UTAH (ABC4) — Utah Division of Wildlife Resources is recommending Utah prairie dogs be federally delisted and removed from the Endangered Species Act after recent data shows the population has increased by twofold.

The DWR enacted a few changes regarding the conservation of the Utah-native squirrels by putting forth a conservation strategy that will go into effect once the animal has been delisted and the division has management authority.

First off: What are prairie dogs?

These small and chubby creatures from the squirrel family are native to the grasslands of North America. Weighing between two to four pounds, these herbivores like to burrow underground and create colonies that reportedly benefit around 150 other species. There are a total of five species of prairie dogs — black-tailed, white-tailed, Gunnison’s, Utah and Mexican.

Prairie dogs run Sunday, Sept. 19, 2021, in Commerce City, Colo. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Utah prairie dogs are only found in the southwestern part of the state where grasslands and shrublands abound. The division has led conservation efforts for Utah prairie dogs for the past 50 years by establishing and maintaining colonies in three recovery areas: West Desert, Paunsaungunt and Awapa.

These animals have been classified as “Threatened” under the Endangered Species Act since 1973, according to the DWR. The reason behind its shrinking population was largely due to “unregulated poisoning.”

“The plan will continue to manage the population through ongoing monitoring, while also helping to address concerns and conflicts with private landowners due to possible damage,” DWR Mammal Conservation Coordinator Kim Hersey said. 

The Utah Prairie Dog Conservation Strategy will allow these animals to be translocated to public land if they come into conflict with private landowners. The division and its many partners will continue to monitor the population and apply insecticidal dust on their burrows to kill plague-inducing fleas.

This new conservation strategy will be in effect for the foreseeable future with a thorough review every 10 years.

The spring count for prairie dogs was 2,190 in 1971. There are now on average about 5,760 of them occupying over 11,000 acres of land in Utah.

“Working with federal, local and nonprofit partners, we feel secure that the future for the Utah prairie dog continues to be bright,” Hersey said.