Conservation Committee

Minutes

June 4 2008

1. INTRODUCTIONS.

Those present were Brandon Hollinder, Deirdre Butler, Todd Sanford, and Kirk Cunningham

2. WILDLIFE ISSUES – Deirdre Butler

a. Prairie dog study – major findings – See Item A below. The object of the study, which was conducted last fall by an academic researcher hired with a grant from RMAD, had the object of cooperating with the city of Boulder and supplying them with data which they would not have otherwise. The results are counter-intuitive in at least a couple respects, since it is commonly believed that prairie dogs engender weed infestations. The entire study will be sent to relevant city staff and advisory boards, and hopefully will be considered in the ongoing revision of the Grasslands Management Plan (coming out in July), the prairie dog portion of which seems weak
b. Deirdre is part of another campaign to repeal or amend SB 111, a law that prohibits the transfer of prairie dogs from one county to another without the express consent of the receiving county’s Commissioners
c. Deirdre described her recent trip to Yellowstone Park with other local Sierra Club members over Memorial Day weekend. The wildlife viewing was spectacular.

3. OPEN SPACE – Brandon Hollinder

a. Stakeholder discussions, City of Boulder Open Space – goals – See B below. The comments in caps are from Kirk Cunningham and others on this list are also invited to comment. The main focus of many recreation-oriented groups is to get an off-highway connection between Boulder and Walker Ranch and National Forest lands beyond. The most likely route is from Eldorado Canyon State Park north behind the Flatirons, but this proposal is not problem-free.
b. Boulder County Parks and Open Space stakeholders’ meetings. Boulder County holds occasional informal meetings with its open space constituencies. The next one is June 17th, and Wayne Schnell is attending.

4. NATIONAL FOREST – Todd Sanford and Kirk Cunningham

Reprise of today’s Southern Rockies Conservation Alliance (includes Sierra Club and other groups) meeting with Udall staff :
a. SRCA groups are worried that Udall appears to be avoiding them during the last two or more years and wondered whether he was distancing himself in the context of his Senate race. His staff claimed that he just busy
b. Participants asked whether Udall would support a number of current proposed or actual wilderness bills for Colorado. The response was that Udall was lying low on most of these proposals until after the election, but that if he does win, wilderness designations will be one of his more important priorities
c. Regarding bills that Udall has introduced to deal with beetle-killed timber problems, his staff admitted that they would have little force and effect because the money was not there for them now and likely would not be there in the future. Environmental groups have been wary of these bills because they streamline or even eliminate important environmental studies.

5. MISCELLANEOUS – Kirk Cunningham

Boulder County is headed into the mosquito season now, with accompanying West Nile threats. In Longmont, a city that suffered city-wide spraying for adult mosquitos several times last year, local activists on this issue seem to be making some headway with the new city council, hopefully resulting in a modification of the mosquito control program. In Boulder, Kirk is working with other Sierrans and with other groups on integrated pest management (including weeds), bear-resistant trash collection, and scientific advisory board issues in Boulder.

Kirk Cunningham

ADDENDA

A. Key Findings from Keep Boulder Wild regarding recent research titled Evaluating the Habitat Suitability of Boulder Open Space and Mountain Parks Land for Black-Tailed Prairie Dogs

Rationale: Since 2005, black-tailed prairie dog populations on Open Space and Mountain Parks (OSMP) lands have declined by more than 60% and currently occupy less than 4% of OSMP land. Thus, identifying OSMP lands that promote viable prairie dog populations, as well as lands that are unlikely to support viable populations, may be critical for conservation of this species in the city of Boulder. The objective of this study was to evaluate the suitability of OSMP lands for maintaining viable black tailed prairie dog populations.

• Prairie dogs do alter vegetation structure, but do not necessarily have a negative impact on vegetative communities.

• Very few findings indicated any qualitative difference between study sites occupied or unoccupied by prairie dogs. Of the differences shown, none were negative impacts.

• Our findings do not support the notion that prairie dogs reduce native vegetation or facilitate exotic species onto a site.

• While prairie dogs may lower species richness and diversity, they do not necessarily convert ‘suitable’ habitat patches to ‘unsuitable’ patches.

• There is no difference between prairie dog population density on sites that were ‘suitable’ or ‘unsuitable’.

• Study results underscore the ability of black-tailed prairie dogs to persist in a variety of habitat types.

• Study results demonstrate that based on habitat, vegetation, or population structure, none of the sites inventoried should be considered ‘unsuitable’ for prairie dogs.

• ‘Unsuitable’ sites did not qualitatively differ from sites that were labeled as ‘suitable.’

• Other studies (Rodewald & Lehmer, 2002) have shown prairie dogs living in ‘suitable or unsuitable’ habitats were found to be equally healthy.

• Based on the habitat characteristics studied i.e., vegetation cover, native versus non-native species, species richness and biodiversity and including topography, geography and soil composition, designating prairie dog habitat as ‘suitable’ or ‘unsuitable’ are invalid.

