Black-Tailed Prairie Dog Conservation: A New Approach for a 21st Century Challenge

Richard P. Reading
Denver Zoological Foundation and Northern Rockies Conservation Cooperative, 2900 East 23rd Avenue, Denver, CO 80205

Tim W. Clark
Yale University School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, 301 Prospect Street, New Haven, CT 06511 and Northern Rockies Conservation Cooperative, Box 2705, Jackson, WY 83001

Lauren McCain
Department of Political Science, University of Colorado at Boulder, Campus Box 333, Boulder, CO 80309-0333

Brian J. Miller
Denver Zoological Foundation, 2900 East 23rd Avenue, Denver, CO 80205

Black-tailed prairie dog (Cynomys ludovicianus) policy is highly contentious. We use the policy
sciences to examine how prairie dog conservation became so controversial and suggest ways to
increase the prospects for success. We begin by describing the context of prairie dog management
— who is involved and how they interact. Stakeholders with diverse values, strategies, sources of
power, goals, and demands conflict in their struggle to influence prairie dog management. This
conflict stems from the diverse perspectives and interactions of those involved, including ranchers,
conservationists, animal rights activists, agency personnel, prairie dog shooters, developers, and
the general public. We next examine management and policy responses to the problem. The agencies
have begun responding, but are largely offering a replay of old ideas, perspectives, and patterns
of interaction that contributed to the decline of prairie dogs. The current mixed federal and
state agency program is highly fragmented, and likely will meet with limited success. Progress has
been plagued by a narrow focus on biological issues, agency inertia, powerful special interest political
forces, and negative attitudes. To improve matters, we suggest keeping participation open
and including all stakeholders. We further recommend using adaptive, interdisciplinary, and multimethod
approaches. Using a "best practices" approach would capitalize and build on past successes.
Only by improving conservation practices can we hope to restore the black-tailed prairie
dog to levels that permit it to function as a keystone species across the Great Plains.