Boulder County OK’s lifting seasonal moratorium on lethal prairie dog control – Boulder Daily Camera

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Boulder County commissioners agreed Thursday to lift a seasonal moratorium on lethal prairie dog control in an attempt to better address burgeoning prairie dog colonies on agricultural lands.

The moratorium prohibited extermination on open space land designated as not suitable for prairie dogs from March 1 to May 31, which is their breeding season. Lifting the moratorium allows the county to use direct lethal control at any time, but still only those designated spaces.

“Our focus is solely on these no-prairie-dog lands,” said Mike Foster, agricultural resources manager.

He said not using lethal control during breeding season means the open space staff must contend with up to four times more prairie dogs, plus the juveniles pushed out of the burrows recolonizing cleared areas. Lethal methods should get colonies under better control so there’s less need for extermination in the future, he added.

“We are literally fighting an uphill battle with the prairie dogs and how quickly they can recolonize an area we have cleared,” he said.

Commissioners said they liked that getting the prairie dog populations under control on agricultural lands would make it easier for farmers leasing the land, as well as make the county better neighbors to those with adjacent properties.

“Staff has made a very good case for eliminating the moratorium,” Commissioner Claire Levy said.

They also praised the goal of reducing the need for extermination in the future.

“What was persuasive to me is doing this we will actually end up having less lethal control of prairie dogs,” Commissioner Matt Jones said.

The county’s prairie dog management plan, first approved in 1999, designates areas within the county open space system into three categories: habitat conservation areas, which are suitable prairie dog habitats; multiple objective areas, which can support prairie dogs as well as other activities such as trails or grazing; and “no prairie dog areas,” which have been deemed inappropriate for prairie dogs by virtue of their land uses. Namely, no prairie dogs areas are those where agricultural operations take place.

Issues created by colonies on mainly agricultural lands include denuding grasses and other vegetation, allowing for erosion of the top soil, Foster said. Another concern is the risk of livestock injury from stepping in burrows.

The county has designated about 17,000 acres of open space as of no prairie dog lands. About 768 of those acres have prairie dogs living there, or about 4% of the total. The county budgets about $225,000 annually for prairie dog control on those lands, or about 20% of the total revenue the county receives from its agricultural leases.

Along with lethal removal using carbon monoxide, the county uses fencing and trapping to control its prairie dog populations.

One example given to illustrate the challenges was the area east of Lagerman Reservoir, which was almost cleared of prairie dog colonies in 2018, county officials said. Two years later, the area was recolonized, and the county has since struggled to reduce the number of colonies.

About a dozen people spoke during a public hearing on the change.

Several shared concerns that allowing lethal control at all times could reduce a food source for predators, especially birds of prey. A specific area of ​​concern is Stearns Lake, a nesting site for eagles on the Rock Creek Farm property. Foster responded that lethal control won’t be used during nesting season, adding there is a colony on land to the south that’s designated as suitable for prairie dogs.

Christel Markevich, of Nederland, said she would prefer barriers to lethal methods and suggested using controlled burns to make prairie dog suitable properties more attractive.

“We need to be creative,” she said.

Others, including farmers and neighbors of properties with prairie dogs colonies despite a no-prairie-dog designation, said it’s expensive and time consuming to keep prairie dogs off their properties.

“No prairie dogs means no prairie dogs,” said Suzanne Webel of Longmont, whose farm is near an open space property. “The prairie dogs are out of control. We can watch them marching up the road to get to our farms.”

Paula Shuler, who lives in unincorporated Boulder County, said removing the moratorium would be more efficient and cost effective, freeing up money for the county to invest in soil health and other improvements.

“Removing the moratorium only makes sense,” she said.