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The Mountain-Prairie Region


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

February 3, 2000
Sharon Rose 303-236-7917 x415
Cindy Hoffman 202-208-3008
Pete Gober Available 2/3-2/4 at 202-208-3008 Available 2/7 at 605-224-8693 x 24


After an extensive biological review, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has determined that the black-tailed prairie dog warrants listing under the Endangered Species Act. However, because there are other species also awaiting listing that are in greater need of protection, the Service is not proposing to list the species at this time.

"At the moment, many other species are at greater risk and in immediate need of the protections of the Act. Therefore, we will place the black-tailed prairie dog on the candidate list of species and review its status annually." said Ralph Morgenweck, the Service’s regional director for the Mountain-Prairie Region.

The Service expects that states, tribes, local communities and private landowners will play a vital role in improving the status of the black-tailed prairie dog. The states of Kansas, Nebraska, Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota, Texas, Arizona, and Oklahoma have developed and signed a conservation agreement that provides the general guidelines to help them implement a strategy for black-tailed prairie dog conservation and recovery. The states share a concern for the black-tailed prairie dog and stated in their Conservation Strategy submitted to the Service on November 3, 1999, "absent any changes in current management of all prairie dogs, these species as well as other associated grassland species are, according to recent status reports, exhibiting trends that may merit listing under the Endangered Species Act." Actions anticipated in the document include eliminating mandatory prairie dog control programs, regulating season or possession limits on shooting of prairie dogs, maintaining and conserving the habitat of the species, and establishing core populations on public lands.

Participants in the multi-state conservation strategy agreed that continuing to pursue conservation agreements is the most reasonable approach for conserving black-tailed prairie dogs and other species that inhabit the prairies in their states.

"This conservation agreement is an excellent first step toward the recovery of the black-tailed prairie dog," Morgenweck said. "The next step is to take concrete actions on the ground with clearly established goals and deadlines. If together we can make progress in recovering the species, we may reach a time when listing the species will no longer be warranted."

"The Service is eager to work in partnership with the states to put the conservation plan into action, as well as with tribes, landowners, conservation groups, and others with an interest in conserving this species," he said.

Five species of prairie dogs exist in North America: the black-tailed prairie dog, white-tailed prairie dog, Gunnison’s prairie dog, Utah prairie dog, and the Mexican prairie dog. The black-tailed prairie dog is a small, stout ground squirrel that measures 14 to 17 inches long and weighs 1 to 3 pounds. It is found in Colorado, Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas, Wyoming, southern Saskatchewan, Canada and northern Mexico. Historically, the species also inhabited Arizona but no longer occurs there. The occupied range of the prairie dog has declined by approximately 99 percent in the United States during the last century, with less than 1 million acres remaining of what may have been more than 100 million acres of original black-tailed prairie dog habitat.

There are seven large colonies of black-tailed prairie dogs remaining in North America. Four of those are located on tribal lands, three of which are in South Dakota and one in Montana. Two of the large colonies are on national grasslands managed by the USDA-Forest Service, one in the Buffalo Gap National Grasslands in South Dakota and one in the Thunder Basin National Grasslands in Wyoming. The seventh large colony is in Mexico on private land.

After a comprehensive analysis of the species status, Service biologists determined that although there have been population increases in some areas in recent decades subsequent to the order that banned the use of some poisons in 1972, there has been a sharp decline in the overall population of black-tailed prairie dogs in the past 15 to 20 years. The decline is due to a number of factors, especially an introduced disease to which the species has no natural resistence and control efforts designed to eradicate the species.

Service biologists determined that sylvatic plague is affecting the species across a majority of its range, including several areas where it has not impacted prairie dogs in the recent past. Fleas on rats aboard ships from Asia brought plague to this country in the early 1900s. Not until the early 1940s did biologists discover the impact of plague on black-tailed prairie dogs.

Today the plague has spread through the western two-thirds of the black-tailed prairie dog range. This affects portions of the states of Kansas, Nebraska, North Dakota, Colorado, Oklahoma, Wyoming, Montana, Texas, Arizona and New Mexico. The only state where black-tailed prairie dogs have not been affected by the plague is South Dakota, where four of the remaining seven largest black-tailed prairie dog colonies still occur.

Involvement by the Service in determining the status of the black-tailed prairie dog began in late July 1998 when the Service received a petition from the National Wildlife Federation asking that the black-tailed prairie dog be listed as a threatened species throughout its range. The Biodiversity Legal Foundation, the Predator Project and Jon C. Sharps later also petitioned the Service to list the species.

Information on the status of the black-tailed prairie dog was provided to the Service by State fish and wildlife agencies and agriculture agencies, Federal agencies, Tribal governments, ranchers, researchers, private organizations, and other interested individuals.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal Federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting, and enhancing fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 93-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System comprised of more than 500 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands, and other special management areas. It also operates 66 national fish hatcheries, 64 fish and wildlife management assistance offices and 78 ecological services field stations. The agency enforces Federal wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Aid program that distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to state fish and wildlife agencies.

Materials related to the black-tailed prairie dog can be found on our web page at

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