[Federal Register: February 21, 2007 (Volume 72, Number 34)]
[Proposed Rules]               
[Page 7843-7852]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]

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Fish and Wildlife Service

50 CFR Part 17

Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; 90-Day Finding on 
a Petition To Reclassify the Utah Prairie Dog From Threatened to 
Endangered and Initiation of a 5-Year Review

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice of 90-day petition finding and initiation of a 5-year 


SUMMARY: We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), announce a 
90-day finding on a petition to reclassify the Utah prairie dog 
(Cynomys parvidens) from threatened to endangered under the Endangered 
Species Act of 1973, as amended (Act). We find that the petition does 
not provide substantial scientific or commercial information indicating 
that reclassification of the Utah prairie dog from threatened to 
endangered may be warranted. Therefore, we are not initiating a further 
status review in response to this petition. We are, however, initiating 
a 5-year review under section 4(c)(2)(A) of the Act for this species 
because such a review has not been conducted in the last 5 years. We 
ask the public to submit to us any new information that becomes 
available concerning the status of the Utah prairie dog or threats to 
the species.

DATES: The 90-day finding announced in this document was made on 
February 21, 2007. Comments and information for the 5-year review must 
be submitted on or before April 23, 2007.

ADDRESSES: The petition, administrative finding, supporting data, and 
comments will be available for public inspection, by appointment, 
during normal business hours at the Utah Ecological Services Field 
Office, 2369 West Orton Circle, Suite 50, West Valley City, UT 84119. 
The petition and finding are available on our Web site at http://mountain-prairie.fws.gov/species/mammals/utprairiedog/

    If you wish to comment, you may submit your comments and materials 
by any one of the following methods:
    (1) You may mail or hand-deliver written comments and information 
to Field Supervisor, Utah Ecological Services Office, at the address 
given above.
    (2) You may submit your comments by electronic mail (e-mail) to 
utahprairiedog@fws.gov. For directions on how to submit comments by e-

mail, see the ``Public Comments Solicited'' section of this notice. In 
the event that our Internet connection is not functional, please submit 
your comments by mail, hand-delivery, or fax.
    (3) You may fax your comments to (801) 975-3331.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Larry Crist, Field Supervisor, Utah 
Ecological Services Field Office (see ADDRESSES) (telephone 801-975-
3330; facsimile 801-975-3331). Persons who use a telecommunications 
device for the deaf (TDD) may call the Federal Information Relay 
Service (FIRS) at 800-877-8339.



    Section 4(b)(3)(A) of the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as 
amended (16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.) (Act), requires that we make a finding 
on whether a petition to list, delist, or reclassify a species presents 
substantial scientific or commercial information indicating that the 
petitioned action may be warranted. We are to base this finding on 
information provided in the petition and supporting information 
available in our files at the time of the petition review. To the 
maximum extent practicable, we are to make this finding within 90 days 
of our receipt of the petition, and publish our notice of this finding 
promptly in the Federal Register.
    Our standard for substantial information within the Code of Federal 
Regulations (CFR) with regard to a 90-day petition finding is ``that 
amount of information that would lead a reasonable person to believe 
that the measure proposed in the petition may be warranted'' (50 CFR 
424.14(b)). If we find that substantial information was presented, we 
are required to promptly commence a review of the status of the 
    In making this finding, we relied on information provided by the 
petitioners and evaluated that information in accordance with 50 CFR 
424.14(b). Our 90-day finding process under section 4(b)(3)(A) of the 
Act and Sec.  424.14(b) of our regulations is limited to a 
determination of whether the information in the petition meets the 
``substantial information'' threshold. A substantial finding should be 
made when the Service deems that adequate and reliable information has 
been presented that would lead a reasonable person to believe that the 
petitioned action may be warranted. In making our determination on the 
petition evaluated in this 90 day finding, which petitions us to 
reclassify the Utah prairie dog from threatened to endangered, we have 
made our determination on whether the petition presents substantial 
scientific and commercial information indicating the species is in 
danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its 


    On February 3, 2003, we received a petition submitted by Forest 
Guardians, Center for Native Ecosystems, Escalante Wilderness Project, 
Boulder Regional Group, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, and Terry 
Tempest Williams (Petitioners) requesting that we reclassify the Utah 
prairie dog from threatened to endangered. We acknowledged receipt of 
the petition in a letter to Nicole Rosmarino on November 21, 2003. In 
that letter we also advised the Petitioners that, due to prior listing 
allocations in fiscal years 2003 and 2004, we would not be able to 
begin processing the petition in a timely manner.
    On February 2, 2004, we received a Notice of Intent to sue from the 
Petitioners for failure to issue the 90-day finding. On February 2, 
2006, the Petitioners filed a complaint for injunctive and declaratory 
relief in the United States District Court for the District of 
Columbia. On June 2, 2006, the parties reached a settlement agreement 
that requires the Service to make a 90-day finding on the petition on 
or before February 17, 2007. This finding constitutes our compliance 
with the settlement agreement.

Species Information

    Prairie dogs belong to the Sciuridae family of rodents, which also 
includes squirrels, chipmunks, and marmots. There are five species of 
prairie dogs, all of which are native to North America, and all of 
which have non-overlapping geographic ranges (Hoogland 2003, p. 232). 
Taxonomically, prairie dogs (Cynomys spp.) are divided into two 
subgenera: The white-tail and black-tail. The Utah prairie dog (C. 
parvidens) is a member of the white-tail group, subgenus 
Leucocrossuromys. Other members of this group, which also occur in 
Utah, are the white-tailed prairie dog (C. leucurus) and the Gunnison 
prairie dog (C. gunnisoni). The Utah prairie dog is distinguished by a 
relatively short (30 to 70 millimeters (mm)/1.2 to 2.8 inches (in)) 
white- or gray-tipped tail (Pizzimenti and Collier 1975, p. 1; Hoogland 
2003, p. 232). The Utah prairie dog is most closely related to the 
white-tailed prairie dog, and chromosomal and biochemical data suggest 
that these two species may once have belonged to a single interbreeding

[[Page 7844]]

species (Pizzimenti 1975, p. 16). The two species are now separated by 
ecological and physiographic barriers. Both Chesser (1984, p. 4) and 
Ritchie and Brown (2005, p. 11) found that genetic variance within Utah 
prairie dog populations is very low, less than half that commonly 
observed for black-tailed prairie dogs (C. ludovicianus). This may be 
the result of genetic drift on small populations (Chesser 1984, p. 5).

Life History

    Detailed information on the life history of the Utah prairie dog 
can be found in our May 29, 1984, final rule to reclassify the species 
as threatened (49 FR 22330), in the recovery plan for the species 
(Service 1991a), and on our Web site at http://mountain-prairie.fws.gov/species/mammals/utprairiedog/.
 A brief synopsis of 

information on the species' life history that is relevant to this 
finding follows:
    Utah prairie dogs are true hibernators, ceasing most surface 
activity during harsh winter months. Female Utah prairie dogs come into 
estrus (period of greatest female reproductive responsiveness usually 
coinciding with ovulation) and are sexually receptive for several hours 
for only 1 day during the breeding season (generally mid-March through 
early April). Consequently, only 67 percent of female prairie dogs wean 
a litter, and they have only one litter per year (Hoogland 2001, pp. 
919, 920). Litters range between 1 to 7 pups, but average between 3.88 
and 4.8 pups (Pizzimenti and Collier 1975, p. 2; Wright-Smith 1978, p. 
10; Hoogland 2001, p. 923). The young attain adult size by October and 
reach sexual maturity at the age of 1 year (Wright-Smith 1978, p. 9). 
Less than 50 percent of Utah prairie dogs survive to breeding age 
(Hoogland 2001, p. 919). Male Utah prairie dogs frequently cannibalize 
juveniles, which can eliminate 20 percent up to the entire litter 
before the pups first appear aboveground (Hoogland 2003, p. 238).
    After the first year, female survivorship is higher than male 
survivorship, though still low for both sexes. Only about 20 percent of 
females and less than 10 percent of males survive to age 4 (Hoogland 
2001, Figures 1 and 2, pp. 919-920). Such low survivorship severely 
limits prairie dog reproduction (Hoogland 2001, p. 921). Utah prairie 
dogs rarely live beyond 5 years (Hoogland 2001, p. 919).
    Utah prairie dogs are organized into social groups called clans, 
consisting of an adult male, several adult females, and their offspring 
(Wright-Smith 1978, p. 38). Clans maintain geographic territorial 
boundaries, which only the young regularly cross, although all animals 
use common feeding grounds.

