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Longmont City Council Amends, Initially Approves Prairie Dog Ordinance

December 19, 2018
A prairie dog near McIntosh Lake in Longmont on Monday. City council on Tuesday amended and gave initial approval to a new ordinance governing how property owners can remove the animals.

Longmont City Council made multiple amendments to a prairie dog management ordinance before giving it initial approval on Tuesday night.

The measure, which next will be up for possible further amendments and possible final approval on Jan. 8, would set requirements for all owners of properties within city limits whenever they seek to exterminate prairie dogs on their properties or to relocate them to other suitable habitat.

The new requirements would apply to apply to all properties, whether or not they have a currently pending development application.

As prepared by the city staff based on council policy directions in March and public comments received in the months that followed, the ordinance would establish an expedited process for owners of properties seeking to get rid of 25 or fewer prairie dogs. Those property owners could apply for a “minor management permit.”

Property owners wanting to get rid of more than 25 prairie dogs would have to make a good-faith attempt to relocate the animals to suitable habitat elsewhere, if suitable receiving sites can be found within 90 days of the owner applying for a “major” prairie dog management permit.

One change council made to the measure removed a provision that would have required the city to maintain — and property owners to use — a registry of relocation sites pre-approved by Colorado Parks and Wildlife and Longmont.

Prairie dog protection advocates such as Susan Sommers, executive director of Save Colorado’s Prairie Dogs, have argued such a registry would be impractical for the city to establish and keep current, partly because it ideally would include potential receiving sites throughout Colorado, and not just in Longmont or Boulder County.

Instead of creating such a registry, the proposed ordinance — as amended by council — would establish a public notification period, followed by a public comment period of up to 90 days after a property owners applies for a major management permit.

That, council members said, would put the burden on prairie dog activists to find an acceptable relocation site for moving prairie dogs from the permit applicant’s property. If such a suitable site could not be found, and the necessary paperwork was not in place by the end of the comment period, the amended ordinance would allow the city to give the property owner the go-ahead to kill the animals.

“It would be the responsibility of the prairie dog advocates” to find a relocation site, Councilwoman Polly Christensen said.

Council did not, however, adopt a change that Sommers and Jeremy Gregory had called for in a Sunday email — one that would have changed the threshhold in determining minor and major management permit applications from 25 prairie dogs to a calculation based on the number of burrows on the property.

Councilwoman Marcia Martin said that based on what she’s learned, counting burrows rather than live animals “could lead you to a very erroneous result” in deciding whether a minor or major permit would be required.

Martin argued, though, for setting the prairie dog number threshold at 60, rather than 25. Properties with fewer than 60 prairie dogs would essentially be allowed to proceed to exterminate them, while properties with 60 or more would have to go through the period of trying to find a relocation site before being allowed to kill the animals.

Martin said that based on her research of relevant scientific literature about the ideal size of a group of prairie dogs to be able to be relocated, survive and establish new colonies on the receiving site, “I believe that it is inhumane to relocate a handful of prairie dogs, because they’re just going to die out there, on the prairie.”

She said, “It is not only expensive but inhumane” to try to relocate “a population of prairie dogs that is really small.”

Martin did not have enough support from her council colleagues, however, to pursue an amendment that would have raised the threshhold from 25 to 60 for the relocation attempt requirement to take effect.

Mayor Brian Bagley said the ordinance should contain an expectation that “the cost of relocation should be reasonable,” and city staff was directed to suggest language to that effect for the amended version that will return for further council action in January.

Under a Christensen amendment, the ordinance was revised to say the city will maintain a list of qualified prairie dog relocation companies property owners could use.

While the council heard from several supporters of setting new restrictions and conditions on property owners’ ability to control prairie dogs, Steve Strong, owner of Sun Construction, said, “I can’t believe you’re actually going to do this ordinance.”

“You guys are opening up a can of worms for property owners and developers,” Strong said, charging that he and his family had been threatened by prairie dog activists for exterminating animals from properties he was preparing for eventual development.

Tuesday’s vote for initial approval of the amended ordinance was 5-1, with Councilmen Aren Rodriguez and Tim Waters joining Christensen and Bagley in support of the measure and Martin dissenting. Councilwomen Joan Peck ( and Bonnie Finley were absent.

John Fryar: 303-684-5211, jfryar@times-call.com or twitter.com/jfryartc

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