Dear Ms Sandy Vana-Miller,
I live in the vicinity of the Hygiene Bald Eagle nest and surrounding prairie dog fields. I am extremely concerned about Martin Marietta’s proposed mining activity in the St Vrain Valley and in particular how that would affect the unique wildlife in this valley. I understand that many of these vulnerable species depend on your protection and fall under Fish & Wildlife jurisdiction.
Although bald eagle population is inclining in the East, Northeast, and Southeast, it is in actual decline in about 13 Southwestern states. Please consider the count data in Boulder County of Bald Eagles as oppose to national numbers. In fact, FIVE out of the NINE nests monitored in 2017 in the Front Range by Citizens Science Bald Eagle Nest Monitoring Team with Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory FAILED. Two nests lost young, including the Erie nest with two losses at seven weeks, and the Stearns lake nest, two losses at one month. On top of this, out of the 14 nests in our general area of the Front Range, the statistics show that nests are a median of 0.25 miles from agricultural properties, and about a median of 1 mile from suburban industrial areas.
Martin Marietta’s SU 96-18 permit would convert up to 640 acres of Agricultural land to intensive, industrial use / gravel mining and would destroy their prairie dog habitat. In addition to these nesting birds in our area choosing to be a safe distance form industry disturbances, they also require the specific type of tree habitat as described above. Most significantly, *ALL Bald Eagle nests in the Front Range are within eyesight of prairie dog colonies.
As evidenced in the Hygiene nest, the fledgling stage is extremely critical in their physical and skill development. I have personally seen them every day over the last several of weeks, at the Hygiene nest: the fledglings and the adults spend over 25 % of their time foraging, hunting, and in the field about 0.25 miles or so from the base of the nest– precisely where Martin Marietta Materials intends to mine.
*The critical significance of the prairie dog colonies and of these foraging fields cannot be overestimated, as observed in the Hygiene fledgelings’ behavior documented in Citizen’s Science’s recent observations in late July 2017:
July 21-Adult male 31% of observation time, ~0.25 miles north, northeast of nest foraging. Fledgling 1, 10% of time at same position (153 total observation minutes); July 24-Fledgling 1, 18% of observation time, 0.2 miles NE of nest foraging; Fledgling 2, 13% same position (120 total observation minutes); July 26-Fledgling 1, 53% of observation time, 0.2 miles NE of nest foraging; Fledgling 2, 10% of time at nearby positions and caught live prairie dog (90 total observation minutes).
Nesting and other Bald Eagles in this part of the Front Range commonly capture live prairie dogs. In the fledgling phase, the eaglets are learning to hunt, and so rely on most of their food to be provided by the parents. The opportunity for the fledglings to stalk and catch their own prey is critical to their individual development as the foregoing area and the prairie dog colony is vital to the sustainability of this nest. I have observed different sets of eaglets hunting in these fields, with live captures in the summer over many years. The nest prairie dog colonies are also necessary for sustainability of the nests during winter months. Hence, any removal or disturbance of the prairie dog colony for Martin Marietta’s highly controversial mining operation will in effect be a take of that nest and needs to be treated as such. According to The Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act (Eagle Act (16 U.S.C. 668- 668c), disturbance of the prairie dog colonies adjacent to the Hygiene nest will constitute a disturbance of that nest: “Disturb means to agitate or bother a bald or golden eagle to a degree that causes, or is likely to cause, based on the best scientific information available,1) injury to an eagle, 2) a decrease in its productivity, by substantially interfering with normal breeding, feeding, or sheltering behavior, or 3) nest abandonment, by substantially interfering with normal breeding, feeding, or sheltering behavior.”
