Letter to Council from Boulder County Audubon Society

(original letter in Adobe Acrobat PDF format)

February 5, 2010

To:  Longmont City Council
Parks, Recreation and Open Space Citizen Advisory Board
Gordon Pedrow, City Manager
Dale Rademacher, Executive Director of Public Works and Natural Resources
Don Bessler, Director of Parks, Open Space & Public Facilities
Dan Wolford, Manager Parks, Open Space & Forestry
Ken Huson, Water Resources Administrator

Dear Longmont City Council and Staff:

The Board of Directors of the Boulder County Audubon Society, representing approximately 1500 members in Boulder and adjacent counties, would like to offer comments concerning the proposed staging of the Heaven Fest religious/rock festival at Union Reservoir.

The wetlands, riparian woodlands, and grasslands surrounding Union Reservoir comprise one of the most productive habitats for nesting and migratory birds in eastern Colorado. More than 200 bird species have been observed at Union Reservoir (Boulder County Audubon Society 1979-2009), including a remarkable variety of waterfowl, wading birds, and shorebirds.

A total of 44 species of waterfowl and wading birds have been reported at the reservoir (Boulder County Audubon Society 1979-2009) including:

  1. Barrow’s goldeneye, eared grebe, and American bittern (all listed as rare and declining in Boulder County, Hallock and Jones 1999).
  2. Great egret and green heron (listed as isolated and restricted in Boulder County, Hallock and Jones 1999).
  3. Trumpeter swan, tundra swan, Ross’s goose, Eurasian wigeon, surf scoter, white-winged scoter, black scoter, Pacific loon, red-throated loon, yellow-billed loon, little blue heron, snowy egret, cattle egret, and glossy ibis (all considered rare in Boulder and western Weld counties).

A total of at least 26 shorebirds species were observed at the reservoir between 2001 and 2009 alone (Boulder County Audubon Society, 1979-2009), including the following locally rare species:

  1. Sanderling, black-bellied plover, snowy plover, black-necked stilt, whimbrel, long-billed curlew, Hudsonian godwit, willet, marbled godwit, pectoral sandpiper, and stilt sandpiper.

In addition, at least 20 raptor species have been observed at the reservoir (Boulder County Audubon Society 1979-2009, Hallock and Jones 1999) including:

  1. Bald eagle (state threatened)
  2. Northern harrier (Boulder County rare and declining)
  3. Ferruginous hawk (state special concern, Boulder County isolated and restricted)
  4. Golden eagle (Boulder County isolated and restricted)
  5. Peregrine falcon (state special concern, Boulder County isolated and restricted) Burrowing owl (state threatened, Boulder County rare and declining)
  6. Long-eared owl (Boulder County rare and declining).
  7. Burrowing owls have nested on the southeast side of the reservoir, near the proposed Heaven Fest site (Ruby Bowman, pers. comm.), and as many as 50 bald eagles have gathered on the southwest side of the reservoir during early spring (Boulder County Audubon Society 1979-2009; David Waltman, pers. comm.).

Such an important wildlife resource seems a particularly inappropriate place to stage a festival attended by 30,000 to 50,000 people, especially during a time when breeding birds are still feeding dependent young. While we are generally concerned that automobile traffic, fugitive dust, amplified noise levels, and foot traffic will disrupt feeding activities of breeding and migrating birds, we also have a number of specific concerns.

A.  The celebration could bring as many as 50,000 people into the Longmont district park on the south shore of Union Reservoir. These people would be walking through the riparian area south of the reservoir, probably using the beach and perhaps swimming, and also visiting food vendors and a small stage set up within the park. Cars would be parked in the parking lot, as well.

  1. Current City Ordinance 0-2000-41 addresses one of the functions of open space is the creation of district parks devoted to low impact recreation use.  The potential of 30,000 to 50,000 people gathering in a district park contradicts the concept of low impact use.
  2. What resource inventories are available for this park and the rest of the south shoreline of Union Reservoir? What monitoring protocols for wildlife and plant communities does Longmont Parks and Open Space envision before, during, and after the festival?
  3. What specific information is available about county, state, federal, and U.S. Forest Service species of special concern in this area and in adjacent areas to the south? These species would include but not be limited to Preble’s meadow jumping mouse, bald eagle, burrowing owl, eared grebe, and bobolink.
  4. What plans are there to inventory and protect bird nesting sites within the park before and during the festival?

B. Parking several thousand cars on a relatively steep and potentially erodible slope on the Water Department property south of the county road will likely destroy considerable plant cover and create vectors and habitat for invasive weeds, including knapweed, Canada thistle, and bindweed.

  1. What is the weed control plan for this site? What will be done to minimize impacts?
  2. How much of a bond is the city requesting from the festival organizers to potentially pay for re-vegetation of the site (realizing that removal of noxious weeds and reestablishment of native vegetation could take many years to complete)?
  3. What if it rains? The last weekend in July falls during the heart of the midsummer monsoon in eastern Colorado and is statistically one of the wettest times of the year.

C. Traffic impacts around the reservoir will include fugitive dust and potential crowding of vehicles along the northern shoreline.

  1. Will County Road 28 be closed to through traffic during the festival? Will Road 5 also be closed to through traffic?
  2. What procedures will be in place to minimize traffic jams on other county roads before, during, and after the festival?

D. General impacts on bird species nesting at Union Reservoir.

  1. Has the city completed or will it complete an inventory of nesting birds at Union Reservoir so that we will know which species rely on the southern shoreline for foraging or roosting during late July?
  2. Will the city take steps to ensure that critical nesting habitat on the western and northern shoreline are protected from disturbance by festival participants?

Boulder County Audubon has 30 years of data on bird populations at Union Reservoir and will gladly share that information and our expertise on breeding and migratory bird habitat protection with the City of Longmont.

Thank you for reviewing and responding to our concerns.

Sincerely,

Christopher Abrahamson

Boulder County Audubon Society

Literature Cited

Boulder County Audubon Society. 1979-2009. Monthly wildlife inventories. www.boulderaudubon.org

Hallock, Dave, and Stephen Jones. 1999. Boulder County avian species of special concern list. Boulder County nature Association. www.bcna.org.

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