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Expedited Review of Prairie Dogs in Irrigated Lands

Tell us your interest and ideas

Visit our BeHeard Boulder page to share your input on how to address conflicts where irrigated agricultural fields are occupied by high numbers of prairie dogs. The deadline for public comment has been extended to midnight, Wednesday, Nov. 13. Your input will help Open Space and Mountain Parks to develop draft management recommendations that the department will present to the public in January.

Expedited review of prairie dogs in irrigated lands

The City of Boulder has begun an expedited review of how it manages irrigated agricultural fields and prairie dogs later this month and will seek input on ways it can foster healthy soils and promote sustainable agricultural land uses. The preservation of agricultural uses and lands suitable for agricultural production is a specific open space purpose in the city charter.

  • View a a map of the project area pdf.
  • 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 and efforts to preserve agricultural uses and lands suitable for agricultural production.

OSMP recently held an open house to inform community members about this topic.

Community members may share their comments through an online questionnaire that will be available on this page from Wednesday, Oct. 23, through midnight, Wednesday, Nov. 13. Visit our BeHeard Boulder page to share your input on how to address conflicts where irrigated agricultural fields are occupied by high numbers of prairie dogs.

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Why is OSMP undertaking this expedited review?

Prairie dogs are essential to maintaining healthy, functioning ecosystems on natural lands owned and managed by the City of Boulder. Current open space plans, including the recently approved OSMP Master Plan pdf, seek 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. Recent and abundant expansion of prairie dogs into city open space irrigated fields have:

  • Highlighted a conflict between city prairie dog management practices, which have prioritized non-lethal control measures, and viable open space agricultural operations.
  • Caused 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 lands represent the best opportunity for soil-based carbon capture on city open space lands.

OSMP currently has more than 1,050 acres of irrigable agricultural land that overlaps with prairie occupation and, in areas north of Boulder, prairie dogs occupy the majority of irrigated fields. Current wildlife monitoring has indicated that some OSMP irrigated agricultural lands have the highest levels of prairie dog occupation since the department began mapping prairie dog colonies in 1996.

Given cost, time, contractor availability and permitting requirements, past relocation projects have only been able to accommodate the removal of up to 70 acres of prairie dog colonies each year. Recently, the Boulder City Council and the Open Space Board of Trustees 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. 

City Council also provided direction to help the city achieve its agricultural open space purposes in the city charter by identifying potential management actions, such as conducting key-line plowing and adding soil amendments. The city also will consider when, where and how lethal control of prairie dogs might be used to address this challenge. View a a map of the project area pdf.

Next steps

OSMP staff will consider community feedback from the open house, along with online input, to develop draft management recommendations that the department will present to the public in January. Community input on those initial staff recommendations will help OSMP to refine them further. These recommendations are expected to be presented to the city’s OSBT in March of next year.

Recent community engagement and City Council and OSBT meetings

Oct. 23, 2019 Open house

OSMP held an open house on Wednesday, Oct. 23, to provide 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. These updates will begin about 5:30 p.m.
  • ​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.

View meeting presentations pdf and posters pdf or listen to an audio recording mp3 of the meeting. Review a presentation of  prairie dog management updates pdf.

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.


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

Send an email

Community members may send an email to OSMP staff at [email protected].