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The Mountain-Prairie Region

NEWS RELEASE

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
134 Union Boulevard
Lakewood, Colorado 80228

August 24,1998

Ted Owens (FWS) (801) 524-5001x144
Roy Urie (ICC) (435) 586-9782
Becky Bonebrake (BLM) (435) 865-3087
Deb O’Neill (UDWR) (435) 865-6100

 

U.S. FISH AND WILDLIFE SERVICE APPROVES HABITAT CONSERVATION PLAN DEVELOPED BY IRON COUNTY COMMISSION AND UTAH DIVISION OF WILDLIFE RESOURCES

Working together, the Iron County Commission, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, and U.S. Bureau of Land Management, with approval of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, developed a Habitat Conservation Plan that promotes recovery of the threatened Utah prairie dog while still allowing for further human development in prairie dog habitat.

In early July 1998, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued an incidental take permit to the Iron County Commission and the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources for the "take" (removal and translocation) of Utah prairie dogs. The permit will allow residents in Iron County to develop private property which constitutes current or historical Utah prairie dog habitat. It will also allow Utah prairie dogs to be reduced at sites where their numbers are incompatible with human uses, such as cemeteries and baseball fields.

By law, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials cannot issue an incidental take permit until a plan outlining adequate measures to offset the loss of habitat and animals has been developed and approved, and its implementation assured. Under the plan, Iron County has committed to many measures to offset the loss of Utah prairie dogs, including funding and employing technicians to translocate Utah prairie dogs from development sites and improving Utah prairie dog habitat on BLM-administered public land. Iron County, with the aid of the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, will also conduct annual information and education meetings for county employees and the public and to disseminate information concerning Utah prairie dogs, the Iron County HCP and incidental take permit.

In accordance with the incidental take permit issued, Utah prairie dogs will be removed from approved sites by biologists using live-trapping prior to development. These animals will be released at translocation sites on public lands administered by the BLM where starter burrows and vegetation treatments have been conducted to benefit them. Translocated colonies will serve two purposes. First, they will provide opportunities for research into relationships among Utah prairie dogs, vegetation, and management prescriptions. Second, it is expected that many translocated colonies will become self-sufficient and contribute to the eventual recovery of the species.

At the core of the county wide HCP is a Conservation Strategy that complements the existing recovery plan and that outlines efforts for at least the next 5 years. Portions of the strategy, which the Iron County HCP will help implement, include habitat improvement in association with existing Utah prairie dog colonies on BLM land, development of new Utah prairie dog habitat on BLM land that is suitable to receive Utah prairie dogs translocated from nonfederal land, research to monitor translocation success, and public involvement in Utah prairie dog recovery efforts.

During the first 5-7 years of the permit, research on translocation and habitat management will be the focus. During the remaining 20 years of the permit, the emphasis will be on managing Utah prairie dogs and their habitat by applying the best techniques learned from research during the first stage of the HCP and Conservation Strategy. The anticipated need for Utah prairie dogs at approved translocation sites for the first five years of implementation ranges from 200 to 1,000 animals per year.

The HCP addresses both permanent take (loss of habitat) and non-permanent take (reduction of Utah prairie dogs due to relocation, but no loss of habitat). The limit of permanent take is to be determined by several factors: the number of complexes in existence on BLM land, the percentage of BLM land habitat managed for Utah prairie dogs, and a minimum number of adult Utah prairie dogs on BLM land colonies. The amount of permanent take allowed will depend upon how well Utah prairie dogs are faring on BLM land. This approach provides an incentive to ensure Utah prairie dogs are being managed properly on BLM land. Allowable levels of permanent take of habitat and/or animals on nonfederal property will depend upon successful creation of new habitat and establishment of Utah prairie dogs on BLM land such that there is, at the very least, no net loss of habitat potential.

Federal, state, and local officials agree that successful implementation of the HCP may ultimately lead to species recovery on BLM land. Recovery is defined as the point at which the Utah prairie dog will not need protection under the Endangered Species Act, and will subsequently be removed from the list of threatened and endangered species.

Accompanying each building permit issued in Iron County will be an HCP participation election form to be signed by the applicant. This form will include information as to what is agreed upon in the HCP as it relates to the building process. Applicants for building permits may choose whether or not they will accept the Iron County HCP’s conditions. However, if they choose not to accept the plan’s requirements, they will not be granted protection from potential Endangered Species Act violations.

The Utah prairie dog is a threatened species native to, and found only in southwestern and south-central Utah. Listed as endangered in 1973, the species was reclassified as threatened in 1984.


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