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Agricultural Operations

Agricultural Operations

Preserving agricultural lands: One of the open space purposes in the city charter

Many may not know it, but the City of Boulder has – for more than five decades – worked to preserve local agriculture through the conservation of working farm and ranch lands. In fact, many of the farmers and ranchers who sold land to the city in the late 1960s and early 1970s continued to steward the city’s new purchases, helping Boulder to expand and enrich its open space program. The City of Boulder’s charter specifically identifies the preservation of agricultural uses and lands suitable for agricultural production as a focus for open space and the work of the Open Space and Mountain Parks department (OSMP). Learn more about OSMP’s agricultural program and its benefits to our community – including some of the challenges in managing agricultural lands.

Key Agricultural Facts

  • Today, OSMP leases about 15,000 acres of working lands to dozens of farmers and ranchers, many of whom have taken care of these lands for more than 30 years.
  • It has been estimated that the ranchers and farmers who lease OSMP lands do the work of 15 full time staff members, saving the department more than $1 million each year. Learn more about OSMP’s leasing practices
  • City agricultural lands, along with many sensitive and productive natural areas, are supported by a water rights valued at more than $60 million including shares in nearly 30 local ditch companies.
  • Ground-nesting songbirds, such as bobolinks, use OSMP agricultural hayfields while Preble’s meadow jumping mouse, a federally listed threatened species, can be found along OSMP ditches and creeks fed by city water.
  • Regenerative agricultural practices and traditional livestock grazing regimes are critical in developing and maintaining healthy soils and diverse native grasslands on OSMP agricultural properties.
  • OSMP has a pilot project underway to test different soil regeneration techniques on lands with high prairie dog occupation with the co-benefit of sequestering more carbon.
  • OSMP farmers produce diversified vegetables, such as lettuce, peppers and tomatoes, from 30 acres of land, and an additional 250 acres have the soil and water conditions necessary to support diversified vegetable farming – most of the city’s agricultural land is dryland pasture without sufficient water to grow vegetables.

How does the city address prairie dogs on irrigated agricultural land? 

Protection of prairie dogs and associated species is essential to maintaining healthy, functioning grassland ecosystems on natural lands owned and managed by the City of Boulder.  However, high abundance of prairie dogs in irrigated agricultural fields can reduce crop production, impact the efficient use and value of city water rights and lead to soil erosion – making it difficult to use these properties for agriculture and carbon sequestration in the future. 

OSMP recently received direction to explore whether, when, and how additional prairie dog management tools might be effective to reduce impacts to city irrigable agricultural lands. Those can include key-line plowing, adding soil amendments,  and considering when, where and how lethal control might be appropriate such as donating animals to endangered-species recovery programs for animals like the Black-footed ferret. Learn more and stay up-to-date on this effort.

How will OSMP manage agricultural lands in the future?

The recently approved Agricultural Resources Management Plan (Ag Plan) will help the city to maintain and enhance agricultural-related values for the community by ensuring the long-term sustainability of agricultural operations. At the same time, the Open Space and Mountain Parks Master Plan has a specific focus area called “Agriculture: Today and Tomorrow” that seeks to help OSMP fulfill its agricultural charter responsibilities. Learn more about the Ag Plan and the Final Draft OSMP Master Plan.