Why Friends of Boulder Open Space?

Deane Little
Deane Little

By Ray Bridge
During the long battle to establish funding and management of open space and natural areas in the City of Boulder and Boulder County, most local citizens developed an understanding of the principles of ecosystem preservation, including the need for careful conservation of wild land resources.

A simple way of summarizing that conservation ethic is the precautionary principle: the belief that open space lands should be managed first to preserve natural ecosystems and the phenomenal plant and animal communities that inhabit them. Scientific study of these systems and possible adverse impact on the resources should guide all management decisions. This is a common sense and ethical approach to open space management.

Unfortunately, during the last few years, many of Boulder’s residents have moved here from other areas, or perhaps forgotten earlier battles, and the healthy condition of city open space lands has come to be taken for granted. Few Boulder residents are aware that the current increasingly healthy state of nesting raptors is the result of closures during nesting season that were developed initially by BCNA and then adopted by OSMP and Boulder County Parks and Open Space.

In the 1970s pressure from climbers and hikers forced many eagles and falcons to abandon nest sites they occupy today. Mountain lions were rarely seen along our mountain front at that time. Few Boulder residents today realize that the current, mostly healthy, ecosystems are the result of good management and will rapidly degrade or disappear altogether without it, particularly in the face of recreational pressure from an expanding population in the Denver metropolitan area. In addition to a citizenry that loves its open space but takes it for granted, the past few years have seen the emergence of a politically active lobby for recreational interests that takes the position that environmental preservation has received far too much emphasis and that recreational use has been unreasonably restricted. People taking this position generally consider themselves environmentalists, but they are impatient with any restrictions on their use of public lands, and they are openly hostile to the precautionary principle or to pleas for adequate scientific study of recreational impact on plant or animal communities before the building of new trails.

Recommendations for El Dorado-Doudy Draw TSA Trail Alignment from FOBOS and the Science Advisory Group*

Synthesize and Supplement Baseline Data
For this TSA, an “Inventory Report” (2/24/06) described the natural, cultural, and agricultural resources, and numerous maps have been prepared. To supplement these and provide the kind of specific, integrated information that will enable the staff and public to assess the proposed alignment of trails, we recommend two things: (1) synthesis and integration of all existing data, and (2) addition of key data needed to fill gaps and locate trails in a way that will minimize impacts. An initial list of recommended natural resource data is attached (A). Considerations for trail exclusions are provided in attachment B.

Create Interactive Visual Displays
The baseline data, described above, needs to be stored in an electronic relational database with location tags and linked to a GIS display that allows staff, and eventually the public, to interactively select and display various options and see the multiple resource variables that will be impacted or not, and identify trail alignments that maximize the conservation of resources. Such visualizations have proven to be extremely valuable in educating lay audiences and providing easy-to-understand options/tradeoffs for decision-making.

Design the Monitoring Plan
To streamline the design and reduce staff time required, we recommend using well-developed protocols for monitoring and assessment, such as those developed by the Northern Colorado Plateau Group for the National Park Service (more), and including multiple permanent sites along trails and at control sites for measuring soil nitrogen and plant composition. Protocols to be used and the ongoing monitoring plan must be carefully defined, fully funded and sustained. An initial list of items we recommend as essential in the monitoring plan is attached (C & D). The monitoring plan would be linked to criteria that would trigger trail closure when impacts are unacceptable. An initial list of criteria tied to possible trail closure also is attached (E).

Test An Enhanced Process
By starting now, we could use the above options to shift the public participation process from months of meetings filled with verbal dueling to a consensus-building process based on easily understood information that emphasizes conservation of resources and recreational access while providing the basis for adaptive management.

Use Interpretative Displays
Consider development of strategically placed, engaging interpretative displays that will convey the fragility and/or uniqueness of this area, species of interest, and the rationale for any use restrictions.

Action Items:

  • Hire a consultant to facilitate the synthesis of data into a relational database with location tags to facilitate integrated data displays, identify data gaps and subsequent acquisition plans, and assist the IT/mapping staff in the preparation of interactive visual displays.
  • List the expected losses to open space natural resource values for having chosen to build and operate each proposed trail alignment and use these to guide the development of the monitoring plan. The clear and realistic articulation of the sacrifice of some part of open space holdings to satisfy the need to meet recreational demands sets up an open accounting procedure.

Attachments

A. Natural Resource Data – an initial list

  1. Elk migration routes and wintering areas.
  2. Black bear heavy use areas.
  3. Prairie dog colonies.
  4. Preble’s jumping mouse habitat.
  5. Other mammals on the Colorado Natural Heritage Program list
  6. Goshawk and other accipiter nest sites.
  7. Golden eagle, prairie falcon, and peregrine falcon nest sites.
  8. Flammulated owl nesting habitat.
  9. Shrub-nesting bird habitat.
  10. Wild turkey roosts and prime foraging areas.
  11. Plant communities and ecotones that serve as important habitat (e.g., native grass-forest interface as deer habitat).
  12. Specific extent of plant communities of special concern (especially including Colorado Natural Heritage Program listed plant species, relict old/stable grasslands on ancient pediment soils, and old-growth ponderosa pine forests).
  13. Plant habitat of special concern, such as seeps supporting rare orchids or cliffs supporting rare ferns.

B. Development of Avoidance Criteria for Trail Placement

  1. Areas that that cannot be crossed such as Old Pediment communities or Sites of Sensitive Animal Species Occurrence
  2. Set-back limits for animal habitat features.

C. Fully established and fully funded monitoring protocols must determine:

  1. Impacts of trail use on large mammals, wild turkeys, shrub-nesting birds, and nesting raptors.
  2. Spatial / dimensional impacts of trail use on native plant community species composition and stability, including weed occurrence and spread along and adjacent to trails as well as outward into what previously could have been non-invadable entities.
  3. Rate of compliance with users (hikers, bikers, horses) on-trail & dogs-on-leash requirements
  4. Parameters that indicate conditions of trails over time (e.g., changes in width and depth; sediment erosion and accumulation – where and how much; effects on vegetation and weed invasion (see#2 above); what conditions/impacts should dictate trail closure, either temporary or permanent).

D. Other Monitoring Input:

  1. Trail impact monitoring for plants and vegetation should be accomplished at permanently located sites where the changes in plant community composition at specific distances out from the more or less linear disturbance are observed in a repeatable way. A control at least 5 to 10 m away from the trail should be included for each site. Sample size should be adequate in dimension (e.g. transect length) and number (i.e. replication) to allow avoidance of local aberration as a confounding factor in eventual conclusions.
  2. Monitoring procedure should be efficient enough to help assure its prosecution into the future.
  3. Establishing a soil nitrogen baseline and monitoring this attribute over the years will provide valuable future guidance to other trails and also the behavior of vegetation near existing trails. Nitrogen and water availability are the two variables believed to be greatly affected due to trail installation and use, particularly on a subset of nutrient-limited soils found in or near proposed activities.

E. Development of criteria that would dictate trail closure (temporarily or permanently)

  1. Impacts on native vegetation
  2. Invasion by alien plant species
  3. Impacts on wildlife
  4. Indicators of trail conditions over time (e.g., changes in width and depth; sediment erosion and accumulation)

* Sharon Collinge, David Buckner, Steve Jones, Tim Seastedt