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Wildlife advocates file lawsuit to protect Thunder Basin prairie dogs

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Wildlife advocates are taking the U.S. Forest Service to court over a plan to eliminate prairie dogs from the Thunder Basin National Grassland

Erik Molvar is the executive director of the Western Watersheds Project, a nonprofit conservation organization. They are one of several groups who filed a lawsuit in federal court last week. Molvar said Thunder Basin’s prairie dogs are an essential part of bringing back an endangered species.

“The Forest Service shouldn't be poisoning a designated sensitive species that they are supposed to be prioritizing for conservation," he said. "And they have a legal obligation to foster the reintroduction of black-footed ferrets, because the Thunder Basin is one of the best remaining candidate sites for black-footed ferret reintroduction.”

Black-footed ferrets are considered one of the most endangered mammals in North America and rely exclusively on prairie dogs for food and habitat. Prairie dog tunnels also create habitats for burrowing owls, swift foxes and other native species. 

Molvar said the livestock industry works to eliminate species they view as a danger to their profits, including wolves, grizzly bears, mountain lions and prairie dogs.

“You ought to have commercial enterprises co-existing with the native wildlife as a cost of doing business on public lands," Molvar said. "Because Americans have a strong interest in native wildlife.”

The legal battle is over an amendment that would remove protections and allow for poisoning and sport-shooting of prairie dogs. 

Thunder Basin National Grassland is located just west of the Black Hills in Wyoming.