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Hey, #Boulder, I tried but I couldn't stay away.

No council meeting tonight; instead I'll be live-tweeting (a bit) from the Open Space Board of Trustees meeting on .... PRAIRIE DOGS!
Specifically, their recommendations to city council around use of lethal control, which you might remember council OK'ing nearly a year ago in the LONGEST MEETING EVER.

Past 2 a.m. Denver had an entire election in the time it took us to vote on prairie dogs.
Here's that story, in case you need a refresher.…
If we're here until 2 a.m. tonight, I will not be pleased.
I have a bunch of info in my notes, but I might wait until the presentation to tweet bc the packet was confusing.... I still am not clear on how many acres they plan to do lethal control and/or relocation on, or at what cost.
OSBT chair Tom Isaacson acknowledging that the crowd (40ish ppl) is here even with the risk of coronavirus. We'll try to be quick, he says, so we can get out of here.

I *do* feel comfortable sharing these charts, with the Dif options OSBT considered. Option C is the preferred plan.
I feel slightly less comfortable sharing this Option C-specific chart, bc I think here is where I started to get confused.
But there they are. I'll provide clarity as it comes from staff/board members
So how do ppl feel about lethal control? A majority surveyed during the OSMP master plan update were in favor.…
And at the last meeting, there were 2X as many speakers (22) talking about the need for lethal control and/or damage done by prairie dogs than there were folks advocating against lethal control (11).*
A further 3 ppl, I couldn't tell where they stood.

The * on that is this: That's per the meeting minutes, so there were just short summaries of their comment.
Council will hold a public hearing on the OSBT recommendation on April 21. Something to look forward to.
Mark Gershman, Senior Planner, OSMP, is leading the presentation.

Another clarification: The area we're talking about lethal control is specifically 5,000 acres north of Jay Road
2,400 of those acres are irrigable
Pdogs occupy 967 acres of those irrigable fields, so 40%
Here's another area where the packet confused me: It says 280 acres have stopped being leased due to being overrun by pdogs.

At the May council meeting, that was close to 500 acres. But maybe the smaller number is just within the project area
Here's why lethal control is even being considered: Bc if we kept with our current practices, it would take 41 years (per the chart I shared earlier) to clear all those acres.

Story about that from April of last year:…
Boulder's management practices have led to prairie dogs on neighboring properties as well. 22 property owners have asked for action from the city, according to staff back in May
One of the arguments for lethal control is that Boulder should have to count all the pdogs that its neighbors are killing as pdogs the city is actually killing bc of its management practices.
I have yet to see a number on how many that might be.

I *do* know that Boulder County has been doing lethal control for nearly two decades. They treat 530 acres per year for a cost of $150,000-$200,000 (again, numbers from May meeting)
So that's a cost of $283-$377 per acre for treatment.

One of the things I'm struggling with is figuring out how many acres, exactly, Boulder might be treating yearly so I can do a cost comparison.
It don't look good, from any of the numbers provided in the packet. Again, I don't know which are accurate. But even at the high end, the per-acre cost in Boulder looks to be many factors higher.
However, it's not apples to apples, as I wrote in May, bc cost also includes (I think; again, this packet was confusing) barriers, restoration of the land, etc. And the county does things Dif than the city does.
The county traps pdogs and takes them to a raptor recovery or ferret recovery program for food. Then, after a week, it kills the rest.

