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State and Federal Agencies Score Poorly on 2013 Prairie Dog Report Card

Annual Report from the Burrow Celebrates “Prairie Dog Day”: Groundhog Day for the West


By: WildEarth Guardians

DENVER February 4, 2013 - WildEarth Guardians released its sixth annual Report from the Burrow today, evaluating state and federal management of prairie dogs in 2012. Most federal agencies and states received middling to failing grades for their management of these species.

"Despite being essential to a healthy grassland ecosystem, prairie dogs are not getting the protection they deserve," said Taylor Jones, Endangered Species Advocate for WildEarth Guardians.

The Report from the Burrow is annually released in connection with "Prairie Dog Day," Groundhog Day in the West. The report grades federal agencies and twelve states based on a number of criteria, including habitat conservation and planning, the existence of shooting regulations, whether they allow poisoning to control prairie dogs, and how vigorously they address plague in prairie dog colonies. Where possible, each state and federal agency had opportunity to review and offer input on the report. This year's Report is the first to include dispatches from some tribal agencies that manage prairie dogs alongside federal and state agencies in the West. Tribes have a crucial role to play in prairie dog conservation, as large tracts of prairie dog habitat are located on tribal lands. The report features efforts by the Lower Brule and Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservations in South Dakota and Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in Montana to conserve prairie dogs and associated species in the face of plague and declining resources.

Arizona and Colorado top the class for western states in 2012. Arizona earned a ‘B,' in part for commitment to reestablishing black-tailed prairie dogs in the state, and Colorado earned a ‘C+' for achievements in plague mitigation and research.

Since it was impossible to lower their grade any further, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which regulates the use of toxicants used to kill prairie dogs, received a "detention" alongside their ‘F' for reinstating the use of the anticoagulant poison Rozol across the majority of the black-tailed prairie dog's range. EPA also approved Kaput-D, a similar anticoagulant, for the 2012-2013 application season. EPA has earned a ‘F' each year since 2010, the first year they were included in the Report. Nebraska also received a "detention" alongside their ‘F' for passing a bill that gives counties the power to poison prairie dogs on private lands. Nebraska has received a string of ‘F' grades in every scoring category in the Report since the first edition was issued in 2008.

"We give credit where credit is due," said Jones. "But many federal agencies and states are failing prairie dogs, and we're not afraid to say so. They must do better to conserve these critically important species. Prairie dogs deserve strong protections in recognition of their importance to the ecosystem."

Scientists consider prairie dogs keystone species. Like the keystone that supports an archway, prairie dogs support entire ecosystems. They fertilize and aerate the soil, reduce noxious weeds, and clip the top parts of forage, creating a shorter but more nutrient-rich blade of grass. Large herbivores including elk and bison often prefer to graze on prairie dog towns. Prairie dog burrows provide habitat for numerous reptiles, amphibians, and invertebrates. Prairie dogs are an important food source for a wide variety of species including hawks, eagles, coyotes, foxes, and badgers. Approximately 150 species benefit from prairie dogs and the habitat they create. Yet prairie dog numbers have declined dramatically within the last century due to poisoning, shooting, farming and other types of habitat loss, and plague, a non-native disease that is extremely lethal to prairie dogs.


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