Inflexible Regulation of Utah's Endangered Prairie Dog Antithetical to Conservation

Author: 
Published: 
Thursday, November 9, 2017

PERC files amicus brief in support of environmental federalism

Utah prairie dog

Photo courtesy of the USFWS.

The Endangered Species Act wasn't created to pit states against the federal government when it comes to species conservation. But unfortunately, that's exactly what has happened with the Utah prairie dog.

Due to the inflexible regulatory structure of the act, state biologists in Utah found themselves on the wrong side of the law when they went to move endangered prairie dogs off of residential yards, playgrounds, and other developed areas and onto conservation lands. Given the potential impacts that the situation might have on the recovery of the Utah prairie dog—as well as on the conservation of other endangered species—PERC recently filed an amicus brief with the U.S. Supreme Court in support of preserving federalism to promote true species conservation.

The brief offers more detail on the case:

[T]he United States Fish and Wildlife Service’s regulation of the Utah prairie dog effectively forbids the state of Utah from taking action to protect the species from extinction. Specifically, the regulation prohibits and would federally criminalize state biologists from relocating prairie dogs from residential areas to government-owned conservation areas where their chances of survival would be improved.

This punitive regulatory approach discourages states and private parties from engaging in innovative species recovery efforts and, in some documented cases, actually encourages preemptive habitat destruction. Moreover, the inflexible nature of the Endangered Species Act’s regulatory structure assumes a blanket prohibition on taking even a single animal is the most effective means of conserving endangered species. It is not. Relative to the more than 2,300 listed plants and animal species, less than 40 species have been delisted due to recovery. Those paltry few success stories will become even rarer following the Tenth Circuit’s unconstitutional expansion of the Endangered Species Act’s strict take prohibition.

Read the entire amicus brief here.

Tate Watkins, Research Fellow at PERC
Tate Watkins is a research and publications fellow at PERC. He worked with small-scale farmers in the Haitian coffee sector for two years, helping set up an initiative to boost growers’ coffee production, quality, and livelihoods. Prior to that, he worked as a freelance journalist in Haiti reporting on economic development, foreign aid, and...
Read More > More Articles by Tate Watkins >