Eradication standards run afoul to property rights

A serious consideration of private property rights is lacking in discussions regarding the decision to curtail Ned Houk Park's prairie dog population.

Whether or not a person is for or against poisoning these rodents, a mistake is made by both sides when the debate is argued dichotomously.

The only thing landowners are categorically opposed to is the illegal confiscation of their property without due process. For them, the problem is incremental.

Prairie dogs are crossing boundaries from public land, venturing onto private land, and, in the process, taking private land out of production — up to 60 acres in one case.

Economically as well as legally, this is no different than if 60 acres had been confiscated.

The point here is that neither the land itself nor its value are "property." Rather than simply residing over physical things, meaningful ownership of property exists in a set of defined options (to grow corn or wheat, for example).

When constraints are imposed on the options farmers have regarding their land, their property has in effect been confiscated without the fence line having ever been moved.

This violates the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution.

It is understandable that some members of the public enjoy watching prairie dogs. But should the public's representatives on the city commission ever reverse their decision and decree the opposite of what they did — that land north of Clovis is primarily for the unconstrained grazing of prairie dogs — the Fifth Amendment of the Bill of Rights requires that just compensation be paid to citizens whose property has been confiscated for public use.

Those citizens concerned about how their tax dollars are spent might want to weigh the costs of compensating farmers against the costs associated with responsible grassland stewardship.

Michael Merritt


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