The Humane Society of the United States was excited to announce the 2019 Prairie Dog Coalition (PDC) on the Transect. Daily content updates from the field can be found here, including the video, photo and species of the day. Learn more about the transect and the inspiration behind it.

Biking on day 6 of the PDC Transect

Day 6: Monday, July 1, 2019

Notes from Rock Creek

After learning that the rains had blown out part of the roads which resulted in us having to forego Ferret Camp and Enrico, we had to combine the last two days into one day of mountain biking 24 miles to Rock Creek on the Charles River National Wildlife Refuge.

We biked through the lavishly grassy Charles M. Russell Wildlife refuge trail and took in the gorgeous scenery. We continued to see landscape void of prairie dogs due to the plague⁠—yes, prairie dogs are one of the species of mammals that are susceptible to plague. This is another challenge for prairie dogs, not only because of the disease but because of the misconceptions about it that exist and those are often used to call for extermination of a colony. What we passed through was ideal for future colonies, and despite having faced great adversity, the prairie dogs continue to persist. We can all empathize with their resilience and we hope to bring them back to healthy and sustainable numbers.

three black footed ferrets peaking their heads above ground
SPECIES OF THE DAY: Black-footed ferrets (Mustela nigripes) are a critically endangered species that are located only on reintroduction sites within western North America. Not only are the prairie dogs used as a primary food source, but the ferrets will use the burrows to house their young.
Wendy Shattil
Alamy Stock Photo

As we finish the transect, we want to thank everyone who followed our journey and to all of our sponsors, including today’s: WildEarth Guardians and REI.

We hope you’ll continue to support our important work to help prairie dogs by joining us on Facebook.

For the p-dogs,

Day 5: Sunday, June 30, 2019

Notes from James Kipp

Today was a stormy day, but we embarked on our final canoeing leg nonetheless and headed up the river towards James Kipp. Once the weather cleared, we found there was little to no current on the wide river and we had to dig deep to get the strength to paddle for hours on end to make it to the next stop. Needless to say, the weather has been challenging throughout the trip and we may have to regroup and determine if we need to reroute the remaining days of our trip. In remote locations like this, it’s even more important to adapt to weather changes and it reminded us of what the prairie dogs we relocated during our field season are likely experiencing as they adapt to their new surroundings.

Prairie Dog Coalition Transect Day 5
PHOTO OF THE DAY: Thanks to today’s sponsor, Osprey!
deer mouse
SPECIES OF THE DAY: Deer mice (Peromyscus maniculatus) are a species of least concern located across North America that rely on the disturbed soils caused by prairie dog colonies for the growth of annual plants that'll be used as food.
Dr. William J. Weber

Prairie dogs are relocated for various reasons, many of which lead back to a perception that prairie dogs destroy grassland when, in fact, prairie dogs are a key factor in keeping grassland ecosystems productive. This keystone species can improve large expanses of land that will not only benefit other wildlife, but also livestock such as cattle that forage in these areas.

Through the establishment of burrows, prairie dogs create healthy soil conditions underneath the surface due to less soil compaction that will create more pore spaces for water movement, aeration and increased stability. In areas that have a low amount of annual rainfall (60mm or less), this is critical for water filtration. On top of the soil, prairie dogs will remove leaf litter exposing smaller plant life to sunlight for an increase in nutrient production. This in turn benefits cattle because as they forage they will be eating higher quality vegetation.

For the p-dogs, 

Prairie Dog Coalition Transect Day 4 map
PHOTO OF THE DAY: Day Four Transect Map

Day 4: Saturday, June 29, 2019

Notes from Cow Island

Today we canoed a total of 22 miles from the McGarry Bar to Cow Island, bringing the total mileage of the trip so far to 54 miles. Initially we had planned to stop at Cow Island, but due to a nesting pair of bald eagles, we had to readjust our path. When you think of species that improve water health, prairie dogs likely don’t come to mind. But keeping water systems healthy is a one of many services to the ecosystem that prairie dogs provide, or rather, that their burrows provide.

While the entrances to a burrow (burrows have multiple entrances) are small, the burrow itself is expansive. Burrows are more than six feet below the ground and range between 15 to 32 feet long. The digging activity of the prairie dogs to make these burrows makes the already aerated ground more porous, which makes it easier for water to move through and refill the groundwater reserves. Because their habitat is the semi-arid grassland where rain is infrequent, this is yet another important benefit that the prairie dogs provide.

Ferruginous Hawk with its wings spread, perched on a tree branch in the desert.
SPECIES OF THE DAY: Our species of the day is the Ferruginous Hawk (Buteo regalis), a species of concern in Montana. These hawks prey on prairie dogs as one of their three primary prey species, and the hawks accumulate in areas with numerous prairie dog coteries.

As we’re more than halfway through our transect journey, I do want to take a moment to also thank our sponsors, such as Patagonia and the Law Firm of Jeremy Rosenthal, who have helped make this trip possible. Thanks to all of our sponsors, we only need to raise another $5,000 to fund our on-the-ground activities that we plan to do this fall on the APR. These activities typically include creating native wildlife habitat, wildlife translocation and native vegetation restoration. Traveling through the APR the past few days has us even more excited to continue our work and we hope that you’ll help us reach our transect funding goal by donating today.

For the p-dogs,

PDC Transect team with their canoes, prepping to launch
PHOTO OF THE DAY: The Day 3 crew gets ready to launch.

