Once upon a time in April, the dirt lot behind Lowe's #89 on St. Michael's Drive was a prairie-dog paradise. In the shadow of parked trailer trucks and a sign sternly warning against feeding, a giant coterie of Gunnison's prairie dogs basked in the sun, played games of dust-stirring chase and, of course, tongue-kissed like nobody's business.
It was also a paradise for prairie-dog relocator Paula Martin and her assistant, Rick Green. Compared to the anguish of rescuing the colonies along the path of the Rail Runner [Cover story, April 23: "Dog Gone"], where the little critters had become infuriatingly adept at dodging traps, the Lowe's colony was easy pickings. In one afternoon, the trappers could nab a dog every 10 minutes.
Now there are only about eight prairie dogs left, Martin says. But those remaining eight may become hostages as Martin and the rest of the prairie-dog-preservation community force the City of Santa Fe into hardball negotiations.
At the beginning of May, Martin sent a letter to Mayor David Coss, in which she threatened to remove her name from the city's roster of certified relocators and drop her remaining relocation contracts for the summer, including those at Lowe's and St. Vincent Regional Medical Center.
"I find it nearly incomprehensible to fathom that such good will, tools, and resources are present to provide a world-class wildlife success story that will also satisfy the needs of the community, but the current status appears exceptionally grim from the perspective of the prairie dogs," Martin writes in the June 2 correspondence.
Martin demanded a meeting with Coss and other stakeholders to review the current city ordinance protecting prairie dogs. The meeting was initially scheduled for last week, but because Coss and Gov. Bill Richardson are visiting the king of Spain to plan Santa Fe's 400th anniversary, it was postponed until Monday, June 16.
The Santa Fe-based nonprofit WildEarth Guardians, also listed as attending the meeting, would ultimately like to see the city spearhead an initiative to create a cross-governmental, 100,000-acre prairie-dog reserve. Nicole Rosmarino, WildEarth's wildlife coordinator, says they'd settle for a more practical starter reserve at a minimum of 25 acres.
"Times would be very tough for prairie dogs if Paula was not relocating here," Rosmarino says. "We've had a long relationship with Paula; we certainly support her and I know she's been very frustrated…"
Though Coss is in Europe and unreachable, prairie-dog activists believe that his April 29 mayoral address (available as a podcast at sfreporter.com) indicates that creating such a reserve is on his list of priorities in the coming months. Martin says that would lift the significant burden of securing suitable relocation sites off her shoulders.
She would even be satisfied with the city simply agreeing to tighten its enforcement measures laid out in the ordinance passed in 2001 to protect prairie dogs. Even if the city's Land Use Department began mailing annual letters to property owners reminding them of the requirements for relocation sites, that would be enough, she says, though it would be especially nice if the City Council passed the 2006 Preservation Plan crafted by WildEarth Guardians.
And yet, considering the dedication Martin displayed with the Rail Runner relocation project—she worked long hours in the sun while recuperating from major surgery—the threat certainly seems somewhat empty.
Martin can't resist a prairie dog in peril.