Species Profile

Black-tailed Prairie Dog

Scientific Name: Cynomys ludovicianus
Taxonomy Group: Mammals
COSEWIC Range: Saskatchewan
COSEWIC Assessment Date and Status Change: November 2011
COSEWIC Status: Threatened
COSEWIC Status Criteria: D2
COSEWIC Reason for Designation:

This small mammal is restricted to a relatively small population in southern Saskatchewan.  The change in status from Special Concern to Threatened is based mainly on the threat of increased drought, and sylvatic plague, both of which would be expected to cause significant population declines if they occur frequently.  Drought events are predicted to increase in frequency due to a changing climate.  Sylvatic plague was first recorded in 2010.  Although the Canadian population is in a protected area, it exists within a small area, and is isolated from other populations, all of which are located in the United States.
COSEWIC History of Status Designation: Designated Special Concern in April 1978. Status re-examined and confirmed in April 1988, April 1999 and November 2000. Status re-examined and designated Threatened in November 2011.
SARA Status: Schedule 1, Threatened
Date of Listing (yyyy-mm-dd): 2003-06-05

Please note that this information is provided for general information purposes only. For the most up to date and accurate list of species listed under the Species at Risk Act, please see the Justice Laws Website.

Go to advanced search

Quick Links: | Photo | Description | Distribution and Population | Habitat | Biology | Threats | Protection | National Recovery Program | Documents

Image of Black-tailed Prairie Dog

Black-tailed Prairie Dog Photo 1
Black-tailed Prairie Dog Photo 2

Top

Description

The Black-tailed Prairie Dog is a diurnal, burrow-dwelling squirrel that lives in colonies. Individuals are 35-42 cm in body length, have short legs, tails with a black tip, small ears and brown to reddish-brown fur with an off-white underbelly. Prairie dogs are an important component of native short and mixed-grass prairie ecosystems and provide breeding habitat for two endangered species, the Mountain Plover and Burrowing Owl, as well as being an important prey for several rare and endangered species such as the reintroduced Black-footed Ferret. The Canadian population of the Black-tailed Prairie Dog is considered a distinct local population because it is at the northernmost point of the species’ range and is isolated from populations in the United States. (Updated 2017/07/21)

Top

Distribution and Population

The Black-tailed Prairie Dog occurs in the short- and mixed-grass prairies of North America from northern Mexico to Saskatchewan, Canada. The species is extirpated from east Texas north to eastern North Dakota, and where it remains the actual area occupied is small and colonies are mainly small and isolated. In Canada, the population is located in the lower Frenchman River valley and adjacent areas in southwestern Saskatchewan. The Canadian population exists as 18 colonies in close proximity (12km² ); interchange between colonies is likely and the population is considered a single designatable unit. A second population, near Edmonton, Alberta, derived from escaped captives, is not discussed, as per COSEWIC guidelines. (Updated 2017/07/21)

Top

Habitat

The Black-tailed Prairie Dog lives in grasslands with soils that support extensive burrow systems. The spatial extent of prairie dog colonies tends to be stable in the absence of sylvatic plague outbreaks, and can occupy the same area for many years. Colonies are characterized by short vegetation and numerous mounds of soil (often 30-60 cm high) heaped around each burrow entrance. (Updated 2017/07/21)

Top

Biology

Black-tailed Prairie Dogs are herbivorous, predominantly eating grasses. They live in family groups (coteries) composed of one male and 2-4 females, often with 1-2 yearlings also present. Coteries are aggregated into colonies. Animals older than 2 years mate in March-April, with 2-6 young born in May. Maximum recorded age is 5yr (males) and 8yr (females). Most dispersal is by yearling males. Canadian Black-tailed Prairie Dogs hibernate for 4 months over winter. (Updated 2017/07/21)

Top

Threats

The Canadian population exists as a single location because two threats, epizootic sylvatic plague and drought may impact the entire population in a short period. In 2010, a single Black-tailed Prairie Dog in Canada was found dead from sylvatic plague and plague was suspected in the loss of a small (4 ha) colony more than 10 km away. In 2011, pups were recorded where the plague had been found, suggesting the plague was not an epizootic event because numerous neighbouring colonies were not extirpated. Drought limits food production and likely explains fluctuating population levels. Drought is a natural event but frequency of drought is predicted to increase. The recent (2009) reintroduction of Black-footed Ferrets has exposed prairie dogs to a predator they have not experienced in 70 years, and the resilience of the Canadian population to both sylvatic plague and ferret predation is unclear. The impact of Black-footed Ferrets on Black-tailed Prairie Dogs is being monitored but no results were available during the writing of this report. Most other threats are minor, mainly because activities within the protected regulation zone containing the colonies are restricted. An expansion of the population beyond the current zone would be required for the species to recover to the point of not being listed by COSEWIC, but numerous threats outside the zone suggest expansion is unlikely. (Updated 2017/07/21)

Top

Protection

Federal Protection

The Black-tailed Prairie Dog is protected under the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA). More information about SARA, including how it protects individual species, is available in the Species at Risk Act: A Guide.

Provincial and Territorial Protection

To know if this species is protected by provincial or territorial laws, consult the provinces' and territories' websites.

Top

Documents

PLEASE NOTE: Not all COSEWIC reports are currently available on the SARA Public Registry. Most of the reports not yet available are status reports for species assessed by COSEWIC prior to May 2002. Other COSEWIC reports not yet available may include those species assessed as Extinct, Data Deficient or Not at Risk. In the meantime, they are available on request from the COSEWIC Secretariat.

20 record(s) found.

Reports on the Progress of Recovery Document Implementation

  • Implementation Report: Multi-species Action Plan for Grasslands National Park of Canada (2016 to 2021) (2021-12-29)

    This document reports on implementation of the Multi-species Action Plan for Grasslands National Park of Canada between 2016 and 2021. It reports on implementation of measures identified in the plan, assesses progress towards meeting site-based population and distribution objectives, and evaluates socio-economic impacts.
  • Report on the Implementation of the Management Plan for the Black-tailed Prairie Dog (Cynomys ludovicianus) in Canada (2009 – 2017) (2018-03-14)

    The final Management Plan for the Black-tailed Prairie Dog (Cynomys ludovicianus) in Canada was posted on the Species at Risk Public Registry on June 19, 2009. The management plan included a goal and objectives for the species, and a description of activities required to meet the goal and objectives. Under section 72 the Species at Risk Act (SARA), the competent minister must monitor the implementation of the management plan and assess its implementation five years after the plan is included on the registry and in every subsequent five-year period until its objectives have been achieved. This document reports on the implementation of the Management Plan for the Black-tailed Prairie Dog (Cynomys ludovicianus) in Canada from 2009 through 2017, and the progress towards meeting its goal and objectives.

COSEWIC Status Reports

  • COSEWIC assessment and status report on the Black-tailed Prairie Dog Cynomys ludovicianus in Canada (2012-10-15)

    The Black-tailed Prairie Dog is a diurnal, burrow-dwelling squirrel that lives in colonies. Individuals are 35-42 cm in body length, have short legs, tails with a black tip, small ears and brown to reddish-brown fur with an off-white underbelly. Prairie dogs are an important component of native short and mixed-grass prairie ecosystems and provide breeding habitat for two endangered species, the Mountain Plover and Burrowing Owl, as well as being an important prey for several rare and endangered species such as the reintroduced Black-footed Ferret. The Canadian population of the Black-tailed Prairie Dog is considered a distinct local population because it is at the northernmost point of the species’ range and is isolated from populations in the United States.
  • COSEWIC Update Status Report on the Black-tailed Prairie Dog (Cynomys ludovicianus) in Canada (2000-11-30)

    Prairie dogs occur in a small area of Canada, at the northern edge of the species’ range, and are geographically isolated beyond the typical dispersal distance of southern conspecifics. Therefore, the northernmost (Canadian) population of prairie dogs remains particularly sensitive to human activities and natural events.

