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CASPER — A national animal protection organization has asked the Wyoming Game and Fish Department to ban prairie dog-killing contests such as one scheduled for this weekend in Carbon County.

The third annual "There Goes the Neighborhood" prairie dog-killing contest is scheduled to begin Saturday on public lands around Medicine Bow, organizer Jim Bowman said.

Bowman, from Kersey, Colo., said the event drew close to 30 participants last year, mostly from Colorado but some from as far away as New Zealand and Minnesota.

"I know the animal rights people don't like it," Bowman said. "But quite frankly, I think they need to spend more time worrying about kids without food and without houses to live in … than worry about a prairie dog that carries the plague."

Participants in the event will pay a $40 entry fee. Those who kill the most animals receive cash awards.

Colorado prohibits killing prairie dogs for sport. But Wyoming allows year-round killing of them without requiring a license. The Wyoming Department of Agriculture has classified the animals as pests.

Officials with the Humane Society of the United States have asked the Wyoming Game and Fish Department to ban such killing contests.

"Declaring a 'winner' and offering prizes for killing the most animals embodies the type of recreational killing that the general public finds morally reprehensible," said Casey Pheiffer, hunting issues deputy campaign manager with the Humane Society of the United States in Washington, D.C.

While many ranchers and others kill prairie dogs on private and public lands in Wyoming, Western wildlife agencies including the Game and Fish Department have been working to conserve the animals through interstate agreements and state management plans.

Although groups have petitioned several times over the last decade to have prairie dogs listed under the Endangered Species Act, federal officials have determined such listing isn't warranted.

The Game and Fish Department is developing a grasslands management plan that includes inventory of prairie dog populations and habitat in the state.

Pheiffer said that although the department doesn't regulate killing of prairie dogs, it does regulate hunting ethics.

"A ban on contest killing may fall under the same ethical considerations as prohibiting the hunting of nonpredatory animals by aircraft and limiting animal baiting," Pheiffer said.

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