Prairie dogs poke their heads into the top tier of strategy areas to be considered by Boulder officials in the final version of the Boulder Open Space and Mountain Parks master plan that will finally make its way to city council next month.
The draft was approved three weeks ago by open space trustees and the city’s planning board, but since then has received a few tweaks before being unveiled Thursday in the form in which it will go to council members on Sept. 3 to be formally adopted.
The first master plan the open space department has ever had, it weighs in at a tidy 221 pages, and the executive summary alone runs 28 pages.
“The major change (between the previous version and the final iteration) is that the strategy calling for us to address conflicts between prairie dogs and irrigated agricultural lands was moved up to a top strategy of ours, and now 10 of those are in the highest-priority strategies,” said Dan Burke, interim department director. “That was a significant refinement, or change, that was made.”
Beyond that, Burke said, “I would characterize (the finalized version) as minor refinements to the language of the strategic statements. There was a call to provide more supporting text underneath, to the strategic statements being put forth in the document. There was a call for more graphics, trends and data, to support the context and to support the language that’s in the plan.”
In all, the plan lays out five main objectives, along with no fewer than 46 strategies through which to achieve them, with those broken into three tiers of urgency and feasibility, factoring in the city’s ability to fund them over the next 10 years.
The open space department is looking at a $10 million hit to its approximately $30 million budget next year when it faces a sunset of its tax funding, but city council is considering asking voters in November to approve a 0.15% sales and use tax extension to support the program.
The strategy pertaining to prairie dogs, in full, reads “Maintain the viability of agricultural operations by reducing impacts from prairie dogs on irrigated lands, while supporting ecologically sustainable prairie dog populations across the larger landscape.”
Open space trustees earlier this year discussed some level of lethal control as part of a possible future strategy to apply to the prairie dog situation. The department manages more than 25,000 acres of grassland, agricultural property and associated habitats, and up to 6,775 of those acres have had prairie dogs on them.
The department has 6,641 acres of irrigable properties, and prairie dogs overlap with about 1,052 of those acres, meaning about 16% of the irrigable county agricultural land is impacted by prairie dog conflicts.
Boulder City Council in May gave the green light, cautiously, to examining a process for prairie dog management that might include lethal control
Burke on Thursday said prairie dogs were moved to a tier-one strategy item in the finalized plan, up from tier-two, in part because “increasing soil health and resilience” was already a tier-one strategy, and the two issues are seen as related.
Bumping it up also was done, Burke said, “because at this particular time, there are increasing impacts from prairie dogs on OSMP’s irrigated lands that demand our attention and we have heard from board and council over the past few months that we need to accelerate our efforts at addressing these conflicts.”
Tom Isaacson, chair of the open space board of trustees, was reached Thursday while taking a hike on the Boy Scout Trail at Flagstaff Mountain.
As for the elevation of prairie dogs through the lens of the master plan, Isaacson said, “I think, by itself, it’s just a recognition of a decision that has already been made by council, which is that we’re going to have a process which will lead to a board recommendation, currently scheduled for March of 2020, on prairie dog issues. And to my mind, this is a recognition that we’ve got what is likely to be a fairly high profile process” on tap, as it relates to the animals.
Isaacson, who said he hikes the whole Open Space and Mountain Parks trail system each year to “get a feel for the current state of the trails,” is happy to see the master plan development reach this point, aided by the department having received more than 10,000 public comments, staffing seven community events and two drop-in listening sessions with a combined total of more than 900 attending, plus in excess of 1,300 people completing and returning a statistically valid survey this spring.
“It’s both the sense of accomplishment from all the work that went into this over the last few years, and just the satisfaction of seeing this through completion and conclusion, but also substantively, I think it’s a good product,” Isaacson said. “I think it will stand the department in good stead over the next decade and beyond, to use this as a blueprint for the more micro-level decisions that have to be made at the implementation stages.”
Open Space and Mountain Parks Master Plan Tier 1 Strategies
Preserve and restore important habitat blocks and corridors
Update and continue implementing system plans guiding ecosystem management
Address the global climate crisis here and now
Reduce maintenance backlog for agriculture and water infrastructure
Increase soil health and resilience
Address conflicts between agriculture and prairie dogs
Assess and manage increasing visitation
Reduce trail maintenance backlog
Welcome diverse background and abilities
Enhance communication with visitors
See the whole final master plan at bit.ly/320NBAr