Response Statements

  • Response Statement - Black-tailed Prairie Dog (2013-01-03)

    This small mammal is restricted to a relatively small population in southern Saskatchewan.  The change in status from Special Concern to Threatened is based mainly on the threat of increased drought, and sylvatic plague, both of which would be expected to cause significant population declines if they occur frequently.  Drought events are predicted to increase in frequency due to a changing climate.  Sylvatic plague was first recorded in 2010.  Although the Canadian population is in a protected area, it exists within a small area, and is isolated from other populations, all of which are located in the United States.

Recovery Strategies

  • Recovery Strategy and Action Plan for the Black-tailed Prairie Dog (Cynomys ludovicianus) in Canada (2021-08-09)

    This document has been prepared to meet the requirements under the Species at Risk Act (SARA) of both a recovery strategy and an action plan. As such, it provides both the strategic direction for the recovery of the species as well as the more detailed recovery measures to support this strategic direction, outlining what is required to achieve the objectives. The population and distribution objective is to ensure, by 2040, at least 80% probability of persistence of the Canadian Black-tailed Prairie Dog population over 50 years (i.e., 2040-2090) within its known range in Canada, and maintain i) a minimum area of occupancy of 1,400 ha, measured as a moving average over a 6-year period, distributed across a minimum of 20 prairie dog colonies currently existing; and ii) a minimum average population density of 7.5 individuals/ha, measured as a moving average over a 6-year period across visual count plots.

Action Plans

  • Action Plan and Recovery Strategy for the Black-tailed Prairie Dog (Cynomys ludovicianus) in Canada (2021-08-09)

    This document has been prepared to meet the requirements under the Species at Risk Act of both a recovery strategy and an action plan. In order to meet the population and distribution objectives for the species, one or more of the following broad recovery actions may be required: (i) minimize the risk of plague outbreak by implementing different strategies for plague management (e.g., preventive and emergency dusting, sylvatic plague vaccine and Fipronil); (ii) restore and/or establish up to 600 ha of additional Black-tailed Prairie Dog colonies on currently unoccupied habitat in Grasslands National Park to reduce the risk of population extirpation under current climate change projections; and (iii) conduct population management (e.g., captive breeding, conservation translocation, supplemental feeding), should research determine that these measures are necessary and effective for species survival and recovery. Given the uncertainty associated with key threats to the species (i.e., climate change, sylvatic plague), the precise combination and relative contribution of these individual activities toward reaching the population and distribution objective will be assessed through the Population Viability Analysis, expert opinion and upon evaluation of their feasibility. Acknowledging and understanding the long history of conflict with ranching operations, and managing the species in ways that facilitate coexistence with stakeholders are deemed critical for long-term conservation of the Black-tailed Prairie Dog.
  • Multi-species Action Plan for Grasslands National Park of Canada (2016-07-05)

    The Multi-species Action Plan for Grasslands National Park of Canada applies to lands and waters occurring within the boundaries of Grasslands National Park of Canada (GNP). The plan meets the requirements for action plans set out in the Species At Risk Act (SARA s.47) for species requiring an action plan and that regularly occur at this site. Measures described in this plan will also provide benefits for other species of conservation concern that regularly occur at GNP.

