Defenders in Action: Stopping Prairie Dog Poisoning on National Grasslands

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.

The Problem

The Forest Service manages the national grasslands more for livestock and energy development than for wildlife. As a result, the agency continues to poison native prairie dogs using taxpayers’ money because they are seen as competition with livestock for grass and because neighboring private landowners do not want the colonies spreading onto their properties.

How We’re Helping

Poisoning prairie dogs can be bad for the environment, expensive, and rarely offers a long-term solution. Defenders is working with a handful of national grasslands on nonlethal alternatives to poisoning, such as creating tall-grass buffers between prairie dog colonies and adjacent private properties. Prairie dogs hesitate to make homes in or go through tall grass. Defenders has purchased and installed several miles of solar-powered portable electric fencing along buffer areas to keep livestock out, allowing the grass to grow tall.

Defenders also promotes relocation rather than poisoning of prairie dogs from conflict areas to core areas that are fully protected. We have helped move hundreds of prairie dogs out of harm’s way.

Where We Are Today

The Buffalo Gap National Grassland in South Dakota began creating tall grass buffers with our electric fencing in 2007. As a result, prairie dog poisoning has been reduced by more than 90 percent.

In summer 2010, we worked with Thunder Basin National Grassland in Wyoming on the first ever relocation of prairie dogs on any national grassland, moving 550 prairie dogs. In 2011 we helped relocate an additional 349 prairie dogs, and will take part in additional relocations in the summer of 2012. Not only does relocation save prairie dogs from poisoning but it also creates new prairie dog colonies where they can thrive and provide habitat for many other animals.

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A new poison is on the menu in Great Plains states, where ranchers claim that burrowing, grass-eating prairie dogs degrade pasture land.