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Varmints (Short Version)

The controversy surrounding the decline of the prairie dog.

A printer-friendly version of this page 56 minutes
Directed by Doug Hawes-Davis
Produced by High Plains Films

Pound for pound the prairie dog has generated more controversy in the West than almost any other animal. Some say that the prairie dog competes directly with cattle for forage and is an agricultural pest that must be eradicated. Others argue that the prairie dog is an essential component of the prairie ecosystem and that dramatic declines in population and loss of habitat qualify the prairie dog for protection under the Endangered Species Act.

VARMINTS chronicles the decline of the prairie dog in the American West. It details the intertwined and conflicting perspectives of cowboy mythology, animal rights, property rights, varmint hunting, ecology and politics. The film includes exclusive footage of varmint shooting, spectacular wildlife of the Great Plains, and systematic poisoning efforts by federal, state and local agencies, including historical U.S. Biological Survey footage (c. 1915) collected from the National Archives.

VARMINTS raises important questions about the ethics of hunting for sport and our relentless efforts to control the natural world.

Note: This version is shortened from the director's original 91-minute cut and was edited with educational and group screenings in mind, where length is an important factor. It is available on the same DVD with the original version. The director describes the difference between the two versions as follows:

"The 91-minute 'theatrical version' of VARMINTS covers the entire history of exploitation of the Great Plains through the eyes of the region's keystone species, the black-tailed prairie dog. This original 'director's cut' of VARMINTS also takes a much closer look at the pathology of varmint hunting.

"Additionally, the debate over interspecific competition between prairie dogs and livestock is covered in far more detail in the long version. This is very important in the long version because it is the perceived competition between prairie dogs and livestock that has been the rationale for continued destruction of the animals and their habitat. So, the short version is more of a primer than a complete history.

"The most significant difference stylistically between the long and short versions is the use of supers in the short version to identify the 'experts.' Using a cast of characters, rather than identify speakers as they appeared in the long version, was a deliberate attempt to reduce viewer bias and force the viewer to listen carefully to what was said, rather than rely on an individuals' professional status. Because each individual is on-screen for approximately half as much time in the short version, I did not feel there would be enough 'character development' for this strategy to work in the short version." Doug Hawes-Davis

Grade Level: 10-12, College, Adult
US Release Date: 1999     Copyright Date: 1998
VHS ISBN: 1-56029-785-9

"A powerful, engaging, and surprisingly humorous exposé of the strained relations between people and wildlife in the American West...sure to echo across the West for years to come."
Camas Deep Winter

"Fascinating story-telling, scientifically and historically accurate...Is this film a polemic? Well, it certainly has attitude. But all strongly held ideas have attitude."
Sam McNaughton, PhD, Biology Research Lab, Syracuse University

"Using documented evidence and historical footage, Hawes-Davis deftly dissects those arguments (the ranchers' and sports shooters') until the only thing left standing is the blood lust of the shooters."
Ken Muir, Asst. Professor of Sociology, Appalachian State University

"An incredibly disturbing film, but well worth watching...Highly recommended for all college and university library collections."
Pamela M. Rose, Health Sciences Library, SUNY at Buffalo, MC Journal

"Varmints is the 'Schindler's List' of wildlife documentaries. You simply cannot watch and remain unmoved. It demands intellectual attention."
The Coloradoan

"Varmints juxtaposes two sides of humanity, one believing in the two-fisted Manifest Destiny obligation to dominate the earth and the other struggling to present a new, less destructive model that recognizes the right of other animals to occupy the planet."
Sierra Magazine

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Varmints (Short Version)

"Fascinating story-telling, scientifically and historically accurate." Sam McNaughton, PhD, Biology Research Lab, Syracuse University

DVD Features
The DVD contains both the original 90-minute version, and the short 57-minute version, of the program.

Links (The producers' web site)

Awards and Festivals
Best Environmental Issues, Special Jury Prize, International Wildlife Film Festival
Bronze Plaque, The Columbus International Film & Video Festival
Ökomedia, Germany
Vermont International Film Festival
Northwest Film & Video Festival
Great Plains Film Festival
Far North Conservation Film Festival

American Studies
Animal Behavior/Communication
Animal Rights
Endangered Species
Environmental Ethics
Great Plains
Life Science
Prairie Dogs
Social Change
Social Psychology
Western U.S.

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... more Reviews

"Makes viewers everywhere ponder who, in the grand scheme of things, the true varmints are."

"If enough people see Varmints, perhaps the prairie dog may escape the buffalo's fate."

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