Montana’s Fish, Wildlife & Parks Commission recently approved the state wildlife agency’s adoption of a conservation plan for black- and white-tailed prairie dogs and is now seeking comment on a tentatively approved annual rule to regulate prairie dog shooting on public lands.
The commission voted unanimously to approve Montana’s first prairie dog conservation plan at its January meeting in Helena. The state’s Prairie Dog Working Group--composed of state and federal agencies, landowners, conservation organizations, Montana’s Indian tribes, and others--developed the conservation plan. The commission also unanimously agreed to tentatively adopt an annual rule to regulate prairie dog shooting on public lands, excluding all State School Trust Lands administered by the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation. Officials stressed that under the new rule there will be no changes in the ability of private landowners to control prairie dogs on their lands.
The conservation plan and tentatively adopted rule would become effective March 1. The tentatively adopted rule would:
· Allow black-tailed prairie dog shooting on public lands in central and eastern Montana from June through February. Shooting would be closed in March, April, and May on all public lands except School Trust Lands. The closure is designed to: (1) protect black-tailed prairie dogs on public lands during the birthing and rearing period; (2) steer springtime prairie dog shooting to private lands; and (3) assist in the recovery of prairie dog colonies on public land that have been reduced due to plague, a disease that continues to impact prairie dog populations throughout their 11-state range.
· Close white-tailed prairie dog shooting year-round on public lands in the central portion of southern Montana’s Carbon County where a small population of white-tailed prairie dogs inhabit a total of about 120 acres.
· Close black-tailed prairie dog shooting year-round on about 25,000 acres of BLM lands in southern Phillips County’s designated Black-footed Ferret Recovery Area where prairie dogs inhabit a total of about 1,300 acres.
In 2000, 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 federal officials said there were more than two dozen other species in greater need of protection.
Montana's prairie dog management strategy is outlined in the "Conservation Plan for Black-tailed and White-tailed Prairie Dogs in Montana." One of the plan's objectives was 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 also be a nuisance requiring control. The legislation was contained in House Bill 492 and was approved by Montana's Legislature last year.
FWP officials and others hope these steps toward prairie dog conservation in Montana--and similar efforts by the other 10 states that harbor black-tailed prairie dogs--will help keep the black-tailed prairie dog off the nation's list of endangered species, said Heidi Youmans, FWP's small game bureau chief.
"The approved conservation plan establishes a management direction and approach that balances existing state authority to control prairie dog populations with the state's new responsibly to conserve prairie dogs,” she said. "Among the variety of conservation measures that may be undertaken in the future could include monetary incentives for landowners to maintain prairie dog acreage."
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.
The FWP Commission is seeking comment on the tentatively adopted annual rule to regulate shooting on some public lands. The proposed shooting regulation is available on the FWP website at http://www.fwp.state.mt.us/ under Public Notices in the "Annual Rule" category. Comments may be sent through Feb. 13 from the web site; by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org; 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 annual rule, call 406-444-2612.