Ruby Bowman

Will humanity be humane to prairie dogs?

The following address was given to the Boulder County Parks and Open Space Advisory Board.

I thank you for providing this time to address the committee about the County’s prairie dog management plan. There are a few more things I believe should be included in this management plan before it goes to the commissioners.

First, (1) the County should develop and implement an online public notification and comment process for all fumigation and trapping/donation proposals prior to implementation on county open space. Having such a process will encourage greater transparency and accountability in the county’s decision-making process concerning the killing of our prairie dogs. As it stands now, county lethal control data is released months or a year after lethal management has occurred. The public has no say in the matter; the citizens who care about our wildlife are shut out of the decision-making process of how our wildlife will be treated and open space money will be spent. Longmont has an online notification/comment process. Why can’t Boulder County do the same?

2. Utilize artificial burrows for relocation. The policy in the draft plan states only existing burrows will be used at a relocation receiving site. This will severely limit the County’s options on where it can relocate prairie dogs.

3. Utilize only non-lethal management controls in Habitat Conservation Areas.

4. Increase the acreage of suitable prairie dog habitat on HCAs through the county’s land acquisition program.

5. Review the management plan every three years not ten.

Before I get to my remaining recommendations, I have a story I would like to share with you. A couple of years ago my husband Chris and I passively relocated prairie dogs at Quail Campus in Longmont. While working the site, I often saw children, who lived nearby, ride their bikes at Quail and along the Lefthand and St. Vrain Greenways. One evening as I was checking burrows, three young boys, aged 9 to 11 years old, stopped by where I was working and asked me why were all the prairie dogs dying. They told me of a place where they saw dead prairie dogs with a skull and crossbones sign posted. I knew they were talking about a fumigation site. I explained to them what happens to prairie dogs when they are poisoned with aluminum phosphide. I told them to stay out of the area because it was very dangerous.

We are sending the wrong message to our children every time we kill prairie dogs to get them out of the way because of development, landscaping, farming or because we just don’t like them. We are teaching our children it’s alright to torture wildlife with poisons because it is a quick way to get rid of them.

I often wonder about those young children and how that particular event, as well as all the other poisonings that occur in Boulder County, may shape their perspective in life. When they grow up, will they be ones who consider prairie dogs as vermin or prairie rats; or will they have respect for our wildlife and one day stand at this podium and tell you to stop killing our prairie dogs and treat them humanely.

Boulder County should lead by example. I truly believe this; that’s why I am recommending (6) inclusion of a management procedure that prioritizes non-lethal management as the first option. Additionally, (7) the county should provide a training course on non-lethal management to agricultural leaseholders. I attended several of the Cropland Policy meetings. At the joint meeting, POSAC had to choose between two words to include in a policy statement, “discourage” or “eliminate.” POSAC chose “discourage.” The policy statement reads: “Priority shall be given to discouraging prairie dogs from occupying cropland.” To me, this means non-lethal management.

And finally, (8) as the last resort, utilize “humane” fumigation instead of poisoning with aluminum phosphide. There are effective humane methods of fumigating prairie dogs. Try pressurized carbon monoxide.

As of June 17th, the County received approximately 300 comments from citizens stating their support for “non-lethal” management controls as the first management option. Prior to that, 1500 comments were received in support of the Rabbit Mountain relocation. Parks and Open Space staff wrote in its relocation application to the Colorado Parks and Wildlife division that the comments “show broad community support for relocation as an alternative to lethal control in Boulder County.”

I ask you: how many times do we have to tell Boulder County we want our prairie dogs to be managed humanely and with non-lethal methods?

Destruction of prairie dogs may seem to be a relatively simple management option. It is the approach that has been used most often by default in Boulder County and this part of the country. In the long run, though, elimination of our prairie dogs will only be detrimental to other wildlife that depend on them and the ecosystem they inhabit. The prairie dog is not a limitless resource; and misperceptions that it is, must change, if it is to survive as a species.

Prairie Dog Chat

Have you ever walked by a prairie dog colony and a prairie dog began to chirp and cheep the moment it saw you.  Have you ever wondered what the prairie dog was saying?  Apparently the prairie dog is talking to his coterie friends in their own special language.

Dr. Con Slobodchikoff of Northern Arizona University has done extensive research on the vocalizations of the Gunnison’s prairie dog and has conducted basic research on the other four species.  What he has discovered is the prairie dog has “the most complex natural language that has been decoded so far,” more sophisticated than communication systems of monkeys and dolphins.

Dr. Slobodchikoff has identified about 100 sounds, or prairie dog words.  Many of these words identify predators, such as coyote, badger, red-tailed hawk, as well as colors and objects.  In field experiments, Dr. Slobodchikoff has shown prairie dogs can describe the size and shape of a human and the color of his clothing: “tall human in blue.”  Remarkably, prairie dogs can even coin new words for things they have never seen before.  Take a look at this video produced by Sandy Nervig of Growing Ideas to learn more about prairie dog language:

Another form of prairie dog vocalization is social chatter.  The significance of this type vocalization is not well understood. Scientists have not been able to decode its meaning because no observable prairie dog behavioral changes take place in correlation to the chatter. Therefore, it cannot be put into a context for decoding.  A prairie dog can start a round of chattering; and, in turn, another prairie dog may respond to it with its chattering vocalization.  But the significance of this social chatter remains a mystery.  Growing Ideas video:

So next time you get the urge to “commune with nature,” go to a prairie dog colony.  You just may get an earful and may be surprised by how much in common human beings have with these burrowing creatures.

