Two-dozen Lubbock prairie dogs are now living in the Land of Enchantment.
The small ground-dwelling mammals have been relocated to Living Desert Zoo and Gardens State Park in Carlsbad, N.M.
Read more: Lubbock
Dedicated to the Preservation of Prairie Dogs and their Habitat
Two-dozen Lubbock prairie dogs are now living in the Land of Enchantment.
The small ground-dwelling mammals have been relocated to Living Desert Zoo and Gardens State Park in Carlsbad, N.M.
Read more: Lubbock
Conservation groups are criticizing a proposal to reduce the amount of land protected for prairie dogs in the Thunder Basin National Grassland.
The U.S. Forest Service is considering shrinking the acreage of protected land, largely because ranchers have concerns about livestock being injured in prairie dog holes and acquiring diseases.
But Steve Forrest with Defenders of Wildlife says reducing the prairie dog population could create problems for other wildlife. For example, he says it would hamper efforts to re-introduce endangered species like black-footed ferrets, because the ferrets almost exclusively eat prairie dogs.
Read More: WPM
On farms and ranches across America, prairie dogs are target practice.
In the city of Santa Fe, the furry little critters get bubble baths, leftover Big Macs and protection under an ordinance requiring their “humane relocation” if they live on property slated for commercial construction.
Even the city government, which has a statue of its patron saint in front of City Hall making eye contact with a prairie dog, is loath to hurt the burrowing rodents.
Since the ordinance passed in 2001, the city has incurred $559,000 in relocation costs, much to the chagrin of one city councilor.
Read more: Santa Fe
Read more: Abq Journal
I am sending this urgently to you all because this 18th century “solution” does not belong in the 21st century! I am asking EVERYONE who reads this to write to Time and challenge this guy’s assumptions, information, credentials, WHATEVER! I am APPALLED to read such a treatise for killing in this day and age!
However, I think Non Sequitur had it nailed!
You can read the time article at: TIME
Here is a cute video of some prairie dogs “at work”. Notice how the bison doesn’t step in the prairie dog burrow and break his leg…but he is interested in what’s to eat around the burrow!
Check it out on youtube: Close up!
The Clovis City Commission will meet 5:15 p.m. Thursday at the North Annex of the Clovis-Carver Public Library.
The agenda includes:
• A request to relocate prairie dogs on city land to Ector County, Texas, and use of water to help facilitate that animals’ removal from the ground.
Citizens for Prairie Dogs has twice sought city clearance to move the animals from Goodwin Lake, Ned Houk Park and O.G. Potter Park. The first time, Chaves County officials voiced opposition and the city commission voted the item down. The commission gave conditional approval to a move to Mitchell County, Texas, but Mitchell County officials made it clear the animals were not welcome there either.
SALT LAKE CITY — As part of an ongoing effort to preserve habitat for Utah prairie dogs yet offset their impacts to rural airports, 800 acres of school trust lands property will be sold to The Nature Conservancy.
The transaction, announced Tuesday, happened with Federal Aviation Administration dollars, with the agency planning to pay $800,000 to the Utah School & Institutional Trust Lands Administration.
In exchange, the conservancy will get 800 acres of prime prairie dog habitat on Johnson’s Bench in Garfield County.
By the end of December, 2012, 200 to 250 prairie dogs will be relocated to Broomfield’s Great Western Reservoir Open Space to accommodate the expansion of the city’s Lake Link Trial. The prairie dogs, who are currently living in open space behind Legacy High School, are being moved to allow for a new section of paved trail that will run through the area they currently inhabit. The prairie dogs will be moved by volunteers using non-lethal relocation methods such as humane traps. This particular project, and the policies it implements, demonstrates the city’s prairie dog management policies, and also highlights some of the main issues with current prairie dog conservation methods.
As grievances with prairie dogs continue to grow throughout the West and colonies are being demolished, someone needs to be a strong voice for these tiny creatures. The Prairie Dog Coalition is dedicated to the protection of imperiled prairie dogs and restoration of their ecosystems.
