In Utah, the Federal Government Puts Prairie Dogs Over People
The question for the U.S. Supreme Court is whether protecting rodents counts as ‘interstate commerce.’
In southwestern Utah, federal regulations are artificially pitting people against prairie dogs—to neither’s benefit. There are about 80,000 Utah prairie dogs in the region, and the species is listed as threatened. State biologists would like to move the creatures from backyards and playgrounds to public conservation lands, but that’s forbidden under federal rules. The result of the regulations has been conflict but little progress toward lasting recovery for the species.
For years, towns like Cedar City have been stuck in what Greg Sheehan, principal deputy director of the Fish and Wildlife Service, has called “a quagmire of federal bureaucracy.” Washington’s heavyhanded regulations make it a crime for these Utahns to do things that the rest of us take for granted, like building homes in residential neighborhoods or starting small businesses. Cedar City can’t even protect its playgrounds, airport and cemetery from the disruptive, tunneling rodent.
Tired of being ignored, local residents banded together to form People for the Ethical Treatment of Property Owners. The group, represented by the Pacific Legal Foundation, filed a lawsuit in 2013 arguing that the federal regulations were unconstitutional. Where did Congress get the power to pass such intrusive rules? Whenever this kind of question arises, the stock answer is the Constitution’s Commerce Clause, which allows lawmakers to regulate commerce “among the several States.” But this species of prairie dog is found only in Utah, and it has no conceivable connection to interstate commerce. Continue reading