BIWFC’s grant program supports projects that advance wildlife fertility control science, policy and its applications. Dan Salkeld, Research Scientist II and Biology Teacher in Colorado State University’s College of Natural Sciences, received a BIWFC grant in 2017.
BIWFC: Will you provide some background on what is being experienced with the Black-tailed Prairie Dog populations in Colorado?
DS: Prairie dogs can be something of a lightning rod for human-wildlife conflict opinions. They are viewed either as keystone species important for conservation and iconic of the West, or as soil-eroding, disease transmitting vermin… In urban settings, these issues can be magnified: they’re a visible part of a natural ecosystem, but in limited space, and with fewer predators, population growth can cause problems of over-grazing and habitat destruction.
BIWFC: Are Black-tailed Prairie Dogs currently being managed? If so, how is the issue addressed?
DS: Prairie dogs are being managed in a variety of ways, with land-managers trying everything from curbing movement with visual barriers, encouraging local abundance of raptors, removal to other sites, and as a last resort, lethal control.
BIWFC: What is the goal of your project?
DS: Our project is planning to examine whether we can manipulate prairie dog breeding patterns, so that sustainably managed prairie dog populations can remain on the landscape but without the detrimental impacts of dense populations. We will do this by testing the efficacy of an ‘immunocontraceptive’ – essentially a vaccine that disrupts the hormonal cascade and which will cause females to skip breeding.
BIWFC: What are the results so far?
DS: We are still at an early stage of the project, and permits have been an adventure, but we have worked with local land managers in Fort Collins and Denver to organize sites and lay the groundwork.
BIWFC: What is the next step?
DS: To get into the field properly and start harvesting data from the breeding season. If the methods work, we will work with land-owners to test whether this control method can work financially, logistically and at the right ecological scales for successful prairie dog population management.