TELLURIDE – The Telluride Town Council will review the Telluride Open Space Commission’s 2011 Work Plan when the two meet for a work session next Tuesday, Jan. 11, at Rebekah Hall at 10 a.m. Anyone with strong feelings about the fate of the Valley Floor Gunnison’s prairie dogs might want to be there.
In addition to reviewing all of the OSC’s recommendations concerning a variety of subjects for the year, council will decide whether or not to bless lethal control of the polarizing ground-squirrel found outside the boundaries of its protected 23-acre colony on the Valley Floor.
The protected colony is located east of Boomerang Road and identified for “conservation and containment” in the 2009 Valley Floor Management Plan.
Later in the meeting council is expected to take formal action to approve the Work Plan.
“There are people on both sides” of the argument, said Mayor Stu Fraser of the upcoming meeting. “I’m sure that we’ll hear from both sides.”
Indeed, Nicole Rosmarino, Ph.D., Wildlife Program Director of WildEarth Guardians, a prairie dog advocate, will be one of the speakers.
“I’m going to be discussing Gunnison’s prairie dogs in general and their conservation status, their imperilment and how to live with prairie dogs,” she said.
“That’s when I get more specific about the Valley Floor prairie dog colony, which I’ve visited.”
Rosmarino said she would present different management options to town council, including a method that has been successful in Boulder, to help its members make an informed decision about the burgeoning population.
“They’ve probably heard about some of them, but I want to make sure they’re aware of all of them….And then there are the ones that really should be taken off the table,” she said of the various management options.
Of the prairie dogs, she said: “We really shouldn’t even consider killing them.”
Since 2009 the number of Valley Floor prairie dog holes outside the original colony has increased from about 30 or 40 to about 250 holes in 2010. They range from the Entrada development at the Valley Floor’s southeastern edge to Society Turn at its far northwest corner. In between, they pepper areas near the Shell Station and Eider Creek, in particular.
In November the OSC identified euthanasia as one of multiple means that may be employed to keep the expanding population within the boundaries of the colony. Other means include planting bushes or shrubs like willow along its perimeter to discourage prairie dog movement, the construction of a fence along its western boundary and increased irrigation.
Rosmarino described the Valley Floor prairie dog dynamic as “interesting,” in that the property has already been set aside for conservation purposes, unlike, say a developer who wants to destroy a colony in order to build a shopping mall.
In that case, “There’s not a lot of room for coexistence,” she said. “On the Valley Floor, there are more options for coexistence.”