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.