Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Prognosticating Prairie Dogs Predict ???

From Newsday....

Out of Chuck's shadow

Little guys can prognosticate, too

Newsday Staff Writer

January 31, 2007

No one, not even Punxsutawney Phil himself, could have ever predicted that a wide array of fellow rodents would eventually bask wistfully in his shadow.

But when Friday brings Groundhog Day, weather forecasting seems to become a full-fledged family business. Long Islanders regularly cast their meteorologic lots with two suburban chucks, Malverne Mel and Holtsville Hal, and residents of New York City turn to Staten Island's own chuck, Chuck. Until recently when the zoo eliminated its prairie-dog exhibit, city dwellers even had Flushing Phil and Corona Kate, the Queens Zoo's pair of prognosticating prairie dogs, the groundhog's smaller cousins casting smaller, but no less significant, silhouettes on what the zoo declared was "Ground Dog Day."

"Smaller isn't always less informative," said Kate McIntyre, the zoo's
communications manager.

In Jefferson County, Colo., some prairie dog devotees are counting heavily on that faith in prognosticating prairie dogs. Members of the Prairie Dog Coalition, Forest Guardians and a number of other advocacy groups spy spring in the step of every prairie dog they see - except they've been seeing fewer and fewer prairie dogs each year. The critters' numbers continue to shrink dramatically as the result of hunting, poisonings and other forms of eradication by humans.

In a gesture that evokes Flushing Phil and Corona Kate - but is rooted in tribute to Punxsutawney Phil - the alliance is pushing for an official declaration of "Prairie Dog Day" on Friday, to share the spotlight, if not the shadow, with the big toothy guy in Pennsylvania.

Officials in Boulder and Lakewood, Colo., recently proclaimed Feb. 2 to be Prairie Dog Day, following the previous leads of Santa Fe and Albuquerque, N.M. As in Punxsutawney, the day is being set aside locally for public education activities, most of them focused, for now, on schoolchildren.

And Enda Keegan, a New York singer-songwriter, has written "Living Free," an original tribute to the creatures' survival that can be heard on the Web site prairiedogday .org.

Eventually, organizers hope to take the event countywide, statewide and beyond.

This is not a case of groundhog envy, said Lindsey Sterling, Prairie Dog Coalition director. Organizers are hardly advocating that folks chuck the woodchuck.

"No, we love the groundhog, and we are celebrating the groundhog, too," she said. "The people who have been putting on Groundhog Day have been successful in garnering public attention ... and we wanted to see what we could do for the prairie dogs. They are, after all, cousins."

Scientists have determined that prairie dogs are also a keystone species, meaning their continued presence is critical to the ecosystem and viability of other species.

Members of the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club, the annual event's organizer, understand that prairie dogs don't aim to be groundhogging Phil's moment in the sun. Quite the contrary.

"Hey, we are not jealous people," said Bill Cooper, club president. "We basically take care of our own business, and if they want to use Feb. 2 for their cause, then more power to them."

Phil is decidedly apolitical, Cooper said, but is sympathetic to the perils of animals under human pursuit. In Pennsylvania, he said, "groundhogs are hunted 365 days of the year."

Likewise, all five species of prairie dog "are in desperate straits right
now," said Lauren McCain, a program director for Forest Guardians in Denver. "They have declined by over 90 percent of their original ranges and, for some, it is much worse."

The question remains: Can an icon of the Great American West find happiness on Feb. 2 with an icon of a 120-year-old midwinter tradition transplanted from Europe?

McCain said she hopes so.

"Some day in the future, when we see a broadcast of Punxsutawney Phil ... I foresee perhaps a cutaway on the news, just mentioning us, to create awareness," she prognosticated.

"I see us emerging." Just in time for spring.

Copyright (c) 2007, Newsday, Inc.


At 4:52 PM, Blogger squirrelmama said...

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Caryn Eve Murray


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