Habitat Requirements

    Available moisture and prairie dog abundance and density are 
positively correlated (Crocker-Bedford 1976, pp. 71-72). Prairie dogs 
appear to prefer swale type formations where moist herbage is available 
even during drought periods (Collier 1975, p. 43; Crocker-Bedford and 
Spillett 1981, p. 24). Soil characteristics are also an important 
factor in the location of Utah prairie dog colonies. A well-drained 
area is necessary for home burrows. The soil should be deep enough to 
allow burrowing to depths sufficient to provide protection from 
predators and insulation from environmental and temperature extremes. 
Prairie dogs must be able to inhabit a burrow system 1 meter (m) [3.3 
feet (ft)] underground without becoming wet. Prairie dogs will avoid 
areas where brushy species dominate, and will eventually decline or 
disappear in areas invaded by brush (Collier 1975, pp. 44, 59; Player 
and Urness 1983, p. 522).

Food Habits

    Prairie dogs are predominantly herbivores, and they prefer alfalfa 
and grasses during all seasons (Crocker-Bedford and Spillett 1981, p. 
8). Grasses are the staple of their annual diet, with forbs being 
preferred in summer and fall. Although forbs, other than alfalfa, are 
not always highly preferred items throughout the year, they may be 
critical to a prairie dog colony's survival during drought. Ritchie and 
Brown (2005, p. 7) found that plant seeding in Utah prairie dog 
transplant areas increased plant diversity and prairie dogs were more 
likely to use or persist in seeded areas.

Current Distribution and Numbers

    The Utah prairie dog is the westernmost member of the genus 
Cynomys. The species' range, which is limited to the southwestern 
quarter of Utah, is currently the most restricted of all prairie dog 
species in the United States. As could best be ascertained by Collier 
(1975, pp. 15-17), the species' distribution was much broader prior to 
control programs and at one time extended across the desert almost to 
the Nevada-Utah State line. Collier and Spillett (1975, p. 151) 
estimate a 50 percent range reduction from 1925 to 1975, with the 
greatest declines occurring in the western and northern parts of the 
range. However, due to the lack of data from the early to mid 1900s, 
this estimate is speculative.
    Factors that resulted in the historical decline of Utah prairie 
dogs were poisoning, which removed Utah prairie dogs from approximately 
8,094 hectares (ha) [20,000 acres (ac)] of their range in Sevier, 
Wayne, Garfield, and Iron Counties prior to 1963; drought; habitat 
alteration, primarily in the form of cultivation to agricultural crops; 
shooting; and disease (Collier and Spillett 1972, pp. 33-35). Major 
predators include coyotes (Canis latrans), badgers (Taxidea taxis), 
long-tailed weasels (Mustela frenata), various raptor species, and 
prairie rattlesnakes (Crotalus viridis) (Service 1991a, p. 9; Hoogland 
2001, p. 922). In established colonies, predators probably do not exert 
a controlling influence on numbers of prairie dogs (Collier and 
Spillett 1972, p. 36). Long-term overgrazing, drought, disease 
(plague), and competition with Uinta ground squirrels (Spermophilus 
armatus) have contributed to larger-scale historic declines in prairie 
dog numbers, including loss of entire colonies (Service 1991a, pp. 11-
    Historically, Utah prairie dog colonies were found as far west as 
Pine and Buckskin Valleys in Beaver and Iron Counties, and may have 
occurred as far north as Nephi, Utah, southeast to Bryce Canyon 
National Park, east to the foothills of the Aquarius Plateau, and south 
to the northern borders of Kane and Washington Counties (Pizzimenti and 
Collier 1975, p. 1). Prior to 1920, the species occurred within 
approximately 713 map sections (184,666 ha/456,320 ac) in 10 areas of 
southwestern Utah (Collier 1975, p. 15). In 1971, Collier (1975, p. 15) 
determined the species occurred within 96 sections (24,863 ha/61,440 
ac), based on landowner questionnaires. The 1920 and 1971 habitat 
estimates are misleading because they assume all 640 acres within a 
section are occupied if the occurrence of Utah prairie dogs was 
reported from that section, regardless of actual numbers or 
distribution within the section. We believe the best information 
concerning actual Utah prairie dog habitat is from ongoing mapping 
efforts conducted by the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (UDWR). 
UDWR has mapped 17,444 ha (43,106 ac) of habitat throughout the current 
and historic Utah prairie dog range; however, current occupancy has not 
been verified for this mapped habitat area, or for other areas of 
historic habitat. The total number of Utah prairie dogs was estimated 
to be 95,000 animals prior to control programs in the 1920s (McDonald 
1993, p. 2). However, estimates of the size of former populations are 
difficult to make

[[Page 7845]]

because no formal censuses were conducted prior to 1976.
    The Utah prairie dog currently occurs in three areas within 
southwestern Utah, which are designated as recovery areas: (1) The 
Awapa Plateau; (2) the Paunsaugunt region, along the east fork and main 
stem of the Sevier River; and, (3) the West Desert region of eastern 
Iron County, with a few isolated colonies existing in mountain and 
desert valleys in eastern Iron and Beaver Counties (Pizzimenti and 
Collier 1975, p. 1). For more information on these recovery areas, 
refer to our recovery plan for the species (Service 1991a). Although 
the abundance of the species in the three recovery areas vary 
considerably from year to year, the overall species' population 
abundance is considered stable. Below we describe each of the recovery 
areas. Counts are conducted in the spring prior to emergence of the 
pups and represent adults only. Crocker-Bedford (1975 page 6) estimate 
that only 40 to 60% of Utah prairie dogs are above ground at any one 
time. Therefore, these spring counts represent approximately 50% of the 
adult population.
    The Awapa Plateau Recovery Area encompasses portions of Piute, 
Garfield, Wayne, and Sevier Counties. Spring counts conducted from 1976 
through 2005 have varied from 201 to 1,145 animals; in 2005, UDWR 
counted 571 animals on 32 colonies (15 occupied) (UDWR 2005).
    The Paunsaugunt Recovery Area includes public and private lands 
primarily in Garfield County, with a small area of Iron County. Spring 
counts conducted from 1976 through 2005 have varied from 652 to 2,205 
animals; in 2005, UDWR counted a low of 652 animals on 27 colonies (14 
occupied) (UDWR 2005).
    The West Desert Recovery Area is primarily in Iron County, but 
extends into southern Beaver County and northern Washington County. 
Spring counts conducted from 1976 through 2005 have varied from 610 to 
4,778 animals; in 2005, UDWR counted 4,158 animals on 34 colonies (27 
occupied) (UDWR 2005).

