By Joel Hillan
LOVELAND, Colo. (CBS4)– A bluff south of West 1st Street in Loveland overlooking Boedecker Lake and Rocky Mountain National Park is prime real estate.
The problem is, the land was already occupied by prairie dogs.
“We used to just come in, scrape some ground and build something,” said Tony Vienna.
Vienna is the Principle Partner of Mosaic Land Development Services. He is working as the development manager on this project for Jim Righeimer, a well-known commercial and residential developer from Costa Mesa, California.
When the 76 lots are developed into homes, the neighborhood will be known as The Cove at Mariana Butte.
“We built the prairie dogs a new community within our community so that they could live there in basically their natural habitat,” said Vienna.
Moving them was an involved process.
“It’s not just picking them up and moving them, we had relocate them to a holding facility, hold them for two months and care for them and then bring them back,” said Vienna.
The Prairie Dog Coalition of the Human Society of the United States came in, observed the prairie dogs to discover their family units and then set live traps to capture them. The stragglers were coaxed out with a bath.
“We use a soapy water mixture and put it down in the burrow and catch them by hand as they come out,” said Noelle Guernsey with the coalition.
The process takes time and money, but the Prairie Dog Coalition says this species is a vital part of the ecosystem and not just because they make good prey.
Other species use their burrows as homes. The burrows also help with nutrient cycling in the soil as well as help with groundwater recharge.
“All five species have declined between 95 and 98 percent of their range and because they’re a keystone species that so many other wildlife species depend on, we feel it’s important to try and maintain the species where we can,” said Guernsey.
Vienna, who grew up nearby in Berthoud, says this is the way he hopes projects are done in the future.
“We can’t keep taking without giving back and this is giving back,” he said.
The developer hopes to start having homes ready to go by the end of Summer.
As part of this project there is not only the prairie dog refuge, but the city purchased the land along the lake where there will soon be a trail for humans.
Joel Hillan anchors CBS4 This Morning on weekends as well as reports stories for CBS4 News at 5 and 6 p.m. Follow Joel on Twitter @joelhillan.