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Prairie Dog Conservation and Management

Annual Meeting on Prairie Dogs and Irrigated Agriculture Restoration

Open Space and Mountain Parks (OSMP) will host a virtual community meeting to discuss its prairie dog and agriculture management, conservation and restoration efforts starting at 6 p.m., Monday, Dec. 14. The meeting will be on Zoom so the link will be provided closer to the meeting date. Watch video presentations OSMP prepared in advance of the meeting below. 

This meeting will provide community members and other interested stakeholders updates on OSMP’s system-wide management and conservation of prairie dogs – which helps to preserve some of the largest prairie dog habitats in Boulder County. Please watch the presentations below and submit questions to be answered at the meeting by Sunday, Dec. 13, to [email protected]

The upcoming virtual meeting will include updates on how OSMP is: 

  • Implementing prairie dog conservation recommendations provided by the Prairie Dog Working Group. 
  • Instituting recently adopted recommendations to manage prairie dogs and soil health in irrigated agricultural areas, which may include the use of lethal control, relocation and land restoration techniques. 
  • Conducting relocations to remove prairie dogs from agricultural areas. 
  • Performing agricultural restoration projects in areas formerly occupied by prairie dogs. 
  • Monitoring prairie dog colonies and associated species. 

Watch Presentations in Advance of Monday, Dec. 14 Meeting

The full length presentations will not be presented at meeting. Instead, OSMP will present short summaries of the presentations. 


Conservation and Management Overview

Current City of Boulder Open Space and Mountain Parks (OSMP) plans seek to support ecologically sustainable prairie dog populations across the broader landscape while maintaining the viability of agricultural operations by reducing impacts from prairie dogs on irrigated lands.

City plans and policies – including OSMP's Master Plan, the Grassland Ecosystem Management Plan, the Wildlife Protection Ordinance and the Urban Wildlife Management Plan and – strive to strike a balance between protecting and maintaining healthy, thriving prairie dog populations and safeguarding natural communities and other land uses that conflict with prairie dog occupation. OSMP's conservation and management of prairie dogs is also guided by Prairie Dog Working Group recommendations.

On Sept. 1, 2020, the Boulder City Council accepted Open Space Board of Trustees (OSBT) recommendations and provided direction for the management of OSMP irrigated agricultural fields occupied by prairie dogs. The complete set of actions -- which include lethal control, relocations and land restoration --  can be read here. Click on the "Expedited Review of Prairie Dogs in Irrigated Fields" tab to learn more.    

Learn more about OSMP prairie dog conservation and management

Prairie Dog Working Group Recommendations    

A city Prairie Dog Working Group (PDWG) – made up of 12 community members representing a variety of viewpoints – reviewed the city's prairie dog management policies and practices and made recommendations for changes to existing policies and new initiatives to help manage prairie dog colonies and habitats. In April and May 2019, both the City Council and the city’s Open Space Board of Trustees approved city staff’s plan to implement many of the working group’s recommendations. The continuing high abundance of prairie dogs on the city’s northern agricultural properties was part of both the council’s and the OSBT’s discussion of the PDWG recommendations last year. During those discussions, both the council and the OSBT gave OSMP direction to explore whether, when, and how additional prairie dog management tools might be effective in reducing impacts to city irrigable agricultural lands. 

LEARN MORE  

Grassland Ecosystem Management Plan     

Accepted by City Council in 2010, this plan provides a framework to conserve grasslands and prairie dogs and their associates by establishing goals and objectives to measure success in prairie dog conservation and management. It also includes criteria to guide relocation of prairie dogs to, from, and within the OSMP system and defines land management designations for every prairie dog colony mapped. The Grassland plan also includes strategies to help support sustainable agricultural operations and address conflicts between agriculture and prairie dogs. The 2019 OSMP Master Plan, recently accepted and adopted by the Boulder City Council, provides direction for OSMP to update the plan and continue managing this important ecosystem by considering all elements and processes of natural systems rather than focusing on one species or attribute at a time.

