No Endangered Species Act listing for Gunnison’s prairie dog

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today said the Gunnison’s prairie dog doesn’t warrant protection under the Endangered Species Act.

The decision applies to an animal that between its two subspecies inhabits grasslands and mountain valleys in the Four Corners region, including much of southwestern Colorado.

“Gunnison’s prairie dog populations are stable and not declining,” the agency said in a news release. It said much of the credit goes to state game and fish agencies “that recognize the crucial role that prairie dogs play in the health of North American prairies.”

Taylor Jones, endangered species advocate for the group WildEarth Guardians, said in a news release that the Fish and Wildlife Service denied listing of an animal that has declined by 95 percent since the early 1900s, with the remaining 5 percent threatened by habitat loss, shooting, poisoning, climate change, drought, and outbreaks of flea-borne plague.

“The Endangered Species Act tasks the Service with truly recovering the species, and today the agency dodged that responsibility,” Jones said.

Fish and Wildlife acknowledges the ongoing impacts of plague as well as the continued poisoning and recreational shooting of prairie dogs living in easily accessible colonies. But it says new monitoring data shows the animal “can withstand these localized impacts.”

In addition, it said state wildlife agencies have continued with successful conservation efforts including monitoring populations, enforcing shooting closures, dusting colonies with insecticide and testing a plague vaccine, “which may be a powerful tool in the future to control the disease.”

Fish and Wildlife says new genetic data supports the recognition of two distinct subspecies of the Gunnison’s prairie dog, with some overlap of range, as evidenced by mixing of genetic material between them.

One subspecies is limited to higher elevations, mostly in Colorado extending as far east as Colorado Springs, and also dipping into New Mexico. Its occupied range in Gunnison County alone was estimated at 5,800 acres in 1990, but thanks to plague, populations there potentially fell 94 percent over 12 years, Fish and Wildlife says in a Federal Register posting.

The second subspecies occupies lower elevations, largely in Arizona and New Mexico, but also extending into Utah and Colorado.



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