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Feds propose modifications to prairie dog management in Utah

SALT LAKE CITY — The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing some modifications on how it oversees the management of the imperiled Utah prairie dog, seeking to institute a 10-year plan that governs when the animals may be "taken" if they are interfering with property development.

The agency released a draft conservation plan Tuesday saying it will issue permits to property owners, developers or government entities such as counties in a streamlined process to mitigate impacts to the animals while allowing for economic development.

Under the proposal, industry and private individuals can apply for permits for a limited amount of “incidental take” if they demonstrate they are taking appropriate steps.

The proposed revision includes plans by the federal agency to issue a master permit to Iron, Beaver and Garfield counties for development of projects.

Management of the endangered Utah prairie dog has become a contentious and expensive problem in the state, with multiple housing developments, a regional airport, golf courses and cemeteries hampered by prairie dog colonies.

The rural Utah counties say the federal government has overstepped its authority by regulating the animal's welfare on private property.

Federal management of the Utah prairie dog was challenged in the courts. A group called People for the Ethical Treatment of Property Owners, represented by the Pacific Legal Foundation, want the U.S. Supreme Court to declare federal management of the species in Utah unlawful.

Federal land managers say the species is vulnerable to many threats, including habitat loss and plague.

The proposal, which is out for public comment over the next month, calls for prairie dog translocations and other ways to help the species, including conservation banks where there are land acquisitions from willing sellers.

For a couple years, Utah's wildlife managers were in charge of prairie dog populations, which were estimated at a peak of 93,000 in a spring 2015 count.

The federal agency said this latest management approach incorporates some aspects of the state prairie dog conservation plan.