LEARN MORE pdf  

Expedited Review of Prairie Dogs in Irrigated Fields    

In 2019 and 2020, the City of Boulder Open Space and Mountain Parks (OSMP) reviewed agriculture and prairie dog management, soil health and land restoration efforts on irrigated city open space lands. On  Tuesday, Sept. 1, 2020 , the Boulder City Council accepted Open Space Board of Trustees (OSBT) recommendations and provided direction for the management of OSMP irrigated agricultural fields occupied by prairie dogs, which include the following actions:

  • Meet with stakeholders, including neighboring property owners. 
  • Relocate prairie dogs from 30 to 40 acres of irrigated agricultural lands annually. 
  • Remove approximately 100-200 acres via lethal control annually. 
  • Allow agricultural activities that may damage prairie dog burrows. 
  • Restore soils and vegetation for irrigated agricultural use and carbon sequestration. 
  • Apply for a special permit for lethal control on irrigated agricultural lands. 
  • Establish a 100% removal goal within an irrigated agricultural field.
  • Install barriers where appropriate.
  • Work with tenants and neighbors to coordinate removals. 
  • Allow relocation of up to 20 individual prairie dogs from urban sites.

The complete set of actions  can be read here . Council’s acceptance of agriculture, prairie dog, soil health and land restoration management recommendations comes after council members heard a staff presentation and received public comment during a public hearing on  Tuesday, Aug. 11, 2020 . City of Boulder Open Space and Mountain Parks (OSMP) would like to thank the community members who participated in the process and who shared a broad range of perspectives. OSMP also would like to thank the Boulder City Council, the Open Space Board of Trustees for their direction and guidance.

BACKGROUND

Over the last two decades, the City of Boulder has prioritized non-lethal control measures for managing prairie dogs inside the city and on city-managed public lands. Today, the city continues to  protect prairie dog colonies through a program that includes a series of wildlife ordinances and a network of OSMP lands that conserve habitat for prairie dogs and associated species across more than 3,100 acres of grasslands. These efforts have helped to make the city a municipal leader in protecting prairie dogs. The City of Boulder Charter identifies the preservation of wildlife habitat and natural areas as a focus for open space and the work of the Open Space and Mountain Parks department (OSMP).

Boulder also has a  long legacy of preserving agricultural lands as part of over fifty years of work to build one of the nation’s largest municipal open space systems. The  City Charter also specifically identifies the preservation of agricultural uses and lands suitable for agricultural production as a focus for open space and OSMP.

Wildlife monitoring has indicated that some OSMP irrigated agricultural lands have the highest levels of prairie dog occupation since the department began regular mapping of prairie dog colonies in 1996. In spring 2019, the Boulder City Council and the city’s Open Space Board of Trustee (OSBT), in providing management direction to city staff, indicated that this recent and abundant expansion of prairie dogs onto city open space irrigated fields members have:

  • Highlighted a conflict between city prairie dog management practices, which have prioritized non-lethal control measures, and viable open space agricultural operations.
  • Contributed to soil degradation and loss, affecting Open Space and Mountain Parks’ ability to fulfill agricultural open space purposes outlined in the Boulder City Charter.
  • Limited OSMP’s ability to fully implement soil carbon farming and climate-mitigation practices. Irrigated agricultural lands represent some of the best opportunities to accelerate soil-based carbon capture on Boulder open space lands.

City Council and Open Space Board of Trustee members also indicated that it may be infeasible to address large prairie dog populations on agricultural lands in a timely or economical fashion by current non-lethal practices alone. As of 2019, the city had 1,257 acres of irrigable agricultural land that was occupied by prairie dogs. However, it can only accommodate the relocation of about 40 acres of prairie dog colonies each year because of costs, contractor availability and permitting requirements.

Prairie dog relocations – including recent efforts to remove prairie dogs from development sites, city parks and OSMP agricultural lands – are logistically complicated and expensive as is finding suitable relocation sites. Many plant communities, such as xeric tallgrass prairie, and animal species like grasshopper sparrows do not thrive where there are active prairie dog colonies. This makes some grasslands poor choices for relocating prairie dogs. When planning relocations, OSMP also considers several factors in the city’s  Grassland Ecosystem Management Plan

Open space relocation sites must also meet standards to obtain a relocation permit from Colorado Parks and Wildlife. OSMP’s ability to relocate prairie dogs is further constrained by neighboring landowner concerns about relocating prairie dogs near their property, and a state law requiring county commissioner approval to receive prairie dogs from areas outside of their counties.

