|Wednesday, Jun 2, 2010|
Bryce Canyon National Park celebrated the first annual Utah Prairie Dog Day on Friday, April 30th. Over 200 park visitors and local area students participated in the day’s activities, including viewing Utah prairie dogs in their natural habitat, creating “Utah Prairie Dog Day” buttons, submitting art contest drawings and attending special interpretive programs on the species.
The event was co-sponsored by the Bryce Canyon Natural History Association and included the “Adopt-A-Utah Prairie Dog” kick-off event, which allowed visitors to adopt one of Bryce Canyon’s Utah prairie dogs for $30 to support conservation efforts in the park.
A year-round inhabitant of Bryce Canyon’s high plateau meadows, the Utah prairie dog is an important component of the park’s ecosystem and is considered a “keystone species” that performs a variety of important ecological functions, including aerating the soil and thereby helping plants grow, providing prey for other animals, and maintaining healthy meadow ecosystems.
The Utah prairie dog has been federally listed under the Endangered Species Act since 1973 and is protected as a threatened species. Bryce Canyon National Park reintroduced the Utah prairie dog to park meadows between 1974 and 1988 and is the only National Park Service unit where they occur. Today, approximately 200 Utah prairie dogs are found within several meadow complexes within the park. Every year these colonies are monitored and counted to track the health of the animals and their habitat.
Over 130 local school children, ranging from kindergarten through sixth grade, participated in an art contest with a Utah prairie dog theme – prizes were awarded the afternoon of the celebration to first, second and third place winners. Paul and Luke Zitting, two young men from the Salt Lake City area, were special guests at the celebration and received appreciation plaques from the park for their efforts to protect prairie dogs in Utah.
Although the weather was bitterly cold and the wind was blowing, the day was a great success. “It was wonderful to have a day dedicated to such an important species in our park and why their protection is so critical,” says biologist Sarah Haas. Marilyn Bulkley, the Bryce Canyon Natural History Association’s education specialist adds: “We can’t wait to do it again next year! We’ll celebrate in the summer when the weather is nicer and the prairie dog pups are active – it will be so much fun!”