Several years ago, visitors to southwestern Utah would encounter unusual old-west style “wanted” posters. Instead of a bandit, the “villain” in this poster was the Utah prairie dog, a species whose status and regulation under the federal Endangered Species Act had been a source of frustration and conflict for decades.
Unfortunately, a June 4th announcement from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service suggests that such conflicts will soon return to communities across the country, to the detriment of states, landowners and endangered species. The agency stated that it will undo every Endangered Species Act reform completed by the prior administration, including a rule that tailors protections for threatened species.
If finalized, repealing this threatened species rule would be a significant step backward for federal-state cooperation and species recovery.
Once endangered, the Utah prairie dog population gradually recovered from a low of about 3,000 in 1972 to approximately 84,000 in 2016. As the population rebounded, federal regulation of the species paradoxically became stricter, in effect penalizing the state, communities and landowners for contributing to the species’ recovery.