05 March 2012 Joel Sartore: Protect Nebraska’s Prairie Dogs Posted by: Joel Sartore | 1 comment | Share: Joel Sartore, National Geographic photographer, Defenders board member, and concerned Nebraskan. Not only is Defenders board member Joel Sartore a world-renowned wildlife photographer, but he’s also a consummate activist. Read the column below that was published today in the Lincoln Journal Star opposing a terrible piece of legislation in Nebraska that would expand counties’ authority to poison prairie dogs. ———————————————- Local View: Oppose LB473: Protect our wildlife and property rights By Joel Sartore For more than 20 years, I’ve had the privilege to photograph wildlife all around the world for National Geographic Magazine. And in every place I’ve visited, there’s at least one plant or animal that is considered a “keystone” species for the outsized role it plays in maintaining nature’s balance. In parts of Africa, it’s elephants. In our oceans, it’s sharks and sea otters. For Nebraska, it’s the black-tailed prairie dog, though it’s an animal already so reduced in numbers you would be hard-pressed to find one if you drove this state from one end to the other. So it’s hard to imagine why some of our elected leaders seem hell-bent on getting rid of as many of the remaining prairie dogs as possible, even forcing landowners to poison them against their wishes. Right now, a bill (LB473, “The Black-tailed Prairie Dog Management Act”) is working its way through the Legislature that would allow county governments to force the poisoning of prairie dogs on private land should any cross a property line. To add insult to injury, the bill would allow the county to come on your property without asking, and then send you the tab for killing native wildlife. Forget about the prairie dogs for a minute and think about this with me. What if a deer beds on one landowner’s property but eats crops on a neighbor’s land? Should the landowner where the deer sleeps be held responsible? Of course not. Nobody owns wildlife, so why would anyone be liable for a species that moves from one parcel of land to the next? In an era where every new government mandate is met with great outrage (remember Obamacare?), how is this any different? This bill is an effort by the government to force individuals to pay for something they do not want; trespassers and poisoning at the landowner’s expense. So this leaves just one question: How did this thing ever get out of committee? This not only is an affront to property rights, but to personal liberties and freedoms as well. Beyond that, is it even constitutional to force private citizens to eradicate a native species at their expense and against their will? The fact that few senators have spoken out against this actually speaks volumes about the Unicameral at this point in time. Nebraska Game and Parks remains silent as well, even though they’re the agency designated to protect our nongame wildlife. If individual landowners want to poison prairie dogs on their own dime, that’s their business. But this bill is similar to a 1901 Kansas law that still is being enforced against the wishes of private landowners. This new bill would similarly set Nebraska back to an outdated mind-set when healthy wildlife and healthy lands were not valued. And this clear violation of property rights stands to have major impact on not only prairie dogs, but on all the other imperiled species that rely on them, from burrowing owls to salamanders. In a crowded world worn increasingly ragged, we should be doing everything we can to protect these vital animals and restore the ecosystems that depend upon them, not making it easier for counties to wipe them out. It’s time for our elected leaders to stand up for both Nebraska’s wildlife and our property rights by rejecting this bill. Contact your state senator now. They will vote on this within days, and it will take only a simple majority, 25 out of our state’s 49 lawmakers, to allow this terrible idea to become law. (Column originally appeared in today’s Lincoln Journal Star) Joel Sartore, Joel Sartore is a contributing photographer to National Geographic and a member of Defenders’ board of directors. To see more of his work, visit www.joelsartore.com.