Management Plans

Orders

  • Order Acknowledging Receipt of the Assessments Done Pursuant to Subsection 23(1) of the Act (volume 151, number 12, 2017) (2017-06-14)

    His Excellency the Governor General in Council, on the recommendation of the Minister of the Environment, acknowledges receipt, on the making of this Order, of the assessments done pursuant to subsection 23(1) of the Species at Risk Act by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) with respect to the species set out in the annexed schedule.
  • Order Amending Schedule 1 to the Species at Risk Act (volume 152, number 4, 2018) (2018-02-21)

    Biodiversity is rapidly declining worldwide as species become extinct. Today’s extinction rate is estimated to be between 1 000 and 10 000 times higher than the natural rate. Biodiversity is positively related to ecosystem productivity, health and resiliency (i.e. the ability of an ecosystem to respond to changes or disturbances). Given the interdependency of species, a loss of biodiversity can lead to decreases in ecosystem function and services (e.g. natural processes such as pest control, pollination, coastal wave attenuation, temperature regulation and carbon fixing). These services are important to the health of Canadians, and also have important ties to Canada’s economy. Small changes within an ecosystem resulting in the loss of individuals and species can therefore result in adverse, irreversible and broad-ranging effects.

COSEWIC Annual Reports

  • COSEWIC Annual Report - 2011-2012 (2012-10-05)

    Under Canada’s Species at Risk Act (SARA), the foremost function of COSEWIC is to “assess the status of each wildlife species considered by COSEWIC to be at risk and, as part of the assessment, identify existing and potential threats to the species”. COSEWIC held two Wildlife Species Assessment Meetings in this reporting year (September 1, 2011 to September 30, 2012) from November 21 to 25, 2011 and from April 29 to May 4, 2012. On February 3, 2012, an Emergency Assessment Subcommittee of COSEWIC also assessed the status of the Tri-colored Bat (Perimyotis subflavus), the Little Brown Myotis (Myotis lucifugus), and the Northern Myotis (Myotis septentrionalis). During the current reporting period COSEWIC assessed the status or reviewed the classification of 67 wildlife species. For species already found on Schedule 1 of SARA, the classification of 32 species was reviewed by COSEWIC and the status of the wildlife species was confirmed to be in the same category (extirpated - no longer found in the wild in Canada but occurring elsewhere, endangered, threatened or of special concern). The wildlife species assessment results for the 2011-2012 reporting period include the following: Extinct: 1 Extirpated: 4 Endangered: 29 Threatened: 10 Special Concern: 15 Data Deficient: 2 Not at Risk: 6 Total: 67 Of the 67 wildlife species examined, COSEWIC reviewed the classification of 49 species that had been previously assessed. The review of classification for 26 of those species resulted in a confirmation of the same status as the previous assessment (see Table 1a).

Permits and Related Agreements

  • Explanation for issuing permit(#GRA-2014-16101), persuant to the provisions of section 74 of SARA (2018-10-15)

    This research will help with understanding individual and temporal variation in Black-tailed Prairie Dog density, life history and factors influencing them and will help ensure proper management of the species. Approximately 300 animals/year will be captured and processed. Individuals will be trapped in Tomahawk live-traps in the morning or evening. A trapping frequency of once/three days will be employed for females during gestation (3-4 weeks) to monitor the onset and duration of pregnancy. For males and females following gestation, the trapping frequency will be once/10-14 days to document survival and mass/body condition changes during the active season. Adults will be uniquely identified using either small permanent metal ear tags or implanted passive transponder (PIT) tags. Non-toxic fur dye will be applied to the dorsal pelage for quick visual identification. A small tissue plug (1 mm in size) will be taken from the outer margin of the ear using a sterilized tissue biopsy punch for later DNA extraction. A maximum of 100 adults/year will be surgically implanted with small (3g) temperature-sensitive data loggers to record body temperatures over-winter. Transmitters will be implanted in the abdominal cavity of individuals under isoflurane anaesthetic in the autumn preceding hibernation and explanted the following spring, upon emergence from hibernation. Surgeries will be conducted in on-site facilities, provided by Parks Canada. Animals will be held and fed overnight and released in the morning after surgery. Upon capture, a maximum of 300 animals/year will be placed in temporary holding tubes and then placed into a quantitative magnetic resonance (QMR) machine for 3-4 min to scan and measure body composition (e.g., fat and lean mass, body water). Immediately following scan, animals will be released at the trapping site. A small sample (n=15) of wild caught adult (>1 year) females will be injected with synthetic hormones to stimulate a natural stress response, then track the corresponding changes in stress hormone levels found in blood and hair, and the metabolized residues of these hormones in feces.
  • Explanation for issuing permit(#GRA-2017-24697), persuant to the provisions of section 74 of SARA (2019-05-01)

