War between Utah, prairie dogs heats up again

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Freshman Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah) has introduced a bill aimed at getting the Utah prairie dog off the endangered species list, in the hopes of making it easier to exterminate an animal many Utahans see as an intrusive pest.

Stewart's new legislation would require the government to count all species of prairie dogs living on both public and private land before deciding whether the prairie dog deserves to be on the Endangered Species List. He said the government only counts animals living on public land, and said that's creating an inaccurate impression that the prairie dog is endangered.

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"[T]here are large populations of prairie dogs in yards, parks, cemeteries, and fields that never get counted toward recovery because they don’t live on federal lands," Stewart said Monday. "Many wonder whether the species could be delisted if these dogs were included in official counts used to determine whether the species is on the path to recovery."

His bill is the Endangered Species Improvement Act, and it would apply to efforts in all states when counting populations for the purposes of the Endangered Species List.

Stewart's bill is the latest in a long-running war in which Republicans and Democrats from Utah have teamed up to fight the intrusive prairie dog.

In 2011, members of Utah's delegation proposed legislation that would have allowed for the extermination of Utah prairie dogs that are infesting airports or cemeteries.

The prairie dog was put on the endangered species list in 1973, and as such, they can only be exterminated when found on agricultural lands.