Canku Ota - A Newsletter Celebrating Native America
February 12, 2000 - Issue 03
Prairie Dog Protection
By Vicki Lockard
The U.S.Fish and Wildlife Service has said that
the black-tailed prairie dog deserves protection under the Endangered Species Act but that there are other plants
and animals in greater need of the agency's resources. The agency is adding the prairie dog to its list of candidates
for threatened status and will review it annually.
Although some land owners see the prairie dog as
a pest, others view it as an important grassland species. One reason that it is in danger is that some land owners
control the population with poison and by shooting. Because of the USFW's statements, some states are now adopting
conservation efforts to protect the prairie dog.
Most prairie dog colonies are small, less than
100 acres and are not close to other colonies. There are only seven large colonies left in North America. Four
of these are on tribal lands--three in South Dakota and one in Montana. Because the colonies are so isolated, it
is hard for them to repopulate.
Wildlife groups list several ways to protect the
species and to keep it from the endangered list:
- develop conservation plans that set and achieve clear population objectives and support
healthy grassland ecosystems;
- reclassify prairie dogs from pests to wildlife;
- adopt and enforce regulations on shooting of prairie dogs once the species is recovered;
- develop inventory and monitoring programs;
- support research on sylvatic plaque ( an epidemic that kills whole colonies of prairie
Black-Tailed Prairie Dog Facts
The black-tailed prairie dog is a large, burrowing, ground squirrel belonging to a group of four
other prairie dog species found only in North America. The black-tailed prairie dog is the most abundant and widely
distributed prairie dog.
prairie dogs are a yellowish tan on the back and lighter on the belly. They have a short tail that is tipped with
black. Their ears are short and an average adult weighs about two pounds. Prairie dogs are active only during daylight
hours and spend a lot of time feeding and socializing.
"towns" are established in areas that have been heavily grazed by cattle. Since they do not like tall
grass, they will choose a site which has little vegetation. Here, the prairie dog feels secure and able to see
predators coming from a long distance. Burrows are usually quite visible because of the large mound of dirt around
the entrance. Mounds provide both a vantage point and protection from flooding.
preferred over grasses for food so competition with cattle is still questionable. Prairie dogs will, however, clip
off many grass species for better visibility, adding to the denuded look of a town.
tunnels extend downward from 3-10 feet and then horizontally for another 10-15 feet. These systems are arranged
so that wind blows through and provides ventilation to their homes. Several tunnels are excavated from the main
tunnel to provide nesting areas and places to rest and avoid the hotter part of summer days. Prairie dogs also
use these tunnels during the winter to escape bad weather and the cold. They do not hibernate like the true ground
squirrels, but do remain dormant in the nest during the peak of winter. On nice days, they can be seen on the surface.
mate from early March to early April. A month later, 4-6 young are born. In 5-6 weeks, the pups come above ground
and can forage on green vegetation. By the end of the summer, they have almost reached adult size. Adults in the
wild seldom live over four years.
1 percent of the habitat remains of what was historically prairie dog town. Breaking native ground for farming
and poisoning to eliminate competition for cattle grazing has taken its toll. The problem is that many other wildlife
species also thrive on the presence of prairie dog towns. The black-footed ferret, which once preyed solely on
prairie dogs, has vanished. Other species such as the badger, coyote, eagle, and burrowing owl are also negatively
effected by the loss of a food source and living quarters. Hunting is legal for this species but does not harm
a population. If anything, it keeps present towns from expanding so far that landowners want to eliminate them
Prairie Dogs (DesertUSA)
Prairie Dogs @ nationalgeographic.com
NWF - Saving Black-Tailed Prairie Dogs - Links
Print and color a picture of a prairie
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