In spring 2019, the  Open Space Board of Trustees (OSBT) recommended and the  Boulder City Council directed the OSMP staff to: “Undertake an expedited public process to look at agricultural uses on the northern grasslands including factors affecting the ecological conditions of the land, high soil health, healthy agricultural uses, wildlife health, and other conditions.” In their motion, City Council stated that new land management tools could be considered, including key-lining, soil amendments, lethal control and other measures to achieve charter open space goals. As part of this effort, the city has been considered when, where and how lethal control of prairie dogs might be used to address this challenge.

Since receiving direction from elected and appointed city leaders in spring 2019, OSMP has been reviewing agriculture, prairie dog management, soil health and land restoration efforts on irrigated city open space lands. In fall 2019, OSMP  sought initial community input on managing prairie dogs in irrigated fields and improving agricultural soil health. OSMP used feedback it  received to develop a draft management approach , which the department released in January for public review and comment. The draft management approach included:

  • Non-lethal control measures the city currently prioritizes, such as relocations, as well as lethal-control options.
  • Ways to prevent prairie dogs from entering or returning to irrigable OSMP lands once removed.
  • Opportunities to restore lands that were occupied by a high abundance of prairie dogs.
  • Describing options to change city burrow damage and lethal control regulations for irrigable lands.

The department analyzed community feedback – along with input it received from a  Feb. 12, 2020Open Space Board of Trustees study session  (OSBT) – to develop a draft preferred alternative.  On March 11 , the OSBT reviewed and revised the draft preferred alternative before unanimously recommending it for consideration by the Boulder City Council. The Boulder City Council heard a  staff presentation and received public comment regarding this effort during a  public hearing on Tuesday, Aug. 11 .

Key management recommendations that Council considered during a  continued public hearing on  Tuesday, Sept. 1, 2020, included:

  • Meet with stakeholders, including neighboring property owners. 
  • Relocate prairie dogs from 30 to 40 acres of irrigated agricultural lands annually. 
  • Remove approximately 100-200 acres via lethal control annually. 
  • Allow agricultural activities that may damage prairie dog burrows. 
  • Restore soils and vegetation for irrigated agricultural use and carbon sequestration. 
  • Apply for a special permit for lethal control on irrigated agricultural lands. 
  • Establish a 100% removal goal within an irrigated agricultural field.
  • Install barriers where appropriate.
  • Work with tenants and neighbors to coordinate removals. 
  • Allow relocation of up to 20 individual prairie dogs from urban sites.

Additional Resources

  • Watch a video that highlights why the city began this effort and current agricultural and prairie management efforts.
  • Read about the value of  local agriculture and how preserving agricultural lands and their uses is a specific open space purpose. 
  • Learn more about   prairie dogs and their local importance.
  • Review prairie dog management  plans and policies .

Community Engagement Overview

Sept. 1, 2020, City Council meeting 

On  Tuesday, Sept. 1, 2020, the Boulder City Council accepted Open Space Board of Trustees (OSBT) recommendations for the management of OSMP irrigated agricultural fields occupied by prairie dogs, which include the following actions. The complete set of actions  can be read here .

Aug. 11, 2020, City Council meeting 

The Boulder City Council heard a  staff presentation and received public comment for an Open Space Board Trustees recommended preferred alternative on  Tuesday, Aug. 11 . City Council concluded the public comment portion of the public hearing and will continued their discussions on Tuesday, Sept. 1.

July 8, 2020 OSBT meeting

OSMP staff provided a project update to the OSBT during a virtual meeting on Wednesday, July 8. No public hearing was scheduled. Community members were invited to and did comment at the beginning of the meeting. 

