In 1999 the US Fish and Wildlife Service recommended designating the black-tailed prairie dog (Cynomys ludovicianus) as warranted for listing as threatened under the US Endangered Species Act, but precluded from such listing by other, higher priority species (US Fish and Wildlife Service 1999). This ‘warranted, but precluded’ finding flamed a management controversy that had been brewing for years and instigated a flurry of activity by agricultural interests, government agencies, conservation non-governmental organizations (NGOs), scientists and others. Stakeholders became polarized between those who want to conserve prairie dogs and those who want to limit them. Although ecologists have noted for decades the huge decline of black-tailed prairie dogs, as recently as 10–15 years ago the status of prairie dogs and their management was largely neglected and therefore not controversial. How did this issue move to the forefront of conservation controversies in this country? In this chapter we use a policy sciences approach (Lasswell and McDougal 1992) to describe and analyse the controversy surrounding prairie dog conservation and management by examining the context of the issue, the key stakeholders, and the processes being used to understand and address the problem. We end with recommendations to improve prospects for black-tailed prairie dog recovery and conservation.
THE CONTEXT OF PRAIRIE DOG CONSERVATION: ORIENTING TO THE ‘PROBLEM’
Fully understanding the challenge of black-tailed prairie dog recovery requires a comprehensive assessment of the context.
Endangered species recovery is always difficult, and biologists need to use the best tools, skills, and experience available. While the use of appropriate biological tools is essential for successful recovery, other factors are also indispensable. These include problem analysis and problem-solving strategies, organizational design, work group effectiveness, effectiveness of interpersonal relationships, and clarity and specificity of goals and objectives. Inadequacy in any of these factors may result in inefficiency and ineffectiveness of the recovery job; ultimately, the species may not be recovered! Professional biologists and managers readily recognize the biological dimensions of recovery work, but largely overlook or depreciate the value of organizational factors. Because of the urgency and the sense of finality inherent in recovery efforts, professionals would do well to attend to such factors.
In this chapter, we introduce some organization and management concepts and recommendations that can help the work of conservationists. Specifically, we 1) provide some background on organization designs and management processes that are useful in species recovery; 2) examine the endangered species task environment in organizational terms; 3) identify the task force/project team model as the most appropriate for recovery work; 4) describe the four functions of management—organizing, planning, leading, and controlling—in these teams; 5) examine task-oriented teams versus power-, role-, or people-oriented teams; 6) introduce a procedure to analyze problems and develop action plans; and 7) offer, in an appendix, a method for developing action plans.
The black-footed ferret (Mustela nigripes) is one of the world's most critically endangered mammals. Until about 1920, the carnivorous ferret occupied nearly 40 million ha over 12 Great Plains and Rocky Mountain states and two Canadian provinces. Agricultural interests and federal and state rodent control programs drastically eliminated ferret habitat–prairie dog (Cynomys spp.) colonies (the ‘prairie dog ecosystem’, Clark, Hinckley & Rich 1989b)–and fragmented the remainder into small patches, thus rendering isolated ferret populations highly vulnerable to extinction from various causes, including local catastrophes. Extensive searches in the late 1970s yielded no ferrets, and they were feared extinct, but in 1981 a small population was found near Meeteetse in northwestern Wyoming. By early 1986, only about ten individual ferrets were known, four in the wild and six in a single captive breeding facility. Fortunately, as of January, 1992, there were 175 ferrets in six captive breeding facilities, and 49 ferrets had been introduced to the wild. There is every reason to believe that the ferret will eventually be restored to the wild in viable numbers and distributions. Overviews of the ferret and prairie dog conservation and management effort are given by Casey, DuWaldt & Clark (1986), Clark (1986a), and Reading & Clark (1990).
The ferret's conservation history has been complex and unpromising. Both the ferret and determination of its critical habitat ranked very high in the first US Redbook of Endangered Wildlife in 1964, and again in a US Fish and Wildlife Service list of endangered species priorities in 1976.
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