Gunnison's Prairie Dogs

By Danielle Grobmeier / Photo by Bruce D. Taubert

Of the five species of prairie dogs, Gunnison’s prairie dogs are the smallest. Unlike other prairie dogs, Gunnison’s are not known to kill their young, but they’re dying in other ways. Recreational shooting, along with poisoning of prairie dogs to protect agriculture, has contributed to a decline in the species’ population, which is concentrated within the Four Corners areas of Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Utah. Various groups have attempted to have the species listed as endangered, but in 2013, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determined that Gunnison’s prairie dogs were not endangered or threatened enough in Arizona to warrant protection. The service’s report indicated that populations in certain parts of Colorado and New Mexico, but not those in Arizona, need protection under the Endangered Species Act. The animals’ burrows are considered to be healthy for plant life in areas the rodents occupy. Often, abandoned prairie-dog burrows are repurposed by other burrow-dwelling animals. The prairie dogs’ burrowing also introduces air to the soil and allows water to more easily penetrate it.