Activists delivered a petition to Naropa University last week demanding the college withdraw its permit application to remove about 100 prairie dogs from its campus by means of “lethal control.” The online petition, organized by the Colorado organization WildLands Defense, has now garnered a total of almost 170,000 signatures. The liberal arts college, founded by the late Tibetan lama Chögyam Trungpa in 1974, has held its ground, even as the pesky critters continue to burrow underfoot.
To get Naropa’s side on the matter, I call Bill Rigler in the office of public relations at Naropa. The folks who’ve started the petition, he says, “don’t even live in Boulder—they live a hundred miles away.” He mentions this at least twice.
I’m reminded of arguments I’ve had with the Forest Service over clear-cutting and road-building, where it was also often argued that people who didn’t live right in the affected forest shouldn’t have a voice on matters of water quality, forest health, wildlife, or wilderness there. Hearing this prejudice sniffed at here touched in me a nerve of so many other wrongs and the justifications given.
Bill, after telling me that contrary to popular belief, Naropa is not a Buddhist university, but “Buddhist-inspired,” explains that the burrows would prevent construction on five acres of land. Naropa has been looking for relocation sites (for the prairie dogs, not the university) for four years, he tells me, and has spent $100,000 on the process.
“I can guarantee there is no other group that has invested such compassion and intent on this issue,” he says.
Couldn’t they just get some ferrets to help things out—maybe endangered black-footed ferrets? I’d definitely want to go to, or teach at, a university where red-tailed hawks sat in cottonwood branches and dived for the cute little prairie dogs. A campus with a five-acre courtyard where people could sit on benches and read, study, or just chill. Or meditate, I guess.
But maybe I’m being fanciful. Maybe there’s no longer space or time in modern life for a Garden of Eden. Two hundred fifty burrows; about one hundred animals.
Bill says it’s not their intent to kill the prairie dogs.
“Can you state that you won’t?” I ask.
“It’s not our intent,” is all he can say. But I don’t understand why they need the permit unless to kill them—possibly by rodenticide, a bad way to go, I imagine.
I believe him, certainly, when he says at this time they do not intend to kill the prairie dogs. I just wish they’d say they won’t do it. I wonder if it’s politics, part of the necessary hoops—creating uproar, or at least a small stink—in order to get the city of Boulder or the state more involved in finding a relocation site, which will be really expensive.
But maybe the dogs just need to eat their poison so we can get on with the excavation of our Buddhist-inspired future, all of us. Certainly, we are all complicit; certainly, our choices and consumptions, our existence, no matter how muted or considered, displaces others. Being mindful of this is nice but doesn’t fix it. Maybe that’s why this little five-acre conundrum is attractive in the media right now. Win or lose, right or wrong, it doesn’t change the world. It’s small, symbolic. It just needs extra concrete, a little extra money. In the meantime, the world rolls on, and we look away.
Update: Naropa University has withdrawn its request for a city permit to kill the prairie dogs. Despite having already spent $100,000 in its search for a relocation site, the University is optimistic that they will be able to find a new partner to take on the rodents. “We have a lot more suggestions and options available to us now as a result of having gone through this than we did before we started with the permit application,” said Naropa spokesman Bill Rigler.
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