Prairie dog colony being eradicated at site of planned Denver "nature" school

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At public hearings, Denver Public Schools officials have expressed the hope that a new elementary school to be built in southeast Denver, on an undeveloped site formerly designated as a natural area, could offer a curriculum built around teaching kids about the environment. Prospective students got their first lesson in interspecies relationships this past weekend, as DPS began trapping and eradicating a prairie dog colony on the site -- despite a lawsuit by citizens challenging the land transfer, and much to the alarm of some families with kids bicycling in the area.

Last week, signs appeared around the eleven-acre site in Hampden Heights, advising locals that DPS would be carrying out its trapping operation until October 4; the rodents would become bird chow for injured raptors being rehabilitated at the Birds of Prey Foundation.

That doesn't sit well with Friends of Denver Parks, the grassroots group challenging the city's transfer of the site to DPS. On its website, group president Renee Lewis points out that the colony is a primary food source for many wild birds in the vicinity of Paul A. Hentzell Park: "To kill off their food source at the beginning of a predicted hard winter is unconscionable."

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A sign advising park users of the trapping.
One report relayed over the weekend from an observer reads: "Live traps, with at least 1 prairie dog dead in 1 of estimated 10-15 traps...it's a pretty ugly sight for families out on bike rides today."

As discussed in my May feature, "The Dogs of War," prairie dogs are regarded as a keystone species of the prairie ecosystem, providing food and habitat for a wide array of animals, plants and insects. But they're also maligned as plague carriers (there hasn't been a case of plague in Denver traced to a prairie dog colony in more than thirty years) and frequently under attack by developers, ranchers and park managers.

The Hampden Heights colony has been living on borrowed time, it seems, ever since DPS began hunting for a site for a new school to help relieve overcrowding on the southeast side. Mayor Michael Hancock, keen on swapping some land for a school building downtown that his administration plans to convert into a "family justice center," declared that the undeveloped land next to Hentzell Park was "blighted" with prairie dogs and managed to persuade the city council to approve the transfer.

Critics of the deal say that the area is the last remnant of a prairie ecosystem within the city limits and a key connectivity point for wildlife in the Cherry Creek corridor -- and that the transfer is illegal, since various representations have been made to locals over the years that the land would remain undeveloped. Efforts to obtain an injunction against the transfer and to get the issue on the ballot for voters to decide have been thwarted so far, but a trial in the Friends of Denver Parks lawsuit is scheduled for next spring.

That may be too late to do the colony -- and the various species of predators that depend on it -- much good. Even if the Friends of Denver Parks manage to get the deal undone, the formerly designated natural area may not have much nature left to it. That could be a lesson plan for the new school, too -- a class on the slippery nature of the terms "blighted," "natural," and, of course, "in the best interests of the community."

More from our Environment archive circa May: "Prairie dog poisonings not the only things angering Stapleton residents."


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45 comments
BethM
BethM

First off, the land was never designated as a "natural area" - the open space to the north of it was, but not the spur of land the city wants to use for the school.  Second, a good third of the land to be used is an abandoned parking lot that is doing nobody any good now.

The real reason some of the "Friends" want the school deal to fail is because they are afraid of kids walking through their neighborhood and bringing crime and mischief.  However, when children get to go to pre-school, they do better in K-12 school (http://www.nbcnews.com/health/quality-preschool-benefits-poor-affluent-kids-study-finds-1C9122282).  And when they do better in school, they are much less likely to commit crime (http://www.elc-pa.org/Employment_and_Crime_Sections_06.11.pdf).  So, by supporting their new neighborhood school, they will reduce the chances of that which they most fear.

Lower crime rates, easing overburdened schools, and a chance to nurture our future environmental scientists and ecologists is well worth the irony of the situation.

leeonis
leeonis

To those that say prairie dogs only "ruin" or "destroy" areas and only support 2 other species:  you might want to research a little before presenting your baseless arguments.  There are 9 species DEPENDANT on prairie dogs and their colonies:  burrowing owl, black-footed ferret, mountain plover, ferruginous hawk, golden eagle, swift fox, horned lark, deer mouse and grasshopper mouse.  

There are 20 more species that benefit from opportunistic use of prairie dog colonies:  desert cottontails, lizards, prairie rattlesnakes, badgers, bald eagles, coyotes, vultures, prairie falcons, bison, pronghorn, mule deer, mourning doves, killdeer, barn swallows, red-tailed hawks, and harriers.

