Longmont airport defends killing prairie dogs
LONGMONT, Colorado ” An airport in Longmont is defending its decision to kill hundreds of prairie dogs living near its runways, saying pilot safety required the poisoning.
Prairie dogs at Vance Brand Airport were digging holes near the landing areas, which could’ve caused a plane to tip if it veered slightly off-course and hit a burrow, officials said.
The prairie dog extermination has angered some animal activists.
“There’s always the option to work with other communities and cities to find relocation sites,” said Alison Collins, interim director of the Boulder-based Prairie Dog Coalition.
The prairie dogs were killed Friday with aluminum phosphide, a deadly fumigant dropped into the animals’ burrows. City officials in charge of the airport say non-lethal efforts to control prairie dogs burrowing near landing areas didn’t work. They said the city tried and failed to move the prairie dogs to a fenced containment area.
Airport manager Tim Barth said the prairie dogs had to be killed to prevent a hazard to landing pilots.
“We want to provide the safest possible facility,” Barth said.
City officials said the Federal Aviation Administration told them to get rid of the prairie dogs or risk forfeiting tens of thousands of dollars in grant money. Meanwhile the state is withholding an $85,000 grant until the city has exterminated prairie dogs to state officials’ satisfaction, Barth said.
Collins said Longmont didn’t try hard enough to move the prairie dogs. But Don Bessler, Longmont’s director of parks, open space, and public facilities, said the city “exhausted all of those efforts.”
A nearby airport in Boulder also poisoned prairie dogs last year when it couldn’t get them away from the runways.
Tim Head, manager of the Boulder Municipal Airport, said fumigating the prairie dogs is a last resort, but that it’s worked in Boulder.
“It was one of those processes where we didn’t jump to fumigation off the bat,” Head said. “We spent about three years and lots of manpower and money exploring every option.”
Town weighs its long-term viability vs. small-town character