Prairie Dogs FAQs
Found on plains and plateaus of North America, prairie dogs can be found in City of Boulder open space as well as on private property. Ranchers and farmers compete with them for the land. Naturalists observe their curious habits.
A family strolling along the Boulder Creek path might enjoy watching them behave like a miniature family. Regardless of their perspective, most folks have an opinion about prairie dogs, and for many those sentiments are strongly held. Attitudes about prairie dogs tend to be formed around their role as competitor, as a curiosity or as a comrade.
• How does the city protect prairie dogs and their habitat?
A: The city owns and manages over 40,000 acres of land outside the city dedicated to open space and "greenbelt" protection. Approximately 5,000 of those acres are specifically set aside as prairie dog habitat conservation areas (HCAs).
A: The Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) controls many aspects of prairie dog management, such as relocation, rehabilitation and hunting. The management of prairie dog habitat, however, is the responsibility of the landowners where prairie dogs live. Boulder has chosen to develop regulations and policies to guide the management of prairie dogs in the city and on city-owned lands.
A: There are currently no known sites available to receive relocated prairie dogs. In these colonies, there is already little or no room for colony expansion - even in the absence of new prairie dogs being introduced from relocation projects. In addition to 1,500 acres of prairie dogs within the system of habitat conservation areas, there are an additional 2,500 acres of prairie dogs inhabiting other OSMP lands.
A: In some cases, prairie dogs have moved into unsuitable habitats because there was no room for the home colonies to grow. Prairie dogs reintroduced to full colonies would almost certainly be killed by the prairie dogs with established territories. Even in situations where colonies are not full, it is likely that prairie dogs would continue dispersal into areas of conflict unless other management practices, such as barrier fences, were used.
A: In 1999, state legislature passed a law that prohibits the release of prairie dogs in another county without permission of the county commissioners of both the sending and receiving sites. Because prairie dogs are considered "pests" by the state, county commissions are generally not receptive to the release of prairie dogs.
A: Because the focus of the Open Space and Mountain Parks department is upon ecosystem management and broad open space values, the department has not and is not likely to purchase lands solely for prairie dogs.
A: The black-tailed prairie dog receives no protection under the federal Endangered Species Act. In Colorado, the Colorado Natural Heritage Program lists the black-tailed prairie dog as vulnerable to extirpation. The CPW identifies black-tailed prairie dog as a species with moderate and stable populations and as a species of most concern.
A: Prairie dogs create local conditions where soils and the diversity of plants and animals are distinct from the surrounding prairie.
The ecological health and diversity of grasslands depends upon a patchwork of prairie dog colonies, grasslands, wetlands, riparian (creekside) areas and other features creating many habitats. Prairie dogs also create disturbance, which can lead to proliferation of weeds in areas where there are non-native grasses.
A: The state government has management responsibility for wildlife in Colorado. In the City of Boulder, individual landowners may choose to allow prairie dogs to inhabit their property or to control prairie dogs in accordance with state and local regulations. The City of Boulder's Open Space and Mountain Parks department has a policy of working with neighbors to take reasonable action to limit the spread of prairie dogs onto adjacent property.
A: Plague is transmitted by fleas, not by prairie dogs, so the best strategy is to avoid getting bitten by fleas. Dogs and cats can pick up fleas from prairie dog colonies and get the plague and can carry the fleas into your neighborhood or home. Keep pets out of prairie dog colonies.
Never get close to or touch a wild rodent (squirrel, chipmunk, prairie dog, etc.). Don't approach or handle dead rodents. Never feed wildlife. When animals come up to you, they could transmit an infected flea. Don't venture into prairie dog colonies or approach their burrows. Keep your dog away from prairie dog colonies or any dead rodent. Your dog could pick up an infected flea and transmit it to you. It's illegal for dogs to chase or harass wildlife in Boulder and allowing your dog to do so could result in a heavy fine.
A: Over the past 100 years, much of the historic range of the black-tailed prairie dog has been converted to food production for humans, mostly for cattle pasture and grain fields.
Around the turn of the century, the U.S. government sponsored prairie dog poisoning programs to reduce competition with livestock and farmers. This program, which continues today, peaked in Colorado in 1921, when approximately 80,000 acres of prairie dog colonies were poisoned.
Out of an estimated 100 million acres of active black-tailed prairie dog colonies, about 2 percent remains.
A: Prairie dogs compete with livestock for food. They clip vegetation to maintain a view of their surroundings and eat the same grasses that would otherwise be available for cattle and horses. In farmed ground, prairie dogs can decimate or destroy a crop of alfalfa, grains or hay.
Expanding urban areas, especially the rapidly growing Front Range in Colorado, have seen housing and commercial development replace grasslands.
Once prairie dogs are removed, the habitat is changed to such a degree that prairie dogs usually don't have the opportunity or ability to reestablish themselves.
A: Prairie dogs excavate elaborate systems of burrows in heavily grazed, flat prairie lands and create "towns" comprised of thousands of dogs. The burrows are easily identified because of the large mound of dirt surrounding the entrance, providing a vantage point to spot approaching predators, as well as flood protection
The burrow system is set up as follows:
The nesting chambers are often elevated from the bottom of the tunnels so that the prairie dogs can remain dry when water flows into the burrow entrance.
A: Prairie dogs live in family groups with as many as 40 individuals, known as coteries, and have an elaborate system of communication. When the landscape does not suit them, they change it to be safer and more comfortable in their homes.
The prairie dog-modified landscape attracts a distinct group of animals like burrowing owls, black-footed ferrets, hawks and eagles, just as our cities and towns attract pigeons, raccoons, house sparrows and fox squirrels.
A: Conservation biologists are concerned that other species dependent upon prairie dogs may follow in what has been described as an "ecological train wreck."
In 1996, the Open Space and Mountain Parks (OSMP) department developed a plan to reduce the conflicts between prairie dogs and adjacent land uses by establishing a system of prairie dog habitat conservation areas (HCAs) throughout the OSMP land.
The HCA design was then modified for the specific requirements of prairie dogs, such as soil type, slope, vulnerability to plague and barriers to dispersal. The requirements of the species that depend upon prairie dog colonies (burrowing owls, raptors and badgers) were also taken into consideration when developing the HCA design. The resulting system includes approximately 4,600 acres in seven HCAs.
A: Prairie dogs feed on a variety of vegetation, including grasses and forbs, and to a lesser extent, seeds and insects. Grasses and other vegetation are clipped close to the ground to allow for a greater range of sight.
Burrowing and feeding by prairie dogs affect prairie ecosystems by:
A: Due to the dispersal activities of prairie dogs and the significant lack of predators in the urban environment, prairie dogs are often in conflict with urban land uses. Prairie dogs:
In addition to causing damage, prairie dogs can be a safety hazard. Many of the prairie dog colonies within Boulder are located in transportation right-of-ways. As the colonies expand, they sometimes disperse across roads, causing potential hazards to themselves and motorists.
If you have development plans for your property that may be in conflict with prairie dogs on the site or if you have any questions about prairie dogs permits, contact Valerie Matheson in Planning and Development Services at 303-441-3004.
If prairie dogs are causing nuisance problems for you or the uses on your property, do not attempt to poison or kill the animals. For general questions or non-emergency complaints, call Valerie Matheson. For emergency or immediate assistance, call police dispatch at 303-441-3333.
Last Updated on Thursday, 14 March 2013 10:37