Current work in wildlife, rivers, public lands, and climate
Protection Sought For Gunnison’s Prairie Dog – Diverse Coalition Petitions for Endangered Species Act Listing
What: Press Conference, announcing the filing of a petition to list the Gunnison’s prairie dog under the federal Endangered Species Act.
When: Monday, February 23, from 10:30am – 12 noon.
Where: Gymnasium at EJ Martinez Elementary School at 401 W. San Mateo Rd. Santa Fe.
Gunnison’s prairie dogs have declined by over 90% across their range, due to historic and current poisoning and shooting, sylvatic plague, and habitat destruction. Over the past several years, plague has devastated prairie dog populations across large areas in northern Arizona. Habitat destruction has resulted in prairie dog acreage reductions in Flagstaff, AZ and Albuquerque, Santa Fe, and Taos, NM. Rampant shooting of Gunnison’s prairie dogs occurs in Colorado and escalating oil and gas development is eroding remaining prairie dog habitat in several states.
“Most of my clients love Santa Fe’s prairie dogs. It adds to the wonderful quality of life here in Santa Fe,” stated Mark Bundy, general contractor.
Prairie dogs are keystone species, which play an especially important role in their ecosystems by creating habitat and providing a prey base for a wide variety of predators. For example, black-footed ferrets are among the most endangered mammals on earth, and that imperiled status is traced directly to prairie dog declines. Ferrets cannot survive in the wild outside of prairie dog towns and over 90% of their diet is prairie dogs.
Gunnison’s prairie dogs also have a highly complex communication system – the most sophisticated yet documented among non-human animals. Dr. Con Slobodchikoff has pioneered research over the past two decades that has demonstrated a prairie dog language system which distinguishes between types of predators, specific characteristics of humans, and indicates learning and memory.
“Our findings on the complexity of prairie dog communications should inspire us to take a second look at this animal. Rather than viewing prairie dogs as varmints, it’s time to recognize that they are fascinating and important components of the natural landscape,” stated Dr. Con Slobodchikoff of Northern Arizona University.
The coalition’s petition documents threats from plague, shooting, poisoning, and habitat destruction (on both private nd public lands) throughout the four-state range of the Gunnison’s prairie dog. Among the petition’s key findings:
- Extreme threat of plague: 2000s outbreak of plague has devastated populations in northern Arizona & 80% of plague cases in the U.S. are within Gunnison’s range;
- Lack of government protections: the largest population of Gunnison’s prairie dogs, in which black-footed ferrets have been reintroduced, is unprotected;
- Rampant shooting in Colorado: Over 200,000 prairie dogs were shot in 2002 alone.
- Government participation in poisoning: federal Wildlife Services, National Park Service, and state agricultural agencies continue to poison Gunnison’s prairie dogs.
- Massive threat from oil and gas: over 300,000 acres have been offered by federal agencies for lease within range of Gunnison’s prairie dog just since 2002.
The Gunnison’s prairie dog is one of five species of prairie dog, all of which are native to North America. The other four prairie dog species have been listed under the Endangered Species Act, are candidates awaiting listing, or have been petitioned for listing. The Gunnison’s prairie dog occurs in the four corners area of Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, and Utah. Three-quarters of its range occurs in Arizona and New Mexico.
For more background information call 505-988-9126×156.