TELLURIDE – Three American badgers are now living on the Valley Floor, alongside its resident colony of Gunnison’s prairie dogs. Badgers are carnivores, and commonly prey on ground squirrels, marmots, prairie dogs and other burrowing rodents, which they capture either by tackling aboveground, or by chasing into a burrow and then digging them out.
Because they affect so many plants and animals, the Gunnison’s prairie dog is considered a keystone species. Their excavations expose subsoils that encourage the growth of plants that are rare away from colony-sites. Some of these plants attract large herbivores such as elk, mule deer, and pronghorn antelope. Their burrows provide homes for animals such as box turtles, burrowing owls, cottontail rabbits, and tiger salamanders. And colonies beckon not only mammalian predators such as bobcats, coyotes, and the badger shown here, but also avian predators such as ferruginous hawks, golden eagles, and prairie falcons. The grassland habitat around Telluride will change dramatically if our Gunnison’s prairie dogs disappear.