Tons of railroad steel held hostage by sleeping 6-ounce Prairie Dogs
Peter Kelton | October 30, 2007 at 10:59 amby
868 views | 0 Recommendations | 0 comments
<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />Every newspaper worth its Western salts explodes with front-page headlines touting the mighty (but sleeping) Prairie Dog. Local TV stations follow suit, or sometime lead.
Seems the great big multi-ton commuter railroad known hereabouts as the Rail Runner that's being built to link Albuquerque and Santa Fe will back off part of its project until spring when a colony of Prairie Dogs awakens from its winter hibernation. The New Mexico Department of Transportation says it will relocate the colony of little rodents to safer grounds, when they wake up.
The non-move comes after public hearings up and down the line in which preservationists expressed deep concern for the little prairie puppies. In the Western United States, the little "dogs," often no bigger than a large rat, are serious business. Farmers and ranchers traditionally don't like them.
In fact, there's an organization in Albuquerque called Prairie Dog Pals that relocated more than 1,000 Prairie Dogs in 2007 (before hibernation). The pals haul the little critters out to the open desert when urbanization threatens them. Sometimes the dogs have annoyed people. They poison them, which is now against the law.
Elsewhere, the dogs have been preserved. There's a 1,100-acre state park in northwestern Kansas, near Norton, that's dedicated to Prairie Dogs.
In Colorado, the Rocky Mountain Animal Defense organization has won court-ordered preservations for the rodents and has been known to quote Terry Tempest Williams, an American author, naturalist, and environmental activist, who wrote: "If the prairie dog goes, so goes an entire ecosystem. Prairie dogs create diversity. Destroy them and you destroy a varied world."
Apparently, the Rail Runner's official respect for the sleeping dogs that it let's lie will in some way help protect the ecosystem. And possibly more — as part of a twenty year study of Prairie Dogs, researchers led by Con Slobodchikoff, a Northern Arizona University biology professor, have now been able to analyze linguistic characteristics of their warning calls that appear to qualify as a limited language.
Those researchers claim Prairie Dogs have the ability to use nouns and modifiers, and even coin new "words." Their barks clearly distinguish between dogs and coyotes, and can include sounds for concepts such as size and color.
The Rail Runner has a horn that makes a lot of noise and is painted bright red in places. Just what Prairie Dogs would say about the train is anybody's guess at this point. The dogs are sleeping.
In the interest of accuracy, the Santa Fe Trail was an historic 19th century transportation route across southwestern North America connecting Missouri with Santa Fe. Only a bit later did travelers head south down the trail from Santa Fe to Albuquerque and further on to Mexico. That trail, El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro, was a lot older, dating from 1598, blazed by the Spanish.
Preservationists point out that the Prairie Dogs, however, have always been there, no matter what you call the trail or who walks it, rides it, or builds railroads on it.
These members have powered this story: