A prairie dog looking out from it’s colony den. Photo by Barbara Sugarman.

Evaluation of a Black-Tailed Prairie Dog Restoration Via Translocation in the Trans-Pecos Ecoregion of Texas

Barbara J. Sugarman, Bonnie J. Warnock, Patricia M. Harveson, Sean P. Graham (SRSU), Russell L. Martin (TPWD)

Prairie dog (Cynomys spp.) populations throughout North America have declined because of sylvatic plague (Yersinia pestis), shooting, poisoning, and habitat conversion. To aid this keystone species, wildlife managers have used translocation to restore prairie dogs to areas of extirpation. We translocated black-tailed prairie dogs (C. ludovicianus) to a private ranch near Alpine, TX. We prepared the translocation site by installing nesting boxes, tubes, and retention baskets. We captured prairie dogs from Marathon, TX (n = 156) and Lubbock, TX (n = 59) in 2018; and captured additional prairie dogs (n = 48) in 2019 from Lubbock.

We released all 263 prairie dogs immediately after their quarantine period was completed at same newly established colony on a private ranch. Regularly, we monitored the prairie dog population at the translocation site post-translocation, measuring vegetation pre-translocation and post-translocation to assess ecological impacts. We also collected fecal samples (n = 48) from prairie dogs to measure corticosterone levels during different times throughout the translocation process.

We found that a population of prairie dogs persisted at the translocation site since the initial release in October 2018; however, juveniles were not detected in spring 2019 or in spring 2020, suggesting no recruitment. In May 2020, we identified approximately 10 to 15 prairie dogs present at the site. We also observed the herbivory of honey mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa) by prairie dogs in the area surrounding the colony after the translocation. The corticosterone level distributions were not the same for the four different time periods assessed. This study helps wildlife managers assess the best methods of completing future translocations of prairie dogs.

Funding sources: Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Potts-Sibley Fellowship, and the Borderlands Research Institute.