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Report Celebrates Prairie Dog Day, Grades Agencies on Species' Conservation
Denver—WildEarth Guardians released our seventh annual Report from the Burrow today, evaluating state and federal management of the four species of prairie dogs in the U.S. in 2013. With a few exceptions, federal agencies and states received middling to failing grades for their management of these keystone species. The Report includes features on other species that benefit from or depend on prairie dogs, including the endangered black-footed ferret, the mountain plover, the swift fox, and the American bison.
“Despite being essential to a healthy grassland ecosystem and to many other species, prairie dogs are not getting the protection they need to thrive,” said Taylor Jones, Endangered Species Advocate for WildEarth Guardians. “State and federal agencies are largely failing these key species.”
The Report from the Burrow is annually released on Prairie Dog Day, commonly known as Groundhog Day. The Report grades six federal agencies and the twelve states in prairie dog range based on seven criteria, including habitat conservation and planning, laws regarding recreational shooting of prairie dogs, regulation of poisoning for prairie dog control, and how sylvatic plague (an introduced disease that can rapidly decimate prairie dog colonies) is addressed. When possible, officials from each state and federal agency had opportunity to review and offer input on the Report.
The National Park Service received the highest grade among federal agencies for its population monitoring and active conservation. The Bureau of Land Management’s grade improved from 2012 in recognition of its participation in a number of conservation projects, including sylvatic plague vaccine field trials, habitat restoration, and prairie dog relocation. Arizona continues to lead western states receiving a “B.” Colorado received the second highest overall grade due to a strong record of plague mitigation and research. The Environmental Protection Agency is in detention for the second year in a row for approving use of Kaput-D, a dangerous anti-coagulant rodenticide in the same family as Rozol, which EPA approved in 2012. New Mexico is also in detention due to a proliferation of irresponsible anti-prairie dog ordinances on the city and county level and a prairie dog killing contest.
Scientists consider prairie dogs keystone species. Like the keystone that supports an archway, prairie dogs support whole ecosystems. These social, burrowing mammals, members of the squirrel family, fertilize and aerate the soil and clip foliage, creating shorter but more nutrient-rich plants. Large herbivores including elk, pronghorn, bison, and even cattle, often prefer to graze on prairie dog towns. Prairie dog burrows provide homes and shelter for numerous mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and invertebrates. Prairie dogs are also an important food source for a wide variety of species including endangered black-footed ferrets, hawks, eagles, coyotes, foxes, and badgers.
“A landscape without prairie dogs is an impoverished landscape,” said Jones. “Prairie dogs support a broad diversity of species and deserve strong protections in recognition of their importance to the prairie ecosystem.”
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The Report Card
The 2014 Report from the Burrow is available at: http://www.wildearthguardians.org/site/DocServer/Report_from_the_Burrow_2014Final.pdf