Boulder continues efforts to keep prairie dogs in city-managed free fields.
In a plan initiated by Boulder City Council in September 2020, Boulder expanded deadly and non-fatal prairie dog mitigation to irrigated agricultural land managed by Open Space and Mountain Parks north of Jay Road and west of Diagonal.
This plan calls for the relocation of 30 to 40 hectares of prairie dog colonies per year, while 100 to 200 hectares of colonies will be killed by “human lethal control under construction” using carbon monoxide. It also enables barriers and soil remediation, as well as the resumption of agricultural activities that could damage the construction.
All in all, the city is on track with the plan.
In Monday’s Boulder Open Space and Mountain Parks Prairie Dogs Annual Update, Andy Pelster, agricultural administration supervisor, said the city had applied deadly control to 96 acres this year while relocating animals from 46 acres.
She was able to save a small colony because the city signed a contract with the Humane Society of the United States, a nonprofit that can use grants and donations to add to the cost of its work.
For example, it paid HSUS about $ 53,000 for a project that would typically cost more than $ 100,000, according to Victoria Poulton, a coordinator for the city’s prairie dog protection and management.
Next year the city plans to relocate a colony that is mapped to about 36.5 acres, though it expects the colony will grow to nearly 40 by the time the move is made. City officials said Tuesday that they forecast deadly control will be deployed on 124 acres in 2022.
Prairie dogs are a key species that many other species rely on for survival – either by using prairie dogs as a source of prey or by using their burrows as shelter. However, the animals are also known to invade agricultural land, sometimes compromising soil health, and rendering land unusable for farmers and ranchers. This dichotomy often creates tension in the community.
Since Monday’s update was hosted virtually, people were able to use Zoom’s question-and-answer facility to ask questions, but there was no way to provide general feedback.
“It looks like a large number of prairie dogs have been relocated to (the) southern grasslands in the last year,” asked Karen Hollweg, wondering whether additional reception sites would be identified when the current ones are full.
The southern grassland south of Boulder along Colo 128 is approximately 5% occupied, despite a target occupation of approximately 10 to 26%, noted Poulton. This is one reason the city decided to relocate prairie dogs there, and Poulton said the site should be available for a few more years.
“But that still depends on the suitability of the locations,” she said. “Our assessment of the admission places is based on the fact that there is obviously space and not many prairie dogs there. But we also do a rather complicated assessment of the vegetation to ensure that it is in a condition that is resilient for the prairie dogs that live there. “
Another person questioned the safety of resettling prairie dogs and asked what percentage of prairie dogs survive when moved to a new location.
While Poulton said the city isn’t tracking death rates from moving house, staff continue to monitor the locations. According to Poulton, relocation locations are thriving and expanding from the past few years.
“We use man-made burrows that have been shown to improve retention and survival of prairie dogs,” she said. “And our relocators spend a lot of time and effort … identifying and mapping the coteries, the prairie dog family units.”
This is important because the animals are better off in a family unit and the males in particular will fight when they are moved to a new location with unknown males.
The city provides a link to the meeting as well as information material and all questions and answers online at bit.ly/3IXNKLg. Until January 7, the company will be receiving feedback on its plans for 2022 via firstname.lastname@example.org.
This feedback will be collected and a final management plan for 2022 will be presented to the Open Space Board of Trustees on February 9th, with an update from the City Council to follow in March.