 

Where have all the prairie dogs gone?

Black-tailed Prairie Dog

Black-tailed Prairie Dog (courtesy of Wikipedia)

The Colorado Parks and Wildlife Division has approved Boulder County’s permit application for the Rabbit Mountain Open Space prairie dog relocation.  Starting on July 1st, black-tailed prairie dogs will be live-trapped at the Alexander Dawson county property near Boulder Creek and released to their new home at Rabbit Mountain Open Space in north Boulder County.  The prairie dog relocation is necessary because the Army Corps of Engineers and Boulder County Parks and Open Space will be doing major stream re-alignment work in the area and the prairie dogs in question would be impacted by earthmoving operations.

I applaud Boulder County’s effort to preserve prairie dogs at the Alexander Dawson property.  The black-tailed prairie dog is a keystone species and a Colorado species of special concern and deserves this type of protection.  While the county should be commended for its conservation effort, the Rabbit Mountain relocation is certainly way overdue. It has been 10 years since the county conducted its last prairie dog relocation.  During that time, Boulder County has been relying exclusively on lethal control to manage prairie dogs on Parks and Open Space (POS) properties. I define lethal control as wildlife control that results in the eventual death of wildlife, including trapping and donation of prairie dogs to wildlife recovery centers.

According to county wildlife data, over 15,000 prairie dogs have been trapped on POS properties and donated to wildlife recovery centers to become food for black-footed ferrets and raptors since 2002.  An unknown number of prairie dogs have been fumigated on county properties.  The county does not provide an estimate of the number of prairie dogs they poisoned: it only gives the number of properties fumigated.

Lethal control has primarily occurred on Multiple Objective Areas (MOA), where prairie dogs can supposedly coexist with other uses, and No Prairie Dog (NPD) areas.  The prairie dog populations on the Habitat Conservation Areas (HCAs), which according to the Boulder County’s prairie dog management plan “form the foundation of the prairie dog conservation strategy,” have been significantly declining in recent years due to outbreaks of sylvatic plague.  In 2004, there were 1581 acres occupied by prairie dogs on HCAs.  After 2005, prairie dog acreage on habitat conservation areas decreased to 418 acres in 2011, or 7.76% of the total acreage designated as habitat conservation areas.  This small percentage of prairie dog habitat on HCAs is not sufficient to implement a prairie dog conservation strategy for Boulder County; nor is it adequate to support associated wildlife species that depend on prairie dog habitat as a food and shelter source in wildlife conservation areas.

In 1999, I attended the commissioners’ public hearing for the adoption of the county prairie dog management plan.  At the hearing, Boulder county residents spoke up in favor of the plan, believing that prairie dog conservation would be its primary objective.  For several years Parks and Open Space staff made a concerted effort to preserve prairie dogs by relocating them.  In 2002, at staff’s recommendation, the plan was amended to include the management option of trapping and donating prairie dogs to wildlife recovery centers.  Thereafter, wild-to-wild relocation was abandoned by the county even though its own management plan states “non-lethal controls are the preferred methods of removing prairie dogs from inappropriate locations.”  For the past ten years Boulder County has ignored this important language and instead has managed prairie dogs in the “Old Wild West” tradition, as a pest instead of as the keystone species that it rightfully is.

The Rabbit Mountain relocation has been a long time coming.  For many people, the relocation is a step in the right direction in fulfilling the county’s promise to its citizens that non-lethal methods will be the preferred management option for our prairie dogs.  This is clearly evident in the nearly 1500 comments Boulder County received in response to the Rabbit Mountain relocation, which “show broad community support for relocation as an alternative to lethal control in Boulder County,” according to a county document.  Looking beyond 2012, it still remains to be seen whether Boulder County will expand its prairie dog conservation efforts in a meaningful way.  Let’s hope the Rabbit Mountain relocation is not just a token conservation effort that will have to do for another ten years.

Re-elect Brian Hansen

Brian Hansen

Re-elect Brian Hansen to the Longmont city council. He has the hands-on experience, both as a Longmont business owner and a sitting member on council, to tackle the complex issues facing our community

As CEO and president of his pharmaceutical research and development company, Brian Hansen understands the challenges Longmont businesses are experiencing during periods of economic downturn. He has had to make difficult decisions regarding the downsizing of his company in order to keep it a viable business. He knows how important it is to live within his means.

As a council member, he serves as liaison for several important city boards: the Water Board, Board of Environmental Affairs, and the Windy Gap Committee. He represents Longmont on the Boulder County Resource Conservation Advisory Board and is a member of the county’s Energy Task Force. Brian Hansen is a strong supporter of our open space program.

As a former Chair of the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board, I have worked with Brian on city matters. I have found him to be a remarkable individual who thoroughly analyzes problems and comes up with productive solutions. He takes the time to discuss, and, more importantly, listen to constituent concerns regarding critical city issues, such as making railroad crossings safe for children to cross in the Kiteley Neighborhood. I have seen firsthand his commitment to improving the quality of life for his constituents of Ward I.

There is no doubt Brian Hansen has the leadership qualities necessary to move Longmont toward a more caring and prosperous future. His work ethic, extensive educational background (PhD in Analytical and Environmental Chemistry) and business acumen make him the ideal person to represent the residents of Ward I on council. Re-elect Brian Hansen so he can continue his good work for the people of Longmont!