Bryce Canyon National Park is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year and the festivities will recognize one of the park’s special keystone species.
Utah prairie dogs are considered a keystone species because they play a vital role in the ecosystem, including aerating soil and promoting plant growth. More than 200 other species are linked to prairie dog colonies, including wildlife that depend upon prairie dog activity for both food and habitat.
To recognize Utah prairie dogs and their importance to Bryce Canyon, the park will host numerous activities and a special keynote presentation on Utah Prairie Dog Day, Thursday, May 11. All events are free to attend, although, attendees still need to pay park admission.
“Utah Prairie Dog Day is an opportunity to learn firsthand about a species found in no other national park,” Jim Ireland, park superintendent, said in a statement.
“It’s also an opportunity for Bryce Canyon to connect with our local community and partners to celebrate a story of successful conservation,” Ireland continued. “The cooperative efforts between Bryce Canyon National Park, state and federal public lands agencies, and the park’s local community over the past decades have helped protect not only the Utah prairie dog, but the meadow ecosystems that depend upon it.”
Why Utah Prairie Dogs Are Important
The Utah prairie dog, or Cynomys parvidens, is a burrowing rodent. Typically between around 12–14 inches in length, they live in short grass prairies and mountain meadows.
Interestingly, the Utah prairie dog is the westernmost species of the five prairie dog species living in North America. Utah prairie dogs, which are only found in the southwestern quarter of Utah, are notable for their tawny to reddish-brown color; short, white-tipped tails; and black coloring over each eye that resembles a large eyebrow. That “eyebrow” distinguishes them from other prairie dog species.
Prairie dogs are extremely social and live together in large groups known as “colonies” or “towns.” Most colonies have numerous burrows with a complicated network of entrances that allow easy retreats as well as quick escapes.
“While burrows are a refuge from hawks, golden eagles, and coyotes, they can be a dangerous place when hungry badgers, weasels, and rattlesnakes come to the colony,” according to the National Park Service. “Therefore, it is critical for a colony to post lookouts who take turns constantly searching for and identifying types of danger. When danger is detected, the lookouts bark to warn the colony.”
Importantly, the Utah prairie dog was listed as an endangered species on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife List of Threatened and Endangered Species in 1973. Thanks to conservation strategies, including reintroducing them to Bryce Canyon National Park, there are now more than 600 Utah prairie dogs in the park. It is the largest protected population of Utah prairie dogs in the world.
Utah Prairie Dog Day Festivities
Bryce Canyon held an art contest for students in nearby counties to promote Utah Prairie Dog Day. More than 150 students in first through sixth grade submitted artwork.
All of that artwork will be on display at Bryce Canyon’s Visitor Center on May 11, including Prairie Dog Goodnight by Jack Harlen K. Shakespeare, a 4th grader from Panguitch Elementary.
All Utah Prairie Dog Day festivities will be held at the Visitor Center Plaza. Here’s the schedule of events:
- 9:00 a.m. to Noon – Family-friendly activity booths and a Utah prairie dog viewing table
- 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. – Family-friendly activity booths and Utah prairie dog viewing table
- 1:30 p.m. – Utah prairie dog calling contest and recognition of art contest winners
- 4:30 p.m. – Keynote presentation by Keith Day, former sensitive species biologist with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources
You can find all the details and learn more at Utah Prairie Dog Day.
Know So You Can Go
Bryce Canyon National Park, which is just outside Bryce, Utah, is about 270 miles from Las Vegas and about the same distance from Salt Lake City.
Bryce Canyon is known for its scenic views and fantastic hiking. It has one 18-mile road bisecting the park — running from north to south. Along the way, you’ll find four of the park’s most popular scenic overlooks: Bryce Point, Inspiration Point, Sunset Point, and Sunrise Point. What’s more, these points also serve as trailheads for some of the park’s most popular hiking trails.
Bryce is also known for its dark skies which make it a spectacular place for stargazing. Indeed, the skies are so dark at Bryce that the park was designated as a Gold Tier International Dark Sky Park in 2019.
While you’re thinking about the park, be sure to read all of our Bryce Canyon National Park content, including: