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Guardians Will Challenge Denial of Protections for Gunnison’s Prairie Dogs

Date
November 22, 2013
Contact
Taylor Jones (505) 490-5141
In This Release
Wildlife

Friday, November 22, 2013
Guardians Will Challenge Denial of Protections for Gunnison’s Prairie Dogs

Species Denied Protected Status Despite 95% Decline
Contact: Taylor Jones (505) 490-5141

Washington, DC – WildEarth Guardians will challengethe U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (Service) refusal to protect theGunnison’s prairie dog under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The Service recentlydenied the species protection despite a documented 95 percent decline since theearly 1900s and numerous ongoing threats.

“Failure to list the Gunnison’s prairie dogis contrary to the letter and the spirit of the Act,” said Taylor Jones,Endangered Species Advocate for WildEarth Guardians. “The Service is tyingitself in knots to avoid listing this keystone species, cherry picking sciencewhile ignoring the species’ precipitous decline.”

Guardians will file suit after the requisite60-day notice period challenging the Service’s failure to use the bestavailable science, properly consider the ESA’s five listing factors, or considerthe historic range of the species, among other failings. Ongoing urban and oil and gas development,shooting, poisoning, outbreaks of sylvatic plague, drought and climate change allpose significant threats to the species and its habitat.

The Service’s decision ignores the enormousrange-wide decline in Gunnison’s prairie dogs in the last 100 years and focusessolely on occupancy modeling of the remaining populations over just the last 3to 6 years. Plague is also dismissed as a threat, though an outbreak can cause 99percent mortality or completely wipe out a population in a single season.

Prairie dogs are “keystone” species: approximately150 species benefit from prairie dogs and the habitat they create, including swift foxes, burrowing owls,ferruginous hawks, and mountain plovers. The black-footed ferret, one of themost endangered mammals in North America, preys only on prairie dogs. Gunnison’sprairie dogs are found in grassland habitats in Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico,and Utah. The Service foundGunnison’s prairie dogs in the montane portion of their range warranted forlisting in 2008, and placed the species on the list of candidate species. In2010, a court remanded that decision because the Service had improperly listedonly a portion of the species, contrary to the plain language of the ESA. Therecent finding completely removed the species’ candidate status.

Guardians isrepresented by in-house staff attorney Ashley Wilmes.

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“Failure to list the Gunnison’s prairie dog is contrary to the letter and the spirit of the Act,” said Taylor Jones, Endangered Species Advocate for WildEarth Guardians. “The Service is tying itself in knots to avoid listing this keystone species, cherry picking science while ignoring the species’ precipitous decline.”
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