County prairie dog group takes shape

Posted 3/11/09

Prairie dogs matter. Not only to the short-grass prairie ecosystem of Douglas County but to wildlife lovers as well. So a Prairie Dog Conservation …

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County prairie dog group takes shape


Prairie dogs matter.

Not only to the short-grass prairie ecosystem of Douglas County but to wildlife lovers as well. So a Prairie Dog Conservation Policy Committee has been formed by the board of county commissioners.

Five citizen members of the committee have been appointed, with the primary goal of developing a conservation policy for the use of the Douglas County Open Space and Parks Division.

The goal is to recognize the ecological significance of the black-tailed prairie dog, while addressing the concerns of private landowners and residents.

“People are concerned about things in their backyard,” said committee member Mary Taylor Young. As a wildlife author and biologist, Young will bring a knowledge base to the table, not just an emotional one.

“Prairie dogs are known as a keystone species to the ecosystem,” Young said.

She added that if Coloradans want to have hawks, owls, and the richness of the experience of the west, they need them to maintain the fabric of wildlife.

“You don’t have the cool animals without maybe the uncool animals,” Young said.

She said her approach to this issue is to look at the big picture.

“I look at prairie dogs as part of the whole natural community of Douglas County,” Young said. “Balanced with human needs, we have to be careful not to let one of these things dominate.” She mentioned that there were two land owners who want prairie dogs dealt with soon.

Another committee member, Judy Enderle, associated with Prairie Preservation Alliance, would like the public to become aware of the benefits of prairie dogs to Colorado’s heritage.

“Wildlife viewing is a reason people come to Colorado to live and play,” Enderle said.

She added that forcing the prairie dogs to live in unsuitable areas creates conflict and often destroys the landscape.

“Without a prey base, predators like coyotes and foxes will look to humans for food, creating more conflict,” Enderle said. “Without prairie dogs, at least nine other obligate species are doomed.”

Barbara Bickham, former president of Carriage Club Homeowners Association believes her role in the committee is multifaceted.

“I believe it is the goal of everyone on the committee to come up with methods to correct areas where prairie dog activity has negatively impacted natural vegetation and balance,” Bickham said. “In addition to maintaining the natural place prairie dogs have in our ecosystem.”

The Douglas County Citizens for Wildlife representative, Joanne Concha, is also a member of this newly formed committee.

The Citizens for Wildlife is made up of Douglas County residents concerned with saving wildlife. The focus of the group is to save the black tailed prairie dog.

According to their Web site, the prairie dog burrows irrigate the soil and the cropping actions stimulate a faster-growing, more nutritious, diverse assemblage of plants bordering their towns.

The final member of the committee, Cameron Mee, is a rancher adjacent to open space who owns Castlewood Equestrian Center in Franktown.

“We will develop a recommended policy for managing prairie dogs, and will submit it to the board for review,” Mee said. “A policy needs to be in place to address the situation if the population on public lands expands to the extent they move on to private land.”

The committee has a deadline to finalize its recommendations to the board of approximately four months.

Where the dogs live

Cheryl Matthews, director of the county’s open space and natural resources lists eight locations of prairie dog colonies:

Carriage Club Estates subdivision, including Bluffs Regional Park

Hidden Mesa Open Space

Hungry Horse Open Space

Cherry Creek Highlands subdivision

Parker North subdivision

Glendale Farm Open Space

Red Mesa Open Space

Douglas Heights Open Space


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