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Health, Science & Environment

Utah Prairie Dog Story Prompts Stewart's Endangered Species Bill

Center for Biological Diversity

Federal law restricts some development in Iron County to protect the Utah prairie dog. But a Utah congressman says it’s a case where the federal Endangered Species Act should be improved.

Republican Chris Stewart wants to change the way the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service counts species in peril. He’s introduced the Endangered Species Improvement Act in Congress.

“What it does is really simple, and it’s really not controversial at all,” says Stewart. “It just requires the federal government to count all species, whether they are dwelling on private or on public lands to determine the health of that species, to determine the health of that species and whether we’re making progress in protecting it and in recreating and increasing the numbers of those species.”

Technically, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service already does count endangered and threatened species on private lands. But it won’t take a species off the list unless the population is strong and the habitat is protected enough for species to thrive.  And that’s usually on federally owned lands. In Iron County, around 80 percent of Utah prairie dogs live on private lands, and that’s stymied private property owners. Stewart says this in as an example of where the current counting system isn’t working.

“I don’t know anyone who wants to see the prairie dog extinct,” he says. “Of course, we don’t. But we would just like a balanced approach and an accurate assessment of the prairie dog is actually doing.”

A century of hunting, then modern development landed the prairie dog landed on the federal protection list in 1973. Endangered Species Act has helped it come back. Noah Greewald is endangered species director for the Center for Biological Diversity. He says the prairie dog’s rebound is a sign the law works.

“Representative Chris Stewart’s bill is just wrong,” says Grenwald. “It’s working under the assumption that the Fish and Wildlife Service endangered species on federal lands, and that’s just not true. This isn’t about common-sense reform. This is about opposition to endangered species.”

Stewart introduced the bill last week. Fellow Utah Congressmen Jason Chaffetz and Rob Bishop are cosponsors.

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