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Grassland Ecosystem Management Plan

Grassland Ecosystem Management Plan

The Grassland Ecosystem Management Plan (Grassland Plan) proposes specific on-the-ground management actions, public policies and lands & water acquisition priorities to conserve the ecological values of Open Space & Mountain Park's grasslands and ensure on-going agricultural production.

The Open Space Board of Trustees approved the Grassland Plan on Aug. 12, 2009. The Grassland Plan was accepted by City Council on May 18, 2010.

Grassland Plan Overview

Boulder has been protecting natural areas for more than 100 years. The city now offers one of the largest sales tax-funded open space programs in the country with more than 45,000 acres in protection. There are currently plans that guide OSMP’s acquisition program, outdoor recreation and forest management. The Grassland Ecosystem Management Plan is the latest of these planning efforts.

Boulder’s Protected Prairies

OSMP currently manages about 24,000 acres in the Grassland Ecosystem Management Plan project area. These areas conserve the species and natural communities that characterize the grasslands of the Boulder Valley. OSMP grasslands have been recognized by local, state and national agencies for their ecological values. They also support traditional agricultural uses such as livestock, hay and small grain production. Boulder’s grasslands are popular destinations for outdoor recreation and see millions of visits annually.

Research and monitoring conducted on OSMP grasslands over time has revealed and emphasized the value of Boulder’s native prairies as habitat for numerous rare and sensitive birds, mammals, insects, plants and other components of local prairie ecosystems. The ecological significance of Boulder’s grasslands becomes increasingly important as urbanization spreads along the Front Range. Municipal open space is also important for the preservation of agriculture in Boulder County. Much of the land in agricultural use in the Boulder Valley is protected by ownership or partnership agreements by OSMP.

Scope of the Grassland Plan

OSMP staff examined vegetation, soils, and topography to separate the grasslands from OSMP lands managed by the Forest Ecosystem Management Plan. A north-south line was drawn based upon these attributes separating the forest from the prairie. This line forms the western boundary for the grassland plan.

Grassland conservation on OSMP lands is enhanced by the other important protected areas nearby. The Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge (6,000 acres) is located adjacent to OSMP grasslands, as are several thousand acres of grasslands managed by Boulder County and Jefferson County. Table Mountain, a 1,600 acre grassland site managed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), is also nearby. OSMP will seek partnerships with these land managers as appropriate to achieve the objectives of the Grassland Plan.

Conservation Targets

The Grassland Planning Area (GPA)  is known to support more than 800 species of vascular plants, over 400 species of vertebrates and many more species in other, lesser-known groups (e.g., insects, mosses, algae).  Rather than attempt to address each part of the grassland system individually, OSMP staff worked with partner agencies, biologists, ecologists, naturalists and other community members to identify the aspects of biological diversity that would best serve as the basis for setting objectives, taking action and measuring success. 

These “conservation targets” include the Mixedgrass Prairie Mosaic and the Xeric Tallgrass Prairie—the two dominant cover types in the GPA.

The Agricultural Operations target addresses the long-term sustainability of agriculture on OSMP lands and the conservation of native species dependent upon agricultural operations.   

The ecological system centered on the black‑tailed prairie dog was also identified as a separate conservation target due to the distinctive ecological conditions and community of animals associated with prairie dogs.  This target, Black-tailed Prairie Dogs and Associates, was also called out because of the unique challenges of managing a prairie dog-based system in a highly fragmented landscape. 

OSMP also identified three targets dependent upon ground or surface water: Wetlands—including ponds, Riparian Areas—including creeks, and the Mesic Bluestem Prairie. 

The White Rocks cliffs were identified as a target because they support a large number of rare species—well out of proportion to the small size of the area.

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