The poles (three look like refurbished telephone poles, and the other is a 45-foot-high dead tree) are actually raptor poles, put up in various locations on the Valley Floor in an attempt to control the population of the prairie dog colony.
The poles provide a safe respite for birds like hawks and eagles, common predators of prairie dogs.
At a Telluride Open Space Commission meeting on Monday afternoon, Program Manager for the Town of Telluride Lance McDonald gave a report on the progress of the raptor pole installation, a project that had been laid out by the amended, Telluride Town Council-adopted Valley Floor Management Plan months ago.
A total of four poles have been erected on the Valley Floor in the last month, he said, two in the Eider Creek area and two east of Boomerang Road. Utilizing four different types of poles was by design, he added, noting that the Town has plans to monitor the project in an effort to determine its effectiveness.
“When we were tamping down the dirt just after putting one in, small birds were already landing on the top,” McDonald told the group.
The raptor pole installation is just one method of control the Open Space Commission and Telluride Town Council favored as part of its ““Natural Dispersal,” i.e., non-lethal, prairie dog policy. The Natural Dispersal plan was originally devised by town staff in consultation with Dr. Nicole Rosmarino of WildEarth Guardians, as well as Open Space Commission member Gary Hickcox (who also represents the San Miguel Conservation Fund, the group that holds the property’s conservation easement).
Encouraging more predators like raptors on the property will, hopefully, offer a natural means of control for the Valley Floor’s growing prairie dog population. As McDonald explained, prairie dogs tend to habituate well to human activity, actually using human activity as a means of protection from predators. With Highway 145, the bike path and various trails frequented by humans in such close proximity to the colony, it has been noted that species like golden eagles and hawks (which don’t habituate as easily to human activity) tend to avoid the area.
Installing the raptor poles could, in theory, make hunting in the area more palatable to various species of birds of prey.
“It’s really an effort to encourage raptors, which have been seen on the property in the past, to return,” McDonald said.