Previous Federal Actions

    We listed the Utah prairie dog as an endangered species on June 4, 
1973 (38 FR 14678), pursuant to the Endangered Species Conservation Act 
of 1969. On November 5, 1979, the UDWR petitioned the Service to remove 
the Utah prairie dog from the List of Endangered and Threatened 
Wildlife. The Service found that this petition contained substantial 
scientific and commercial information, and the species was reclassified 
from endangered to threatened on May 29, 1984 (49 FR 22330). As part of 
that May 29, 1984, rule, we promulgated a special rule under section 
4(d) of the Act to allow the regulated take of up to 5,000 animals 
annually. On June 14, 1991, we published a final rule amending the 
special rule to allow regulated take of up to 6,000 animals annually 
throughout the species' range (56 FR 27438).

Threats Analysis

    Under section 4(a) of the Act, we may list a species on the basis 
of five threat factors: (A) Present or threatened destruction, 
modification, or curtailment of its habitat or range; (B) 
overutilization for commercial, recreational, scientific, or 
educational purposes; (C) disease or predation; (D) inadequacy of 
existing regulatory mechanisms; or (E) other natural or manmade factors 
affecting its continued existence. Listing actions may be warranted 
based on any of the above threat factors, either singly or in 
    Under the Act, a threatened species is defined as a species which 
is likely to become an endangered species within the foreseeable future 
throughout all or a significant portion of its range. An endangered 
species is defined as a species which is in danger of extinction 
throughout all or a significant portion of its range. Therefore, we 
evaluate each of the five listing factors to determine whether the 
level of threat identified by information in the petition and in our 
files substantiates an increase in threat level to the extent that 
uplisting of the Utah prairie dog from threatened to endangered may be 

A. Present or Threatened Destruction, Modification, or Curtailment of 
Its Habitat or Range

    The Petitioners state that threats to the species' habitat included 
the following: (1) Loss of historic range, urbanization, land 
conversion, and sale of State lands; (2) livestock grazing, resulting 
in conversion of grasslands to shrublands; depletion of forage; 
degradation of riparian areas; proliferation of weeds; alteration of 
fire ecology; and impacts to soils; (3) road construction, off-highway 
vehicle (OHV) use, and recreation; (4) oil, gas, and mineral 
development and seismic exploration; and (5) impacts of isolation and 
Loss of Historic Range, Urbanization, Land Conversion, and Sale of 
State Lands
    The Petitioners state that mapped (or estimated) Utah prairie dog 
habitat has declined from 181,299 to 2,824 ha (448,000 to 6,977 ac) as 
of 1975, and that at the time the petition was developed, only 31 
percent of Utah prairie dog habitat was on public lands where recovery 
efforts are concentrated (Rosmarino 2003, p. 54). The Petitioners state 
that much of the historic, high-quality Utah prairie dog habitat was in 
valleys, where crop agriculture and urban activities and expansion have 
historically occurred or are ongoing (Rosmarino 2003, p. 55). The 
Petitioners identify habitat loss due to urbanization as a concern, 
particularly in Iron County in the West Desert Recovery Area (Rosmarino 
2003, pp. 55-56). According to the petition, this recovery area has the 
highest percentage of Utah prairie dogs located on private land and 
also is undergoing the highest rate of municipal development when 
compared to any other area in Utah prairie dog range. Petitioners state 
that, between 1990 and 2000, the human population growth rate was 62.5 
percent in Iron County, and that Garfield and Beaver County's 
populations increased by 19 and 26 percent respectively. The 
petitioners discuss various projects that resulted in translocation of 
Utah prairie dogs and loss of their habitat. These include legal 
activities performed under the Iron County Habitat Conservation Plan 
(HCP) section 10(a)(1)(A) permit, and 11 other actions legally 
authorized through section 7 consultation. They also cite UDWR records 
of 7 colonies illegally destroyed during 1995 and 1996. While the 
Petitioners are mainly concerned with increasing development on private 
lands, they also cite U.S. Forest Service (USFS) concerns regarding 
increased impacts from development on private lands adjacent to public 
lands, including golf course and cabin site development. The 
Petitioners state that there is also increased all-terrain vehicle 
(ATV) usage from private housing developments resulting in impacts to 
the species (Reference, p. 57). The Petitioners are concerned that 
School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA) lands 
containing Utah prairie dog habitat are being sold to private 
landowners and, therefore, are not safe from future development 
(Rosmarino 2003, pp. 75-76).
    We believe that the Petitioners' assessment of the extent of 
historic habitat loss is inaccurate. It is based on

