During the past four years, wildlife conservation groups have implemented Prairie Dog Day celebrations on Feb. 2 to coincide with their big cousin, the groundhog, and his famous weather prognostication day.
The celebrations are held in various New Mexico and Colorado locations, but environmentalists are anticipating the tradition to spread as other cities dedicated to the protection of vital prairie dog ecosystems hoping to join the fun.
According to WildEarth Guardians, the groundhog may predict the duration of winter, but the ‘groundhogs’ of the West, prairie dogs, foretell the future of a community of many wildlife critters dependent on prairie dogs for food and for the habitat they create.
Prairie dogs are smaller, more nimble and more social than groundhogs. They are known as keystone species due to their linchpin importance to Western grasslands across the Great Plains where their existence is vital for up to 100 other species, including the black-footed ferret, mountain plover, swift fox, ferruginous hawk and burrowing owl.
The current decline of prairie dog populations in the wild due to poisoning, shooting, disease and habitat destruction, has the species at a precarious 98 percent of its original population across 11 states of historic prairie dog range.
Prairie dogs may not predict the weather but their towns and colonies are becoming increasingly popular to tourists because they provide a unique wildlife viewing experience and are playful and entertaining to watch.
Wildlife conservationists are calling on ranchers to convert their prairie dog “sport hunting excursions” to a more humane and potentially lucrative wildlife tourism business.
In addition, Keystone Prairie Dogs is a conservation website that provides a fun combination of scientific information, resources, eBooks with humorous pictures, spoofs and political parodies and assorted gifts with custom prairie dog pictures.
Other organizations are jumping on the Punxsutawney Phil bandwagon, like a group in Snohomish County near Seattle, with their farcical Ground Frog Day.
In other groundhog news, Staten Island Chuck, a local New York groundhog residing at the Staten Island Zoo, is predicting the Super Bowl winner by his choice of food plates. Chuck predicted the 49ers will win tomorrow’s game, after snatching up corn from a plate labeled “49ers,” while ignoring corn on the plate labeled “Ravens.”
But according to Phil’s prediction this year -- because no shadow was present Saturday morning at Gobblers Knob Pennsylvania -- the country will enjoy an early spring instead of six more weeks of winter. Too bad Phil hasn’t been clued in on climate change, but no worries since his accuracy record has been pretty dismal anyway.
Additional information on the plight of the prairie dog can be found at Humane Society Prairie Dog Coalition.
Jean Williams, environmental and political journalist; PrairieDogPress writer; Artistic Director, Keystone Prairie Dogs.***PrairieDogPress is the media channel for keystone-prairie-dogs.com, which is a fundraising website to support environmental groups for extraordinary efforts to protect Great Plains habitat and prairie dogs in the wild. PDP uses humorous images, social commentary and serious-minded political reports to challenge government on numerous levels, including accountability to the people, the protection of threatened species, the environment and Earth’s natural resources.