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Protections for Imperiled Utah Prairie Dogs Improved, but still Lacking

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

Washington, D.C.– The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) published amendments today to the special rule allowing “take” (which includes killing, disturbance, and harassment) of Utah prairie dogs, which is listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

The amendments will 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 lands within 0.5 miles of Utah prairie dog conservation lands. Take is only allowed from June 15 to December 31 on these lands, and methods are limited to translocation, trapping intended to lethally remove prairie dogs, and shooting. Incidental take resulting from agricultural practices such as irrigating, mowing, or harvesting on legitimately managed agricultural lands are exempted. The revised rule still allows take through any legal method and at any time to address serious safety hazards or prevent disturbance to significant cultural or burial sites.

“We’re grateful that the Service is setting clearer limits on take of Utah prairie dogs,” said Taylor Jones, Endangered Species Advocate for WildEarth Guardians. “However, these amendments don’t go far enough. The rule still allows lethal control of a highly imperiled, ecologically important species.”

Utah prairie dogs have not yet recovered from historic population declines that resulted in an 87 percent reduction in distribution. A victim of historic and misguided extermination campaigns, Utah prairie dogs are threatened today 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 continued allowances for lethal control send a message that any animals perceived as interfering with agricultural interests is disposable, even imperiled species,” continued Jones. “It’s time to change our priorities and focus on coexistence rather than on appeasing special interests that want to wipe out wildlife.”

Utah's management of prairie dogs earned a 'C-' in the Report from the Burrow, an annual report card on prairie dog management published by WildEarth Guardians.



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