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the statement by Collier (1975, p. 15) that Utah prairie dogs at one 
time occurred within 713 sections of land. However, much of the area 
within those sections contains unsuitable habitat and was never 
occupied by prairie dogs. Therefore, estimating historic habitat on the 
total number of acres within those 713 sections (184,666 ha/456,320 ac) 
is misleading. The majority of Utah prairie dogs still occur on private 
lands. However, through implementation of the Interim Conservation 
Strategy (ICS) (see Factor D discussion), the Recovery Team has made a 
substantial effort since 1997 to restore and enhance Utah prairie dog 
habitat on public lands. As of 2005, 37 percent of Utah prairie dogs 
occurred on public lands (UDWR 2005).
    We acknowledge that historic Utah prairie dog habitat has been lost 
due to agricultural conversion, a factor considered in our May 29, 
1984, reclassification of the species from endangered to threatened (49 
FR 22330). However, the Petitioners do not quantify areas lost to 
agriculture historically, and they do not provide any information on 
future losses from new agricultural developments. We do not have any 
information indicating that there have been any recent conversions of 
Utah prairie dog habitat to agricultural use. We also do not have any 
information indicating that development of private lands is occurring 
within the Utah prairie dog range, other than that legally authorized 
through HCP permits. The Iron County HCP permits a limited amount of 
development on private lands in prairie dog habitat. These losses are 
mitigated through restoration of habitat on Federal lands and the 
translocation of animals from impacted private lands to approved 
translocation sites on Federal lands. In addition, 97 ha (240 ac) of 
privately owned occupied habitat in the Parowan Valley have been 
protected in perpetuity through a conservation easement under the Iron 
County HCP and are managed for Utah prairie dogs (see further HCP 
discussion under Factor D).
    Although we do not dispute USFS accounts of increased activities on 
Federal lands as a result of nearby private developments, the 
Petitioners only identify one specific development in the Powell Ranger 
District that could negatively impact Utah prairie dogs, and we have no 
additional information in our files that shows impacts claimed by the 
Petitioner. Therefore, based on the best available date (i.e. only in 
this case), we believe these impacts are small and localized. The 
Petitioners provided no information to support loss on Federal lands 
due to recreational impacts. We also acknowledge that SITLA does sell 
parcels to private landowners, who then may propose development 
projects on these properties. However, we do not have information that 
historic or occupied Utah prairie dog habitat has been lost due to 
development occurring on SITLA lands that have been sold, and the 
Petitioners did not cite any pending sales on lands containing Utah 
prairie dog colonies. Recent activities on SITLA lands include the 
issuance of a perpetual conservation easement on 304 ha (750 ac) of 
Utah prairie dog habitat in the Awapa Plateau Recovery Area that will 
serve as a conservation bank.
Livestock Grazing
    The petition states that livestock grazing, particularly 
overgrazing, can degrade Utah prairie dog habitat by causing shrub 
encroachment, reducing grass cover and vegetative biomass, degrading 
riparian areas, facilitating noxious weed proliferation, altering fire 
ecology, damaging cryptobiotic crusts (communities of cyanobacteria, 
green algae, lichens, mosses, liverworts, and microorganisms that 
colonize the surface of bare soil), and degrading soil conditions 
(Rosmarino 2003, pp. 57-75). The Petitioners state that mechanical or 
chemical shrub encroachment treatments may not ultimately result in a 
decrease in shrub vegetative production (Rosmarino 2003, p. 60). The 
petition states that spring grazing regimes may be particularly harmful 
to cool-season grasses preferred by Utah prairie dogs (Rosmarino 2003, 
pp. 61-62), and the Petitioners allege that direct grazing and 
trampling of moist swales and riparian areas can impact prairie dog 
persistence in these areas (Rosmarino 2003, pp. 63-64).
    The Petitioners state that grazing can result in the spread of 
noxious weeds through direct dispersal of weed seeds in cattle fur or 
dung, and that opening areas to grazing makes them more susceptible to 
colonization and growth of weedy species. The Petitioners also assert 
that grazing reduces competition from native species by preferentially 
foraging cattle on them (Rosmarino 2003, pp. 64-69). The petition 
states that noxious weeds are a problem throughout Utah prairie dog 
range on both Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and USFS lands (Rosmarino 
2003, pp. 68-69), and the Petitioners allege that areas dominated by 
the exotic annual cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum) are 10 to 500 times more 
likely to experience wildfire. The petition also makes a number of 
claims related to grazing leading to a reduction in fire frequency, 
facilitating shrub encroachment (Rosmarino 2003, pp. 69-70), and 
destroying soil crusts, which result in increased erosion, decreased 
nutrient cycling, reduction in ground cover, and soil compaction 
(Rosmarino 2003, pp. 70-75).
    We concur that livestock grazing can have an effect on various 
attributes of prairie dog habitat and food supply; however, these 
effects can be positive as well as negative. While the petitioners cite 
numerous general references related to the types of impacts that 
grazing can have on vegetation and soils, they don't provide any 
specific references to show that grazing is negatively impacting Utah 
prairie dogs, or that such effects are becoming more severe, to the 
extent that uplisting may be warranted. Hoogland (2003, p. 239) notes 
that tall vegetation is more common in Gunnison and Utah prairie dog 
colonies than in black-tailed prairie dog colonies, and that it 
benefits the species by providing hiding cover. The Utah prairie dog 
vegetation guidelines have recently been revised to include a higher 
percentage of shrubs based on vegetative measurements in Utah prairie 
dog occupied habitats (Utah Prairie Dog Recovery Implementation Team 
[UPDRIT] 2006). Other studies suggest that prairie dog density is 
positively correlated with heavy grazing, which simulates the 
shortgrass environment preferred by prairie dogs (Fagerstone and Ramey 
1996, pp. 88, 92; Marsh 1994, p. 203; Slobodchikoff et al. 1988, p. 
406). A recent study of impacts on Utah prairie dogs of varying grazing 
intensities on the Awapa Plateau found that, although heavy grazing did 
not appear to impact burrow density, it did significantly decrease 
vigilance time (watchfulness or paying close and continuous attention), 
which could be detrimental to Utah prairie dogs (Elmore 2006, pp. 90, 
93). Furthermore, while we do not disagree that Utah prairie dogs 
prefer moist swale formations, the types of habitats occupied by Utah 
prairie dogs do not contain the structural complexity typical of 
riparian habitats, including defined channels and typical riparian 
vegetation consisting of trees and shrubs. The swales occupied by Utah 
prairie dogs tend to be dominated by grasses. The Petitioners provided 
no information regarding the impacts of grazing to swales, and we have 
no additional information in our files describing potential impacts of 
this activity to the species.
    McDonald (1993) recommended that studies be undertaken to evaluate 
livestock impacts and grazing regimes. He also recommended that 
species-specific vegetation objectives for transplant locations should 

[[Page 7847]]

developed, and that grazing management should be implemented 
appropriately to meet these vegetation objectives (McDonald 1993, p. 
60). Interim vegetation guidelines were identified in the Utah Prairie 
Dog ICS (UPDRIT 1997, Appendix 1, pp. 19-21) and were updated in 
January 2006, based on additional information from occupied colonies 
within various habitat types (UPDRIT 2006). Monitoring is occurring on 
Federal lands managed by the BLM Cedar City Field Office to determine 
if Utah prairie dog sites meet the guidelines. Habitat management 
actions are being undertaken at sites that do not meet vegetation 
objectives (for an example, see BLM 2004).
    The UPDRIT further developed recommendations specifically aimed at 
habitat improvement and research to determine more precise habitat 
suitability criteria (UPDRIT 1997, pp. 1, 5-12). Research was initiated 
in 2002 to identify appropriate grazing and vegetation management 
practices and to evaluate the effects of increasing plant diversity on 
survival of transplanted Utah prairie dogs. Preliminary results from 
the drought years of 2002 and 2003 showed that, under extreme drought 
conditions, forage utilization by livestock (cattle and sheep) of more 
than 33 percent of available forage led to dramatic declines of Utah 
prairie dog weight gains, overwinter survivorship, and reproduction. 
Conversely, seeding of rangeland to increase total plant and forb 
diversity by 33 to 40 percent almost doubled the density of 
transplanted prairie dogs in 2004 (Ritchie and Brown 2005, p. 2). 
Ritchie and Brown (2005) believe the results suggest that, at least 
under drought conditions, Utah prairie dogs are limited by available 
food, and that livestock grazing and range vegetation management 
practices may need to be adjusted to minimize impacts on Utah prairie 
dogs. Ritchie and Brown (2005, p. 15) also note that livestock grazing 
in early spring, fall, and winter is generally beneficial to Utah 
prairie dogs because it reduces horizontal cover, which allows animals 
to spend less time looking for predators. When this research is 
finalized, results will be used to develop final vegetation guidelines 
and other grazing and habitat management recommendations for the Utah 
Prairie Dog Recovery Plan.
    While we agree that habitat conditions are compromised in many 
areas, particularly on public lands, Utah prairie dog numbers continue 
to be within the range of historic fluctuations (UDWR 2005), and we 
have not seen large-scale population decreases. When the species was 
downlisted in 1984, the rangewide population estimate was 2,522 prairie 
dogs. The last spring range-wide count before the petition was 4,944 
adult animals, which represents 50% of the adult population (Crocker-
Bedford 1975, p. 6.). This represented a slight decrease from counts 
made between 1998 and 2000. As of 2005, 5,381 prairie dogs were 
counted. We have determined that the process set in place with the ICS, 
including research, habitat monitoring and manipulation, development of 
vegetation guidelines, and ultimately incorporation of realistic 
management recommendations into the Recovery Plan, will meet the goal 
of improving the persistence of Utah prairie dog colonies.
    In conclusion, we have determined that the petition did not present 
substantial scientific or commercial information indicating that 
livestock grazing that results in conversion of grasslands to 
shrublands, depletion of forage, degradation of riparian areas, 
proliferation of weeds, alteration of fire ecology, and impacts to 
soils may be a threat to the Utah prairie dog to the extent that 
uplisting from threatened to endangered under the Act may be warranted.
Roads, Off-Highway Vehicles (OHVs), and Recreation
    The Petitioners state that roads have a negative impact on Utah 
prairie dogs by facilitating direct mortalities through motor vehicle 
strikes, and through loss of habitat due to new road construction, 
paving and reconstruction of existing roads, and OHV use, which can 
cause direct disturbance to the animals as well as degradation of 
vegetation (Rosmarino 2003, pp. 76-78). The Petitioners assert that 
recreational use in Utah prairie dog habitat, including camping, 
hunting and fishing, OHV use, and hiking can lead to population 
declines or extirpation of colonies through direct disturbance or 
habitat loss. The Petitioners cite increased recreational activities, 
including actual and potential infrastructure development, such as 
parking lots, campgrounds, and road and trail improvements, on three 
USFS Ranger Districts (Rosmarino 2003, pp. 78-79).
    We acknowledge that direct mortality of prairie dogs occurs on 
roads, and higher mortalities occur in areas where paved highways 
intersect or pass near Utah prairie dog colonies. We also acknowledge 
that OHV use and other types of recreational use, including 
recreational infrastructure development, has occurred in Utah prairie 
dog habitat, resulting in habitat loss and possibly, in the instance of 
the Three Peaks colony, total extirpation of the colony (Service 
2005d). However, the Petitioners provided no information to quantify 
impacts from recreational activities, including roads, and we have no 
such information in our files. Direct mortality from roads was not 
identified as a threat in the May 29, 1984, reclassification of the 
species (49 FR 22330) or the recovery plan (Service 1991a). We believe 
that impacts of roads are limited to localized areas and do not result 
in population-level effects.
Oil, Gas, and Mineral Development and Seismic Exploration
    The Petitioners state that oil and gas exploration and extraction 
results in the degradation and loss of Utah prairie dog habitat through 
crushing of habitat, introduction of weeds, and increased soil erosion 
or soil compaction (Rosmarino 2003, p. 80). They also state that noise 
associated with seismic exploration, particularly in the low frequency 
sound range, could directly impact Utah prairie dogs (Rosmarino 2003, 
pp. 80-82). They cite a study on the effects of seismic exploration on 
Utah prairie dogs (Young and Sawyer 1981, p. 2), which expressed 
concerns about crushed vegetation, compacted soil, and the potential 
for disruption of hibernating prairie dogs (Rosmarino 2003, p. 87). The 
petition states that oil and gas leases are being offered in Millard 
and Sevier Counties within the Utah prairie dog's range (Rosmarino 
2003, p. 88). Mineral development, including shalestone and flagstone 
extraction, and geothermal leasing are cited as occurring within the 
range of the Utah prairie dog (Rosmarino 2003, pp. 88-89).
    We are aware that oil and gas leasing, seismic exploration, and 
other mineral development activities are occurring within the range of 
the Utah prairie dog. However, there is no scientific or commercial 
information either in the petition or in our files that quantifies the 
extent of these activities, or provides information on the actual 
infrastructure related to oil and gas development in occupied Utah 
prairie dog habitat. Although Young and Sawyer (1981, p. 2) expressed 
concerns (as identified in the petition) about seismic exploration, 
they concluded that any impact from seismic testing on Utah prairie 
dogs is negligible. In a similar study of white-tailed prairie dogs, 
Menkens and Anderson (1985, p. 13) concluded that there were negligible 
impacts from seismic exploration. To further minimize potential impacts 
of oil and gas activities on Utah prairie dogs, the Service and BLM 
have developed a set of avoidance and minimization

