Prairie dog relocation goes nowhere

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Cattleman Dale Lasater, along with the assistance of wildlife experts, asked Elbert County for permission to relocate a population of up to 300 black-tailed prairie dogs to his ranch near Matheson.

But opposition from residents as well as the Farm Bureau and Cattlemen’s Association has left the project a bust, said Elbert County Commissioner Kurt Schlegel.

“I told them at the June 13 BOCC meeting that it was an interesting project,” Schlegel explained. “However, we felt there just wasn’t enough information at the time to make an informed decision, so the issue died due to lack of a motion.”

In the proposal, Lasater sought county approval to re-establish prairie dogs on his ranch in hopes to encourage the nesting of hawks, owls and mountain plover, as well as provide additional forage for the swift fox.

According to the request, Elbert County has few prairie dogs within its borders, making it difficult to find a source population within the county, so the animals would have been imported from a property somewhere along the Front Range.

Colorado law prohibits the release of prairie dogs in a different county from where they are captured without approval from the receiving county.

The Lasater Ranch is a working cattle ranch that currently occupies more than 14,000 acres within the county.

During the summer of 2005, a similar re-establishment project was conducted on the property.

Roe biologists monitored the initial 10-acre colony for five years. According to the proposal, the colony expanded “to a very healthy, low-density 150 to 200 acres.”

Vegetation remained healthy and Western burrowing owls were observed nesting and utilizing the prairie dog colony, as early as a year after re-establishment.

The request also stated that only healthy prairie dogs would have been relocated to the new colony in an effort to curtail disease.

Lasater declined comment on the matter.

Schlegel said Lasater has the option to re-apply for permission at a later date.