|The white-tail prairie dog is a native of eastern Utah.|
Forest Guardians and dozens of conservation and animal protection organizations recently urged the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list the Gunnison’s prairie dog, found in the southwest, under the Endangered Species Act.
The service did not give it federal protection in February 2006 when the situation was up for review.
The Service recently settled a lawsuit with Forest Guardians and others in early July that requires the agency to reconsider federal protection for the Gunnison’s prairie dog by next February. October 29 marked the deadline for comments on the status review the service is undertaking to determine whether to list the species.
Forest Guardians and a coalition of groups and organizations originally petitioned the service for Gunnison’s prairie dog listing in February 2004. Under court order, the service must issue a finding on that petition on Feb. 1, 2008, on the eve of Groundhog Day, which western conservation groups have renamed Prairie Dog Day.
The groups’ 25-page letter includes over 30 attached scientific reports which documented continued declines of Gunnison’s prairie dogs across their southwestern range due to a series of threats, including plague, poisoning, shooting, habitat destruction, and new information on the threat posed by the climate crisis.
“The Gunnison’s prairie dog desperately needs the safety net the Endangered Species Act provides,” stated Dr. Nicole Rosmarino of Forest Guardians. “This mammal has been reduced by over 97 percent in less than a century, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service’s own calculations.”
Many of the groups who sent the recent letter are concerned about other species that have been denied protection. Others include the white-tailed prairie dog (a species in eastern Utah), Gunnison sage-grouse, Mountain plover, Greater sage-grouse, California tiger salamander, roundtail chub, Mexican garter snake, and a Mariana Islands plant.
“The Gunnison’s prairie dog was on track to clear the first hurdle for endangered species protection, but with the stroke of a pen, was denied the chance at protection,” stated Dr. Nicole Rosmarino of Forest Guardians. Rosmarino continued, “We’re pressing forward for Endangered Species Act listing, given the law’s successful record of preventing extinction and to contest illegal interference in this petition finding.”
The letter also advocates listing all five prairie dog species that exist. Prairie dogs are unique to North America. Two of the five – the Mexican and Utah – are already protected under the Endangered Species Act. The other three – black-tailed, Gunnison’s, and white-tailed – have all been petitioned for listing in the past several years. All prairie dog species are considered imperiled by these groups who say their numbers have declined by over 90 percent over the past century.
All are considered ecologically important “keystone” species by the groups and they saay the animals provide habitat and prey for a variety of associated wildlife. More than 200 wildlife species have been documented on or near prairie dog towns.
Presently the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources is doing a study on colonies of white tailed prairie dogs and are estimating their numbers. The intention of the study is to see if the numbers counted do present a problem in the species survival.