Tuesday, October 05, 2010

A Wyoming wonder

In 1999, we published a feature story that followed biologist Jonathan Proctor around the northern Great Plains as he tried to convince ranchers that prairie dogs are beneficial for their land. Proctor’s a tall guy, but his task was undoubtedly taller, if not colossally unrealistic. Affectionately termed “range rats” by some, prairie dogs are one of the most contentious species in the West – arguably on par with wolves – primarily because they eat grass ranchers would rather see disappear into the rumens of their cows. ESPN, for instance, encourages shooting prairie dogs for sport. In 2009, though, after a decade-long effort from Proctor and nearly five years of government-led negotiations involving numerous proposed management alternatives, draft revisions, and sit-downs with private landowners, the U.S. Forest Service announced a new management plan that involved translocating – instead of killing – a colony of black-tailed prairie dogs from the edge of private ranch land to a core recovery area within northeast Wyoming’s Thunder Basin National Grassland. And now, three months of fieldwork, 550 prairie dogs, and 192 acres of new habitat later, the move is mostly complete. It’s the first-ever prairie dog relocation project carried out by the Forest Service on a national grassland, and the first large-scale one performed on public land...more

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