Conservation Organizations Petition Feds for Protection for Relocated Prairie Dogs

Relocation Site at El Malpais National Conservation Area Allows Recreational Shooting

Santa Fe, NM – WildEarth Guardians, Santa Fe County Commissioner Kathy Holian, and seven animal advocacy and conservation organizations submitted a petition, endorsed by Santa Fe Mayor David Coss, to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) today requesting the agency make a federal rule restricting recreational shooting of Gunnison’s prairie dogs in a portion of El Malpais National Conservation Area (NCA) in New Mexico. Prairie dogs are regularly translocated from Santa to the conservation area and petitioners are concerned that shooting squanders the ecological benefits, as well as the significant investments of time and funds required to relocate prairie dogs.

“Recreational shooting of prairie dogs is widespread on both public and private lands,” said Taylor Jones, Endangered Species Advocate for WildEarth Guardians. “For the sake of these intelligent, social animals and the grasslands that depend on them, we need to create more safe havens on our public lands.”

"The Northern New Mexico Group of the Sierra Club has worked for 3 years to re-establish the valuable ecosystem services that prairie dogs provide on suitable open land,” said Teresa Seamster, co-chair of the group. “We support all efforts by the BLM to preserve the prairie dogs translocated from Santa Fe to El Malpais."

Santa Fe passed an ordinance in 2001 that requires humane relocation of prairie dogs away from construction sites, sports fields, or other areas where human uses come into conflict with prairie dogs’ presence before lethal control can be used in the area.

“Santa Fe citizens enacted the 2001 measure as a reflection of prairie dogs’ vital role in the ecosystem and they want to see the animals protected even when relocated beyond the city’s borders,” said Phil Carter, Wildlife Campaign Manager with Animal Protection of New Mexico.

In 2009, the city of Santa Fe entered into an agreement with the NCA and began to translocate prairie dogs from Santa Fe into an area designated a Prairie Dog Colony Enhancement Area by the BLM. However, shooting of prairie dogs is allowed in the enhancement area, as it is in all areas of the NCA. Prairie dog shooters do not need a permit or license in New Mexico. Though shooting pressure on the colony is currently low, it could increase to a deleterious level: one shooter can potentially kill more than 100 prairie dogs in a single session.

Prairie dog colonies exposed to shooting have been documented to suffer health impacts and behavioral changes. In addition, shooting can introduce poisonous lead into the environment – prairie dogs killed in this manner are rarely collected and scavengers that feed on the bodies may ingest bullet fragments. "

Prohibiting recreational shooting is not only the humane thing to do, it is the ecologically responsible thing to do," said Monica Engebretson, Senior Program Association for Born Free USA. "Survival of the prairie dog is critical to the continued existence of the prairie ecosystem – one of the most endangered ecosystems in the world."

Prairie dogs are important prey for numerous other animals, including raptors, swift foxes, coyotes, and badgers. They also create homes for snakes, cottontail rabbits, burrowing owls, beetles, and salamanders and other wildlife that use prairie dog burros. Prairie dog tunneling aerates the soil and increase soil moisture, and their grazing of around their colonies creates nutritious vegetation preferred by other grazers such as bison and pronghorn. "

A healthy and unharmed population of prairie dogs can be a boon to local economies," said Joe Miele, President of the Committee to Abolish Sport Hunting. "The wildlife watching community would embrace new opportunities to observe and photograph prairie dogs, and the economic return to small independently--‐owned businesses would be welcomed in difficult times."

The Gunnison’s prairie dog is currently a candidate for listing under the Endangered Species Act. The species occupies less than 2 percent of its former distribution in the ‘‘Four Corners’’ region of northern Arizona, southwestern Colorado, northwestern New Mexico, and southeastern Utah. Mass federal extermination efforts on behalf of the livestock industry eliminated the species from most of its range. The species still suffers from introduced sylvatic plague, extensive oil and gas drilling, shooting, poisoning, urban sprawl, and other perils.

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