Cedar City, Utah is a small college and farming town in the far southwest corner of Utah. It is located a few miles north of beautiful Zion National Park and not too far from the Nevada border to the west. Southern Utah University is located in Cedar City that sports a population of around 29,000 people.
The nice small peaceful town is now under siege by two enemies, the federal government and the Utah prairie dog. Prairie dogs can be found from the grasslands of Canada, through the west-central United States to northern Mexico. There are five species of prairie dogs, but the people of Cedar City are only concerned about one species, the Utah prairie dog, which is found only within the borders of Utah.
Although there are well over 40,000 Utah prairie dogs according to the US Fish and Wildlife Service, they are listed as a threatened species on the Endangered Species Act. Since they are listed as a threatened species, the Fish and Wildlife Service has applied the Endangered Species Act anti-take policy, which means you cannot capture, collect, harass, harm, hunt, kill, pursue, shoot, trap or wound a Utah prairie dog.
As a result, the town of Cedar City is being overrun with Utah prairie dogs and they are destroying the town and the local economy. Once a prairie dog shows up on a piece of property, the land owner is not allowed to do anything to hinder the livelihood of the prairie dogs.
One local businessman, Bruce Hughes, purchased 3.4 acres of land that he was going to develop into some type of rental property to help provide income for his retirement. Before he could do anything with the land, prairie dogs moved in and now he is not allowed to do anything with his land except let it sit there.
Mark Bradshaw bought a piece land to build a car dealership on, but like Hughes, the prairie dogs moved in and now the land is useless and worthless.
The same thing has happened to real estate developers and new subdivisions that now have empty lots that were worth $100,000, but are now worthless plots full of prairie dog burrows. They have taken over the local cemeteries leaving grieving family members upset about what they’ll do the graves of their loved ones that paid dearly for.
Local farmers are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in repairs to farm equipment that gets damaged when they run over a prairie dog mound or a burrow collapses under them. The local airport is also being invaded with the prairie dogs that are causing hundreds of thousands of damage in and round the runways.
Perhaps the biggest danger posed by the prairie dogs is the health of the town’s residents. Prairie dogs are rodents and can be carriers of disease. Other rodents in southern Utah, northern Arizona and the surrounding area have been known to carry the hantavirus and plague, both of which can be fatal.
Yet, if anyone in Cedar City is caught doing anything that violates the FWS’s anti-take rule, they could end up paying $10,000 in fines and spending 5 years in prison on felony charges. The federal government is also claiming that the Commerce Clause allows them to place the protective regulations on the Utah prairie dog.
A number of residents of Cedar City have joined together to form PETPO – People for the Ethical Treatment of Property Owners. On their behalf, Pacific Legal Foundation, which specializes in land use issues, has filed a federal lawsuit designed to give them back their town. The lawsuit claims that the Commerce Clause only concerns commerce between states and that since the Utah prairie is found only in Utah, it does not apply in this case.
I’m a trained wildlife biologist and fully understand the need to protect species from extinction. However, my quick research indicates that the Utah prairie dog is not in any danger of extinction. In fact, their numbers are exploding as is their range. I see no reason why an entire town should be held hostage by a disease carrying rodent because of some bureaucratic and arbitrary rules.
The federal government is violating the constitutional rights of people to own and use their property because of an animal that is truly not endangered or threatened. They are placing the health and welfare of an entire town in jeopardy because of the prairie dogs and this is demonstrates just how little the federal government cares about the American people and their rights. I hope and pray that Pacific Legal Foundation can win this suit and give the people back their town and their livelihood.