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Conservationists say prairie dog proposal could hamper endangered species reintroduction

Asiir via CC-BY-SA-2.5

Conservation groups are criticizing a proposal to reduce the amount of land protected for prairie dogs in the Thunder Basin National Grassland.

The U.S. Forest Service is considering shrinking the acreage of protected land, largely because ranchers have concerns about livestock being injured in prairie dog holes and acquiring diseases.

But Steve Forrest with Defenders of Wildlife says reducing the prairie dog population could create problems for other wildlife. For example, he says it would hamper efforts to re-introduce endangered species like black-footed ferrets, because the ferrets almost exclusively eat prairie dogs.

“Though it will not eliminate the potential to reintroduce ferrets, it will certainly impair the ability of that population to persist over time,” Forrest said.

Larry Sandoval with the Forest Service says his agency will carefully weigh all concerns before making a final decision.

“The forest and the grassland will ensure that habitat requirements are met and necessary acreages are provided to support viable populations of prairie dogs and their associated species, including black-footed ferrets,” Sandoval said.

The Forest Service expects to finalize the plan this fall.

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