No endangered-species status for prairie dogs

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced Tuesday that the white-tailed prairie dog would not be listed as an endangered species.

Wildlife conservationists decried the decision and promised to take the Fish and Wildlife Service to court.

"We're going to challenge the decision. At this point the last resort for us is a lawsuit," said Erin Robertson, a biologist with the Denver-based environmental nonprofit Center for Native Ecosystems, which filed the petition to list the white-tailed prairie dog.

According to a Fish and Wildlife press release, the petition to list the prairie dog did not contain substantial scientific data that warranted a listing.

Large white-tailed prairie dog colonies exist throughout Moffat County.

On Monday, the Center for Native Ecosystems filed protests against land parcels along the Wyoming border that the U.S. Bureau of Land Management Little Snake Field Office nominated for auction for oil and gas development, because the land contained prairie dog colonies. Robertson figured the Fish and Wildlife decision wouldn't help the protests.

But Fred Julander, president of Julander Energy Company, which is exploring a large mineral lease in Moffat County, said the decision was good news for the energy industry.

"I think hopefully it will help facilitate gas development and gas companies will be cognizant of the prairie dog and help in its conservation," he said.

But he didn't know about any conservation efforts energy companies are pursuing in support of the prairie dog.

The potential endangered- species listing of the prairie dog didn't attract the attention the greater sage grouse has. The FWS is expected to make a decision about whether to list that bird by the end of the year.

Robertson said she was puzzled by the lack of attention the prairie dog receives.

Conservation projects for the sage grouse, including one in Moffat County, have been under way for years. Although the sage grouse and prairie dog share the same habitat, Robertson knows about only one prairie-dog conservation project.

In the Grand Junction area, conservationists are relocating prairie dogs that were displaced by housing developments to BLM land.

Robertson's organization annually requests the Colorado Division of Wildlife to list the prairie dog as a state threatened or endangered species, which would afford it a level of protection, including shooting restrictions.

At the very least, the group would like to see the prairie dog listed as a species of concern, even though the status provides no protection.

The requests have been rejected annually, but Robertson hopes the new Legislature pressures the DOW to list the prairie dog in Colorado.

Rob Gebhart can be reached at 824-7031 or rgebhart@craigdailypress.com.

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