Gunnison's Prairie Dog Gets Second Chance at Federal Protection
WASHINGTON, DC, August 28, 2007 (ENS) - The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced today that the Gunnison's prairie dog will receive additional review under the Endangered Species Act. The Service is also opening a public comment period to allow all interested parties an opportunity to provide information regarding the status of the species.
The Service is initiating this status review for the Gunnison's prairie dog in response to a July 2, 2007 court-ordered settlement agreement with the conservation group Forest Guardians. Under the agreement, the Service must submit to the Federal Register a 12-month status review finding by February 1, 2008.
A 2006 decision by the Service not to list the mammal for protection under the Endangered Species Act was found by the court to have been illegally influenced by Julie MacDonald, a former deputy assistant secretary at the United States Department of the Interior in charge of the Service. MacDonald resigned May 1 in disgrace just prior to a Congressional oversight hearing on political meddling in the federal endangered species program.
Service emails revealed that the negative petition finding issued in 2006 for the Gunnison's prairie dog was ordered by MacDonald and overrode Service biologists' positive finding, which would have pushed the Gunnison's prairie dog closer to federal protection.
One email from the Service's Chris Nolin, dated January 19, states, "Per Julie please make the pd [prairie dog] finding negative." Two weeks later, the negative finding was published on February 7, 2006.
The Service is now proceeding with the status review, the results of which are supposed to indicate whether or not there is evidence to support listing the Gunnison's prairie dog.
Gunnison's prairie dog (Photo by Lisa Lynch courtesy National Park Service
The Gunnison's prairie dog is found in Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah. Rangewide, approximately 70 percent of potential Gunnison's prairie dog habitat occurs on tribal and private lands. In Arizona and New Mexico, a significant portion of potential habitat occurs on tribal lands.
The Gunnison's prairie dog, Cynomys gunnisoni, is a member of the same family as squirrels, chipmunks, and marmots. Gunnison's prairie dogs are found on grasslands and semi-desert and montane shrublands at elevations from 6,000 to 12,000 feet.
The Service is specifically seeking any new information regarding the taxonomic status of the Gunnison's prairie dog; its distribution and population densities; and the effects of sylvatic plague on the species.
A broad coalition supports an Endangered Species Act listing for the Gunnison's prairie dog. The initial listing petition, filed by Forest Guardians in February 2004, included 73 co-petitioners, including homebuilders, realtors, landowners, religious groups, and conservation groups.
The plaintiffs in the lawsuit settled on July 2 were Forest Guardians, biologists Dr. Constantine Slobodchikoff, Dr. Ana Davidson, and Dr. David Lightfoot, and Jews Of The Earth, Center for Native Ecosystems, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, Wildlands Conservation Alliance, and Bob Luce, the former coordinator of the Interstate Prairie Dog Team.
Additional information about the Gunnison's prairie dog can be found here.
The Service will accept comments and information until October 29, 2007. Comments can be mailed or hand-delivered to: Gunnison's Prairie Dog Comments, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 764 Horizon Drive, Building B, Grand Junction, CO 81506-3946, or sent by email to: FW6_Gunnisonfirstname.lastname@example.org
In addition to the court ordered reconsideration of the Gunnison's prairie dog listing, the Service is voluntarily reconsidering decisions made by MacDonald on eight other species. Read the ENS story on these species, Fired Official's Endangered Species Decisions Revisited.
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