Prairie Dog Management Changes Announced
WASHINGTON - Ranchers in parts of Nebraska and South Dakota may get some help with prairie dog management according to an announcement this week by the U.S. Forest Service. By October 1, 2007, the Forest Service plans to complete an analysis and an environmental impact statement (EIS) aimed at enhancing management of prairie dog populations to better protect land and resources. The amended forest and grasslands plans will allow greater latitude to manage prairie dogs on the Buffalo Gap, Oglala, and Fort Pierre National Grasslands.
The Public Lands Council (PLC) and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) say this announcement represents a positive step in an ongoing resource conflict between wildlife interests, livestock grazing, and Forest Service managers.
“Grazing lands are being damaged more than ever before by growing prairie dog populations because of drought conditions,” says Jeff Eisenberg, PLC executive director and director of federal lands for the NCBA. “We have been working within partnership programs for some time to address this issue, and we are happy to see the Forest Service take this important step toward resolution and set a timeline for further action.”
In April of this year, ranchers in South Dakota and Nebraska, the Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, South Dakota Department of Agriculture, and South Dakota Game, Fish, and Parks, and local governments formed a Prairie Dog Habitat Review Committee charged with assessing whether rangeland conditions are consistent with the Forest Plan, or if additional management actions are necessary to improve the condition of the land. The committee determined that better prairie dog management was necessary, and the Forest Service has responded positively by opening the Forest Plan Amendment process.
“It is heartening for our ranchers to know the government has been listening to their concerns. This effort represents a move by government to consider the balance of resource needs by all parties,” says Eisenberg.
In its announcement, the Forest Service says it is committed to being a good neighbor and partner to local communities by being mindful of social and economic values and relationships. The actions from this EIS are aimed at further reducing conflicts with adjacent landowners and improving habitat conditions on national grasslands in South Dakota and Nebraska.
A notice of intent to prepare an environmental impact statement should appear in the Federal Register later this month. The amendment process is expected to take approximately one year, and will include public comment opportunities.
“My ultimate decision, when all of the scientific analysis and public comments have been considered, will address the need to maintain appropriate resource conditions to sustain prairie dogs, black-footed ferrets and other species, as well as grazing and other multiple uses,” said Nebraska National Forest Supervisor Don Bright.