Doggone it

 

The black-tailed prairie dog won't be protected under the Endangered Species Act, the feds announced today. Despite the fact that the 'dogs now occupy about 3 percent of their original habitat, and despite plague, poisoning and "varmint hunts", the federal Fish and Wildlife Service says populations are increasing.

That's good news for farmers, ranchers, and developers, given that black-tailed prairie dogs inhabit 2.4 million acres across the West and federal protection would limit activities on that land. It's also doubtless gratifying to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, who, in his former position as Colorado's Attorney General, "threatened legal action if the Fish and Wildlife Service listed the black-tailed prairie dog as threatened".

But it's bad news for prairie dogs and their supporters. Reports the Casper Star-Tribune:

Lauren McCain, prairie protection director for WildEarth Guardians, said she was "very, very disappointed and discouraged" by Wednesday's ruling.

The black-tailed prairie dog, she said, is a "keystone species" that helps create habitat for a variety of other species -- including the black-footed ferret, one of the rarest animals in North America. "The whole life of the prairie depends on the health of prairie dog colonies," she said.

For more perspective, see our 2000 story, when listing the dog was found to be "warranted but precluded": Dog doesn't get its day and our 1999 feature Standing up for the underdog.

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