Species Description: Prairie dogs occur only in North America. They are rodents within the squirrel family and include five species--the white-tailed prairie dog (Cynomys leucurus), the black-tailed prairie dog (Cynomys ludovicianus), the Gunnison prairie dog (Cynomys gunnisoni), the Utah prairie dog (Cynomys parvidens), and the Mexican prairie dog (Cynomys mexicanus).
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. White-tailed prairie dogs have a looser social structure and occur at a lower density then black-tailed prairie dogs.
Location: 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 prairie dogs are generally found at altitudes ranging between 5,000 and 10,000 feet in desert grasslands and shrub grasslands. Conversely, the 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.
Recent Actions: On May 26, 2010 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 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.
As part of the review, the Service reviewed all the available scientific and commercial information regarding the status white-tailed prairie dog and assessed potential impacts to the white-tailed prairie dog including oil and gas exploration and development; development of oil, 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 regulatory mechanisms.
Although these impacts have affected some populations of white-tailed prairie dog, none have reduced populations throughout all or a significant portion of the species’ range indicating that protection under the Endangered Species Act is warranted.
Previous Actions: In May 2008, the Fish and Wildlife Service initiated a status review of the white-tailed prairie dog to determine if the species warrants protection under the Endangered Species Act. 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 Service and the plaintiffs agreed to a status review completion date of June 2010 to allow sufficient time to obtain solid data.