    This research will allow Parks Canada to assess temporal variation in black-tailed prairie dog density across multiple colonies and help understand influencing factors to inform proper management of the species. Approximately 470 animals/year will be captured and processed on mark-recapture plots over selected colonies. Individuals will be trapped in Tomahawk live-traps in the morning or evening. No trapping will occur during gestation and pup weaning. Adults will be uniquely identified using a uniquely encoded subcutaneous microchip injected at the right hip using a sterile 12 gauge hypodermic needle. Immediately following processing and tagging, animals will be released at the trapping site. Visual counts will be conducted for three hours for three consecutive mornings between June 1 and June 30 over selected colonies. The observer will stand on an eight-foot ladder, and observations will be made using binoculars at 10 minute intervals from the time animals first emerge until the end of the three hour observation period.
  • Explanation for issuing permit(#SAR-2020-0005), persuant to the provisions of section 73 of SARA (2020-04-01)

    Activities listed in this permit are associated with the implementation of a surveillance and management program for sylvatic plague, a disease caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis, a non-native pathogen to North America and identified as the major threat to black-tailed prairie dogs and black-footed ferret recovery throughout the species' range. Activities include i) sampling of burrows and individual black-tailed prairie dogs to collect fleas; ii) rapid plague surveillance on colonies from advantage points; iii) search of carcasses on the ground; iv) application of insecticide (i.e., burrow dusting) as preventive or emergency management tool to halt sylvatic plague transmission; and v) distribution of sylvatic plague vaccine baits. Residual adverse effects include harassment of black-tailed prairie dogs (e.g., disturbance and alarm) and Burrowing Owls (e.g., disruption of foraging patterns, fleeing behaviour) in specific colony sections during field operations (i.e., burrow swabbing, burrow dusting, distribution of sylvatic plague vaccine), potential adverse effects caused by direct exposure to deltamethrin (i.e., DeltaDust) for juvenile black-tailed prairie dogs and Burrowing Owls, as well as indirect impact of deltamethrin on invertebrate abundance for Burrowing Owls.
  • Explanation for issuing permit(#SAR-GRA-2020-001), persuant to the provisions of section 74 of SARA (2020-08-01)

    Grasslands National Park will capture and translocate prairie dogs in order to: 1) translocate black-tailed prairie dogs from an area where site use is not compatible with the species (e.g., Frenchman Valley Campground, private ranch and agricultural lands adjacent to the park), reduce conflict and increase support to species recovery programs within Grasslands National Park; 2) facilitate the expansion of existing black-tailed prairie dog colonies or creation of new colonies and advance progress toward Population and Distribution objectives set for the species to improve population resilience to climate change-driven stressors like drought and plague; and 3) assess black-tailed prairie dog survival and reproduction at the release site and the factors influencing them (i.e., weather, body conditions) to improve the success of translocations as a mitigation and recovery tool. Individuals will be trapped, microchipped and released at suitable sites based on habitat characteristics and implications for Parks Canada's integrated delivery and stakeholders. Preparation of the site (i.e., mowing, creation of burrows) and use of acclimation cages will maximize the likelihood of individual survival and establishment.
  • Explanation for issuing permit(#SSFU-2020-008-GNP), persuant to the provisions of section 73 of SARA (2020-08-15)

