And 2011 was marked by a contentious fight over what to do with that ever-expanding resident-rodent population, sparking passion and anger almost every time they are mentioned in Telluride’s box canyon. Just what to do with the proliferating prairie dogs is The Watch’s number five story of 2011.
After the town successfully obtained the Valley Floor, the prairie dog colony was identified for conservation and containment in the final Valley Floor Management Plan approved by Telluride Town Council in August 2009. Since then, however, the number of prairie dog holes outside the protected colonies has increased from about 30 or 40 to about 250 holes in 2011. 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 2010, the town’s Open Space Commission identified lethal control as the last of multiple means that could be employed to contain the population. Early in January, the prairie dogs received a reprieve, however, when councilmembers declined to authorize lethal control of the population that has strayed beyond its protected area.
After reported sightings in town and fear of illnesses borne by sick prairie dogs, not to mention hours of debate and testimony from wildlife experts, council in June unanimously approved the use of “natural dispersal” management of the colony, to replace the previous “containment” approach.
Program Manager Lance McDonald called the natural dispersal approach a “softer method of control,” which rules out the use of lethal control.
“I’m happy to see a change to a welcoming attitude,” said Baked in Telluride owner Jerry Greene after the shift by council. “I look forward to the time when this is no longer called a Prairie Dog Colony but is accepted as a Prairie Dog Town.” As part of the natural dispersal plan, a total of four raptor poles have been erected on the Valley Floor. Encouraging more predators, like raptors, on the property will, it is hoped, offer a natural means of control for the Valley Floor’s growing prairie dog population.