While the federal government debates adding the black-tailed prairie dog to the endangered species list, ranchers in Wyoming are speaking out against the idea, claiming any protection for the animal would threaten their livelihood.
The US Fish and Wildlife Service has concluded that the prairie dog’s population is only 20 percent of its original size. The agency is expected to decide whether the species warrants protection in March, but ranchers are looking to have their voices heard.
To most ranchers, the animals are considered pests and are often exterminated. Their large colonies are blamed for erosion and damage to agricultural land. One rancher said that “there is no shortage of these creatures.” But environmental groups — and the government — seem to disagree.
WildEarth Guardian, a non-profit wildlife protection organization, found that North America’s five different species of prairie dogs have dwindled down to only 10% of what they once were due to poisoning, shooting, and habitat destruction.
The prairie dogs are important low-on-the-food-chain animals and their survival is important to countless other species.
“Prairie dogs are critical keystone species in Wyoming because not only do they provide food for the ferrets, but also for hawks, eagles, burrowing owls and more,” said Duane Short, a native species specialist with the Wyoming-based Biodoversity Conservation Alliance.
Photo Credit: BaronBrian on Flickr under Creative Commons license.