Love ‘em or hate ‘em, Colorado prairie dogs have become controversial figures in the last decade.
During the 1990s, environmental groups said sprawling development was to blame for a supposed decline of the prairie dog population. The groups petitioned the federal government to declare black-tailed prairie dogs as an endangered species.
But results of a Colorado Division of Wildlife prairie dog census that were released yesterday show the close cousin of the squirrel is thriving on the eastern plains, occupying some 788,000 acres – an increase of nearly 100,000 acres since 2002.
Most prairie dog “towns” are located on private land, away from new urban developments, the census found.
“Private landowners have said for years that the population of black-tailed prairie dogs was not in jeopardy,” said Alan Foutz, president of the Colorado farm bureau. “This study, done with cooperative efforts of private landowners is an important step to proving that the prairie dog has a healthy population.”
Colorado is home to three species of prairie dogs – the black-tailed, the white-tailed and the Gunnison. Black-tailed prairie dogs are the most common species. They populate the Front Range and eastern plains. White-tailed and Gunnison prairie dogs are generally found west of Interstate 25.