PIERRE, S.D. (AP) — Sylvatic plague that has devastated prairie dog colonies across western South Dakota since 2007 has spread north and east, and the disease is now affecting colonies in the Fort Pierre National Grassland in the central part of the state.
Prairie dog towns are becoming fewer and farther between, grassland wildlife biologist Ruben Mares told the Capital Journal (http://bit.ly/1jep2Wz ). Last year, one colony he monitors had shrunk from 30 acres to 5 acres, he said.
“What I’ve seen so far is that colonies are getting spotty,” Mares said.
South Dakota is a premier destination for prairie dog hunters. Hunting might be tougher this year, though hunters say the plague is even worse in other states.
“Usually we hunt in Kansas, but prairie dogs, if you get very far south, they get the plague and it decimates them,” said Wally McGinnis, of Chillicothe, Missouri, who was hunting in South Dakota recently with his son, Jarrod McGinnis, of Cedar Falls, Iowa.
Sylvatic plague is in the state to stay, though there is little danger that prairie dogs will be wiped out because they have a high birth rate, said Keith Fisk, wildlife damage program administrator for South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks.
“It’s just going to be something that cycles through the environment,” he said.
State wildlife biologists in 2008 determined that prairie dog colonies covered about 630,000 acres in South Dakota — the equivalent of nearly 1,000 square miles.
“I would be surprised if there was a significant drop in that,” Fisk said.