Prairie dog numbers continue to rise on Dixie National Forest

Prairie dog numbers are up for the fifth consecutive year on the Dixie National Forest, date, location not specified | File photo, St. George News

PANGUITCH — For the fifth consecutive year the annual spring adult Utah prairie dog count has been more than 1,000 animals on the Powell Ranger District’s Paunsaugunt Recovery Unit, a landmark number in the effort to help recovery of the threatened species, according to the U.S. Forest Service

As part of recovery efforts, the Powell Ranger District on the Dixie National Forest has been conducting spring counts of adult prairie dogs.

A prairie dog looks from a artificial burrow made from irrigation piping some 25 miles outside of Cedar City, Utah, Aug. 6, 2015 | Associated Press file photo by Rick Bowmer, St. George News

The Forest Service has been conducting these counts on national forest system lands for the past five years in cooperation with the Utah Division of Wildlife.

Counts are conducted annually and are used to monitor overall population trends by recovery unit. As stated in the prairie dog plan, recovery of the Paunsaugunt Recovery Unit is measured with the unit having a spring count of more than 1,000 adult dogs annually over a period of five consecutive years. The spring count on the Dixie National Forest for 2018 was more than 1,450, according to a statement from the Forest Service.

Among those involved in the recovery efforts are the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, Garfield County, State Trust Lands, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management and the Utah Department of Natural Resources, Endangered Species Mitigation Fund program.

Local biologists along with partners say they have worked hard to conserve the species and are optimistic as the numbers are holding well above the 1,000 adult animal minimum to meet the recovery goal.

In Utah, under the current plan, prairie dogs found on private lands do not count toward the recovery population goal, therefore counting prairie dogs for the fifth year in a row all on national forest lands or “protected public land” is an important step towards delisting the protected species.

“One of the strong parts of the recovery program is that Utah Prairie Dogs on the Powell Ranger District are well distributed across the district within suitable habitat, with additional efforts of habitat improvement with partners continuing to occur,” said Ron Rodriguez, Dixie National Forest, biologist and forest wildlife program manager. “This recovery area has connectivity across the landscape which is a critical component for future management  and conservation of the species.”

Forest Service officials said they look forward to continuing its work with partners and moving ahead with further conservation efforts such as establishing a conservation strategy and agreement document that will further assist managers in meeting the delisting criteria for the Utah prairie dog.

For more information on the the Utah prairie dog, click here.

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