For the third straight year the lowly Utah prairie dog will be elevated a bit in status at Bryce Canyon National Park with its own day.
On June 22 the park will celebrate Utah Prairie Dog Day from 9 a.m. into the evening. Among the activities will be looking for prairie dogs in the park with a ranger, educational sessions and materials on prairie dogs, even an appearance by "Petey the Prairie Dog."
Bryce Canyon Superintendent Jeff Bradybaugh says the theme of this year’s Utah Prairie Dog Day celebration is “Appreciating the Under Appreciated Utah Prairie Dog.” The park is highlighting the important - and often misunderstood - role that Utah prairie dogs play in the park's environment.
Utah prairie dogs are considered “keystone species” that perform a variety of important ecological functions, including soil aeration that helps plants grow, providing prey for other animals, and maintaining meadow ecosystems. This year’s guest speaker, Dr. Nicki Frey, a Utah State University Extension Wildlife Specialist and Professor, will present "Appreciating the Under-(Utah prairie)-dog" at the Bryce Canyon Lodge at 8 p.m.
A year-round inhabitant of Bryce Canyon’s high plateau meadows, Utah prairie dogs live in social colonies or “towns” and display amazingly complex communication. Their burrow systems are made up of several chambers and provide the animals with protection from predators, places to raise young, store food, and hibernate through the cold winter months. Appreciating the Utah prairie dog and understanding its beneficial role in the environment can help humans learn about healthy ecosystems and the critical role that every species plays in maintaining the diversity of life.
“This year’s celebration of the Utah prairie dog focuses on understanding and appreciating the role of the Utah prairie dog in sustaining healthy habitat for a large variety of wildlife," says Bryce Canyon biologist Sarah Hass. "Over 200 species have been associated with prairie dog colonies, including species that either depend upon or directly benefit by prairie dog activity for survival. Although it can be difficult to appreciate a species that can interfere with human activity and livelihood, the Utah prairie dog has an important role to play in the environment that positively impacts the natural world.”
All students (K-12th) and their families can enter the park free on Utah Prairie Dog Day. Just tell the park ranger at the entrance gate: “I’m here to see the Utah prairie dogs!” and you’ll be admitted for free!