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Utah prairie dog (Cynomys parvidens) | ESA status: threatened

Utah prairie dog

Utah prairie dogs, as their name implies, are found only in Utah. They have the smallest range of any prairie dog species. True hibernators, Utah prairie dogs sleep through the coldest winter months—and when they emerge in the spring, they have to work fast if they want to pass on their genes: females are only interested in mating for one day out of every year.

A keystone species

The Utah prairie dog shares the role of keystone species with its cousins, the black-tailed prairie dog and Gunnison’s prairie dog. Utah prairie dogs are food for predators including the kit fox, the golden eagle, and the ferruginous hawk, and their burrows are home to snakes, cottontail rabbits, burrowing owls, beetles, and salamanders, to name a few.

What are the threats to the Utah prairie dog?

Control programs and intensive poisoning efforts reduced this once-abundant species to a low of about 3,300 animals in the 1970s. After they were protected under the Endangered Species Act, their population grew, but they still occupy less than 15 percent of their historic range. Utah prairie dogs continue to suffer from habitat destruction for residential and agricultural development; plague outbreaks; and deliberate poisoning and shooting. Despite the fact that the Utah prairie dog is listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act, there is a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) special rule on the books that allows up to 6,000 Utah prairie dogs (or 10 percent of the population, whichever is smaller) to be shot every year. 

Utah prairie dog recovery

The recovery program for this species focuses on relocating prairie dog colonies out of the way of destructive human activities. A November 2014 court decision turned control of prairie dogs on non-federal land over to the state. The decision went against precedent, and was overturned by a federal appeals court in March of 2017.

What WildEarth Guardians is doing to save the Utah prairie dog

The Utah prairie dog’s listing as “threatened,” though powerful, is clearly not enough to protect a species that faces not only habitat destruction, but also active human persecution. WildEarth Guardians launched an effort in 2003 to secure upgraded protections for this species by petitioning FWS to reclassify it to “endangered” status and throw out the shooting rule. Though that effort was unsuccessful, we continue to track federal and state management of Utah prairie dogs and advocate for all prairie dog species.

A panel of federal judges overturn the November 2014 decision, returning management of Utah prairie dogs on private land to the federal government.
March 2017

“Report from the Burrow 2017: Forecast of the Prairie Dog” (report)
February 2017

“Report from the Burrow 2016: Forecast of the Prairie Dog” (report)
February 2016

Utah Department of Wildlife Resources approves management plan for Utah prairie dogs on non-federal lands
March 2015

“Report from the Burrow 2015: Forecast of the Prairie Dog” (report)
February 2015

Court rules that management of Utah prairie dogs on non-federal lands must be turned over to the state
November 2014

“Report from the Burrow 2014: Forecast of the Prairie Dog” (report)
February 2014

“Report from the Burrow 2013: Forecast of the Prairie Dog” (report)
February 2013

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service adopts revised shooting rule
August 2012

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service releases final revised recovery plan for the Utah prairie dog
April 2012

“Report from the Burrow 2012: Forecast of the Prairie Dog” (report)
February 2012

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service again issues negative preliminary finding on petition to uplist the Utah prairie dog from “threatened” to “endangered”
June 2011

WildEarth Guardians staff volunteers at Bryce Canyon’s second annual “Utah Prairie Dog Day”
June 2011

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposes amendments to the shooting rule
June 2011

“Report from the Burrow 2011: Forecast of the Prairie Dog” (report)
February 2011

Court rules that U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service must revisit 2007 negative preliminary finding
September 2010

“Report from the Burrow 2010: Forecast of the Prairie Dog” (report)
February 2010

“Report from the Burrow 2009: Forecast of the Prairie Dog” (report) 
February 2009

WildEarth Guardians files lawsuit challenging negative preliminary finding
September 2008

“Report from the Burrow 2008: Forecast of the Prairie Dog” (report)
February 2008

WildEarth Guardians and partners files suit against Utah prairie dog removal plan
October 2007

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issues negative preliminary finding on petition to uplist the Utah prairie dog
February 2007

WildEarth Guardians and partners petition to uplist Utah prairie dogs from “threatened” to “endangered”
February 2003

“Tenth Annual Prairie Dog Conservation Report Card Released”
February 2, 2017

“State and Federal Agencies Still Largely Failing to Protect Prairie Dogs”
February 2, 2016

“Eighth Annual Prairie Dog Conservation Report Card Released”
February 2, 2015

“Seventh Annual Prairie Dog Report Card Released”
February 3, 2014

“State and Federal Agencies Once Again Score Poorly on Prairie Dog Report Card”
February 4, 2013

“Protections for Imperiled Utah Prairie Dogs Improved, but still Lacking”
August 2, 2012

“State and Federal Agencies Score Poorly on Prairie Dog Report Card”
February 2, 2012

“Interior Withdraws Appeals on Prairie Dog Cases”
June 15, 2011

“Service Shies Away from Meaningful Protections for Rarest U.S. Prairie Dog”
June 2, 2011

“Government Agencies Are Failing the Prairie Dog Test”
February 2, 2011

“Utah Prairie Dog Court Victory”
September 29, 2010

“WildEarth Guardians Grades Government on Prairie Dog Protection”
February 2, 2010

“WildEarth Guardians Releases Prairie Dog Report Card on Groundhog Day”
February 2, 2009

“Feds Pushing Utah Prairie Dog Toward Extinction”
September 22, 2008

“Feds Pressured To Protect Declining Prairie Dogs”
March 18, 2008

“Prairie Dog Day Forecast: Unique Ecosystems Will Disappear If Feds & States Don’t Improve”
February 1, 2008

“One of Largest Remaining Utah Prairie Dog Populations in Jeopardy”
October 30, 2007

“Feds Refuse to Reclassify Utah Prairie Dog as Endangered”
February 22, 2007

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