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The Boulder County commissioners got it wrong when they gave blanket approval to kill all prairie dogs on No Prairie Dog (NPD) areas during the breeding season. They didn’t address the harm their action will inflict on the Stearns Bald Eagles at the Carolyn Holmberg Preserve. The eagle nest at Holmberg is surrounded by a massive block of NPDs.
Front Range Nesting Bald Eagle Studies has been collecting observation data on the Stearns Eagles for a number of years. Their data shows that nesting Bald Eagles on Boulder County open space, including the Stearns territorial eagles, derive up to 45% of their prey within a half mile of their nest. It is no surprise the dominant prey of the Stearns eagles are prairie dogs.
Where do the commissioners expect the eagles to find prey for their young and themselves when the NPDs at the Holmberg Preserve are wiped clean of prairie dogs? The county also intends to remove 300 prairie dogs from the 40-acre burrowing owl preserve, a prey source for the eagles. The parcel will be re-classified as a NPD.
These factors, as well as a dwindling prairie dog population at Holmberg (Parks staff reported 258 colonized acres were lost at Rock Creek over the past year) do not bode well for the Stearns Bald Eagles.
The county commissioners need to wake up and recognize their responsibility for the well-being of the Stearns Bald Eagles. The Holmberg Preserve should also be managed as eagle habitat. It should provide the necessities to ensure the Stearns Bald eagles survive which means leaving prairie dogs to inhabit areas adjacent to their nest, including on NPD areas.