It may be a good day for groundhogs, but their prairie dog cousins aren't enjoying the same popularity. In what may be news to locals who see the critters quite a bit, the Gunnison's and black-tailed prairie dogs are in serious trouble in New Mexico. State wildlife officials aren't taking steps to conserve them, according to WildEarth Guardians. Unique to North America, prairie dogs play ecologically vital roles in grassland and sagebrush steppe habitats.
Two are protected under the Endangered Species Act: the Mexican and Utah prairie dogs. The other three – the black-tailed, Gunnison’s, and white-tailed prairie dogs – have been denied ESA protection by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Black-tailed prairie dogs once occupied 100 million acres within their historic range. In 2004, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimated only 1,894,000 acres still existed; that is a 98 percent loss of occupied habitat. Gunnison’s prairie dogs have lost 98 percent of occupied habitat, dwindling from 24 million acres to fewer than 500,000 acres in 2008.
Prairie Dog Rapture by Anthony Falbo. Photo: NPS.