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Gunnison's prairie dog Cynomys gunnisoni
ESA status: none
Drama at the Gunnison’s prairie dog colony: one of the prairie dogs on watch spots a coyote approaching. She lets out a short, sharp bark to tell the other prairie dogs what is headed their way and how fast it is approaching (learn more about prairie dog communication in this educational video). The others respond by instantly bolting into the complex series of burrows they call home; the coyote lopes past the suddenly empty stretch of prairie in search of easier prey.
Gunnison’s prairie dogs live in family groups called clans, organized into colonies with their neighbors. Their social structure and complex series of calls allows them to warn each other of predators, such as the coyote, badger, golden eagle, and ferruginous hawk, that patrol their range in the ‘‘Four Corners’’ region of northern Arizona, southwestern Colorado, northwestern New Mexico, and southeastern Utah. They are considered a “keystone species” because of the important role they play in their grassland habitat: as well as (unwillingly) providing meals for predators including the endangered black-footed ferret, they lend homes in their burrows to a host of other animals including snakes, cottontail rabbits, burrowing owls, beetles, and salamanders, to name a few. The nutritious vegetation in their colonies is kept neatly trimmed, providing fertile foraging for grazers such as bison and pronghorn.
But this intelligent, social, and important animal is almost gone from its former range. In 1916, they protected colonies across 24 million acres of the Great Plains: now they occupy less than 500,000 acres, a decline of almost 98 percent. Mass extermination efforts, federally orchestrated on behalf of the livestock industry, began their decline. Currently they are under siege from introduced sylvatic plague, rampant oil and gas drilling, shooting, poisoning, urban sprawl, and other perils.
WildEarth Guardians is working hard to preserve this species; in the past decade, we have fought political interference and misuse of the scientific process in Endangered Species Act decisions. In 2013, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service denied Endangered Species Act protection to the Gunnison's prairie dog, and Guardians is currently working to get this species the protections it needs. We don’t want the Gunnison’s prairie dogs’ call for “human” to translate into “enemy.”
- Significant Actions
- February 2004 - WildEarth Guardians files petition to list Gunnison's prairie dog under the ESA
- February 2008 - U.S.Fish and Wildlife Service finds "montane" populations of Gunnison's prairie dogs “warranted but precluded” for listing, placing them on the ESA candidate list
- February 2008 - "Report from the Burrow 2008: Forecast of the Prairie Dog" (report)
- February 2009 - "Report from the Burrow 2009: Forecast of the Prairie Dog" (report)
- February 2010 - "Report from the Burrow 2010: Forecast of the Prairie Dog" (report)
- September 2010 - Court rules that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service must revisit decision to consider only the “montane” populations of the Gunnison’s prairie dog for listing
- February 2011 - "Report from the Burrow 2011: Forecast of the Prairie Dog" (report)
- May 2011 - Gunnison’s prairie dog included in landmark settlement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
- February 2012 - "Report from the Burrow 2012: Forecast of the Prairie Dog" (report)
- February 2013 - "Report from the Burrow 2013: Forecast of the Prairie Dog" (report)
- November 2013 - U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service finds the Gunnison’s prairie dog “not warranted” for listing
- February 2014 - “Report from the Burrow 2014: Forecast of the Prairie Dog” (report)
- February 2015 - “Report from the Burrow 2015: Forecast of the Prairie Dog” (report)
- February 2016 - "Report from the Burrow 2016: Forecast of the Prairie Dog" (report)
- February 2017 - "Report from the Burrow 2017: Forecast of the Prairie Dog" (report)
- Press Releases
- February 1, 2008 - "Prairie Dog Day Forecast: Unique Ecosystems Will Disappear If Feds & States Don't Improve"
- February 2, 2009 - “WildEarth Guardians Releases Prairie Dog Report Card on Groundhog Day”
- February 2, 2010 - "WildEarth Guardians Grades Government on Prairie Dog Protections"
- September 30, 2010 - "Gunnison's Prairie Dog Gets Second Chance at Federal Shields"
- February 2, 2011 - “Government Agencies Are Failing the Prairie Dog Test”
- May 10, 2011 - “Hope for Endangered Species Act Candidates”
- June 15, 2011 - "Interior Withdraws Appeals on Prairie Dog Cases"
- September 9, 2011 - “Federal Court Approves Historic Species Agreement”
- February 2, 2012 - “State and Federal Agencies Score Poorly on Prairie Dog Report Card”
- November 14, 2013 - “Gunnison's Prairie Dogs Denied Endangered Species Act Protections”
- November 22, 2013 - “Guardians Will Challenge Denial of Protections for Gunnison's Prairie Dogs”
- February 3, 2014 - “Seventh Annual Prairie Dog Report Card Released”
- April 17, 2014 - "Suit Filed Challenging Denial of Protections for Gunnison's Prairie Dogs"
- February 2, 2015 - “Eighth Annual Prairie Dog Conservation Report Card Released”
- February 2, 2016 - "Ninth Annual Prairie Dog Conservation Report Card Released"
- February 2, 2017 - "Tenth Annual Prairie Dog Conservation Report Card Released"
- Species Factsheet
- Related Campaigns