June 24, 2008
Prairie Dogs Lose a Legal Fight
By Geoffrey Fattah Deseret News
Like Bill Murray in the movie "Caddyshack," Cedar City's fight to remove the endangered Utah prairie dog from its golf course will continue, a federal judge ruled Monday.After hearing legal arguments U.S. District Judge Dee Benson denied a motion by the Forest Guardians and Utah Environmental Congress for an injunction against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The group wanted to stop the federal government from issuing permits to allow city workers to entrap and relocate the Utah prairie dogs from the Cedar City golf course.
Forest Guardians attorney Alletta Belin argued Monday that past relocation efforts of the Utah prairie dog have resulted in a less than 10 percent survival rate, mainly because the animals don't survive the following winter.
The fish and wildlife service is set to begin the relocation of at least 96 animals to an alternative habitat between now and Aug. 1.
Environmental groups sued the federal government last year to stop a program of trapping and relocating the animals from 503 acres off the golf course and 48 acres of adjacent Paiute Indian land and onto 303-acre habitat called Wild Pea Hollow, which is surrounded by BLM lands. The Utah prairie dog has been on the endangered species list since 1973. This particular species is said to exist only in Utah.
Belin said last year's relocation project resulted in the trapping of 504 animals, with less than 10 percent surviving the winter.
Attorney for the federal government, Kevin McArdle, questioned the groups' urgency for the injunction, pointing out they did not file for injunction last year and allowed the trapping to happen.
Belin countered that there is now a chance that the prairie dog colony could be wiped out of the area; however, McArdle said even after the 2007 trapping, it was estimated there were more of the animals than ever.
Benson said there was no evidence that after two months of trapping that the species faces extinction. He added it is likely that the suit can be resolved in the following couple of months but was willing to revisit an injunction if the case dragged on longer.
Benson said he had to admit he thinks about the movie "Caddyshack" whenever he reads about this case.
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