Photo credit: Rich Reading
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.
“Tenth Annual Prairie Dog Conservation Report Card Released”
February 2, 2017
“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 Score Poorly on Prairie Dog Report Card”
February 2, 2012
“Interior Withdraws Appeals on Prairie Dog Cases”
June 15, 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
“Feds Pushing Utah Prairie Dog Toward Extinction”
September 22, 2008
“Feds Pressured To Protect Declining Prairie Dogs”
March 18, 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