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Eighth Annual Prairie Dog Conservation Report Card Released

Date
February 2, 2015
Contact
Taylor Jones (720) 443-2615
In This Release
Wildlife
Monday, February 2, 2015
Eighth Annual Prairie Dog Conservation Report Card Released

Report Celebrates Prairie Dog Day, Grades Agencies on Species’ Treatment
Contact: Taylor Jones (720) 443-2615

Denver—Today,WildEarth Guardians released the eighth annual Report from the Burrow, grading six federal agencies and the twelvestates in prairie dog range for their treatment of these imperiled species in2014. This year’s Report reveals thatwhile a few states and federal agencies are improving their prairie dogconservation efforts, the generally deplorable status quo, where theseintelligent, ecologically important animals are treated as pests and widelypoisoned, gassed and shot, remains largely unchanged.

Guardiansreleases Report from the Burrowannually on Prairie Dog Day (more commonly known as Groundhog Day), to drawattention to the plight of perhaps the most important species to maintainingand restoring healthy grassland ecosystems. Prairie dogs are key ecosystemengineers, providing habitat and food for scores of other species including endangeredblack-footed ferrets, badgers, bobcats, burrowing owls and ferruginous hawks.

Akinto a report card, the Report gradesare based on seven criteria, including habitat conservation and planning, lawsregarding recreational shooting of prairie dogs, regulation of poisoning forprairie dog control, and how sylvatic plague (an introduced disease that canrapidly decimate prairie dog colonies) is addressed. Whenever possible, personnelfrom each state and federal agency were consulted for input on the Report and reviewed the sections focusedon their agency’s work.

“Protectingand restoring prairie dog communities is essential to protecting and restoringgrassland ecosystems, and requires commitment from our government agencies atall levels,” said Taylor Jones, endangered species advocate for WildEarthGuardians. “Unfortunately old prejudices still prevail and governments at everylevel are failing prairie dogs.”

Thoughmost average grades did not change, several states improved their grades in monitoring;Colorado, South Dakota, New Mexico, and Wyoming are implementing and planningmore regular surveys of prairie dog populations. Montana improved on plaguemanagement; Oklahoma is recognized for new relocation projects. Nebraska isrecognized for rejoining the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife AgenciesGrassland Initiative. There appears to be a slight trend toward better state management.Federal agencies’ grades remain almost entirely unchanged. Due to newinformation provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Servicesprogram, Guardians raised its grade to acknowledge the importance of its plagueprevention efforts, primarily on endangered black-footed ferret reintroductionsites. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service continues its refusal to protect imperiledprairie dog species under the Endangered Species Act. This year its denial ofprotections to the white-tailed prairie dog was overturned by a federal court,and a legal challenge to its refusal to list the Gunnison’s prairie dog isunderway.

“A landscapewithout prairie dogs is an impoverished landscape,” said Jones. “Prairie dogssupport a broad diversity of species and deserve strong protections, bothbecause they are imperiled and in recognition of their importance to grasslandecosystems.”

Scientistsconsider prairie dogs keystone species. Like the keystone that supports anarchway, prairie dogs support entire ecosystems. These social, burrowing mammals, members of the squirrel family,fertilize and aerate the soil and clip foliage, creating shorter but morenutrient-rich plants. Large herbivores including elk, pronghorn, bison andcattle often prefer to graze on prairie dog towns. Prairie dog burrows providehomes and shelter for numerous mammals, reptiles, amphibians, andinvertebrates. Prairie dogs are also an important food source for a widevariety of species including hawks, eagles, coyotes, foxes, badgers andendangered black-footed ferrets. Four species of prairie dog live in the UnitedStates: the black-tailed, white-tailed, Gunnison’s, and Utah prairie dog. Thefifth species, appropriately named the Mexican prairie dog, is found only inMexico. Collectively, prairie dogs have lost between 93 and 99 percent of theirhistoric range in the last two centuries, and that loss diminishes the uniqueecosystems that prairie dogs create and maintain.

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TheReport Card

 

RFTB 2015 Table

The2015 Report from the Burrow isavailable here.

 

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