Great Plains Studies, Center for


Date of this Version

Fall 2002


Published in Great Plains Research 12:2 (Fall 2002): 197-218. Copyright © 2002 Center for Great Plains Studies.


It is a common belief that the black-tailed prairie dog (Cynomys ludovicianus) was an extremely abundant species throughout the Great Plains prior to European settlement. We examined accounts from explorers, naturalists, and travelers in the Great Plains in the 19th and 20th centuries and found few that adequately document the relative abundance and distribution to support this view. Immense prairie dog colonies existed in the western Great Plains before Euro-American settlement, but it appears that the eastern Great Plains supported only localized populations. Historic accounts also indicate that the easternmost extent of the black-tailed prairie dog's range before settlement was at or west of the 98th meridian, which is largely west of the tallgrass prairie. We believe that the recent determination to list the species as threatened under the Endangered Species Act is flawed because presettlement distribution and abundance were overstated.