Government Confirms Black-Tailed Prairie Dog is in Jeopardy NWF Awaits November Decision on Threatened Listing

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE--September 14, 1998
Denver, CO-- The federal government has officially acknowledged that America's black-tailed prairie dogs are in serious peril due to a lack of sound management. That acknowledgment is a key element necessary to secure protection for the species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

Ironically, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) recognition of the species' plight came as part of a letter denying a National Wildlife Federation (NWF) petition to immediately list black-tailed prairie dogs as a threatened species under emergency provisions of the ESA. Instead, USFWS will now review the petition under a standard time frame that will produce a first, key determination on the listing issue by November.

"Denial of the emergency listing is unfortunate because this species needs help and it needs it now," said NWF President Mark Van Putten. "But we're very encouraged by the official recognition that the prairie dog is in trouble and needs the kind of recovery help that the Endangered Species Act is designed to provide."

USFWS noted the need for action in its letter to NWF, stating: "We fully recognize that the current lack of regulatory mechanisms for managing black- tailed prairie dogs could allow for continued prairie dog losses."

Black-tailed prairie dogs have already been eliminated from more than 99% of their historic grasslands habitat, with remaining colonies too isolated to ensure the species' survival. Populations continue to be decimated by loss of habitat, poisoning and unregulated shooting. In many areas the killing is encouraged and even required by state or federal agency policies that treat prairie dogs as pests to be exterminated.

"A threatened species designation would be the first step in eliminating these unwarranted government policies and making public agencies part of the solution instead of the problem," said Van Putten.

The threat to the survival of the black-tailed prairie dog also jeopardizes the survival or well-being of dozens of prairie wildlife such as the endangered black-footed ferret, the kit fox, and the ferruginous hawk, as well as other wildlife that depend on it for prey or dwellings.

In a second irony, the USFWS denied the request for emergency listing -- made primarily to forestall a potential escalation in shooting and poisoning after the petition was submitted -- because the species, while in trouble, is not yet on the very brink of extinction. Yet the lesser degree of peril connected with a designation of threatened rather than endangered also indicates a need for action before things get worse.

"The very fact that it's not too late is exactly why it's critical to list the black-tailed prairie dog as a threatened species as soon as possible," stated Van Putten. "Because these animals reproduce rapidly, prompt action can help the species recover quickly and with little impact on human activities."

Under a threatened designation, federal officials could work with states, communities and individuals to craft flexible recovery plans for the species, while also addressing the needs and concerns of local people.

USFWS' recognition that the black-tailed prairie dog is imperiled is a key development in NWF's leadership effort to protect not only this animal, but the grasslands ecosystem upon which the nation's people and wildlife depend. Several states and scientific groups have also acknowledged the prairie dog's peril and the need for a change in management practices in the wake of the NWF petition.

The nation's largest member-supported conservation group, the National Wildlife Federation unites people from all walks of life to protect nature, wildlife and the world we all share. NWF has educated and inspired families to uphold America's conservation tradition since 1936. Its common-sense approach to environmental protection brings individuals, organizations and governments together to ensure a brighter future for people and wildlife.


Jamie Clark, Director
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
1849 "C" St., N.W.
MS 3012
Washington, DC 20240-0001

Request that the black-tailed prairie dog be added to the 'threatened' list of the Endangered Species Act. Request a response letter and updates; also ask for your letter to be added to the adminstrative record.

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