Nebraska prairie dog management law in crosshairs once again
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Nebraska prairie dog management law in crosshairs once again

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Black-tailed prairie dog

A black-tailed prairie dog feeds in a prairie dog town on the Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge in 2012. Land in Fillmore County that Doane University recently sold contains a prairie dog colony.

Nebraska's longest-serving lawmaker is once again trying to repeal a law that could allow county officials to kill black-tailed prairie dogs on private property if a neighbor complains.

Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha said the 2012 law violates property rights by allowing the government to trespass on private land without a warrant or other due process safeguards.

"If there is indeed a democracy, if there is such thing as ownership of property and private property rights, those things need to be respected," Chambers said Tuesday in testimony to the Legislature's Agriculture Committee.

Black-tailed prairie dogs are native to western Nebraska and considered an important species to maintain the region's ecological balance, but some ranchers view them as pests because they tear up valuable grassland.

Only Sheridan County in northwest Nebraska has made use of the law, requiring written notification that gives landowners 60 days to manage the prairie dog colonies. Landowners who fail to comply could face a fine of up to $1,500, and if they make no effort to contain the spread, the county can send an agent to clear out the prairie dogs at the owner's expense.

County officials have said they were previously unable to help several ranch owners whose neighbors allowed prairie dogs to flourish and migrate onto other properties.

Sheridan County Commissioner Jack Andersen said the law helps local officials deal with landowners who don't manage their property and repealing it "would be a giant step backward" for the county.

Anderson said his county has never had to resort to sending an agent onto private property uninvited, but argued that it gave the county power to address the problem with landowners.

Nebraska Farmers Union president John Hansen said the law is one of the most egregious violations of property rights his group has ever seen.

"This particular law is atrocious," he said. "It does not respect any of the basic laws of due process."

Lawmakers came close to repealing the law in 2015 at Chambers' urging, but rural senators used parliamentary rules to kill it.

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Related to this story

Nebraska lawmakers gave final approval Thursday to a bill designed to limit the spread of the state's 1.4 million black-tailed prairie dogs.

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