A fortunate few have seen prairie dogs as they nibble on grass, run between burrows, touch noses and kiss. And it’s heartbreaking to know one day their presence may be gone. Survival of the prairie dog is critical to the continued existence of the prairie ecosystem–one of the most endangered ecosystems in the world.
Nine different wildlife species depend on prairie dog populations and their habitat for their survival. Endangered black-footed ferrets, owls, hawks, foxes and about 200 other species are associated with prairie dogs and their habitat. By planning ahead and working prairie dogs into open space plans, we can help direct their path of migration to the best habitats for them. By setting aside conservation areas for this native, keystone animal we can enjoy the prairie dogs and their associated species in our natural environment.
Prairie dogs now occupy just 2 percent to 8 percent of their historic range, and without serious conservation efforts, they may soon disappear. We have a responsibility to do everything we can to help the prairie dog ecosystem recover so that future generations can enjoy healthy wildlife populations, too.
Training volunteers and professional wildlife biologists on the latest nonlethal techniques to manage prairie dog populations humanely is a good first step to help protect these animals and restore their ecosystems. To ensure the protection of prairie dogs and their ecosystem, we must work together. The Prairie Dog Coalition, managed by The Humane Society of the United States, is working to fulfill this mission by providing information and advocacy training, facilitating communication and planning, and promoting conservation projects.
Ultimately, a conscious concern for these animals is necessary for retaining the beauty and majestic nature that is the prairie dog and the North American grasslands. Help us put an end to their demise and invigorate the prairie ecosystem once again.
Lindsey Sterling-Krank, director of The Prairie Dog Coalition/Boulder
Similar Species: White-tailed and Utah prairie dogs have white in center of tail rather than grayish. Black-tailed Prairie Dog’s tail has black tip.
Breeding: 1 litter per year of 1–8 young, born in early May; gestation 27–33 days, pups emerge mid June.
Habitat: Short grass prairies in high mountain valleys and plateaus of southern Rocky Mountains at elevations of 6,000–12,000’ (1,800–3,600 m). Habitat is much more variable topographically and vegetationally than that of the Black-tailed Prairie Dog, which occurs at lower elevations.
Range: Southeastern Utah, south and central Colorado, northeast and central Arizona, and northwest New Mexico.
Discussion: The Gunnison’s Prairie Dog, like the rest of its kin, is active only when the sun is up, and is most energetic near dawn and dusk. It is constantly vigilant while aboveground, often sitting upright on its hind feet while it pursues its main activities: mainly feeding, but also grooming and playing. This animal generally is seen from April to October. It hibernates (torpor) in winter, living on stored body fat. It usually emerges in April, though they will emerge earlier if the winter is mild. Gunnison’s Prairie Dog feeds on green vegetation, particularly grasses, but also forbs, sedges, and shrubs, as well as a few insects. Its colonies are generally smaller and less closely knit than those of other prairie dogs, resembling ground squirrel aggregations, with fewer than 50 to 100 individuals. The animals in the colony cannot always see one another because their habitat is in such varied and patchy terrain, which is caused in part by human activities. On flat ground and where this prairie dog is protected colonies are much larger and more extensive. This species’ burrow systems can be up to 80 feet long and 16 feet deep in well-established colonies. Burrows can have food storage, flood, nesting, communal and excrement chambers. Territoriality is not well developed in Gunnison’s Prairie Dog, although old males may defend small areas outside their burrows. Mother-young relationships form the basic social unit. Newborns remain in the burrow about three weeks before emerging and are weaned about three weeks later. The female sits almost straight up on her haunches to nurse her young, who suckle either pectoral or inguinal (hind leg) nipples. Gunnison’s alarm call, distinctive among prairie dogs, is important to the survival and structure of the community. It is a series of high-pitched barks of one or two distinct syllables, with the second syllable lower and more guttural. The call may be repeated frequently and may continue for as long as half an hour. It increases in intensity as danger escalates, and ends in chatter as the animal enters its burrow. Predators include American Badgers, Coyotes, weasels, and raptors. Plague (Yersina pestis), carried by fleas, can decimate populations of this species. However, humans, through their extermination programs, are the chief enemy of Gunnison’s Prairie Dog.
