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Suit filed over Thunder Basin prairie dog management

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

On Nov. 18, 2021, Western Watersheds Project, Rocky Mountain Wild and WildEarth Guardians filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Forest Service’s (USFS) Thunder Basin National Grassland prairie dog amendment.

Need for control

In 2020, the USFS, Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest and the Thunder Basin National Grassland completed an amendment to the Thunder Basin National Grassland Land and Resource Management Plan.

The amended plan intended to provide a wider array of management options to respond to “changing conditions on grassland, minimize prairie dog encroachment onto non-federal lands, reduce resource conflicts related to prairie dog occupancy and livestock grazing, ensure continued conservation of at-risk species and support ecological conditions that do not preclude reintroduction of the black-footed ferret,” shared USFS.

The amendment was proposed using the best available scientific information, current laws and regulations and collaborative relationships with cooperating agencies and stakeholder groups.

Issues and concerns of landowners

“I’ve spent hours, days, weeks and years on the subject of the prairie dogs,” shared Jim Darlington, a member of the Inyan Kara Grazing Association. “You won’t find a rancher that is happy about the recent suit filed.”

In 2015 and 2016, the prairie dog population was expanding at a fast rate, until a majority of the prairie dog population was affected by the plague.

This past year, the prairie dog has made a remarkable recovery, Darlington explained.

The Thunder Basin Grazing Association, Inyan Kara Grazing Association and the Spring Creek Grazing Association are several producer- based groups working on administering grazing permits on grassland and making improvements in cooperation with the USFS, shared Darlington.

Many local county commissioners and ranchers are on the same page when it comes to prairie dog management, notes Darlington.

“Prairie dogs are very destructive, they are good survivors and they do come back,” he said. “Nobody wants prairie dogs eliminated, but managed to a decent number.”

Opposing environmental group viewpoints

Western Watersheds Project Executive Director and Wildlife Biologist Erik Molvar disagrees with needed prairie dog management practices by sharing, “The Thunder Basin is one of the last remaining landscapes with a prairie dog population large enough to bring the black-footed ferret back from the brink of extinction.”

“The Forest Service shouldn’t be poisoning a designated sensitive species they are supposed to be prioritizing for conservation,” he continued. “And they (USFS) have a legal obligation to foster the reintroduction of black-footed ferrets, because the Thunder Basin is one of the best remaining candidate sites for black-footed ferret reintroduction.”

“You ought to have com- mercial enterprises co-existing with the native wildlife as a cost of doing business on the public lands,” said Molvar. “Because Americans have a strong inter- est in native wildlife.”

Ranching communities and conservation management associations and groups who strongly support agriculture management practices disagree with Molvar’s views.

Supporting role

The Wyoming County Commissioners Association (WCCA) is a government sector lobbying association in Wyoming and will be providing a supportive role for the Cooperative Working Group for the Thunder Basin National Grassland.

“We haven’t been involved anddon’tplantobeinvolvedin the litigation,” shared WCCA Natural Resource Counsel Representative Bailey Bren- nan. “We are serving as the conveyor and for now a facilitator for the working group – putting together agendas, attending meetings and facilitating meetings.”

Going forward, WCCA plans to provide a supportive role to the Thunder Basin working group by providing plan implantation assistance.

Dates for briefing and oral discussion have not yet been set.

Brittany Gunn is the editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to roundup@wylr. net.

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