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Prairie Dogs Lose Out in Fight for Federal Protection

Fish and Wildlife Decision Puts Prairie Wildlife at Risk

DENVER - WildEarth Guardians has been diligently working to win the federal protection black-tailed prairie dogs desperately deserve. Black-tailed prairie dogs have lost 90-99% of their occupied territory in the last century. Today the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service rejected WildEarth Guardians’ petition to have the prairie dog protected under the Endangered Species Act. Co-petitioners included Biodiversity Conservation Alliance, Center for Native Ecosystems, and Rocky Mountain Animal Defense.

“This is a tragic day for black-tailed prairie dogs and all of the wildlife that depends on them,” stated Lauren McCain, Prairie Protection Director for WildEarth Guardians. “It’s unbelievable that the Fish and Wildlife Service is refusing to protect an animal that has declined so dramatically and lost so much habitat.”

Prairie dogs and their colonies create habitat for a wide range of grassland wildlife. Over 100 wildlife species benefit from prairie dogs and their colonies. At least nine depend on prairie dogs to survive. Some of these animals include swift foxes, mountain plovers, and burrowing owls. Black-footed ferrets are among the most endangered mammals in the world because we have lost so many prairie dogs. Over 90% or more of the ferret’s diet consists of prairie dogs and the animals live in prairie dog burrows.

“As we lose more prairie dogs colonies whole wildlife communities collapse,” stated McCain.

The Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision comes as threats to prairie dogs are increasing. Prairie dog shooting and poisoning are on the upswing. In June, the Environmental Protection Agency approved the poison Rozol that had previously been banned for use on black-tailed prairie dogs. Rozol not only kills prairie dogs but also animals that eat the poisoned bait or animals that eat prairie dogs. Federal protection for black-tailed prairie dogs would have halted the use of Rozol and the poison’s dangers to wildlife.

“Rozol causes internal hemorrhaging. Animals that ingest the poison bleed from the inside out,” add McCain. “The poison causes incredible suffering often over the course of several days to two weeks. That’s a horrible way to die.”

Another major threat to black-tailed prairie dogs is plague, an exotic disease that people accidentally introduced to the United States from Asia. Prairie dogs have not developed resistance to the disease, and a plague outbreak can kill off entire colonies of prairie dogs. Prairie dogs are dying from plague nearly across their entire range. Along with the human threats to prairie dogs, the disease is leaving colonies fragmented and isolated and hammering their populations.

“The devastating threat of plague is reason enough for the Fish and Wildlife to grant federal protection to black-tailed prairie dogs,” stated McCain.

WildEarth Guardians and its collaborators are weighing their next steps in the fight to save black-tailed prairie dogs. They are not ruling out the possibility of suing the Fish and Wildlife Service over its decision.

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