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DWR working to protect unique, native Utah threatened, endangered species

Utah has a lot of unique plants and animals, thanks to its diverse terrain. But some of those species have been in danger for years.The Bureau of Land Managemen The Utah Department of Wildlife Resources is managing about 42 threatened or endangered species in its state, including the Utah prairie dogs, sage grouse, and California Condor. The species have been in danger for years due to habitat loss, disease, and the sylvatic plague. The DWR is also working on reintroducing endangered species such as the Utah Condor, which was listed in 1995, to help protect them from extinction.

DWR working to protect unique, native Utah threatened, endangered species

Published : 2 days ago by KUTV, Amanda Gilbert, in Science

Utah has a lot of unique plants and animals, thanks to its diverse terrain. But some of those species have been in danger for years.

The Bureau of Land Management said they're managing about 42 threatened or endangered species in our state.

Here's a breakdown of some that are unique and/or native to Utah:

Recovery Biologist Barbara Sugarman said the Utah prairie dogs are known for their short, white-tipped tails.

She talked about how unique they are because they're very social creatures. They're also known for being a "keystone species," or "ecosystem engineers."

"The declines began in the 1920," she said. "Prairie dogs and people tend to like settling in the same area, especially Utah prairie dogs. There's been a lot of conflict with people wanting to live in areas where prairie dogs are occupying. Then there's also the sylvatic plague. What will happen is some fleas that are carrying the plague will come into a colony, and within a few days every single individual in that colony will be dead. So it can go from hundreds of animals to pretty much no one in less than a week."

Sugarman adds that the good news is the Utah prairie dogs have been moved from "endangered" to "threatened."

To read more about the Utah Prairie Dog Conservation Strategy, visit the Utah DNR website.

Like the Utah prairie dogs, Scott Root with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, said they're keeping a close eye on the greater sage-grouse.

"They're one of my favorite species, and it's truly and symbol of the west. It's a native bird, and they're tied to sage brush communities. We've lost a lot of sage brush, so for the division, one of our big priorities is to complete many habitat projects that benefit sage grouse and other species as well. We've done up to 700 projects just since 2006 to help benefit sage grouse and other species," he said.

Root spends a lot of time studying these birds. He talks about how they battle a lot of different factors like habitat loss.

"The division wants to make sure we always have sage grouse as part of our state," Root said. "The five-year sage-grouse management plan involves a lot of partners getting together, a lot of technology and a lot of habitat projects. We even have some sage grouse with little GPS collars on them. We want to know where they're going, how many are getting killed, and how many young are out there. They're such a beautiful species. They're an important part of our history and we want them here."

The California Condor is not native to Utah, but it's important to highlight right now because the avian flu did kill some of the endangered species living in Utah recently.

Adam Kavalunas, Conservation Outreach Manager for the southern region of DWR, says in the early 1980s, there were only about 20 California Condors left worldwide.

"Right now in the Utah- Arizona population, we have a little over 100. Recently, a few did die from avian influenza," he said.

Kavalunas said we're still trying to grow the population here in this region.

"If you get to see a Condor in the wild, it's a pretty great experience. People who frequent Zion National Park can see them. They are the largest bird in North America by wingspan," he said.

Kavalunas said they're a small songbird found in the southern portion of the United States.

He adds they're another endangered species, and they were listed primarily because of the loss of their wetland habitat. They were listed back in 1995, and we've been working on trying to increase their numbers as well.

June Sucker Biologist Andrew Nagy said he's always had a passion for native fish.

"The June Sucker is found only in one place in the world, and that is Utah Lake and its tributaries. That is really cool to have something unique in your community," he said.

Nagy adds that the fish was listed as federally endangered in the past, but in the past few years it was moved to threatened. He thinks in the late-1980s the population had decreased to around 1,000.

"We're lucky those numbers have increased a lot," Nagy said. "A big part of the June Sucker recovery implementation program is there's a hatchery that raises thousands of June Suckers each year, with reintroducing them into the Utah Lake. We have what we call refuge populations, in hopes that if everything does go wrong with the population in Utah Lake, we will still have some adults left."

Nagy wants people to care about the June Sucker because it's only found here.

"It's a point of pride for our community. In addition, the June Sucker is a good example is an indicator species, and that means that if the June Sucker population is doing well, then that means the lake ecosystem, the health of Utah Lake is also doing well," he said.

Topics: Wildlife, Utah

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