The Utah prairie dog population is on the mend, and the Division of Wildlife Resources is recommending that the federal government remove them from the endangered species list.
There are actually three prairie dog subspecies living in the Beehive State, Gunnison’s, white-tailed, and Utah. The Utah variety landed on the list in 1973, and it has since moved from endangered to threatened. In the current day, the Utah prairie dog is thriving. So the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is reviewing the animals’ situation.
To be delisted, three criteria must be met—threats to the animals must be eliminated or controlled, the population must be stable enough that it won’t return to threatened in the foreseeable future, and officials must instill mechanisms that will prevent future population declines.
It will likely take years to actually strip the critters of their federal protections, but this could be the first step in the process.
“What we’re doing is trying to make the case for delisting and putting forward a plan that will manage the Utah prairie dog after delisting,” said Kim Hersey, the mammal conservation coordinator with the DWR.
The Utah Prairie Dog Population Has Tripled Since Earning Protections from the Endangered Species Act
The DWR has been able to help the species with vast conservation and research efforts. Since 1971, the population has tripled. But FWS won’t let the animals off the hook unless DWR can promise that it can keep the numbers steady.
“We’re really laying out what population sizes we’ll manage, where we’ll manage for them, and how we’ll address the threats to the species like plague, habitat loss,” Hersey noted.
The department’s biggest concern is losing too many prairie dogs to “nuisance concerns.” The animals are borrowers, which is helpful in the wild because other animals, like burrowing owls, rely on those holes. But landowners complain that the digging ruins their property.
While prairie dogs are on the endangered species list, people must get permission to remove them. And the DWR helps by offering a trapping and relocating program. The department also maintained artificial structures away from residential areas that would keep the animals from migrating.
However, if the species is delisted, people would have the right to use more harmful methods. If the animals returned to the endangered species list, it could affect local raptors that rely on prairie dogs as a main source of prey.
“When prairie dogs are a nuisance situation, we’ll do our best to try to trap those and move those to colonies that are on federal or protected lands,” shared Hersey. “We’ve worked really closely with our land management partners on that over the years.”