The Division of Wildlife Resources has finished conducting surveys of Gunnison's prairie dogs in southeastern Utah. Other state wildlife agencies in Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona are also finishing identical surveys within their boundaries.
The Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies will provide the results of the surveys to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. WAWFA believes the research will show that the states are properly managing Gunnison's prairie dogs and that the species does not need to be listed under the federal Endangered Species Act.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued a finding in February 2006 that further consideration of the Gunnison's prairie dog as threatened or endangered was not warranted. However, Forest Guardians and others filed a lawsuit challenging that finding, and the status of the Gunnison's prairie dog is again being reviewed.
The DWR anticipates that the just-completed surveys in the four corner's states will provide important evidence to support the original decision not to consider the Gunnison's prairie dog for listing.
DWR biologists found Gunnison's prairie dogs on 29 of 142 plots they visited in San Juan County. The biologists estimate that Gunnison's prairie dogs are found on about 50,000 acres in San Juan County and over a much smaller acreage in Grand County. Private lands enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program constitute an important part of the acreage used by this species.
The DWR will repeat its survey in 2010 to determine whether the area these rodents inhabit is stable, increasing or decreasing in size.
Similar surveys for the white-tailed prairie dog, which is found mostly in northeastern Utah, will be carried out in 2008 and 2011.
The Utah Farm Bureau, the Utah State University Extension Service and the Bureau of Land Management all provided essential support for the survey effort.
"We want to thank all of the San Juan County landowners and lessees who gave us access to their property," says Tony Wright, regional sensitive species biologist for the DWR. "In early 2010, we'll contact the landowners again to see if we can revisit the same locations on their properties."
The DWR and the Utah State University Extension Service are developing a Prairie Dog Management Plan for Utah. The plan should be completed before the end of 2007. All stakeholders and the public will have a chance to review and comment on the final plan before it's adopted.
Three species of prairie dogs live in Utah.
Gunnison's prairie dogs are found southeast of the Colorado River in southeastern Utah. The endangered Utah prairie dog lives in southwestern Utah. White-tailed prairie dogs live in the Uinta Basin and in the desert country from Price south through the Cisco Desert.
A small population of white-tailed prairie dogs is also found in Rich County.