  • View the meeting
  • Read  memo  the July 8 meeting. 
  • View the staff presentation pdf
  • OSMP staff also has received requests for information about the names of OSMP properties and the corresponding prairie dog management designations as described in the  Grassland Plan where irrigated agriculture and prairie dog occupancy overlap in the project area.  This document provides that information. 

April 23, 2020 Update: Extended engagement due to COVID-19 related delay in Expedted Process will close on April 30 and City Council calendar update

On March 31, City Council decided to delay the public hearing on the preferred alternative recommended by the OSBT due to the COVID19 emergency. As described in the April 17 update, given the unexpected extension in timing for this process, staff opened limited extended engagement with stakeholders. This extended engagement concluded on April 30. If you have any questions or comments, please email [email protected] by 5 p.m. on Thursday, April 30.  

Due to the COVID19 emergency response, City Council was in the process of refining its calendar of scheduled items. The expedited review of prairie dogs on irrigated land was not yet been rescheduled by council but was anticipated to be back on City Council’s calendar in August or September. 

April 17, 2020 Update: City staff continues engagement due to COVID-19 related delay in process

Due to the COVID19 pandemic, City Council decided on March 31 to delay reviewing prairie dogs on irrigated land until later this year. Given the unexpected extension in timing for this process, and in consultation with Open Space Board of Trustees (OSBT) members advising on process, staff has continued limited engagement with stakeholders and will reassess the original engagement plan that was designed for an “expedited process.”

In order to address questions about the OSBT’s recommendation to Council, staff held three virtual engagements using Microsoft Teams (a product like Zoom) with stakeholder groups that had reached out to staff with questions during this time. Please see below for meeting notes from each of the three calls:

If you have questions or comments related to these meeting notes, please email [email protected].

April 21,2020 Update: City Council Public Hearing Postponed

The Boulder City Council Agenda Committee determined that, in consideration priorities associated with responding to coronavirus/COVID-19, the public hearing for the Management Review of Irrigated OSMP Fields Occupied by Prairie Dogs would be postponed from April 21. 

March 11, 2020 OSBT Meeting

On March 11, the city’s Open Space Board of Trustees (OSBT) reviewed and revised staff’s preferred alternative before unanimously recommending OSBT’s preferred alternative to the Boulder City Council. The OSBT recommendation includes measures to manage irrigated fields, prairie dogs and soil health, including lethal control.

Monday, Jan. 6, 2020 through Sunday, Feb. 16. 2020

OSMP used community feedback from the first window to develop a  draft approach and an evaluation of potential actions to manage irrigable agricultural land with large populations of prairie dogs. The department requested community feedback on its proposed approach from Monday, Jan. 6 through 5 p.m., Sunday, Feb. 16. This community engagement window included an opportunity for the Open Space Board of Trustees to provide comment during a study session on Feb. 12. Evaluated actions included options for both non-lethal and lethal control measures.

Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2019, through Wednesday, Nov. 6., 2019

In October 2019, Open Space and Mountain Parks (OSMP) hosted  an open house where community members could learn about the challenges and share ideas on managing irrigated agricultural fields north of Jay Road currently occupied by extensive prairie dog populations. The department also invited comment through an online questionnaire.

Review documents detailing what OSMP heard from community members in fall 2019: 

The open house provided community members an opportunity to share their interests and ideas for this complex management topic and to learn about: 

  • Updates on ongoing prairie dog management and implementation of Prairie Dog Working Group recommendations.
  • ​Agricultural uses on the city’s northern open space lands and city efforts to preserve healthy and sustainable agricultural operations.
  • Challenges the city faces in managing prairie dogs in and around agricultural areas, especially when there is a high abundance of prairie dog colonies.

For more information on the open house you can:

Aug. 14, 2019 OSBT meeting

OSMP staff presented an update on the expedited community engagement process to the Open Space Board of Trustees.

June 12, 2019 OSBT meeting

The Open Space Board of Trustees (OSBT) supported staff’s recommended timeframe for an expedited community engagement process that will result in recommendations to alleviate conflicts between viable agricultural uses of OSMP and city prairie dog policies and practices. The proposed 11-month process was in response to OSBT and City Council motions directing OSMP to lead an expedited public process to look at the use of lethal control.

