Conservation of the Black-Tailed Prairie Dog Ecosystem

Project #: 1773  –   Updated: January 17, 2011

Project Summary

World Wildlife Fund is conducting prairie dog conservation work in north central Montana within one of the primary focal areas for prairie dog conservation identified by the Montana State Fish, Wildlife, and Parks with the intent of increasing habitat important to three of Montana’s Tier 1 species: black-footed ferrets, mountain plovers, and burrowing owls.

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Location (by county):
Valley County (MT)

Watersheds:
Lower Milk

Congressional Districts:
MT District 00

Bird Conservation Regions:
Badlands And Prairies

USFWS Regions:
Mountain Prairie Region

Project size:
20.0 acres

Public Access

Site Name Publicly Accessible
American Prairie Reserve No

Full Project Description

World Wildlife Fund is conducting prairie dog conservation work in north central Montana within one of the primary focal areas for prairie dog conservation identified by the Montana State Fish, Wildlife, and Parks with the intent of increasing habitat important to three of Montana’s Tier 1 species: black-footed ferrets, mountain plovers, and burrowing owls.

Goals and Targets

Primary motivations:

Conservation Mission

Primary goals:

By 2009, we will expand habitat by 225 acres, resulting in increased or stable populations of prairie dogs, ferret, mountain plover, and burrowing owls.
Progress:

*We are reducing prairie dog and black-footed ferret fatalities on colonies infected with plague by dusting prairie dog burrows with insecticide (i.e., Deltamethrin). Insecticide eliminates fleas that transmit plague to both prairie dogs and ferrets.

*We are mechanically mowing the tall vegetation in and surrounding colonies to expand and improve the habitat available to prairie dogs.

*We are mapping the active, areal extent of prairie dog colonies to determine their size annually.

*We conducted visual counts and walking transects of prairie dog colonies for the presence of burrowing owls and their nests.

*We conducted visual counts and walking transects of prairie dog colonies for the presence of mountain plovers and their nests.

*We assisted USFWS biologists with spotlighting ferrets to evaluate population levels on the C.M.R. National Wildlife Refuge (CMR).

Consistent with plans:

Species Recovery Plan
Conservation Plan
State Wildlife Action Plan

Targeted habitats:

    • Shrublands and Grasslands
      • Grasslands

Targeted species:

  • Burrowing Owl Athene cunicularia
  • Black-footed Ferret Mustela nigripes
  • Mountain Plover Charadrius montanus
  • Black-tailed Prairie Dog Cynomys ludovicianus

Actions

Project Actions
Other: Vegetation management Show/Hide details
Other: Plague mitigation Show/Hide details
Vertebrate monitoring Show/Hide details

Outcomes

Is the success of this project's actions being monitored?   Yes

Please describe your monitoring activity.

Reconnaissance of prairie dog colonies for the presence of (1) plague, (2) burrowing owls, (3) mountain plovers, and (4) black-footed ferrets. We are also monitoring colony size annually by mapping colony perimeters.

What lessons have been learned and/or what suggestions do you have for similar activities?

The key factors to World Wildlife Fund's (WWF) progress to date have been collaboration, perseverance, and adaptive management. WWF has improved prairie dog habitat, reduced prairie dog fatalities, and contributed to ferret monitoring by partnering and collaborating with the American Prairie Foundation (APF)and CMR staff.

WWF believes that the project has had a small but significant conservation impact. WWF has protected 607 hectares of black-tailed prairie dog colonies from sylvatic plague in an area of Montana’s only extant black-footed ferret population. This was done by measuring the number of hectares and burrows dusted and monitoring colonies to verify prairie dog activity. In addition, WWF estimated prairie dog densities on APF lands. By protecting prairie dogs from plague, the small population of ferrets on the CMR was also protected.

What additional information would you like to share?

Our largest impediment to success has been the widespread outbreak of sylvatic plague in south Phillips County. Plague drastically reduced prairie dog populations on and adjacent to APF lands, which limited our ability to successfully expand the size of existing prairie dog colonies. We overcame this hurdle by dusting prairie dog burrows with insecticide to reduce prairie dog and ferret fatalities.

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Organization

World Wildlife Fund
(Non-Governmental Organization)

Primary Contact

Steve Forrest  (Manager of Restoration Science)
World Wildlife Fund - Northern Great Plains Program
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Partners

  • American Prairie Foundation
  • U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service - Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge
  • Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks

Project Photos

Cox_d00022055_detail

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