Conservation Committee

Minutes

April 2, 2008

1. INTRODUCTIONS. Those present were Kirk Cunningham, Deirdre Butler, Wayne Schnell, and David and Sharon Conley.

2. WILDLIFE - Deirdre Butler

* The issue of protecting Powers Marsh on the east side of Lafayette has a wildlife component that might necessitate a mailer to our Lafayette members or some sort of public program, this spring. Powers Marsh and nearby Old Town Pond are wetlands connected to Coal Creek and an irrigation ditch, respectively. They are high quality wetlands with diverse and important wildlife populations. Last year, a local group initiated (and the Sierra Club supported) a campaign to stop a proposed Lafayette annexation of farm land between these two wetlands for the purpose of allowing the construction of a Lowe’s store. There were a number of motives for the opposition to Lowe’s at this site, but protecting the wetlands and preserving the land for open space were important ones. Unfortunately, that initiative lost, but, in the meantime, the bad economy and, possibly, emerging concerns about coal mine subsidence on the site, has delayed Lowe’s purchase of the annexed land. Therefore, there may be a window of opportunity for us and local people to build some pressure on Boulder County and Lafayette City Council to purchase the land for Open Space. We could possibly create a postcard campaign around this and/or sponsor a program at the Lafayette Library using Audubon’s Steve Jones’ slide show on the wildlife resource. Kirk is working with a few local activists to do this.

* Prairie dog issues. Deirdre and other activists in a loose coalition called Keep Boulder Wild are trying to convince the City and County open space departments to reintroduce prairie dogs to former colonies that were eradicated more than a year ago by the sylvatic plague. Deirdre has spoken with people in both departments who seem not willing to divulge exactly why they prefer shipping “excess” prairie dogs to the captive black-footed ferret program when they could give them at least a chance by sending them into the vacant colonies. There are least five such sites on County Open Space, including one at Heil Ranch (at the beginning of the Wapiti Trail) and on Corona Hill at Hall Ranch. There are other such sites on Boulder City Open Space.

To counter the agencies’ attitudes about the supposed lack of prairie dog habitat, Rocky Mountain Animal Defense allocated $8500 to a team of biologists at Fort Lewis College to do a study titled “Evaluating the Habitat Suitability of Boulder Open Space and Mountain Parks Land for Black-Tailed Prairie Dogs”. This study found that:

1) there were few qualitative differences in habitat characteristics among 16 sites, some of which were deemed suitable for prairie dogs by the City and some which were not,
2) the prairie dogs did not seem to create a difference in vegetation structure between suitable and unsuitable occupied sites,
3) prairie dogs did not appear to have facilitated the introduction of non-native plants differently on suitable and unsuitable sites,
4) the grazing of prairie dogs and resulting changes in species diversity had no impact on the suitability of particular lands for prairie dogs
5) there was no difference in the density of burrows between suitable and unsuitable sites occupied by prairie dogs.
These conclusions cast doubt on the criteria by which Boulder Open Space and Mountain Parks determines which open space sites are biologically suitable or not suitable for prairie dog habitat.

3. NATIONAL FOREST ISSUES - Todd Sanford and Kirk Cunningham

* The Lump Gulch Project, on scattered Forest Service properties between Nederland and Rollinsville, is designed for fire danger mitigation and beetle kill prevention, chiefly by tree thinning. Some problems with the project have been identified by IPG Wilderness Chair Bill Ikler, working with Todd and Rocky Smith (Southern Rockies Conservation Alliance staff person). We will probably sign on to an amended version of Rocky’s comments. One big impact will on recreational trails near Nederland.

* “Road Rip” project in the Fall River Road area, in the Clear Creek Ranger District. This area is located just east of the James Peak Wilderness near the town of St. Mary’s. There are a lot of old mining roads and user-created roads in that area that are causing serious damage to tundra vegetation and promoting erosion. Some of these roads are slated to be closed and revegetated. We will be supporting this project in our comments.

4. IDEAS TO TAKE TO BOULDER CITY COUNCIL - David and Sharon Conley

David and Sharon are the IPG’s new Political Committee Co-Chairs. They are proposing to meet with City Council members whom we endorsed in the last election and wanted some issue-related talking points to bring up with them. Ideas that came forward during the discussion were prairie dog management and weed management. Other ideas should come from the Sprawl and Transportation and Energy Committees.

5. BOULDER OPEN SPACE ISSUES - Wayne Schnell.

Wayne will visit with a local proponent of saving a 5-acre de facto open space in the middle of Louisville - Cottonwood Gulch - from development as a condo complex. Although the IPG has decided not to get involved with this local campaign, Wayne wants to see the site and listen to the local activists. The 5 acres has been owned by a church and has been effectively open to the public for about 30 years, but now they are selling out and moving.

Wayne attended a recent meeting of the City of Boulder Open Space Board of Trustees and brought back some information about the purchase for open space of a small farm property on north 63rd St., a report on the City’s open space forest management projects, and some information about some new, recently approved trails in the Doudy Draw/ Eldorado Mountain area. The latter item will be the subject of a work outing later in April.

Kirk mentioned the considerable history the IPG has had on the issue of weed control on open space and how this can be done with minimal use of toxic herbicides.

6. TOXICS, PESTICIDES, WATER QUALITY - Kirk Cunningham

* I need IPG feedback or buy-in on three issues, 1) whether or not the City should establish a “Scientific Advisory Board” to give professional input on certain management decisions on Open Space in particular, e.g. weed control, 2) whether entities in Boulder County and the County itself, should place a greater emphasis on larvaciding for mosquito control and less on the broadcast spraying of insecticide for adult insects, and 3) whether Boulder should tighten up its notification ordinances for private pesticide applications.

Kirk Cunningham, Conservation Chair