Recent Press Releases

Washington, D.C. —  Senator John Thune yesterday sent a letter to U.S. Forest Service Chief Gail Kimball urging the completion of a comprehensive prairie dog management plan for South Dakota's Conata Basin.

"The Forest Service announced that a prairie dog management plan was in the works nearly two years ago," said Thune. "The recent discovery of Sylvatic plague in dead prairie dogs highlights how important a management plan is for the health and safety of South Dakotans, as well as the protection of South Dakota's soil and native vegetation. I find the delay in instituting a plan unacceptable and urge the Forest Service leadership to direct the new Nebraska National Forest Supervisor to complete the management plan as quickly as possible."

In September, 2006, the Forest Service indicated that a plan for managing prairie dogs on the Buffalo Gap, Oglala, and Fort Pierre National Grasslands would be completed within a year.

Sylvatic plague has been found in dead prairie dogs in the area, and the disease can be spread from prairie dogs to domestic animals and to humans. People are advised to stay away from prairie dog habitats when possible to avoid contracting the disease.

The full text of the letter is below.

May 22, 2008

Chief Gail Kimball
U.S. Forest Service
U.S. Department of Agriculture
Yates Building, 5th Floor, NW Wing
201 Fourteenth Street, SW
Washington, DC 20250

Dear Chief Kimball,

As you may be aware, Sylvatic plague has been found in a dead prairie dog from a colony on U.S. Forest Service (USFS) land near Interior, SD. This is in the Conata Basin area, which is noted for the reintroduction of the Black-footed Ferret. The presence of plague concerns me on several fronts and underscores the need for immediate completion of the long-delayed comprehensive prairie dog management plan.

In September 2006, the Forest Service indicated the plan would be completed in one year. However, it is now over eight months past due with indications of further delays. I find any further delay unacceptable, particularly in light of the discovery of the Sylvatic plague. A timely, responsible, and comprehensive management plan is crucial to giving the Forest Service broader management tools to keep prairie dog populations at a level that will, at a minimum, prevent the outbreak of disease, which could spread to local residents and domestic animals. While I don't want to overstate the threat to humans, the local Forest Service office recently notified local hospitals and papers as to the potential illness, and our state epidemiologist has warned people to stay away from known prairie dog habitats.

It is imperative that a prairie dog management plan is instituted as soon as possible. The new management plan should protect residents in South Dakota, protect the soil and vegetation in the Conata Basin, and identify and permit common sense management techniques.

I urge you to direct the new Nebraska National Forest Supervisor to complete and publicize a comprehensive, meaningful prairie dog management plan as quickly as possible that would adequately address many of the problems that exist due to the uncontrolled prairie dog population.


United States Senate

CC: Rick Cables, Rocky Mountain Regional Forester