Dog doesn't get its day


Ranchers, farmers and land developers can breathe a sigh of relief; the black-tailed prairie dog won't be listed as an endangered species - at least not yet.

Citing a lack of money and staff and a long list of species in greater need, the Fish and Wildlife Service ruled that protection for the black-tailed prairie dog was "warranted but precluded" from listing under the Endangered Species Act. This means the agency recognizes prairie dog numbers are declining and that they deserve some attention, says regional Fish and Wildlife director Ralph Morgenweck.

"It's an early warning sign that the prairie dog's in trouble," says Morgenweck. "But it requires no action."

The animal's status will be reviewed annually, but Morgenweck says the agency will rely on states to play an active role in protecting the prairie dog.

The National Wildlife Federation hailed the decision for recognizing that the prairie dog is in peril. The federation's Rocky Mountain Natural Resource Center director Catherine Johnson says this should encourage states to follow through on their commitment to protect the animal.

Last fall, eight of 11 Western states, fearing that the animal was destined for listing, signed an agreement to come up with plans for protecting prairie dog numbers and habitat (HCN, 8/16/99: Standing up for the underdog).

But Jonathan Proctor of the Predator Conservation Alliance worries that without federal protection, prairie dog numbers will continue to decline. The agreement among the states has no teeth, he says, and has amounted to "absolutely zero action on the ground."

Proctor's group is challenging agencies to add some bite to their bark by ending poisoning and recreational shooting on state and federal lands, and to change management designation of the prairie dog from pest to wildlife.

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