B. STAKEHOLDERS’ FORUM, BOULDER CITY OPEN SPACE – ASPIRATIONS AND SOME COMMENTS

Sierra Club’s Unofficial Aspirations

1. Eliminate, or reduce to the extent practical, social trails and redundant official trails in the western trail study area (TSA), especially in the eastern portion. GOOD

2. Improve trail quality. Use professionals to build new trails and upgrade current trails to the extent possible. Dedicate more resources towards maintaining the existing trails, even if it means making fewer purchases of land in the future. CERTAINLY IMPORTANT IN PRINCIPLE, BUT MIGHT BE SOMEWHAT CONTROVERSIAL IF LAND PURCHASING REDUCTIONS ARE A NECESSARY TRADE-OFF. A LOT OF THE PRESENT MAIN TRAILS THAT HAVE GO INTO THE FLATIRONS AREA HAVE BEEN RECONSTRUCTED IN THE LAST DECADES SO THAT THEY ARE SUSTAINABLE, E.G. THE FERN CANYON AND SHADOW CANYON TRAILS COME TO MY MIND AS VIRTUALLY MONUMENTAL WORKS. PERHAPS WHAT PEOPLE ARE REFERRING TO HERE ARE SOME OF THE USER-CREATED TRAILS TO CLIMBING SPOTS THAT HAVE NOT BEEN PROPERLY CONSTRUCTED TO BEGIN WITH OR RECONSTRUCTED AND WHICH ARE ERODING. SINCE THEY SERVE A PERCENTAGE-WISE SMALL USER GROUP RELATIVE TO MAIN TRAIL USERS, IF RECONSTRUCTION WERE TO BE DONE, I THINK A PARTNERSHIP BETWEEN THE CITY AND CLIMBING GROUPS TO SHARE LABOR AND REDUCE COSTS MIGHT SPEED THE PROCESS.

The City must be very conscious of the topography of the western TSA as it develops policies that relate towards trails. The inclines in the western TSA are particularly steep, which increases the possibility of erosion, washout and degradation of trails in general. That in turn negatively impacts the human experience, animal habitat and water quality for instance. The city can mitigate and minimize these effects by spending money and dedicating resources to professionally built, upgraded and properly maintained trails.

3. There has been much discussion concerning the Walker Ranch/Eldorado trail and possibly making it a multiuse trail. Some members of the Sierra Club feel the trail will not be upgraded because of the terrain and the fact that the trail crosses state park land. However, the Sierra Club prefers efforts to develop the Walker Ranch/Eldorado trail into a multiuse trail over any effort to create a trail through the habitat conservation area (HCA) that exists on the back side of South Boulder/Green peaks. We would like to see that area remain an HCA and trail free. THE NORTHERN HALF OF THAT THREE-MILE TRAIL MIGHT HAVE A GRADE AND SMOOTHNESS MORE COMPATIBLE WITH SUSTAINABLE BIKE USE, BUT THE PRESENT SEGMENT IN AND NEAR THE PARK WOULD BE EXPENSIVE TO UPGRADE AND MAINTAIN – PERHAPS THE REASON THAT STATE PARKS IS NOT KEEN ON THE IDEA. YOU CAN GET AN IDEA WHAT STATE PARKS WILL AGREE TO REGARDING BIKE USE IN GOLDEN GATE CANYON STATE PARK. THERE, IF I RECALL CORRECTLY, ONLY RELATIVELY LOW GRADIENT TRAILS ARE ALLOWED TO BIKES. OTHERWISE, I DON’T SEE WHAT ROUTE COULD BE DEVISED BETWEEN ELDORADO SP AND WALKER RANCH THAT WOULD BE SUSTAINABLE (PERHAPS ONE LOWER DOWN ON THE SLOPE IN THE BEGINNING WITH A MORE GRADUAL SLOPE?). IDEALLY, IT WOULD BE GREAT IF THE SMALL ROAD THROUGH THE CANYON WERE AVAILABLE, BUT I SUSPECT THE LANDOWNERS WOULD NOT AGREE TO IT.

4. There is support for protecting animals and reducing the conflict and pressures on animals caused by human activity. We support animal need induced seasonal closures and in some case the expansion of current closures both temporally and geographically when and if necessary. We support new and innovative methods and studies to accomplish this objective and reduce the conflict between human use and animal behavior. GOOD GOAL

5. Many people in the Sierra Club are bike enthusiasts. There is a desire amongst many of these bicyclists for access to more trails, especially those closer to the center of town. We support a dialogue to discuss the possibility of opening more trails to bicyclists along the Betasso model. For example, bikes would be permitted to access the Mesa trail on Wednesdays and Sundays for a trial period. POSSIBLE IN PRINCIPLE BASED ON THE PHYSICAL ATTRIBUTES OF THE TRAIL, BUT THE TRAIL IS USED SO HEAVILY EVERY DAY THAT EVEN ALTERNATING TRAIL SHARING WOULD CREATE CONFLICTS. BY CONTRAST, FAR FEWER PEOPLE GO TO BETASSO. EVEN BIKE USE AT HALL AND HEIL RANCH IS BECOMING A CONFLICT WITH FOOT AND HORSE USE ON WEEKENDS. I SUSPECT THAT, IN THE LONG RUN, THOSE PARKS WILL GO TO AN ALTERNATING SCHEDULE TO REDUCE CONFLICTS.

6. Finally, on a personal note, we would be interested in any studies and/or data that any one could provide documenting and comparing the impact of hikers, hikers with dogs, bicyclists, and equestrians on trails and the natural environment surrounding those trails. THERE ARE PLENTY OF SUCH STUDIES AROUND, ALTHOUGH I DON’T HAVE READY ACCESS TO THEM. OPEN SPACE STAFF SHOULD BE ABLE TO GIVE YOU SEVERAL REFERENCES THAT THEY HAVE RELIED ON IN MAKING THEIR MANAGEMENT PLANS. MY RECOLLECTION IS THAT PEOPLE WITH DOGS ARE THE MOST THREATENING CATEGORY FROM THE PERSPECTIVE OF WILDLIFE LIKE DEER, NOT SURPRISINGLY.