Boulder will still maintain its relocation policies, but just add lethal control to it.
OK, so I don't have city numbers, exactly, but here's a footnote from one of those charts: "Mitigation is assumed to cost up to $1,000 per acre of lethal control"
And another: "Relocation contractors charge a range of prices based on availability and need to comply with city procurement requirements; estimates are based on past bid amounts of up to $4,400 per acre for relocation done to the city wildlife ordinance standard"
And another:
"Cost estimates assume one week of trapping and use of CO2 chambers resulting in 25% of animals captured using this method, leaving 75% of control using PERC; estimated costs are $4,000 per acre for trap and donate and $221 per acre for PERC."
OK, last one:
"Restoration costs will range from $124 to $360 per acre depending on the condition of the site, based on staff experience"
So as you can see, costs are quite a bit higher than the county's, even if we're just zeroing in on lethal control.
Gershman going over some open space history. Historically, the purpose of the program was to acquire land and water the prevent development and sprawl, he says. For water, that means it can't be used for municipal growth.
But due to state law, it has to be used in a beneficial way to keep the right. Early in the open space program, there wasn't much staff. So the approach to keep those water rights became to lease the lands (and water rights) for agriculture, Gershman says.
We're at ~45 ppl in the audience, not including reporters and (obvious) staff. Idk who all the staff are, so I might be including some in that.
"We don't believe it's possible to have irrigated (ag) lands with high levels of prairie dogs," Gershman says. "The techniques we'd be using for carbon sequestration would be frustrated" by burrowing of pdogs.
Gershman: "We've already lost an agricultural tenant and have lands removed from ag production" due to a "recent prolonged" prairie dog occupation.
OK, so RE: acreage: What I'm seeing on the staff presentation is that 40 acres of relocation will keep occurring each year and UP TO 100 acres per year of lethal control on top of that.

So UP TO 140 acres per year.
But where that got confusing (for me) is that second chart I shared, where it looks like only 300 acres would be treated for a three-year period, so only 100 acres per year.

That's the chart Gershman is addressing now.
"We anticipate by 2022 removing (prairie dogs) from 300 acres."

That's 3,500 reolcated and 5,500 killed. for a cost of $2.1M (including staff time)
So at those numbers, the cost becomes $7,000 per acre
Unclear if that includes land restoration and barriers as well. I will find out bc DAYUM that is high, when compared to the county's costs.
OSBT member Curt Brown has a q: "You're describing 3 years in the packet, but I assume you're asking us to endorse a program that will continue at that level of resources until it" reaches its conclusion?
John Potter: "We used three-year period for cost estimating. Intention is that we would likely get some experience doing this and more than likely have to come back to you after a year or two years and share with you what we've learned."
Potter is the Resource and Stewardship Division Manager, OSMP
Dave Kuntz, OSBT member: We asked that Option C and D (more lethal control) be evaluated. Why did you just present on C?
Potter: "We didn't do a detailed workup of alternative D for a couple of reasons."
Little time between Feb. 12 study session and when materials were due for today's meeting. "Pulling together data for this was relatively challenging."
Hal Hallstein, OSBT member, asked a q about a funding source that I'm not familiar with. Grasslands something, that's earmarked for certain things.

That $$ would be used to advance the recommendations of the Prairie Dog Working Group, which were only non-lethal, Potter says.
Karen Hollweg also asking a funding q.
Dept funds will have to be shifted around (about $600,000 over three years, staff says) to pay for this prairie dog work.
Dan Burke, OSMP director: What we need to work out is the "proper use" of dept funds for this. We'll come back to you with specifics on that
Can't believe that's all the qs the board has. No one asking why these costs are so much higher than the county's but maybe they covered that in February.

And again, not apples to apples. But yowza, the gap is astonishing.
We're moving to public hearing. Not sure how much I'll tweet bc it will be all the same stuff we've heard a million times at council meetings for the past .... forever.
Allow me to demonstrate:
"Don't kill the prairie dogs! They were here first! Humans the real invasive species!"
"Prairie dogs are ruining farms! Boulder needs to kill some so that our neighbors aren't killing them all!"
Or I may not tweet at all, bc they're not putting the names of the speakers up on a computer so I have no idea who these ppl are.
Ben Valley (not sure of spelling) says this is a David and Goliath story: Farmers are David, the pdogs are Goliath.

He (and everyone else who uses this) might want to watch this TED talk from years ago:
So far, 5 of 5 in favor of lethal control (though the first speaker, Molly Davis, said not to use Delta Dust).
April Story has a wildflower farm.

How does one farm wildflowers? Isn't that an oxymoron? Aren't wildflowers by definition, wild?
Story also was confused by the packet, apparently: "The many math errors in your packet suggest that staff doesn’t like math either."
Story (or maybe Storey) is saying that the Option C numbers, once they drilled down, treats fewer acres than was initially suggested: "This is not the Option C you asked for. This is option B in disguise."
That was also my confusion, bc there were different numbers in different places for how many acres would be treated each year.
Missed a speaker's name, but he's taking issue with staff's projected pdog growth assumptions of 3% per year. It's closer to 12%, he says. This preferred plan won't even keep up with the pace of population growth.

