by Kara Platoni
So, okay, the East Coast/West Coast rivalry just got a little weirder. You know how today is the big day for Punxsutawney Phil, Pennsylvania's favorite weather-predicting groundhog? (By the way, he says spring is nigh.) Well, some environmental activists have decided there's no reason for an East Coaster to hog all the glory every February 2nd, especially when out here we don't even, you know ... have any groundhogs. For the past four years, an organization called the Forest Guardians has lobbied to give "Punxsutawney Phil's western cousins their due" by declaring February 2 to be "Prairie Dog Day," and creating a Web site that includes a prairie dog coloring book and prairie dog protest music. A few cities (Santa Fe and Albuquerque, we're looking at you) have gone along with it. Yeah, they sure are cute, and according to the Web site, they're a valuable source of owl food, but can prairie dogs predict the future? The full press release after the jump.
New Twist on Groundhog Day Is Celebrated: February 2 Declared Prairie Dog Day throughout the West
DENVER, CO--Each February 2nd, our nation is fascinated with the antics of groundhogs. From Maine to California, the annual prediction of Punxsutawney Phil is anxiously anticipatedï¿½will the groundhog see his shadow this year, foretelling that winter will last another six weeks, or not? For the past four years conservation organizations, led by Forest Guardians, have been giving Punxsutawney Phil's western cousins their due by making February 2nd a day to celebrate prairie dogs.
Last year the Santa Fe, NM City Council and Mayor Mary Chavez of Albuquerque, NM officially declared February 2nd Prairie Dog Day.
This year, Boulder, CO Mayor Mark Ruzzin and the Lakewood, CO City Council are helping their towns celebrate this new and growing tradition in the West. Boulder and Lakewood both issued proclamations declaring February 2nd, 2007 "Prairie Dog Day," and pledged to honor the importance of this Western icon of the prairie and mountain grasslands.
"Just as the Groundhog predicts the duration of winter, the West's 'groundhog' - the prairie dog - foretells the future of a community of wildlife dependent on prairie dogs for food and for the habitat they create," said Dr. Lauren McCain, Deserts and Grasslands Program Director at Forest Guardians' Denver office.
Several species, such as the black-footed ferret, mountain plover, swift fox, ferruginous hawk, and burrowing owl are endangered or declining due to a 98-99% reduction in prairie dog acreage in the Great Plains. Prairie dog towns are also drawing increasing attention from the public because of the great opportunity they provide to view wildlife. Research over the past 20 years has also revealed that prairie dogs may have the most complex communication system in the animal kingdom.
The new Prairie Dog Day holiday is catching on. Along with the proclamations by cities in New Mexico and Colorado, this year local schools and communities are getting into the act. Forest Guardians along with the Jefferson County Open School, the Prairie Dog Coalition, Prairie Dog Specialists, and Jews of the Earth are visiting schools in the weeks leading up to and following February 2nd to teach hundreds of elementary and high school students about prairie dogs and their wildlife communities.
"Kids love learning about prairie dogs," said Judith Miller Smith, teacher at the Jefferson County Open School. "We have tailored our activities to meet Colorado state educational standards. Focusing on prairie dogs is a fantastic way for students to learn about the food chain and how ecosystems work."
Forest Guardians, Jefferson County Open School, and the other groups will cap off their Prairie Dog Day celebration with a party and press conference at the Stone House on the Bear Creek Greenbelt in Lakewood, CO.
In addition, Forest Guardians has issued a Video News Release for Prairie Dog Day. The video includes both inspiring footage of prairie dogs and prairie landscapes and shocking footage of the threats these creatures face as well as footage of Forest Guardians' educational outreach and interviews with scientists and experts. To download and use the video in your broadcast, visit www.fguardians.org.
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