For the rest of the country, Monday was Groundhog Day. But for Westerners, it was Prairie Dog Day. And the rodent’s in trouble all over the region, as bulldozers roll over its habitat, ranchers drop poison, and shooters go for target practice. Prairie dogs are now found in less than 10 percent of their original range, which causes problems for the animals and birds that depend on dog towns. The burrows provide homes for burrowing owls and several amphibians and reptiles, and the rodents themselves are tasty meals for hawks, eagles, and foxes. They’re also the mainstay of the endangered black-footed ferret. Of the five species of prairie dog, two (the Utah and the Mexican) are already on the endangered species list. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says that the other three, the black-tailed, white-tailed, and Gunnison's, may deserve protection as well.
Now, WildEarth Guardians has released its annual report card on prairie dog management. None of the 12 states and three federal agencies rated got a gold star – in fact, the average grade was a D. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service got a C-, while the BLM received a D-. Of the Western states, Arizona comes closest to being a honor student -- it gets a B for reintroduction efforts. But most of the rest, including Wyoming, Colorado, Utah and Montana, rated D+ to D- for failing to take any steps toward prairie dog recovery.
Lauren McCain of WildEarth Guardians highlighted the irony of federal and state prairie dog policy: “… agencies have financed and encouraged the poisoning of prairie dogs over the years while pumping millions of dollars into recovery efforts aimed at other species that rely on the prairie dog.”
Describing a once-vibrant dog town in Montana, journalist Mark Matthews said it best: “All I do know is that without the dogs, the other species are gone or scarce, and a lonely country is even lonelier.”