Also referring to Plan C as B-2, as the last speaker did.
"You will just tread water, just keep killing for 3/4 of a million dollars per year," he says. "What you don't kill now will have to be killed later on."

250 acres per year is how many we need to treat to keep up, he says.
It was Chris something.
Maybe Chris Brown...?
Not the singer.
Paula Schuler has some numbers on how many pdogs neighbors are killing (not sure where she got them). 10 immediate neighbors are killing 11,022 per year, she says.

Reminder: 22 neighbors have complained, staff said in May.
She's also taking issue with staff's growth projections. Showing some charts where occupation doubled between 2017 and 2019.
Elizabeth Black (my favorite frequent council speaker): "Open space has budget woes."

How is that possible? They get 10% of city's flexible budget dollars and just got a tax re-up.
Black has some very sophisticated charts and things, per usual. She's saying Boulder County spends $830/acre on prairie dogs... not sure where she got that.

I feel like my story is going to add no value. These ppl know so much more than I do.
OK, picking up on another theme: Somewhere in the plan, it calls for money to go into a certain fund to be earmarked for prairie dog conservation or relocation or something.

People have issues with that.
Taxpayers shouldn't have to pay that, speaker says, bc we paid for these ag lands to remain ag lands when we bought them. It's a failure of policy that prairie dogs took over these lands to the detriment of other open space values.
So far, no one saying we shouldn't kill any prairie dogs. Maybe they know it's too late; that ship has sailed.
Spoke too soon: Jeremy Gregory becomes (I think) the first. Hard to tell: He's basically just giving a 3-minute ad for his work.

We can have sustainable ag and co-exist with nature, he says.
He has 100 pdogs on 15 acres, he says.
Average density is 30 prairie dogs per acre, at least in Boulder open space, according to staff.
Maria Wasson (Longmont farmer, neighbor of Boulder open space) says she's "interested" in how Gregory is doing it "because I certainly have not" figured out how to co-exist with prairie dogs.
If you're not interested in maintaining your open space lands, "sell them," Wasson says.
Blatant disregard of the rules as 7 women pool their time, speaking for several environmental groups (Wild Earth Guardians, Sierra Club Indian Peaks, etc.)

You're only supposed to be allowed to pool with 2 other ppl, last time I checked.
Open Space trustees letting it happen. This would *never* fly at council.

Toto, I don't think we're in Kansas anymore.
But we do have a time-honored council meeting tradition: An alternative plan, created by citizens! That will apparently solve the problem by continuing to do the same thing, just in a different way.
It includes this suggestion: Put conservation groups and ranchers on the same lease. If the prairie dog occupation is high in that year, the conservation group will pay the city for lost ag acreage.
Relocations can be done for cheaper, one of the speakers says: About half the costs cited by the city, she says.
3 of these 7 women were on the prairie dog working group, they say
They're also referencing the grasslands conservation fund, which I can't find in the packet, so I can't explain it to you.
With that crew, we're at 8 anti-lethal control speakers and 15 pro.
That's not really the story, to me. The story is about costs and time to treat these acres.
There are very few places where you'll hear someone saying, in public, "I want to speak passionately about the soil and the grass."
That was John Brown, a veggie farmer, btw.
Marcus Mcauly the first to bring up that everyone here eats and animals die to make it. Even growing veggies, he says, kills rodents and birds and earthworms and bugs. (He had stats.)

"It's easy to forget that when you get your food in packages at Whole Foods."
Is there a farmer who isn't in favor of lethal control? he asks. "Is that bc we’re evil farmers, or bc we know what it’s like to have our year’s work disappear before our eyes."
We have our first suggestion from OSBT chair Isaacson that a speaker use hand sanitizer after grabbing the mic.
Elle Cushman has a new tagline for Boulder, from "25 square miles surrounded by reality," to "25 square miles surrounded by prairie dogs."
This is new: OSBT chair Isaacson is reading comments from those who couldn't be here in person. Maybe bc of coronavirus.
Board is going to discuss possible changes to the staff plan now.
Brown: "My overarching concern is scale."
Our success is "critically dependent" on the pace of population growth.
If population growth is 3%, as staff says, it will take 9 years to clear the project area land. If it's 12%, as community members say, it's 20 years, Brown says.
Brown: "We should throw everything at this that we can find."