[[Page 7848]]

measures for Federal oil and gas leases within the range of the Utah 
prairie dog. These include no surface disturbance within 0.8 kilometer 
(km) [0.5 mile (mi)] of active Utah prairie dog colonies, and no 
permanent disturbance within 0.8 km (0.5 mi) of potentially suitable, 
unoccupied Utah prairie dog habitat (Service 2003). These measures 
currently apply to all BLM leasing activities within the Utah prairie 
dog's range, and lessees who follow these guidelines will be provided a 
streamlined section 7 consultation process. We believe that the 
incidences of mineral development cited in the petition are isolated 
activities and only affect small acreages of Utah prairie dog habitat. 
The petition therefore does not present substantial scientific 
information that these activities may be impacting the Utah prairie dog 
to the extent that uplisting from threatened to endangered under the 
Act may be warranted.
Impacts of Isolation and Fragmentation
    The petition states that due to loss and degradation of Utah 
prairie dog habitat, and the effects of extermination campaigns and 
plague, remaining prairie dog colonies tend to be isolated and 
fragmented. These small, isolated colonies are then more susceptible to 
local extirpation from factors such as sylvatic plague (Rosmarino 2003, 
p. 90). Factors such as low reproductive rate, genetic drift, and 
inbreeding may increase the potential for local extinctions (Rosmarino 
2003, pp. 91-93). The petition also states that individuals in larger 
colonies benefit from less time being devoted to predator detection.
    We concur that the majority of existing Utah prairie dog colonies 
are small, numbering fewer than 200 individuals (UDWR 2005). Plague is 
active across the landscape and results in colonies tending to increase 
in numbers for a period of years, decline to very small numbers 
following a plague event, and then increasing again (see further plague 
discussion under Factor C). However, the current number of active 
colonies, and the number of Utah prairie dogs counted in the spring of 
2005 (5,381 animals) (UDWR 2005), continues to be within the range of 
variation seen since counts began in 1976; therefore, we do not concur 
that small colony size is endangering the species. In summary, we have 
determined that the petition does not provide scientific or commercial 
information to support the assertion that small colony size and 
fragmentation may be a threat to the Utah prairie dog to the extent 
that uplisting from threatened to endangered under the Act may be 
Summary of Factor A
    We have determined that the information in the petition and 
available in our files does not constitute substantial scientific or 
commercial information that present or threatened destruction, 
modification, or curtailment of habitat is a threat to the Utah prairie 
dog to the extent that uplisting from threatened to endangered under 
the Act may be warranted. Many of the claims cited by the Petitioners 
constitute small, localized impacts on specific Utah prairie dog 
colonies. We recognize the potential for future private land 
development due to the large percentage of private lands within the 
West Desert Recovery Area, and will continue to monitor the status of 
Utah prairie dog colonies in that area closely. We also will continue 
our efforts to conserve prairie dog habitat on private lands and to 
develop new colonies on public lands. We acknowledge that it is likely 
that some livestock grazing regimes, particularly under drought 
conditions, may adversely affect Utah prairie dogs. We will continue 
the process of research and monitoring of Utah prairie dog habitat 
suitability and grazing management practices, and ultimately we will 
revise the Recovery Plan to incorporate vegetation guidelines and 
grazing management recommendations to benefit the species.

B. Overutilization for Commercial, Recreational, Scientific, or 
Educational Purposes

    The petition states that illegal shooting of Utah prairie dogs 
still occurs and that shooting can negatively affect prairie dogs 
through population reduction, decreased colony expansion rates, and 
changes in behavior (Rosmarino 2003, pp. 94-98).
    Because the Utah prairie dog is already a listed species, shooting, 
except as provided for by the 4(d) special rule, which is codified at 
50 CFR 17.40(g), is prohibited by the Act. However, we acknowledge that 
isolated instances of shooting likely occur, and that it is not 
feasible for UDWR and Federal land management agencies to patrol all 
colony locations on a routine basis. No information is available in the 
petition or in our files to indicate that more than isolated incidences 
of shooting occur within Utah prairie dog colonies, or that shooting 
may pose a significant threat to the species on a range-wide basis.
Summary of Factor B
    Neither the petition nor information readily available in our files 
constitute substantial scientific or commercial information that 
overutilization is a threat to the Utah prairie dog to the extent that 
uplisting from threatened to endangered under the Act may be warranted.

