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Pledge to Defend Federal Government's Decision to List Gunnison's Species
DENVER - The Arizona and New Mexico Cattle Growers’ Associations have pledged to defend the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision to protect Gunnison’s prairie dogs under the Endangered Species Act. In moving to intervene as a defendant in a lawsuit between the conservation organization WildEarth Guardians and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar in Federal District Court in Arizona, the Cattle Growers have thrown their support behind the government’s finding that the Gunnison’s Prairie Dog should be protected under the Endangered Species Act in the “montane” portion of its range.
The Cattle Growers assert they “intend to diligently defend FWS’s 12-month finding regarding the Gunnison’s prairie dog” in their motion to intervene filed on their behalf by the Mountain States Legal Foundation.
“I’m surprised, but very happy the Cattle Growers have finally recognized that at least some prairie dogs deserve legal protection,” said Lauren McCain, Prairie Protection Director for WildEarth Guardians. “Ranchers normally oppose prairie dog protection, maybe they are realizing that prairie dogs don’t actually compete with their cattle for grass.”
Gunnison’s prairie dogs live in parts of Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, and Utah. Threats, including extensive poisoning for the agriculture industry, destroyed 95% of the areas once occupied by the animals.
On February 5, 2008, the Department of Interior issued its decision, called a 12-month finding, to protect part of the Gunnison’s prairie dog population in Colorado and New Mexico. Gunnison’s prairie dogs within what the Interior Department is calling the “montane” range are now in line to receive Endangered Species Act protection. This montane portion of the range is about 40% of the total Gunnison’s prairie dog range.
WildEarth Guardians sued the Department of Interior in part because the government’s finding rejected protecting the prairie dogs across the remaining 60% of the animal’s range.
The Cattle Growers are supporting the government’s decision to protect the species in the montane area but opposing Guardians’ efforts to expand protection to the remaining 60% of the species range.
“Its crucial that all Gunnison’s prairie dogs receive federal protection,” stated Lauren McCain, Prairie Protection Director with WildEarth Guardians. “Their colonies have been reduced to tiny pinpricks across the landscape. The species is in trouble.”
Prairie dogs and their colonies are central to maintaining healthy grassland ecosystems. Wildlife such as eagles, hawks, kit foxes, badgers and black-footed ferrets eat prairie dogs. Many animals use prairie dog burrows for shelter. Over 100 wildlife species benefit from prairie dogs and the unique habitat they create. At least nine are dependent on prairie dogs for their survival.
WildEarth Guardians protects and restores wildlife, wild rivers, and wild places in the American West.