As an example of the problems the Endangered Species Act can cause for America’s farmers and ranchers, this article discusses the Utah prairie dog, listed as a “threatened” species under the Endangered Species Act, and its impacts on ranchers in southwestern Utah.
Utah prairie dogs, and their destructive nature, have traditionally been a thorn in the side of cattle ranchers, but a new program is hoping to turn the situation into a positive one for landowners and developers. The Utah Prairie Dog Habitat Credit Exchange Program, funded by the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), is a market-based approach, which pays landowners approximately $1,000 to $2,000 per acre to develop easements on land that contains Utah Prairie Dog habitat. The protected parcels are then assigned habitat credits that are sold to developers to help reduce the impact of development on prairie dog habitat in other areas. The credits cost approximately $4,800 to $8,000 per acre of habitat.
The program is very early in the process, with only two landowners signed up at this point, but it will be interesting to see if this approach will be beneficial to all involved. With over 80 percent of endangered species habitat located on private land, creative solutions are needed that will benefit the wildlife, as well as landowners.
Photo credit: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
Saving threatened Utah prairie dogs — on private property
By Nathan Rice, High Country News
When Curt Bagley learned he could get paid for the prairie dogs digging up his land, he had a change of heart toward the varmints he’d grown up shooting. On his family’s cattle ranch in Greenwich, Utah, they’d had to learn to live with the destructive rodents since 1973, when Utah prairie dogs were federally protected. “If I had my druthers, I wouldn’t have ‘em,” Bagley says. “But they’re here, so I have to work with ‘em.”
To Bagley and many other residents of southwest Utah, prairie dogs have been the bane of an otherwise peaceful existence. Listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act, the diminutive rodents have been hit hard by urban growth and disease. Most of their remaining habitat lies on private land, where protections have slowed, and in some cases halted, development. They also punch holes in runways and tunnel into cemeteries, disturbing graves and enraging locals. That they can carry bubonic plague doesn’t help relations either (though disease transmission to humans is rare).
But last year, Bagley signed the papers to permanently set aside 80 valley-bottom acres for the much-maligned animals. After all, dealing with “prairie rats” isn’t that far from his past job as a high school security guard: “I’m used to working with pests,” he notes with an arid humor. He’s the second landowner to enroll in the Utah Prairie Dog Habitat Credit Exchange Program — a market-based approach to private-land conservation that could help change how landowners view endangered species, while also allowing an avenue for development. Each protected parcel is assigned habitat credits, which are then sold to developers to mitigate building on prairie dog habitat elsewhere. A third property should be finalized in August.
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