Prairie Dog Daze

Some people get serious about rodent rights


ute is not a reason to go on living in the grander evolutionary scheme of things, but it must count for something. People love prairie dogs, even if they are next thing to a rat.

Michael Burns never expected to be walking around the plaza dressed in a big, fuzzy, buff-colored costume on the Saturday after Earth Day, hugging children and carrying a cardboard placard that said “Prairie dog family values.” The 36-year-old self-employed salesman who moved to Santa Fe from Portland, Ore. about four years ago, said he never thought much about prairie dogs until recently. 

Burns said that when he got his copy of the April edition of National Geographic, its cover story on prairie dogs didn’t even interest him—at first. But as he read about the shrinking habitat of this native North American mammal, he began thinking about those that live near his house, around DeVargas Junior High School and the La Farge branch library where the rechanneling of an arroyo is displacing a prairie dog village. He said the bulldozing suffocates some in their burrows. It’s a troubling thought. 

On April 8, Burns was sitting at a table at the Wild Oats market when he saw a poster promoting a prairie-dog rally in front of city hall later that day. He dropped over, joined People for Native Ecosystems and volunteered to collect signatures on petitions asking the city council to protect prairie dogs. “I’m not typically the big rally person, I don’t like to be that (far to the) left,” he said. “But anything that’s 98 percent wiped out, even if it’s flies, I’m for saving. Thank God for these people. Otherwise, lots more (animals) would have been wiped out.” As for the petitions, Burns said, “So far, I haven’t run into one person who refused to sign.” That’s how he ended up April 25 as the six-foot-six mascot of People for Native Ecosystems—“Petra,” the work of Santa Fe costumer Julie Anderson. 

Burns said that he eats meat and is more mainstream that some of the animal-rights vegetarians with whom he has allied himself, but that he is in agreement with them on this issue. He believes prairie dogs are worth saving. Period. And he is not alone. 

Almost everyone thinks prairie dogs are cute. Of course, if cute were a biological imperative, we all would be walking around singing, “Look at me, I’m Sandra Dee” without a trace of irony and seeing Meg Ryan or Leonardo DiCaprio when we look in the mirror.  

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