Colorado is home to three prairie dog species: the black-tailed, white-tailed, and Gunnison’s prairie dog. Although there are similarities among the species, each is unique in its habitat requirements, social and conservation needs. Concern about prairie dog populations stem from apparent declines in distribution caused by multiple factors, but most notably plague which is a non-native disease spread by fleas.
Why Are Prairie Dogs Important?
Prairie dogs are a keystone species, which means they are a species upon which other animals depend, and that removal of these species from the ecosystem would cause changes to ecosystem function. Prairie dogs are prey for species like the endangered black-footed ferret, ferruginous hawks, badgers and bobcats. Their burrows provide escape structure, nests and dens for species like burrowing owls, kit and swift fox, small mammals and reptiles. They till and aerate the soil, help spread seeds, and alert other species to potential predators.
What Are The Associated Challenges?
What Are Some Of The Things CPW Is Doing?
Our wildlife health and research teams have made amazing strides in developing a plague vaccine for prairie dogs and we use a dust insecticide to reduce flea densities on prairie dog colonies to protect against plague outbreaks in important conservation areas.
We do periodic monitoring statewide using standard protocols to evaluate long-term trends to ensure management efforts are maintaining viable populations and range-wide distribution.
We work closely with landowners to keep habitat open and available for prairie dogs on their properties to support the species as well as the many other species that depend on them such as the Black-Footed Ferret.
We have instituted a seasonal shooting closure on public lands to protect females and young when they are most vulnerable through the early spring and summer.