Update: Prairie Dog Colony Management on the Thunder Basin National Grassland

Press Release – In response to requests from state and local governments, the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) is working to establish multiple collaborative venues for community-based information sharing on Thunder Basin National Grassland (TBNG) land and resource management. Specifically, the multi-faceted efforts pertain to prairie dog colony management and control, and a sustainable, healthy prairie ecosystem.

Following a year of new approaches to prairie dog boundary control, which included both lethal and non-lethal control contracts, three public learning sessions, as well as coordination with private landowners and counties on control locations, the Forest Service is now planning a new cooperator group and continued public workshops.

The USFS is currently working on charter development for a Thunder Basin Coordination Group of Federal, Tribal, state, and local governments to discuss management options. It is anticipated that the working group will primarily share information and problem solve. Outreach to tribal groups has taken place and individual meetings have been held with government representatives about the developing group. Invitation letters to prospective group members will be issued before the end of the year and the draft charter will be shared with agencies in order to solicit comments.

In addition to this group, in 2017 the USFS will continue to be committed to public venues for involvement and learning in the form of collaborative learning workshops. These public engagement sessions will be similar in nature to the three workshops held in 2016. The University of Wyoming Ruckelshaus Institute of Environment and Natural Resources recently released a summary report on those workshops, with one of the recommendations being that the public events continue.

The intergovernmental group and public workshops will be transparent and inclusive and will supplement an already diverse and collaborative body of work surrounding prairie dog colony management and control.

This approach by the USFS parallels the 2015 TBNG Situation Assessment report from the UW Ruckelshaus Institute, as well as the Governor’s Task Force on Forests, which recommends local collaborative efforts to address local forest management issues.

New this fall, the U.S. Forest Service solicited and awarded contracts to local bidders for both lethal and non-lethal prairie dog colony control efforts on the TBNG in Campbell, Converse, and Weston counties. Lethal being defined as poisoning and non-lethal as construction of physical and visual barriers. Those contracts are part of continued implementation of the Thunder Basin National Grassland Land and Resource Management Plan, and the updated December 2015 Conservation Assessment and Strategy. It is anticipated that implementing such efforts will not only help manage colonies, but also benefit numerous other wildlife species and ultimately help address land use conflicts.

The TBNG is coordinating with the grazing associations, adjacent landowners, County Weed and Pest, and the State of Wyoming to determine priority areas and methodology for control. Both lethal and non-lethal control efforts are focused along boundaries with private land owners and near private residences where USFS neighbors have concerns. In some cases both lethal and non-lethal methods are being utilized in the same areas.

In addition to the recent contracts for control, examples of management efforts include:

  • Accomplished approximately 1,640-acres of lethal prairie dog control in 2016 on the TBNG, including treatment within core habitat areas.
  • Solicited landowner requests for boundary control treatments, and then were able to respond successfully to 15 of 17 requests in 2016.
  • Due to updates in the core and secondary management areas in 2016, the USFS shooting closure on the TBNG was decreased by nearly 24% for prairie dogs.

The Douglas Ranger District administers the Thunder Basin National Grassland.

For more information about management of the Thunder Basin National Grassland, contact the DRD at (307) 358-4690 or stop by at 2250 East Richards Street in Douglas between 8 a.m. – 4:30 p.m., Mon.-Fri.