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Hundreds of Utah Prairie Dogs Relocated After Court Ruling • Mirror Daily

(Mirror Daily, United States) – Who wouldn’t love a job that involved peanut butter on a daily basis? Wildlife biologist Jessica Van Woeart and her team got armed with it every morning, but it wasn’t in the form of a PB&J sandwich.

Woeart’s team has been aided by a recent federal ruling in their attempts to trap and move the prairie dogs that have been invading the residents of the rural pastures in southern Utah. Until last year, Utah’s small rodents were protected by endangered species laws, making the situation a hopeless cause for biologists and residents alike.

Activists are worried that the new ruling could lead to weaker protections all over the country regarding other animals, so the issue is scheduled to appear before a federal appeals court in Denver on Monday.

The southern part of the state is studded with the underground colonies created by the Utah prairie dog, which is the smallest of five species. When farming, housing and ranching came in the way of their population growth back in 1973, they were listed as endangered species because of their importance in the ecosystem.

Due to the federal protection it received, the population started to grow again, reaching about 28,000 in the spring of 2015, so the Utah prairie dogs were upgraded to “threatened.” But the federal rules that prohibited the trapping or moving of the animals made the situation almost unbearable for the locals.

In spite of looking awfully cute, the animals are also the cause for a lot of trouble and damage. However, a new trapping program was initiated back in 2013 when a group of residents sued in federal court, and won the ruling of the U.S. District Judge Dee Benson.

At the helm of the project is Van Woeart, a New Jersey native, whose team is in charge of trapping with peanut butter the prairie dogs in and around Salt Lake City. The traps are rather successful, and some days, they catch more than 100.

After being weighed and tagged, the animals are transported to their new homes: an underground system of artificial burrows. The many sites available in the area have become home to more than 2,500 animals this summer. In spite of the workers’ efforts of keeping the animals fed and hydrated during transition, many of them either die on the way or can’t adapt to the new environment.

A year after relocation, just 10 to 15 percent of the creatures typically survive, according to data provided by Keith Day, a state wildlife biologist who supervises the prairie dog program. The fairly high mortality rate is something to be expected, he said, and it shouldn’t be an obstacle in the way of trapping and moving them.

Before the federal rules were updated, the fed-up locals used some unorthodox and lethal methods to keep the rodents away. Moving prairie dogs on federal ground is better than letting people taking care of their own problems.
Image Source: BioExpedition

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