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COMMENTARY: Setting the Record Straight on Utah Prairie Dogs

By Steve Guertin

Mountain-Prairie Regional Director, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

I am writing to clarify a number of misconceptions concerning efforts to recover the federally threatened Utah prairie dog (Cynomys parvidens).


Recent media reports have not presented a balanced picture regarding conservation and management of the Utah prairie dog. In reality, Utah prairie dog populations have grown since the species was listed. Efforts by our partners to restore habitats and translocate prairie dogs to federal lands have increasingly succeeded. Plague vaccines provide hope of control of this disease and its devastating effects on prairie dog colonies. And, several conservation easements now protect prairie dog colonies. These actions are cumulatively working to address the primary threats to the Utah prairie dog - plague and loss of habitat to development. Reports that claim no end in sight for affected Utahans are simply wrong. Our ongoing recovery Utah Prairie Dog Feeding. Photo: Copyright Laura Romin efforts, led by the newly developed Utah Prairie Dog Recovery Implementation Program partners, bode well for recovering the Utah prairie dog so that it no longer needs protection under the Federal Endangered Species Act.


Despite characterizations of the Utah prairie dog as an “endangered species,” it is actually listed as threatened. This distinction is important, because threatened species can be managed with much greater flexibility. We have provided increased flexibility to the citizens of Utah through a regulation, which allows for activities that would otherwise be prohibited under the Act.


In fact, we revised this regulation, called a “4(d) rule”, this year to better address repeated conflict with the species. We have heard the community’s call for a practical solution to damage done by Utah prairie dogs at airports and cemeteries. Those conflicts prompted some of our revisions to the 4(d) rule. In addition, we provided substantial funding, equipment, and personnel to install prairie dog proof barriers at the Parowan airport and Paragonah cemetery in anticipation of the 4(d) rule revision.


Our actions in response to human-prairie dog conflicts now provide affected landowners with greater flexibility. Landowners can get permits to lethally remove prairie dogs if prairie dogs create serious human safety hazards or disturb the sanctity of significant human burial or human cultural sites after good faith efforts of fencing, trapping and translocation have been made. We’re optimistic these revisions will provide a means for Utahans to work through conflicts with the Utah prairie dog.


The Utah Prairie Dog Recovery Implementation Program has brought many partners, including the State, federal agencies, Paiute Tribe, local government entities, and the public together in a coordinated effort to conserve prairie dogs while simultaneously addressing local community concerns. We appreciate the efforts made by many leaders in the community who have worked with us to find reasonable solutions. We believe the Utah prairie dog can be recovered through these ongoing partnerships.


The Endangered Species Act provides a critical safety net for America’s native fish, wildlife and plants. This landmark conservation law has prevented the extinction of hundreds of imperiled species across the nation and promoted the recovery of many others. The health of threatened and endangered species is strongly linked to our own well-being. Millions of Americans depend on habitat that sustains these species - for clean air and water, recreational opportunities and for their livelihoods. By taking action to protect imperiled native fish, wildlife and plants, we can ensure a healthy future for our community and protect treasured landscapes for future generations.


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.
April 9, 2015
All Images Credit to and Courtesy of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Unless Specified Otherwise.
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