C. Disease or Predation

    The Petitioners did not state that predation is a threat to the 
Utah prairie dog. The Petitioners did state that sylvatic plague 
(Yersinia pestis), an exotic bacterial disease, is a significant threat 
to the extent that it might prevent recovery of Utah prairie dogs, even 
if all other threat factors were removed. The petition states that 
plague is a threat to prairie dogs, given their lack of natural 
immunity to the bacterium. The cyclical nature of plague means that it 
can return to affect the same colony; therefore recovery from a plague 
event can be a slow process (Rosmarino 2003, p. 98). The Petitioners 
cite numerous instances of documented and suspected plague events 
occurring throughout Utah prairie dog range (Rosmarino 2003, p. 99). 
They also cite ongoing research in Utah prairie dog habitat on plague 
mitigation through the use of insecticides to kill the fleas that carry 
the plague bacterium (Rosmarino 2003, p. 100). The Petitioners take the 
view that as long as plague is present in the ecosystem, the Utah 
prairie dog may not reach recovery goals even if all other threat 
factors are removed (Rosmarino 2003, p. 100).
    We acknowledge that plague exists throughout the Utah prairie dog's 
range, that individual Utah prairie dog colonies are known to have been 
affected by the disease, and that there is currently no mechanism 
available to prevent periodic plague events from reoccurring. Plague is 
an Old World (European origin) disease that was first recorded in North 
America in humans in 1899, and in Utah prairie dogs in Garfield County 
in 1936 (Fitzgerald 1993, p. 50). However, plague antibody titers have 
been found in a few Utah prairie dogs (Biggins 2003a, p. 1) and white-
tailed prairie dogs (Biggins 2003a, p. 1; Cully and Williams 2001, p. 
896), indicating that some individuals survive after exposure to 
    Information in our files indicates that the literature is 
inconclusive regarding whether isolation of a colony or a colony's 
density affects the number and frequency of plague outbreaks. Lomolino 
et al. (2003, p. 118) and others (Cully and Williams 2001, p. 901; 
Miller et al. 1993, pp. 89-90) suggest that isolation and fragmentation 
may provide some protection to prairie dogs from sylvatic plague by 
lessening the likelihood of disease transmission.

[[Page 7849]]

White-tailed and Utah prairie dog colonies are less dense and more 
widely dispersed than black-tailed or Gunnison prairie dog colonies, 
which may slow plague transmission rates (Cully 1993, p. 40; Cully and 
Williams 2001, p. 901). Biggins' (2003b, p. 5) data are consistent with 
the hypothesis that white-tailed prairie dogs are predisposed to 
regroup when their numbers become depleted, improving stability in 
density (at the cost of stability in area occupied). Biggins (2003b, p. 
6) states that if transmission rates for Yersinia pestis are at least 
partly dependent on host density, prairie dog populations on good 
quality sites may undergo both larger declines and more rapid 
recoveries than those on poor sites. Partial or complete recovery 
following population reductions due to plague have been reported for 
both white-tailed and black-tailed prairie dogs (Biggins and Kosoy 
2001, p. 23). Hibernation by Utah and white-tailed prairie dogs may 
reduce or delay plague transmission among individual animals (Barnes 
1993, p. 34).
    The Petitioners cite ongoing research into the efficacy of 
insecticides to protect Utah prairie dog colonies from plague. Results 
of this study to date have been equivocal (Biggins 2003b, p. 8). The 
study was not able to determine a difference in the number of arthropod 
species on plots dusted with deltamethrin verses non-dusted plots. 
However, Biggins (2003b, p. 8) concludes that dusting Utah prairie dog 
burrows once a year with 4 grams (0.14 ounce) of Delta Dust (brand name 
of deltamethrin) does reduce the number of fleas species that are 
potential plague hosts. The recovery team has begun initial efforts to 
dust what are considered large priority colonies, including Johnson 
Bench, East Creek Canyon, and Tom Best Spring, in an effort to prevent 
plague outbreaks. These efforts successfully stopped an outbreak on the 
conservation bank property in the Awapa Plateau Recovery Area known as 
The Tanks.
    Given the dynamics of the Utah prairie dog's behavior (such as 
hibernation), migration patterns, and geographical patterns of colony 
distribution, we are currently unable to determine whether there is an 
optimum size, density, and distribution of colonies that would make 
them less susceptible to periodic plague events. We also cannot 
determine whether small colony size and isolation provide some measure 
of protection from plague. Climatic factors may feed into plague 
cycling. Parmenter et al. (1999, p. 816) suggest a general linkage 
between cases of human plague (generally contracted by association with 
wild animals carrying fleas with the plague bacterium) and 
precipitation, particularly in the winter-spring period. They 
hypothesize that increased winter-spring precipitation results in an 
increase in food resources for animal species, which subsequently have 
greater reproductive success, leading to increased numbers of potential 
plague hosts (Parmenter et al. 1999, p. 818).
Summary of Factor C
    We recognize that plague has been, and will continue to be, a major 
mortality factor in specific colonies, and across the range of Utah 
prairie dogs. The impact that plague has had on the overall status of 
the species, or its potential for recovery, is unclear. It is 
impossible to separate the impacts of plague from other factors that 
affect Utah prairie dogs across their range, including drought, habitat 
conditions, and disturbance by various human activities. We will 
continue to support research on the impacts of plague on Utah prairie 
dog persistence, and on ways to reduce these impacts. There was no 
information provided in the petition, or available in our files, that 
shows that the effects of disease are becoming more severe or 
widespread, to the extent that uplisting from threatened to endangered 
under the Act may be warranted.

D. Inadequacy of Existing Regulatory Mechanisms

    The Petitioners state that Federal regulatory mechanisms, including 
efforts undertaken by the Service under the Act, and the Bureau of Land 
Management, USFS, and National Park Service in their land management 
plans, are inadequate to protect the Utah prairie dog.
    The Petitioners state that even though the Utah prairie dog is 
currently listed as threatened under the Act, adequate regulatory 
mechanisms do not exist to ensure its survival or recovery. 
Specifically, they cite the downlisting of the species in 1984 
(Rosmarino 2003, pp. 100-103); implementation of the 4(d) rule and 
faulty assumptions about the number of prairie dogs that could be taken 
annually (Rosmarino 2003, pp. 104-108); a flawed Recovery Plan 
(Rosmarino 2003, pp. 108-114), and lack of adequate personnel and 
resources from the affected agencies to fully implement it (Rosmarino 
2003, p. 147); failure of the ICS to adequately consider effects to the 
species from threats such as plague and livestock grazing (Rosmarino 
2003, pp. 115-119); and Federal land management agency (USFS and BLM) 
policies that facilitate habitat loss and degradation as described 
under Factor A (Rosmarino 2003, pp. 119-139). They also cite U.S. 
Department of Agriculture (USDA), Animal and Plant Health Inspection 
Service (APHIS)--Wildlife Services' lethal Utah prairie dog control, 
and grasshopper and Mormon cricket control within Utah prairie dog 
range, as harmful to the species (Rosmarino 2003, pp. 140-145), and 
state that the Environmental Protection Agency's labeling for toxicants 
and fumigants is not fully protective of Utah prairie dogs (Rosmarino 
2003, p. 144). The petition further discusses the lack of recovery 
efforts on private lands, including implementation of HCPs pursuant to 
section 10 of the Act. The Petitioners particularly cite failure to 
adequately address cumulative impacts of incidental take on prairie 
dogs in the West Desert Recovery Area, and failure to provide adequate 
mitigation, which has resulted in considerable take of Utah prairie 
dogs (Rosmarino 2003, pp. 147-161).
    Although overall numbers of Utah prairie dogs have not increased 
substantially since downlisting in 1984, the species' population is 
considered to be stable on a range-wide basis. In 2005, the count was 
5,381 animals range-wide, and in 1984 it was 2,522 animals; counts 
ranged from 2,522 to 7,527 during that 22-year period (UDWR 2005). We 
acknowledge that the translocation program to move animals defined as 
``surplus'' under the 4(d) special rule (50 CFR 17.40(g)) and the 
recovery goal of developing new Utah prairie dog colonies on public 
lands, have not been as successful as predicted. The 4(d) special rule 
allows a maximum of 6,000 Utah prairie dogs to be taken annually; 
however, the actual number that are permitted to be taken varies on an 
annual basis and depends on the population surveys for that year. 
During their annual surveys, UDWR makes counts of Utah prairie dogs on 
individual colonies throughout the range of the species. When a private 
landowner requests a control permit for a particular colony, UDWR 
issues a permit for take of no more than 10 percent of the number of 
animals counted in that colony that year. During the period of 1985-
2004, the permitted level of take was never higher than 3,781, and the 
actual reported take did not exceed 1,760 (UDWR 2003). We are taking 
steps to improve the success of the translocation program through 
development of vegetation guidelines (discussed under Factor A) and new 
guidelines for Utah prairie dog translocation (see discussion under 
Factor E). Utah prairie dogs have not

