Left Hand Valley Courier - All Local, All The Time

County relocates prairie dogs to a new home


September 15, 2017

Photo by Vicky Dorvee Monarch Park prairie dog traps in place during a relocation project near Gunbarrel.

For a week, metal cages sat atop each prairie dog mound in the open space bordering Highway 52 and 79th Street.

The hope was to capture and relocate 100 black-tailed prairie dogs. Ultimately, 84 critters were apprehended in the sprung traps and then moved to a more spacious location.

Each trap was baited with sweet feed, consisting of oats, grains and sunflower seeds, a mixture prairie dogs love.

While it compels many of the prairie inhabitants to enter the cages, they are aware enough to realize members of their colony are being taken away in the cages.

After a couple of days, they become wary of the enticement and gradually fewer and fewer are captured. One week later, the traps are no longer effective and they’re taken away.

Susan Spaulding, Senior Wildlife Biologist for Boulder County Open Space explained, “There’s a lot of recreation, neighboring houses and roads in that area and it was time to thin the population in the Monarch Park area.

“It was also a good time to repopulate them to south central Boulder County, west of McCaslin and north of Highway 128.”

Relocation of prairie dogs requires justification and a formal permit from the state approving the project.

The McCaslin-Highway 128 area the prairie dogs now call home had been “plagued out” by the previous inhabitants. Transmitted by fleas, Sylvatic plague ripped through the area in 2008, leaving the prairie dogs to die in their burrows.

The dangerous bacteria in that area has since become dormant and the grasslands are now able to be repopulated without risk. Two other colonies of prairie dogs were relocated there in 2015 and 2016.

Sustainable locales for black-tailed prairie dogs have become seriously scarce resulting in the population of the rodent decreasing by more than 90 percent in the last 100 years. Agricultural and urban development, poisoning, hunting and the plague have all played a part in the massive loss of prairie dogs across the country. While they are not on the endangered species list, there are proponents who argue they should be, given their low numbers.

Protecting the species is a goal of Boulder County biologists and a formal prairie dog policy created by Boulder County Parks and Open Space was created to address the subject.

Because prairie dogs are a critical species in the area, ensuring their safety and health, and encouraging growing numbers, is central to protecting and perpetuating the diversity of other species and the biodiversity of grassland vegetation. Prairie dogs are an enormous food source for owls, hawks, coyotes, foxes, bobcats, and the endangered black-footed ferret.

Probably most important to protecting and managing prairie dog colonies is the need to safeguard the vanishing black-footed ferrets. This species of ferrets is highly reliant on the prairie dog as a food source. “Black-footed ferrets are the most endangered mammals in North America,” Spaulding said. The previous rodent residents of Monarch Park were moved to an area that is likely to be where black-footed ferrets will be introduced too.

Spaulding’s name and contact information were posted on gates during the Monarch Park relocation project. While the cages were in place, she received calls mostly expressing curiosity and support. The captured group of prairie dogs will live together once again as a colony in the new area.

To learn more about Boulder County Parks and Open Spaces prairie dog policy, go to (https://assets.bouldercounty.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/prairie-dog-habitat-element-grassland-policy.pdf).


Reader Comments


Powered by ROAR Online Publication Software from Lions Light Corporation
© Copyright 2019