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Since the turn of this century, prairie dog populations have declined as much as 98% throughout North America, largely as a result of prairie dog eradication programs. The prairie dog is a keystone species that plays an important role in maintaining the biotic integrity of the western grasslands that stretch from southern Canada to northern Mexico. The fragmentation of prairie dog distribution has degraded diversity on those prairies, and several species depending on prairie dogs have achieved listing status under the Endangered Species Act. We propose that managing the prairie dog would provide an effective avenue from single-species management to management of a system. Because prairie dogs have declined so profoundly, some form of legal protection will be required. In addition, protected areas can preserve habitat and integrate ecologically sound agricultural opportunities. Positive incentives for ranchers to manage in the interests of both livestock and wildlife will enhance the attitude change necessary for grassland conservation. These management options hinge critically on an end to U.S. government subsidies for prairie dog eradication programs. The subsidies are financially and ecologically unsound, and they only contribute to the prevailing misconceptions about the role of the prairie dog on the grasslands.
Conservation Biology © 1994 Wiley