Prairie dogs are often not tolerated by private landowners, many of whom have eradicated them from their properties. Fortunately, there are others who understand the critical role this keystone species plays in maintaining a healthy grassland environment. Defenders of Wildlife is making sure that conservation-minded landowners are able to help protect prairie dogs on their own land.
Our nation’s 17 Great Plains national grasslands are managed by the U.S. Forest Service. These 3.5 million acres of public land are prime habitat for prairie dogs and other wildlife. As the main public lands in a region dominated by private land, the national grasslands are critical for maintaining healthy wildlife populations.
Prairie dogs are burrowing rodents that live in large colonies in the grasslands of central and western North America. The five species of prairie dogs (black-tailed, white-tailed, Gunnison’s, Mexican and Utah) were once likely more than one billion strong, and their colonies covered roughly 100 million acres. Since the late 1800s, their numbers have been reduced by at least 95 percent, and they are now found in comparatively small and fragmented colonies that total roughly 2-3 million acres.