Pacific Legal Foundation
|Damien M. Schiff
Pacific Legal Foundation
PLF sues feds for giving prairie dogs the run of a small Utah town
Cedar City, Utah, April 18, 2013: — Attorneys with Pacific Legal Foundation today filed a lawsuit challenging federal regulations that block the people of Cedar City, in Southwest Utah, from fighting a prairie dog infestation that is damaging property, harming the economy, and putting public health at risk.
Donor-supported PLF is a nonprofit, public interest watchdog organization that litigates nationwide for limited government, property rights, and a balanced approach to environmental regulations. In the suit filed today in U.S. District Court in Salt Lake City, PLF attorneys represent a coalition of Cedar City residents who have joined together as “PETPO” — People for the Ethical Treatment of Property Owners. As with all its clients, PLF represents PETPO without charging any attorneys’ fees.
The Utah prairie dog: tens of thousands in number but still labeled “threatened” by the feds
The Utah prairie dog is one of five prairie dog species in North America. Found only in Utah, it feeds on plants and insects, lives in colonies, and digs burrows and networks of tunnels. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) estimates its population at more than 40,000. Nevertheless, the agency lists it as “threatened” on the Endangered Species Act list (ESA).
Today’s lawsuit challenges the FWS action last September that applied the ESA’s anti-“take” rules to the Utah prairie dog in most areas and circumstances where the species is found. To “take” means to harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect. 16 U.S.C. Section 1532 (19). Violators can be fined or even imprisoned. So, except in limited areas and situations, the federal anti-“take” decree blocks people in and around Cedar City from taking measures to control the burgeoning population of prairie dogs in their midst.
The lawsuit filed today contends that the federal government has overstepped its powers by issuing regulations to block prairie dog controls. Because the Utah prairie dog is a single-state species without any use or value in commerce, it isn’t covered under the federal government’s Commerce Clause authority.
Cedar City is under siege — from rodents and overreaching federal regulations
PLF attorney Jonathan Wood discuss how the proliferation of prairie dogs endangers Cedar City --- and how PLF has taken the matter straight to federal court. Don't have iTunes? Listen to the podcast online
“Cedar City is a community under siege, by a proliferation of prairie dogs and by federal regulations that prohibit reasonable measures to control the prairie dog population,” said PLF attorney Jonathan Wood. “The town has been inundated with prairie dogs that are leaving parks, gardens, vacant lots, the golf course, and even the local cemetery, pockmarked with burrows and tunnels. Development projects are blocked by federal prairie dog protections. And public health is imperiled because prairie dogs – which are rodents, after all – can be carriers of disease.
“No one wants the species to go extinct, but there are tens of thousands of Utah prairie dogs in the area,” Wood continued. “The people affected by the animal deserve consideration also. The federal government should protect and preserve the species on its own land, and leave the citizens of Cedar City and other towns free to take commonsense measures to control the prairie dog population in their midst. Residents of Cedar City should be free to live their lives without being held hostage to a species that has become an out-of-control pest, and a threat to their economy and their well-being.”
PLF lawsuit: Feds’ regulations violate common sense – and the U.S. Constitution
“The federal prohibition against prairie dog controls isn’t just an assault on common sense,” said Wood. “Our lawsuit contends that the federal prairie dog policies are unconstitutional. The federal government is pushing beyond its authority under the Commerce Clause by imposing onerous burdens on people who have been overrun by this rodent.”
The Commerce Clause (Article I, Section 8) permits federal regulation of “Commerce ... among the several States.”
“This species of prairie dog exists only within Utah, has no commercial value, and isn’t used for any economic purpose,” Wood continued. “So it isn’t covered by the Commerce Clause. Federal officials can’t regulate or restrict what people can or can’t do, on non-federal lands, for a purely single-state species that has no role in commerce. Indeed, last June, in its Obamacare ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court re-emphasized that the Constitution imposes clear limits to national power, and permits no federal regulatory control over matters that aren’t related to commerce.”
A community threatened with going “to the dogs”
PETPO members and family
Some of the problems that plague Cedar City as a result of the federal prairie dog regulations:
- Degradation of lawns and grave sites at Cedar City Cemetery;
- Costly safety and maintenance problems at the local airport;
- Construction blocked on commercial and residential projects;
- Public health at risk because of the potential for rodent-carried disease.
PETPO members seek the right not to be overrun
People for the Ethical Treatment of Property Owners (PETPO) is a nonprofit organization that represents Utah residents who are suffering under the federal regulation of the Utah prairie dog.
A few of the members of PETPO, and how the prairie dog infestation harms them:
The lawsuit filed today is People for the Ethical Treatment of Property Owners v. United States Department of the Interior.
About Pacific Legal Foundation
Donor-supported Pacific Legal Foundation (www.pacificlegal.org) is the leading legal watchdog organization that litigates for limited government, property rights, and a balanced approach to environmental regulations, in courts across the country. Among its noteworthy species regulation cases, PLF won the federal court ruling that removed the bald eagle from the federal ESA list.
Oral argument recently took place in PLF’s latest U.S. Supreme Court litigation — the property rights case of Koontz v. St. Johns River Water Management District. A decision is expected by June.
Last year, PLF attorneys won their sixth direct-representation victory at the High Court against over- reaching government: Sackett v. EPA, in which the justices unanimously held that landowners may bring court challenges to federal “wetlands compliance orders.”