The state of South Dakota has drafted a
prairie dog management plan that would establish buffer zones aimed at
preventing prairie dogs on federal land from encroaching onto adjacent
The plan would also establish an emergency interim process to help
private landowners next to federal lands control prairie dogs until
the U.S. Forest Service can begin action in the buffer zones on
federal lands, possibly next year.
The plan, which state officials hope to
finalize by early July, drew criticism both from grazing interests who
say it doesn't do enough to control prairie dogs and from wildlife
advocates who say the buffer zones would hurt recovery efforts for
State Agriculture and Game, Fish & Parks Department officials
developed the plan to try to ward off listing of prairie dogs as a
federal threatened species and to help ranchers whose land is being
overrun by prairie dogs from nearby federal land in Conata Basin on
the Fort Pierre National Grassland and from Buffalo Gap National
Grassland in Fall River County.
The plan includes results of a new prairie dog population survey
showing that the state has more than 400,000 acres occupied by prairie
dogs -- 215,146 acres on tribal lands and 192,337 acres on non-tribal
land. The state's goal is 168,000 acres of nontribal land.
The goal was determined as part
of an 11-state prairie dog group working to keep the prairie dog off
the threatened species list.
The South Dakota plan calls for a half-mile buffer zone on federal
lands to prevent prairie dogs from encroaching onto adjacent private
A ruling by a top Bush administration
official earlier this month instructed the U.S. Forest Service to
cooperate with state and local officials to prevent encroachment onto
Forest Service officials said earlier this month that they would
consider poisoning prairie dogs in the buffer zones but would first
have to conduct an environmental impact statement, which could take a
In response, the South Dakota plan calls for interim, emergency
measures this year to help private landowners control prairie dogs
coming from adjacent federal lands.
Details of the emergency measures are
still being worked out, according to George Vandel, chief wildlife
biologist with the state GF&P.
Current policy allows the state to pay for prairie dog poisoning on
private land on a one-time basis. The new plan likely will allow an
exemption for follow-up treatment for landowners in emergency
situations, such as those in Conata Basin, Vandel said.
Rancher Mark DeVries of Belvidere said the half-mile buffer zones
would be inadequate to prevent encroachment onto private land from the
10,000-plus-acre colonies on federal land.
He said the half-mile buffer zones could
work to prevent encroachment from smaller prairie dog colonies, such
as those on private land.
DeVries, chairman of the South Dakota Stockgrowers Association's
wildlife management committee, was among members of a working group
that provided suggestions for the state plan. The group included
representatives of cattle and ag groups, as well as wildlife and
Fall River County State's Attorney Lance Russell, a spokesman for a
loose coalition of grazing groups and West River counties, criticized
the plan for not being specific enough about how prairie dogs will be
Russell said the new management plan for the national grasslands,
which was affirmed after final appeals this spring, defers to the
state plan for direction on prairie dog control. "That's the
reason we should have specific language in the (state) plan,"
Russell said Thursday.
"It needs to be written into this plan that poisoning will be
allowed," Russell said. "It dances around it. It doesn't
actually say that."
Russell also said the state plan doesn't call for control in the
buffer zones until prairie dogs begin to encroach onto private land.
"They're waiting until the problem has already begun," he
The interim emergency control efforts, although well-intentioned,
likely will be inadequate, Russell said. Control will be done only on
private land while prairie dogs continue to proliferate on federal
land across the fence. "You're essentially going to have them
back overnight," he said.
The state plan overall drew a better review from Sterling Miller, a
senior wildlife biologist for the National Wildlife Federation.
However, Miller also blasted the buffer zones - but for different
"The National Wildlife Federation absolutely cannot support a
half-mile buffer zone," Miller said Thursday. A half-mile buffer
would cripple black-footed ferret recovery efforts, such as those in
Conata Basin, he said. Prairie dogs are considered essential to the
survival of black-footed ferrets, as well as other species.
It was a petition from the National Wildlife Federation that prompted
the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service four years ago to find that the
prairie dog deserved protection under the Endangered Species Act.
Miller hinted that the wildlife federation might take legal action if
the South Dakota plan takes effect.
Vandel acknowledged that the half-mile buffer zone has the potential
to drop the number of nontribal prairie dog acres to 158,000, [which
would be] 10,000 acres under the goal. But he suggested the
buffer zone wouldn't be needed along the entire border of
federal-private land. He said the state would monitor prairie dog
populations every three years.
Pete Gober, field supervisor for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
in Pierre, said he hadn't had time to study the new plan in detail and
couldn't say whether the service supports the plan's goals.
However, when told the plan stated the half-mile buffer could drop the
nontribal acres below the state's goal, he said, "They might want
to think carefully about that."
Gober said the best part of the plan is the new prairie dog census
Governor Mike Rounds said he was pleased with progress on the plan.
Rounds also said he was asking Interior
Secretary Gale Norton to drop the prairie dog as a candidate from the
threatened species list.
Earlier this week, Interior Department officials told Senator Tom
Daschle, D-S.D., that they would decide by August whether to drop the
prairie dog from the candidate list.
The state will take comments on its prairie dog plan through June 25.
To view the plan and to submit comments on the GF&P Web site, go
to http://www.sdgfp.info and click
on "What's New."