Prairie Dogs

Let’s talk prairie dogs. The cute, annoying, burrowing animals (which my dogs love to chase) that are very prevelant all along the Front Range. RTD’s East Corridor project will be impacting colonies of prairie dogs on its trek from Denver Union Station to DIA.

RTD can’t simply build right over the little buggers, so they have implemented a Prairie Dog Mitigation Guidance policy (in full compliance with Federal and state standards, of course). There are four steps included in this policy:

  1. Attempt to avoid colonies greater than two acres in size.
  2. If that isn’t possible, move towards a live relocation (rounding them up and moving them somewhere else). Prairie dogs are so popular that any relocation across county lines requires approval by the Board of Commissioners from the receiving county – this is required by state law.
  3. In the event that a live relocation isn’t feasible, the prairie dogs are humanely euthanized and donated to programs and organizations for injured raptors or black-footed ferrets (endangered).
  4. In the event no recovery program will take the prairie dogs, they are humanely euthanized on-site.

In RTD’s case along the East Corridor, a live relocation was not possible. A willing relocation site was not found in time – therefore, the third option was used. RTD, the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT), and local jurisdictions tried finding willing recipients for the prairie dogs beginning in 2007. That effort proved fruitless, however. Denver Transit Partners (DTP, RTD’s concessionaire on the Eagle Project) contacted a dozen local jurisdictions and potential relocation programs, but no willing recipients stepped forward.

RTD and DTP have a commitement from a local injured-raptor recovery program to use the prairie dogs euthanized along the East Corridor as a food source for its program. Some of the raptors benefiting from this arrangement are either threatened or endangered species. If the raptor program cannot use the upwards of 400 prairie dogs expected, RTD and DTP have an agreement from a black-footed ferret recovery program as well. RTD and DTP will continue to puruse live relocation along the corridor if relocaton areas can be identified and feasible.

Utility relocations are currently underway (which we will cover soon) and major construction activities will start later this year and in early 2012. This is another sign of progress along the East Corridor – less than 5 years until we can take a train from downtown to DIA!

By | 2011-03-02T11:55:05+00:00 March 2, 2011|Categories: Healthy Communities, Infrastructure, Transit|Tags: , |19 Comments


  1. Ken March 2, 2011 at 9:28 pm

    Great post, Ryan. This is very interesting.

  2. Morgan March 3, 2011 at 12:51 pm

    I know people can’t stand them, but I really love the little critters. There is a colony by the freeway where I exit to go to work, and one of the highlights of my day is watching them run around. I was happy to hear about the raptor/ferret option though, I wouldn’t have thought of that.

    • amy April 18, 2011 at 12:06 pm

      I am looking for a prairie dog colony to observe with my second grade students around denver. Does anyone have a place?

  3. Bill March 3, 2011 at 6:04 pm

    What’s wrong with shot gun?

    • January March 4, 2011 at 4:40 pm

      Bill didn’t read the “Comments Policy” i.e.
      “BE INFORMED. If the topic is new to you, do some research before you comment.”
      =If you can’t represent your views in a civil and respectful manner, please don’t comment. Insults or personal attacks against others and inappropriate language won’t be tolerated.

  4. Matt Pizzuti March 3, 2011 at 6:55 pm

    I think as I recall the reason they don’t just introduce ferrets into the areas where the prairie dogs are overpopulated in the first place is due to the bubonic plague. Human development chases away predators but not prey, so you get really unhealthy population densities.

    Still, not being able to simply build over the prarie dogs strikes me as odd. You’re taking away 30 feet of space at most and their tunnels are already longer than that. Besides, I think they tend to move away when tractors start compacting the soil and making lots of noise. Unless there is an issue that they’ll burrow back under the tracks and damage the foundations with settling, maybe?

    Anyway… why not just re-locate the prarie dogs to areas where ferrets live? That seems smart to me; they’d spread out to lower densities and stop rapidly transmitting diseases and at the same time they’d feed endangered species.

  5. Dave Barnes March 4, 2011 at 7:58 am

    A shotgun is not very efficient.

    Poison gas. Now that is the weapon choice against these disgusting plague-carrying rodents.
    While I understand that “RTD can’t simply build right over the little buggers”, it can eliminate them and then build.

    • Aaron March 4, 2011 at 11:08 am

      Poison Gas takes awhile to setup in an area that large. I say we just use napalm on them and if that doesn’t work just nuke them. That will finally teach these prairie dogs not to live where we want to build things.

    • Matt March 4, 2011 at 1:28 pm

      I’d be okay with that, but If you think RTD could get away with it, you’re nuts. Local news would have a field day with it.

      I’ve never actually met anyone who really _liked_ the prarie dogs, but as soon as you mention killing them people come out of the woodwork.

    • Matt Pizzuti March 4, 2011 at 2:30 pm

      I thought the “poison gas” they use was just carbon dioxide. Their tunnels are self-contained and there’s always an entrance and an exit so it’s easy to flush out the oxygen.

      I’m not 100% sure about that, however I AM 100% sure that there have been cases that they used a large vacuum to suck out the prairie dogs.

