Utah Case Casts Cloud over ESA

A case currently on appeal in federal courts could have serious implications for the scope of the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The case involves the Utah prairie dog (Cynomys parvidens), a species listed as threatened under the ESA.

The Utah prairie dog resides only in Utah. In November 2014, Judge Dee Benson of the US District Court for the District of Utah ruled that the federal government cannot regulate threatened species on private property if that species’ habitat is entirely in one state and the species has no substantial effect on interstate commerce. The ruling turned control of the prairie dog’s fate on nonfederal lands over to the state of Utah.

One problem: more than two-thirds of the species listed under the ESA are found only in one state, and many of those, presumably, could be found to have no substantial effect on interstate commerce. The US Department of Justice has appealed the ruling to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. AWI has joined an amicus brief arguing against the ruling.