Campaign Launched to Add Millions of Prairie Dogs to Endangered Species List

Published June 1, 1999

School children, always eager to befriend warm and fuzzy animals, are now being recruited by environmentalists and a major corporation to come to the defense of the prolific and destructive prairie dog.

The campaign, designed to list the black-tailed prairie dog as an endangered species, is being conducted by the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) in cooperation with Dayton Hudson Corp.’s Target stores.

Numbering in the millions, the animals are found in 10 states and inhabit about 1 million acres. Even in states where their populations are controlled, the animals reproduce very quickly.

“What kids may not understand is that the plan to get the black-tailed prairie dog on the endangered species list is nothing more than a bold attempt by the National Wildlife Federation and others to control a vast amount of land,” said Stewart Truelsen, director of broadcast services for the American Farm Bureau Federation. “But, in order to accomplish this, the prairie dog must have a complete makeover. It can’t be thought of as a pest anymore, thus the public relations program.”

School children have been told of the animal’s “threatened” existence in a recent issue of Earth Savers, a school newspaper published jointly by the NWF and Target. The story carried the headline, “Prairie Dogs Need Protection Too.” NWF President Mark Van Putten notes in the article that 98 percent of the animal’s natural habitat has been lost.

“If prairie dogs have lost 98 percent of their habitat, it’s only because they had overrun the Great Plaines from southern Canada to northern Mexico until the area was settled,” responds Truelsen. “Even the NWF has conceded that there may have been 5 billion prairie dogs at one time.”

Prairie dogs are astonishingly destructive to ranch and farmlands. An aerial view of a prairie dog town resembles a “lunar landscape,” said Truelsen. In most states where prairie dogs are found, Truelsen notes, they are officially listed as a nuisance or pest.

“If the prairie dog is listed as a threatened species,” warns Truelsen, “then it’s the agricultural way of life that will be lost, because it is not compatible with uncontrolled prairie dog populations.