It's the dog days for prairie dogs

 

The West's prairie dog populations are in bad shape. Of the five species in the West, two are already on the endangered species list, while a third is a candidate for listing (HCN, 2/1/99: Ranchers don't want refugee prairie dogs). No one has been looking out for the white-tailed prairie dog - until now. In mid-July, seven conservation groups petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list the football-sized mammals under the Endangered Species Act.

"It's pretty clear that they're not doing well," says Erin Robertson, a biologist at the Center for Native Ecosystems, one of the groups behind the petition. She says white-tailed prairie dogs experienced a 92 percent loss in habitat and population in the last hundred years. Their greatest threats now include recreational hunting and habitat destruction, mostly from oil and gas development.

Prairie dogs, says Robertson, actually create healthier grasslands and contribute to more productive ecosystems.

But the white-tailed prairie dog, which lives in high Rocky Mountain sagebrush basins, has long been vilified as a nuisance. Ranchers and developers often blame the animals for consuming rangeland forage, digging holes where livestock can break legs and turning buildable land into Swiss cheese; many would prefer to see them poisoned, shot or vacuumed up. Recreational prairie dog shooting is still unregulated in most Western states, despite past attempts in Colorado and Wyoming to thwart target practice.

"It's one of our lowest priorities," says the Fish and Wildlife's Chuck Davis. The species probably won't be listed because the agency is backlogged with higher priority candidates. "It's frustrating," he says. "But it's probably not an emergency."

High Country News Classifieds
  • COPPER STAIN: ASARCO'S LEGACY IN EL PASO
    Tales from scores of ex-employees unearth the human costs of an economy that runs on copper.
  • FEATURES DIRECTOR - HIGH COUNTRY NEWS
    High Country News, an award-winning news organization covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, seeks a Features Director to join our editorial...
  • GENERAL MANAGER
    The Board of UYWCD seeks a new GM to manage operations & to implement our robust strategic plan. Details at www.upperyampawater.com. EOE
  • IN TUCSON, FOR SALE: A BEAUTIFUL, CLASSIC MID-CENTURY MODERN HOME
    designed by architect David Swanson in 1966. Located a block from Saguaro National Forest, yet minutes to Downtown and the UofA campus, 3706 sqft, 6...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Friends of the San Juans is seeking a new leader guide our efforts to protect and restore the San Juan Islands and the Salish...
  • 80 ACRES
    straddles North Platte Fishery, Wyoming. Legal access 2 miles off 1-80. Call 720-440-7633.
  • IMPROVED LOT
    Private road, hillside, views. Well, pad, septic, 99 sq.ft. hut. Dryland permaculture orchard. Wildlife. San Diego--long growing season
  • UNIQUE INVESTMENT OPPORTUNITY
    Profitable off-the-grid business located 2 miles from Glacier National Park. Owner has 6 years operating experience. Seeking investor or partner for business expansion and enhancement....
  • REMOTE SITKA ALASKA FLOAT HOUSE VACATION RENTAL
    Vacation rental located in calm protected waters 8 miles from Sitka, AK via boat with opportunities to fish and view wildlife. Skiff rental also available.
  • EXPERT LAND STEWART
    Available for site conservator, property manager. View resume at http://skills.ojadigital.net.
  • CONSERVATIONIST? IRRIGABLE LAND?
    Stellar seed-saving NGO is available to serious partner. Package must include financial support. Details: http://seeds.ojaidigital.net.
  • CANYONLANDS FIELD INSTITUTE
    Colorado Plateau Natural & Human History Field Seminars. Lodge, river, hiking options. Small groups, guest experts.
  • WESTERN NATIVE SEED
    Specializing in native seeds and seed mixes for western states.
  • CHUCK BURR'S CULTUREQUAKE.COM BLOG
    Change will happen when we see a new way of living. Thinking to save the world.
  • COMING TO TUCSON?
    Popular vacation house, furnished, 2 bed/1 bath, yard, dog-friendly. Lee at [email protected] or 520-791-9246.
  • OJO CALIENTE COMMERCIAL VENTURE
    Outstanding location near the world famous Ojo Caliente Mineral Spring Resort. Classic adobe Mercantile complete w/living quarters, separate 6 unit B&B, metal building and spacious...