The black-tailed prairie dog (Cynomys ludovicianus), though once found across western North America, was the target for eradication by those considering prairie dogs to be pests. In the last two centuries, they have been reduced to less than 2% of their original numbers (Hoogland 2006). Recently, they became extinct in Arizona. The loss of prairie dogs in such a tremendous portion of their range has altered community structure of many grasslands. Grasslands without prairie dogs may be dramatically different, but consequences of their removal have not been studied.
Because prairie dogs are an important component of grassland ecosystems (see previous post), managers are trying to protect their habitat where they are currently present. In some cases, prairie dog reintroduction efforts have been launched in order to restore the function of grasslands. For example, several reintroductions have occurred or are in the plans in Arizona, where black-tailed prairie dogs no longer occur.
You can watch a video of a prairie dog relocation effort here:
Prairie dog reintroductions (like prairie dog conservation in general) are controversial, particularly when destinations are near private land. Ultimately, restoring grasslands to their natural state will require not only prairie dogs, but their natural predators and other species as well.