The USDA Forest Service proposes to seasonally restrict prairie dog shooting in management area 3.67, covering approximately 42,000 acres of the Thunder Basin National Grassland. The closure would prohibit prairie dog shooting from February 1 to August 15 each year to protect at-risk species associated with prairie dog colonies, including burrowing owl, mountain plover and raptors. The proposed closure order would implement management direction adopted under the Thunder Basin National Grassland 2020 Plan Amendment, signed in December of last year.
The shooting order would apply only to National Forest System land within management area 3.67. Recreational shooting of prairie dogs is allowed on the remaining approximately half-million acres of the Thunder Basin National Grassland outside of management area 3.67 year-round. All other legal types of recreational shooting are allowed year-round on all acres of the Thunder Basin National Grassland. The 2020 grassland plan amendment removed all management direction that restricted prairie dog shooting outside of management area 3.67 and reduced the shooting restriction in management area 3.67 to a seasonal restriction. Previous year-round shooting restrictions had been in place in the general location of what is now management area 3.67 since 2002.
Management area 3.67 covers approximately 42,000 acres in the central portion of the grassland in Campbell, Converse, and Weston counties. The 2020 plan amendment directs the Forest Service to manage for short-stature vegetation communities in management area 3.67, including an objective to manage toward 10,000 acres of prairie dog colonies. Prairie dog colonies provide unique habitat characteristics on which some other at-risk animal species rely. A seasonal shooting restriction in prairie dog colonies will protect predators and other breeding and nesting species from accidental shooting and secondary poisoning from lead ammunition.
The Forest Service is asking for public input on the proposed shooting closure order. The proposal is being considered under the process outlined in the John D. Dingell, Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act. The comment period for the proposed shooting closure order will last 60 days, Aug. 18 – Oct. 17, 2022. Please submit comments to the online CARA portal (preferred method). Comments also can be sent to Rob Robertson, Douglas District Ranger, firstname.lastname@example.org, 2250 E Richards St, Douglas, WY 82633.
Please note that the Forest Service previously received and responded to comments about the proposed shooting restrictions as part of the planning process for the 2020 grassland plan amendment. For the current comment period, the Forest Service encourages commenters to avoid repeating information or issues raised previously for the 2020 plan amendment. All previously raised information and issues were analyzed in the environmental impact statement prepared for the 2020 plan amendment. A summary of comments received for the 2020 plan amendment about shooting restrictions and the Forest Service response to those comments is available in appendix C to the final environmental impact statement, which is located on the plan amendment webpage.
The Forest Service continues to work with the Thunder Basin Working Group throughout implementation of the 2020 plan amendment. The Thunder Basin Working Group is a collaborative stakeholder group representing diverse interests that meets regularly to discuss management of rangelands and wildlife communities on the Thunder Basin and make recommendations to the Forest Service. Current information related to restoration work and prairie dog colony management efforts on the Thunder Basin National Grassland is available online.