For hundreds of years black-tailed prairie dogs inhabited the Great Plains by the millions, improving the grazing for bison and pronghorn antelope, digging escape holes and homes for burrowing owls and rodents, and serving as prey for badgers, coyotes, hawks, and bobcats. Prairie Dog Empire by the renowned naturalist and writer Paul A. Johnsgard tells the complex biological and environmental story of the western Great Plains under the prairie dog's reign – and then under a brief but devastating century of human dominion.
Prairie Dog Empire describes in clear and detailed terms the habitat and habits of black-tailed prairie dogs; their subsistence, seasonal behavior, and the makeup of their vast colonies; and the ways in which their "towns" transform the surrounding terrain-for better or worse. Johnsgard recounts how this terrain was in turn transformed over the past century by the destruction of prairie dogs and their grassland habitats, together with the removal of the bison and their replacement with domestic livestock. A disturbing look at profound ecological alterations in the environment, Prairie Dog Empire also offers a rare and invaluable close-up view of the rich history and threatened future of the creature once considered the "keystone" species of the western plains. Included are maps, drawings, and listings of more than two hundred natural grassland preserves where many of the region's native plants and animals may still be seen and studied.
Paul A. Johnsgard is Foundation Regents Professor Emeritus in the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He is the winner of the 2004 National Conservation Achievement Award and recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award, both sponsored by the National Wildlife Federation, and the author of more than five dozen books on natural history, including Sandhill and Whooping Cranes: Ancient Voices over America's Wetlands and Seasons of the Tallgrass Prairie: A Nebraska Year.
"Lincoln author Paul Johnsgard doesn't attempt to reignite the controversy, but he clearly wants the reader to understand the object of such passion. His book, the 49th of his writing career, is much more than a profile of the creature French fur traders named petit chien, or little dog [...] The book deftly places the prairie dog in a broader historic context in which they shared genocidal fates with the buffalo and Native people."
– Joe Duggan, Lincoln Journal Star
"Johnsgard is Foundation Professor Emeritus of Biological Sciences at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, highly respected in his field, and a formidable voice in what he hopes will be a larger discussion about land use and about the value of preserving ecosystems – including species that have long been regarded as pests. Agree or disagree with his conclusions, this informative and provocative book should be part of that discussion."
– Nebraska Life
"Johnsgard presents a disturbing look at the serious ecological impacts from the destruction of prairie dogs and their grassland habitats."
– Wildlife Activist
"A seasoned preservationist as well as a writer who does his own photographic and artistic illustration work, Johnsgard provides a book that should be on the shelf of every person interested in and concerned about the past history and future of life on the great plains."
– Glenn M. Busset, Manhattan Mercury
"Given the controversy surrounding management of prairie dogs, it is surprising that such a volume has not been published previously. Leave it to that prolific guru of the great Plains, Paul Johnsgard, to pen a book directed at filling that void at such a crucial juncture [...] Johnsgard's lucid style has the ability to bring this fascinating, important, and timely story to thousands of readers."
– Richard P. Reading, Great Plains Research
"Many scientists and historians have written about the natural history of the Great Plains, but few so compellingly as Paul Johnsgard."
– Annals of Iowa
"Anyone with an interest in the ecology and history of the shortgrass prairie will become immersed in the pages of this engaging book."
– Carolyn E. Grygiel, North Dakota History