Prairie dogs are important to their environment in three ways:
For more facts, visit 101 Questions and Answers about Prairie Dogs and Environmental Change and the Prairie Dog
My goal in writing this article is to help educate people about prairie dogs, and to provide people with objective information backed by valid scientific research. As many of us in New Mexico live among prairie dogs, I feel it is especially critical that people are well educated about these native animals.
What are prairie dogs?
Prairie dogs are large, colonial, ground-nesting squirrels. They live in large communities (colonies) in grassland habitats. They are highly social animals, and have evolved a complex language system. Prairie dogs eat grasses and weeds, and they will clip grasses to enable them to detect predators. They live in family units called coteries that consist of usually one male and several females. Females often remain in the same burrow system during their lifetime and juvenile males leave the burrow during their first year. Prairie dogs usually live for about 5 years in the wild.
What species do we have in New Mexico?
Both black-tailed prairie dogs and Gunnison’s prairie dogs occur within New Mexico.
Black-tailed prairie dogs are the most social of all the prairie dog species, and occur in the Great Plains region. They used to be common in the eastern and southwestern part of New Mexico, but have been eliminated from most of their native habitat within the state.
Gunnison’s prairie dogs occur throughout the four corners region and are found in Santa Fe, Albuquerque, Socorro, Gallup, and Grants. Gunnison’s prairie dogs also have declined significantly, and have been petitioned to be listed under the endangered species list.
Prairie dog reproduction
Prairie dogs are not prolific breeders. They only have one litter per year, consisting of about four young, of which only two usually survive.
The ecological role of prairie dogs
Prairie dogs were once among the most numerous and widespread herbivores in North American grasslands. Human activities such as habitat destruction and poisoning efforts have significantly reduced prairie dog populations. Three of the five species are federally listed as threatened or endangered. The most widespread species, the black-tailed prairie dog, now occupies less than 2% of its historical range. Scientists studying prairie dogs have estimated that at least 163 animal species are associated with prairie dog colonies, indicating that the prairie dog is a “keystone” (i.e., critically important) species in these ecosystems. Prairie dogs create ecological disturbances resulting in a diverse landscape that provides a variety of habitats for many plant and animal species, including black-footed ferrets, rabbits, squirrels, lizards, snakes, burrowing owls, and invertebrates. Prairie dogs also affect grassland plant species composition and vegetation structure and enhance soil and plant nutritional quality, which benefits antelope, bison, and cattle.
Prairie dog eradication has caused significant biological degradation and decline in biological diversity on grasslands in North America. Research has found that prairie dogs inhibit woody plants from invading grasslands, and has indicated that the elimination of these rodents has played a significant role in desertification of grasslands. In addition, removal of prairie dogs causes secondary extinctions of other species, altering the entire food web associated with prairie dogs. For example, the black-footed ferret, burrowing owl, mountain plover, and ferruginous hawk are among the most endangered prairie dog-dependent species. Despite their importance, people often want to exterminate prairie dogs because of misconceptions about proliferation, children being bitten, destruction of landscaped areas, plague, competition for forage with livestock, and animals breaking their legs in the burrows.
Are they dangerous to humans?
Prairie dogs are not a threat to children. They are timid animals, and when approached by humans, prairie dogs quickly scurry into the safety of their burrows. People should never hand feed prairie dogs or try to grab them. Hand feeding may cause the animals to be accustomed to humans, and result in bites when humans get too close.
Prairie dogs and hantavirus
Prairie dogs are not known to contract or transmit hantaviruses. Worldwide, hantaviruses are associated with deer mice and other rodents in the family Muridae, which are distant relatives of prairie dogs (Squirrels, in the family Sciuridae).
Prairie dogs and plague
Prairie dogs do not carry plague. Plague is a non-native disease, introduced to North America from Europe by humans. Prairie dogs have not evolved immunity to plague, and therefore, it kills 99% of the individuals in an infected colony. Plague has been a major contributor to causing the decline in prairie dog populations.