Presentation

May 7, 2019 City Council Meeting

The City Council also reviewed Prairie Dog Working Group recommendations and reviewed the OSBT recommendations. Open Space and Mountain Parks 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. As a first step in carrying out council directives, OSMP staff will work in partnership with the city’s Open Space Board of Trustees to develop an expedited process to consider possible new prairie dog and soil health management tools. Those can include key-line plowing, adding soil amendments, donating animals to endangered-species recovery programs for animals like the Black-footed ferret, and considering, in general when, where and how lethal control might be appropriate. 

May 7 Meeting Memo and Video

April 10 OSBT meeting

During a public hearing, the OSBT reviewed Prairie Dog Working Group suggestions and made three prairie dog management recommendations to City Council. One of those recommendations to City Council said:

“Prairie dog levels on numerous Open Space and Mountain Parks (OSMP) irrigated agricultural properties have created a conflict between the city prairie dog and agricultural policies and prevent OSMP from fully meeting Charter purposes. It is infeasible to address these problems only by non-lethal means in a timely fashion. Accordingly, we recommend commencing an expedited OSMP-led process, with appropriate outreach, to evaluate whether, where, and how to use lethal control to address these problems.”

April 10 Meeting Memo and Video

April 2019 Field Tours

Open Space and Mountain Parks (OSMP) is hosted two tours on OSMP lands on Tuesday, April 2, and Wednesday, April 17, 2019, to provide information on OSMP prairie dog management efforts and its relationship to ecosystems and agriculture management. The tours presented an opportunity for Boulder City Council and Open Space Board of Trustees (OSBT) members to view several properties and project sites in advance of their upcoming discussions of the staff analysis of Prairie Dog Working Group recommendations. Staff presented an analysis of the Prairie Dog Working Group Recommendations to the Open Space Board of Trustees at their monthly meeting on Wednesday, April 10. Learn more about the  Prairie Dog Working Group recommendations.

Tour Materials from the Public

Public comments submitted for Prairie Dog Management Tours pdf

Handouts from Community Members - Apr. 2 Tour pdf

Additional Tour Materials

Additional Tour Information pdf

Questions and Answers from the Apr. 2 and Apr. 17 Tours pdf

Tour option #1: Schedule
  • 1 p.m.: Leave OSMP Hub, 2520 55th St.
     
  • 1:15 p.m.: Arrive at Junction of Hwy 170 and South 66th St., 6600 Marshall Drive
     
  • 1:15 to 1:35 p.m.: Recent Prairie Dog Receiving Site
    • Observe and discuss recent relocation site 
    • Discuss receiving site infrastructure and logistics
       
  • 1:35 to 1:45 p.m.: Travel to 2300 South 66th St.
     
  • 1:45 to 2:05 p.m.: Overview of Southern Grassland large-habitat block 
    • View proposed receiving site near Marshall Lake 
    • Grassland Management Plan receiving site vegetation criteria 
    • Native grassland conservation
       
  • 2:05 to 2:35 p.m.: Travel to Left Hand Trailhead, 3850 Neva Road
     
  • 2:35 to 2:55 p.m.: Overview of prairie dog populations in northern Grassland Preserve
    • Discuss widespread occupation in northern grasslands 
    • Habitat model and habitat availability
    • Boulder Valley Ranch lease area and impacts to livestock grazing 
       
  • 2:55 to 3:05 p.m.: Travel to Eagle Trailhead, 5797 51st St.
     
  • 3:05 to 3:25 p.m.: Conflict with agricultural land
    • Impacts to OSMP leased land
    • Conflict with private agricultural lands
    • Recovery of irrigated agricultural lands 
       
  • 3:25 to 3:45 p.m.: Travel back to OSMP Hub, 2520 55th St.
     
  • 3:45 to 4 p.m.: Final thoughts and questions
Tour option #2: Schedule
  • 9 a.m.: Leave OSMP Hub, 2520 55th St.
     
  • 9:15 a.m.: Arrive at 2300 South 66th St.
     
