Utah Congressional Delegation Introduces Legislation to Address Growing Threat From Prairie Dogs

September 20, 2011

WASHINGTON – Members of Utah’s Congressional Delegation today joined together to introduce legislation to address the damage being done by prairie dogs. Sens. Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee, and Reps. Jim Matheson, Jason Chaffetz, and Rob Bishop joined together to introduce the Protecting Public Safety and Sacred Sites from the Utah Prairie Dog Act, which will permit the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to take much-needed steps to protect Utahns from the hazards posed to public safety from prairie dogs.                                                               

Currently, the Fish and Wildlife Service is permitted to remove prairie dogs only from agricultural areas. However, the animals have done extensive damage to areas not designated as agricultural, such as the Parowan Airport’s runway and the Paragonah Cemetery in Iron County. The legislation introduced by the delegation grants the Fish and Wildlife Service the ability to remove prairie dogs from airports and cemeteries that are located within the range of the Utah Prairie Dog. The legislation is the product of cooperation between the delegation, the City of Paragonah, the City of Parowan, the Iron County Commission, the Utah Department of Wildlife Resources, and the Fish and Wildlife Service.

Sen. Lee: "While protecting the Paragonah cemetery and Parowan airport are important, this issue goes beyond the desecration at one burial site or the public safety hazard of one airport.  The very rules that surround the protection of certain species are outdated, unfair, and have disastrous consequences.  They have an unproportionally negative effect on the economies of states like Utah, which have large segments of federally owned land, and often violate basic property rights.  This legislation is a small, important step toward properly managing the prairie dog population in Southern Utah, but much work remains to be done on this issue."

Sen. Hatch: “Just this August, I met with Iron County officials and saw firsthand the damage prairie dogs have caused across the county. The county’s hands were tied in dealing with this problem, and this bill will ensure that the proper resources are dedicated to addressing this public safety concern. I’m pleased the delegation has been able to quickly come together and introduce this meaningful legislation to protect the safety and sanctity of sites across our state.”

Rep. Matheson: “I have heard consistent reports from Iron County officials –including during my recent visit—about their frustration over efforts to manage prairie dogs at the cemetery and the airport. Together with the other members of the Utah delegation, I am working to address Iron County’s public health and safety concerns.”

Rep. Chaffetz: “The Endangered Species Act is indefensible in this situation. Utah prairie dogs should not be elevated above the health and welfare of Utah citizens. I promise to use whatever means necessary to stop bureaucrats or environmentalist who care more about prairie dogs than people.”

Rep. Bishop: “The policies initially intended to regulate and manage the Utah Prairie Dog population have become woefully outdated and are creating a costly and dangerous situation for the state and counties.  It is unfair that Utah must shoulder the costly burden of these irrelevant policies that no longer reflect the needs of the state.  It is far too common these days that policies created by Washington bureaucrats are causing more harm than good- the issue regarding the Utah Prairie Dog is no exception.   I am glad to be a part of the delegation efforts to limit the federal government’s ability to impose and enforce policies that are not in the interest of our state.”