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Natural Heritage Surveys for Prairie Dogs Using Remote Sensing

Gunnison's Prairie-Dog
Mapping Prairie-Dog Towns using Aerial Photos

Across their ranges, populations of black-tailed and Gunnison’s prairie dogs have declined dramatically over the last 100 years. The black-tailed prairie dog is being considered for listing under the Endangered Species Act, and the Gunnison’s is a candidate for listing over part of its range, including north-central New Mexico. Prairie dogs dig burrows and disturb vegetation, creating bare areas visible on aerial photographs. Since 2001, NHNM zoologist Kristine Johnson, GIS analyst Teri Neville, and their students have been surveying for prairie dog towns using digital aerial photography. This method is a rapid and economical method of surveying and monitoring these species of conservation concern across large landscapes and in areas with few roads.