WildEarth Guardians

A Force for Nature

Select Page

Photo credit: Chadh, Wikimedia Commons

Black-tailed prairie dog (Cynomys ludovicianus) | ESA status: petitioned for listing

Black-tailed prairie dog

Black-tailed prairie dogs build colonies in the Great Plains grasslands of the United States, southern Canada, and northern Mexico. Sociable animals, they pop in and out of their networks of excavated tunnels, keeping watch for predators and communicating with a complex system of yips and barks.

A keystone species

Many species depend on black-tailed prairie dogs and their burrows. Predators including black-footed ferrets, swift foxes, golden eagles, and ferruginous hawks hunt the rodents for food. Snakes, cottontail rabbits, burrowing owls, beetles, and salamanders make their homes in prairie dog burrows or use them to shelter from the midday heat. Hungry prairie dogs also maintain the colony’s vegetation, keeping it neatly trimmed and thereby providing nutritious, fresh forage for grazers like bison and pronghorn.

What are the threats to the black-tailed prairie dog?

In the 1800s, before Europeans settled and drastically transformed the Great Plains, black-tailed prairie dog colonies covered thousands of acres and contained millions of prairie dogs. Since then, these creatures have been poisoned, shot, plowed under, and bulldozed out of up to 99 percent of their historic range. Despite their keystone role, in many states they are categorized as a vermin or pest species and persecuted by humans. Prairie dogs face the additional threat of sylvatic plague, a non-native disease which can kill entire colonies.

What WildEarth Guardians is doing to preserve the black-tailed prairie dog

To protect our rapidly disappearing grassland heritage, we have pressed for protection for this species under the Endangered Species Act for more than a decade. Sadly, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declared the black-tailed prairie dog “not warranted” for listing in 2009. Still, we will not rest until these animals at the heart of the American grassland receive the protection they deserve. We are now working to create local management plans that reduce or eliminate lethal control of this important species.