State steps in to help residents following rise in prairie dog population

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CEDAR CITY, Utah (News4Utah) – Complaints are rolling in about some unwanted neighbors in Cedar City. Prairie dogs can be spotted on land throughout Iron County, and the state is stepping into the help homeowners move the federally protected species. 

“I see them every day, they pop and up and down of the ground every day. At first, they are cute, adorable, but when you find out what they are doing they can be a pain in the butt,” Michael Crawley, a Cedar City resident, said.

A spike in the prairie dog population numbers has some folks scratching their heads. 

“There should be no federal protection, they are everywhere, it’s not like they are endangered, it’s not like there is three or four of them,” Daniel Copp of Cedar City said.

The Utah prairie dog was first listed as “endangered” in the 1970s, then downgraded to “threatened” in the 1980s. The population of the animals, commonly known as “pot guts,” remained steady for the last several decades, but that’s changed in recent years. 

“Population numbers have increased dramatically, but only the animals found on public lands count toward recovery, that’s why they are still listed. Most prairie dogs are found on private lands, so our goal is to increase the number on public lands, which will then get us to recovery,” Adam Kavalunas, a prairie dog biologist with Division of Wildlife, said. 

While viewed as a nuisance, the still threatened rodent plays a big role in the desert steppe ecosystem. They are an important food source for predators, their burrowing turns up the soil and those burrows provide homes for several other species like the burrowing owl, snakes, and lizards.

The Division of Wildlife though wants to help. DWR crews understand you may not want the species in your yard, so they do their best to move them.

“We move them as a convenience. We can’t guarantee we make it to everyone every year. We have a 3-month trapping window in the summertime and we spend that time visiting subdivisions removing dogs causing conflict,” Adam Kavalunas, a prairie dog biologist with Division of Wildlife, said. 

As a threatened species, if you attempt to harass, capture, injure or destroy a Utah prairie dog – or disturb its habitat – without prior authorization from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, you may be subject to criminal prosecution in federal court. If you have a trapping request, call the Cedar City Utah Division of Wildlife Resources at 435-865-6100. 

You can also find out more information on prairie dog laws in Utah here.

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