Round one of black-tailed prairie dog control repeal goes to Chambers

April 7, 2018 GMT

Omaha Sen. Ernie Chambers only needed 25 votes to advance his goal of doing away with a law that lays out a procedure to control black-tailed prairie dogs on private property.

He got the votes Friday on his bill’s first round of debate, his second try this legislative session on the bill that was introduced in the 2017 session. In January, the bill (LB449) got only 21 votes and failed to advance. The second debate came because Chambers made it his priority bill this session.

Chambers said the bill was mostly about property rights. The management law, which passed while he was out of the Legislature for four years, allows counties to send “an agent” to a person’s property to get rid of prairie dogs, against the will of the property owners if needed.

The enforcement starts out with an unverified complaint from a disgruntled neighbor, Chambers said, and it ultimately can end in criminal charges and foreclosure on the land if the property owner is resistant.

The agent sent by the county “can damage your property, damage crops, you cannot get them for trespassing. They can use poison, and there’s no limitation to how much your property can be poisoned,” Chambers said.

Sen. Laura Ebke of Crete agreed it’s a property rights issue.

“I don’t like the notion that somebody can end up losing their property or going to jail because of a few prairie dogs,” she said.

Sen. Dan Hughes of Venango, one of those voting against Chambers’ repeal bill, is not a fan of prairie dog towns and the pesky animals that come with them.

“Prairie dogs are the carriers of bubonic plague. We’ve all heard of that and the challenges that that brings along,” he said. “When you have a prairie dog town, there’s a good chance you’ve got rattlesnakes.”

The prairie dog management law is one of the best laws ever, he said, because it’s never been used. It forces adjoining land owners to solve the problems themselves, he said.

That’s the purpose of government, he said, to enforce those private property rights. Your neighbor cannot cause the devaluation of your property.

Chambers’ bill advanced on a 25-9 vote, with Sens. Hughes, Tom Brewer, Robert Clements, Curt Friesen, Steve Halloran, Tyson Larson, John Lowe, John Murante and Merv Riepe voting no.