Comments Sought for Vaccinating Montana Prairie Dogs

PROMO 660 x 440 Animal - Black Footed Ferret - USFWS
Published Friday, June 2, 2017

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is planning to expand the use of an oral vaccine against plague for prairie dogs on the Charles M. Russell and UL Bend National Wildlife Refuges in Montana. The new plan would allow for vaccine distribution on wilderness areas within the refuges, and on nearby private lands when requested by cooperating landowners. The Service has completed an Environmental Assessment for this action and is seeking public comment on the proposal. 

Prairie dogs are highly susceptible to sylvatic plague, which can kill virtually all the prairie dogs on entire colonies of the ground-dwelling animals.  Endangered black-footed ferrets rely almost exclusively on prairie dogs as a source of food and shelter, so efforts to maintain and grow prairie dog colonies by inoculating them with this oral sylvatic plague vaccine (SPV) would benefit ferret populations, as well as a host of other prairie species. 

After several years of experimental research, the Service announced plans to administer SPV at the two Montana national wildlife refuges in April 2016. Proposed and designated wilderness areas on the refuges were not included in that plan. Some prairie dog colonies occur contiguously on both wilderness and non-wilderness lands of the two refuges. Since the Fish and Wildlife Service determined it is desirable to vaccinate as many prairie dogs as possible across a colony, the Service completed the assessment to extend the areas where SPV can be applied.

The comment period on the environmental assessment will run through July 1, 2017. Copies of the assessment are available at: http://www.fws.gov/refuge/charles_m_russell/.

Comments may be emailed to: randy_matchett@fws.gov or sent by mail to: Attn: Randy Matchett, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 333 Airport Road, Lewistown, Montana 59457.