Instead of destroying landscapes, they actually act as RESTORATIONISTS to areas damaged by man.   Ref:  http://www.prairiedogcoalition.org/pd-associated-species.php

So please, instead of just writing this important species off as worthless pests, do a little research and discover just how much the prairies need them.

nonono
nonono

yes that is it, lets get under educated, kill everything, sell off all the parks, chop  down all the trees and build a concrete jungle instead. No need for compassion, scientific fact instead of fiction, environmental conservation, no need for parks or trees or any wild animals...ugly strip malls rule...DPS stinks!


Nikki Zwijacz
Nikki Zwijacz

Poor rabies I mean babies...they've been eradicated for YEARS!

joshcwise81
joshcwise81

I'm not a fan of changing a nature site to a development, but prairie dog colonies destroy entire areas and only support hawks and coyotes. Since the colony near my work was re/moved that area has been reseeded so it's more than just barren dirt and we've started seeing rabbits and other species coming back.

Craig_Houston
Craig_Houston

Ironic, yes, but prairie dogs are awful. They spawn like crazy, carry diseases and ruin whatever landscape they take over. If they're not near extinction I see no problems with this. Last I checked we're humans and they're not. Being at the top of the food chain has its benefits.

Nina Phillips
Nina Phillips

Commented... Very far from any kind of sustainable wildlife management program!

nsanati
nsanati

Any animal that encroaches on humans' housing or livestock becomes an immediate TARGET for EXTERMINATION! And it sucks ...

Matthew Bosies
Matthew Bosies

The disease of humanity (i.e. "progress") spreads like a cancer. DPS will simply replace the rabid, feral Prairie Dogs with the rabid, feral spawn of low class humans. The lesser of two evils is still evil.

Brenda Lott
Brenda Lott

Must be; cause if it had been radical conservatives they'd have just used them for target practice and been done with it.

BlondyVanWeirden
BlondyVanWeirden

Denver Public Schools was sucky when I was a DPS student, and when my kids were DPS students.  The legacy continues.

davebarnes
davebarnes topcommenter

Prairie dogs, hantavirus, Death to rodents.

davebarnes
davebarnes topcommenter

Prairie dogs, hantavirus, Death to rodents.

Sher Quintana
Sher Quintana

Everything about this is SO WRONG AND ASS BACKWARDS!

Ellen Kessler
Ellen Kessler

Humans are a nuisance. Bu-bye Tyler and Tim.

Lin Rice
Lin Rice

You moved the headstones BUT YOU DIDN't MOVE THE BODIES!!!

Russell Ray
Russell Ray

Another great example of stupid people spending YOUR money for stupid ideas instead of spending it on actual education as it was intended.

Tim Norman
Tim Norman

It isn't like prairie dogs are going extinct... circle of life.

Ken Tucker
Ken Tucker

Nobody did that to you when your parents said that!

Aaron Betcher
Aaron Betcher

well that sums up DPS, irony to the bitter end.

michael.roberts
michael.roberts moderator editortopcommenter

@Barbara O'Bannon Succinctly put, Barbara. Thanks.

michael.roberts
michael.roberts moderator editortopcommenter

@Craig_Houston Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Craig. We're going to make your post an upcoming Comment of the Day. Much appreciated.

kirs590
kirs590

You're an idiot. If they were close to extinction you wouldn't be able to kill them. And there's more to being human than just killing off everything. If you haven't looked around it hasn't worked very well so far.

michael.roberts
michael.roberts moderator editortopcommenter

@Matthew Bosies Tough post, Matthew. Thanks for weighing in.

adam.roy
adam.roy moderator

@davebarnes Hi Dave, you're one of the nominees this year for best commenter at the Denver Web Awards, and we'd like to invite you to the awards ceremony on December 5 at Galvanize. Holler if you can make it, or want more details: adam.roy@westword.com

leeonis
leeonis

@davebarnes  

It's typically mice that carry hantavirus - not prairie dogs.

joshcwise81
joshcwise81

@Ellen Kessler Thanks for the great insight, do you want us to start a slow clap or do you prefer to bask in silence?

JimTom
JimTom

@Tyler Longpine Tyler Longpine is nuisance would someone please gas him/her?

cookied90
cookied90

@joshcwise81 @cookied90 

If you go to the Ag site, you will see the numbers on the incidents of Plague infection among humans in the last 30 years, which is almost zero. So unless you are handling a wild PD,  you let your dogs/cats run unattended where there are colonies, your chances of being bitten by a flea, that is the actual carrier, is almos nil. I understand why a lot of natives do not care for the PD, but they are part of a greater eco-system, providing food for other creatures. So do we totally eradicate one species, for the simple reason that they are rodents, or Wolves, or Ferrets, just because they cause some inconvience to others? Mostly humans? Yah, I can see the reasoning now.

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