Prairie dog shooting means big business for many small towns across the Great Plains states. So when the U.S. Forest Service recently closed the 70,000-acre Conata Basin in South Dakota's Buffalo Gap National Grasslands to shooters, many prairie dog shooters and businesses across the plains grew wary.
Shooters "make up about 70 percent of my
business," says Candy Kalal, owner of a motel in Zortman, Mont. "I
couldn't survive without them." Kalal has good reason to worry.
Like the basin, Zortman is located near two black-footed ferret
reintroduction sites: the Charles M. Russell Wildlife Refuge to the
east and the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation to the west. Ferrets,
which live in prairie dog burrows and dine exclusively on their
hosts, were the reason for the shooting ban at Conata Basin, where
shooters logged 4,000 visits last year.
had unbelievable success with the ferrets," says Buffalo Gap
District Ranger Bill Perry, who administers the basin. "We're
concerned that a dozen animals may now be living within the
In addition to ferrets, prairie
dogs are prey to hawks, eagles and numerous other predators, and
environmentalists praised the South Dakota closure. "That's a
really big step for helping out the prairie dog," said Jonathan
Proctor of the Predator Project in Bozeman, Mont. "That's the only
protected area on any national grassland." Proctor and other
environmentalists are pushing the government to protect the prairie
dog under the Endangered Species Act. The animal has been
eradicated from 99 percent of its historic range (HCN,