FWS says listing of black tailed prairie dogs may be warranted due to plague, poisoning, and more
73 Fed. Reg. 73211 / Vol. 73, No. 232 / Tuesday, December 2, 2008 / DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR; Fish and Wildlife Service; 50 CFR Part 17; WS-R6-ES-2008-0111; MO 9921050083-B2 Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; 90-Day Finding on a Petition To List the Black-tailed Prairie Dog as Threatened or Endangered; Notice of 90-day petition finding and initiation of status review.
SUMMARY: We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), announce a 90-day finding on a petition to list the black-tailed prairie dog (Cynomys ludovicianus) as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended (Act). We find that the petition presents substantial scientific or commercial information indicating that listing the black-tailed prairie dog may be warranted. Therefore, with the publication of this notice, we are initiating a status review of the species to determine if listing the species is warranted. To ensure that the review is comprehensive, we are soliciting scientific and commercial information regarding this species. DATES: To allow us adequate time to conduct a status review, we request that we receive information on or before February 2, 2009.
The black-tailed prairie dog is considered a keystone species, that is, one that is an indicator of species composition within an ecosystem, and that is key to the persistence of the ecosystem. The black-footed ferret (Mustela nigripes), swift fox (Vulpes velox), golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos), and ferruginous hawk (Buteo regalis) utilize prairie dogs as a food source; the mountain plover (Charadrius montanus) and burrowing owl (Athene cunicularia) depend on habitat (burrows) created by prairie dogs. Numerous other species share habitat with prairie dogs, and rely on them to varying degrees. Photo from FWS
EXCERPT: Three major population impacts, which somewhat overlap, have influenced historical black-tailed prairie dog populations. The first major impact on the species was the initial conversion of prairie grasslands to cropland in the eastern portion of its range from approximately the 1880s to the 1920s. The conversion of native prairie to cropland likely reduced occupied habitat in the United States from as much as 100 million ac (40 million ha) of occupied black-tailed prairie dog colonies to about 50 million ac (20 million ha) or less (Laycock 1987, p. 4; Whicker and Detling 1988, p. 778). The second major impact on the species was large-scale poisoning efforts, conducted from approximately 1918 to 1972, to reduce competition between prairie dogs and domestic livestock (BSFW 1961, p. 1). Large-scale, repeated control efforts likely reduced occupied habitat in the United States from about 50 million ac (20 million ha) to approximately 364,000 ac (162,000 ha) by 1961 (BSFW 1961). The third major impact on the species was the inadvertent introduction of an exotic disease, sylvatic plague, into North American ecosystems around 1900. The first recorded impacts on the blacktailed prairie dog were recorded in 1946 (Miles et al. 1952, p. 41).
KEITHINKING: Black-tailed prairie dogs are very sensitive to plague, and mortality frequently reaches 100 percent... See also, Colorado Springs newspaper The Gazette. In addition to plague, cropland conversion, and poisoning effects, the black-tailed prairie dog is affected by:
- Climate change, because of invasion of noxious weeds and exacerbate the effects of habitat fragmentation;
- Inadequate regulatory mechanisms, because most of the regulations that promote black-tailed prairie dog conservation have been rescinded or weakened, allowing killing of the species, and insufficiently safeguarding the species from the risks of oil and gas development on Federal lands; and
- Recreational shooting, which can cause local population extirpation; however, once populations have been reduced, shooters generally go elsewhere and populations can recover. In addition, many landowners maintain prairie dog populations and derive income from charging people for recreational shooting. Monetary gain from shooting fees may motivate landowners to preserve prairie dog colonies for future shooting opportunities.