  • 9:15-9:35 a.m: Overview of Southern Grassland large habitat block 
    • View proposed receiving site near Marshall Lake 
    • Grassland Management Plan receiving site vegetation criteria 
    • Native grassland conservation
       
  • 9:35 to 9:45 a.m: Travel to Junction of Hwy 170 and South 66th St., 6600 Marshall Drive
     
  • 9:45 to 10:05 a.m.: Recent Prairie Dog Receiving Site
    • Observe and discuss recent relocation site 
    • Discuss receiving site infrastructure and logistics
       
  • 10:05 to 10:35 a.m.: Travel to Left Hand Trailhead, 3850 Neva Road
     
  • 10:35 to 10:55 a.m.: Overview of Prairie Dog populations in northern Grassland Preserve
    • Discuss widespread occupation in northern grasslands 
    • Habitat model and habitat availability
    • Boulder Valley Ranch lease area and impacts to livestock grazing 
       
  • 10:55 to 11:05 a.m.: Travel to Eagle Trailhead, 5797 51st St.
     
  • 11:05 to 11:25 a.m.: Conflict with agricultural land
    • Impacts to OSMP leased land
    • Conflict with private agricultural lands
    • Recovery of irrigated agricultural lands 
       
  • 11:25 to 11:45 a.m.: Travel back to OSMP Hub, 2520 55th St.
     
  • 11:45 to Noon: Final thoughts and questions

Agricultural Resources Management Plan    

This plan, accepted by the City Council in 2017, seeks to decrease impacts to agricultural production from prairie dog occupation and to evaluate options to manage prairie dogs and agricultural conflicts better. Strategies available for implementation within the existing policy framework include:

  • Re-applying the prairie dog colony management area designation criteria to agricultural lands to help evaluate and prioritize properties for removal.
  • Identifying a process for rapid response restoration and recolonization prevention of agricultural properties when prairie dogs are removed, die off or are reduced in spatial extent.
  • Exploring changes to grazing regimes, vegetation restoration and non-native vegetation management techniques to encourage the faster recovery of vegetation in potential relocation sites.

LEARN MORE pdf  

OSMP Master Plan     

The OSMP Master Plan, accepted and adopted by the Boulder City Council in September 2019, has a Tier 1 strategy related to the management of agricultural lands occupied by prairie dogs. Tier 1 Master Plan strategies are those that the department will focus on first while scaling all other work to align with available funding. The strategy seeks to address conflicts between agriculture and prairie dogs to maintain the viability of agricultural operations by reducing impacts from prairie dogs on irrigated lands while supporting ecologically sustainable prairie dog populations across the larger landscape.

LEARN MORE pdf  

Wildlife Protection Ordinance    

This ordinance prohibits anyone from using lethal control measures for prairie dogs without first having obtained a lethal-control permit from the city. For a permit to be issued, the landowner must satisfactorily demonstrate that all non-lethal options for managing prairie dogs on a site were considered and were found not feasible. This municipal code applies to the city itself and all city lands even if they are owned in county jurisdiction. The ordinance also protects prairie dog burrows from damage.

Urban Wildlife Management Plan     

Wildlife in the Boulder city limits and along the urban interface sometimes conflict with human activities. This situation creates the need for a comprehensive, long-term plan to guide management of wildlife in Boulder's urban areas. The Boulder community, City Council, Environmental Advisory Board, and Parks and Recreation Advisory Board worked together to develop a Urban Wildlife Management Plan (UWMP) to help address concerns about bears,  pdf   bobcats, coyotes, pdf prairie dogs, pdf mountain lions pdf and other wildlife issues.

The purpose of the UWMP is to establish a set of policies and guidelines for managing wildlife pdf within Boulder. The intent of the plan is to integrate urban wildlife management in the Boulder Valley with the existing and emerging plans and policies of the Open Space and Mountain Parks (OSMP) Department.

The UWMP establishes a framework for making urban wildlife management decisions, provides direction on regulatory and program changes, and outlines a set of actions for long-term management of human-wildlife conflicts.