City steps in on prairie dogs

By Kevin Wilson

CNJ STAFF WRITER

kwilson@cnjonline.com

Clovis’ city government’s reach was officially extended Thursday night into the burrows of prairie dogs.

File photo The Clovis City Commission approved final passage of an ordinance adding prairie dogs to the city’s definition of public nuisance.

File photo
The Clovis City Commission approved final passage of an ordinance adding prairie dogs to the city’s definition of public nuisance.

By a 6-1 vote, city commissioners approved final passage of an ordinance that added the creatures to the city’s definition of public nuisance and required property owners to, “maintain their property as to control, and to the extent possible, eradicate disease carrying or poisonous animals.”

Commissioners had reservations about the ordinance, and Commissioner Chris Bryant said he came to the meeting intending to vote no because of difficulty in enforcement and increased government reach on private property.

However, concerns were assuaged following an impassioned address by Mayor David Lansford on the role of local government to protect citizens and an explanation of ordinance implementation by city staff.

“I’m a firm believer in private property rights,” Lansford said. “I have the right to swing my fists as much as I want, but when my fist comes into contact with somebody else’s nose, I have violated their rights. If something on my property is threatening the safety and welfare of my neighbor, then I’m an irresponsible neighbor.

“I don’t like it, but it’s necessary.”

Commissioner Bobby Sandoval wanted to step back and see if a more focused ordinance could be written. He said he received a call from a resident of his district whose property is infested by prairie dogs that came to her land from neighboring vacant lots.

“They climb her screens on the windows,” Sandoval said. “Is she going to have to deal with that? It would cause hardships to people who have no blame for prairie dogs being on their property.”

Lansford said the ordinance would be a benefit in that constituent’s case because she could, with the aid of the city, seek a redress from the neighboring property owners.

“That’s why we have local government, to, in a civil matter, make sure citizens live in a safe and healthy environment, Lansford said.

Regarding Bryant’s concern about government overreach, he said a citizen that feels city officials are too aggressive in enforcement will call city commissioners, and the commission will handle such matters.

Commissioner Dan Stoddard agreed with Lansford, and added, “I think we’re doing a disservice to the community if we don’t pass this.”

Carolyn Spence delivered a letter to the commissioners in advance noting her opposition to the ordinance, saying it would be an unfunded mandate passed on to citizens and it was thin reasoning to name the animals public nuisances for their disease potential because, “every creature out there carries a disease.”

When asked by commission members if she had further response, she said she stood by her letter but noted that she believed the commissioners had the right intentions in mind.

Mayor Pro Tem Len Vohs asked if the ordinance language — “allowing or maintaining a condition that permits poisonous or disease-carrying insects, reptiles, rodents, vermin or vectors to live and breed” — meant he might have to spray a pond in his backyard for mosquitoes because of their disease potential.

City Attorney David Richards said that could happen if other residents complained it was causing health problems.

City Manager Joe Thomas said enforcement might eventually require additional code enforcement staff, but he said the matter would be handled as responses to specific complaints.

“I don’t think our code enforcement agents have time to survey (individual property owners) for prairie dogs,” Thomas said.

Commissioner Fidel Madrid cast the lone dissenting vote. He voted against the original introduction of the ordinance on Aug. 1 because he felt it was heavily pushed by county residents who balk when similar ordinances are discussed at the county level.

He said he still felt that way, but added Thursday that it’s poor stewardship to just kill everything that causes problems.