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Colorado begins prairie dog conservation surveys

From the Colorado Division of Wildlife

-- Field work for prairie dog conservation by the Colorado Division of Wildlife started the week of April 5 in western Colorado. The work will continue through the summer.
       
This work will focus on the Gunnison's prairie dog, one of three species found in Colorado. The black-tailed prairie dog is found along the front range and on the eastern plains; the white-tailed prairie dog inhabit the northwestern and west-central areas of the state; and the Gunnison's prairie dog are currently found in the southwestern and south-central portions of the state.
       
A field crew of six will conduct occupancy studies at 361 Gunnison's prairie dog sites. The sites, on public and private land, were identified in surveys conducted over the last 10 years. Biologists first identified sites of suitable habitat then selected a representative sample of the areas to document the presence and absence of prairie dogs. The sites were surveyed most recently in 2005 and 2007. Field staff will conduct ground and aerial surveys to check for occupancy of prairie dogs at the plots.
       
The sites are checked every 3-5 years to determine occupancy trends over the long term.      
       
The field work is part of a long-term conservation effort outlined in the Gunnison's and White-Tailed Prairie Dog Conservation Strategy, developed by the DOW, private landowners and other local, state and federal agencies in Colorado. The document provides a series of strategies and action plans to aid prairie dog conservation.
       
"The ultimate purpose of the strategy is to proactively protect and manage Gunnison's prairie dog populations to avoid the need for a listing of the species under the federal Endangered Species Act," explained Amy Seglund, wildlife conservation coordinator for the DOW in southwest Colorado.
       
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has identified the Gunnison's prairie dog as a candidate for listing under the Endangered Species Act in portions of its range.
       
An occupancy survey for the white-tailed prairie dog will be conducted within its range in northwest and west central Colorado in 2011.
       
In conjunction with monitoring activities, the DOW will also continue research on methods for detecting and controlling plague outbreaks. Plague, a disease caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis and transmitted by fleas, is a primary cause of prairie dog mortality. In addition to threatening public health, plague outbreaks can cause extinction of individual prairie dog colonies.

DOW researchers will be testing techniques that may help provide a long-term solution to plague infection in the hopes of stabilizing some prairie dog populations and thus prevent listing of the species under the federal Endangered Species Act. Much of DOW’s ongoing research is focused on evaluating techniques to control flea populations or otherwise breaking the cycle of transmission.
       
The DOW is also working with Utah, Arizona and New Mexico on range-wide conservation for the Gunnison's and white-tailed prairies dogs.
       
For more information about prairie dog conservation, go to the DOW web site, http://wildlife.state.co.us, and click on the "Wildlife Species" button.

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