Jeffco of­fi­cials are against pro­posed prairie dog plan

The Denver Post - - NEWS - By John Aguilar John Aguilar: 303-954-1695, jaguilar@den­ver­post.com

Jefferson County of­fi­cials are rec­om­mend­ing against a con­tro­ver­sial pro­posal to move a colony of prairie dogs from Long­mont to Rocky Flats, the former nu­clear weapons man­u­fac­tur­ing site north of Ar­vada.

In a let­ter dated Wed­nes­day and made pub­lic Thurs­day, county man­ager Don­ald Davis told con­sul­tants work­ing with de­vel­oper HSW Land that county staff “would not rec­om­mend re­lo­ca­tion of these de­struc­tive ro­dent pests from Boul­der County to Jefferson County.”

Davis used the stark lan­guage — “de­struc­tive ro­dent pests” — found in state statutes to de­scribe prairie dogs, which are con­sid­ered by wildlife ex­perts to be a vi­tal species in Colorado’s prairie ecol­ogy.

A spokes­woman said Jefferson County al­ready is man­ag­ing prairie dog colonies and that habi­tat for the an­i­mals is mostly at ca­pac­ity.

HSW wants to de­velop land in Long­mont where up to 200 prairie dogs live. The com­pany told the Long­mont Times-Call last month that it pre­ferred to move the an­i­mals to a new home rather than kill them or do­nate them as food for rap­tor re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion or black-footed ferret re­cov­ery pro­grams.

Fed­eral of­fi­cials in charge of the Rocky Flats Na­tional Wildlife Refuge told the de­vel­oper there is room at the 6,200-acre fa­cil­ity 16 miles north­west of Den­ver to place the prairie dogs.

That trig­gered a loud re­ac­tion last week from sev­eral ci­ti­zen groups, who op­pose open­ing the refuge to the pub­lic be­cause of what they say are the po­ten­tial health haz­ards that ex­ist on site from decades of work on nu­clear weapons com­po­nents.

Specif­i­cally, the group raised con­cerns about the bur­row­ing prairie dogs un­earthing po­ten­tially deadly plu­to­nium con­tam­i­na­tion that was left buried in place after a 10year cleanup of the nox­ious site that wrapped up in 2005.

Of­fi­cials from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Ser­vice and the Colorado Depart­ment of Pub­lic Health and the En­vi­ron­ment dis­missed those claims, say­ing the colony would be nearly a mile away from the 1,300-acre core of Rocky Flats, where the nu­clear trig­gers were ac­tu­ally as­sem­bled. They said the an­i­mals would not come into con­tact with any buried con­tam­i­na­tion.

Un­der state law, coun­ties have the author­ity to ap­prove or turn down a re­quest to re­lo­cate prairie dogs from one county to an­other. Davis wrote in his let­ter that the Jefferson County com­mis­sion­ers had not yet re­ceived a for­mal re­lo­ca­tion re­quest but that staff was rec­om­mend­ing against the move none­the­less.

Rocky Flats Na­tional Wildlife Refuge is sched­uled to open to the pub­lic next sum­mer.

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