Feds: Prairie dogs not endangered

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) - Black-tailed prairie dogs have been denied protection under the Endangered Species Act after federal officials said the once-ubiquitous ground squirrels show signs of rebounding from decades of habitat loss, casual shootings and other pressures.

WildEarth Guardians, a New Mexico-based environmental activist group, had petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list the animal as threatened or endangered. The group's request was denied Wednesday.

Prairie dogs once ranged over an estimated 50,000 square miles in at least 11 Central and Western states.

That was before poisoning, shootings, the plague and loss of habitat to agriculture wiped out populations across at least 97 percent of their historical habitat.

Federal officials say prairie dogs now occupy about 3,750 square miles within a range that stretches from Montana and North Dakota south to New Mexico, Texas and Arizona. That's up from about 550 square miles in 1961.