Prairie dogs are one of the most important species on the prairie. Their grazing encourages the growth of forage and aerates the soil, and their burrows provide habitat for dozens of other prairie species. But they are also viewed as competition for cows on range land, and as such are classified as agricultural pests in Colorado. This status means that they are killed liberally and virtually without regulation, including by target shooters and government entities. But these animals are too important to treat otherwise, and CPI is working to ensure both the protection of prairie dogs and of the ecosystem that depends on them.
CPI’S PRAIRIE DOG WORK
Every year, the USDA enlists a federal agency called Wildlife Services to poison, shoot, and exterminate hundreds of acres of black-tailed prairie dog habitat. While CPI recognizes that land uses can sometimes conflict with wildlife, we believe it is vital that any large-scale environmental actions should be fully analyzed in compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act (“NEPA”) to ensure that the impacts are understood. Unfortunately, Wildlife Services has never analyzed the cumulative impacts of their prairie dog program, meaning that each year the Colorado prairies lose thousands of animals without understanding what their loss means for the greater ecosystem.
In 2017, we filed a lawsuit against Wildlife Services in an attempt to force them to comply with NEPA. Unfortunately, the Court sided with the agency in this particular situation (due to the deference afforded agencies), but the decision did create favorable law that will help future environmental plaintiffs challenge actions. We will never stop advocating for prairie wildlife and anticipate future challenges to Wildlife Services in the coming years.