Office of External Affairs
Mountain-Prairie Region

NEWS RELEASE

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Mountain-Prairie Region
134 Union Boulevard
Lakewood, Colorado 80228

For Release on April 25, 2012

U.S. FISH AND WILDLIFE SERVICE REVISES THE UTAH PRAIRIE DOG RECOVERY PLAN AND ISSUES PROPOSED REVISIONS AND DRAFT ENVIRONMENTAL ASSESSMENT ON RULE TO AMEND TAKE ALLOWANCES FOR THE UTAH PRAIRIE DOG

Contacts: Laura Romin; 801-975-3330 X 142
                 
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today announced the release of a final revised Recovery Plan for the threatened Utah Prairie Dog (Cynomys parvidens) , and proposed to revise a special rule governing management of the species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).  The new recovery plan and proposed amendments to the special management rule reflect the latest scientific information and would provide additional flexibility to address local concerns about impacts from Utah prairie dogs to human safety and property, as well as agricultural operations.

The original recovery plan for the Utah prairie dog was approved in 1991.  Since that time, the Service has collected new scientific information and established new partnerships that will contribute to the species’ recovery.  The revised plan describes actions considered necessary for the species’ recovery, establishes criteria for delisting, and estimates the time and cost for implementing recovery actions. 

The Service is also reopening the comment period on the existing special rule issued in 1991 under authority of Section 4(d) of the ESA, to allow the public to review and comment on an amendment to the rule made to address previous comments by the public and scientific peer reviewers.  The Service will also release a draft Environmental Assessment of the proposed actions and opening a 30-day public comment period.

“The proposed amendment will help us conserve and recover the Utah prairie dog in accordance with the new recovery plan, while allowing landowners to maintain their standard agricultural practices.  At the same time, the proposed amendment will enable local communities to control prairie dogs in areas where human safety or the sanctity of human burial sites is a concern.” said Stephen Guertin, Regional Director of the Service’s Mountain-Prairie Region. 

Under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), the Service, as delegated by the Secretary of the Interior, may develop a “special rule” that specifies protections deemed necessary and advisable to provide for the conservation of threatened species.  When the Utah prairie dog was reclassified as threatened, the Service issued a special rule last amended in 1991 that allows limited take of Utah prairie dogs between June 1 and December 31 that may occur as a result of agricultural practices on lands throughout the species’ range.  The special rule was implemented to relieve population pressures in overcrowded portions of the Utah prairie dog’s range, due to agricultural practices that made the habitat more productive than it was historically. The special rule was designed to minimize impacts to agricultural operations from unnaturally high densities of prairie dogs, increase midwinter survival rates for the species by reducing competition for food and prevent widespread illegal killing by frustrated farmers.

Under the existing special rule, take is permitted by the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (UDWR).  The UDWR has never authorized the current rule’s maximum allowed take and has exercised caution to ensure any permitted take is consistent with the species’ recovery needs.  The Service’s proposed amendment would largely institutionalize existing UDWR practices regarding take, while providing incidental take exemptions for otherwise legal activities associated with standard agricultural practices.  The Service is also proposing to allow take of Utah prairie dogs in areas where the species may cause serious human safety hazards or disturb the sanctity of human burial sites, provided that reasonable efforts have been made to fence out, trap and translocate prairie dogs by the affected landowner.

Public comments or data on the proposed rule will be accepted until May 29, 2012.  Comments or data can be submitted: electronically via the Federal eRulemaking Portal at: http://www.regulations.gov (search the docket for FWS-R6-ES-2011-0030), or can be mailed or hand delivered to Public Comments Processing, Attn: FWS-R6-ES-2011-0030; Division of Policy and Directives Management; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; 4401 N. Fairfax Drive, Suite 222; Arlington, VA 22203.

A copy of the proposed rule, the draft Environmental Assessment, and other information about the Utah prairie dog is available on the Internet at http://www.fws.gov/mountain-prairie/species/mammals/UTprairiedog/index.htm or by contacting Utah Field Office at 2369 West Orton Circle, West Valley City, Utah 84119 (telephone 801/975 3330; facsimile 801/975‑3331.  The proposed rule is published in today’s Federal Register.

The Utah prairie dog is the western most member of the genus Cynomys and has the most restricted range of the four prairie dog species in the United States.  Historically, the species’ distribution included portions of Beaver, Garfield, Iron, Kane, Juab, Millard, Piute, Sanpete, Sevier, Washington, and Wayne Counties.  Utah prairie dog populations began to decline when control programs were initiated in the 1920s, and by the 1960s the species’ distribution was greatly reduced as a result of poisoning, sylvatic plague (a nonnative disease), drought, and habitat alteration induced by agricultural and grazing activities.  Today, Utah prairie dogs are limited to the central and southwestern quarter of Utah in portions of seven counties -- Beaver, Garfield, Iron, Kane, Piute, Sevier, and Wayne Counties

The Utah prairie dog was listed as an endangered species in 1973.  In 1984, we reclassified the species as threatened.  Primary threats are habitat loss from urban development and loss of prairie dog colonies from plague outbreaks. 

Utah prairie dog populations are stable to increasing.  Recent population estimates are among the highest recorded since listing.  Specifically, five of the seven highest years recorded since 1985 have occurred since 2005.  

As a keystone species, prairie dogs have a large effect on the ecosystem.  Prairie dogs decrease vegetation height and increase landscape heterogeneity.  Burrowing and excavation mixes the soil and promotes uptake of nitrogen by plants.  The burrow and mound systems change soil chemistry by increasing the porosity of the soil to allow deep penetration of precipitation, and increasing the incorporation of organic materials into the soil.  Several wildlife species such as burrowing owls (Athene cunicularia), rabbits (Lepus spp.), ground squirrels (Spermophilus spp.), weasels (Mustela spp.), and badgers (Taxidea taxus) also rely on the habitat conditions created by Utah prairie dog colonies, and frequently use their burrows.


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 http://www.fws.gov/mountain-prairie/.

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