The use of an oral vaccine that protects prairie dogs from plague will be extended to Charles M. Russell and UL Bend National Wildlife Sanctuaries in Montana as part of a plan proposed by the US Fish and Wildlife Service.
The new plan would allow the distribution of vaccines in the wilderness areas of the shelters and on nearby private land at the request of landowners. The Service has completed an environmental assessment of the action and is seeking public comments on the proposal.
Prairie dogs are very susceptible to woodland plague, which can kill entire colonies of prairie dogs, a terrestrial animal. Endangered black-footed ferrets depend almost exclusively on prairie dogs for food and shelter, so efforts to maintain and develop prairie dog colonies by inoculating them with this oral plague vaccine would benefit ferret populations, as well as a host of other prairie species. .
After several years of experimental research, the Service announced its intention to begin administering the sylvatic plague vaccine at Montana’s two National Wildlife Sanctuaries in April 2016. The proposed wilderness areas designated on the refuges were not included in this plan. Some prairie dog colonies are found contiguously on the wild and non-wild lands of the two refuges. Since it is desirable to vaccinate as many prairie dogs as possible in a colony, the Service has completed this EA in order to expand the areas where the vaccine can be applied.