Prairie Dog Empire: A Saga of the Shortgrass Prairie

Prairie Dog Empire: A Saga of the Shortgrass Prairie

Prairie Dog Empire: A Saga of the Shortgrass Prairie

Prairie Dog Empire: A Saga of the Shortgrass Prairie

Synopsis

This book by the renowned naturalist and writer Paul A. Johnsgard tells the complex biological and environmental story of the western Great Plains under the black-tailed prairie dog's reign-and then under a brief but devastating century of human dominion.
An introduction to the ecosystem of the shortgrass prairie, Prairie Dog Empire describes in clear and detailed terms the habitat and habits of black-tailed prairie dogs; their subsistence, seasonal behavior, and the makeup of their vast colonies; and the ways in which their "towns" transform the surrounding terrain-for better or for worse. Johnsgard recounts how this terrain has in turn been transformed over the past century by the destruction of prairie dogs and their grassland habitats. This book also offers a rare and invaluable close-up view of the rich history and threatened future of the creature once considered the "keystone" species of the western plains.
Included are maps, drawings, and listings of more than two hundred natural grassland preserves where many of the region's native plants and animals may still be seen and studied.

Excerpt

In early July of 2002 I attended a hearing at the Lincoln headquarters of Nebraska’s Game and Parks Commission. the main agenda item at this hearing was whether the State of Nebraska would begin to take steps toward conserving the black-tailed prairie dog. As a result of a 1998 petition from the National Wildlife Federation, followed up later by one from the Biodiversity Legal Foundation, the species had been legally proposed as a candidate for listing as nationally threatened. Nebraska is one of eleven states within the species’ current range and had been previously notified by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that such a listing, with all its associated required conservation measures, could be averted only if these states individually and collectively began concerted efforts to begin preserving the species.

An hour or more of oral testimony by conservationists, biologists, and representatives of various environmental groups ensued, which uniformly favored initiating a modest conservation program, including some supportive testimony from biologists of the Game and Parks Commission itself. Then a group of ranchers who had been bused in from across the state took the floor, condemning the prairie dog with all the usual vituperation that has been associated with rancher–prairie dog relationships of the past century or more. At the end of the meeting the commissioners unanimously voted not to provide any conservation efforts whatsoever toward prairie dogs and furthermore voted to terminate all state-supported research on the species’ status and biology that was then being undertaken or planned by the commission’s staff biologists. the ban on future prairie dog studies was later rescinded, but no steps toward producing a conservation management plan were taken.

As a result of that meeting, I decided that enough interest exists in prairie dogs, including strongly held attitudes both pro and con, to warrant a book centered on this controversial animal. Such a book would also describe and document the semiarid grassland ecosystem of the western plains within which the prairie dog evolved and in which it has historically played a pivotal, or “keystone,” ecological role. in many ways, by the late 1900s the black-tailed prairie dog was providing a reprise of the sad history of the North American . . .

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