Prairie dogs, environmental assessments on council horizon

Town staff drafting ordinance that would urge humane treatment of prairie dogs

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Last July, a group of wildlife activists successfully relocated a prairie dog colony in Stroh Ranch to Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge, ending Parker's latest bout of tense debate regarding how to handle wildlife occupying future development sites.

Parker town staff members are now drafting an ordinance that would require developers to exhaust humane options for relocating or exterminating prairie dogs occupying future development sites before resorting to toxic chemicals.

Parker Town Council and staff discussed a two-part memorandum at the Feb. 10 town council study session on wildlife management. Staff discussed an ordinance for the humane treatment of prairie dogs and a separate ordinance requiring the completion of an environmental assessment (EA) for new developments.

“It is the intent of the Town of Parker that prairie dogs shall be managed humanely, with preference given to relocation, if feasible, and if not, humanely exterminated,” the revised draft reads.

The draft states the provisions of the ordinance would not supersede state or federal regulations concerning the management of prairie dogs. The provisions would apply to various building documents when prairie dogs are present on-site.

The applicant of the development, according to the draft, needs to exhaust relocation options before considering humane extermination. The applicant may utilize a professional exterminator. All products must be approved by the Colorado Department of Agriculture, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Humane extermination includes use of carbon dioxide or carbon monoxide.

Council considered the environmental impacts a toxic fumigant could have on non-targeted animals, like house pets or birds of prey, and originally called for a complete ban on such chemicals. In the end, council balked at putting a hard ban on all toxic chemicals in case the initial extermination attempt does not work.

Councilmember Jeff Toborg supported a provision in the prairie dog-specific ordinance encouraging local advocacy groups to work with developers.

“In Stroh, Dominium worked with the group (Prairie Protection Colorado), and they did all the work,” Toborg said. "They figured out where they were going in Jefferson (County), they got the water to flush them out from Parker Water and Sanitation. There was no onus on the developer, other than the encouragement to work with advocacy groups.

“I want to encourage that communication because it was so successful in Stroh,” Toborg said.

Councilmember Cheryl Poage said she wants to see this ordinance implemented before the year is out.

The environmental assessment portion of the discussion was “parallel but separate” with the ordinance for prairie dogs, Community Development Director John Fussa said. An EA tool is found in city zoning codes throughout the country. Golden, Colorado Springs and Fountain are a few examples Fussa brought up as jurisdictions that have implemented similar provisions in their municipal codes.

The EA would require a look at a development's general impact on the environment. Fussa cautioned not to make the environmental assessment a blanket tool applicable to every proposal and development, rather creating specific criteria and triggers that would bring an EA into play.

“So it's only those projects where there are environmental issues the town wishes are evaluated that triggers it,” Fussa said.

Councilmember Josh Rivero said he was keen to the idea of an environmental assessment versus a prairie dog-specific ordinance—not that the two are mutually exclusive—because of the EA's potential impact on things like preservation of sight lines for houses and preserving natural geographical elements. Rivero wants the EA to prohibit developers from drastically altering the land for new homes.

“I don't think we need an environmental assessment for prairie dogs. I think that's overkill for prairie dogs,” Rivero said. “When it comes to land-use and (land development ordinances), by all means it's a tool we need.”

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