High Noon for Prairie Dogs

The fate of that symbol of the plains states, the prairie dog, still hangs in the balance (see "Open Season on Varmints," cover story, July/August 2004). Last August the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) removed the black-tailed prairie dog from the Endangered Species Act official candidate list, where it had sat awaiting funds for protection. The removal occurred under pressure from former South Dakota U.S. Senator Tom Daschle (D) and his successor, John Thune (R). At the same time, South Dakota announced plans for a massive prairie dog poisoning effort.

Pressure from U.S. Senators helped kill federal listing for prairie dogs.© USFWS

The white-tailed prairie dog never came close to listing. On November 9, the USFWS announced it had rejected a petition for federal protection, claiming insufficient information. Activists smell political meddling. "The conservation assessment was more than 150 pages," says Erin Robertson of The Center for Native Ecosystems. "We have 10 years worth of data showing continued declines. How can they claim they don’t even have enough information to investigate?"

"We are going to have to go back to court," Robertson says. "Taxpayer money is going to be wasted on lawsuits instead of being spent on keeping the species from going extinct."