The United States Fish and Wildlife Service has reviewed a petition to reclassify the Utah prairie dog from threatened to endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and concluded the petition does not contain substantial scientific data indicating reclassification is warranted.
The service made this finding in response to a petition received in February 2003 from Forest Guardians, Center for Native Ecosystems, and others. In February 2006, the petitioners filed a complaint against the service for failure to issue a timely finding on the petition. According to a settlement agreement, the service agreed to make a petition finding by Feb. 17, 2007.
The Utah prairie dog was listed as an endangered species in 1973. In 1979, the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources petitioned the service to remove the Utah prairie dog from protection under the ESA. The service found that the petition provided substantial information regarding the status of the species and down-listed it from endangered to threatened in 1984.
The Utah prairie dog is currently found in three designated recovery areas in southwestern Utah, the Awapa Plateau; the Paunsaugunt region along the east fork and main stem of the Sevier River; and the West Desert region of eastern Iron county, with a few isolated colonies existing in mountain and desert valleys in eastern Iron and Beaver counties.
After a review of the information provided, the service does not believe that present or threatened destruction or modification of habitat warrants reclassifying the Utah prairie dog from threatened to endangered. Utah prairie dog numbers continue to be stable and within the range of historic fluctuations. Many of the factors cited by the petitioners constitute small, localized impacts on specific Utah prairie dog colonies.
"Since the Utah prairie dog is currently listed as a threatened species, it is protected under the Endangered Species Act and benefits from conservation measures and recovery actions afforded by federal protection," said Mitch King, the service's acting director of the Mountain-Prairie Region. "The service will continue to monitor the population status, trends and management actions important to the conservation of the Utah prairie dog and we encourage interested parties to continue to gather data that will assist in these conservation efforts."
The petition contends that continuing loss and degradation of habitat are threatening the continued existence of the species.
The Utah prairie dog is a rodent within the squirrel family and its species range is limited to the southwestern quarter of Utah. The species' historic range extended across the desert almost to the Utah-Nevada state line.
By the 1960s, distribution of the Utah prairie dog was greatly reduced due to disease, poisoning, drought, and human-related habitat alteration resulting from cultivation and poor grazing practices. By 1972, it was estimated that there were 3,300 Utah prairie dogs in 37 separate prairie dog colonies. Spring range-wide counts (which estimate approximately 50 percent of the adult population) are currently stable, ranging from 3,961 to 5,920 over the past 10 years.
The ESA provides for citizens to petition the service to take listing actions, including adding species to the lists of threatened and endangered wildlife and plants as well as removing species from the lists. The service is required to make a findings on whether the petition presents substantial information that the petitioned action may be warranted.
The finding is published in the Federal Register. For more information, please visit the service's website at: http://mountain-prairie.fws.gov/species/mammals/utprairiedog.