Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks will conduct four public hearings in October to discuss and take comment on new proposed rules that reclassify prairie dogs as nongame wildlife in need of management and regulate prairie dog shooting on public lands. The meetings are set for 7 p.m. at the following locations:
Last year, in response to a 1998 petition to list the black-tailed prairie dog under the Endangered Species Act, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determined that the species warranted a 'threatened' listing. The USFWS, however, declined to list the species because there were more than two dozen other species in the pipeline that were in greater need of protection.
Earlier this year, the Montana Legislature passed House Bill 492. The bill clarified FWP's authority to designate prairie dogs as "nongame wildlife in need of management" and acknowledges the dual need to conserve prairie dogs and to control them in some areas of Montana.
State officials sought HB 492-and now the required administrative and annual rules--to establish a legal status for the prairie dog that provides for conservation as well as control, which will help to keep the black-tailed prairie dog off the nation's list of endangered species.
"The proposed rules establish balanced management authority for both the conservation and control of prairie dogs," said Heidi Youmans, FWP's Small Game Bureau chief. "The new rules will allow FWP to establish a prairie dog shooting regulation on public lands and to implement a variety of other conservation measures that may eventually include incentives for landowners to maintain prairie dog acreage."
Youmans stressed that there will be no changes in the ability of private landowners to control prairie dogs on their lands. Montana's prairie dog management strategy is outlined in the "Conservation Plan for Black-tailed and White-tailed Prairie Dogs in Montana." The plan was developed by Montana's prairie dog working group, composed of state and federal agencies, Montana's Indian tribes, conservation organizations, and landowners. One of the plan's objectives is to change the legal status of prairie dogs via legislation that recognizes the burrowing animals' value to prairie ecosystems and the fact that they can be a nuisance that can require control on private lands.
Prairie dogs are stout, burrowing animals within the squirrel family, approximately 14-17 inches long and weighing about 1-3 pounds. They are generally yellowish tan in color. They have short ears and a short tail tipped in black or white, depending on the species. Prairie dogs are active by day and live in colonies. Today, about 10 percent of all occupied black-tailed prairie dog habitat in the United States exists in Montana. FWP is seeking comment on the proposed administrative rule to reclassify black-tailed and white-tailed prairie dogs as nongame wildlife in need of management, and an environmental analysis (EA) that examines two alternative prairie dog management scenarios, including adoption of an annual rule to regulate shooting on public lands. Both documents are available on the FWP web site under Public Notices in the "Legal Notice" category.
Comments may be sent through Oct. 26 from the web site; by email to email@example.com; by FAX to 406-444-4952, or by mail to Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks, Wildlife Division, PO Box 200701, Helena, MT 59620-0701. To request print copies of the administrative rule and the EA, call 406-444-2612.