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Prairie Dogs

Prairie Dogs in a field

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. City efforts to conserve protected areas of grassland habitats and prairie dog colonies have played an important role in making the city’s natural lands one of the best city-managed open space habitats in Colorado for nesting birds of prey and other wildlife species.

However, prairie dogs can create land management challenges – both inside the City of Boulder and on its open space lands. Development proposals in Boulder and city infrastructure needs – such as the need to remove prairie dogs colonies from park areas – have led to the relocation of prairie dogs to city open space. High levels of prairie dog occupation on city open space can also lead to land-management challenges and make it difficult for the city fulfill open space purposes in the Boulder City Charter, such as preserving agricultural uses of the land and preserving lands suitable for agricultural production. Prairie dog occupation can also conflict with city grassland ecosystem conservation goals.

The City of Boulder uses the Wildlife Protection Ordinance pdf, Urban Wildlife Management Plan (UWMP) and the Grassland Ecosystem Management Plan to provide guidance for how to manage prairie dog colonies in the city and on city open space.  These documents identify the opportunities for prairie dog conservation and how to manage areas where the presence of prairie dogs conflict with other land uses. The City of Boulder appreciates the service of the Prairie Dog Working Group (PDWG) – made up of 12 community members representing a variety of viewpoints – for reviewing the city's current prairie dog management practices and making recommendations to help manage prairie dog colonies and habitats on city-managed public land.   

Prairie Dog Management Updates

Council discussed advisory group’s recommendations on May 7

City of Boulder Open Space and Mountain Parks recently received direction from the Boulder City Council 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. 

Recent City Council and advisory board meetings

Meeting Videos

Meeting Memos

"Hotline": Staff answers to City Council questions regarding prairie dog management 

City of Boulder staff have provided City Council members with prairie dog information through several recent "Hotline" emails. Recent answers to City Council questions are available in the PDFs below:

Sign up to receive Hotline emails.

Why is it important to help safeguard and protect prairie dogs

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. City efforts to conserve protected areas of grassland habitats and prairie dog colonies have played an important role in making the city’s open space and its natural areas some of the best areas in Colorado for nesting birds of prey and other wildlife species, such as burrowing owls, which live in prairie dog burrows.

How does the City of Boulder manage prairie dogs

City plans and policies – including the Wildlife Protection Ordinance, the Urban Wildlife Management Plan and Open Space and Mountain Parks’ Grassland Ecosystem Management Plan – strive to strike a balance between protecting and maintaining healthy, thriving prairie dog populations and protecting natural communities and other land uses that do not thrive with prairie dog occupation.

  • Wildlife Protection Ordinance pdf : 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.
  • Urban Wildlife Management Plan (UWMP) : It establishes a framework for making urban wildlife management decisions, and outlines a set of actions for long-term management of human-wildlife conflicts. It emphasizes humane, non-lethal control of prairie dogs whenever feasible.
  • Grassland Ecosystem Management Plan : It provides a framework to conserve grasslands and prairie dogs and their associates by establishing criteria to guide relocation of prairie dogs to, from, and within the City of Boulder Open Space and Mountain Parks (OSMP) system. It also defines land management designations and applies them to every prairie dog colony mapped on OSMP lands and addresses sustainable agricultural operations.

What is the Prairie Dog Working Group?

The City of Boulder's current prairie dog management practices affect numerous stakeholders who are concerned about a wide variety of impacts including those to prairie dogs, grassland ecosystems, human health, and private and public lands. At the Aug. 16, 2016, City Council meeting, council members suggested the city form a working group that could suggest, based on a broad understanding of the full range of community perspectives, prairie dog management practices. Learn more about this Prairie Dog Working Group. Learn more about the Prairie Dog Working Group.

The City of Boulder formed the Prairie Dog Working Group (PDWG) in 2016 including 12 community members representing a variety of viewpoints and five staff members from OSMP, Parks and Recreation (P&R) and Planning. The working group completed their work and presented the resulting recommendations to the City Manager in two phases – the first was completed in 2017 and the second in 2018.

Outcomes from the PDWG were presented to Open Space Board of Trustees (OSBT), the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board (PRAB) and the Environmental Advisory Board (EAB) in August 2018. Following these meetings with the three relevant boards, staff performed further initial analysis of the recommendations and presented their findings to the City Council at a study session on Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2018.

City staff presented a new set of staff analysis of a subset of Prairie Dog Working Group recommendations to the OSBT on Wednesday, April 10, PRAB on Monday, April 22, and EAB on Wednesday, May 1. All boards supported a staff recommendation to implement the advisory working group's prairie dog management proposals. The OSBT also offered three of their own prairie dog management recommendations.

City of Boulder staff will present suggestions for how the city can implement Prairie Dog Working Group recommendations to the Boulder City Council on Tuesday, May 7. A staff memo pdf  for the City Council meeting will include City of Boulder Open Space Board of Trustees’ recommendations pdf from the April 10 public hearing, along with recent input from the city’s Parks and Recreation Advisory Board.

What land management challenges can occur with prairie dog occupation?

