Aurora, CO

Protecting prairie dogs in Aurora: a proposal that draws questions

David Heitz
Photo byKevin Jansen/Unsplash

Members of an Aurora City Council committee expressed concerns Wednesday about a proposal to save prairie dogs from development.

Councilmembers Juan Marcano and Crystal Murillo brought forward a proposal that would require developers to relocate prairie dogs instead of killing them when building upon their colonies. Committee members Francoise Bergan, Angela Lawson and Steve Sundberg all expressed concerns about the proposal. Jeannine Rustad of the city’s planning department also expressed reservations.

Rustad said the proposal would slow down developers who are rushing to bring much needed housing to market. She said it costs 10 times as much money to relocate prairie dogs when compared to exterminating them.

Marcano said most developers use poison to exterminate the rodents. Rustad said sometimes carbon dioxide is used. In those instances, the prairie dogs sometimes wake up from sleep once oxygen levels return.

Rustad said relocating the animals isn’t exactly humane. She said they are sucked out of their holes with a vacuum, resulting in 45 percent of the critters being killed or injured.

Councilmembers express concerns

Councilmember Angela Lawson said she had many questions about how the ordinance would impact developers. "We've got to have some balance," she said. "We have nature, and we have development. She feared development delays would cause builders to take their projects elsewhere.

Councilmember Francoise Bergan said "disposing of prairie dogs humanely is something we should strive for" but added "this seems onerous on the developers" and "not reasonable."

Marcano said the prairie dogs are critical to the survival of other species, such as the black-footed ferret and burrowing owl. Rustad said the owl is a protected species and often slows down development by itself.

Law could delay developments

The proposed prairie dog ordinance was modeled after a similar law in Parker. Rustad said developers surmised the ordinance could delay projects by as much as 14 months.

According to Rustad, developers must get permission from the county they intend to relocate prairie dogs to. This can be difficult.

Marcano and Murillo said they experienced pushbacks from city staff on their proposal. Both said they tried to set up meetings with city staff to no avail. Murillo said she felt “tossed around the process with no opportunity to dig in on these questions.”

“My sincere apologies,” Rustad responded. “I dropped the ball on setting up a meeting.”

Marcano and Murillo brought the prairie dog proposal forward after members of the public asked that the animals be protected.

Proposal will return to committee

Marcano and Murillo agreed to better flesh out their proposal and bring it back to a future Planning and Economic Development Policy Committee meeting. Councilmember Steve Sundberg wondered if non-profits exist that could transport just a few of the prairie dogs from development sites. Marcano said such non-profits do exist.

When relocating prairie dogs, permits must be obtained from the Colorado Department of Wildlife, Rustad said. She said sometimes when prairie dogs are located to a new colony, the colony that was there first will kill the newcomers. She said another problem exists when prairie dogs are relocated to a site but then move on their own to another site. "Prairie dogs don't stay where you want them to stay."

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I've been in the news business 35 years, spending much of my career in editing roles at local newspapers in Los Angeles, Detroit, and the Quad-Cities of Illinois and Iowa. Upon moving to Denver in 2018, I began experiencing severe mental illness due to several traumatic experiences. I became homeless on the street for about a year before spending time in the state mental hospital. I am living proof that people can rebound from mental illness with proper treatment, even after experiencing homelessness. I consider myself a lucky guy to live in a great place like Denver. I hope my writing reflects the passion I have for living here. You can email me news releases and story ideas at

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