Relocations are important if it's for conservation. But otherwise I think we have to put all the resources we can into getting ahead of population.
"Otherwise, it just increases the number of prairie dogs killed in the end."
Hallstein suggests that they nix the contribution to the grassland fund that was causing issues for ppl.
And recommends NO relocation from leased ag lands; just OSMP-managed lands. "To more quickly address the conflict we've been charged with addressing."
Hollweg: I'd like to see us working with lease-holders AND neighbors. (Not sure what she means by that) and also analyzing if there's room for more relocations in the southern grasslands.
Isaacson proposes "limiting" the trapping of prairie dogs to be fed to raptors and/or ferrets, bc it's not an efficient way to proceed.
Kuntz: We've been focusing on prairie dogs on irrigated ag lands, but they are elsewhere, too. Can we present the context of prairie dog locations throughout the system?
OSBT also wants to start lethal control this year, at least with a trial if not starting the actual process itself. Asking staff to explain.
Our general considerations were budget. Not currently budgeted to do anything other than relocation this year. Second reason is "while we've done small amounts of lethal control as part of relocations, we've never done a program like this." I believe this is Potter speaking.
Also have to do RFPs, contracting, etc. It would be fall by the time those are done. And since there's no funding, 2021 makes more sense.
There are also issues related to changing city code/charter language to allow burrows to be disturbed/destroyed on ag lands (currently not allowed) and other things.
Hallstein: Why not use a lethal control permit until we chan change the larger structure? (city charter and such, I believe)
Valerie Matheson, Urban Wildlife Conservation Coordinator, Planning Department: City manager can give special use permits
Or the city manager can draft a rule to explain what lethal control looks like on ag land, Matheson says.
Hallstein: This is a regulatory issue. We're throwing a lot of $$ at it but we need to fix it correctly: legally.
I'm sorry if this is confusing to you; I'm not entirely clear on all the specifics of what's happening here. This is much more in the weeds than it's been before council in the past.
There is a process for a lethal control permit now. It's extensive, Matheson says. 90-day lag time, including 60 days for public comment. Then 5 days of clear-weather trapping, which gets 95-98% of animals. Then PERC (Pressurized Exhaust Rodent Control)
BUT the city manager rule that is the other option could go into effect after a 15- or 30-day public comment period. (Sorry, I heard 15 days twice but idk if that equals 30 days or I just got confused)
I'm losing the three of what OSBT is talking about.

But I finally found the $1,000 per acre contribution to the Grassland Conservation Fund! It's in the staff powerpoint.
And in the packet. Must have mistyped my search earlier. *doh*
There is a lady in the crowd knitting and I am here for it.
Potter to OSBT: If you want us to keep relocations in the plan for this year, that's what we have $$ for, what we're getting permits for... If you don't want us to, that's a significant change.
Matheson: I don't think you need a code change for (allowing) burrow destruction or changes to lethal control. I think you can do a rule change.
OSBT's Brown: Would lethal control be allowed by-right with a rule change?
No, Matheson says. That would require a code change.
Brown: So I think you proceed on all fronts.
Not entirely clear what he means, but I think it's presenting info to council on all the options so they can pick what they want.
I forgot I had a map of the project area we're talking about for lethal control. Here it is.
OSBT talking about adding a property in to that.
Potter: There's a lot of work to be done in this project area. We can come back in a year and re-assess where work is being done.
Isaacson: This is going to occupy staff for quite a few years, so if we add a property it would just be an administrative action.
We're talking a bit about which areas are being prioritized. There's a bit of debate of what's currently irrigated vs. historically were irrigated.

