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Document Type

Thesis - University Access Only

Award Date


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)

Department / School

Wildlife and Fisheries Science

First Advisor

Jonathan A. Jenks


black tailed prairie dog, south dakota, habitat, expansion


The state of South Dakota recently approved a black-tailed prairie dog (Cynomys ludovicianus) conservation and management plan (House Bill 1252 and Senate Bill 216, An Act to Mitigate the Impact of Prairie Dogs), which placed restrictions on prairie dog colonies that encroach upon private property where their presence was not desired. A one-mile (1.6 km) prairie dog free zone must be maintained if a formal complaint was issued with the state. Passage of the plan elevated the importance of barrier development in the management of prairie dogs. The objectives of our study were: (1) evaluate the efficacy of different physical and visual barrier designs at limiting the expansion of prairie dog colonies and (2) analyze the cost-effectiveness of barrier designs in terms of materials, installation, and maintenance. Five study sites were chosen on the Bad River Ranches owned by Turner Enterprises, Inc. in Stanley and Jones counties near Fort Pierre, South Dakota. Barriers evaluated included: vinyl sheeting with chicken wire, American bison (Bison bison) exclosures, and straw bales. Barriers were 100 meters (328 ft) in length and located within 1 hectare monitoring plots (2.47 ac). Grazing and mechanical mowing were allowed on both sides of barriers. A prairie dog free zone was established on property adjacent to active colonies. Variables such as weather, soil type, topography, vegetative characteristics, prairie dog density, and rate of expansion were recorded for each colony. Efficacy of barriers was evaluated by the presence of active burrows in the prairie dog free zone beyond barriers (breakthroughs) and the relative cost of each barrier type. We documented 528 active burrows beyond treatments, 231 occurred within the control (where no barrier was established). The exclosures, vinyl, and straw bales exhibited 122, 78, and 97 burrows respectively. There was a significant difference (P = 0.018) among the constructed barrier treatments and the control in terms of limiting the number of prairie dog breakthroughs. The cost of vinyl sheeting and chicken wire was $898.68 per 100 m (328 feet). The cost associated with bison exclosures was $341.93 per 100 m (328 feet). While both barrier treatments significantly reduced prairie dog recolonization, the bison exclosure cost substantially less than the vinyl sheeting and chicken wire. The vinyl sheeting and chicken wire required more (P ≤ 0.10) maintenance than the bison exclosure. We compared two methods of prairie dog density estimation, mark-recapture and mark-resight. Our estimates of prairie dog density (25.60 – 36.43 prairie dogs per hectare [~ 10 – 15 per acre]) were within the range reported in published studies for the species using mark-recapture or mark-resight approaches. There was no significant difference (P = 0.796) between our estimates of prairie dog density among methods or years. Use of barriers to deter movement of prairie dogs may represent a viable alternative to poisoning. Information that must be considered when selecting a prairie dog barrier includes maintenance time involved for the treatment to remain effective. It is the responsibility of the manager to decide which control method or combination of methods (lethal and non-lethal) to employ on a given site at a given time to successfully balance the needs of stakeholders while maintaining prairie dogs on the landscape.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Black-tailed prairie dog -- Control -- South Dakota
Prairie dogs -- Control -- South Dakota
Buffer zones (Ecosystem management)



Number of Pages



South Dakota State University


Copyright © 2009 Marcus B. Gray. All rights reserved.