[[Page 7850]]

experienced significant progress toward recovery since the 1984 
downlisting, but current numbers are within the range of historical 
population fluctuations, which indicates that extinction is not 
    Efforts to revise the Recovery Plan are currently underway and will 
incorporate the best available information. The revised Recovery Plan 
is expected to be completed in 2007. For now, the goal of the interim 
strategy that was developed in 1994 is to advance information and 
strategies necessary to effectively modify recovery goals. Research on 
habitat needs and successful translocation is ongoing. Based on this 
research, we updated the vegetation and translocation guidelines. 
Cooperators in the ICS and Recovery Plan revision include all of the 
affected Federal land management agencies, Natural Resources 
Conservation Service (NRCS), State and Federal wildlife management 
agencies, Utah State University, Utah Farm Bureau, and Environmental 
    All BLM land use plans incorporate the existing Recovery Plan ``and 
other pertinent documents pertaining to recovery.'' BLM's Cedar City 
Field Office is monitoring vegetation on Utah prairie dog sites to 
determine compliance with the vegetation guidelines. The National Park 
Service has implemented habitat restoration projects through burning 
and seeding and has hosted Utah prairie dog research efforts on its 
property for the last 10 years. USFS is revising the Dixie National 
Forest Plan to incorporate the Utah prairie dog Recovery Plan. USFS 
also has identified and prepared two translocation sites, dusted 
several key colonies at risk of plague exposure in the Paunsaugant 
Recovery Area, and is initiating habitat improvement projects to 
benefit Utah prairie dogs in the Awapa Plateau Recovery Area.
    All agencies are making a concerted effort to implement the ICS and 
use new research data to improve the conservation and recovery of Utah 
prairie dogs throughout their range. Species recovery is often a 
difficult and long-term process, particularly for a species such as the 
Utah prairie dog that had been in decline for nearly a century prior to 
its listing (Pizzimenti and Collier 1975, p. 1) and that is adversely 
affected by numerous interacting factors. We believe we are moving in a 
positive direction with implementation of the ICS and revision of the 
Recovery Plan, but we need to continue to evaluate the status of the 
species and factors affecting its recovery over the long-term.
    APHIS-Wildlife Services received one permit to control Utah prairie 
dogs on private agricultural land adjacent to a parcel of land 
protected under a conservation easement. However, the need for control 
never materialized, and control was never carried out. We have 
completed a programmatic consultation with APHIS for grasshopper and 
Mormon cricket control under section 7 of the Act, to ensure that 
control actions will not have adverse effects on listed species, 
including Utah prairie dogs. The consultation contains required 
conservation measures to benefit the species, including a 1.6-km (1.0-
mi) buffer zone around occupied Utah prairie dog habitat (USDA 2005, p. 
    The State of Utah, through an agreement with the Service, manages 
Utah prairie dogs by conducting annual surveys, issuing permits to 
private landowners under the 4(d) special rule, and trapping and 
translocation of animals from private to public lands. However, the 
State of Utah does not control the lands occupied by Utah prairie dogs 
and has no authority to implement land management changes. The State is 
working cooperatively with the Service and Federal land management 
agencies to determine ways to improve habitat conditions on public 
lands and to revise the Recovery Plan.
    We have taken steps to conserve prairie dogs on private lands, 
including issuance of three Safe Harbor Agreements (SHAs) covering 97 
ha (240 ac) of occupied and unoccupied habitat within the Paunsaugunt 
and Awapa Plateau Recovery Areas (Service 2005a, 2005b, 2006b). These 
SHAs improve Utah prairie dog habitat by increasing plant diversity and 
providing protection for Utah prairie dogs for up to 15 years. We are 
currently processing three more SHAs (cite) and one umbrella safe 
harbor agreement to be held by NRCS (cite), with an unlimited potential 
to enroll private lands within all three recovery areas. In 2004, we 
approved a 304-ha (750-ac) conservation bank on private land that is 
protected in perpetuity within the Awapa Plateau Recovery Area (Service 
2005c). A conservation bank in the West Desert Recovery Area has been 
initiated and will protect private land within Iron County. The 
petition discusses several small and large-scale (county-wide) HCPs, 
most of which were issued in the 1990s. Currently, the Iron County HCP 
(the only county-wide HCP) (Service 1998) is in the process of being 
revised and will include the protection of private lands with Utah 
prairie dogs to offset impacts from development elsewhere. A recently 
finalized HCP protects 123 ha (303 ac) of habitat (occupied and 
unoccupied) in exchange for 7 ha (18 ac) of low-quality occupied 
habitat (Service 2007)). The Garfield County HCP was never finalized.
Summary of Factor D
    We agree that Utah prairie dog recovery has been slow, but we 
conclude that actions taken since 1994, including research, development 
of new guidance documents, implementation of the ICS on Federal lands 
occupied by prairie dogs, and the revision of the Recovery Plan to 
include the conservation of prairie dog habitat on private lands, will 
improve the species' status over the long-term. Neither the petition 
nor the available information in our files indicates that lack of 
adequate regulatory mechanisms may be a threat to Utah prairie dogs to 
the extent that uplisting from threatened to endangered under the Act 
may be warranted.

E. Other Natural or Manmade Factors Affecting the Continued Existence 
of the Species

    The Petitioners state that rodent control efforts, the Utah prairie 
dog translocation program, and drought present significant threats to 
Utah prairie dogs. The petition cites legal take under the 4(d) special 
rule (50 CFR 17.40(g)), and ongoing illegal poisoning and shooting as 
endangering the species (Rosmarino 2003, pp. 161-162). In particular, 
the Petitioners point out that legal take of Utah prairie dogs under 
the 4(d) special rule has resulted in control of 14,002 prairie dogs 
(to the date of the petition) and suggest that take levels and 
population fluctuations from year to year may be contributing to 
population declines (Rosmarino 2003, pp. 162-163). The petition alleges 
that any illegal poisoning that occurs increases the magnitude of 
permitted take (Rosmarino 2003, p. 165). The petition calls the 
translocation program a failure, stating that translocations have not 
resulted in an increase of Utah prairie dog populations on public 
lands, and have resulted in a loss of animals on private lands 
(Rosmarino 2003, p. 166). The petition points out that many 
translocation sites do not meet ICS vegetation guidelines, and that 
Utah prairie dogs translocated to the Adams Well site have lost weight, 
thus making them less likely to survive through winter (Rosmarino 2003, 
pp. 170-184). The petition states that, although drought is a naturally 
occurring phenomenon, continuing livestock grazing during drought 
conditions exacerbates the effects of drought on Utah prairie dogs 
(Rosmarino 2003, p. 185).

