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Update on burrowing owl situation in south Fountain

 

Last updated 4/1/2020 at 10:17am

Doug Harling

Meanwhile, "Digger" the burrowing owl, is pictured on the vacant lot last week. He continues to make regular solo appearances.

Recently the Fountain Valley News reported that wildlife advocate Doug Harling claimed a USDA worker killed two burrowing owls on March 9 while eradicating a prairie dog colony on the corner of Jimmy Camp Road and Link Road. Representatives from the Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) and the USDA were approached for comment, and they stated that they investigated the matter and found no evidence of owls being killed.

As previously reported, one male owl is currently living on the site; but according to Harling, a male burrowing owl always travels with at least two females. Advocates for the owl continue to hope that females will show up to provide necessary companionship for the male owl they have named "Digger." They also hope all parties involved can resolve the issue and prevent future problems.

Harling has made a point to visit the site daily to check on the male owl. Harling placed a poster made by local students on the site's fence and left a log, which the owl is currently using for wind protection. When interviewed on Friday, Harling said he has "word of mouth" that some residents saw three owls at the site before March 9, and he's hoping to get more concrete evidence.

"There's no question in my mind that three owls were there," he said.

"Save the Colorado Burrowing Owls," a Facebook page Harling set up to raise awareness of the issue, has grown to 700 members. At least one person has offered her property should Digger need somewhere to relocate.

After the previous article had been written, Harling updated that he had met with Deputy City Manager Todd Evans, who reported to him that Evans had a meeting with the USDA and DOW.

"This meeting was specifically held to address the issue of the owls," Harling said. "It was agreed that the process was not properly handled and all came to an agreement to do whatever we need to make sure this doesn't happen again. Any future sites to be treated will require that the city be notified in advance and give us a chance to provide information we may have on the property. The city had nothing to do with this and had zero notification that the eradication was going to take place... ."

Harling added, "The property owner was notified a couple of months ago that this site would have an owl issue that needed to be addressed. Todd is contacting the owner to let them know that they are unable to break ground on this site without an extensive survey and cannot break ground if our owl is still on site."

Harling has asked group members to check the site daily to see if the owl is still there and to post pictures from their visits. He also thanked Todd Evans for taking the situation seriously.

When interviewed on Friday, Evans confirmed his meeting with Harling and said Harling's account of what took place was "95 percent accurate."

"The only thing that's not spot-on accurate is nobody in the meeting said that the matter was handled improperly," Evans said. "I did meet with the USDA, but the USDA doesn't have to notify us when they come out and are doing prairie dog eradication. They've agreed to, just because we're trying to work together so something like this couldn't happen again."

Evans also confirmed that several months ago he took part in a meeting with homeowners living near the site to discuss the prairie dog situation. When asked whether he told homeowners the prairie dogs would be relocated rather than eradicated, Evans conceded that some homeowners may have accidentally gotten that impression, but the city couldn't have promised that.

Doug Harling

Doug Harling placed posters made by school children in Missouri along the property fence.

"We had that meeting, but we don't commit to how prairie dogs are going to be handled on any private property owner's property," Evans explained. "How the prairie dogs are eradicated on a piece of private property is up to that private property owner unless it attaches to and is negatively impacting the city's infrastructure. But if it's just a piece of property like this one is and it has prairie dogs on it, we cannot require that the property owner relocate the dogs."

Evans said he's not aware of any new investigations, but that the City of Fountain has informed the property owner about the burrowing owl and that they must relocate it before building a Dollar General on the site. "There is no timeline of when they're going to start, because they have to meet all the requirements of the USDA and the other wildlife entities that are involved. Since this occurred, our planning department's been in constant contact with the property owner and the developer, letting them know that they have to meet all those requirements; and until we get a go-ahead from the USDA and the other wildlife departments, they won't be able to start on the project."

 

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