91 minutes, 1998, Hi8

“VARMINTS burrow their ways into Urey Lecture Hall”
Montana Kaimin, Dec. 1, 1998
by Chad Dundas

In the past, I’ve killed varmints.

Once, some buddies and I stalked them in a roving pack. We were rabid, bloodthirsty and trigger-happy. We slaughtered ground squirrels (or “gophers”) in an entirely uncalculated, unremorseful potpourri of sudden death. But I’m through with that now.

I’ve been shamed into capitulation, having recently viewed Varmints, a documentary that details the struggle of prairie dogs across the flatland West.

Varmints, which is currently being distributed by a local company called High Plains Films, has already been dubbed the “Schindler’s List of wildlife documentaries” by a Colorado-based reviewer. The film is a finely polished testament to independent movie making.

The documentary melds a seamless mix of nature footage, personal interviews, home video and even old black and white news reels into a cohesive history of prairie dogs in this country. It fairly documents both sides of a unique Western argument that has been raging for the better part of a century.

Biologists and animal rights activists depicted in the film say that prairie dogs are a vital part of the Great Plains ecosystem,. Ranchers and scattered groups of varmint hunters vehemently contend that the animals are nothing more than pesky rodents who destroy cattle pastures and deserve to be thoroughly wiped out.

VARMINTS carries an impartial view that lets both sides present their beliefs in their own words.

“It all boils down to the fact that (the animal rights activists) want everybody eating tofu,” remarks the camo-clad Mark Mason, a member of Denver’s Varmint Militia. “They start by saying, ‘You’re just (hunting) for the bloodlust.’ Well, it’s true, we love to see (the dogs) blow up.”

VARMINTS is a thought-inspiring ride through the world of the prairie dog. Whatever you know, or think you know, about prairie dogs, this documentary will surely have you questioning your own beliefs and values about animal rights and the West’s environmental issues.