Day 3: Friday, June 28, 2019 

Notes from Missouri River, Montana 

Today was the first day of canoeing on the Missouri River. Judith Landing, the launch site, is where Lewis and Clark stayed on their journey.  For some of us, one of the first stories we heard about prairie dogs was of how Lewis and Clark were responsible for their name, with Clark calling them prairie dogs due to their chirp that sounded like a bark. Lewis apparently called them barking squirrels, which also seems a bit fitting.  
Like most people interested in conservation, we all had read many of the journal entries of Lewis and Clarke. As we rowed away from the launch site, we talked about how much has changed since their journey 215 years ago when they were seeing wild animals everywhere and coming across numerous prairie dog towns.

three burrowing owls standing in the grass
SPECIES OF THE DAY: The burrowing owl (Athene cuniculana) is a species of least concern that lives throughout western North America within habitats such as grassland, shrubland, savanna and desert. This species depends on colonies of burrowing mammals such as the prairie dogs for nest site habitat. When the number of prairie dog colonies declines, burrowing owls lose nesting habitats resulting in their own decline.
Elizabeth Morffiz
South Florida Wildlife Center

One of the reasons they were apparently drawn to the prairie dog was due to the prairie dog’s burrowing skills⁠—their burrows are more than six feet underground and can be up to 33 feet long with multiple entrances! For us, many of us were drawn to the prairie dog’s plight after learning more about their impact and also their status as one of nature’s underdogs. If we are to secure their future, we have to educate and raise awareness about their impact on other species and address misconceptions people hold about them that contribute to their demise. I hope you’ll continue to follow our journey and share with friends to spread the word about the plight of the prairie dogs.  
For the p-dogs,

An overview of the prairie dog’s range
PHOTO OF THE DAY: An overview of the prairie dog’s range; you can see how much of it is in Montana!

Day 2: Thursday, June 27, 2019 

Notes from Judith Landing, Big Sandy, Montana  

Today consisted of hiking and running more than six miles through the American Prairie Reserve (APR) to get to our next destination, Judith Landing, a campground by the Missouri River. The APR is a historical prairie range and is one of the last intact ecosystems for native prairie wildlife, but glaringly absent from the prairie were the prairie dogs themselves, despite it being prime prairie dog habitat. It’s a stark reminder of the devastating effects of poisoning, shooting, disease and habitat loss.  

Mountain plover bird standing on grass
SPECIES OF THE DAY: The mountain plover (Charadriuhs montanus) benefits greatly from living close to the black-tailed prairie dog. Mountain plovers in prairie dog towns are three times more likely to fledge chicks. Just another example of how prairie dogs directly affect the wider ecosystem! We hope that as more people learn about the plight and impact of the prairie dog, they will join us in helping to save them.
Nature Photographers Ltd
Alamy Stock Photo

As we arrived at our camping spot for the night, Judith Landing, and prepared our canoes for tomorrow’s journey, that sense of sadness disappeared and was replaced with hope as we talked about the goal of APR becoming the next Yellowstone. APR’s connected habitat is one of the last intact ecosystems for native prairie dog wildlife, and the PDC, together with organizations like APR and Defenders of Wildlife, will help bring back the prairie dog and their associates, like the swift fox, mountain plover and other wildlife populations in these key areas.  

For the p-dogs, 

P.S. Did you see us on National Geographic’s Yellowstone Live? If not, make sure to check out the "Baby Boom" episode where we release some adorable p-dogs!

Day 1: Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Notes from Glasgow, Montana

Early this morning, we embarked on the first part of our 100-mile journey—a 12-mile hike! It was brutal, but each step we took reminded us all of how important this effort is to raise awareness about the plight of the prairie dogs. We followed the little orange flags that marked the path to follow (there aren’t any other signs or markers out here!) and were overjoyed to have our first prairie dog sighting: A little prairie dog standing up and surveying the surroundings. A beautiful sight and quite the inspiration.

The little prairie dog was no doubt keeping an eye out for predators, of which there are many, including our species of the day, the swift fox (Vulpes Velox). The prairie dog is a keystone species, which means they are species that other species rely heavily on—nine species are directly linked to the prairie dog, including for food. The swift fox is labeled a vulnerable species due to their restricted range throughout the Great Plains and one of their preferred species of prey is the prairie dog. We’ll be highlighting a species of the day each day of our journey, so that you can learn a bit more about the impact the prairie dog is having in their ecosystem and why it’s so important we help them.

Lindsey Sterling Krank hiking on the 2019 PDC Transect
PHOTO OF THE DAY: Prairie Dog Coalition director Lindsey Sterling Krank on the go with our little stuffed animal mascot who is joining us for the transect.
Swift fox and kit in a field
SPECIES OF THE DAY: The swift fox is labeled as a vulnerable species, meaning that unless circumstances that are decreasing its reproduction and threatening its survival improve, it is likely to become endangered.
Alamy Stock Photo

Spreading the word about what we’re seeing and why prairie dogs are so important to save is critical and it the main reason we are doing this journey! So many people don’t know the valuable role prairie dogs play in the ecosystem and being able to share their plight on National Geographic’s Yellowstone Live, our social media channels and here with you brings us additional hope that we can secure their future. But just like our expedition, we have only just begun!  

For the p-dogs,