Conservation of the Black-Tailed Prairie Dog Ecosystem

Project Description

World Wildlife Fund is conducting prairie dog conservation work in north central Montana within one of the primary focal areas for prairie dog conservation identified by the Montana State Fish, Wildlife, and Parks with the intent of increasing habitat important to three of Montana’s Tier 1 species: black-footed ferrets, mountain plovers, and burrowing owls.

Project Map

Publicly Accessible: No
County: Valley County, MT
Project Size:
  • 20.0 acres

Project Sites

  • American Prairie Reserve (Not publicly accessible)

Goals and Targets

Primary Motivations:

  • Conservation Mission

Primary Goals:

  • By 2009, we will expand habitat by 225 acres, resulting in increased or stable populations of prairie dogs, ferret, mountain plover, and burrowing owls.
    Progress: *We are reducing prairie dog and black-footed ferret fatalities on colonies infected with plague by dusting prairie dog burrows with insecticide (i.e., Deltamethrin). Insecticide eliminates fleas that transmit plague to both prairie dogs and ferrets. *We are mechanically mowing the tall vegetation in and surrounding colonies to expand and improve the habitat available to prairie dogs. *We are mapping the active, areal extent of prairie dog colonies to determine their size annually. *We conducted visual counts and walking transects of prairie dog colonies for the presence of burrowing owls and their nests. *We conducted visual counts and walking transects of prairie dog colonies for the presence of mountain plovers and their nests. *We assisted USFWS biologists with spotlighting ferrets to evaluate population levels on the C.M.R. National Wildlife Refuge (CMR).

Consistent With Plans:

  • Species Recovery Plan
  • Conservation Plan
  • State Wildlife Action Plan

Targeted Habitats:

  • Shrublands and Grasslands
    • Grasslands

Targeted Species:

  • Black-footed Ferret Mustela nigripes
  • Black-tailed Prairie Dog Cynomys ludovicianus
  • Burrowing Owl Athene cunicularia
  • Mountain Plover Charadrius montanus

Conservation Actions

Action Status Start Year End Year
Vertebrate monitoring In Progress 2009 2009
Other - Terrestrial habitat restoration and management: Vegetation management Ongoing Management 2009 2009
Research Completed 2008 2008
Other - Terrestrial habitat restoration and management: Plague mitigation Ongoing Management 2009 2009


Is the success of this project's actions being monitored? Yes

Monitoring Activities
Reconnaissance of prairie dog colonies for the presence of (1) plague, (2) burrowing owls, (3) mountain plovers, and (4) black-footed ferrets. We are also monitoring colony size annually by mapping colony perimeters.

Lessons Learned and/or Suggestions for Similar Activities
The key factors to World Wildlife Fund's (WWF) progress to date have been collaboration, perseverance, and adaptive management. WWF has improved prairie dog habitat, reduced prairie dog fatalities, and contributed to ferret monitoring by partnering and collaborating with the American Prairie Foundation (APF)and CMR staff. WWF believes that the project has had a small but significant conservation impact. WWF has protected 607 hectares of black-tailed prairie dog colonies from sylvatic plague in an area of Montana’s only extant black-footed ferret population. This was done by measuring the number of hectares and burrows dusted and monitoring colonies to verify prairie dog activity. In addition, WWF estimated prairie dog densities on APF lands. By protecting prairie dogs from plague, the small population of ferrets on the CMR was also protected.

Any Additional Information About The Project
Our largest impediment to success has been the widespread outbreak of sylvatic plague in south Phillips County. Plague drastically reduced prairie dog populations on and adjacent to APF lands, which limited our ability to successfully expand the size of existing prairie dog colonies. We overcame this hurdle by dusting prairie dog burrows with insecticide to reduce prairie dog and ferret fatalities.

Quick Facts

Owning Organization

The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation

Managing Organization

World Wildlife Fund
(Non-Governmental Organization)

Contact Information

Steve Forrest (Manager of Restoration Science)
World Wildlife Fund - Northern Great Plains Program

General Information

Project #: 1773
Last Updated: January 17, 2011

Project Relations


American Prairie Foundation
Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service - Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge


World Wildlife Fund - Northern Great Plains Program

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