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Wildlife Management Institute

Black-tailed Prairie Dogs Dodge ESA PDF Print E-mail
Tuesday, 15 December 2009 13:35

Photo of Black-tailed Prairie Dog by cliff1066The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) decided this month that the black-tailed prairie dog does not warrant protection under the Endangered Species Act, reports the Wildlife Management Institute. The decision was based on the FWS assessment that the occupied habitat of black-tailed prairie dogs has been steady to increasing since 1961.

It noted that the current estimated habitat of 2.4 million acres is considerably less than the historic estimates of 80–100 million acres, but is significantly more than the 1961 low of 364,000 acres.

Black-tailed prairie dogs are small ground squirrels that live in large underground colonies in prairie grasslands. Prairie dogs often are are recognized as a keystone species of prairie habitats because other species, including black-footed ferrets, swift foxes, mountain plovers, ferruginous hawks, badgers and burrowing owls, depend on prairie dogs to varying degrees. In addition, their burrowing and grazing activities affect the prairie ecosystem, including plant composition, soil chemistry and the nutrient quality of plants among others.

The FWS assessed potential impacts to black-tailed prairie dog populations from loss of habitat. The agency acknowledged that conversion of grasslands for crops, urbanization or energy development as well as the invasion of non-native species has an impact on the species. However, it cited the 283 million acres of rangeland available for potential habitat within the species’ range and that increasing population trends do not suggest that these impacts are limiting factors for the species.

The FWS also cited recent rangewide data that show little evidence of permanent impacts from direct mortality through large-scale poisoning, recreational shooting and plague.

It stated that prairie dog colony size increases by about 30 percent annually for several consecutive years following poisoning and requires three to five years to attain pretreatment size.

Similar population recovery is indicated after colonies are infected by plague or after recreational shooting.

Overall, the FWS stated that, within their respective management plans, all states within the range of black-tailed prairie dogs have incorporated conservation policies for the species.