    Parks Canada is partnering with SaskPower to reroute close to 11 km of service lines in the park to reduce the amount of overhead line running through critical habitat for species at risk. This project will work towards site-level population and distribution objectives for the greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus urophasianus) by removing power poles in critical habitat, while maintaining power service and improving sightlines and reducing fire risk. Tall vertical structures in and adjacent to critical habitat are identified in the Amended Recovery Strategy for the Greater Sage-Grouse published by Environment Canada in 2014 as a chronic disturbance that could threaten the recovery and survival. The new line will be buried underground, becoming an overhead service line once it leaves the area of critical habitat. Work is estimated to reduce the amount of critical habitat for sage-grouse viewable by predatory raptors from power poles by 450 ha, improving sensory habitat components adjacent to the active lek that are most likely to be utilized for nesting and brood-rearing. Work will involve removing poles in native prairie and along the road, as well as trenching in the new line along the road. Some of this work will occur on prairie dog colonies and may temporarily destroy approximately 1% of prairie dog residences on one colony. Prairie dogs are expected to re-colonise the area after project completion. The work of the machinery is also expected to destroy some native vegetation which is prohibited in some areas of the project under the Emergency Order for the Protection of the Greater Sage-grouse.

Consultation Documents

  • Consultation on Amending the List of Species under the Species at Risk Act: Terrestrial Species – December 2012 (2013-01-03)

    As part of its strategy for protecting wildlife species at risk, the Government of Canada proclaimed the Species at Risk Act (SARA) on June 5, 2003. Attached to the Act is Schedule 1, the list of the species that receive protection under SARA, also called the List of Wildlife Species at Risk. Please submit your comments by March 4, 2013, for terrestrial species undergoing normal consultations and by October 4, 2013, for terrestrial species undergoing extended consultations. Consultation paths.

Related Information

  • Environment and Climate Change Canada’s Species at Risk Act (SARA) Listing Plan 2016 to 2018 (2017-09-29)

    The status of wildlife species is assessed by an independent panel of expert Canadian scientists, the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC). 149 terrestrial species were assessed as at-risk by COSEWIC between 2009 and 2016 and are eligible for listing under the Species at Risk Act (SARA) to be considered by the Governor-in-Council (GIC) on the recommendation of the Minister of the Environment: 86 species would be new additions, 54 currently listed species would be reclassified and 9 species would be updated to reflect changes in their recognized designatable units. A three-year listing plan has been developed to address all 149 terrestrial species and listing decisions for most species are anticipated by the end of 2018. Making amendments to Schedule 1 of SARA is a two-step process. The first step is for the GIC to propose an amendment through an order in council published in the Canada Gazette, Part I, for a 30-day public comment period. The second step is for the GIC to make a final decision on whether or not to make amendments to Schedule 1 of SARA, taking into consideration comments received during the 30-day public comment period. The amendments are made through an order in council published in the Canada Gazette, Part II. Both orders are accompanied by a Regulatory Impact Analysis Statement (RIAS) which presents the implications of listing the species or changing their status. Publishing this plan on the Species at Risk Public Registry is intended to provide transparency about the Government of Canada’s plan to make listing decisions under the Species at Risk Act. NOTE: The information presented below is intended to provide openness and transparency with respect to when terrestrial species might be considered for listing under Schedule 1 of the Species at Risk Act. It is intended to assist anyone who may wish to provide comments on such listing considerations. Given any number of factors can affect the timing of a listing decision; the Plan is subject to change. Accordingly, the Plan will be periodically updated.

Critical Habitat Descriptions in the Canada Gazette

  • Description of critical habitat of Black-tailed Prairie Dog (Cynomys ludovicianus) in Grasslands National Park of Canada (2021-10-30)

    The Black-tailed Prairie Dog (Cynomys ludovicianus) is a diurnal, semi-fossorial, herbivorous, colonial ground squirrel. The Black-tailed Prairie Dog has short legs, long phalanges and claws for digging, yellowish-brown to reddish-brown fur and a relatively long tail with black tip. It is listed on Schedule 1 of the Species at Risk Act. In Canada, the Black-tailed Prairie Dog is restricted to the lower Frenchman River Valley and adjacent areas in southwestern Saskatchewan.
Date modified: