April 19, 2013

Government biologist acknowledges that PETPO has "real concerns" and "there isn't a legal framework" to protect constitutional property rights

By Jonathan Wood Attorney

As we reported yesterday, People for the Ethical Treatment of Property Owners (PETPO) is challenging the federal government’s authority to prevent their community from protecting their local cemetery, their public parks, and their private property from the Utah prairie dog.  The case has garnered some good press over the last two days, including coverage by the Utah affiliates of CBS, Fox, and NBC.  Interestingly, the CBS story includes an interview with Nathan Brown, an ecologist with the Fish and Wildlife Service, who expressed sympathy for the plight of our clients.

“They have real concerns,” Nathan Brown, who has worked on the Utah prairie dog for over a decade.  Brown says the current Habitat Conservation Plan allows them some flexibility to deal with prairie dogs on certain public properties, but their hands are tied when it comes to individual property owners.  “There isn’t a legal framework to remove them from that property,” Brown explained.

PETPO represents Cedar City and more than 200 of its residents who have suffered under burdensome federal regulations because the Utah prairie dog, which is listed as a threatened species, has taken over their town. The case challenges the federal governments constitutional authority to impose these regulations on the people of Cedar City, who want nothing more than have the prairie dog and their constitutional rights protected.  Under the challenged regulations, property owners in this community are prevented from building their dream homes or starting small businesses on their private property; things which most Americans take for granted.

PETPO organized a press conference to announce the filing yesterday.  Many of its members, including representatives of the state and local government, came out to show their support for the case and to express their frustration with the situation. The press conference was held on a lot in a residential subdivision that has been occupied by the rodent.  The owner has faced incredible difficulties in developing, or even selling, the lot, because of the burdens that the regulations impose.  Pictures from the press conference can be seen at the link below.

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People for the Ethical Treatment of Property Owners v. Fish and Wildlife Service

For decades, the federal Endangered Species Act has simultaneously stifled responsible conservation of the Utah prairie dog, while barring property owners from using their own land as they wish. So PLF asked the United States Supreme Court to step in, to protect both the prairie dog and property rights of the people who share the same land. Representing a group of landowners called the People for the Ethical Treatment of Property Owners, PLF challenged the constitutionality of the federal prohibitions. Our initial victory in federal district court allowed the state to adopt a conservation program that benefitted both people and the prairie dog. It has relocated prairie dogs from backyards, playgrounds, and other residential areas to improved state conservation lands. However, that successful conservation program ground to a halt when the Tenth Circuit restored the federal regulation. Our petition asked to restore both the state conservation program and constitutional limits on federal power, which the Supreme Court denied.

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