But some priority is being given to two leased ag properties with 50%+ occupation (87 acres)
Hallstein saying how we're over our targets for prairie dog population on open space grasslands. That's why he wants to strike the recommendation for $1,000/acre contribution to that grasslands fund for p dog conservation. BUT...
In the future, if we fall below our targets for p dog population, Hallstein wants to commit that "we will show up" with money and resources to build that back up.
Isaacson agrees: I don't think we should create a specific bucket of money. "It's almost like taxing yourself, like a forced savings. I'd rather say we're going to trust ourselves in the future to allocate and spend $$ on needs as they come about."
"I also think open space should have control over our funds."
So that recommendation is being axed from the staff list.
Q from Hollweg: Why can't we let lessees do work to restore land, etc. on their own land, with their own tools, rather than paying staff or contractors to bring equipment in?
Staff (don't know who this is): We didn't want to ask them to do the work.
Hollweg: At least a couple lessees have asked me, 'Why can't we do that?'
Isaacson: A lot of our tenants also lease from the county. So they have experience and expertise that can be usefully tapped into.
Kuntz: We're talking about tenants possibly doing lethal control.
Hollweg: I wasn't going that far. That's another discussion.
Kuntz: We oughta look at that. Many of them are trained by the county to do that.
That's not included explicitly right now, bc this is just a new framework, another unidentified staff member says. County's guidelines are really built about tenant involvement *after* they've cleared land, to maintain it.
Potter to OSBT: You're not proposing to make this a requirement of the lease?
No, board says.
Brown: You can include a positive statement about ways to involve tenants.
I think I've hit my lifetime limit for prairie dog meetings.
Hallstein: We don't want this to be a service we provide. This is a "shared struggle."
Brown: What's the relative cost of trap-and-donate vs. lethal control?

Those raptor and ferret programs will take any p dogs we can give them, staff says. There's always a need.
$4,000 per acre for trap-and-donate
vs. $221 per acre for PERC (gassing them in the burrows)
Boulder has NOT done trapping and donating
Hallstein: Trap and donate does not require delta dust, correct? Just relocation?
Staff: If they're going to raptors. If they go to ferrets, they do use delta dust. As with relocation.
Board going over how much trap-and-donate should be done vs. PERC, given the cost differential.
Potter: We'll do this as cheaply as possible, with a competitive bidding process. If we can find somebody to do it for half the (estimated) cost, we'll employ them.

The best guidance you can give us, is this the amount of lethal control we should be doing?
Brown: I'm saying we should do less trapping and donating, given how much it costs. We shouldn't be diverting program $$ to that.
Isaacson: I get why this is difficult. It seems like a waste to kill them and not feed other animals. But it is the least painful way, to gas them in their burrows, vs. trapping them then feeding them to raptors.
Isaacson: I also get that if you trap animal out of the hole, that's more targeted vs. gas in the burrow, which has collateral damage of other animals.

"But, boy, it comes at a pretty high price."
Potter: What I'm hearing is that you may want that trap-and-donate option to be taken out of our recommendation?
Isaacson: Yes, maybe. And then were does that money go?
Brown: "We're suggesting it shouldn't be a priority so those monies should go to removal as quickly as we possibly can."

Board has consensus on that.
Potter: If we have capacity for prairie dogs elsewhere in OSMP or another site that someone offered, would it be a priority to relocate prairie dogs?
Brown: Yes, I think it's a priority to meet our OSMP goals.
Hollweg: I thought we were in an emergency situation bc of years of doing that. "We need to spend our staff time and resources on prairie dogs on OSMP land that need to be removed."
Isaacson: "I would keep relocation as another tool we use in the volumes that are called for in the staff preferred alternative (40 acres) which is dependent upon availability and quality of receiving sites."
"At this point, we have ample places to receive on our own lands."
Potter: If there are additional receiving sites from another organization, if they're willing to cost-share, or if we have additional receiving sites" it's something we put in there to relocate dogs from more than 40 acres/year in order to balance conservation and lethal control.
Kuntz: "Relocation is more expensive, more time consuming. I would have a hard time with that. If we do the target 40 (acres of relocation) and 100 (acres for lethal control) that makes sense."
Hollweg: "I would say if somebody comes and wants our prairie dogs and to cost share, that would be applied to the 40 (acres target), not some additional."
We're still here, but I am bored and over it. Almost done, I think.
But here's a nearly done takeaway: OSBT seems to be more in favor of removing as many prairie dogs as quickly and cheaply as possible. Less interested in relocation or donation, as more costly and time-consuming fixes.
Brown: How easy is it for staff to know the change in acreage of prairie dog occupation year-over-year?
Staff: We do inventory every year.
Brown: Good.
We're moving into discussion about long-term plans: What do we do beyond the three-year plan? (After 2022)
Hollweg: "At least there ought to be a short paragraph" about what happens beyond that.
Brown: "I'll argue that this problem is a lot bigger than we think it is and it's growing a lot faster than we think it is."
We're now talking about money that gets saved if we do less relocation and axe the Grassland fund contribution.
Isaacson mentioning the sales tax extension and how that might be impacted by coronavirus and declining tourism.
We're really skipping around here.
Although these are all related bc it's about open space funding and where the dept will get the $$ for this.
Potter: Should lethal control be based on an acreage amount or funding? In other words, if we can save money elsewhere, should we do more?
Brown: We've heard ppl suggest the pop. growth rate is more than 3%. Do we feel confident it is 3%?

