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For Immediate Release, September 16, 2011

Contact: Marty Bergoffen, (520) 609-9815

Utah Congressional Delegation Pushing Unnecessary Legislation Weakening Protections for Prairie Dog

SALT LAKE CITY— Utah Sens. Mike Lee and Orrin Hatch and Congressman Jim Matheson are drafting a bill that would allow lethal removal of prairie dogs at the Paragonah cemetery and Parowan airport, according to a media report in southern Utah. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, however, is already working with managers at both facilities to remove prairie dogs, and has proposed an amendment to a special rule that allows prairie dog control.

“Utah’s delegation is crafting unnecessary legislation to weaken protections for the endangered Utah prairie dog,” said Marty Bergoffen, endangered species coordinator at the Center for Biological diversity. “The Utah prairie dog is a highly endangered species that is restricted to a small area of south central Utah, where habitat destruction, plague and persecution are continued threats. Like all endangered species, the prairie dog needs careful management informed by science, not grandstanding by politicians trying to gain political points.”

The Utah prairie dog was originally listed as an endangered species in 1973 and, after some populations expanded, the species was downlisted to threatened in 1984. At that time, a special rule was issued allowing the killing of 5,000 prairie dogs in the Cedar and Parowan valleys due to agricultural conflicts. This rule was amended in 1991 to allow the lethal removal of 6,000 prairie dogs on private land throughout the species’ range.

According to a 2010 draft recovery plan, just under 6,000 prairie dogs were counted in 2009. Although counts tend to underestimate the population, this indicates that take of a large proportion of the population is currently allowed.

On June 2, 2011, the Fish and Wildlife Service issued a proposed revision to the special rule to limit take to 10 percent of the total population, which could only occur on productive agricultural lands and other private lands near prairie dog conservation sites.

“There’s already been a process for the public, including the Utah delegation, to seek additional measures for these or any other sites,” said Bergoffen. “If this legislative moves forward, it will be a waste of taxpayer dollars and the worst kind of political theater.” 

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