Consider the lowly prairie dog. Food for black-footed ferrets and eagles, maligned by ranchers, victims of plague. Well, even these lowly critters have their day, and it's April 30 at Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah.
On that Friday the park will celebrate this little rodent with a day full of talks, prairie dog "watches," even an art contest.
A year-round inhabitant of Bryce Canyon’s high plateau meadows, the Utah Prairie Dog is an important component of the park’s ecosystem. Although called a prairie “dog,” this species is actually a member of the rodent family. Prairie dogs live in complex social colonies or “towns.” Their burrow systems are made up of several chambers and provide protection from predators, places to raise young, store food, and hibernate through the cold winter months.
Utah Prairie Dogs are considered “keystone species” that perform a variety of important ecological functions including soil aeration which helps plants grow, providing prey for other animals, and maintaining healthy meadow ecosystems.
The Utah Prairie Dog has been federally listed under the Endangered Species Act since 1973 and is protected as a threatened species. Bryce Canyon National Park reintroduced the Utah Prairie Dog to park meadows from 1974 through 1988 and is the only National Park Service unit where they occur. Today, approximately 200 Utah Prairie Dogs are found within several meadow complexes within the Park. Every year these colonies are monitored and counted to track the health of the animals and their habitat.
“This year Bryce Canyon is celebrating the Utah prairie dog and its role as a keystone species in the park. This is the first time the park has dedicated a special event to this species and it’s exciting to try and get more people informed and excited about this unique and important animal,” says park biologist Sarah Haas.
The celebration will run from 9 a.m. through the evening with planned activities that include watching Utah prairie dogs in their natural habitat with a park ranger, special presentations on Utah prairie dogs, and a kids’ table with activities and refreshments.
Most activities will take place during the day at the Bryce Canyon Visitor Center with a special evening program at the Bryce Canyon Lodge.
Local schools will be invited to participate in an art contest with a Utah prairie dog theme – prizes will be awarded the afternoon of the celebration. Event information and entry forms are available at: http://www.nps.gov/brca/planyourvisit/upd_day.htm. All entries will be displayed at the Bryce Canyon National Park Visitor Center on Utah Prairie Dog Day, Friday, April 30th.
In addition, the Bryce Canyon Natural History Association will be unveiling its “Adopt – a Prairie Dog” program. For a $30 donation, you will receive a plush prairie dog and a framable personalized certificate (mailed separately) noting your support of the prairies dogs in Bryce Canyon National Park.
“And the best part,” adds Larry Thrower, Bryce Canyon fee collection supervisor, “is that if you’re a Utahan, all you have do is show your driver’s license and tell staff at the entrance booth, ‘We’ve come to see the prairie dogs!’ and we’ll let you in for free!”