Issue in Focus
Jun 21 2019
When pioneers first came to the Great Plains, they found them covered with foot-tall rodents they eventually called prairie dogs.
Utah is estimated to have had as many as 95,000 of these Utah prairie dogs as late as the 1920s. But due to disease, drought, and poison, that number dropped to almost 3,000 in 1972.
In 1973 the Utah prairie dog was listed as “endangered” pursuant to the Endangered Species Act and a management plan was developed to bring the species back from the brink.
The Utah prairie dog population quickly recovered under the management plan and by 1984 the United States Fish and Wildlife Service agreed to reclassify the animal from “endangered” to “threatened.” Unfortunately the federal government also chose to leave most of the regulations protecting the Utah prairie dog in place.
Since that time, the Utah prairie dogs have fruitfully multiplied and now there are an estimated 40,000 in the state.
If you live far away in Washington, DC, this may sound like fantastic news, but if you live in southwest Utah, the only place in the world this species of prairie dog exists, it is not so great.
These critters may be cute, but not only have they ruined crops and backyards, they have also been known to invade cemeteries, open coffins, and topple gravestones.
The people of southwest Utah have had enough.
In 2013 some residents of Cedar City, Utah sued the federal government and challenged the authority of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to manage the Utah prairie dog.
See unlike many species, the Utah prairie dog exists only in Utah. So the residents of Cedar City argued that since the Utah prairie dog habitat didn’t cross state lines, it did not affect interstate commerce, and therefore Congress had no power to regulate it under the Constitution.
In 2014 a federal district court sided with the residents of Cedar City and turned management of the Utah prairie dog over to the state of Utah. For the past two years under state management, the species reached its highest population levels since the 1970s. But in 2017 an appeals court overruled the district court’s decision and returned management authority to the Fish and Wildlife Service..
The people of Cedar City shouldn’t have to seek permission from Washington, DC to control their rodent population.
That is why I recently introduced, the Native Species Protection Act, which would clarify that the federal government has no regulatory jurisdiction over a single-state species.
There are real benefits to protecting endangered species from extinction, but the Endangered Species Act is in serious need of reform. The Native Species Protection Act is a commonsense reform that would limit the damage caused by federal mismanagement of protected species, while empowering state and local officials to pursue sensible conservation plans with their communities.