By MIKE CORN

mcorn@dailynews.net

While prairie dog numbers might be up some from last year, rancher Larry Haverfield is concerned there might be another collapse in the population because of how dry it is.

"I'm telling everyone we've got less wildlife than normal," he said.

Having said that, he's quick to say three dens of swift foxes have been found.

There was, however, at least one ferruginous hawk nest that failed.

"We're about as dry as we were two years ago when we had that die-off," Haverfield said of conditions in December 2010.

That's when prairie dogs -- beset by abnormally dry conditions -- made the highly unusual move of going underground to hibernate. Reproduction was down sharply in the spring.

Haverfield said 1956 "was the driest year I ever saw," when 8.6 inches fell. "We've had 5 inches this year so far."

Preliminary surveys by wildlife biologist Travis Livieri for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, suggest the prairie dog numbers on the 10,000-acre Haverfield-Barnhardt complex are up from last year.

How much isn't yet known, as the survey results haven't been compiled.

"He did indicate some places had more and some had less," Haverfield said.

Livieri also spent two nights spotlighting, looking for black-footed ferrets, but was unable to spot any.

"He was kind of surprised," Haverfield said.

Ferret numbers fell in tandem with the collapse in the prairie dog population, but were expected to rebound this spring as new kits were born and the prairie dog population increased.

"It makes you wonder if it's going to stay kind of tough," Haverfield said of conditions affecting prairie dogs and other wildlife.