Commerce City City Council considers alternatives to exterminating prairie dogs

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COMMERCE CITY, Colo. -- The controversy over a management wildlife plan that would include wiping out a colony of prairie dogs in Commerce City was brought up again during Monday’s City Council meeting.

Late Monday night, Commerce City City Council took action to explore an option to relocate prairie dogs with the Prairie Protection Colorado group prior to beginning the wildlife management program with the USDA.

The city has a contract with the USDA to restore nearly 200 acres of open space land.

“There’s an injunction that was filed as well as a temporary protection order. And I’m here tonight to simply ask City Council: Why did it have to come to this?" said Erica Royer ahead of Monday’s meeting.

Royer lives along Second Creek Open Space and says extermination of an entire prairie dog colony is inhumane and unnecessary.

“We’re the ones who chose to build our home around them and basically landlocked them and put lawns out, and then act surprised that they want to come into yards. It’s absurd,” she said.

The city released a statement saying the prairie dog population has exceeded capacity in the city:

"Overpopulated colonies also have a high likelihood of collapse from infectious diseases (such as the plague) that can spread to humans and pets," the city said.

Paul Welander, who lives near Royer, agrees with the city.

“We pay for the trees. We pay for the grass," he said after speaking during the public comment period Monday. "(Prairie dogs) are destroying the grass and the trees and the park."

Welander says he was open to a relocation plan as long as it meant significantly reducing the prairie dog population.

Councilman Craig Hurst say the prairie dogs have created soil problems that he fears could lead to another devastating flood in the area.

“Trying to reclaim and keep the flooding plain to a safe level with reclaiming the soil is where my head’s at. If we could do that effectively without killing a prairie dog, I would be voting the other way every single time,” he said during the meeting.

Royer says that’s still possible.

“Prairie Protection Colorado offered to take care of every issue, including creating barriers, moving the prairie dogs if it came to that. They’ve ever offered to do public education, and none of our offers have been acknowledged or accepted,” she said.

It prompted Councilman Benjamin Husman to question City Manager Brian McBroom as to whether it was too late to change the contract.

“So my next question to City Manager McBroom: Have we considered getting help from Prairie Preservation Colorado in order to have an alternative to gas the prairie dogs?” he said during the meeting.

“At this point, we’re proceeding with the restoration plan that we shared with City Council, based in part on the approval two weeks ago to contract with the USDA,” McBroom responded.

Council later voted to look at the possibility of relocating prairie dogs through Prairie Protection Colorado.

The city does not have an update on the timeline for when the program with the USDA will begin.

In an email, Commerce City spokesperson Jodi Hardee said the following:

"It is not the city’s intent to eradicate prairie dogs from the city. The city’s overall goal of the wildlife management plan is to encourage healthy and balanced ecosystems, which includes both the conservation and management of wildlife populations. It is the City’s intent to proceed with all planned phases of the Second Creek Open Space Restoration Project, including the wildlife management tasks contracted to the USDA, as soon as can be scheduled."

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