[[Page 7851]]

    Legal take occurring in compliance with the 4(d) special rule (50 
CFR 17.40(g)) was discussed under Factor D. As stated under Factor B, 
we do not have any information to indicate that illegal shooting occurs 
in other than isolated instances. We believe the same to be true of 
illegal poisoning, and no information exists in our files or in the 
petition indicating otherwise. The relationship of drought and 
livestock grazing regimes on Utah prairie dog habitat is discussed 
under Factor A.
    We agree that past translocation efforts have not always been 
successful. We have adapted our techniques and vegetation guidelines to 
address the likely causes preventing success of past efforts. Thirteen 
new complexes have been established on Federal lands within the West 
Desert Recovery Area through translocation efforts. We are improving 
translocation success through development and use of the ICS vegetation 
guidelines, habitat research (as discussed under Factor A), monitoring 
survival of translocated animals, and incorporating better methods to 
improve survival. We will continue to monitor these efforts and update 
our methods as necessary. Even under optimum circumstances, survival of 
translocated prairie dogs of various species is low (less than 40 
percent) (Truett et al. 2001, p. 864). We have developed new 
recommended translocation procedures (Procedures) for the Utah Prairie 
Dog (Service 2006, 18 pp.). The Procedures emphasize actions to 
increase success rates and to provide consistency across recovery areas 
and land management agencies. The Procedures discuss site selection and 
preparation, translocation site preparation, trapping, handling, 
transport, release, and monitoring and management of translocated 
populations. Consistent use of these Procedures should increase future 
survival of translocated animals.
Summary of Factor E
    We have determined that information in the petition and available 
in our files does not indicate that legal and illegal take, including 
the translocation program implemented under the existing Recovery Plan, 
is a threat to Utah prairie dogs to the extent that uplisting from 
threatened to endangered under the Act may be warranted. We will 
continue to work with all landowners to implement the Procedures and to 
monitor their effectiveness. The Procedures will become part of any 
future revisions to the Recovery Plan.


    We have reviewed the petition and the literature cited in the 
petition, and evaluated it in relation to other pertinent information 
in our files. We find that substantial scientific or commercial 
information has not been presented by the Petitioners indicating that 
reclassification of Utah prairie dog (Cynomys parvidens) from 
threatened to endangered may be warranted. Because the species is 
already listed as threatened under the Act, it is already subject to, 
and receives protection from, the regulatory mechanisms of the Act. The 
petition did not identify or present substantial new information 
indicating that the level of threats to the species has changed 
significantly since its reclassification to threatened in 1984.
    The current number of active colonies, and the number of Utah 
prairie dogs counted in the spring of 2005 (5,381) (UDWR 2005), 
continues to be within the range of variation seen since counts were 
implemented in 1976, which further supports the assertion that threats 
have not increased significantly.
    Since implementation of the ICS in 1997, the Service and its 
Federal and State recovery team partners have taken substantial steps 
to improve the survival of translocated Utah prairie dogs through new 
vegetation guidelines, habitat improvements at translocation sites on 
Federal lands, and new translocation guidelines. New conservation 
tools, including SHAs, mitigation banks, and HCPs with provisions for 
protection of private lands, are being implemented. Research is being 
carried out on the efficacy of dusting Utah prairie dog colonies with 
dimethrin to control plague. Critical colonies have been identified and 
successfully protected through this methodology. New information gained 
since the implementation of the ICS, including ongoing research and 
monitoring results from occupied colonies on Federal lands, will be 
used in the revision of the Recovery Plan. This may include revision of 
the recovery goals for the species if the new information supports it.
    Although we will not be commencing a status review in response to 
this petition, we encourage interested parties to continue to gather 
data that will assist with the conservation of the species. If you wish 
to provide information regarding the Utah prairie dog, you may submit 
your information or materials to the Utah Field Supervisor, U.S. Fish 
and Wildlife Service (see ADDRESSES).

5-Year Review

    Although we will not conduct a status review in response to the 
petition, we are initiating a 5-year review of the Utah prairie dog to 
comply with section 4(c)(2)(A) of the Act. Based on this 5-year review, 
we will determine whether or not the Utah prairie dog should be removed 
from the list (i.e., delisted) or otherwise reclassified. Delisting or 
reclassifying a species must be supported by the best scientific and 
commercial information available, and we will only consider delisting a 
species if such information substantiates that the species is neither 
endangered nor threatened for one or more of the following reasons: (1) 
The species is considered extinct; (2) the species is considered to be 
recovered; or (3) the original data available when the species was 
listed, or the interpretation of such data, were in error. Any change 
in Federal classification would require a separate rulemaking process.
    Our regulations at 50 CFR 424.21 require that we publish a notice 
in the Federal Register announcing those species currently under 
review. This notice announces our intention to prepare a 5-year review 
of the Utah prairie dog and opens a 60-day comment period (see DATES). 
We encourage interested parties to provide information concerning the 
Utah prairie dog to the Field Supervisor, Utah Ecological Services 
Office (see ADDRESSES).

Public Comments Solicited

    At this time, we are opening a 60-day comment period (see DATES) to 
allow all interested parties an opportunity to provide information on 
the status of the Utah prairie dog for our 5-year review. We will base 
our 5-year review on a review of the best scientific and commercial 
information available, including the studies cited in this notice and 
information received during the public comment period. Information 
regarding the following topics would be particularly useful: (1) 
Species biology, including but not limited to, population trends, 
distribution, abundance, demographics, genetics, and taxonomy, 
including any evaluations or reviews of the studies cited in this 
notice; (2) habitat conditions, including but not limited to, amount, 
distribution, and suitability; (3) conservation measures that have been 
implemented that benefit the species; (4) threat status and trends; and 
(5) other new information or data.
    When we complete our 5-year review, our practice is to make 
comments, including names and home addresses of respondents, available 
for public review

[[Page 7852]]

during regular business hours. Individual respondents may request that 
we withhold their names and home addresses, etc., but if you wish us to 
consider withholding this information, you must state this prominently 
at the beginning of your comments. In addition, you must present 
rationale for withholding this information. This rationale must 
demonstrate that disclosure would constitute a clearly unwarranted 
invasion of privacy. Unsupported assertions will not meet this burden. 
In the absence of exceptional, documentable circumstances, this 
information will be released. We will always make submissions from 
organizations or businesses, and from individuals identifying 
themselves as representatives of organizations or businesses, available 
for public inspection in their entirety.
    Please submit electronic comments in an ASCII or Microsoft Word 
file. Also, please include ``Attn: Utah prairie dog'' along with your 
name and return address in your e-mail message. If you do not receive a 
confirmation from the system that we have received your e-mail message, 
please submit your comments in writing using one of the alternate 
methods provided in the ADDRESSES section.

References Cited

    A complete list of all references cited herein is available upon 
request from the Utah Ecological Services Field Office.


    The authors of this document are Susan Linner, U.S. Fish and 
Wildlife Service, Colorado Ecological Services Field Office, and Elise 
Boeke, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Utah Ecological Services Field 
Office (see ADDRESSES).


    The authority for this action is section 4 of the Endangered 
Species Act of 1973, as amended (16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.).

    Dated: February 9, 2007.
H. Dale Hall,
Director, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
 [FR Doc. E7-2834 Filed 2-20-07; 8:45 am]