Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, March 29, 2017

Contact: Noah Greenwald, (503) 484-7495,

Appeals Court Restores Utah Prairie Dog Protections, Upholds Endangered Species Act

Another Court Rebuffs Right-wing Claims That Federal Government Can't Protect Species Occurring in Only One State

PORTLAND, Ore.— In a major victory for the nation's endangered species, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled today the federal government does have authority to protect the Utah prairie dog and other endangered species occurring in a single state.

In a stinging rebuke to extreme private-property-rights advocates, Judge Holmes, a Republican appointee writing for the three-judge panel, concluded that eliminating protections for “purely intrastate species” would “leave a gaping hole” and “undercut the conservation purposes” of the Endangered Species Act.

“We're tremendously relieved by this decision,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Given that a majority of America's more than 1,600 endangered species occur in only one state, a bad ruling would have almost certainly committed hundreds of species across the country to extinction.” 

Today's decision marks the fifth rejection by an appeals court of arguments that extreme private-property-rights advocates have been bringing for years and makes it less likely the Supreme Court will take up this issue. 

Brought by the “People for the Ethical Treatment of Property Owners,” the case argued that because the Utah prairie dog is solely limited to Utah, a rule issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that regulated the ability of landowners to eliminate Utah prairie dogs from their land was unlawful. The Center and allies submitted an amicus brief in the case, supporting protections for the prairie dog.

“We hope this decision finally puts these preposterous arguments to bed,” said Greenwald. “Extreme right-wing organizations like the one that brought this case believe we should be able to drive species to extinction, pollute our air and water and wreck the climate, regardless of the harms to their fellow citizens or future generations.”

As noted by the court, approximately 68 percent of species protected by the Act “exist purely intrastate.” Hawaii alone has more than 400 protected species, a majority of which occur only on the islands. 

“If the decision had gone the other way, iconic species like the Florida panther and southern sea otter could have lost protection,” said Greenwald. “This would have been a tragedy for people and wildlife alike.”

Utah prarie dog

Photo by Tom Koerner, USFWS. Images are available for media use.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.2 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

More press releases