Perspectives: Prairie dogs or people, who does government serve?

OPINION – Like most acts of government, the Endangered Species Act was created out of the best of intentions. Like many other well-intentioned acts of government it has, over time, become an instrument for abuse.

Few people understand this better than the residents of Iron County whose property rights have taken a backseat to the Utah prairie dog since it was first listed over 40 years ago. Even when the prairie dog was upgraded to “threatened” status, the economic costs have been considerable.

For decades, private land owners have been held hostage by a small rodent that prevents them from developing their land and which can only be removed under the most costly and arduous government oversight. If a landowner discovered prairie dogs on his or her property, there was little they could do – including selling their now nonproductive land.

The indirect costs to the community in lost opportunities would likely amount to tens of millions of dollars. But even those costs pale in comparison with the ones that can be accurately measured.

In working with U.S. Fish and Wildlife and state wildlife biologists, Iron County has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to develop a Habitat Conservation Plan that would meet the demands of the Endangered Species Act. The county hired Cardno Entrix, an environment consulting company, to help create a habitat plan for managing the prairie dog population.

Based upon the recommendations of Cardno Entrix and biologists and bureaucrats for the various government agencies involved, the plan would take another 30 years and upwards of $100 million to complete. Remember, this is in addition to the 40 years which had already transpired.

David Miller was present at the Utah Prairie Dog Implementation Program meeting when this was announced. At this time, Miller was not yet an Iron County commissioner.

As he looked around the room and surveyed the 30-40 faces attending the meeting, Miller had a sudden realization, he said, that he was seeing the same faces attending virtually every meeting concerning the prairie dog issue.

On a hunch, Miller stood up and asked that every person who was there in some official state or federal capacity please raise their hands. All but four people in the room raised their hands. Everyone else was actually on the clock and being paid by the taxpayers to be there.

This was a turning point in the prairie dog issue in Iron County as people suddenly recognized how bureaucracies and environmental special interest groups were using the Endangered Species Act to accrue personal power and profit.

It was a perfect illustration of how prairie dog protection had become job security for the agencies involved in its enforcement. It was also a watershed moment that galvanized a grassroots effort to push back.

Among the four individuals who were there, on their own dime, as private citizens were Miller, Brett Taylor, and Matt Munson. These men were among the core members of the group PETPO, which stands for People for the Ethical Treatment of Property Owners.


Instead of waiting for elected leaders in Washington D.C. or Salt Lake City to take up their cause, PETPO stepped up to challenge the rigorous rules that were being used to deny the rights of Iron County property owners in the name of protecting prairie dogs.

Their efforts attracted the attention of the California-based Pacific Legal Foundation; a legal aid organization that specializes in property rights cases. PLF filed suit last year in federal court arguing that the regulations being imposed on Iron County property owners were not a legitimate exercise of federal government power.

READ MORE: Property owners sue federal government over prairie dogs

Last week, U.S. District Judge Dee Benson agreed and ruled that the U.S. government could not claim authority to regulate a species that resides solely within a single state under the Interstate Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution. The shock waves of a federal judge going on record to affirm that the feds had exceeded their legitimate authority in this matter are still reverberating.

Though the ruling only removes the restrictions that prevent the killing, capture, or “takes” of this particular prairie dog species on state or private land, it is a step in the right direction to repair the damage incurred when the division of powers between federal, state, and local officials is ignored.

READ MORE: Court stops federal agency interference in Utah prairie dog issues on state, private lands

Given how much money and power is at stake for the agencies and environmental special interests involved, the ruling is almost certainly headed to appeal. In the meantime, however, property owners in Iron County who have previously had to apply for permits to mitigate prairie dogs on their land are no longer under the federal restriction.

State wildlife officials remain intent on making land owners seek their permission.

Benson’s ruling will not lead to a wholesale massacre of the Utah prairie dog but it may lead to a long-overdue correction in the balance between local, state, and federal power.

That bodes well for humans and prairie dogs alike.

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Bryan Hyde is a news commentator and opinion writer in Southern Utah. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @youcancallmebry

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2014, all rights reserved.

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  • Notagain November 10, 2014 at 8:08 am

    Oh Bryan, you opened the door for all sorts of hate mail to flood the web. How could you? 99% of the public don’t have 1 cent in the game. You know that. Those property owners are evil, their gardens be damn. The over paid agents, through their management and the air waves, will have you for lunch. Your no friend of progress MISTER!
    Also, is it true, that >16 oz. soft drinks are unlawful now in Utah?

  • Fred November 10, 2014 at 8:37 am

    “the ruling only removes the restrictions that prevent the killing, capture, or ‘takes’ of this particular prairie dog species on state or private land”

    Is “only” the right word? That seems like a pretty big deal.

    • Brian November 10, 2014 at 10:45 am

      I think it only removes the federal restrictions. Plenty of state restrictions still exist. Unfortunately insanity is contagious and flows down hill.

  • Koolaid November 10, 2014 at 8:54 am

    The government doesn’t serve that dog on the prairie known as Bundy. I’d have not no problem with a government program to rid us of those rodents.

  • ScanMeister November 10, 2014 at 9:28 am

    Wow, this should have been resolved years ago. Every dog has his day.. but not this one….score one for those impacted by these prolific critter’s destruction.

  • dancing infidel November 10, 2014 at 9:30 am

    Glad I still own those 20 acres out in Cedar Valley. Going to have to go and evict the renters so I can spend weekends shooting these critters again. Anyone have any .22lr they would like to sell?….cheap?

  • ladybugavenger November 10, 2014 at 11:32 am

    I had no idea what a prairie dog was so I googled it. And I learned its a rodent. A protected rodent???? Oh, i get it they are like politicians

  • Notagain November 10, 2014 at 12:30 pm

    Speaking of rodents,I’m not in Cedar City, etc., but I got a couple families of gophers(look the same as dogs but smaller) in my grass. Do they have as much pull with the ruling class as prairie dog? May I cook up a tasty snack for them? What’s legal? Maybe Planned Parenthood could give me some inside pointers.

  • PROTECT THE SHEEP November 10, 2014 at 6:10 pm

    Call me clueless but why call it a dog if it looks more like a squirrel?

  • Billy Madison November 10, 2014 at 6:16 pm

    Round and round the mulberry bush
    The monkey chased the weasel.
    The monkey stopped to pull up his socks
    And Pop goes the weasel.

  • Maggie November 10, 2014 at 7:14 pm

    I am a serious animal lover and really have loved watching Prairie dogs since I moved to the west. Like all animals they are facinating,and most Prairie dogs are probably nicer that many humans lately. However this always made as much sense as the Bundy Ranch saga and the turtles.
    This country has allowed our governments at all levels to become stark raving crazy and if we do not get a handle on some of this the only Americans who will be able to live here are undomesticated animals,humans will be the endangered species. The laws are certainly not friendly to ranchers who grow our meat ,grain ,fruit and veges. However on the upside we may not need so many undocumented foreign workers to supplement if we do not grow anything.

  • Sunshine November 10, 2014 at 7:22 pm

    Sad day for prairie dogs.

    • Koolaid November 10, 2014 at 8:03 pm

      For sure. Not even oriental or middle eastern restaurants want them.

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