CRETE, Neb. (AP) — A Nebraska university has sold land used as a prairie dog research lab to neighboring farmers who plan to get rid of the animal colony.

Doane University's Board of Trustees sold the 320-acre plot last month for $2.6 million to the Lovegrove family, whose farming operation surrounds it. The board will return the proceeds to its endowment, the Lincoln Journal Star reported .

Maureen Franklin, Doane's former vice president for academic affairs, said she thinks the university should have done more to save the colony, which is part of the Fillmore County land gifted by an alumna 18 years ago.

"Destroying the prairie dogs by providing no ongoing protection for them is academically short-sighted and not in keeping with Doane's ethical values," Franklin wrote in a letter to the board.

Efforts were made to save the site, but environmental groups weren't interested in buying the property, said Russ Souchek, a professor of environmental science.

The Lovegroves don't intend to keep the black-tailed prairie dogs, said Christin Lovegrove, the family's attorney. The animals have encroached onto the family's farming land and damaged nearby fields, Lovegrove said.

"We are more than willing to work with Doane in whatever way we can to find a solution for these prairie dogs and where they need to go," she said. "We just want it to happen sooner rather than later."

Some conservation groups, including Kansas Audubon, discussed a last-minute effort to move the colony, but the process could kill about 90 percent of the animals, Franklin said. She said the prairie dogs are in breeding season, which makes it difficult to trap and move them, but it's worth a try.

"It's better than letting 100 percent die," she said.

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Information from: Lincoln Journal Star, http://www.journalstar.com