Monday, December 11, 2006
There's a terrific story in today's NY Times about a conflict between some ranchers over a prairie dog colony. Apparently, a couple of Kansas ranchers want to preserve a prairie dog colony on their property but their neighbors believe this will harm their property values, so they want to invoke a state law that permits the state to exterminate the colony against the property owners' wishes and at the property owners' expense. This is sort of a latter-day Miller v. Shoene, one of my favorite takings cases. The prairie dog story is great on a number of levels. First, I always love stories -- great for teaching purposes -- where the normal sides are reversed in a property-rights dispute. Here we have environmentalists (according to the story, two environmental groups are backing the pro-prairie dog ranchers) on the property-rights side, where they are usually not to be found. On the other side, we have a bunch of conservative Kansas ranchers, who, I would guess, are usually not great fans of the state telling people what to do with their property. But here they are, arguing that the state should physically invade private property against the owners' wishes to keep the owner from maintaining this prairie dog colony and then make him pay the state for its trouble. (I feel like my head is going to explode.) The other great part about the story is Larry Haverfield, the rancher who wants to preserve the colony. He sounds like a reincarnation of Aldo Leopold, especially when he starts talking about all the species that have been (or that he hopes will be) attracted to his farm by the colony. The story is definitely worth a read.