Boulder wrapping up a year of prairie dog relocation efforts

Before loading cages of prairie dogs onto the back of a truck, Lindsey Sterling Krank and Jenny Bryant shared a high-five.

Their work on Friday resulted in a new home for 15 prairie dogs who live on the Nu West South location, irrigated agricultural land southwest of Boulder Reservoir managed by Boulder Open Space and Mountain Parks. Double digits are a reason to celebrate in your world.

Jenny Bryant, right, senior field engineer for prairie dog conflict resolution for the Humane Society of the United States, hands a jammed prairie dog to field engineer Lucia Martinez while program director Lindsey Sterling Krank loads it onto the back of a pickup truck during a relocation project on Friday at the Nu West location South. (Matthew Jonas / employee photographer)

Sterling Krank and Bryant work with the Humane Society of the United States, which is responsible for relocating prairie dogs from irrigated farmland within the city.

Work began earlier this year, with a plan in motion when Boulder City Council agreed in September 2020 to expand the mitigation of deadly and non-fatal prairie dogs on Open Space and Mountain Parks-managed land north of Jay Road and west of Diagonal.

Prairie dogs are a key species that many depend on for survival – either using prairie dogs as a source of prey or 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.

With ordinances in place to protect structures that prevented agricultural activity, the decision was made through an expedited review process last year, said Victoria Poulton, a prairie dog protection and management coordinator at Boulder OSMP.

A prairie peers out of a trap on Friday at the Nu West South site, an irrigated agricultural land in Boulder County. (Matthew Jonas / employee photographer)

According to previous Camera reports, the plan was to remove 900 to 1,200 prairie dogs each year through resettlement and 3,000 to 6,000 prairie dogs each year through “humane lethal control under construction” that uses carbon monoxide. It also called for the installation of barrier fences, the initiation of soil remediation and the resumption of agricultural activities that could damage the caves.

In terms of acreage, this equates to around 30-40 hectares per year earmarked for relocation and 100-200 hectares exposed to deadly control. The city takes a number of factors into account in determining what will happen on a given property.

“We choose packages on a case-by-case basis based on the level of conflict,” said Poulton. “But we also consider all other wildlife concerns: if there are sensitive species or raptor nests in the area that may depend on that colony as a source of prey.”

The prairie dogs are being relocated to the southern grasslands because the prairie dog population in that area is relatively low, largely due to forest plague, Poulton confirmed.

Lindsey Sterling Krank, prairie dog conflict resolution program director for the Humane Society of the United States, discovers a trap location on a prairie dog cage while she is working on a relocation program Friday. (Matthew Jonas / employee photographer)

After the city council approved the new mitigation plan, Boulder went through a bid process that selected the U.S. Humane Society to lead the relocation effort, largely because of their willingness to do so at a lower cost. The city is signing about $ 53,000 with HSUS for a project that would typically cost more than $ 100,000, Poulton said.

That’s because the Humane Society can use grants and donations to help cover costs, Sterling Krank noted. They hope this will allow the city to non-lethally control additional prairie dog colonies.

“Our response to this was to work with the city and see if we can maximize non-fatal management by providing additional resources and moving at a discounted rate and training more people to do translocations in both the community and professional fields . ”Said Sterling Krank.

The work includes setting traps on the irrigated agricultural land where prairie dogs live. The animals are attracted with food and are not injured when the trap is closed. The team later collects the traps, covers them with blankets and takes the prairie dogs to their new homes. Since the collection was on Friday at sunset, Sterling Krank kept the prairie dogs overnight and released them over the weekend.

Friday marked the end of the first year of work for Sterling Krank and her team. The latest effort saved more than 500 prairie dogs.

“It’s very, very rewarding,” said Bryant, a senior field technician.

As the prairie dog conflict resolution program director with the Humane Society, Sterling Krank said this underscores her urge to train new people for the job.

“We are training these people here in the hope that next year we can run more coexistence clinics and use our relocation project as a place to show what a high quality translocation looks like – with minimal land impact and maximum benefit for the prairie dogs “, she said.