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Longmont Pitching Relocation Site for Prairie Dogs That Survived Extermination Attempt

October 13, 2018

A prairie dog sits in an empty lot on the southwest corner of Ken Pratt Boulevard and Third Avenue, the site or a future apartment complex where a colony was exterminated last year. Longmont officials and prairie dog advocates have pitched a potential relocation site for the surviving animals.

A new home might have been found for surviving members of a prairie dog colony that was mostly exterminated last year on the site of a future apartment complex in east Longmont.

Longmont officials and prairie dog advocates have pitched a potential relocation site for the animals on about 5 acres of city open space west of the city’s Sunset Campus at 7 S. Sunset St., just north of the St. Vrain River.

Susan Sommers, board president for prairie dog advocacy group, Prairie Protection Colorado, said if a relocation is completed, it would be the first from a private property in at least 15 years for a Longmont prairie dog colony.

Longmont officials agreed to move about eight prairie dogs that encroached on the city’s former landfill site in Weld County back onto a private landowner’s property last year.

City officials did not immediately respond Friday to a message asking for confirmation of Sommers’ claim that no prairie dog relocations from private property have taken place in the city over that time.

A letter Longmont Land Program Administrator Dan Wolford sent earlier this month to property owners adjacent to the potential relocation site, shared with the Times-Call by residents, said 25 to 30 prairie dogs could be moved there, and a 3-foot-tall barrier would be installed to prevent the animals from spreading north of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad tracks separating the open space from private property.

The open space property was home to a prairie dog colony that was killed by the 2013 flood.

“Since that time the city open space staff has had the opportunity to overseed this site and reestablish vegetation,” Wolford’s letter stated.

″... We have always determined that this site was to actively manage/replace (prairie dogs) by terms associated with the city’s Wildlife Management Plan,” he stated in an email to the Times-Call.

Sommers was among several residents at last week’s Longmont City Council meeting who called for relocating the remaining members of the prairie dog colony at the southwest corner of Third Avenue and Ken Pratt Boulevard, where Sun Construction exterminated the animals en masse last year with the poisonous chemical aluminum phosphate .

“Prairie dog advocates have clearly stepped up to the challenge of finding a relocation site. We have gone above and beyond doing the work that really should have been done by the developer,” Sommers said to council. “The city has a legal, ethical and moral responsibility to make sure that this time, the developer follows the law and applies to relocate the surviving prairie dogs to this newly identified parcel.”

Sun Construction had been contracted to erect an apartment complex on that land. A renewed development application from Boulder-based developer SEEC Enterprises to erect a 280-unit apartment complex , with 28 affordable units, remains in the hands of city planning staff.

A previous development application for the site was pulled from the city last year, allowing Sun to take advantage of a loophole in Longmont’s municipal code that only bars the killing of prairie dogs for property owners who have a development application before city staff for review.

Sun President Andy Welch did not respond to an email seeking comment Friday, and a receptionist for the business said Welch was out of the office until Tuesday.

The work by Longmont staff to designate the potential relocation site has thrilled prairie dog advocates, but at least two residents of Donovan Drive, who declined to be named in this story, are opposed to putting the rodents on open space behind their homes.

Donovan Drive resident Tom Knapp, though, has no problem with the proposed prairie dog relocation, and hopes their predators might visit more often.

“There are some big hawks around here already. It will probably help them out,” Knapp said.

Prairie dog advocates have asked city council to approve an update to city code that would shift the burden of searching for a prairie dog relocation site on colonized properties, instead of allowing developers to instruct advocacy groups to lead such efforts.

Prairie dog advocate Jeremy Gregory also has asked city leaders to eliminate the option of donating prairie dogs on soon-to-be-developed land to raptor programs for use as food for birds of prey being prepped for release into the wild.

Rocky Mountain Raptor Program Executive Director Carin Avila said her organization prefers that prairie dogs remain in the wild and are relocated from development sites rather than killed, but she believes donations to raptors are the next-best solution when relocation is not feasible.

Lafayette officials are considering enacting a moratorium on prairie dog removals and exterminations as they explore how to prompt and require relocation efforts of colonies on private property.

Longmont City Clerk Valeria Skitt said the goal is to have an updated prairie dog ordinance completed by the end of the year, with city council reviewing it on first reading possibly in November.

Residents near the potential relocation site have until Oct. 21 to provide feedback to the city.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife will have to issue final authorization for the prairie dog relocation upon reviewing resident comments.

“We have an initial approval from Colorado Parks and Wildlife, but need to do public outreach to adjacent landowners, which we are in the middle of that process,” Wolford said.

Sam Lounsberry: 303-473-1322, slounsberry@prairiemountainmedia.com and twitter.com/samlounz .

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