News of the Week

August 14, 2014

A Service of the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation

 

Prairie Dog Town Established on Wildlife Management Area

Rangers with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers use a mixture of soap and pressurized water to flush black-tailed prairie dogs from a burrow near Canton Lake. Photo by Jena Donnell.

Biologists with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers recently partnered to reintroduce black-tailed prairie dogs to Canton Wildlife Management Area in northwestern Oklahoma. With this partnership, an ecologically important species has been re-established on a management area and prairie dog expansion in the developed area of Canton Lake has been curtailed.

A total of 45 prairie dogs have been relocated from the southwestern side of Canton Lake near the Canadian Campground area to the management area; 22 were moved in 2013 and 23 in 2014. The colonial rodents have not only expanded into Canadian Campground, but also west of the campground where many mobile homes were demolished during the 2011 EF3 tornado. This area is set for redevelopment later this year. Black-tailed prairie dogs have only been removed from the recently expanded portion of the colony; the Corps will continue conservation efforts for the core colony.

To capture black-tailed prairie dogs, a mixture of soap and water is sprayed into the burrows and the prairie dogs are flushed to the surface. The soapy mixture prevents the burrows from flooding and drives the prairie dogs to the top of the burrow. When the rodents surface, they are captured, rinsed off and put in large wire cages filled with hay for transportation. The cages are later opened and staked over artificial burrows dug on the WMA. The prairie dogs will complete the burrow system on their own. This capture technique was developed in 1969 and has been used during several relocation efforts.  

Black-tailed prairie dogs are social rodents that live in colonies better known as towns. Photo by Kaitlin Taylor.

 

Prairie dogs are social, squirrel-like rodents, living in large colonies or "towns" as family groups. The smallest social unit consists of at least one male, several females and their young. But prairie dogs aren't the only species of wildlife that use the towns. Multiple research projects conducted in Oklahoma's black-tailed prairie dog towns have revealed seven species of amphibians, 10 species of reptiles, 56 species of birds and 18 other species of mammals use the burrow systems or graze on the short grass within the town.

Wildlife Department biologists hope the re-establishment of black-tailed prairie dogs on Canton Wildlife Management Area will increase the overall biodiversity on the management area and create habitat for a multitude of other species.