U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
134 Union Boulevard
Lakewood, Colorado 80228
May 27, 2010
Larry Crist 801-975-3330 ext 126
Leith Edgar 303-236-4578
Endangered Species Act Protection for the White-tailed Prairie Dog Is Not Warranted
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced today it has completed a status review of the white-tailed prairie dog and has determined it does not warrant protection as a threatened or endangered species under the Endangered Species Act. The Service made this finding after a thorough review of all the available scientific and commercial information regarding the status of the white-tailed prairie dog and the potential impacts to the species.
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 Service assessed potential impacts to the white-tailed prairie dog, including oil and gas exploration and development; development of oil shale, tar sands and other minerals; renewable energy development (wind and solar); urbanization; agricultural land conversion; grazing; fire occurrence and suppression; invasive plant species; climate change; recreational and pest control shooting; plague; poisoning; and lack of existing regulatory mechanisms.
While white-tailed prairie dog populations are likely below historical levels, their overall distribution has not substantially changed. Large acreages of occupied habitat exist across the species’ range, particularly in Wyoming.
Due to its widespread distribution and extent of development, oil and gas activities will have the greatest potential to impact the white-tailed prairie dog. However, large populations persist in many of these areas. The majority of white-tailed prairie dog habitat has a low potential for direct solar resources development, and only a small portion of the species’ range is currently impacted by wind development. Projected future renewable energy development is small in regard to the species’ range. The Service does not expect oil shale, tar sands, coal and other mineral extraction activities to impact a large portion of the species’ range.
Urbanization, agricultural conversion, grazing, fire occurrence and suppression, and climate change within the range of the white-tailed prairie dog have occurred and will continue to occur in the future. Urbanization will have an effect on some local populations, particularly in Colorado, but is not considered a range-wide threat. Agricultural land conversion was likely a major historical impact on the species; however, currently very limited land is being converted to agricultural uses. Grazing is likely to impact some areas, but there is no evidence to indicate it is a significant threat. We anticipate that the impacts of fire to white-tailed prairie dogs will vary locally across the species’ range; however, the prairie dog is able to use the mosaic of habitats created by fire and fire suppression activities, and thus we do not believe that fire occurrence or suppression is a significant threat. A net loss of habitat is not expected to result from climate change.
It is likely that invasive plant species will have localized impact on individual white-tailed prairie dog habitats, but are not considered a significant threat to the species.
Plague occurs throughout the range of the white-tailed prairie dog. However, there is no evidence that plague has eliminated white-tailed prairie dogs from large portions of its range after more than 70 years of exposure to the disease.
White-tailed prairie dogs, due to their distribution and reproductive patterns are less affected by recreational and pest control shooting than other species of prairie dogs. Effects of recreational shooting may be high on specific, easily accessible, localized colonies; however, the Service does not expect these effects to occur equally across the species’ range or to significantly threaten the species.
Poisoning of white-tailed prairie dogs has historically occurred throughout the species’ range. Poisoning in all states became less common after Federal regulation of pesticides was enacted. White-tailed prairie dogs may have the capability to rebound from control efforts. Their scattered distribution and behavioral patterns may provide them with some protection from poisoning efforts. Therefore, the Service does not believe poisoning to be a significant threat to the species.
States across the range of the white-tailed prairie dog are actively involved in research and monitoring of white-tailed prairie dog populations under the direction of the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (WAFWA) Conservation Agreement and state-specific management plans.
Federal agencies have few regulations for the protection of the white-tailed prairie dog. Oil and gas surface restrictions employed by some states will likely help mitigate the impacts of development on prairie dog populations. Poisoning is banned or closely controlled on Federal lands. The Service has no information to indicate the lack of protective measures is a significant threat to the species.
In 2004, the Service determined that a petition submitted by the Center for Native Ecosystems and others did not present substantial biological information indicating that listing may be warranted. In 2007, after questions were raised regarding whether the petition decision was based on the best science, the Service announced the decision would be reconsidered. Subsequently, the Center for Native Ecosystems filed a lawsuit regarding the petition finding. In a stipulated settlement, the Service agreed to submit to the Federal Register by May 1, 2008, a notice initiating a status review for the white-tailed prairie dog and submit the results of that status review to the Federal Register by June 1, 2010.
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.
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 Service previously considered petitions to list the black-tailed prairie dog and determined it does not warrant protection as a threatened or endangered species under the Endangered Species Act.
For more information regarding the white-tailed prairie dog, please visit our web site at http://www.fws.gov/mountain-prairie/species/mammals/wtprairiedog/
The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect and enhance fish, wildlife, plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. We are both a leader and trusted partner in fish and wildlife conservation, known for our scientific excellence, stewardship of lands and natural resources, dedicated professionals and commitment to public service. For more information on our work and the people who make it happen, visit www.fws.gov.