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Service Shies Away from Meaningful Protections for Rarest U.S. Prairie Dog

Proposed Amendments to "Take" Rule Do Not Go Far Enough

Washington, D.C.–June 2.  In today’s Federal Register, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) proposed a revision of a special rule allowing “take” (which includes killing, disturbance, and harassment) of the Utah prairie dog, which is listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The announcement follows a federal court ruling that the Service must reconsider its refusal to upgrade the species to endangered status. If reclassified as endangered, the take rule would be illegal.

The proposed amendments would limit take of Utah prairie dogs to 10 percent of the current annual population count, with 7 percent allocated to agricultural lands and 3 percent to private lands within 0.5 miles of Utah prairie dog conservation lands. The Service would maintain 6,000 prairie dogs as the maximum allowable take per year. 

“We’re heartened that the Service is setting clearer limits on take of Utah prairie dogs,” said Taylor Jones, Endangered Species Advocate for WildEarth Guardians. “However, these proposed amendments don’t go far enough. No matter how you dress it up, the rule would still allow shooting of a highly imperiled, ecologically important species, which is indefensible. Rather than continue to cast this keystone species as a nuisance, the Service should promptly return them to endangered status under the ESA.”

The majority of the species’ habitat occurs on private or non-Federal lands. The Service maintains that allowing control of the species under certain circumstances will lead to a net benefit for the Utah prairie dog by reducing conflict with farmers and ranchers. However, the species has not yet recovered from the 87 percent reduction in range brought on by historic habitat loss and coordinated extermination campaigns. The Utah prairie dog remains threatened by sylvatic plague (a non-native disease against which prairie dogs have almost no immunity); habitat loss from oil and gas drilling, livestock grazing, off-road vehicles, and urban sprawl; drought and climate change; illegal poisoning; and both legal and illegal shooting.  The proposed amendments would not sufficiently mitigate these myriad threats.

“I’m concerned that the Service will use this rule change as an excuse to avoid upgrading the Utah prairie dog to endangered status,” continued Jones. “Even if this rule is finalized, it does not provide the level of protection that these animals need to escape extinction.  It also continues to send a message that any animal perceived as interfering with agricultural interests is disposable, even if they happen to be endangered.  It’s time to change our priorities and focus on coexistence rather than on appeasing special interests that want to wipe out wildlife.”

WildEarth Guardians is a west-wide conservation group dedicated to protecting and restoring wildlife, wild rivers, and wild places.

For more information, including photos of the Utah prairie dog and background documents, email or call 303-573-4898 x 1159.


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