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March 28, 2012

Solving Problems, Saving Lives

Creative solutions to save prairie dogs

  • This is just one of 899 black-tailed prairie dogs relocated to safety at Thunder Basin. Kathy Milani/The HSUS

  • Two projects are proving that creative and humane land management solutions can work for everyone—without the need to poison or shoot prairie dogs. Here's what The HSUS's Prairie Dog Coalition is working on in two key locations.

    Thunder Basin National Grassland

    So far, the Prairie Dog Coalition has relocated 899 prairie dogs out of harm's way. The prairie dogs are acclimated to their new digs at Thunder Basin National Grassland in Wyoming, and we're planning to ramp up our operation in 2012.

    As the number of prairie dogs grows at Thunder Basin, so does our hope for the future of the endangered black-footed ferret in the wild. The only wild ferrets endemic to North America, black-footed ferrets depend on prairie dogs for their survival.

    About 750 black-footed ferrets now live in the wild, up from a wild population of just 18 individuals counted back in 1986.

    At Thunder Basin, we're hoping to boost those numbers even more on the 18,000-acre grassland restoration project. If all goes well, this area will become a prairie dog-rich haven to reintroduce black-footed ferrets on lands where they were once abundant.

    Lower Brule Indian Reservation

    Black-footed ferrets and prairie dogs both live among the magnificent rolling grasslands that make up much of the Lower Brule Indian Reservation in South Dakota. For years, the prairie dogs were poisoned or shot in a lethal management approach. But that's been changing.

    "We're working to help boost populations of both black-footed ferrets and prairie dogs on the reservation," says Prairie Dog Coalition director Lindsey Sterling Krank, who has made numerous field trips to South Dakota to help protect prairie dogs and reduce land-use conflicts using several approaches.

    1. Economic incentives

    Since members of the Sioux Tribe usually collect fees from people who come to shoot prairie dogs, we're paying special conservation fees instead. We're also forging new agreements to close some areas to shooting.

    2. Cattle fencing and buffers

    In response to a request from the Sioux Tribes wildlife biologist Shaun Grassel, who has been working hard to implement alternatives to lethal management, we donated two miles of temporary electric fence to place along the border between prairie-dog management areas and private land.

    The fence prevents cattle from grazing to create a tall, grass border. Prairie dogs typically won't venture into tall grass, because they are wary of the predators who may be lurking there.

    Therefore, installing tall grass buffer-zones creates natural roadblocks which keep prairie dogs from migrating onto private land, where they are often poisoned or shot.

    3. Plague management

    To cut the incidence of sylvatic plague, we are working on the reservation to control fleas in prairie dog burrows. Fleas can spread sylvatic plague.

    Ways to get involved

    These two projects are just an introduction to our work to save prairie dogs. Learn more about the Prairie Dog Coalition, and please make a donation today to help us help the prairie dogs—and thus, the prairies.

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