Martin Marietta’s mining operation also threatens the Federally Protected, Endangered Preble’s Mouse, aka PMJM and its high density habitat on Martin Marietta’s proposed mining area(s). According to Tim Shaffer, Wild Life Biologist with BCPOS studying Preble’s on County properties, in a September 19th, 2014 email: “Based on the habitat requirements and basic biology of this species, the entire reach of the St Vrain Creek on both the Western & Golden Fredstrom properties, as well as the entire reach of the South Branch ditch on the Western Mobile property, are considered occupied Preble’s habitat. Preble’s were captured on each of these stream reaches both pre and post floods”. Mr. Shaffer documents studies conducted following the US Fish & Wildlife Service survey protocol, on Golden-Fredstrom Property (M-2001-016) on July 14, 2014: “Preble’s were captured along St Vrain Creek, with evidence of breeding population (multiple age classes and reproductive females)”. And in survey done trapping approximately 1,200 meters of riparian habitat, spanning almost the entire length pf the POS property, at the Western Mobile Property / Lyons Pit (M-1977-015), on June 23, 2014 in the St Vrain Creek and on July 21st, 2014 on the South Branch Ditch, “Preble’s were captured on both the St Vrain Creek and the South Branch Ditch with evidence of breeding population (multiple age classes and reproductive females)”. On December 2010, The Fish and Wildlife Service revised the critical habitat designation for the Preble’s Meadow Jumping Mouse (PMJM) “designating approximately 411 miles of rivers and streams and 34,935 acres of streamside habitat in seven Colorado counties. This revision to the Service’s previous critical habitat designation add[ed] an additional 177 miles of rivers and streams and 14,255 acres of adjacent habitat. Areas designated as critical habitat for the Preble’s Meadow Jumping Mouse in Boulder…include riparian corridors along rivers and streams, adjacent uplands, and areas that provide connectivity between and within populations…*The primary constituent elements for the Preble’s include those habitat components essential for the biological needs of reproducing, rearing of young, foraging, sheltering, hibernation, dispersal, and genetic exchange. The PMJM is able to live and reproduce in and near riparian areas located within grassland, shrub land, forest, and mixed vegetation types where dense herbaceous or woody vegetation occurs near the ground level, where available open water exists during their active season, and where there are ample upland habitats of sufficient width and quality for foraging, hibernation, and refuge from catastrophic flooding events.” according toUS Fish & Wildlife (https://www.fws.gov/mountain-prairie/species/mammals/preble/ CRITICAL%20HABITAT/CRITICALHABITATindex.htm).
I appreciate and reiterate the words of BCPOS Director, Mr. Eric Lane on his June 27th letter to US Fish & Wildlife, that “Of particular value and concern to…[BCPOS] is habitat of Preble’s Meadow Jumping Mouse present in the project area. This project area contains invaluable habitat for the mouse, and our trapping studies over the past three years have shown that its comparative importance in the broader landscape context is highly significant. We have documented 154 unique individual mice (PIT tagging methods) located in the area (St. Vrain corridor and the South Branch of the St. Vrain). In comparison, trapping within federally designated critical habitat for the mouse in Boulder County (South Boulder Creek) resulted in very few individuals, as well as *no trapping success within the Rocky Flats Wildlife Refuge. We believe that *the population along the St. Vrain is of increasing importance in a population dynamic context. While we are aware of, and have reviewed the 2001 Biological Opinion (ES/GJ-6-CO-01-F-045) associated with this project, some of the mitigation measures are difficult to interpret sixteen years later. We also feel that on the ground *conditions have changed with the passage of time, implementation of some measures by the operator, changes in the ownership and the proposed mining footprint, and lasting effects of the 2013 flood such that a review of the 2001 Biological Opinion by USFWS as part of the overall permit review process is also warranted.” Eric Lane, Director, BCPOS. It appears from the reports that I have read that the St Vrain PMJM population is the only one in the area that is established and thriving and it needs your protection. The PMJM and the eagles do not need an enhanced open space complex, they need the protection of US Fish & Wildlife and our local officials from an invasive, intensive mining operation.
I understand that Boulder County would inherit reclaimed mined areas, however, that would come at a high price in the larger landscape context and at a detriment to Federally protected species who live and thrive in this valley. As evidence both in the live-captures: Rocky Flats 0 vs. 145 PMJM captures in the St Vrain and South Ditch, the habitat once damaged by industry does not recover readily and is never enhanced– It seems that the PMJM and the eagles don’t thrive in an open space complex and require the natural, undamaged, undisturbed habitat of the St. Vrain Valley.