Impacts of recreational shooting on prairie dog colonies
Vosburgh, Timothy Charles
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The BLM has encouraged recreational shooting as a means of controlling prairie dog populations and as a recreational use of public lands. I investigated the impacts of recreational shooting on prairie dog population dynamics, activity patterns, and vegetation conditions in prairie dog towns. I monitored shooting pressure on BLM hunted colonies, measured the strength of association between shooting effort and changes in population size/structure and activity patterns, and compared vegetation between hunted and unhunted colonies. Marked subsamples were used to estimate prairie dog densities during the spring and fall on 10 hunted colonies in 1994 and 9 hunted and 8 non-hunted (control) colonies in 1995. Mean number of prairie dogs killed on colonies open to hunting was 27% in 1994 and 53 in 1995. In 1995, prairie dog density declined 33% on hunted colonies and 15% on non-hunted colonies. The percentage of marked prairie dogs recaptured during the fall was higher on non-hunted colonies (53%) than on hunted colonies (41%). I also found a positive correlation between shooting pressure and change in density on hunted colonies. Although age structure did not change from spring to fall, recreational shooting may have resulted in higher female mortality during 1995. Prairie dogs spent more time in alert postures and less time foraging on hunted than on unhunted towns. Prairie dogs could also be approached more closely on non-hunted colonies than on hunted colonies. Of the 4 approaches I used to monitor prairie dogs: (mark-recapture, burrow counts, vegetation analysis, and counting prairie dogs), above ground counts were the best approach for assessing prairie dog populations.