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Utah Prairie Dogs: A triumph worth celebrating this Endangered Species Day

International Endangered Species Day is Friday, May 17

PARK CITY, Utah — To celebrate international Endangered Species Day, the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (DWR) has highlighted a conservation success story: the Utah prairie dog.

Prairie dogs of Utah

Utah has three species of prairie dogs, but the Utah prairie dog is only found in the southwestern part of the state, and nowhere else in the world. Gunnison’s prairie dogs are found in  southeastern Utah, and white-tailed prairie dogs live in northern and eastern Utah.

Prairie dogs of southwestern Utah

The Utah prairie dog is the only prairie dog species in the U.S. listed as endangered or threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The species has been listed under the ESA since 1973.

“Several things contributed to the decline of the species, but unregulated poisoning and plague were the primary threats,” said Barbara Sugarman, DWR Utah prairie dog recovery biologist.

Population has been stable or increasing for three decades now

Long-term data suggests that the range-wide population of this species has been stable or increasing over the last three decades. The DWR performs surveys each spring to estimate the population of Utah prairie dogs. This year’s count is currently under way, but preliminary counts are even higher than last year, and the species is on track to potentially meet the recovery goal again.

Recovery goal met in each recovery at the same time for first time in 47 years

“Utah prairie dogs are doing extremely well right now,” Sugarman said. “During the spring counts last year, we counted just under 10,000 Utah prairie dogs, and met the recovery goal of more than 1,000 adult Utah prairie dogs counted on public and protected land in each of the three recovery units simultaneously. That is the first time that each recovery unit has met the recovery goal at the same time since counts began in 1976.”

Listing status reviews

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is in charge of reviewing the status of species listed under the ESA. Species are on a five-year review cycle. The most recent update to the ESA went into effect this week. The revisions promote native species conservation by clarifying and simplifying permitting under Section 10(a) of the ESA, encouraging more resource managers and landowners to engage in these voluntary programs.

Learn more about how DWR is working with partners to help Utah prairie dogs recover here.

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