Hatch praises court’s decision to strike down federal protection of Utah prairie dogs

In a move praised by U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), a federal court last week shot down an administrative rule issued under the Endangered Species Act that protects Utah prairie dogs.

Hatch is a long-time supporter of business and property owners in the state’s Iron County who found the animal to be a nuisance.

“I’m glad the court has stepped in to protect the property rights of Utahns,” Hatch said. “I’ve worked on this issue for a long time, and this decision is a direct result of the tremendous efforts of the members of People for the Ethical Treatment of Property Owners, the Pacific Legal Foundation, the Iron County Commission and the people of Iron County.”

Hatch said the ruling by U.S. District Judge Dee Benson marks the first time a federal court has found that Endangered Species Act regulations limiting the “taking” of a listed species exceeded the scope of Congress’ enumerated powers. Under Endangered Species Act parlance, to “take” an animal means to harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture or collect it.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service claimed its authority to protect the prairie dogs came under the Commerce Clause, and the Necessary and Proper Clause, a claim Hatch thought was a stretch.

“The court’s decision confirms what we have said all along: the federal government has no business interfering with property rights where the allegedly endangered species has no connection to, or effect on, interstate commerce,” Hatch said. “I will continue to fight the federal government’s unnecessary intrusions in the state of Utah.”

Still, the prairie dogs have state support. In reaction to the court decision, the Utah Division of Wildlife released the following statement: “Unless you have a certificate of registration from the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, you may not kill or remove a Utah prairie dog.”