Prairie dogs might get their day on endangered species list |

Prairie dogs might get their day on endangered species list

DENVER (AP) ” White-tailed prairie dogs will get another chance to make it on to the federal endangered species list.

Federal officials have agreed to reconsider whether the prairie dog found west of the Continental Divide should be protected. The agreement settles a lawsuit by conservation groups, which say the prairie dog’s numbers have declined by 92 percent across its range.

The white-tailed prairie dog lives in Colorado, Utah, Montana and Wyoming.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will start a new review by May 1 and will make a decision by June 2010, agency spokeswoman Diane Katzenberger said.

Federal officials rejected placing the rodent on the endangered species list in 2004. Last year, the agency reversed the decisions against placing the white-tailed prairie dog and other species on the list after an investigation found that a former high-ranking Interior Department official inappropriately influenced the original findings.

Conservation groups then sued to force the Fish and Wildlife Service to reopen the review of the prairie dog. The agency also is reconsidering whether the greater sage grouse should be federally protected.

“This agreement gives the Service and state wildlife agencies two more years to research the white-tailed prairie dog’s status,” said Erin Robertson, a biologist with Denver-based Center for Native Ecosystems.

A June 2007, memo from the regional office of the Fish and Wildlife Service said the Utah field office concluded after a 90-day review that the agency investigate further whether the prairie dog should be listed.

The finding was reversed after Julie MacDonald, an Interior Department deputy assistant secretary, suggested a negative decision, according to the memo. MacDonald, who oversaw the Fish and Wildlife Service, resigned after an Interior inspector general concluded that she pressured agency scientists to alter their findings on endangered species.

Robertson said the white-tailed prairie dog is important because it provides food and shelter for other species, including the endangered black-footed ferret.

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