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Suit Filed Challenging Denial of Protections for Gunnison’s Prairie Dogs

April 17, 2014
Bethany Cotton 503.327.4923
In This Release

Thursday, April 17, 2014
Suit Filed Challenging Denial of Protections for Gunnison’s Prairie Dogs

95% Decline Warrants Endangered Species Act Protections
Contact: Bethany Cotton 503.327.4923

Additional Contact:

TaylorJones, 505.490.5141 or tjones@wildearthguardians.org

Phoenix, AZ –WildEarthGuardians filed suit today challenging the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s(Service) refusal to protect the Gunnison’s prairie dog under the EndangeredSpecies Act (ESA). The Service denied the species protection despite adocumented 95 percent decline since the early 1900s and numerous serious ongoingthreats.

Guardians’ legalteam filed suit challenging the Service’s failure to use the best availablescience, properly consider the ESA’s five listing factors, or consider thehistoric range of the species, among other failings. Ongoing urban and oil andgas development, shooting, poisoning, outbreaks of sylvatic plague, drought andclimate change all pose significant threats to the species and its habitat.

“The U.S. Fishand Wildlife Service is suffering from a serious case of ecological amnesia:ignoring dramatic declines in both the range and population of Gunnison’sprairie dogs and discounting widespread threats,” said Bethany Cotton, wildlifeprogram director for WildEarth Guardians. “The Service needs to uphold itsresponsibility to protect and recover imperiled species.”

The Service’sdecision ignores the enormous range-wide decline in Gunnison’s prairie dogs inthe last 100 years and focuses solely on occupancy modeling of the remainingpopulations over just the last 3 to 6 years in only portions of the species’habitat. 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: many other species benefit from prairiedogs 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 found Gunnison’s prairie dogs in the montane portion oftheir range warranted for listing in 2008, and placed the species on the listof candidate species. In 2010, a court remanded that decision because theService had improperly listed only a portion of the species, contrary to theplain language of the ESA. The recent finding—which came about as a result ofGuardians’ historic settlement agreement compelling decisions for 251 candidatespecies—completely removed the species’ candidate status.

Other Contact
Taylor Jones, 505.490.5141 or tjones@wildearthguardians.org
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