The City of Broomfield is re-examining its prairie dog policy after a plague die off in the Great Western Reservoir Open Space.In mid-March, Broomfield Public Health Officials announced that a local prairie dog colony had contracted the plague and died off. This was at least the second time in a decade that the Great Western Open Space had to be closed because of plague-infested rodents. The city is now reconsidering its prairie dog policy, specifically concerning resettlement efforts. It is no secret that the Denver metro area is seeing a boom in both residential and commercial real estate development. Before developers can begin their projects, they must relocate prairie dog colonies on their land. In Broomfield, many of these relocated prairie dogs find their way to the Great Western Reservoir Open Space. The city's Open Space and Trails Advisory Committee held a hearing in early April to decide how to move forward. The committee considered a number of changes to the city's prairie dog policy, including dusting the open space for fleas, placing a moratorium on resettlement efforts, and even locating a second location for prairie dog resettlement. Current Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) policy is to wait a full year before introducing any additional prairie dogs into the Great Western Reservoir Open Space. It makes little sense to introduce additional prairie dogs into a plague infested area, but without additional steps, it is likely that the area will see more plague infestations down the road. A 2009 plague incident in the Great Western Reservoir Open Space killed almost 100 percent of the area's prairie dogs. After almost a decade of relocation efforts, another plague incident led to a mass die off. Critics wonder whether relocation is even worth it given the inevitability of plague infestation. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that Broomfield doesn't always know when prairie dogs are resettled. A private developer recently pled guilty to illegally removing prairie dogs from a construction site at the corner of Midway and Lowell boulevards. Permitless prairie dog resettlement presents a real danger to the community, especially if developers secretly relocate colonies into known plague areas. Some residents were angry to hear that the developer was only fined $1,000. "That is not a deterrent," area resident Dottie Rawsky said. "It's ridiculous. It's encouraging other developers to do the very same thing."
After hours of testimony and public comment, Broomfield's Open Space and Trails Advisory Committee voted to move forward with a few policy changes. They will continue to re-examine the Great Western prairie dog site for potential 2017 resettlements while also looking for a second site. They are going to survey prairie dog populations in the area, and continue to coordinate with public health officials and Colorado Parks and Wildlife on combatting the plague.
Scientists in Fort Collins are in the final stages of developing a vaccine to mitigate these sorts of plague incidents. CPW officials testified that they are looking to involve Broomfield in the vaccine's trials.
Broomfield's prairie dog policy has been guided since 2003 by the Broomfield Policies for Prairie Dog Conservation and Management. All city employees and private developers are required to abide by the policy, which is divided into three tiers.
Tier one dictates that land owners/users are to make every effort to relocate prairie dogs to a city-approved site. However, with the closure of the Great Western prairie dog site, there are currently no approved resettlement locations in Broomfield. Since it is against the law to relocate prairie dogs across county lines, Broomfield developers have few tier one options.
Tier two calls for prairie dogs to to be taken to a "wildlife recovery program." In recent years, prairie dogs taken to these centers have been used as ferret and raptor food.
As a last resort, tier three allows for extermination using aluminum phosphide and carbon monoxide cartridges.
Moving forward, Broomfield is going to have a difficulty abiding by these policies. The city is currently without a viable relocation site and wildlife recovery programs are unlikely to accept potentially plague-ridden rodents. That leaves extermination as the only truly viable option, which doesn't sit well with many in the community.