By MIKE CORN
Only a smattering of comments have been made on a draft biological opinion about the use of Rozol as a poison to control prairie dogs.
Nearly half of the 24 public comments filed by Thursday came from Logan County, where the concern is the biological opinion will prevent the use of Rozol on land adjoining one of two sites where black-footed ferrets have been reintroduced.
That's not the case, according to Mike LeValley, in charge of the FWS' Manhattan office overseeing the Logan County reintroduction project.
"That's not true," he said. "It restricts Rozol use on existing and future reintroduction sites, but outside of that there's no restrictions."
The opinion, a 131-page document prepared by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, is an outgrowth of a dispute over the registration of Rozol by the Environmental Protection Agency without first contacting the federal wildlife agency.
That registration process ultimately spawned a series of lawsuits, including one that ended with a federal judge suspending registration of the blood-thinning poison in four of the 10 states where it is used.
Kansas was one of the six states where U.S. District Judge Ellen Huvelle determined it didn't make any difference the EPA broke its own rules when it registered Rozol. She did, however, ban the use of the poison in Montana, New Mexico, North Dakota and South Dakota until the EPA obtains a biological opinion from the federal wildlife agency on the effect Rozol has on endangered species as a result of secondary poisoning.
The latest request by the EPA focuses on that biological opinion. Public comments received during the 30-day comment period -- ending today -- can be included in the EPA's response to the biological opinion.
The EPA request attracted several comments from Logan County, specifically citing the black-footed ferret reintroduction project on what has become known as the Haverfield-Barnhardt property, a 10,000-acre ranch in southwest Logan County.
"The Kansas Fish and Wildlife people promised that our lands bordering Haverfield's prairie dog infestation would never be subjected to rules associated with ferrets, that our lands could be controlled as usual," a comment submitted by L. Schertz reads. "If the fish and wildlife people want to make enemies of all the ranchers and farmers in the area, all they have to do is go back on their word one more time, then they will not be ever welcome on our properties again. The state government shouldn't want another civil war."
Keith Edwards, whose land adjoins Haverfield's also submitted a comment on the opinion.
"I strongly oppose the proposed banning of the use of Rozol on land bordering the black-footed ferret release area on private land in Logan County," he wrote. "I own a ranch that borders the Haverfield-Barnhardt complex where the ferrets were released. We were assured by USFWS representative Michael LeValley prior to the release that our farming and ranching operations would not be affected by this experimental release."
The FWS included maps of the two reintroduction sites as locations where Rozol use would be prohibited.
"The only remaining effective control we have for prairie dogs is Rozol," Edwards wrote. "Shooting is very slow and time consuming and the toxic effects of phostoxin on humans and birds is irreversible. Our goal in ranching is to preserve the short grass prairie, and the control of black-tailed prairie dogs is an important tool in that mission. During the drought years between 2000 and 2011 the only native pasture that had high wind erosion with vast amounts of blowing dirt in Logan County was on the Haverfield ranch where prairie dogs were left uncontrolled, resulting in thousands of acres of exposed soil from prairie dog mounds and the very short grass surrounding the burrows."
Edwards called Rozol safe and effective.
"In my ranching experience since 1983, I've never encountered dead hawks, eagles or other dead wildlife on my ranch as a secondary poisoning from Rozol.
"We live in a representative republic in the USA, and the actions of USFWS and EPA are at times totalitarian and dictatorial and must be held in check."
While the Haverfield-Barnhardt complex has received the most attention, ferrets have also been introduced on the Smoky Valley Ranch owned by the Nature Conservancy in the eastern half of the county,.
While it's unclear what the next course of action will be, it's likely the EPA will return to the registration process that was disrupted by the lawsuits.
* Documents surrounding the biological opinion are online at regulations.gov or at 1.usa.gov/AA51vl. While the comment period expires today, the site says late comments will be accepted.