  6. D. Rifkin March 4, 2011 at 2:56 pm

    Ryan is unfortunetly misinformed. TRD? FasTracks mitigation guidance has not been followed. The list of 11 relocation sites contacted by RTD are widely known to be dead ends. They offered no money or resources to find suitable relocation options, just called and got the standard expected answer. There are public lands in Colorado that should be pursued before we trap and poison thousands of native prairie dogs, as well as kill numerous other native wildlige and habitat in the path. Further, the guidance document addresses minimizing impacts. It is not believed that efforts were made either find alternative routing or attempt passive or split passive relocation techniques.

  7. Nick March 4, 2011 at 4:25 pm

    Nuke the site from orbit. It’s the only way to be sure.

    Seriously, though. Is this the result of all those impact studies that rail has to do? Because I’ve never heard of this being the case (and correct me if I’m wrong) for building roads or highways.

  8. Juell DeSpain March 4, 2011 at 10:58 pm

    Our communities should find non-lethal solutions. Many will be benefitting from this RTD project and yet they are unwilling to help save wildlife. There should be penalties if they don’t. Prairie dogs are an integral part of our eco-system and, more importantly, they can suffer. Every effort should be made to preserve and protect these magnificent little animals.

  9. Dave March 5, 2011 at 7:37 am

    This article is helpful, but it betrays the author’s bias against prairie dogs. For one thing, it’s against the law for the author to let his dogs chase wildlife in Colorado, even though they “love” it. Second, he doesn’t question the policy that allows 2-acre colonies to be tossed out. These weren’t always 2-acre colonies. They were isolated and fragmented by developments that preceded FasTracks. Arguably, the animals in these beleaguered colonies should be given greater accommodation, not less. Third, the cross-county relocation restrictions speak more to county commissioners’ disdain for prairie dogs than they do for the sentiment of the general public. Recognizing the vital role prairie dogs play in plains ecology and holding a respect for wildlife, the general public prefers to see prairie dogs left alone. Fourth, there’s a reason black-footed ferrets are endangered in the first place. Ninety-five percent of this animal’s diet is prairie dogs. So let’s stop acting at cross purposes and protect both prairie dogs and black-footed ferrets. (The acreage occuppied by black-tailed prairie dogs – the species found on Colorado’s plains – is 1% of what it was 200 years ago.) Finally, to use the term “euthanize” to describe killing an animal who is in the way of progress is ignorant at best and Orwellian at worst. We euthanize to take an animal (including human) out of his or her pain, not to expedite our own gain. I encourage those of you who are interested in this subject to avail yourselves of the many wonderful resources on the web (e.g., to find out more about this critical wildlife issue.

    • Val March 6, 2011 at 10:31 pm

      Here, here. Unfortunately, those of us who are interested do learn about what’s going on. Those who don’t care seem to treat killing way to cavalierly for me. What is also unfortunate and inexcusable is why the CO Division of Wildlife has so little say in these matters and why the counties have so little regulation on killing and so much regulation on relocation. It is in all of our best interest to protect these animals whether some people are informed, misinformed or uninformed. Lastly, if we keep killing them, the Raptor and ferret programs will run out of their food source. Does it occur to any of those with the power to change things that we will lose CO great raptors, too??

  10. Dave March 5, 2011 at 9:32 am

    Thanks for covering this, Ryan, though I must take issue with several of your explicit and implicit points. First, it’s illegal for dogs to harass wildlife in CO. Second, the neglect of 2-acre-and-smaller prairie dog colonies deserves attention. These colonies once were larger and are now fragmented due to previous developments and other human activities. It’s arguable that the beleaguered animals on these smaller colonies deserve *greater* protection and not a wave-of-the-hand death sentence. Third, the inter-county relocation restrictions are a result of county commissioner caprice and not a reflection of the general public’s attitude toward prairie dogs. The public tends to recognize the value of prairie dogs as a keystone species and the value of individual animals’ lives. The ferret solution shouldn’t feel good to anyone, as the very reason ferrets are endangered is the continued killing of prairie dogs and destruction of prairie dog colonies. Finally, let’s not use the term “euthanize” to describe killing perfectly healthy animals. That’s Orwellian. We kill these animals when they get in our way; we don’t euthanize them.

  11. Louise March 7, 2011 at 9:32 am

    Is it possible to elevate the tracks and leave the prairie dogs alone?

    • Ken March 7, 2011 at 11:32 am

      No. The engineering is quite far along and, besides, the cost implication of elevating the tracks would be huge.

  12. Sarah March 17, 2011 at 3:01 pm

    I think Louise’s comment is a great idea but I fear that Ken is correct in that the engineering is much too far down the road. It is unfortunate that elevated railways did not occur to anyway during the initial planning phases, supposedly when this very detailed, thorough Mitigation policy was developed. I’m not sure that the “huge” cost of elevating tracks should negate this idea for future planning. What is the ultimate cost of completely eradicating species’ from their habitats in the name of human “progress”? I don’t think we can put a price tag on that yet but when global warming and a completely shattered ecosystem finally come knocking on everyone’s door and keeping your head in the sand by participating in insatiable consumerism becomes impossible, it will finally be recognized as an issue. Until then, everyone can continue on with their utterly disgusting and ridiculous tirades about poisoning, shooting, etc. creatures that were here long before us and have the true misfortune of trying to survive in our midst. I hope when people make threats against creatures, humans included, that you value, you sit back and bite your tongues knowing that you are guilty of the same.

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