Prairie Wilderness Cemeteries

Your Living Legacy

Links in the Life Chain, Needing Help

* If ever a single “keystone” animal species were to be identified with the prairie ecosystems of North America, the black-tailed prairie dog would probably most easily qualify. Keystone species are those animals that tend to hold an ecosystem together, and whose presence or absence has the greatest effect on the well being of the other species. It can be argued that predators such as the black-footed ferret, swift fox, coyote, ferruginous hawk, golden eagle, and prairie rattlesnake all largely or partly depended historically on the black-tailed prairie dog as prey. The ecological effects of prairie dogs on surrounding vegetation are exploited by the mountain plover, horned lark, lark bunting, various ground squirrels, and grasshopper mouse. Their abandoned burrows are used by burrowing owls, horned lizards, spadefoot toads, tiger salamanders, spiders, scorpions, and a variety of other invertebrates. One Oklahoma study reported fifty-six species of birds, eighteen mammals, ten reptiles, and seven amphibians using prairie dog towns. Few if any other American animals can claim so many coattail associates….

Now, (2003), at most about 1,500 square miles of prairie dog habitat exist in the Great Plains, or about 1 percent or the original range of at least 150,000 square miles and a population of at least 600 million….

With its many diverse ecological connections, it was inevitable that the sad history of the prairie dog would be reflected in the fortunes of many other high plains species. The mountain plover, swift fox, and black-footed ferret are now variously threatened or endangered at state or national levels. Burrowing owls have undergone precipitous declines and may soon join the list of nationally threatened species….

Ranchers themselves have joined the list of threatened species in some areas; prairie dogs are only one of the many economic cards that have been dealt against them. Overgrazing of ranges, along with erosion and invasions of less edible or toxic plants, has reduced land carrying capacities, and water for livestock or forage crops is now an increasingly scarce commodity, as underground aquifers are going dry. Perhaps in the end, prairie dogs and their ecological brethren will have the final say out of economic default, at least in some especially arid regions of the Great Plains….

The lives of the plains bison were marked by almost constant movement; that way they never overgrazed any single area. Their periodic grazing actually stimulated the growth of new grass growth, which would become available for harvest by the next time they returned to the region. Through repetitive grazing and recurrent fires, the grass-dominated flora of the short-grass prairies slowly evolved and adapted to the high plains region, and the grazing animals in turn gradually adapted to the prairie flora and the other prairie fauna. Thus, bison are strongly attracted to prairie dog towns because of the areas of bare ground that can be used for wallows, the freshly germinating grasses and other { forbs } caused by constant rodent grazing, and the nutritious vegetation resulting from soil and nutrient mixing associated with their digging activities.

Proceeding paragraphs from “Great Wildlife of the Great Plains” By Paul A. Johnsgard P. 57 - 64



* Rangeland conservation: Rangelands occupy about 30% of land in the U.S. About 2/3 is privately owned, the rest is BLM and USFS LAND. Government heavily subsidizes grazing.

Rangeland damage occurs when overgrazed. Most rangelands are located in semi arid regions that are drought prone. Extended drought on overgrazed land results in desertification. Millions of acres of desert are formed each year because of human activity.

[Preceding paragraphs loosely quoted from Encyclopedia Americana.]





* The prairie has been almost totally changed over the course of the last hundred years, due to being so fertile and easy to work. No other biome has been so drastically changed in such a short time.

In the early twentieth century, prairie dog colonies covered 25 million acres or more. By 1960 this had declined to 1.5 million. The elimination of the prairie dog is a serious threat to prairie ecosystems, as it has been shown that those with prairie dogs contain more small mammals, arthropods, terrestrial predators and birds. 170 species of vertebrates depend on the activities of prairie dogs.

The presence of these rodents tends to increase the diversity of plants which is good for livestock and pastures. Decline in prairie dogs is thought to be one of the causes for the near extinction of the black footed ferret as well as the decline in numbers of the mountain plover, the steppe buzzard and the swift fox.

[Preceding paragraphs loosely quoted from Encyclopedia of the Biosphere Volume 8, 2000, introduction and pages 79 & 106.]