Possible Threat to the Kansas Veterans Cemetery: Prairie Dog Invasion

By Logan Sleezer: 11/22/2016

ES 555: Small Format Aerial Photography

On October 8, 2016, the Emporia State University Small Format Aerial Photography class (ES555) conducted kite and blimp aerial photography at several sites near Fort Dodge, Kansas. One of these sites, suggested by one of the managers of the Kansas Soldiers' Home in Fort Dodge, was the Kansas Veterans Cemetery just east of town. The Kansas Veterans Cemetery is split into two parts: 1. The old portion adjacent to highway 400 and 2. The newer plot of land within a circle drive just to the north. We set up for aerial photography just south of the old portion of the cemetery (Figure 1) to take advantage of a southerly wind. A Canon Digital Elph camera, mounted to the small delta-type kite was employed at the cemetery. A typical kite utilized on our field trip is shown in Figure 2.

Figure 1. Aerial view of the Kansas Veterans Cemetery from NG911 conventional aerial photography taken in November of 2013. The red dot represents the location where we set up for kite aerial photography.

Figure 2. Preparation of a kite used for aerial photography on our field trip. Photo by Jack Faris.

Along with many high-quality vertical and oblique aerial photos of both portions of the Kansas Veterans Cemetery, the session also captured oblique views of the landscape to the north and northeast. Studying these photos, we discovered a prairie dog town, easy to identify by the numerous patches of bare ground and disturbed vegetation seeming to follow an ephemeral stream channel. A panoramic view of the majority of this prairie dog town is shown in Figure 3.

Figure 3. Panoramic view of the prairie dog town derived from stitching of three kite aerial photographs using D-Joiner software.

Prairie dogs continuously disturb vegetation by the processes of grazing and burrowing (Whicker and Detling, 1988). Thus, for obvious reasons, the possibility of prairie dogs colonizing the Kansas Veterans Cemetery is concerning. I used conventional, true-color aerial imagery from November of 2013 (NG911, Resolution: 1 foot) and summer of 2015 (NAIP, Resolution: 1 meter) to compare to the kite aerial imagery we acquired in 2016 in order to track the extent of the prairie dog town over time and identify possible expansion toward the Kansas Veterans Cemetery. A similar study used color infrared (CIR) imagery to delineate the extent of prairie dog towns at Wind Cave National Park (Dalstead et al., 1981). Dalstead et al. (1981) chose CIR imagery over true-color imagery due to advantages in detection of vegetative differences. I used true-color imagery to delineate the prairie dog town near the Kansas Veterans Cemetery because NG911 imagery and our kite aerial photography were only taken in true color.

Conventional aerial photography from 2013 and 2015 indicated a general trend of expansion of the prairie dog town, especially to the southeast, northwest, and to the southwest (toward the cemetery). This expansion trend is shown in Figure 4. Additional expansion was documented by a kite aerial image we acquired in 2016, facing west toward the new loop of the cemetery (Figure 5). The photograph shows new areas laid bare of vegetation by prairie dogs in very close proximity to the new portion of the cemetery and was used to project the prairie dog town's approximate extent for 2016 in relation to the cemetery (Figure 6).

Figure 4. Prairie dog town approximate extent, delineated from 2013 aerial imagery (A) and 2015 aerial imagery (B). The Kansas Veterans Cemetery is located in the southwest corner of the photo.

Figure 5. Low oblique view to the west showing land disturbed by prairie dogs (bottom-center) in the foreground with the new circle drive plot of the cemetery (center to right-center) and old cemetery plot (left-center) visible in the background.

Figure 6. Predicted extent expansion of the prairie dog town toward the cemetery as inferred from the kite aerial photograph in Figure 5, displayed with previous prairie dog town extents in 2013 and 2015.

While both the old and new portions of the Kansas Veterans Cemetery are fenced off and the prairie dogs do not appear to have advanced past these fences yet, it is unlikely that the fences are absolute barriers to prairie dog movement. Lewis et al (1979), in a study involving fencing of prairie dogs, documented incidences of prairie dogs climbing fences and even burrowing under concrete barriers built into the ground to 6 cm under fences. In light of these troubling results, I would recommend close monitoring of this prairie dog town in the future and consideration of techniques to deter prairie dogs from further expansion into the cemetery grounds.

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Dalsted, K.J., S. Sather-Blair, B.K. Worcester, and R. Klukas. 1981. Application of remote sensing to prairie dog management. Journal of Range Management 34:218-223.

Lewis, J.C., E.H. McIlvain, R. McVickers, and B. Peterson. 1979. Proceedings of the Oklahoma Academy of Science 59:27-30.

Whicker, A.D. and J.K. Detling. 1988. Ecological consequences of prairie dog disturbances. Bioscience 38:778-785.