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White-tailed prairie dog comments due July 7

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

    The white-tailed prairie dog is up for review – again. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) will evaluate whether the species warrants protection under the Endangered Species Act and is seeking input from the public.
    FWS will review all information about the status and distribution of the white-tailed prairie dog, including the impacts or potential impacts of threats to the species resulting from either human activities or natural causes, according to a press release.
    Wyoming Game and Fish Supervisor of Biological Services Reg Rothwell says the FWS will need information on numbers, trends and conservation measures. He says they need the information to make a well-balanced judgment about whether the white-tailed prairie dog needs protection.
    White-tailed prairie dog habitat is found across the western half of Wyoming and in parts of Colorado, Utah and Montana. Rothwell says most of the affected land in Wyoming is on public land and therefore listing, “isn’t going to stop everybody from doing what they’re doing.”
    However, there are many livestock producers who use those public lands and the effects might reach beyond regulatory issues.
    “As most people who work on the range know, a prairie dog town doesn’t produce many multiple use values,” says Wyoming State Grazing Board Grazing Consultant Dick Loper.
    Because forage in and around prairie dog towns is limited, the ability for multiple-use is reduced, which is mandated for federal lands. Loper says there won’t be a direct effect on livestock except to reduce forage and the reduced forage could eventually cut down numbers.
    The potential need for listing the species baffles many Wyomingites who consider prairie dogs pests. Rothwell says the call for listing is relative to the former and current numbers. He says in the case of the black-tailed prairie dog, the estimates showed only one percent of estimated numbers and distribution of the species was present during the review.
    If the new review finds warranted protection for white-tailed prairie dogs under the ESA, recovery plans and recovery targets will be established and implemented. Rothwell says good news comes in the previous planning of the states with historic black-tailed and white-tailed prairie dog range. Recovery plans and conservation strategies information is already in place, “so we’re not starting from zero,” he says.
    “From our standpoint, it is not warranted to list the white-tailed prairie dog, particularly in Wyoming,” says Rothwell. “The species is abundant, primarily on public land, and there isn’t and never really has been an effort to do control like with black-tailed prairie dogs.”
    Listing would cause regulatory shifts within Wyoming Game and Fish and more consideration would be given to the species’ recovery and conservation. However, Rothwell says livestock and oil and gas would still be present on white-tailed prairie dog habitat.
    “As long as we are smart about setting recovery targets during and post recovery, I don’t know that it would be as big a problem as some people might think,” he says.
    The status review was initiated in 2007 after questions were raised about the science used for a 2004 FWS decision. The original finding stated that listing of the white-tailed prairie dog was not warranted. A lawsuit from the Center for Native Ecosystems was also filed and a stipulated settlement required FWS to submit a notice to the Federal Register about the status review for the white-tailed prairie dog. The results of the review will be published in the Federal Register June 1, 2010.
    Comments and information will be accepted until July 7 and can be submitted at or can be mailed to Public Comments Processing, Attn: FWS-R6-ES-2008-0053; Division of Policy and Directives Management; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 4401 N. Fairfax Drive, Suite 222; Arlington, VA 22203.
    Liz LeSatz is Summer 2008 intern for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at

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