Utah Division of Wildlife Resources
Plinking (shooting) may also be a problem. This loosely defined sport seems to be growing in popularity with some plinkers shooting hundreds of rounds during a weekend. What effect does all of this shooting have on a prairie dog colony? One camp claims none; populations will remain stable. The other camp claims a potential for major population declines, especially in smaller colonies, and the potential loss of habitat due to this decline in numbers.
The complication or difference in these studies might be found in how the colony works, the colony size and the species of prairie dog.
Unlike many of the more familiar rodents like rats and mice, which can have multiple births multiple times per year, prairie dogs give birth to three or four young, once, in the spring. This is a relatively slow reproductive rate for an animal largely considered as the grassland's main prey base.
Most studies on colonial animals have found certain areas, generally in the middle of the colony, are more preferred than others. If an animal dies or is removed from the preferred area, an animal from the fringe will move in to take its place. This may be what the first camp is seeing.
These studies also show if enough animals are removed, the fringe is abandoned as more and more animals move to the preferred area in the middle. This is what the second camp believes may be happening, excessive plinking may be removing those animals in the preferred area faster than their slow reproductive rate can replace them, especially in the smaller colonies. When the fringe areas are abandoned, the vegetation isn't trimmed back so it gets taken over by taller shrubs and undesired plants thus making it unusable habitat for prairie dogs.