Grave problem: Feds blamed as prairie dogs invade Okla. cemetery, digging up bones

Federal and state leaders are sparring while a state lawmaker attempts to bring a solution to a rural cemetery in the Oklahoma panhandle, where prairie dogs have run amok.

The Rita Blanca Grassland runs adjacent to a local cemetery near Felt, Oklahoma. In recent months, prairie dogs have invaded from the grassland into the cemetery, creating sink holes and damaging property.

Human bones from grave sites dating back to the 1920’s are visible on the surface, and burrows into the earth are evident where relatives of the deceased thought their loved ones would rest peacefully. Roberta Boydston is one of those family members.

“It is very devastating to those who have family buried there. The dogs are undermining the cemetery and causing destruction that no one wants to see.”

Local cemetery officials claim that the U.S. Forest Service has neglected the job of controlling the destructive prairie dogs, and protections over another specie are preventing action being taken.

“It all comes down to [The Forest Service] wanting to introduce an animal called the black footed ferret. The ferret has never lived here and we’ve never seen any in all of our years maintaining the premises,” said Daryl McDaniel, Chairman of the Board of Bertrand Cemetery.

“Introducing and protecting an animal that has never lived here is giving us a lot of headaches. We can’t spread poison to kill the prairie dogs, and that’s our most effective way of doing so.”

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recovery plan for the black footed ferret is expected to cost over $150 million by 2040.

Oklahoma State Representative Casey Murdock (R-Felt) has been attempting to spearhead progress on the issue. He says that bringing all sides to the table is what is needed so that all interests are met.

“The cemetery is being overrun, and there’s no doubt about that. It’s imperative that everyone’s concerns are addressed.”

One of those issues centers around the use of poison as a means of population control: a means that Marta Call, Public Affairs Officer with the Forest Service, says isn’t on the table.

“We cannot utilize poison to control the populations based on wildlife protections,” she said. “We have to look at other means of controlling the prairie dogs and keeping them out of the cemetery, because we truly are sympathetic to the issue at hand.”

Rep. Murdock says that he has already been in contact with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife, cemetery officials, and the office of Governor Mary Fallin.

“What we need is a buffer zone of at least a mile and a half around the cemetery. The buffer zone will ensure that no more graves are being dug up, and families of the deceased can rest easy.”

Until that meeting, it is expected that the prairie dog population will continue to grow in the Bertrand Cemetery. Representative Murdock believes that the federal government should be more responsive to the needs of local citizens.

“Taxpayers expect the federal government to perform its duties, plain and simple. We need a solution to this issue as soon as possible.”

Seth Paxton is a student in the Fox News Campus Associate Program.
Get more information on the program here.