Currently, prairie dog occupation is at a high level across the northern portion of the OSMP system and has created conflicts with the use and management of irrigated agricultural lands. The city has more than 1,052 acres of irrigable agricultural land that overlaps with prairie dog occupation. Prairie dog occupation in irrigated agricultural fields can reduce crop production and may impact the efficient use and value of city water rights. Prairie dog presence at high levels in grasslands can also lead to areas of bare ground and negatively impact native plants. Neighbors to city lands also have reported increased costs to control prairie dog encroachment onto their properties.

Does the City of Boulder relocate prairie dogs?

Yes. From time to time, the City of Boulder supervises and/or manages the relocation of prairie dog colonies to Open Space and Mountain Parks-managed areas where they can support intact grassland ecosystems and where they are not in conflict with other land management goals. Goals for prairie dog relocations to city open space include:

  • Ensuring humane treatment of and conditions for prairie dogs;
  • Minimizing disturbances to grassland ecosystems to the extent possible;
  • Reimbursing the public for costs associated with the relocation of prairie dogs from private property; and
  • Addressing conflicts between prairie dogs and other city goals and objectives on city-owned properties.

In all relocation efforts, city staff obtains necessary state permitting to allow a project to go forward. Staff also supervises relocations to ensure that all city regulations and state permitting requirements are being followed. In most cases, the actual work of relocating prairie dogs from a removal site to city open space will be done by contractors. Staff works with contractors to ensure that their relocation methodologies follow the requirements of the city for humane relocation and meet the objectives of relocation projects.

In 2002, the City of Boulder developed a set of procedures that outline how the city will handle activities involving prairie dog relocation from private land within the city onto city-managed land. These procedures also identify how the city handles relocating prairie dogs from city property to other city lands. That document mandates that all costs associated with the relocation of prairie dogs shall be the responsibility of the landowner of the removal site, either a private property owner or the respective city department.

What are some of the challenges associated with relocating prairie dogs to open space?

Finding sufficient relocation sites to address the need is an ongoing challenge because active prairie dog colonies can conflict with city open space charter purposes, such as preserving the area’s agricultural uses by, for example, disrupting irrigation systems. Prairie dogs, in some cases, also can conflict with other city grassland conservation goals.

Prairie dog colonies are an important part of many functioning grassland ecosystems,  although some plant communities like mesic tallgrass and animal species – such as grasshopper sparrows – cannot thrive in areas where there are active prairie dog colonies. At the same time, prospective open space relocation sites must also meet specific standards to obtain a relocation permit from the Colorado Parks and Wildlife. The ability to relocate is also constrained by public concerns about relocating prairie dogs near their property, and by regulations that make it difficult to move prairie dogs to optimal, available sites outside of the county.

What are the current city resource allocations for prairie dog management?

Prairie dog management and conservation have been the focus of city and community attention for decades. Currently, the Parks and Recreation, Open Space and Mountain Parks, and Planning departments are primarily involved in the management of prairie dogs and conservation of prairie dog and associated species communities.

OSMP manages over 25,000 acres of grassland, agriculture and associated habitats. Within this, a subset is suitable habitat for prairie dogs and up to 6,775 acres have had prairie dogs. Currently (2018 mapping), OSMP has 4,153 acres of active prairie dog colonies. Annually, OSMP spends approximately 1.72 FTE and $10,000-$150,000.

P&R manages approximately 450 acres of occupied prairie dog colonies, of which approximately 250 occur on natural lands designated for grassland conservation and 200 which exist on properties with planned future park development. P&R allocates 0.6 FTE and between $10,000-$150,000 annually on prairie dog related management.

The Planning department does not manage any City lands with prairie dogs but is responsible for implementing citywide prairie dog policies and the Urban Wildlife Protection Ordinance as it relates to prairie dog management on City lands and private lands within the city. Staff spend approximately $6,500 and 0.3 FTE annually on prairie dog related management.

How much open space acreage is currently available to relocate prairie dogs?

The City of Boulder has a site on open space land that is 175 acres in size available for prairie dog relocations. The site is an area where prairie dog occupation previously existed and where grassland communities are sufficiently robust to support prairie dogs. This relocation area is suitable as it will not conflict with other open space purposes – including preserving fragile grassland ecosystems, rare plant species or communities, or open space’s agricultural uses and agricultural production on the land. In 2019, staff plans to relocate prairie dogs from conflict areas on open space irrigable agricultural properties to this site in the Southern Grasslands.

What have been some of the most recent relocation efforts?

In 2018, 349 prairie dogs were relocated from OSMP’s NU West-North irrigated agricultural property to a receiving site in the Southern Grasslands. An additional 15 animals were relocated from west of the Foothills Community Park in an ongoing project in partnership with the Parks and Recreation Department.

Is there a recommendation to explore the use of lethal control?

During the April 10, 2019, public hearing, the OSBT  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.” Watch a video of the public hearing.

Information on prairie dog management tours hosted by OSMP

OSMP hosted two tours on OSMP lands in April 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 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. 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