Dust up in Fort Collins over prairie dog colony in wetlands area

Issue has pitted neighbors against city

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FORT COLLINS, Colo. — A dust-up is happening in Fort Collins where neighbors and the city are at odds about a growing prairie dog colony.

It's just the latest community in Colorado dealing with the issue.

"So, this is called the Power Trail," said Gayle Miller.

Miller, who is also a veterinarian, walks this open space almost nightly.

"I walk at dusk,” Miller said. “That's why I see a lot of wildlife."

But what she saw the other night - shocked her. A contractor using carbon monoxide to kill the prairie dogs in their burrows. 

There was no public notice.

"Doing it late in the evening makes me think they didn't want anyone to see," Miller said.

The City of Fort Collins says the prairie dog population in the Fossil Creek Wetlands area must be managed when trying to strike a balance between wildlife and a growing urban environment.

The city says prairie dogs destroy vegetation, stripping the land of the natural grasses and other plants that make these wetlands what they are, resulting in accelerated erosion.

Miller argues the wetlands are thriving at the moment.

“It's in good shape,” she said. “Could it possibly change if we had a severe drought? 'Yes.'"

This issue isn’t isolated to Fort Collins. A similar fight is happening right now in Parker where an HOA poisoned a neighboring prairie dog colony.

"Our HOA fees were used to kill all these prairie dogs unbeknownst to any of us,” said resident Barb Jedele.

On the flip side, others praised that decision.

“Well, I’m not for them,” said Channing O’Dell. “So, I was glad that they were doing it."

In Longmont, the city council is trying to decide if prairie dog relocation efforts should extend to all neighborhoods, not just new developments.

City council meetings along the front range feature a similar tone and heated debate over prairie dogs.

"I really would love to be a prairie dog,” said one neighbor. “You guys have put so many protections in for them. I'm here tonight to ask the same thing for us, your citizens."

Back on the trail in Fort Collins, there's certainly no shortage of opinions.

“They aerate the land and allow vegetation to grow,” said one cyclist.

"It's not that big a deal, but I can understand when it really fills in with development, you really wouldn't want them around," said another cyclist.

So, what’s next? 

Miller successfully argued that there are plenty of natural predators around to keep the prairie dog population in check.

“The coyotes, the hawks, and the raptors all use that as a food source,” Miller said.

She has single-handedly convinced Fort Collins to stop gassing the prairie dogs for now. But the fight will likely continue.

"We should be using lethal methods as a last resort, not a first resort," Miller said. "Nature has a way of balancing these things if we don't step in and muck it up."

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