Badlands National Park

Badlands National Park

Prairie dogs fighting plague

July 15, 2009, 8:35 am

Sylvatric plague has been found in a colony of prairie dogs in Badlands National Park, and officials will continue a program began last year to dust colonies with insecticide to halt the spread of the disease.

While not unexpected, it's the first time plague has been found in the park. The infected colony was discovered July 1 in the Sage Creek Wilderness Area.

Last year's outbreak was contained within the 300,000-acre Conata Basin south of Wall. Park officials this week put out notices warning visitors of the disease.

"Last year, it was in the basin, but its movement has taken place in different areas," said Aaron Kaye, supervising park ranger. "We want people to be aware before they go out in the park."

While there is some concern about people and pets coming in contact with the disease, it's the basin's protected black-footed ferret population that faces the most risk. The reintroduced predator dines almost exclusively on prairie dogs.

"We do have ferrets on that colony, so it steps up our concern," said Greg Schroeder, the park's wildlife biologist. "We're going to go out next week and vaccinate. It's just not a good time to relocate the ferrets, since the kits are so young and completely dependent on the females. There's just no chance to capture them right now. Our best course is to vaccinate and maybe relocate them in the fall when the kits get older."

Last year, officials from four federal agencies dusted 11,000 acres of prairie dog colonies with insecticide to kill the fleas.