Prairie Dog Empire


Prairie Dog Empire

A Saga of the Shortgrass Prairie

Paul A. Johnsgard

260 pages
35 illustrations, 9 maps, 12 tables, 2 appendixes


June 2014


$21.95 Add to Cart

About the Book

This book by the renowned naturalist and writer Paul A. Johnsgard tells the complex biological and environmental story of the western Great Plains under the black-tailed prairie dog’s reign—and then under a brief but devastating century of human dominion.
An introduction to the ecosystem of the shortgrass prairie, 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 for worse. Johnsgard recounts how this terrain has in turn been transformed over the past century by the destruction of prairie dogs and their grassland habitats. This book 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.

Author Bio

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 (available in a Bison Books edition).


“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

Table of Contents

List of Maps
List of Illustrations
List of Tables
1.       The Western Shortgrass Prairie: A Brief History
2.       A Buffalo Nation: Its Death and Rebirth
3.       Prairie Dogs and the American West: Little Towns on the Prairie
4.       Ferrets, Badgers, Bobcats, and Coyotes: Coping with Dangerous Neighbors
5.       Free-loaders and Hangers-on: The Rewards and Dangers of City Life
6.       Other High Plains Wildlife: Born on the American Steppes
7.       The High Plains Raptors: Death Rides on Silent Wings
8.       The Varmint and Predator Wars: It’s Finally Almost Quiet on the Western Front
9.       Taming the Great American Desert: Hardscrabble Times at the Fringes of Nowhere
10.   The USFS, BLM, and BIA: How the West was Lost
11.   The Great Plains Grassland Ecosystem: Can It Be Saved?
Appendix 1: A Guide to National Grasslands, Reservations, and Nature Preserves on the High Plains
Appendix 2: Scientific Names of Animals in the Text

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