Prairie dogs have more in common with Redwood Trees and Bison than the casual observer might guess. All three thrived in great numbers before the European invasion of North America; all three suffered severe decreases in their population at the hands of the newcomers, declining by 96-99%; and all three are still, incredibly, under assault.
The Redwoods covered about 2,000,000 acres in 1850, from Monterey County in California to the Chetco River in Oregon. Now, only a few isolated islands remain. Despite this, the Redwoods still need to be defended.
The Bison’s range once stretched from Idaho to Virginia, and Minnesota to Texas, and the animals numbered 25-30 million. By 1890, Whites had hunted them down to a few hundred. The famous Yellowstone herd, which is based out of the national park, is descended from just 23 individuals and currently numbers less than 5000. Despite this, the Bison still need to be defended.
Prairie dogs are a keystone species originally found throughout the Great Plains and Rocky Mountain states of the US. Though once quite common, over the past century their population has plunged by over 98% due to the activites of the US Occupation, with cascading effects to other fauna and flora. Despite this, they too still need to be defended.
Prairie dogs differ from the Redwood and the Bison in one important aspect: unlike the previous two, they enjoy very little legal protection. Only two of the five species of prairie dog are officially listed as under threat, but these laws are rarely enforced. The US Fish and Wildlife Service has so far turned down all petitions to list the other three species. At the local level, few pro-prairie dog laws exist and in fact some counties actually require the eradication of prairie dogs on private land.
So killing prairie dogs is still a common occurrence. Earlier this month, in Longmont, Colorado, a prairie dog colony was exterminated for no urgent reason and against the wishes of local residents. It was this story that brought the plight of the prairie dogs to my attention and inspired me to investigate further.