BOULDER COUNTY, Colo. (CBS4)– It’s not hard to find a prairie dog perched on its burrow, scoping the surroundings in Boulder. Most people don’t mind the hundreds that roam in places like Valmont City Park, but on nearby farmland, the critters are creating a crisis.
“Right there, that’s a prairie dog hole going right into my house,” Robert O’Donnell said as he showed CBS4’s Kelly Werthmann his property located on the north side of Boulder.
O’Donnell has had enough of his unwanted guests. He says there are upwards of 60 prairie dog burrows scattered around his 3-acre homestead.
“If you look to the north, you’ll see all the prairie dog holes in my yard,” he said, pointing to the many mounds. “In a few weeks, we’ll see five or six pups popping out of each one.”
The animals are also overrunning neighboring land, he explained, and they’re destroying vegetation livestock in the area depend on.
“There’s nothing left. If you were a cow, what would you eat?” O’Donnell asked.
O’Donnell said he has tried all kinds of things to remove the invasive prairie dogs, but the animals jeep moving onto his property.
“It’s a constant battle,” he said. “I’m losing my homestead. I’m concerned about my horses. I have to let them come out to graze, but they have to walk around 20 holes. If a horse steps in one of these holes, they’ll break a leg and the horse is down. This is costing me.”
The Boulder Open Space and Mountain Parks board of trustees say prairie dogs are taking over more than half of the irrigated grasslands on the city’s north end.
It’s a “crisis,” they say, and why they’re recommending the city take lethal action to control the population on agricultural properties.
“I see it as a glimmer of hope,” Paula Schuler told CBS4.
Shuler has long battled boulder to do something about prairie dogs, including those taking over her property. She says the city isn’t abiding by their own rules.
“The city of Boulder has irrigated agricultural properties that, per their own land objectives, should not have prairie dogs on them,” she explained, “yet prairie dogs have come in and the city has not managed their land appropriately.”
Shuler explained the plague is typically how prairie dog populations are naturally managed. However, the plague hasn’t come through Boulder County in more than a decade. Schuler says boulder is more focused on protecting prairie dogs than managing them.
“The Open Space Board of Trustees motions to consider lethal control is the first sign that anyone acknowledges they have a responsibility to protect irrigated agricultural property,” she said. “I just want them to take responsibility to protect land suitable agriculture and to manage per their own City Charter, Grasslands Plan and Agricultural Plan. I believe it’s their fiduciary and fiscal responsibility. If they manage according to their own land objectives, and they work truly remove the prairie dogs from irrigated agricultural lands, Boulder can also take steps toward being a good neighbor.”
It’s now Schuler’s hope city officials will see non-lethal methods are no longer an option to find balance in the ecological system.
“They’re relocation program doesn’t even scratch the surface,” Schuler said. “In the last three years, Boulder has only been able to relocate 700 prairie dogs. There are tens of thousands of them.”
O’Donnell understands why some may be opposed to lethal force, but said this isn’t simply about killing animals.
“I’m not an animal hater,” he said. “I love animals.”
He said this potential move is about protecting homes, just like anybody else.
“If you were to go home and find a rat or a mouse, you’re going to do the same thing,” O’Donnell said. “That’s what’s happening here.”
The Open Space and Mountain Parks Board of Trustees will take their recommendations to Boulder City Council on May 7.