Gunnison's Prairie Dogs

Gunnison's prairie dog at rest/Raymond Watt

Reintroducing a keystone species

Partnering with the University of New Mexico (UNM), Sevilleta Long Term Ecological Research (LTER), New Mexico Department of Game and Fish (NMDGF), and Prairie Dog Pals; Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge staff and volunteers reintroduced about 600 Gunnison's prairie dogs each year since 2010.

The Gunnison’s prairie dog is a keystone grassland species that historically inhabited this area and re-establishing a colony on the refuge is another step towards restoring the natural biological diversity of refuge grasslands.  Gunnison’s prairie dogs have declined by more than 90% across their range due to habitat loss, extermination attempts, and disease.  This species has been linked to grassland ecosystem health and their colonies provide numerous benefits to other wildlife, such as providing food and shelter to other wildlife; and fertilization and aerating soil, which increases plant protein content and digestibility for other grazing animals. Studies show that wildlife such as pronghorn prefer to graze in and around prairie dog colonies.

Prairie dogs come to the refuge from multiple locations.  The refuge works with Prairie Dog Pals, a non-profit organization whose mission is to preserve and protect prairie dogs and their environment, and to obtain prairie dogs from the Albuquerque area.  The refuge has also partnered with New Mexico Department of Game and Fish to remove prairie dogs from their land and relocate them on the refuge where there will not be conflict with any landowners.

Refuge staff, volunteers, and partners will continue to reintroduce prairie dogs on the refuge until, through intensive monitoring, it is determined that the population is stable and healthy. Stay tuned for an update on the success of the project!