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Dismissal of federal government protection for prairie dogs overruled
by Holly Coombs
Apr 13, 2017 | 882 views | 0 0 comments | 34 34 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Utah prairie dogs will once again enjoy the protections of the federal government following a ruling this week by an appeals court that found a federal judge erred in his 2014 decision.

What this means for Cedar City is private land access to the animals. Iron County residents had arguments of a Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution, which doesn’t allow the federal government to regulate animals found on private land in only one state, as is the case with Utah prairie dogs. The group requested relief from the protections under the Endangered Species Act.

Attorneys for Iron County residents argued that the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution doesn’t allow the federal government to regulate animals found on private land in only one state as is the case with Utah prairie dogs. The group requested relief from the federal protections provided under the Endangered Species Act.

U.S. District Judge Dee Benson from Utah ruled in the group’s favor in 2014 to find that the Clause did not apply. The ruling removed Endangered Species Act protections and the management of the animals was turned to the state. It was later appealed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“Congress had a rational basis to believe that regulation of the take of the Utah prairie dog on nonfederal land is an essential part of the ESA’s broader regulatory scheme, which, in the aggregate, substantially affects interstate commerce,” wrote U.S. Circuit Judge Jerome Holmes.

A total of 68 percent of species protected under the ESA have habitats in only one state was argued by the Republican appointee and he said that if the federal government was only allowed to provide protection to those animals whose habitats cross state borders, it could “severely undercut” those protections.

Prior to the ruling, affected areas of prairie dog residence have been the Cedar City Cemetery and Cedar Ridge Golf Course.

The cost to do away with a protected prairie dog off private land, before the ruling, was $34,000. If a prairie dog is killed it would be an approximate $10,000 fine and five years in federal prison.

Cedar City Council member Paul Cozzens said he was disappointed with overturned ruling.

“I think the ruling by Judge Benson was great and the state of Utah has done great in managing the prairie dogs,” Cozzens said.

The prairie dogs in Iron County have been able to coexist with residents since the state took over the responsibility, he said.

“I hope that because this ruling has been overturned, that the federal government will recognize the steps We've made here the past few years and that they recognize the state's management has it’s proven effective,” Cozzens said.

In a meeting years ago, the federal government’s concern was that it would cost $100 million and 40 years to take care of the prairie dog Issue, which Cozzens said he felt was not true.

He said by moving the prairie dogs to public land allows residents to maintain and develop private land that they have the right to use.

“We can coexist with the prairie dogs, and maintain and develop private property,” he said. “People would pay property taxes but if they couldn’t develop with their property, because of the prairie dogs, it just wasn’t right.”

Cozzens said he hopes the federal government will look at the management over the last few years by the state and model their management after their success, because it has proven effective.

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