Date of this Version
For hundreds of years black-tailed prairie dogs inhabited the Great Plains by the millions, improving the grazing for bison and pronghorn antelope, digging escape holes and homes for burrowing owls and rodents, and serving as prey for badgers, coyotes, hawks, and bobcats. This book by the renowned naturalist and writer Paul A. Johnsgard tells the complex biological and environmental story of the western Great Plains under the prairie dog’s reign—and then under a brief but devastating century of human dominion. An indispensable and highly readable introduction to the ecosystem of the shortgrass prairie, Prairie Dog Empire describes in clear and detailed terms the habitat and habits of black-tailed prairie dogs; their subsistence, seasonal behavior, and the makeup of their vast colonies; and the ways in which their “towns” transform the surrounding terrain—for better or worse. Johnsgard recounts how this terrain was in turn transformed over the past century by the destruction of prairie dogs and their grassland habitats, together with the removal of the bison and their replacement with domestic livestock. A disturbing look at profound ecological alterations in the environment, this book also offers a rare and invaluable close-up view of the rich history and threatened future of the creature once considered the “keystone” species of the western plains. Included are maps, drawings, and listings of more than two hundred natural grassland preserves where many of the region’s native plants and animals may still be seen and studied.
This excerpt includes the Preface and Chapter 1, "The Western Shortgrass Prairie: A Brief History."