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Utah prairie dog, June sucker benefit from federal grants

Published: Tuesday, Aug. 14 2012 6:05 p.m. MDT

In this undated file photo released by Forest Guardians, a prairie dog eats in southwestern Utah. Organizers say a new program that pays farmers and ranchers to protect Utah prairie dogs may provide a much-needed step to finally get the threatened animals off the endangered species list.

Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah will receive $1 million for acquisition of Utah prairie dog habitat in central Utah and another $150,000 to purchase land along Utah County's Hobble Creek to enhance protections for the imperiled June sucker.

The money is part of $33 million in grants to 21 states announced Tuesday by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for measures designed to bolster populations of threatened or endangered species.

Money for Utah prairie dog conservation efforts will assist in the acquisition of up to 400 acres of habitat in Garfield County, boosting efforts already on the ground through a partnership that involves three counties, multiple cities and the state and federal governments. The intended goal is to help provide continuity in the habitat of some of the larger Utah prairie dog populations.

"Ultimately what it does is it gets us a little bit closer to the recovery of the prairie dog, and the sooner we can get to recovery, the better for the species and for all the people who live around them and have association with the species," said Keith Day, a wildlife biologist with the state Division of Wildlife Resources.

Day said the money will target populations west of Bryce Canyon National Park, where the bulk of the Utah prairie dogs live in the state.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently revised a rule that went into effect this month that grants greater flexibility for dealing with Utah prairie dogs when conflicts arise with the animals if they pose public safety concerns to facilities like airports or damage to cemeteries.

"Landowners can get permits to lethally remove prairie dogs if prairie dogs create serious human safety hazards or disturb the sanctity of significant human burial or human cultural sites," if efforts to fence them, trap them or relocate them have been made, said Steve Guertin, the Mountain Prairie's regional director with the federal agency.

Guertin added that as Utah prairie dog populations have continued to grow and recover, they remain listed as "threatened" on the Endangered Species List.

Prime threats include habitat degradation, disease, drought and poisoning.

The $157,500 awarded for June sucker recovery efforts enhances an already successful restoration project that has led to the creation of a second spawning run, according to the federal agency. It is anticipated that second run will double the number of spawning June suckers and help to meet delisting requirements.

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