Utah’s state lands agency has a thousand prairie dog credits to sell. They’re the result of a land deal that helps to keep the critters away from airport runways in southern Utah.
The Utah prairie dog is protected under the Endangered Species Act, which made it difficult for three airports in southern Utah to control them. The animals burrow under runways and chew on the wires for runway lights. Laura Romin with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says the sale of 800 acres of school trust lands allows the airports in Cedar City, Parowan and Loa to move ahead with safety measures.
“So now the airports can go out there and grade the surfaces that they need to without worrying whether they’re impacting the prairie dogs," Romin tells KUER. "In exchange for that, the Federal Aviation Administration provided about $950,000 to us to purchase other properties to protect the prairie dog in areas that are more suitable to them.”
The state trust lands agency and the Nature Conservancy closed the deal this month, and the amount of habitat set aside for the prairie dogs was more than was needed for the airports. So the Fish and Wildlife Service issued a thousand credits that the state can sell to private developers who have a problem with prairie dogs on their own land. That’s enough to compensate for about 150 acres of habitat.
Golf courses and other private landowners in southern Utah have complained for years about the damage caused by prairie dogs on their property.