Letter to the Editor: Utah prairie dog conservation requires collaboration, not conflict

LETTER TO THE EDITOR – A recent editorial authored by Iron County Commissioner Dave Miller expressed concern that protection of the federally listed Utah prairie dog infringes on private property rights. Miller also expressed concern that the conservation partners involved in Utah prairie dog recovery are spending too much time in planning processes and not enough effort in recovery implementation.

I am writing to you to provide information that clearly shows that the United States Fish and Wildlife Service and our conservation partners are actively working to recover the federally threatened Utah prairie dog through a wide array of ongoing on-the-ground conservation actions.  In addition, we continue to work with the local communities to minimize the impacts associated with the presence of Utah prairie dogs on private lands.

Prairie Dog | Photo courtesy of Utah Division of Wildlife Resources
Prairie Dog | Photo courtesy of Utah Division of Wildlife Resources

Management flexibility to landowners

Utah prairie dogs prefer the same types of habitats that humans want to cultivate and develop — approximately 75 percent of Utah prairie dogs occur on private or other non-federal lands. As such, conflicts arise when humans want to use their private lands but may unintentionally kill or harm Utah prairie dogs. We have provided mechanisms that allow flexibility in management of listed species so that the impacts to private property owners are minimized.

As an example, we published revisions to a special rule, called a 4(d) rule, that allows landowners to “take”, i.e., translocate or kill up to ten percent of the range-wide population annually. This rule, which allows lethal take on agricultural lands throughout the species range, has been in place since 1984. After hearing how Utah prairie dogs damaged local airports and cemeteries, our 2012 4(d) rule revision now allows lethal take in areas where Utah prairie dogs create human safety issues, e.g., airports, or disturb the sanctity of human burial or cultural sites. We also provided substantial funding, labor, and equipment to fence the Parowan airport and Paragonah cemeteries, allowing lethal take at these sites under our revised 4(d) rule.

Recovery efforts for Utah prairie dogs

In 2012, we revised the Utah Prairie Dog Recovery Plan. The revised Recovery Plan recommends a two-pronged approach to facilitate recovery of the Utah prairie dog — continuing conservation efforts on federal lands, and expanding conservation efforts on private or other non-federal lands.  Because 75 percent of the species’ populations occur on private or other non-federal lands, recovery of the species will occur more rapidly if we are able to protect some of these key populations.

We continue to work with our partners to protect some of these habitats. For example, in 2010, we completed a programmatic consultation with the Federal Aviation Administration for impacts to Utah prairie dogs at the Cedar City, Parowan and Loa airports. As part of this consultation, the FAA committed to fund the purchase of important Utah prairie dog habitat.  With the permission of the School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration, we will purchase approximately 800 acres of Utah prairie dog habitat in Garfield County, Utah, this spring. Protection of the SITLA parcel, using the FAA funds, will go a long ways toward meeting our recovery goals of 5,000 acres of protected habitat in each Recovery Unit. Conservation and management of the Utah prairie dog is an ongoing challenge and remains a priority for us and our partners. The actions of the Service and its partners have accomplished much toward the goal we share with people across the range of the Utah prairie dog: Recovery of the species. Progress is being made, and could be made at an even more accelerated pace through the cooperative efforts of the existing Utah Prairie Dog Recovery Implementation Program.

Submitted by: Noreen Walsh, FWS Regional Director for the Mountain-Prairie Region

Ed. note: Letters to the Editor are published “as received” without edit. They represent the views of the submitting writer and not those of St. George News. Photo added by St. George News.

Email: news@stgnews.com

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2 Comments

  • Francis Pope March 26, 2013 at 3:55 pm

    Well now, I do believe that prairie dogs are prime carriers of plague. So of course, we should preserve the prairie dog at all costs, in the hope that they will wipe out the human race. Then they can have the planet all to themselves.

  • David Miller March 27, 2013 at 4:27 pm

    I would like to thank the FWS for this article. As the Commissioner of Iron County to whom this rebuttal is directed I would like to clarify for the sake of readers interested. #1. Conservation was no the object of my oped. I am all for conservation. My point was about results in recovery of the prairie dogs. Plans and goals and discussion have occurred for nearly 4 decades. Iron County is not interested in furthering the burden the process prairie dogs conservation has placed on us but are committed to recovery while assuring that rightful private property use isn’t violated.

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