|The Mountain-Prairie Region|
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
134 Union Boulevard
Lakewood, Colorado 80228
Laura Romin (801) 975-3330, ext 142
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Will Not Conduct In-depth Review to Consider Listing the White-tailed Prairie Dog
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has reviewed a petition to list the white-tailed prairie dog under the Endangered Species Act and has concluded the petition did not contain substantial scientific data that the petitioned action might be warranted. The negative petition finding was published in the Federal Register.
The Service made the determination in response to a petition received in July 2002 from the Center for Native Ecosystems, the Biodiversity Conservation Alliance, the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, the American Lands Alliance, the Forest Guardians, the Ecology Center, Sinapu, and Terry Tempest Williams, to list the white-tailed prairie dog as a threatened or endangered species. Under the Act, the Service was required to review the petition to decide whether it contained substantial scientific information that listing may be warranted. In accordance with a settlement agreement, the Service had to complete the 90-day finding on the white-tailed prairie dog by Oct. 31, 2004.
White-tailed prairie dogs are found across the western half of Wyoming, western Colorado, the eastern portion of Utah, and a small portion of southern Montana. The largest remaining complexes or groups, occupying more than 5,000 acres each, are primarily found in Wyoming. An estimated 55 percent of white-tailed prairie dog habitat is found on lands belonging to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.
White-tailed and black-tailed prairie dogs are genetically two distinctive species. The white-tailed prairie dog (Cynomys leucurus) has a dark eye patch and a short, white-tipped tail. The black-tailed prairie dog has a black-tipped tail.
White-tailed prairie dogs have a looser social structure and occur at a lower density than black-tailed prairie dogs. White-tailed prairie dogs are generally found at altitudes ranging between 5,000 and 10,000 feet in desert grasslands and shrub grasslands. Conversely, black-tailed prairie dogs are found at altitudes below 6,000 feet in grasslands associated with the Great Plains and are not tolerant of shrubs within their colony.
The white-tailed prairie dog is approximately 13 to 15 inches long and weighs around one to three pounds. It is a small, stout rodent with a short, white-tipped tail, large eyes, a blackish brown cheek patch above and below each eye, and a tan-brown pelt. The so-called prairie dog was named for its barking call. All five species of prairie dogs live in colonies.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal Federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting and enhancing fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 95-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System, which encompasses 545 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands and other special management areas. It also operates 69 national fish hatcheries, 64 fishery resources offices and 81 ecological services field stations. The agency enforces federal wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign and Native American tribal governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Assistance program, which distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to State fish and wildlife agencies.
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Questions and Answers --
White-tailed Prairie Dog
1. What is the Service’s finding regarding the petition to the list the white-tailed prairie dog as a threatened or endangered species?
We have reviewed the petition, the Conservation Assessment, and other information available in our files. Based on our review of this information, we find there is not substantial scientific information that the listing might be warranted.
2. What is a 90-day finding?
Under the Endangered Species Act, any citizen or organization can petition the Service to list a species. The 90-day finding is the first step in processing a petition.
If the Service finds that a petition has substantial scientific information indicating that the petitioned action may be warranted, it then conducts a detailed review of the status of the species over the next 12 months. At the end of that time, a decision is made as to whether to propose the species for listing, or that listing is not warranted. If the Service finds that the petition does not contain substantial scientific information indicating the petitioned action may be warranted, the Service nonetheless requests additional information from the public to help determine if a listing might be warranted in the future.
On July 15, 2002, we received a formal petition to list the white-tailed prairie dog (Cynomys leucurus) as threatened or endangered, in accordance with provisions in section 4 of the ESA. The petition was filed by the Center for Native Ecosystems, Biodiversity Conservation Alliance, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, American Lands Alliance, Forest Guardians, the Ecology Center, Sinapu, and Terry Tempest Williams.
This 90-day petition finding is made in accordance with a settlement agreement that requires us to complete a finding on the petition to list the white- tailed prairie dog by Oct. 31, 2004.
3. What happens next?
A not substantial 90-day finding ends the petition process, but the Service is requesting additional information and will continue to keep an eye on the species.
