MT Panel approves 'dog shooting restrictions on federal land

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Panel approves limits on prairie dog shooting.

2/22/02

HELENA (AP) – Prairie dogs will no longer be considered varmints that can be shot at will on federal lands in Montana.

The state Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commission on Wednesday approved new regulations that classify the black-tailed prairie dog as “nongame wildlife in need of management” and regulate shooting of the animals.

The new restrictions, which go into effect March 1, do not apply to private or state-owned land.

The conservation plan prohibits shooting black-tailed prairie dogs on federal land in central and Eastern Montana during March, April and May. The regulations also impose a year-round shooting ban on white-tailed prairie dogs on federal lands in Carbon County.

Shooting of prairie dogs also will be prohibited on Bureau of Land Management lands in southern Phillips County, which is a federal reintroduction area for the endangered black-footed ferret. The prairie dog is a staple of the ferret’s diet.

The state action, authorized by a law passed last year, is part of a multistate effort to prevent prairie dog populations from declining to the point the animal is listed as a threatened species in an 11-state region.

In 2000, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determined that the black-tailed prairie dog should have some legal protection, but decided against listing the animal because the agency had more than two dozen other species in greater need of protection.

Before approving the regulations, some commission members expressed concern that they will be subject to review in just a year. They said the plan should be in place for at least two years to give authorities enough information to determine the effect of the restrictions.

Heidi Youmans, who heads the small game bureau in the Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks, said studies planned in the coming year should provide enough information for officials to measure the success of the new regulations.

She also said the law provides for annual regulations and that is what many citizens said they wanted for this first-ever attempt to control prairie dog shooting.

“I guess we have to start somewhere,” said Dan Walker of Billings, commission chairman.

Prairie dogs are found on less than 1 percent of their historic range of 100 million acres in an 11-state area. About 10 percent of all occupied black-tailed prairie dog habitat in the country is located in Montana.

In the early 1900s, prairie dog towns dotted an estimated 1.5 million acres of Montana. A statewide survey in 1996-98 found the animal on 80,000 to 90,000 acres.

The population decline has been attributed to a combination of intensive eradication efforts, loss of habitat and plague. Conservation groups have asked the federal government to list the animal as threatened; farmers and ranchers consider them pervasive pests that damage their land.

The timing of the shooting ban for the black-tailed prairie dog is intended to protect the animal when giving birth and rearing its young, funnel spring shooting to private land and help the recovery of colonies that have been struck by plague.
 

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