The Sage Grouse

Top Ten Reasons to Love Prairie Dogs

This is going to be a challenge.  I can only think of four reasons to love prairie dogs:

  1. Black-footed ferrets like to eat them.
  2. Hawks like to eat them.
  3. They provide homes for Burrowing owls.
  4. They create bare wastelands which provide preferred nesting habitat for Mountain plovers.

The rest of this commentary is going to be “politically incorrect.”

All of my environmentalist pals develop hearing loss and give blank stares when I say this, but prairie dogs destroy habitat used by Greater sage-grouse.  I have seen several places, one-half to a full square mile in size, where flourishing sagebrush and grass in upland sage-grouse nesting habitat was completely destroyed by prairie dogs.  I have flown over landscapes of several square miles where the prairie dogs had wiped out most of the plant life.

I don’t shoot sage-grouse any more, but I did for several years.  My favorite hunting spot while I was in law school in Laramie was up above the Shirley Basin on the road to the Miracle Mile.  Every time I went there I got an easy limit, usually in one-half hour.  It was private land, so most of the hunters avoided it.  I always found it easy to get permission.

I went back about ten years ago.  The prairie dogs had moved in and eaten everything in sight, except a few shriveled black sagebrush twigs.  I hunted for two hours and never saw a grouse.  The dogs were very unhappy.

We had the same problem at our ranch in Montana, which we bought largely to improve wildlife habitat.  One of the most promising areas for sage-grouse nesting, near a lek on the neighbor’s land, was totally denuded by prairie dogs.

There are a lot of places where one can see hundreds or thousands of prairie dog burrows.  Neither the Black-tailed nor the White-tailed prairie dogs are endangered species.

At a time when oil and gas drilling and wind turbine construction are being held out of core sage-grouse habitat, maybe we should give some thought to the presence of prairie dogs in such habitats.

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