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Prairie dogs wreak havoc in South Dakota, ranchers seek state compensation

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The Black Tailed Prairie Dog by Joe Ravi on Wikimedia Commons
The Judicial Update

January 31, 2012

PIERRE, South Dakota: Ranchers in Southwest South Dakota are plagued by an overflow of prairie dogs that are eating the grass the ranchers' livestock need to survive. The state had previously reduced prairie dog regulation in the hope that the reintroduction of the black-footed ferret, who prays on prairie dogs, would control the expansion. Unfortunately the population expanded, destroying ranch land in the southwest. The ranchers attempted to sue the state in 2005, claiming damages when prairie dogs overflowed onto private land. The lawsuit accused the state of failing to control the prairie dogs and failing to reimburse ranchers for damages. The South Dakota Supreme Court recently threw out the lawsuit, ruling on the doctrine of sovereign immunity, which states that the state government cannot be sued.[1]

After the defeat in court, the ranchers convinced Representative Lance Russell to introduce two bills to the House. The first bill would nullify the state’s immunity from lawsuits resulting from a failure to control prairie dogs. The second bill would require that the state Agriculture Department provide an annual minimum of $150,000 to control prairie dogs or make incentive payments to ranchers. The Game, Fish and Parks Department would also be responsible for providing $130,000 a year.[1]

Governor Dennis Daugaard believes that there are ways to appease both parties, reducing prairie dog damage while allowing the state to retain its immunity.[1]

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