FATE OF YUKON’S PRAIRIE DOG COLONY IN LIMBO
News 9 - November 8, 2023 5:55 am
Yukon Prairie Dogs-2023
YUKON, Okla. –
There’s a lot of activity on a piece of commercial property off Route 66 in Yukon. The highly desirable area is home to several new developments. However, it’s also home to a colony of native black-tailed prairie dogs.
“They are a delight, they’re wildlife,” said Lenorah Kirkland.
Kirkland admits she knows a lot about prairie dogs. “They have a strict diet of vegetables and insects,” she said. “They have a life span of anywhere from 7 to 8 years in the wild.”
She knows these fast facts because she’s worked at the Dollar General store for years, right next door to the prairie dog colony. “I’d like to know what I’m taking care of,” she said. “We feed them pumpkins and discontinued produce.”
Kirkland says along with feeding the animals, she has even become a tour guide of sorts for their habitat located on Sara Road just off Route 66. “It is kind of like a destination,” she said. “We have a lot of locals that come in and they park and take pictures with them and their kids, even the people off the turnpike, this is one of their main stops in Yukon because they hear so much about our prairie dogs.”
However, a sign of the times shows their future is unclear, as they stand on prime land for real estate development. Currently, real estate firm SHOPcos is offering the land for lease. Kurt Kuklinski with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation says despite who owns the property, the department holds jurisdiction over the prairie dogs. “They were here first,” he said. “Over the last several decades this population has stayed pretty stable.”
He said there are more than 100 prairie dogs on this land in Yukon. If developers were to move forward, he says they must contact the department to get a 90-day permit to remove or control the prairie dogs. That hasn’t happened yet. However, his suggestion is to always relocate them. “If we find good preexisting colonies, places where prairie dogs have been in the past, those translocation efforts are usually successful,” Kuklinski said. “These animals will quickly adapt to a new home where there are already existing burrows where prairie dogs have lived before. That’s usually a pretty high rate of success for translocation.”
With hundreds of prairie dog colonies across the state, Kuklinski said there are safeguards in protecting the animals when a permit is issued. “We cannot issue that permit if we feel that the prairie dog population within the entire county as a whole in any given county would be reduced below 100 animals,” he said. “So, we can never completely eradicate them.”
While relocating them would ensure their survival, the thought of them leaving is disappointing to those who have come to love and care for the prairie dogs. “I’d really hate to see them go,” Kirkland said. “The fact that they’re here, it just makes it kind of a highlight for Yukon, and I love it.”
News 9 left a message with the company advertising the land for lease to find out if there is a plan in place for the prairie dogs, but we have not heard back yet.