FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: JUDGE BENSON STRIKES DOWN FEDS’ UTAH PRAIRIE DOG REGULATIONS
Salt Lake City, Utah, Nov. 5, 2014 — Ruling in favor of a lawsuit by Pacific Legal Foundation (PLF), Federal Judge Dee Benson today struck down the federal government’s regulations for the Utah Prairie Dog as unconstitutional because the prairie dog does not substantially affect “interstate commerce.”
PLF sued on behalf of People for the Ethical Treatment of Property Owners (PETPO) in Cedar City, Utah, whose members — property owners and the local government — have been restricted from using their land, including building homes and businesses, maintaining parks and the cemetery, and protecting the airport runway from prairie-dog potholes.
“This ruling frees the people of Cedar City from unconstitutional regulations that made it impossible for them to build their dream homes, defend their airport, and protect the sanctity of their loved ones’ final resting places,” said PLF staff attorney Jonathan Wood, who successfully argued the case before Judge Benson on Sept. 11, 2014. “Now, these property owners, and the local government, needn’t fear the heavy hand of the federal government if they want to use and maintain their property, and do what most of us take for granted.”
“The federal government may take whatever measures it likes on its own property, in order to protect the prairie dog,” Wood continued. “But it can’t violate the U.S. Constitution by taking away the property rights of private citizens or local governments.”
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).
PLF’s lawsuit challenged the federal action in applying the Endangered Species Act’s anti-“take” rules to the Utah prairie dog in most areas and circumstances where the species is found. “Take” is defined incredibly broadly to include: to harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect a member of a protected species. 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 blocked people in and around Cedar City from taking measures to control the burgeoning population of prairie dogs in their midst.
PLF’s lawsuit contended – and Judge Benson today agreed – that, if the government could do this, there was “no logical stopping point” to the federal government’s power. 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 to regulate.
As with all its clients, PLF represents PETPO without charging any attorneys’ fees.
Coverage of the lawsuit when it was filed: http://www.kutv.com/news/features/archive-2/stories/vid_92.shtml
A video of some of PLF’s clients in Cedar City: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fDDXnRKXRUs&feature=youtu.be
The lawsuit is People for the Ethical Treatment of Property Owners v. United States Department of the Interior. The complaint, a PLF podcast and a video may be found at PLF’s website: www.pacificlegal.org.
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.