Becoming a pest: Prairie dog ecology and the human economy in the Euroamerican west

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Abstract

The trajectory of human/prairie dog interaction over the past century is a particularly illuminating example of the influence of human attitudes on the management of a native species. Prairie dogs, like other native animals of the plains, were managed according to their perceived usefulness to humans. The case of prairie dogs differs from that of other animals in part because the rodents were largely overlooked by the early-twentieth-century conservation movement. Instead, alliances of scientists, local landowners, and government officials formed around the perceived need to control prairie dog populations. These alliances, cemented together by the perception of prairie dogs are destructive pests, worked throughout the twentieth century to exterminate prairie dogs in their plains habitat. The fate of prairie dogs little concerned most twentieth-century Americans until a prairie dog predator, the black-footed ferret, began making headlines as one of the rarest mammals on earth in the late 1970s. In part as a result of interest in the ferret, basic scientific research on prairie dog biology and ecology is now being done.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)531-552
Number of pages22
JournalEnvironmental History
Volume4
Issue number4
DOIs
StatePublished - Oct 1999

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