By David Heitz / NewsBreak Denver
(Denver, Colo.) On Monday, a woman told the Aurora City Council that construction companies are exterminating prairie dogs while building a new housing development in the Fitzsimons area.
Toni Lopez said she moved to Colorado from the Midwest and quickly came to adore the prairie dogs. She expressed shock at a state law that labels prairie dogs "pests" and allows extermination.
At a prairie dog colony near University Hospital, the animals communicate by barking, squeaking, and chirping. "They can communicate with relatives that a tall human in purple or a short human in blue is approaching," Lopez said.
Animals scream during construction
She called watching construction in the Fitzsimons area "emotionally traumatizing."
"I can only imagine what they were saying as I listened to (the prairie dogs) screaming at each other for help," Lopez said.
She urged the council to adopt a law protecting prairie dogs. "Conserve more land. Don't put profits over wildlife."
Lopez said prairie dogs should be recognized as animals and not pests.
The council does not respond to remarks made during public comment.
Activists rally for Murphy Creek prairie dogs
Activists previously rallied to save prairie dogs in Aurora. In 2015, prairie dog lovers argued the animals are harmless, but the Murphy Creek neighborhood association voted to exterminate them, CBS4 Denver reported.
According to Colorado Parks and Wildlife, it's legal for landowners to kill prairie dogs. The CPW classifies black-tailed prairie dogs as 'other small game,' and the Colorado Department of Agriculture labels them as a 'destructive rodent pest,'" the CPW website states.
Consequently, landowners or their agents may hunt, trap, or kill prairie dogs when they cause damage to crops, property or livestock.
Relocating prairie dogs
CPW also allows relocation when development destroys prairie dog habitat. But it also requires a plan for minimizing property damage when releasing the animals. The habitat must be suitable for the prairie dogs, which makes relocation uncommon, CPW said.
Prairie Protection Colorado tirelessly advocates for Front Range prairie dogs. It saved colonies from development in Arapahoe County, Boulder, and other areas.
Still, the organization claims less than 1 percent of the Front Range's prairie dog colonies survive. Poison kills prairie dogs. Sometimes developers pave over prairie dog colonies.