4. Why do the petitioners think the white-tailed prairie dog should be added to the list of threatened and endangered species?
The petition asserts that the range of white-tailed prairie dog populations has been negatively affected by plague; recreational shooting; poisoning; oil, gas, and mineral extraction; conversion of habitat to agricultural use; urbanization; fire suppression; overgrazing; noxious weeds; and climate change, to the point that it should be listed under the Endangered Species Act.
5. Why is the white-tailed prairie dog important?
Prairie dogs are an integral part of ecosystems ranging from arid grassland to shrub steppe ecosystems and their presence increases both animal and plant diversity. The white-tailed prairie dog provides important habitat for and is prey for many species including: the endangered black-footed ferret, mountain plover, burrowing owl, swift fox, badger, and ferruginous hawk. Burrowing and grazing activities of prairie dogs affect many ecosystem functions and processes, including vegetation structure, plant composition, nutrients available in soil for plants, soil turnover, soil chemistry, energy flows, nutrient quality of plants, and plant succulence.
6. What does a white-tailed prairie dog look like, and how does it live?
The white-tailed prairie dog is approximately 13-15 inches
long and weighs around 1-3 pounds. It is a small, stout rodent with a
short, white-tipped tail, large eyes, blackish brown cheek patch above and
below the eye, and a tan-brown pelt. It was named for its barking call.
Although all five species of prairie dogs live in colonies, the
white-tailed prairie dogs are less social than black-tailed prairie dogs.
Within colonies, prairie dogs live in contiguous, territorial family
groups called coteries. White-tailed prairie dog colonies are typically
7. How many species of prairie dogs are there?
There are five species of prairie dogs in North America – Utah (listed as a threatened species in 1973), Gunnison, black-tailed (recently taken off the endangered species candidate list), Mexican (listed as an endangered species in 1970), and the white-tailed.
8. Have the other species of prairie dogs experienced declines?
Yes. All species of prairie dogs are thought to have experienced declines due to large-scale poisoning efforts in the past, habitat loss and the introduction of plague. The Mexican prairie dog is listed as endangered and the Utah prairie dog is listed as threatened on the list of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants. The Gunnison’s prairie dog has recently been petitioned for listing under the Endangered Species Act. The black-tailed prairie dog was a candidate for listing until August of this year, when new information led to its removal from the candidate list.
9. How are white-tailed prairie dogs different than black-tailed prairie dogs?
White-tailed and black-tailed prairie dogs are two distinct species. White-tailed prairie dogs have a dark eye patch and a short, white-tipped tail. Black-tailed prairie dogs do not have the eye patch and have a long, black-tipped tail. White-tailed prairie dogs have a looser social structure and occur at a lower density than black-tailed prairie dogs. White-tailed prairie dogs are generally found at elevations ranging between 5,000 and 10,000 feet, in desert grasslands and shrub-grasslands. Conversely, black-tailed prairie dogs are found at elevations below 6,000 feet in grasslands associated with the Great Plains and are not tolerant of shrubs within their colony. White-tailed prairie dog colonies have lower vegetation near burrow entrances as a result of foraging activities. Black-tailed prairie dogs, in addition to foraging, actively clip vegetation to facilitate good visibility of the surrounding area for predators.
10. Where are white-tailed prairie dogs found?
White-tailed prairie dogs are found across western Colorado and Wyoming, eastern Utah, and a small portion of southern Montana.
11. How many white-tailed prairie dogs are left?
Estimates of prairie dog populations are not based on numbers of individual animals, but on estimates of the amount of occupied habitat. Reliable range-wide surveys of white-tailed prairie dog occupied habitat are not available.
12. Where can the larger colonies of white-tailed prairie dogs be found?
Based on the most recent inventories of white-tailed prairie dog colonies, there are 10 relatively large white-tailed prairie dog complexes remaining in North America (each occupying more than 5,000 acres). The largest known complexes are primarily found in Wyoming. An estimated 55% of white-tailed prairie dog habitat occurs on U.S. Bureau of Land Management land.
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