Could Black-Tailed Prairie Dogs Be Endangered?

By Wyatt Goolsby
NewsWest 9

BIG SPRING - We've all seen them, Prairie Dogs are a fairly common sight in the Permian Basin. A national petition, however, is making the rounds that could lead to the black-tailed prairie dog on the endangered species list.

"We just live in harmony together out here with the priairie dogs," Pilot Rhyse Gehrett, with the Air Evac Lifeteam in Big Spring, said. "It's us and the prairie dogs and the wind and the weather and that's about it."

Pilot Rhyse Gehrett says having prairie dogs roaming around the Big Spring Airpark is just a way of life.

"It seems like they actually know our cars," Gehrett explained. "Believe it or not. And the way that we're dressed. I mean, they know us. If there's different people out here in different uniforms or different dress, they head to their holes."

Holes that could soon be in danger. National wildlife experts say there's now a possiblity black-tailed prairie dogs could go on the Endangered Species List.

"The black-tailed prairie dogs very widespread species and historically it occured and still does from Canada to Mexico," Pete Gober, with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said. "It's a grassland species. It occured on about 20 percent of the landscape historically, but because of a number of things, it's been reduced to a fraction of that."

Now experts across the country are reviewing a petition and moving forward with more research to see if prairie dogs really are endangered. Petitioners say there are several reasons that could affect the habitat of black-tailed prairie dogs, including urbanization, oil extraction, and diseases.

"It can react to threats like plague or disease on the colony level rather than individually," Gover said. "So while there are many, many individuals, they also can blink out simultaneously when they are exposed to the same threat, be it posioning or disease."

With Big Spring City laws protecting the creatures at the Airpark, workers here will tell you, it looks like they're a permanent part of the landscape.

"They give us a little wave with their paw, we're on our way and they're on their way," Gober said.

Officials with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service told NewsWest 9 this is just a first step in a long process of trying to figure out if the black-tailed prairie dog should be on the Endangered Species List. They said from here, they're going to do more research. They said this time next year, they'll know if the prairie dog should be on the list.