Fleas carry the plague. These fleas can be found on many wild animals, and are not limited to prairie dogs. Killing prairie dogs just causes fleas to search for another host, and is not recommended by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) as an effective method of plague control. The key to preventing plague is to control fleas, not prairie dogs. Avoiding contact with dead wild animals and dusting pets and rodent burrows with flea powder can successfully prevent plague. Plague is also easily overcome with antibiotics when detected early, so people should educate themselves about the symptoms of plague. A colony of active prairie dogs is indicative of healthy, plague-free prairie dogs, and should not cause concern.
What if they are damaging the landscape in your yard?
If prairie dogs are causing damage to landscaped areas, you can use visual barriers such as vegetation or low walls and additional below ground barriers to contain the animals. Prairie dogs are highly discouraged by tall vegetation, so plant native shrubs and do not mow native grasses. Xeriscaping the area will also help discourage prairie dogs, and conserve water.
How to get rid of prairie dogs
Rat poison should not be used to kill prairie dogs because it causes secondary poisoning of dogs, cats, and other animals, and is dangerous to children. The only legal method for killing prairie dogs involves the use of poisonous gas by licensed professionals (in most states), which is costly. The poisonous gases used are inhumane, causing slow and painful deaths, and can take up to 72 hours to induce death in an animal. During which time the animals suffer from burning of the mucus membranes to paralysis.
The best recommendation is to learn to live with these native animals, and, if for some reason, prairie dogs must be removed, you can contact professional relocators in the state that can be referred by People for Native Ecosystems (PNE) (505) 982-0496 or the City of Santa Fe Permit Development and Review (505) 955-6480. Prairie Dog Pals of Albuquerque also conducts some relocations, though mostly on public lands.
Shooting prairie dogs
Shooting is often used as a means of reducing the size of a prairie dog colony. Varmint hunters gather together in many states where prairie dogs occur to shoot them. They do not eat the prairie dogs; rather, they shoot them with rifles for target practice fun. In our national grasslands, bullet shells and literally exploded prairie dogs can be found littering the colonies. It is important to keep in mind that that these are highly social animals that are greatly affected by the shooting of their family members. Prairie dogs have become threatened species and are not prolific breeders, so sport shooting should be banned.
Do prairie dogs compete with cattle for forage?
Recent research has found that prairie dogs compete little for forage with cattle (~5%). In fact, by clipping grasses, prairie dogs eliminate old plant tissue and stimulate new plant growth. New plant growth contains more protein, so the nutritional quality of the vegetation on prairie dog colonies is greater than off colonies, despite the lower quantity of vegetation. Cattle have been found to gain similar to more weight when foraging on prairie dog colonies than off. Keep in mind that prairie dogs and bison have coexisted for millions of years, and bison and other ungulates consistently prefer to graze on prairie dog colonies.
What about falling into prairie dog holes?
The myth that cattle fall into prairie dog holes apparently began in the late 1800’s. During this time, cattle were over-stocked on rangeland here in the Southwest. Cattle were overgrazing the lands, and combined with a 25 year drought period at the end of the century, many of the grasslands became desertified. There was little forage for cattle to eat and many became sick and lethargic, causing some of the cattle to apparently fall into the burrows. A healthy cow slowly grazes with its head down and does not fall into burrows. Remember, bison evolved along with prairie dogs.
Some people like to ride their horses in the mountains but feel they can’t because prairie dog burrows are present. My advice is not to run your horse on a prairie dog colony, and find an alternative place to ride. These animals no longer occur in large colonies due to their population declines, and therefore, it should not be difficult to find an alternative place to ride. If we live in the mountains or are recreationally enjoying them it is important to remember that wildlife are present in these areas and we need to learn how to live with them, not eliminate them because they are in our way.
Prairie dogs as pets
Prairie dogs express social behavior that humans can relate to, but they do not make good pets. Because they are highly social animals, they should never be kept in isolation. Prairie dogs require considerable attention, and also are highly active with lots of energy and desire to chew and dig. They often will chew furniture when let out of their cage and will dig at rugs, tearing them up. In addition, prairie dogs have a breeding season each year, during which their hormones change and they can become aggressive. During this time even friendly prairie dogs can bite. Moreover, most prairie dogs sold as pets are taken directly from the wild. They have not been bred in captivity for generations, unlike most animals that we have for pets. Keep in mind that dogs have been domesticated for 10,000 years. Because prairie dogs have not been domesticated, they exhibit wild tendencies and may not always be friendly to the people they live with.
Wild prairie dogs sold for pets are often collected from areas where landowners want to reduce or eliminate the prairie dog population on their land. These prairie dogs have been acquired through unregulated harvest to provide profit for the pet trade. Some of the methods used to obtain prairie dogs for pets, such as removing prairie dogs with a “sucker truck,” a truck with a vacuum hose, are inhumane. The pet trade contributes to the decline of the species. If prairie dogs must be removed or controlled in an area, the animals should be humanely relocated to appropriate areas where their populations are desired.
Current efforts to protect prairie dogs within the state
Currently there are no efforts established to protect the Gunnison’s prairie dogs. However, both the city of Albuquerque and of Santa Fe do not allow the poisoning of this species within the city limits. The US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) has determined that black-tailed prairie dogs have declined significantly throughout their range and that their status as a threatened species is “warranted but precluded.” Meaning that there are significant threats affecting the long-term viability of the black-tailed prairie dog, but there are insufficient resources to protect this species. The limited funds available to the USFWS for threatened and endangered species is currently being used for species that are of greater concern.
Game and fish departments from most states in which prairie dogs occur have established black-tailed prairie dog working groups. These working groups are designed to develop a management plan to reduce the decline of prairie dogs so that listing will not be necessary.
Why are they endangered? I see so many of them!
Often people think that because they see “lots” of prairie dogs that they couldn’t be declining. Keep in mind that they once occurred in huge numbers (~5 billion) throughout most of the grasslands in the central United States. They have declined greatly relative to their former abundance. There are many large threats affecting their populations: continued poisoning and shooting, habitat loss through development and desertification, and plague. In addition, many animal species that are dependent on the prairie dog require large colonies in order to support them. Most of the prairie dog colonies have become fragmented and isolated from one another, which lowers the long-term viability of maintaining the population and the other species dependent on them. The plight of the prairie dog is analogous to the passenger pigeon, once one of the most abundant and common species that has now become extinct due to human persecution.
How you can help
People are greatly needed to help in education, legislation, and relocation efforts. Contact a local wildlife organization such as Prairie Dog Pals or People for Native Ecosystems (contact info above) if you have an interest in helping the prairie dogs. You can also find more information about prairie dogs on the web at http://www.prairiedogs.org and http://www.gprc.org .
Ana D. Davidson, Ph.D.
Department of Biology
The University of New Mexico
Populations: The Ultimate Underdog
Gunnison’s Prairie Dogs are a White-tailed subspecies, which inhabits the four corners region. Once ubiquitous, current estimates place their populations at about 2 – 5% of their former range.
Two of the five species of prairie dogs are protected under the Endangered Species Act. There may be fewer Utah Prairie Dogs than Siberian Tigers. Black-tailed Prairie Dogs, the most numerous due their large range, are considered a Candidate for Threatened Listing. They meet all criteria for listing, but the Fish and Wildlife Service does not yet have the resources to enforce the listing, so they were placed on the Candidate List in 2000. They are on about 1% of their former range.
Ecological Importance: A ‘keystone species.’
Prairie dogs are a ‘keystone species,’ or most important element, of their environment.
Up to 160 other species benefit from their presence.
They enrich their environment in three ways:
The Black-footed Ferret is the most endangered mammal on our continent and cannot live without prairie dogs under any circumstances.
The Ferruginous Hawk, Swift Fox, Mountain Plover, and Burrowing Owl, are considered for or federally protected species that are considered dependent on prairie dogs. Several other species are considered dependent on prairie dogs. Several other species are considered dependent.
