Prairie Dogs: The Truth

Buffalo and Prairie Dogs are the bookends of the prairie, due to their ecosystem creating habits. They are both, along with fire, the reason why the Great Plains was once so abundant with life. Prairie dogs are keystone species. Over 160 native birds and animals depend for food and shelter upon the rich ecosystem prairie dogs create, like ocean fish depend on coral reefs. Prairie dog colonies are the coral reefs of the sea of grass.

On the Plains, as elsewhere around the world, the coral reefs are dying.
96-98% of all black-tailed prairie dogs have been poisoned, gassed or shot.

Extinction now threatens a multitude of Plains wildlife, including the prairie dogs themselves.

GPRC Reference Section on Black-Tailed Prairie Dogs

Can Prairie Dogs Save Mexico’s Prairie From the Desert?

Today on NPR’s Living on Earth… Read or listen to the story online by clicking here.

Prairie Dog Illustration

(click image for larger view)

©Sharyn Davidson – used with permission



Lesser Prairie Chickens are in danger of extinction; they have been a candidate species under the Endangered Species Act since 1998, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service should finally and formally list them so they may get some protection and survive.


“One potential factor in the decline of the LPC is the near absence of prairie dog towns throughout much of its historic range. Less than 1 percent of historic prairie dog towns remain. Besides creating optimal gobbling ground conditions, prairie dog towns play an important role in creating LPC habitat. Many important forbs that produce seed are common around prairie dog towns and are particularly evident after abandonment. These highly disturbed areas create diverse early successional plant commu- nities (i.e., abundant annual and perennial forbs) that are very important for LPC adults and broods. For these reasons, rangeland and wildlife professionals have raised serious questions about traditional management philosophies that endorse prairie dog eradication, herbicide use, and uniform grazing patterns.”


For more information on Prairie Dogs and their plight, please visit the links below.

Prairie Dog Coalition
Prairie Dogs at Home – National Geographic
Learning to Live with Prairie Dogs

Dr. C. N. Slobodchikoff recent paper with the referential communication of black-tailed prairie dogs, which shows that black-tails have the same kind of sophistication in their alarm calls that we have been documenting with Gunnison’s pdogs, including a different call for a man with a gun.

Dr. C. N. Slobodchikoff
Professor of Biology
Northern Arizona University

Study shows health of survivors in shot-at prairie dog colonies overwhelmed by stress Summary: Surviving prairie dogs spend more time underground, lose weight, reproduce less, don’t eat as much, and remaining colony generally declines in health.

Prairie Dog Articles:

Written by:
Ana Davidson, Ph.D.
Instituto de Ecología
Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México
Apdo Postal 70-275
México D.F. 04510
Tel y fax (52) 55-56229004

Rattle Snakes in Prairie Dog Colonies [PDF]

From John Sidle:
Estimated acreage of black-tailed prairie dog colonies on National Forest System lands in the Great Plains. (compiled by John Sidle, USFS)


Logan County threatens to start poisoning

Just hours after federal wildlife officials said prairie dogs might be endangered, several Logan County landowners were given an ultimatum.

” … Unless within the next 15 days you endeavor to exterminate the prairie dogs on your land, the county prairie dog director will be advised to proceed to eradicate the prairie dogs thereon,” the letter from Logan County Attorney Andrea Wyrick states.

Identical letters were sent to Larry and Bette Haverfield and Gordon Barnhardt. A similar letter likely was sent to Maxine Blank, a Utah resident, who owns land the Haverfields lease.

For the Haverfields, the letter listed 13 sections of land. The Haverfields only own 6,720 acres. Barnhardt owns about 1,500 acres next to the Haverfield complex, and Blank owns 1,740.

“There’s about 7,000 acres of prairie dogs here,” Haverfield said this morning. “And about 48 ferrets.”
While the letters target prairie dogs, the reintroduction of endangered black-footed ferrets has exacerbated the tension between Haverfield and Barnhardt, their neighbors and the Logan County Commission.

Those ferrets are at the heart of Larry Haverfield’s concern.

“The point I want to make is we have 48 ferrets,” he said. “It would appear to me that they may be in jeopardy.”

The letters to Barnhardt and the Haverfields were delivered Tuesday, the same day as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agreed black-tailed prairie dogs might deserve protection under the federal Endangered Species Act.

Barnhardt this morning said he has been in contact with Randy Rathbun, the Wichita attorney he and Haverfield have consulted with in the battle to keep the county at bay.

While Barnhardt said he was unsure of what legal steps Rathbun might take, he was confident a Shawnee County judge’s decision last year would be at the forefront.

In that ruling, District Judge Charles Andrews granted a request by Logan County for a restraining order preventing Haverfield from moving cattle into areas where the county wants to poison. But, the judge also limited Logan County’s poisoning efforts to a 90-foot barrier that surrounds most of the 10,000 acres.
Logan County’s weed director poisoned some of those barriers earlier this summer, without much success, and a federal employee of the U.S. Department of Agriculture has been poisoning remaining barriers.
“I think it’s economics,” Barnhardt said of the county’s letter to start poisoning. “I think they’re hoping to recoup their investment. These guys walk around wearing Rozol caps and shirts. I suspect they have bought a lot of Rozol from this company.”

Federal officials says prairie dogs might need protection

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service once again has determined it might be prudent to include the black-tailed prairie dog on the federal endangered species list.

The finding is preliminary, but sets the stage for a full-fledged investigation that could result in the animal receiving some type of protection.

While the finding was hailed by environmental groups, prairie dog opponents decried it.

Ironically, the determination — made public Tuesday as part of a legal settlement — was made in part because local, state and federal agencies have done little to ensure survival of the animal.

Also Tuesday, Logan County started the process to once again begin poisoning land where 48 endangered black-footed ferrets have been released.

Tuesday’s determination by the federal wildlife agency found that since black-tailed prairie dogs were removed as a candidate for the endangered list in 2004, an all-out war has been waged against the animals by ranchers with the aid of state agricultural departments, which have approved a variety of chemicals to use.

While those chemicals were mentioned in the 9-page finding published in Tuesday’s Federal Register, it was the sale of zinc phosphide from South Dakota alone that was used to demonstrate the assault being waged on prairie dogs.

“To provide some prospective,” the determination states, if the United States has 2.1 million acres of prairie dog-inhabited land, “enough poison has been sold by this single facility since 2004 to poison all occupied habitat in the United States with enough remaining to poison an additional 1 million acres.”

It’s not known how much Rozol — largely the poison of choice in Kansas — with its active ingredient of chlorophacinone or pesticides containing diphacinone has been sold.

The direction of Tuesday’s announcement came as something of a surprise to people on both sides of the prairie dog issue.

“Wonderful,” said Ron Klataske, director of the Audubon of Kansas.

He took particular aim at Logan County’s long-running battle against prairie dogs on the ranch complex where the highly endangered ferrets have been released.

Logan County, Klataske said, has “indirectly, if not directly, been a party to the inclusion of prairie dogs on the endangered species list.”

That’s so, he said, because “virtually nothing has been done to follow up on implementation” of a prairie dog plan adopted by the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks.

Formulation of that plan came in the wake of an earlier determination by federal wildlife officials that prairie dogs were endangered. The committee creating the plan included environmentalists as well as members of the ranching community.

One of those members was Mike Beam, senior vice president of the Kansas Livestock Association.
While he opposes putting prairie dogs on the endangered species list, he said several proposals in the plan have not taken place.

One of those was a change in state law, which currently requires eradication of the prairie dogs as a pest. Efforts to change the law came in 2002, but language inserted into the House bill served as a poison pill that prevented a conference committee from even meeting, Beam said.

Beam said he and the KLA would “absolutely” oppose the listing of prairie dogs as endangered.

“We’ll do all we can to keep that from being done,” he said.