NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Federal Court Rules for Property Owners in Endangered Species Act Case

November 24, 2014

The Utah prairie dog -- a specific prairie dog species only found in the state of Utah -- is considered "threatened" under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), despite that there are 40,000 Utah prairie dogs in the state, reports Ron Arnold for the Daily Signal.

The "threatened" designation places severe land use restrictions on property owners. The designation creates an especially serious problem in Utah, as prairie dogs have become a menace. In Cedar City, the rodents have overrun the town, torn up farmland and even destroyed an airport runway. And according to Derek Morton of the group People for the Ethical Treatment of Property Owners (PETPO), areas overrun with the animals struggle to attract new development to the area, because prairie dog removal costs are too high. The animals also carry a strain of plague that can be transmitted to humans.

Property owners have struggled, because the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) ordered that property owners could not "harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect" the prairie dogs. So, PETPO sued the FWS for violating its property rights, and -- for the first time in ESA history - a federal court struck down the ESA regulation as going beyond federal power. The plaintiffs argued that the federal government had no authority under the Commerce Clause -- which allows for regulation of interstate commerce -- to regulate a species that exists purely in one state, and the judge agreed.

Now, the state of Utah is overseeing prairie dog management. The animal is still protected, but landowners can file for a permit to kill or remove the rodents.

Source: Ron Arnold, "For Once, a Court Sided With People Rather Than ‘Threatened\' Rodents,", November 18, 2014.


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