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As protesters stood at Founders Parkway and Factory Shops Boulevard — waving signs and shouting at drivers to help save the prairie dogs — a few hundred yards behind them exterminators were already laying traps.
The grass-roots campaign, called Save the Castle Rock Prairie Dogs, wants to push back the construction of the Promenade at Castle Rock, at the north end of town between I-25 and U.S. Highway 85, near the Outlets at Castle Rock, until June.
That's when the animals, many of them pregnant, could be moved. The prairie dogs are being trapped with baited cages. It is unknown how or if they are being killed at this time.
“Of course I was at the protest,” said Castle Rock resident Keith Lattimore-Walsh, one of about 40 protesters at the Feb. 24 rally. “My heart won't allow me to do anything less than to fight for those who cannot speak.”
The controversy is part of the town's continued conversation about growth and began when more than 20 residents spoke out against the Promenade at the Feb. 17 council meeting.
Activists said they hope snowy conditions and the slow pace of capture will give them time to find available land for relocation of the colony — about 1,000 prairie dogs.
“It's slow, they aren't capturing many at a time,” said Brian Ertz, board president of the activist organization the Wildlands Defense.
Alberta Development Partners, the developer behind the Promenade, could not be reached for comment about the removal of the prairie dogs, despite repeated attempts by the News-Press.
Town officials reiterated their stance that the situation is a matter of a private developer building on private land, therefore they have no jurisdiction to stop or delay construction.
This would be different if the prairie dogs were protected by state law, which they aren't, because they are not an endangered species.
According to Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the state population of prairie dogs is very healthy overall.
“I do think the animals in that area, the raptors and other species that eat prairie dogs, have plenty of other food sources available and the removal of the prairie dogs will have very little if any impact on the ecosystem,” said Jennifer Churchill, a spokeswoman for CPW.
Churchill said while many in certain areas become attached to the prairie dog colonies they live near, CPW takes a macro-view of animal populations and said there are still untold numbers of them in Colorado — especially in the less populated portions of the state.
CPW also confirmed that prairie dogs are in fact carriers of some diseases that can be spread to humans, like the bubonic plague.
Deanna Meyer, one of the leaders of Save the Castle Rock Prairie Dogs, said the group will look into ways to legally protect other wildlife and open space from development in the future.
One avenue, she said, may be the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, a nonprofit, public-interest law firm that provides free and low-cost legal services to communities facing threats to the local environment.
Nearly 200 municipalities in 10 states have adopted the organization's Community Bills of Rights laws. It would help residents draft a bill addressing wildlife and open space issues and get it on a ballot.
“In the future, we will also work on getting a prairie dog management plan in place, work on getting them placed on threatened or endangered species list and work on slowing development in Castle Rock,” resident Amber Pate said, “so we do not lose all of our wild lands and wildlife.”
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