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Expedited Review of Prairie Dogs in Irrigated Lands

Update (January 6, 2020): Share input on draft approach and evaluation of potential actions

Open Space and Mountain Parks (OSMP) is seeking public feedback on a draft approach and an evaluation of potential actions pdf to manage irrigable agricultural land with large populations of prairie dogs. Share your feedback.

Share your input 

OSMP’s identification of a draft approach and its evaluation of potential actions is a response to direction from the Boulder City Council, following a recommendation from the Open Space Board of Trustees (OSBT) last spring, and uses community input the department received this fall.  Proposed recommendations include options for both non-lethal and lethal control measures.

  • Community members are invited to the OSMP Hub at 2520 55th  St. from 5 to 7 p.m. on  Monday, Jan. 27, and 2 to 4 p.m., Tuesday, Feb. 4, if they need assistance in using the city’s on-line input tool. 
  • Comments received through  Tuesday, Feb. 4, will be provided to the Open Space Board of Trustees (OSBT) in advance of a study session on  Wednesday, Feb. 12, when board members will discuss staff’s preliminary management recommendations. Community members are invited to provide comments to the OSBT during a public comment period before the Wednesday, Feb. 12, study session. 
  • Staff will then use community input and OSBT feedback to develop final recommendations, which the department expects to present to the OSBT during a public hearing in March.  

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 and is seeking 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 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.

Draft approach and summary of evaluated actions

The preliminary potential management  actions evaluated as part of this public process focus on the management categories below. The full set of non-lethal removal methods, along with staff's evaluation of these methods, is available in APPENDIX A: Description and Evaluation of Potential Actions. 

  • Removal: I t includes actions for non-lethal control measures the city currently prioritizes, such as relocations, as well as lethal control options.
    • Non-lethal control measures include contraceptives to limit population growth, trapping and relocating prairie dogs and conducting passive relocation, which encourages prairie dogs to leave their burrows at the expanding edge of a colony and directs them away from areas of potential conflict by blocking re-entry to burrows. 
    • Lethal control measures may include using carbon dioxide and/or pressurized exhaust in burrows, trapping prairie dogs and donating them to black-footed ferret facilities, introducing black-footed ferrets on open space lands and limiting the use of anti-plague vaccines. ​
       
  • Exclusion: It includes actions to prevent prairie dogs from entering or returning to irrigable OSMP lands. They include fabric, metal and wire mesh barriers or native plantings. 
     
  • Restoration:  It includes actions to restore lands that were occupied by a high abundance of prairie dogs. They include closing vacant burrows, irrigating lands, performing carbon sequestration and soil health techniques to improve land fertility and revegetating disturbed areas. 
     
  • Potential plan and policy changes: It includes consideration of changing OSMP agricultural agreements with farmers and ranchers, modifying city regulations to allow burrow destruction from normal agricultural activities on irrigable lands and modifying lethal control regulations for irrigable lands. 

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, 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. 

However, 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. This 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.

In spring 2019, the Open Space Board of Trustees (OSBT) recommended and 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 can 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 will consider when, where and how lethal control of prairie dogs might be used to address this challenge.

Elected and appointed leaders, in their direction to city staff, 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. Currently, the city has 967 acres of irrigable agricultural land that is occupied by prairie dogs, but it can only accommodate the relocation of about 40 acres of prairie dog colonies each year because of costs, contractor availability and permitting requirements. 

City Council, Open Space Board of Trustees and Community Engagement Overview 

Engagement Window #1 Summaries

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

  • Read a summary of community input from this process’ first engagement window. OSMP used community input to develop the draft approach and an evaluation of potential actions.
  • Review online responses OSMP received. 

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.

For more information on this meeting, 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

 


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