when the plague is introduced from other species. They do not “carry” the plague as the high mortality rate occurs a few days after infection.
Joel, a local resident, survived a bout with Sylvatic Plague in 2005 in Albuquerque. His two dogs alerted him to a dead grey squirrel in his yard one morning. Then, 2 or 3 days later one of his dogs became ill, but recovered on its own and was not checked for the disease. Joel himself became sick a few days after that, but was misdiagnosed with the flu. This nearly cost him his life when that diagnosis resulted in lack of proper treatment. However, Joel had relatives who were informed on the subject of plague, and talked to his doctor. They were aware that something had infected a nearby prairie dog colony three weeks earlier causing a die-off. That led to a correct diagnosis of plague caused by the bacteria Yersinia pestis. The prairie dog colony acted like the canary in a coal mine to signal that the plague was in their area and that saved Joel’s life.
The introduction to the ordinance also declares that the holes in the ground produced by prairie dogs are in violation of the ordinance because holes can be inhabited by spiders and snakes. This ordinance could require that all the holes in the ground in every yard, occupied by any critter must be removed because of all the creatures that could live in them. Enforcement of the ordinance could be awkward for code compliance personnel.
Zoning ordinances and nuisance ordinances are established to protect neighbors from each other. However, other than an infringement of a colony on a neighbor’s land, there is no valid reason to mandate removal of a colony. During discussion, City Commissioners were told that the complaint of the neighbor would be the establishing factor for an action by the city to mandate removal. However, that is not the wording in the actual ordinance. How enforcement will be carried out remains to be seen.
There has been no group of property owners requesting a more scientifically studied or rights oriented approach. It is true that when you don’t ask, you don’t receive. Citizens abdicate their own rights when they do not pay attention to proposed laws and ordinances. That needs to change.