FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Conservation Groups Act to Save White-Tailed Prairie Dog
For Immediate Release: February 7, 2013
Megan Mueller, Senior Conservation Biologist, Rocky Mountain Wild, (303) 704-9760
Duane Short, Biodiversity Conservation Alliance, (307) 742-7978
Andrew Gorder, Staff Attorney, Cottonwood Environmental Law Center (406) 587-5800
Conservation Groups Act to Save White-Tailed Prairie Dog
Groups Seek Endangered Species Act Protection Through Lawsuit
Missoula, MT – A coalition of conservation groups filed suit today in the United States District Court for the District of Montana to compel the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to address the decline of the white-tailed prairie dog, a species that has vanished from 99 percent of its historical habitat. White-tailed prairie dogs inhabit the “Sagebrush Sea” of central and western Wyoming, northwestern Colorado, northeastern Utah, and south-central Montana, and are critical to the health of the sagebrush ecosystem. The white-tailed prairie dog is an indicator of healthy wildlife populations in the sagebrush sea of the west.
“The prairie dog is an important part of the web of life in the West. When we protect habitat for prairie dogs, we protect habitat for hundreds of other animals that depend on prairie dogs for food and shelter, including endangered black-footed ferrets, eagles and owls” said Megan Mueller, conservation biologist with Rocky Mountain Wild. “We have a responsibility to leave the world a better place for future generations and that means protecting habitat for prairie dogs and all the wildlife that share their habitat.”
A petition to protect white-tailed prairie dogs under the Endangered Species Act, filed in July of 2002, initiated a process where the Fish and Wildlife Service formally considers designating the white-tailed prairie dog as a threatened or endangered species. After years of delay, the Service issued a negative 12-month finding, declaring that the species does not warrant endangered species act listing.
“Despite the substantial threats the white-tailed prairie dog faces throughout its historic range, the Fish and Wildlife Service has issued a finding that downplays these threats, ignores the best available science and fails to comply with the law,” said Andrew Gorder, local counsel for the plaintiffs.
Sylvatic plague, a disease introduced to North America around 1900, is now present throughout the range of the white-tailed prairie dog. Prairie dogs are extremely susceptible to this disease, and the white-tailed prairie dog has suffered large-scale population declines as a result. Oil and gas drilling, suburban sprawl, and conversion of land to agriculture have also devastated prairie dog habitat. Many white-tailed prairie dogs live in small, isolated colonies that are easily wiped out by plague, poisoning, or recreational shooting. Because their habitat has been fragmented and colony size has dwindled, populations are also more vulnerable to extinction from natural events, like drought or wildfire. Rather than protect the prairie dog, federal and state agencies continue to allow recreational target shooting and subsidized poisoning.
Duane Short wild species program director for Biodiversity Conservation Alliance noted, “It is time Fish and Wildlife act responsibly and offer this important sagebrush icon protections essential to its survival. The Service’s actions to date have been to delay and deny protections, the very antithesis of acting responsibly and according to the law.”
The coalition, led by the Colorado-based Rocky Mountain Wild, also includes Biodiversity Conservation Alliance (Laramie, WY), Cottonwood Environmental Law Center (Bozeman, MT), and WildWest Institute (Missoula, MT).