Draft Prairie Dog Conservation Plan Released by Colorado DOW

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Draft Prairie Dog Conservation Plan Released by DOWThe Colorado Division of Wildlife (DOW) has released for public review its draft conservation plan for the white-tailed and Gunnison’s prairie dogs. This plan, when final, will be used as a guide to maintain these two species on native range on both public and private lands in Colorado.
The Colorado Gunnison’s and White-tailed Prairie Dog Conservation Plan can be viewed on the Colorado Division of Wildlife website at: http://wildlife.state.co.us/.
The Gunnison’s prairie dog is found mainly in southwest Colorado, the San Luis Valley and in South Park; the white-tailed prairie dog is found primarily in northwest Colorado; however, its range extends into the Uncompahgre Valley south of Montrose.
Petitions have been filed to list both of the species under the federal government’s Endangered Species Act. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service conducted a status review on Gunnison’s prairie dog and determined that listing protection for the species is warranted in a portion of its range.  The status review is underway for white-tailed prairie dogs but a determination has not yet been made on this species. Implementation of the conservation strategies in the Division of Wildlife plan are designed to promote the long-term viability for both species and avoid the need for a federal listing.
“With this conservation plan we identify tasks that will be put into action on the ground to help maintain these important species,” said Tom Nesler, chief of the DOW’s wildlife conservation section. “A vital strategy in this plan is to work cooperatively with private landowners, local communities and other government agencies.”
Eleven other western states also are developing prairie dog conservation plans. The states will work together to share research and conservation techniques.
Besides these two species, another prairie dog species exists in Colorado: the black-tailed prairie dog which inhabits areas of eastern Colorado. A conservation plan for the black-tailed prairie dog was developed by the DOW in 2003.
Prairie dogs are known as a “keystone” species and their colonies are critical to the presence and abundance of numerous other species in their range. In Colorado, prairie dogs are an important source of food for raptors, badgers, black-footed ferrets and coyotes. Prairie dog burrows also provide shelter for a variety of insects, small mammals and the burrowing owl which is a state-listed threatened species. Due to the cumulative impacts of disease, development, poisoning and shooting over the last 100 years, prairie dog populations have declined overall.
“The prairie dog is disparaged by some people as a destructive pest and source of plague. We acknowledge the undesirable nature of these prairie dog characteristics and always strive to manage populations in a way to enable affected stakeholders to address those problems,” Nesler said.  “However, the fact remains that prairie dogs and their colonies are an integral part of wildlife in both sagebrush and grassland ecosystems. At this time, the white-tailed and Gunnison prairie dog need our conservation assistance.” 
The goals of the conservation plan are to:

  • Develop and implement conservation strategies that will work to prevent the need to list the two species under the Endangered Species Act.
  • Promote conservation of not only the two species, but also their habitats and associated wildlife species.
  • Implement conservation strategies to help mitigate negative impacts to the two species.
  •  Identify research needs that will help guide appropriate conservation populations.
  • Focus use of Colorado’s existing regulatory mechanisms to maintain species viability.
  • Increase stakeholder and other agencies’ participation in prairie dog conservation. 

In 2007, the DOW held a three-day workshop in Grand Junction to discuss conservation planning with landowners, other government agencies, recreational shooters and environmental groups. The workshop was attended by about 60 people.
The public is invited to make comments on the DOW plan. Send comments to Amy [dot] Seglund [at] state [dot] co [dot] us. by Nov. 3. Comments via e-mail are preferred. For those who do not have access to the Internet, send comments to Seglund at 2300 S. Townsend Ave., Montrose, CO, 81401.