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Prairie Dog Day Forecast: Unique Ecosystems Will Disappear If Feds & States Don't Improve

WildEarth Guardians unveils new ''Report from the Burrow''

Denver, CO. On Prairie Dog Day-the Western counterpart to Groundhog Day-the news is not about the weather but about a small, iconic rodent whose large ecological shadow is now being annually measured to forecast the health of the desert and grassland ecosystems that prairie dogs create and sustain. This Prairie Dog Day, WildEarth Guardians is unveiling its first annual prairie dog report card: “Report from the Burrow: Forecast of the Prairie Dog.” According to the group, the species is an ecological barometer that should be heeded by politicians, scientists and landowners.

The report card evaluates the performance of federal and state agencies responsible for ensuring prairie dogs and the wildlife that depend on them do not disappear. Report from the Burrow” will be discussed by a panel of scientists at a press conference on Saturday at Denver’s City Park. The scientists are Dr. Ana Davidson, Dr. John Hoogland, and Dr. Richard Reading, all of whom have studied prairie dogs extensively.

“While the famous Pennsylvania groundhog, Punxsutawney Phil, may predict the length of winter, prairie dogs foretell the future of the unique natural communities they create and sustain,” stated Dr. Lauren McCain of WildEarth Guardians. “The shadows prairie dogs see are usually cast by bulldozers, plows, and humans armed with guns and poisons. Prairie Dog Day is a day of celebration, but it is also a day for actions to protect prairie dogs,” continued McCain.

The report card grades are disappointingly low. Of the federal and state agencies responsible for prairie dog management across the 12 U.S. states where prairie dogs occur not one received an A or a B. Grades ranged from a high of C+, earned by Arizona, to several F’s, earned by Nebraska and South Dakota. In general, states with prairie dogs are either dragging their heels on prairie dog conservation or actively fighting it. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service received a D-, given the Bush administration’s refusal to protect all prairie dogs under the Endangered Species Act. Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Utah have some restrictions on prairie dog shooting. However, these do not always apply to private land. Within the last three years, Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, Texas, and Wyoming all approved the dangerous poison, Rozol, for exterminating prairie dogs. Using taxpayer funds, South Dakota poisoned tens of thousands of acres of prairie dogs within four years, despite the cruel and inhumane nature of poisoning.

“The prairie dog is an ecological barometer whose imperiled status provides a bleak forecast for the future of prairie dogs and the 140 wildlife species that can benefit from prairie dog towns,” stated McCain. “Wildlife such as the black-footed ferret, swift fox, mountain plover and others will continue to slip away if the agencies in charge don’t step up for prairie dogs,” said McCain.

Given increasing popular support for prairie dogs, the forecast is not entirely bleak. In recent years, the cities of Albuquerque and Santa Fe, New Mexico and Boulder, Golden, and Lakewood, Colorado have all officially proclaimed February 2nd “Prairie Dog Day.” Citizens are mobilizing more than ever before on behalf of prairie dog ecosystems. Groups are using the rule of law-primarily the Endangered Species Act-to give prairie dogs an opportunity that the extinct passenger pigeon never had. Instead of learning that prairie dogs should be exterminated, students delight to find that prairie dogs have their own complex language and that prairie dogs play powerful ecological roles in maintaining sagebrush and grassland ecosystems.

“Public support for prairie dog protection is growing,” says Lindsey Sterling Krank, director of the Prairie Dog Coalition, based in Boulder. “Prairie dogs have a special place in many people’s hearts, and a special place in nature as key species for so much other wildlife. ‘Report from the Burrow’ will help policymakers understand the need to protect this rapidly diminishing animal and that prairie dog protections would benefit other wildlife as well,” continued Sterling Krank.

In addition to WildEarth Guardians and the Prairie Dog Coalition, organizations backing Prairie Dog Day are the Biodiversity Conservation Alliance, Center for Native Ecosystems, the Denver Zoo, Jefferson County Open School, Jews of the Earth, Prairie Dog Specialists, and Roots and Shoots. These groups have all launched conservation initiatives and conducted educational programs to celebrate and promote awareness about prairie dogs. This is the sixth year in a row that WildEarth Guardians has taken action on Groundhog Day to protect prairie dogs.

For background materials and high resolution photos, contact Lauren McCain at 303-573-4898, The press conference will be at 9am on Saturday, Feb. 2, at the Bandstand bordering Ferril Lake in Denver’s City Park (Colorado Blvd. and York St.).

Contacts: Lauren McCain, Desert and Grassland Projects Director, WildEarth Guardians 303-573-4898, Lindsey Sterling Krank, Director, Prairie Dog Coalition 720-938-0788,


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