Thunder Basin to move forward with prairie dog translocation
Casper – A plan to translocate prairie dogs on the Thunder Basin National Grasslands was approved this spring and includes habitat criteria and a goal of long-term support of 18,000 acres of prairie dogs on the Grassland, which currently supports 4,000 to 5,000 acres after several plague events.
Wyoming Game and Fish Department Deputy Director John Emmerich and Grassland staff updated the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission on the translocation project at its April meeting in Casper.
When translocation was first suggested in 2004, after plague events reduced populations in the area, there was no long-term management plan in place, and the Commission directed the Department to put together a set of criteria on how to approach translocation. As a result, the Department compiled a set of 11 criteria, including how far prairie dogs can be moved, a quarantine period, a 4.5-mile buffer from private land and the size of colonies.
“Over the last three to four years the Thunder Basin Grassland folks have worked with the grazing associations, non-governmental organizations and landowners to develop a management plan for prairie dogs, which would hopefully lead to translocation of black-footed ferrets,” Emmerich told the Commission.
“There is a plan in place now, and one of the tools in managing for the objective is to translocate when populations are well below objectives,” said Emmerich, noting the plan also includes poisoning problem prairie dogs in areas near private land.
Thunder Basin National Grassland Supervisor Mary Peterson added they’ve come up with a management plan for the grassland that would allow the agency to reduce conflicts with private land encroachment while providing the opportunity to increase habitat in places where they want to reintroduce black-footed ferrets.
Peterson said TBNG staff have a site-specific translocation proposal for prairie dogs, for which Misty Hayes of the Douglas Ranger District has been the lead on the Environmental Impact Statement.
“As a part of strategy we’ve identified prairie dog colonies of concern that we’d like to manage,” said Hayes. “What we’re proposing is to move prairie dog colonies from a donor site to three potential receiving sites, all of which are historic colonies that were occupied in 2001 prior to the plague events.”
Hayes said all the sites have small patches of recovering prairie dogs, and that the donor site is adjacent to private land.
“We would use Delta Dust on both the donor and receiving sites to remove plague-infested fleas, then we’re proposing to trap live prairie dogs in July, moving as many as we can from the donor site. When we’re done trapping we’ll follow up with rodenticide to remove any last remaining prairie dogs from the donor site near private land,” said Hayes.
Bob and Jean Harshbarger are the owners of the private land near the donor site, and Hayes said they first approached the District with concern about the colonies.
“We felt this was a good place to try some other control tools besides rodenticide, including translcoation,” said Hayes. “It provides an opportunity to see if translocation will work for us, to augment the areas where we hope to have ferret reintroduction.”
Hayes said old burrows do exist in the receiving site, but some may have to be cleaned out. “We feel there are plenty of burrows there and we won’t have to create burrows,” she said.
Of the great effort of the project, and the potential rewards, Hayes said she thinks it’s worth it.
“We think the payoff is pretty good. It gives us the opportunity to try some things. There’s a fair amount of cost, but we feel the tradeoff in augmenting the populations is a plus, and we’re being proactive in dealing with landowner concerns,” she said.
“I think the Harshbargers would be perfectly happy with poisoning the donor colony, but I think they’re accepting of this as an alternate method, and are willing to try it,” added Hayes.
“I think in terms of a translocation effort, it’s probably worth a try to see if it’s successful,” said Emmerich.
Christy Hemken is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.