Franklin's ground squirrel is declining in much of the central United States and is considered endangered, threatened, or a species of concern in many Midwestern states. Declines in Franklin's ground squirrel populations in the Midwest have been widely attributed to loss and fragmentation of habitat due to intensive agricultural practices, especially in the southern portions of its range such as Illinois. Nowadays in the southern portions of its range, Franklin's ground squirrels are frequently found along roadside or railroad right-of-ways with a diverse mixture of grassy and woody vegetation when these areas are no longer in use. However, these right-of-way habitats disappear quickly without active management to remove woody vegetation, especially trees that will shade out grasses and eventually turn prairie or savanna-like habitat into woodlands.
Beginning 2010, Franklin's ground squirrel has been surveyed along sections of an abandoned railroad corridor in Sangamon County, Illinois. Portions of this abandoned railroad corridor owned by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources offer an opportunity to experimentally implement habitat management practices and monitor subsequent responses of Franklin's ground squirrels to removal or thinning of major woody structures. In this talk, I will present the survey results, assessment of the condition and suitability of this former railroad bed for sustaining the colonies of P. franklinii, and an on-going habitat improvement study in Sangamon County for Franklin's ground squirrel.