To paraphrase a classic by singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell, Comcast wants to pave a prairie dog paradise and put up a parking lot.
The telecommunications company plans to build a new parking lot next to its regional corporate offices in the Iliff Business Park at 7770 E. Iliff Ave., in unincorporated Arapahoe County, but animal rights activists say the plan threatens a colony of 60 to 80 black-tailed prairie dogs.
Now, the company, the activists and staff from Arapahoe County Open Spaces are trying to find a new home for the animals before construction begins.
Finding a new home, though, isn’t as simple as trapping prairie dogs and then driving them to a new plot of land. First, the new location must be identified and researched to make sure it’s a suitable habitat. Colorado Parks and Wildlife must issue a permit, said Shannon Carter, director of Arapahoe County Open Spaces. And Carter promises the county wouldn’t move prairie dogs to a place where nearby landowners would be affected.
“We’re not the only agency that has to deal with this,” Carter said. “Whenever development happens and displaces wildlife there’s never an easy solution.”
Jeremy Gregory, executive director of Tindakan, a nonprofit eco-justice organization, said he is hopeful the Arapahoe County Open Spaces director can find a new home in the coming weeks.
“The jury is still out on this, but hopefully we are nearing a decision that is going to be non-lethal and a win for everybody here,” Gregory said.
The parking lot is part of Comcast’s plans to expand the number of employees working at its Arapahoe County offices. Comcast’s development plan was approved in July by the Arapahoe County Board of Commissioners, leading animal rights activists to launch a campaign to save the prairie dogs. More than 13,000 animal lovers signed a petition to save the prairie dogs, and they’ve been pinging Arapahoe County officials phones and inboxes.
Comcast has said it is willing to relocate the prairie dogs if a suitable plot of land is available. Under state law, the company also has the right to exterminate them.
In an emailed statement, Comcast’s Colorado spokeswoman Leslie Oliver said the company plans to move forward with the regulatory process to improve its property. Comcast hopes to donate a portion of its land to county open space, although Oliver did not say whether that land donation would be for the prairie dogs’ new home.
“For well over a year, Comcast has been working with multiple wildlife/environmental organizations and stakeholders to conduct extensive environmental research and outreach. Numerous options are being explored to manage the prairie dog colony located on the property in as humane a manner as possible,” Oliver’s said.