COLORADO — Imagine waking up to 80 decibel explosions right outside your window; now, imagine that they are coming from a “pest control” device which slaughters entire families of prairie dogs by filling their burrows with fire — sometimes not killing them immediately. Read on to learn about how the “Rodenator” is threatening the well-being of prairie dogs and people alike, and, if you are outraged like many Boulder residents, sign the petition to encourage the Colorado Wildlife Commission to ban this barbaric device. — Global Animal
Heath Urie, Daily Camera
Residents in a north Boulder neighborhood found themselves awoken Tuesday morning by what has become a familiar and terrifying sound — prairie dog burrows being blown up by a device known as the “Rodenator.”
The machine — which the Colorado Wildlife Commission approved for use in 2006 as an acceptable way for landowners to exterminate the rodents — pumps a propane mixture into burrows, then ignites the gas.
The result is an explosion that neighbors say rattles windows and frays nerves.
“That’s how I woke up yesterday morning, with just these ‘booms,'” said Leslie Middleton, who lives in the Orchard Creek neighborhood near the intersection of Jay and Spine roads. “It seems like it goes every 30 to 90 seconds.”
Middleton, along with about a dozen neighbors, have been fighting the use of the Rodenator since several landowners in adjacent unincorporated Boulder County began using the device in 2007.
“Kids at the end of the cul-de-sac actually saw some prairie dogs on fire, running and screaming,” Middleton said of a previous Rodenator sweep.
Several Orchard Creek residents said the devices are cruel, exceptionally loud and could potentially start a fire. They’ve repeatedly complained to Boulder police, the Boulder County Sheriff’s Office, county commissioners, Boulder City Council members and animal control officers — but they all say there’s nothing they can do.
While the Rodenator is illegal to use in the city of Boulder — which has a strict management plan for prairie dogs — it is a legal method to control prairie dog populations in unincorporated Boulder County.
Carrie Haverfield, the constituent services liaison for the Boulder County commissioners, said the county has tried to find ways to mitigate the neighborhood’s concerns.
“What we found, legally, is that our hands are tied even with our noise ordinance,” she said.
Sheriff’s officials previously visited the neighborhood when the Rodenator was in use nearby. They found the estimated 80-decibel explosions do exceed the county’s limits of 50 to 55 decibels. But Haverfield said the land where the device is being used is zoned for agricultural uses, so the property owners are exempt from the noise ordinance under state law.
“Unfortunately, we are stuck,” Haverfield said. “At this point, we don’t have any jurisdiction to change the matter. We wish that neighbors would be willing to think about the impact they’re having on their neighbors.”
Boulder County Commissioner Cindy Domenico empathizes with the Orchard Creek residents, but she said there’s a lack of political will among other Colorado counties to change the rules for devices like the Rodenator.
“We thought maybe there would be an opportunity at a statewide level to at least raise the issue,” she said. “It just doesn’t have traction with the broader group.”
She said the county has been left “between a rock and a hard place.”
“I can’t imagine being disrupted in this way by the use of a device like this,” she said. “I just wish there was something we could do to help, and we have literally looked everywhere.”
That answer doesn’t sit well with Orchard Creek residents, who worry that Tuesday’s blasts were just the beginning of a new prairie dog killing season.
“We love animals,” said Michaela O’Brien, whose children enjoy watching the young prairie dog pups each spring. “It’s really hard when someone comes and starts bombing them out.”
Gerlinde Smith, another concerned resident, said her husband is a disabled Vietnam War veteran who jumps every time a burrow is detonated.
“He goes into this shock mode,” Smith said. “To me, it’s just really unbelievable. You do not need to kill them in this inhumane way.”
Lindsey Sterling Krank, director of the Boulder-based Prairie Dog Coalition, fought against approving the Rodenator as an extermination method.
“It’s just, I think, completely irresponsible and inhumane,” she said.
Sterling Krank said the device can maim prairie dogs instead of killing them. Knowing that the state approves of the device, she said, is the “worst part.”
A video posted on the Rodenator’s official product website contains a commentary from company president Ed Meyer, in which he calls the device “humane.” He goes on to give a description of what it’s like to use the Rodenator.
“The Rodenator produces a result that has a sense of justification and revenge — I mean, you’re blowing them up,” Meyer said. “It’s pretty exciting. It really gives you that sense of, ‘I got this guy.'”
An employee at a ranch near the Orchard Creek neighborhood — who declined to give her name — said her employer uses the Rodenator every season to control the prairie dogs on her expansive property along Jay Road. She said it’s a humane way to destroy burrows and isn’t meant to kill the animals.
Property records show the ranch is owned by Jennifer Thompson, who did not return messages left Wednesday morning.
In 2007, Boulder County landowner Richard Luna used a Rodenator to exterminate prairie dogs directly across from the Orchard Creek neighborhood. He told the Camera then that the device worked well, and blamed the neighbors who complain about it for their home construction, which forced the prairie dogs onto his property at 5575 Jay Road.
Ernie Snyder, who owns land in the 6000 block of Jay Road, said he sees both sides of the issue.
“I like a prairie dog as much as the next guy, other than when they’re on your property and creating all the havoc they create,” he said.
Snyder said the population of prairie dogs on his land died off naturally due to plague several years ago, but he understands the need to get rid of the animals if they become a nuisance.
“In a proper place, they’re great,” he said. “They have every right to be here. But when they’re on your property digging the holes, the holes are the biggest evil.”