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Annual Report Card Celebrates Prairie Dog Day Groundhog Day for the West
DENVER - Today WildEarth Guardians released its third annual Report from the Burrow: Forecast of the Prairie Dog. To put a western spin on Groundhog Day, the report is issued on Prairie Dog Day-Groundhog Day for the West. The report evaluates how well state and federal agencies promoted prairie dog protection in 2009.
“Punxsutawney Phil may predict the length of winter,” stated Lauren McCain, Prairie Protection Director for WildEarth Guardians. “But the status of prairie dogs predicts the health of our western grassland wildlife communities.”
Scientists consider prairie dogs keystone species. Like the stone that supports an archway, prairie dogs support whole ecosystems. Prairie dog colonies and burrow systems provide habitat, and prairie dogs are food for a vast array of wildlife species. Imperiled animals such as black-footed ferrets, mountain plovers, burrowing owls swift foxes, and ferruginous hawks all rely on prairie dogs. Prairie dog numbers have declined dramatically within the last 150 years due to poisoning, shooting, farming and other types of habitat loss, and plague, an exotic disease that is extremely lethal to prairie dogs.
WildEarth Guardians’ Report from the Burrow is a tool for the public to hold accountable our state and federal government institutions in charge of prairie wildlife conservation. Unfortunately, most states and federal agencies receive poor grades.
The Environmental Protection Agency was a big loser this year with an F. The Agency approved the poison Rozol to kill black-tailed prairie dogs, which causes internal and external bleeding, sometimes for weeks, until death. We are incredibly disappointed in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision not to protect black-tailed prairie dogs under the Endangered Species Act. The Fish and Wildlife Service’s grade dropped from a C to a D+.
There are 12 western states within the range of the four U.S. prairie dog species. Nebraska received an F. Kansas, Montana, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota, Texas, and Wyoming all received D, D+, or D-. Despite the low marks, several states improved their grades from last year. A few states are increasing the number of landowners enrolled in incentive programs to protect prairie dogs, such as Oklahoma. Other states, such as Colorado, requested that the Environmental Protection Agency stop or suspend its registration of Rozol to kill black-tailed prairie dogs.
“We remain disappointed that the states and government agencies are not doing more to actively safeguard such important species as prairie dogs,” stated McCain of Guardians. “Protecting prairie dogs is the most economically efficient way to restore populations of imperiled animals dependent on prairie dogs including endangered black-footed ferrets, swift foxes, mountain plovers, ferruginous hawks, and burrowing owls.”
Report from the Burrow also highlighted “Prairie Dog Heroes” - people who have taken significant actions on behalf of prairie dogs. This year’s heroes included: 12-year-old Luke and 10-year-old Paul Zitting who are pushing the Utah State Legislature to adopt a resolution declaring February 2nd as Prairie Dog Day; author and naturalist Terry Tempest Williams, whose last book Finding Beauty in a Broken World highlighted the plight of prairie dogs; and Dr. Con Slobodchikoff, who has studied the complex communication system of prairie dogs and fought to save prairie dog colonies since the 1980s. It is individuals such as these folks and other dedicated prairie dog advocates who give us the most hope for prairie dog survival.
Along with releasing the Report from the Burrow report card, WildEarth Guardians celebrates Prairie Dog Day by co-hosting educational events with the Denver Zoo and the Prairie Dog Coalition. This year, WildEarth Guardians and the Prairie Dog Coalition are in Salt Lake City working with 12-year-old Luke and 10-year-old Paul Zitting in their efforts to have the Utah State Legislature pass a resolution that would declare February 2nd Prairie Dog Day. Luke and Paul will present over 1,000 signatures in support of their resolution to their state representative, Representative Tim Cosgrove, who will provide these to the legislature.