Staff: I feel absolutely confident that last year it was 3%. After plague, it tends to be a very rapid increase and then levels off. We've seen the last 3 yrs it leveling off.
I believe it's Victoria Poulton, Prairie Dog Conservation and Management Coordinator, OSMP, who said that.
But I could be wrong. Lots of staff here; not all of them said who they were.
Brown: We need to be really cautious in presenting this to council, that all these numbers are dependent on population growth.
Any savings we have, we should put back into the (removal) program, bc it's going to save more money in the long run. That's why I don't want a hard-and-fast acreage limit, Brown says.
Isaacson: "I don't view the goal of lethal control as getting to 0 prairie dogs. I would not kill down to 0 prairie dogs on irrigated ag lands."
A lot of ag lands are at 10% occupation, he says, "which is not nothing, but it's certainly not the crisis that led us to our motion last April" (to recommend lethal control).
Isaacson: I would not automatically saying any $$ we can free up should go to killing prairie dogs if the property is at 5-10% occupation. It needs to be holistically evaluated: How is the property doing, what are impacts to neighbors? etc.
Brown: I didn't say lethal control; I said the program. "Our task exceeds our resources right now." Any extra $$ should go into that, at least for the first few years until we get data that says we're doing great.
Potter: This will be a line item in your budget every year, so if it seems too much or not enough, you can use your authority to adjust it.
Hallstein: "The real goal is to have our ag community come back to us and say, thank you, my operation is viable." I'm not interested in 0 prairie dogs. But for farmers where p dogs are preventing them from being viable, I would go to zero.
"The farmer will know better than anyone" what the level can be, Hallstein says. "It's not about chasing things to zero."
But we can't stay below population growth rates, he says, bc then it's just "kabuki theatre."

Not sure what that means; I know what kabuki is, of course, but how it relates... idk.
I actually have a really funny story about kabuki which I can't share bc it's NSFW. Ask me about it in person sometime.
Hollweg: I thought when we started this a year ago, we had a number. It was an emergency bc we had properties above... I thought it was 35%? So we have set a number, above zero.
Potter: We structured this to focus on specific areas first, regardless of percentages.
Hollweg: Is 35% still a meaningful number for us?
Hallstein: I just want to be careful of micromanaging.
We are REALLY in the weeds here.
OK, we're getting back to high-level decisions: OSBT wants to do more removal than staff has suggested.

But, Burke says, we don't make recommendations that we don't think we can do. The proposed plan is what we think we can do.
Isaacson: But it doesn't represent savings from not doing trap-and-donate to raptors.
Potter: So would you prefer to up the number of acres of lethal control?
Burke: Or reduce how much we'll have to shift from other dept priorities and keep the targets the same?
Brown: I would advise upping the amount of removal, at least for the first few years.
"Be as efficient as you can to make progress toward the goal of restoring viability of operations," Brown says.
Kuntz: But the board should know what else won't get done in the department if we shift $$ to this.
Burke: We'll have projects we're deferring, scaling back or not taking on. That's what we'll share.
Burke: This is a Tier 1 (most important) project. I'm fairly confident you're not going to see another Tier 1 project get hammered over the head bc of this. It will be a Tier 2 or 3 project.
"I doubt you're going to be concerned about what maybe got left off the table in relation to this project."
I think we might be done.... with prairie dogs. I'm not staying for anything else.

I have some followup questions (@ me if you have some, too) that I'll get answered and write a story by the weekend.
See you next Tuesday for... library district!

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