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WYO Pocket Gophers Studied for ESA Listing

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February 17, 2009

Laramie, WY – A small Wyoming creature has cleared a big hurdle. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has agreed to consider listing the Wyoming pocket gopher under the federal Endangered Species Act.

Duane Short, wild species program director for the Biodiversity Conservation Alliance, says his group and the Center for Native Ecosystems petitioned jointly for protection because there are so few pocket gophers, and because the critters are very sensitive to oil and gas development. Short says a months-long survey last summer only counted ten of them.

"It comes out only in the dark of night, and just for a brief period. That's why it's seldom seen. Very few people have ever even heard of this tiny creature."

Wyoming pocket gophers are only found in a small area of the Red Desert. Short says proposed oil and gas development projects could destroy their habitat. However, because their habitat range is so small, he believes marking the boundaries will help developers work around the gophers' homes.

"It gives the industry an opportunity to work in a responsible manner to help preserve this very rare, and rather interesting mammal, once one gets to know it."

Critics of the proposed ESA listing say the Wyoming pocket gopher is the same species as other, more abundant gophers, although recent DNA testing has disproven that claim.

The U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management already have declared the Wyoming pocket gopher to be a "sensitive species." The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will decide on ESA protection within a year.

Deb Courson, Public News Service - WY