Lessons of the Utah Prairie Dog

At The Daily Caller, Brian Seasholes says the continuing federal mismanagement of an “endangered” Utah rodent illustrates how “a bad law combined with federal overreach results in lousy conservation.”

Reports Seasholes:

In addition to the important Constitutional questions at stake in the Utah prairie dog case, is that the Endangered Species Act is a lousy way to conserve the very species it’s supposed to help. According to a 2007 scholarly survey of landowners in the Utah prairie dog’s range, 34 percent have tried to discourage prairie dogs from residing on their land in order to avoid the Act’s regulations. Furthermore, 70 percent of landowners stated that their fear of the Endangered Species Act’s regulations “hindered their willingness to receive aid or assistance” to conserve the prairie dog.

Another key aspect of the 2007 survey assessed landowners’ preferences for working with various groups to address problems caused by prairie dogs.  About half of landowners were very willing to work with the Utah Farm Bureau and the Utah State University Extension, one of the agriculture and natural resource departments and services located in many U.S. state universities that typically provide technical education and advice for landowners. Those very willing dropped to 19-28 percent for federal and state land and wildlife regulatory agencies, and bottomed-out at 10 percent for The Nature Conservancy and Environmental Defense Fund, two groups involved in helping the federal government implement prairie dog regulations.

The sad thing is that most landowners, such as those in southern Utah harboring prairie dogs, would be willing to help conserve endangered species were it not for the Endangered Species Act’s penalty-based approach. “The fear generated by ESA regulation is a poor motivator for species conservation on private lands,” the 2007 study concludes. “Rather, incentive based approaches that consider the needs of landowners are more likely to result in species conservation over the long term.”