It’s a Dog’s Life: a Brief Description of the Prairie Dogs, Themselves
Prairie dogs possess, perhaps, the most complex language of any animal ever studied. Even more so than primates. They have over fifty primary ‘words’ and can communicate in sentences, distinguish color, speed, and level of threat through language.
Prairie dogs live in family units called ‘coteries’. They often ‘kiss’ in a familial identification. The animals commonly seen poised on their hindquarters are sentries, ever vigilant on the lookout for danger to themselves and families.
Prairie dogs are annual breeders. Fifty percent of females over two years of age will give birth to about 4 pups in the spring. There is tremendous juvenile mortality.
Prairie dogs live to be about five years old in the wild.
Burrows are complex, with separate ‘rooms’ for each function of life. Toilet chambers, sleeping quarters and storage typify a home burrow. Often, listening posts are created near the entrance for added protection. Some burrows have several entrances.
Gunnison’s and White-tailed Prairie Dogs hibernate, or go into torpor, as it is called, from about November through February. Black-tailed Prairie Dogs do not hibernate.
Regenerating native grasses and vegetation takes years, especially with little rainfall and no supplemental water supply. Once an area is disturbed or over populated it is very difficult to restore the grasses because the prairie dogs will eat any new growth.
Prickly pear and broadleaf can be planted by placing them in shallow troughs. The supplies you will need are tongs, clippers, gloves and containers to hold the pads – plastic bags are not advisable because the needles can poke through the plastic. A hedge clipper is the best tool for cutting the pads and tongs are best for picking them up. The cacti can be cut into medium sized sections of 3 to 6 pads. There is no need to dig up the roots. The needles come off easily, even in a strong wind, so take care in handling the pads. They can be kept in a shady area for a day until ready for transplanting.
Transplant 3 to 6 pads so that the cut edge of at least one pad can be buried in a shallow trough. Cacti are hardy – a pad can fall off a plant and laying flat on the ground will put out roots and start a new plant.
The prairie dogs may eat the cactus you are planting if they do not have enough food. Try to provide enough food, carrots, greens, alfalfa pellets, fresh cut grass clippings, etc. so that they will not eat the cacti.
Do not plant lawn grasses near by as they will be drawn to it. If an area already has lawn grasses you can let it grow naturally, reduce the watering and add decorative rocks, forbs, native grasses and pines and you will have a xeriscape compatible with prairie dogs. If you have trees that are enticing to prairie dogs, you might want to consider getting rid of them by taking the help of certain Tree Removal services. It can be hard to part with a tree you’ve cared for and grown for many years, but it is an inevitable part of landscaping. And on the upside, a new tree can take their place. For example, pine trees can be planted because the prairie dogs will not normally eat them unless they have no other food. Well, a landscaping project might require lot of experience and manpower so trying to accomplish it singlehandedly could be futile. You can however contact landscaping firms (like Milestone Dubai – Landscaping, Pools, Interiors, or the ones like them in the vicinity) and let them know about your requirements which could help them renovate the area according to you.
Habitat improvement is a hard but satisfying work. It should be done in areas where the prairie dogs will be allowed to stay. In Albuquerque we currently have several areas on parkland where prairie dogs can live in their family groups with the support and assistance of caring people.
See this article to find out about native prairie forbs and this one about native grasses which you can use for landscaping!
In a recent article on prairie dogs, it is mentioned that their main purpose in the world is to feed other plains animals, provide homes for owls and plague the herds, fields and wallets of ranchers and farmers. While all of these functions are legitimate, it did not mention the main importance of prairie dogs.
Prairie dogs dig their burrows, sometimes 50 holes an acre, all across the plains. These burrows go down several feet, letting rain water flow directly to roots of the grass. It also allows water to replenish the water table and underground aquifers. Now that water levels are dropping and Western cities are growing nervous, prairie dogs will need to have large numbers to balance human water use by replenishing our ground water systems and underground aquifers.